Monday, June 26, 2006

Finally, an entry

We have finally found an internet cafe in Honfleur - so below are several days worth of entries. This is a French keyboard so if the spelling is a little odd it is not entirely my fault...

Monday 26 June
We’re in Normandy’s most beautiful (and possibly most expensive) port, Honfleur, in the Vieux Bassin which is right in the middle of town. The yachts here are tourist attractions so it’s a good thing that we messed up our mooring at the lock, which is at the edge of town, and not on the visitors’ pontoon.
There are flowers on every balcony, picturesque timber-framed and slate-hung houses, hundreds of expensive cafes and a general feeling of well-being.
Yesterday Dieppe was so misty and dismal that we decided to head off to Fécamp anyway. Then having made really rapid progress thanks to good tides down the Cote d’Opale we decided to press on to Le Havre (much to the disgust of Guy who was asleep when we made the decision). The visibility was pretty poor, around a mile or so – most of the time we couldn’t see the huge cliffs one and a half miles away. We had to cross the supertanker route into Le Havre-Antifer using radar and crossed fingers (no ships at all) and got into Le Havre itself around 10pm when it still should have been light but you could see almost nothing – fortunately there were still no ships around. We left the marina around 7.40am so there was no chance to pay, oops. Then a heart-in-mouth lurch into the mouth of the Seine with strong tides and still no visibility, before tying up here around 10.40am. In a straight line we’re about 7 miles from Le Havre but you have to go the long way round to avoid the explosives and sandbanks…

Sunday 25 June
Dripping Dieppe
We finally left Calais around Friday lunchtime for the relatively short hop to Boulogne. Making the most of the tides, it was a motorsail to Cap Gris-Nez and then we actually managed to sail the last eight or so miles into Boulogne. As predicted, Boulogne marina was smelly and stuffy, but fortunately not too full – last year we were near the inside of a raft of about eight boats (i.e. eight boats side by side, with only the inner one tied on to the pontoon) and had to leave at 5am!
We had dinner at Chez Jules in the main square in lower Boulogne, where we have been several times before (and been served by the same waiter – why is it that in France being a waiter is a career, whereas in the UK it’s just a job for youngsters and illegal immigrants?)
On Saturday we had a long motor down to Dieppe – the tides work so that you never get much advantage going south. The wind was behind us, which should have been good, but light and fickle. We have a spinnaker on board which we have never used – Sam is the only one who has sailed with a spinnaker and he wasn’t exactly keen to start setting it up – also, Guy was asleep on top of the sail and its various ropes. So it was a long, slow motor, arriving in Dieppe at exactly 9pm. The boys kicked up a big fuss at not spending any time in Dieppe, which is a really nice town, so we were planning to spend an extra night here, but in fact it’s been pouring with rain since about 7.30am, having rained overnight as well, and Dieppe really isn’t looking too lovely, so I think we’ll press on to Fécamp this afternoon. Fécamp doesn’t have all-tide access as the entrance is shallow, so it’s a bit of a risk – if it looks too rough we have to press on to Le Havre.
Dieppe marina is supposed to have internet access but we haven’t succeeded in connecting so far – we’ll keep trying.

Thursday 22 June
Even more Calais
Yes, it’s still windy, but the French Meteo says it has 100% confidence that the depression will move on by tomorrow. Still southwesterlies, but hopefully lighter ones. The worst bit from here will be getting round the corner to Boulogne, where the full power of the wind and the waves funnels between North Foreland and Cap Gris Nez.
We’re trying to be fairly economical in our eating – in fact the only French food we had bought up to yesterday was bread, milk, and cups of coffee and Fanta – but yesterday evening we decided to splash out on a meal out for all of us. We went to a pleasant brasserie at the top of the main street in Calais, and it turned out to be a great place to be, because we were right in the middle of a music festival, with music and live bands all the way along the street. Suddenly, from being distinctly empty and sleepy, Calais was full of life, with the streets packed with strolling people. The North Sea and Channel ports are very good at these mini-festivals.
Tonight will be our fourth here and we think that’s the longest we’ve spent continuously in one place (apart from our home port) since we’ve been sailing cruising yachts. Tempers on board are getting a little bit frayed but the discipline of getting Ben’s schoolwork done does help to settle us into a pattern. I think we’d all be nicer if the wind eased – at 2pm on Thursday it’s still gusting up to 23 knots, and we’re quite sheltered here.

Wednesday 21 June
More Calais
We’re definitely here for at least one more night. There have been F7 winds overnight (32-38mph) and although we have moved to a more secure berth it was still quite bumpy last night. The wind is easing but the sea will be horrible for some time yet. It’s difficult to know what will happen for the rest of the week – the French forecast says west or south-westerly force 5, the Met Office seems to think we might get a northerly on Friday, which would be perfect.
I’m not sure if it’s worth a slog down to Boulogne into the wind tomorrow (21 miles), or whether we should wait for lighter winds, if they ever arrive, and do a long passage to Dieppe (73 miles). Boulogne is a nice town but its marina can be a bit unpleasant – they sluice the river into the marina at some states of the tide which fills the water with brown scum, and because it’s a tidal marina, at low water it feels like you are at the bottom of a smelly well.
We all seem to be catching up with sleep – today and yesterday no-one got up until 10am (French time). This is normal for the boys, but not for Sam and me, and it does play havoc with Ben’s school programme. As I write this it’s quarter past one and he has finally got up to date with his journal, and we have completed a maths lesson. I think we just to continue to think in BST for a while, it seems a bit less lazy. We have sent Sam and Guy into town with a short shopping list of essentials – bread, milk, and disinfectant for the bilges. Sam has strict instructions not to buy too much of anything for lunch, but I bet he comes back with half a kilo of ham.
In some ways it’s quite nice when there’s a strong wind in the wrong direction, because you know you can’t go anywhere and your mind is made up for you. It’s a bit disappointing so early in the trip – but after all sailing boats have been waiting at Calais for a fair wind to head down-Channel over hundreds of years.

20 June 2006
Burghers in Calais

We’ve made it to a foreign country – although Calais is still rather English (when you walk out of the marina there are three UK-registered cars out of the seven facing you).
We left Suffolk Yacht Harbour, as planned, at 6am on Sunday, with everything we could think of on board. A passer-by was taken aback at the amount of stuff we were taking down in the last trip on Saturday afternoon – little did he know that was just the last few bits and pieces!
The gods, or whoever organises these things, smiled on us for the first leg, with smooth seas, very light winds and blue sky for much of the route to Ramsgate. From a sailing point of view it was a rather boring motor-sail but at least it gave us a chance to concentrate on navigation in the Thames estuary, which is always rather complex, and to enjoy being out of sight of land for the first time this season. I always used to find crossing the estuary a terrifying prospect, but thanks to the reassurances of my friend Chris Fisk, who loves it, and to the electronic assistance of a chart plotter (and radar if the fog comes down), I can cope with it quite well.
We’ve been to Ramsgate several times before – it has a very pleasant marina and is a great jumping-off point for lots of destinations. Last year we sailed south from Ramsgate and got stuck for two days in Dover – really not to be recommended. The forecast for Monday was south-westerly 4-5 which is a good sailing wind if you happen to be going in the right direction. We decided the right direction would be Calais and headed off about 10am. It would have been an excellent and exhilarating crossing if not for three things – (1) that I was extremely nervous – this always happens at the beginning of the season and we haven’t had much time to settle in; (2) that with the wind going one way and the tide going the other way the Channel was extremely lumpy; (3) owing to a slight error of judgement by the Chief Engineer we suffered a leakage from the lavatorial system, which caused some problems for those of us with more delicate stomachs, and necessitated cleaning out the bilges and washing some carpets when we arrived in Calais.
Kalessin sailed beautifully with the wind on the beam and two reefs in the mainsail; over a 36-mile distance we averaged almost 7 knots. Most of the way we were sailing, although we had the engine on to cross the main deep water channels – luckily quite quiet, considering this is the busiest stretch of water in the world. At one point I fell right across the boat and my back was slammed against the grab rail in front of the cooker – I thought for a moment I was going to be paralysed for life, but fortunately my toes continued to work fine. In the last four or five miles where the wind was gusting over 20 knots we took in almost all of the foresail so that we didn’t heel quite so far.
The forecast for today is for south-westerly winds strengthening to a force 6, with force 7 overnight and possibly tomorrow, so we may be here for a couple of days. The marina at Calais is quiet and pleasant at this time of year, with very smart loos which have the longest entry code in the word – Square C6259 Triangle. It gives us a chance to scrub out the bilges, consolidate ourselves for a bit, sleep – we didn’t wake up this morning until 10am French time – and sort out the fridge, which is freezing everything including a bottle of milk, which froze solid and cracked.

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