Monday 20th May 2019 French Cruising in ….Heydays

Not quite rock and roll but as close as we get.

We’ve been talking for some time about exploring the North West of France even though it means following a fairly well sailed route with an almost literal groove in the sea.

We spent a goodly part of the winter getting some key jobs done on Heydays and are itching to get out from the confines of the Solent, beautiful as it is.

We took her into Keyhaven for a dry out to antifoul and also to have an electrician go up the mast…being winched up by hand loses its appeal eventually…

Keyhaven in early April was a delight and was also poignant for me as I used to sail here with my Dad…

We know the grass is always greener (or the sea bluer?)…but Heydays just needs to get some channel water rushing past her keels and to feel the gentle nudge of a French beach or marina. In the days running up to our leaving, we have the usual nagging thoughts about jobs left undone, what surprises lie in store and will our sea legs be as good as last season? Last minute shopping and cooking sees us stocked for a transatlantic trip, never mind just across the channel…and the wine stocks are checked twice…. or more.

Yee Tak and Chris find the call of granddaughters too much and will join us once John and I have got Heydays down to somewhere south of Brest. We spend Sunday night on board in preparation for an early start on Monday….first snag/old person’s oversight is that we forgot to replace one of the gas cylinders. This is such a basic error, but John wakes up Chris to try to find some more gas on a Sunday evening in Lymington. The garage is open but can’t sell John the gas as there is only one bloke on shift. However, John’s much mocked stock of stuff in his garage comes to the rescue as he has two very rusty (i.e. almost unidentifiable) Camping Gaz cylinders which we can exchange in Cherbourg. He is gleeful in pointing out the usefulness of his stash of useful stuff.

This is not the time or place to bore you with the gory differences between gas on the continent (almost always Camping Gaz) and our own dear Calor. Ne’er the twain shall meet in terms of connectors or be bought in each other’s countries. We resign ourselves to having to carry an extra load of some sort of gas…

3.30am comes around ridiculously soon and I’m sure that John has maliciously tampered with my phone. Climbing into waterproofs and thick jumpers to the sound of rain dripping on the deck is just my idea of an idyllic summer cruise! But oddly, we get into the rhythm of life on board as if we’ve never had a break and almost like a well oiled machine we prepare Heydays and finally release the last rope tying us to England (for now). Although it is raining, there is some light penetrating the blackness and we feel our way down the river and towards the open sea. Henry VIII’s Hurst Castle and the narrows slide past on the last of the spring ebb and as the tide turns at the needles we set a course due south for Cherbourg.

John and I first crossed the channel in around 91 or 92 and in those days it was a major (for us) undertaking, involving weeks of planning, checking charts and making tidal calculations. Often as not we did the crossing in fog, with some trepidation as to what might come looming out of the gloom when we got to the shipping lanes. Also back in those days when GPS was not as universal as now, we did our position on the basis of dead reckoning (assumptions about wind, tide and leeway) together with a deservedly much maligned system called VHF direction finding (RDF)….never good for more than about plus or minus 900 we found. Now, we are much more relaxed. With a boat averaging over 5kt the trip from Needles to Cherbourg is about 12 hours i.e. two tides which should more or less cancel each other out. We point Heydays due south and sit back in the drizzle. For the next 10 hours nothing much happens…a few boats pass some distance off, first the West going ships on our side then the East going ships nearer France.

We lunch on Pizza, but the gas is certainly not right. The pizza would probably have been hotter if we had just sat on it. Nearer Cherbourg the sun makes a valiant (but ultimately futile attempt to warm us up, but at least it lifts the spirits and soon we are slipping into the familiar outer Rade past the old forts which presumably were glowering at Henry’s efforts which we passed just 12 hours ago.

By 5 ish French time we are moored up and enjoying some late spring sun. We know Cherbourg well, but even so it strikes us how much it has changed over the years since we first came in John’s old boat Spinola. There used to be some grotty old toilets by the pontoons of the old ‘hole in the ground and squat’ French style. They are now replaced by a chic café, the marina is welcoming, friendly and has luxurious showers and toilets and the walk into town is delightful, through landscaped gardens and cycleways. It really is a town worthy of a longer stay, not just a grotty port to be used as a rapid stopover.

Our first Ricard of the trip together with some fishy morsels and a half carafe of a vin blanc, followed by rum back on board…we are truly back into Heydays living.

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