Sunday 8 September 2013

St Peter Port to Cherbourg 13/8/13

We were getting quite good at getting out of bed by now and 0700 was civilised compared with the 0400 of the previous morning. The Frenchie had said he was off at 0800 and we were determined not to give succour to his rather sniffy welcome of the previous evening and so with only a cup of tea in our bellies we were casting off at 0750 while he and our immediate neighbours on the classy wooden Brit yacht against which we were alongside were still having their breakfast. This was the first time we'd seen them since Tregieur where they had been far from sociable. Perhaps they were relieved to see us depart or perhaps they had simply been knackered in Tregieur, but suddenly they were quite jolly and chatted amicably to us as we prepared to leave - they even helped us with our lines. The Frenchie was though still as laconic as ever - perhaps the Guernsey food had not agreed with them. Thankfully we had not had cause to sample it ourselves on this occasion.

Anyway we were off and the sun and gentle breeze beckoned as we sailed up the Little Russel in the direction of Cherbourg. The wind was though - of course - a confidence trick and within 30 minutes had died to almost nothing dead on the nose and we realised that if we were to make the gate through the Alderney Race and carry a fair tide to Cherbourg the engine would have to be pressed into life. Once again it was and I marvelled, not for the first or the last time, at the Bhuk's reliability. In my experience prior to Arctic Smoke, the principal characteristics of boat engine's was for them to fail at the most inconvenient times and to very occasionally save one's bacon. One such occasion came vividly to mind.

It was 1980 something and in my Dad's converted ship's life boat - a standing gaff cutter - we'd been over to France from Portchester. I think we'd done Cherbourg, Le Havre and St Valery en Caux - the latter being a most beautiful spot. We'd arrived there late one evening at dusk near the top of the tide and had gone straight into the inner drying harbour. We rigged the legs had a meal and went to bed and woke up the next morning high and dry in the middle of the most picturesque drying harbour. I can't quite remember the crew except that my then current girl friend Maggie and my ex (Helen) and her pal 'Coz' were amongst them. My brother Sebastian must have been the other bloke come to think of it.

On the leg back to Portsmouth we encountered calms, fog and head winds and the engine failed. Not the sort of conditions in which a heavy standing gaff cutter with flax sails exceled in. 24 hours after leaving St Valery we were at anchor in the Looe Channel waiting for the tide to wash us up to Pompey. The tide did its job which was just as well because there was only occasionally enough wind to give us steerage way. We got a little more wind as we entered Portsmouth harbour and we ghosted past the Navy destroyers in the early dawn light. A few minutes later I was very glad that even most of the Navy was still in bed. The wind died as we crawled up the harbour and Chlamys got caught in an eddy and we were suddenly spiralling towards the bows of a Destroyer and were most definitely 'not under command' or at least, not under mine! On most other previous occasions when I pretended to guide Chlamys through crowded and restricted waters the crew of other craft - on seeing her twelve foot bowsprit point in their direction - wisely ensured they got out of the way. This destroyer was however not moving anywhere and it seemed unlikely that splintering Chlamys's bowsprit on her hull would even scratch her paintwork.

During the frantic scramble for fenders I wondered if anyone would notice if I just jumped over the side. As this increasingly attractive thought was taking shape in my mind I became aware of a terrified face being pressed against mine in an effort to communicate. With an effort I realised that Maggie was suggesting we try the engine again. "There's no point"  I said glumly "we've tried it so many times and it has refused to work it wont work now - in any case the battery must be flat." My chance of escape had now completely disappeared and I began to wonder if the Navy could court martial a civilian for driving without due care and attention. Maggie then said "well I'm going to try it anyway" and pushed the start button. The engine turned, coughed and spluttered and then miraculously staggered into life. Not for long but long enough to avoid the Destroyer.

We finally got back to our mooring in Portchester some 36 hours after leaving St Valery. I vowed I'd never put Maggie through that experience again. I needn't have worried she never got back on the boat!

Arctic Smoke's Bhuk was her original engine, all of 10  horse power but was still going strong and was not reluctant to start and so we were soon motoring towards the Alderney race. The fishing lines came out and we soon had a haul of 12 Mackerel enough for three each. We caught the race at just the right time and for a while were making 11 knots over the ground in almost a flat calm. We had grilled Mackerel for lunch, cooked by Mick as we motor sailed to Cherbourg. I had forgotten how huge the harbour was, it seemed to take almost as long to travel from the western entrance to the marina as it did from Cap De La Hague to the western entrance. Eventually we moored up in the marina at 1645.

Rough key stats:

Departed St Peter Port 0815 on 13/8/13
Distance over the ground = 46 miles
Arrived Cherbourg marina 1645
Total passage hours = 8.5
Average speed = 5.5 knots
Engine hours = 8
Sailing hours 0.5

Apart from the excessive use we'd had to make of the engine on this trip, the other disappointment was the lack of interesting characters we'd met. My memory of sailing in the 70s and 80s was that we always bumped (sometimes literally) into people with whom to pass the time. This time, apart from Nick we had up until now met no one else of note. That changed at Cherbourg but unfortunately we were pressed for time and therefore I was only able to make a passing acquaintance with the couples on the Elizabethan 31 just down the pontoon, and the early Nicholson 32.

After we sorted ourselves out and I had quickly introduced my self to the above, we went ashore in search of a good Norman meal. Our gluttony remember needed indulging. After traipsing the streets for almost an hour we finally found a little cluster of Restaurants mentioned in the Pilot and went into the most promising looking one. It was without doubt the worst meal of the trip so far. Perhaps we were just unlucky but it felt like Brittany was another country completely. The food was indifferent - not out of place in any chain restaurant in the UK (which thankfully were completely absent in Brittany) and the service was terrible. Pleasant enough youngsters running the place but they clearly didn't have a clue about the job.

On our way back to the boat we went in search of Supermarket for the morning's shop. We found it but it was a long hike and decided that we'd make do with the smaller grocery we had noticed whilst looking for the restaurant.

The next day we had to leave around 1030 to make the best of the tides, so it would be a quick breakfast and shop before departing once again. Destination, Eastbourne.

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