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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

St Malo - Portsmouth (24 September 2014)

We left St Malo just as the sun was rising on what was forecast to be a day of light winds. Surprisingly this was correct and we mainly motor sailed on a warm and sunny day. Navigation was not difficult; we just had to avoid a few islands and rocks. After leaving St Malo it was very quiet and we saw just two other boats.

One of these was a traditional oyster boat from Concale which was heading home, perhaps, judging from its course, from a trip to Jersey. Concale claims to be the oyster capital of Brittany but I suspect that a few other places would also claim that! Our destination was 50nm to the north of St Malo, Carteret a commune on the west side of the Cotentin peninsula.
This part of the coast features lovely gently sloping sandy beaches backed by sand dunes. Consequently the approach to the harbour and river that leads to the marina dries extensively. For a boat of our draft there is normally enough water to enter the harbour and pass over the sill which holds water in the marina for about two and a half hours each side of high water. So our departure from St Malo had to take account of that. As it happened we arrived just before HW in late afternoon and were met by the cheerful HM who showed us to a residents berth that was vacant.
In the evening could see lightening many miles away (probably 50+), but with no sound effects. That night we had light rain briefly in the night, the first since we had returned 18 days previously! Saturday brought another sunny morning in this lovely quiet spot behind the dunes and with plenty of bird life.
Having visited Cartaret before we knew that there was an excellent street market at its sister commune of Barneville (about a mile away) on Saturday mornings. We patronised many stalls buying fish (Dorade and crevettes), fresh vegetables, olives and so on. We were also reeled in by the same stall holder that we had seen on our last visit about three years earlier who sells his own farm produced Normandie Pommeau and Calvodos. He is very ready to call passers by over with a flourish of glasses quickly filled with a very generous taster! And it is excellent and good value, so bottles purchased. After lunch we decided to cycle along the coast to Port Bail an attractive ride through the countryside. As with other places in this area this is a significant year remembering the 70th anniversary of liberation in 1944. Those who read the first blog of the summer may remember that at the beginning of our cruise we saw in Cherbourg a special day with many historic American vehicles and locals dressed in 1940's uniform. After D Day it was the Americans' responsibility to advance up and secure the Cotentin peninsula whilst the British and Canadians had objectives to drive eastwards. Port Bail had a special committee overseeing their remembrance with small information points around the town. From these we learnt that much of Port Bail had been abandoned by residents during the occupation and that Port Bail had to be heavily bombed to dislodge the German army. It was said that it was the first French town to be overflown by Allied bombers on the night before D Day. Another story was of a local French hero who after D Day but before the Americans arrived climbed the Church tower and hoisted a French flag in defiance of the Nazis. As part of the remembrances the flags of France, Britain, Canada and USA have been flying on the four corners of the Church tower this year.
We had various choices for our departure on Sunday. After talking it over we opted for a departure in the afternoon as soon as the sill opened, likely to be by 1630LT. That would mean arrival at Cherbourg at around 2300LT, quite late but considered a better option than leaving at 0345! Again going with a fair tide was crucial as we needed to leave as soon as we could to get us through the Alderney Race and around Cap de la Hague. Even then we might have to fight a turning tide in the last hour. Looking at the forecast it could also be lively in the morning but perhaps F4 reducing to F3 for an afternoon departure. So we were ready to go on time but the combination of high pressure and a still fresh wind reducing the height of the tide we couldn't leave until 1650. We then had a great sail for the 25nm up to and into the Race with a F5 NE wind. Off Cap de la Hague we had the not unknown very confused seas and had to turn into a continuing strong F5 now E wind. Whileaway coped well but it was like being on a roller coaster in what was now pitch black with no moon, just the sweeping light from the lighthouse. We were glad to get round the Cap and turn ESE towards Cherbourg. But it was nearly midnight LT before we were tied up in Cherbourg, just a little way from Eos whom we had last seen in Roscoff! This had been a testing 46nm that had been covered in a relatively quickly just under 7 hours.
I had been watching the weather forecast for the following days for a week, in particular monitoring a brief quiet period on Tuesday and Wednesday as a potential window for our Channel crossing. On Monday morning, Tuesday was still looking good but winds were now definitely increasing on Wednesday. Exchanging notes with Em and Mari on Eos we agreed that we needed to be ready to go on Tuesday. So on Monday we stocked with essentials such as cheese and then visited Cave Marcel to choose the wine which about an hour later were delivered along the pontoon to Whileaway. A farewell seafood dinner at a restaurant that we often visit in Cherbourg was as good as ever. Before we sailed there, Cherbourg was known to us just as a ferry terminal through which we quickly passed. From years visiting as sailors (including periods when we have been storm bound) we now know that it has some very interesting history, attractive parks, good quality restaurants and a very high standard, welcoming and comfortable marina! 
On Tuesday Eos and Whileaway left at around 0500, again in pitch black! Eos was heading for the Needles Channel and then Yarmouth whereas we had opted for Portsmouth, a longer distance but more convenient and trying to make use of  the initial strong east bound tide. So after leaving the outer Rade we went our separate ways. It was a day when winds started at F4, reduced to 3 and then 2 before increasing to 3 again. And started off NE and gradually moved round through E, SE, S to SW. So we had a mixture of motor sailing and sailing generally under summer skies. We saw few ships before, around 1730, we passed the Nab Tower off the E coast of the Isle of Wight. At 1900 we picked up a mooring in Portsmouth Harbour having completed 87nm and relaxed for the evening.
The next morning we went the short distance into Gosport Marina.
So ended our summer cruise of 79 days covering approaching 1440 nm and on which we sailed for 48 days.
If you have read this far, hope that you have enjoyed the blog!

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