THE FIRST WEEK
As I write, sitting in Ranger in Treguier Marina listening to the church bells on a Sunday morning in mid-July, just over one week after setting off from Woolverstone, Suffolk, the jury is still out on whether this area is one which we would love to visit again. We do have another two weeks to go. Certainly the West Coast of Scotland has far more to offer in terms of dramatic scenery, excellent sailing winds and comparative ease of getting around, but sadly has pretty dismal weather for a summer holiday. The Channel Islands and North Brittany, in total contrast, have really super weather on the whole. So far, we have stopped at Chichester Harbour, Cherbourg, Sark, St Helier, Portrieux and Treguier.
For us, the perfect sailing holiday has to comprise great scenery, regular winds of between 10 and 20 knots, safe and uncrowded anchorages, great architecture, plentiful high class eateries easily accessible from the shoreline and regular excellent markets selling super local produce. Rather surprisingly, this area as a cruising ground would appear to be a little lacking in some areas. Here is the verdict so far.
Always a good first port of call after sailing across the Channel as you know you can access it at all states of the tide and it has many facilities and shops. We managed only to sail properly for 3 hours, and had to motorsail across, (in very benign conditions as seen from the galley window, mid Channel,) and the whole 81 miletrip from Chichester done in 12 hours 22 minutes. Cherbourg is not the most glamorous of ports, but is very functional, and a good place to do a food shop. Frustratingly, the kilo of fresh,raw langoustines that I bought were Scottish, not French, and cost € 27 a kilo as opposed to the huge box of ungraded langoustines that I got in Stornoway for £15. Still, they tasted just as excellent after lightly poaching, along with some truly delicious local prawns purchased as well. Locally grown Fruit and vegetables in the market were rather pathetic-looking, and stale. But then Ranger has on board a huge quantity of my own excellent home grown produce. One week on and I still have some broccoli, courgettes, tomatoes and long red florence onions to enjoy, all wrapped in plastic bags and kept in the fridge except for the tomatoes which prefer an airy basket. And the Basil. We always take a homegrown pot of this herb with us on holiday for its lovely perfume and culinary usefulness.
However, if you hunt like a terrier, you can track down some delicious artisanal breads and fabulous strawberry tarts in the smarter patissiers. I am afraid that eating out in a restaurant in Cherbourg is something to be endured rather than enjoyed, as is becoming increasingly the case throughout Northern France. We are so spoilt at home in the quality of our gastro pubs and restaurants. Nothing beats a wonderful repast cooked lovingly on your own boat.
This was always one of the places that we wanted to visit, and I am glad that we did so. There are no cars on the Island, and the stars are fantastic as there is no lighting either. Walking up to the top from the beach through a wooded valley was quite enchanting. Dinner can be had at the Stocks Hotel which is more than adequate if you are hungry, albeit of middling quality. However, I would not come here in anything other than settled weather as the tidal rips close to shore on the Eastern side are really quite dramatic, and the swell and surf in Dixcart Bay can become rather nasty when trying to board the boat from the dinghy after dinner ashore. I had imagined that this would be a lovely swimming spot, but chickened out when I saw how strong the currents were round the boat. These are two views of Dixcart Bay, the most popular on the Island, where we anchored for one night.
It is all very well being made to feel guilty about choosing a marina berth over anchoring in some idyllic spot, but do not underestimate the stress that you may be put under when, having settled beautifully in your well-chosen spot, another comes along and anchors far too close to you, and then the wind gets up in the night, the swell makes everything rattle horribly and you get no sleep worrying about the anchor holding as well as being rammed by your new neighbour! This has happened so often to us in the past, usually in the Mediterranean, but also in Loch Scavaig last year. It is really hard to politely insist in the failing light that there is no room for the latecomer. Being an MDL berthholder, we are on the Passeport Escales scheme and have free berthing all over this cruising area at the numerous participating marinas. We do not anticipate having to pay marina fees for more than about 2 out of a total of 21 nights away!
ST HELIER, JERSEY
Next port of call was St Helier. It had become necessary to find a reasonably large conurbation in order to buy a replacement second-hand phone and launder many wet clothes after a rather wet dinghy ride after dinner on Sark. Once again we had to motor-sail against wind and tide which was boring. I was not expecting to like the place as much as I did. You have to wait on a very crowded holding pontoon to get in the Marina if you are not within 3 hours either side of High Water, due to the restrictions on height of the sill at the entrance, and consequently be prepared to exit the Marina and wait on the same pontoon if your desired departure time does not coincide with the sill opening times, yet it was a fun place with great shopping. We spent two nights there. The shower block for women had 4 working showers at the time we visited, which meant the queues were unacceptable. The mens block had eleven, which seems a little unfair. The launderette was good however.
Eating out in Jersey is fine if you hunt around, and do your trip-advisor research with care. I was determined to have lobster, and Bistro Rosa in the Fish Market in the middle of town did satisfy. The scallops and lobsters were cooked very well, albeit very simply in a rustic fashion true to the origins of its Portuguese proprietors. The bill for three people came to a hefty £198.75, but that did include two beers, a glass of Prosecco and two bottles of Chablis. The rather large 900 g lobsters were £35 each, which I didn’t think too bad for a restaurant. Dinner the second night was rather disappointing in the grill of Yacht Club Hotel.
Now the best thing about Jersey is the duty free shopping. A marvellous Boat Service will drop a flyer on your boat when you are there, offering Duty Free alcohol and other necessaries, and you can pay on the phone and they will deliver it to your boat without you so much as having to get out of your bunk! Gin at £9 a litre is a no-brainer. Even better is the price of the marine diesel from the self-service pumps just outside the marina. 64 p A LITRE, as opposed to the €1.54 a litre shown above which was the price at the pumps here in Treguier.
We had hoped to sail from St. Helier to Treguier on Friday, but the tides were not helpful, although largely on the beam. The tides round Jersey are circulatory in pattern, and a pain. Much better, I think,to go to Treguier from St. Peter Port on Guernsey , if you can. As it was, the wind was blowing strongly from the South West, rather than the forecast West, so we had to change our plans and head for somewhere more comfortably reached under sail. Ranger does not point very high in the wind, and anyway we are not that keen on tacking into a Force 6. For once, we did have enough wind to sail by. 17 knots was forecast, although this did increase to 20 knots for a time. Rivals are fabulous to sail in these conditions. Ranger really picks up when the wind goes over 15 knots. As a rule we do not have to reef the main unless over 20 knots of wind, and use our inner staysail rather than the main genoa in a force 5 or above, which makes for easy handling. The sea was a little rough, but otherwise a glorious beat the whole 42 miles to Portrieux. We opted for another free billet, this time at the huge Saint-Quay, Port d’Armor. The marina staff were most helpful and guided us to a very comfortable, quiet berth near the entrance. The marina is ENORMOUS! I didnt even bother getting off the boat once. The butcher in Jersey had come up trumps with some really succulent lamb loin chops which were cooked and served on board with baby carrots, french beans and crushed new potatoes with basil. Best dinner of the trip so far.
For some unexplicable reason, my husband wanted to visit the exact spot near Treguier where “Pastime” a She 36 had been holed, sunk, and then declared an insurance write-off, before being salvaged, purchased and repaired by the syndicate of friends of which he was then a member of.
There are a lot of rocks round here!
We took the inner passage, Passe de la Gaine, which was perfectly fine in good weather and a rising tide, although the tall thin marks are not the easiest to identify without binoculars. So much has been written about the perils of entering the Marina at Treguier in anything other than Slack at High Water. All I can say is that if you are used to berthing at Woolverstone Marina at half -tide, Springs with a strong breeze then you won’t find it too dissimilar, although the currents are much fiercer here.
What a fantastic place this, and absolutely satisfying our need for a bit of sight-seeing. Definitely a two night stop. The Cathedral, housing the tomb of St Yves, patron saint of lawyers, is magnificent, as are its Cloisters.
And its Medieval town quite charming.
Today, we may take the dinghy up river with the tide, to do a bit of exploring Swallows and Amazons style.THE SECOND WEEK
Today, Sunday 22nd July, after a somewhat indifferent dinner last night at the Restaurant l’Estuaire, Treguier, we did indeed take the dinghy and its outboard motor onto the river for a bit of exploring and fishing. It was a very hot day, and we did consider going out to sea for a swim, but thought better of it on account of the numerous shoals of jellyfish, and quite strong currents. We must have looked an odd sight, the three of us perched in a rubber dinghy with fishing rods, a bottle of Prosecco and 3 packets of crisps balanced precariously in baking hot sunshine. Not a fish was seen, let alone hooked. That night we dined aboard on pot roast chicken and vegetables, after having entertained for drinks the owners of Mowzer, a Rival 36, which had recently berthed in close proximity to Ranger.
ST. PETER PORT, GUERNSEY
Monday morning had us leaving Treguier at 8.30 am heading for St. Peter Port, Guernsey. Hardly any wind so we motored the whole way and tied up in Victoria Marina at 5 pm. It is always a pain having to time your arrival to coincide with the sill heights, which may be as little as 1 1/2 hours either side of High Water. And then you have to pray that there is room for you in your desired spot, in this case being inside Victoria Harbour, close to all the action. Dinner that night was had in Le Nautique, one of Guernsey’s finest. It wasn’t bad, just very expensive, and rather pretentious. I rather wish we had made the effort to book a table at L’Auberge, which Karen and Peter from Mowzer had recommended.
Rather a crowded spot, and we had to tie up alongside a particularly high – sided and cumbersome charter yacht. It would have been infinitely preferable to have anchored for the night in Havelet Bay, just around the corner, which we had to retreat to anyway at 6 am the next morning . Still, we were then able to swim and have a leisurely breakfast whilst awaiting a suitable tidal window. It really is a bore having to clock- watch all the time for accessibility into and out of harbours such as Victoria Marina, and very constricting when planning an onward passage, especially if you would rather not leave at 2 am!
As it was, our son decided to fly back to London on Tuesday morning from Guernsey, so he was unceremoniously set ashore after breakfast, and my husband and I then had Ranger to ourselves.We left at 1pm headed for Cherbourg. Rather a dull trip of around 45 miles but made a little exciting by the strength of the tides in the Alderney Race
CHERBOURG, for the second time.
I really must revise my opinion of this mighty port. It was so easy to enter, and the marina staff so welcoming and helpful that it has quickly become one of our more favoured stops. My favourite restaurant meal in France so far, was had here, in a humble brasserie in an unglamorous side street. Who couldn’t love homemade pork rillettes, rabbit pate, pork knuckle and spare ribs? All for a very reasonable price, surrounded by the most charming young locals, puffing madly away on their cigarettes whilst apologising for the lunatic motorbike riders who showed off their wheelies a hair’s breadth away from our table
Now, the food shopping in Cherbourg was really a delight. The following day. I bought fresh squid, really good unpasteurised French farmhouse cheeses, and great vegetables and meat from the regular greengrocers and butchers that can be found in abundance in the town centre. After lunch on board, we set off for St. Vaast.
ST VAAST LA HOUGUE
We had always meant to visit this iconic French Fishing port, but had never quite made it before now. It was so lovely that we stayed two days. The only downside was that we could not swim in the heat of the day as the tide had gone out so far. Rather strangely, there were precious few French or English visiting yachts, but rather a veritable tsunami of Belgian and Dutch.
The Criee du Tomahawk Restaurant was particularly good.
How sad it was to visit the Chapel dedicated to those poor souls lost at sea.
We were not at all sure about the wisdom of visiting another Normandy hotspot in high season. Nor were we at all sure if we could make it in time from our 8. 30 am departure from St Vaast, the earliest the sill was open for navigation on Friday morning. Also, the tides were now Spring tides, and we had only a very small window of opportunity with which to make it up the Seine for the last bridge opening at 18.30 for the Vieux Bassin at Honfleur. A word of caution here; both Reeds Nautical Almanac and our English pilot books give the last opening of the bridge as 19.30, when in fact it is an hour earlier! And, in practice, the Lock opens for inward bound craft at ten past the hour, not on the hour as stated.
We found it most helpful to have bought a French Almanac in Cherbourg. By the skin of our teeth, and thanks to Billy’s great new 50 hp Beta engine punching hard an adverse tide towards the end, we made the 60 miles in 9 hours 20 minutes to the lock, with 10 minutes to spare! And then raced up to the lifting bridge for the Vieux Bassin, in the heart of this fabulous Medieval town.
The Vieux Bassin was surprisingly empty of Visitors, and we were lucky to get a Visitors finger pontoon to ourselves without having to raft up
What a truly splendid place. Such a shame that we picked the worst restaurant in Honfleur to dine in that night, chosen for its proximity to our boat! Even our dogs would not have eaten this filth, and it cost €93.
THE THIRD WEEK
But, the Saturday Market was heaven, and the food shopping sublime, albeit fearfully expensive. The live langoustines I bought from the Poissonerie were even better than the ones from Stornoway last summer, but they cost €49 a kilo!
And, the medieval streets and museums were terrific, as was the concert of opera and organ music last night in St Catherine’s Church.
Eating out in a restaurant here may please some of you, if you are prepared to dig deep and forgive the touristic menus, but for those who love to cook, there can be nothing better than to do it yourself with love and care.
On Monday morning at 8.30 am we set off for Fecamp, some 40 miles to the East. A cracking sail down the Seine with two reefs in the main, but the wind soon died away to a miserable 7 knots and we had to motorsail once again. Still, we averaged almost 8 knots on account of a favourable flooding spring tide which meant we could have a late lunch and visit the Benedictine Monastery. Just like 2015 when we last visited, we were scandalised by the hefty entrance price of € 12 per person, and contented ourselves with purchasing a litre of the herbal nectar for about the same price.
Fecamp Marina is now pretty full, with yachts rafting up on the hammerheads. Once again most of the visitors are Dutch, with several Belgian yachts also. I don’t know quite what happens if it all fills up completely, as it is a longish haul from here to Dieppe, or Le Havre.
Now I am not at all sure that this isn’t my favourite place so far on this trip. Although a little tricky to enter from seaward, in that you have to get the timing right with the tide, preferably a couple of hours either side of high water, and then wait for the road bridge to lift which it will do every half hour, once you are safely in through its narrow, winding sea walls, you are very snug in the town’s harbour. A lot of the buildings were obliterated during WW2 especially on the Eastern side, but the town is charming and still has its medieval origins very much evident. St Valery in-the-chalk nestles between the high chalk cliffs between Fecamp and Dieppe, and has enormous unspoilt French charm.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK…….
If you were to read all of the pilot books, sailing almanacs and tide tables covering the Channel Islands and North Brittany, you would probably be so appalled by the apparent complexities of navigation here, and be made to be quite nervous about finding a suitable berth for the night in high season, that you would probably decide not to come at all. Believe me, the authors of these guides always tell of the worst case scenarios, and in my opinion cater for the lowest common denominator of sailing competence. If you have greater than average levels of common sense, and spatial awareness, then you have nothing to fear. Assuming, that is, that you have a very well-maintained boat which is preferably as sturdy as a Rival, and with a very good working engine. That being said, it is very advisable to do plenty of homework in advance with regard to passage – planning so that you can maximise the chances of getting to visit the places which you most want to.
First of all, you must not be like King Canute. Time and tide wait for no man here and your holiday will be miserable in this cruising ground if you try to get the better of them. Once you accept that you can mostly only go in the direction that these forces of nature will take you, then you must work out how strong they are at any particular time and in which direction they will be travelling. This is not as easy as it sounds to ascertain. On Monday, leaving Cherbourg to head West around the Cap de la Hougue, we had, from 3 separate sources, quite divergent information about the strength and direction of a supposedly adverse tide. Actually it turned out that we were so close to the coast that we were seeing the effects of a back eddy which propelled Ranger along at 10 knots instead of the anticipated 5! It didn’t take us too long to realise that local conditions can vary wildly. This happened again yesterday, when approaching Treguier from the East and what we thought was 0.5 knots of adverse tide suddenly became 3 knots against us. On looking at the contours of the sea bed we could see that the slightly adverse tidal effect was being greatly magnified by being funnelled through a narrow gap between reefs. A new addition to the ship’s library is the French equivalent of Reeds Nautical Almanac, called the Bloc Marine 2018. It appears to have more detailed, and therefore more accurate information about the tidal currents in its section on tides and is proving far more useful than the Admiralty ones.This is what happens if you get it right! The tides in the Alderney race are the strongest you may encounter around this coastline.