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Sunday, 5 July 2015

Le Havre - St Valery-sur-Somme (5 July 2015)

After a hurried three weeks in England we returned to Le Havre on a slow Portsmouth Ferry. The advantage was that the ferry port was less than 10 minutes walk to Port Vauban where we had left Whileaway. Saturday was taken up with visiting the Capitainerie to pay and arrange our departure, provisioning, readying the boat and attempting again without success to deal with the inoperative AIS.
On the Sunday morning we were ready at 0835 for the road bridge across the entrance to Port Vauban to be lifted and, with two other boats we then headed to the lock that would return us to sea, The lock proved quite testing three weeks before, this time we were better prepared to cope with the metal straps that we had to secure to and in addition it was nearer HW so there was less depth to fall in the lock. After a brief stop in the marina near the harbour entrance (to find a boulangerie, itself quite an unexpected challenge in that part of Le Havre) we set off under sunny skies and light winds broadly NE.
By around 1700LT we had completed 27nm and arrived at the crowded port of Fecamp. Our plan was to stay two nights but on visiting the Capitainerie we discovered, to our surprise, that the next day the Normandie Solo race was due in and so all visitors spaces were needed for that! The biggest disappointment was that we probably couldn't visit the home of Benedictine though we did admire the 'Palace' buildings from outside the gate that evening. In fact we did make good use of the time to walk around what is very much a good sized working and holiday town which was quite busy with traffic. With no choice but to leave the next day we had also drawn the short straw for an early start. Whilst Fecamp is accessible 24 hours many of the settlements on this coast are not as the entrances dry for some distance (3nm in one case). Our next port of call was accessible from roughly 2 hours 30 minutes before HW until 2 hours 30 minutes after (HW+/-2h30m) so, as I was keen not to be entering the harbour on a falling tide on the first visit (ie after HW), an early start was required.
Consequently just after 0630 BST (0730 LT) we were away for the 17nm passage to St Valery-en-Caux. It was another sunny morning with light winds so we had to motor. But just before 1000 LT we passed between two jetties and into the Avant Port with just a few minutes to wait before we could enter the harbour. At this time near HW the lock gate was continually open; but immediately before the lock is a small road bridge which lifts on the hour and half hour. In no time the bridge was lifting As we went through the bridge the HM came out of his office (and bridge control base) and greeted us as we passed with a cheery Bonjour and suggested where we could tie up. Within 10 minutes he was down on the pontoon with town information, codes for showers  etc and saying no hurry to pay just do so when it is convenient before you leave. How refreshing in comparison to south of England marinas where they want your money in advance immediately!

Alongside in the town of St Valery-en-Caux
As we waited in the Avant Port Andrea had noticed that there were stalls selling fish fresh from the boats on the quay side. So off we went for a walk around the town and to acquire dinner. Amongst the variety of fish on the stalls we were particularly taken by Turbot, Whilst not cheap, by no means as expensive as in a supermarket in the UK, and looking very fresh and of good quality so a purchase was made. St Valery is an attractive town despite the fact that many buildings were blown up in WW2. The centre of town was flattened in 1940 when the French Cavalry together with the 51st Highland Division made heroic last stands against Rommel's tanks.Thus we saw memorials to both forces, the immaculate Commonwealth War Cemetery and the Rue de Highland Division. Had an interesting discussion on the pontoon with a Belgian sailor when he talked about his wish to try to visit another St Valery, this time St Valery-sur-Somme. In our planning I had given this a miss as it has major access constraints. But the Belgian was the second person to have mentioned it, a German we met in Deauville on our first leg had also extolled its attractions.
After a good days exploring we were ready to move on the next morning and again headed about 15 nm NE to Dieppe. There are strictly enforced requirements here for all ships to request permission from Dieppe Harbour Control before entering or leaving the port. After a wait for the Newhaven ferry to leave its berth and depart we were given permission to enter and tied up in the main harbour opposite the fishing fleet. We stayed in Dieppe two nights and very much enjoyed a bustling town and beach, the latter being particularly well used as the temperature hit 35 deg C on the second afternoon.
The harbour in the town of Dieppe
Not surprisingly there is a busy fishing fleet here and consequently there are plenty of market stalls. Our choice this time was Dorade (Sea Bream). Whilst in Dieppe we explored including climbing to the top of the cliffs that overlook the town where a seafarers chapel with excellent stained glass remembers those that have lost their lives at sea in the last three centuries.

Seafarers chapel overlooking Dieppe
On a hot sunny day we also cycled up and down the cliffs to the next seaside town of Pourville and back along a "green" route.
This coast has lots of war time incidents. In Dieppe we learnt about Operation Jubilee in 1942. This involved the Canadians accompanied by some British and French commandos attempting an invasion of Dieppe and neighbouring towns. Unfortunately it was a disaster with nearly 1,000 Canadian and Allied men killed and 2,000 captured within a few hours. Just over 2,000 escaped back to England. After the event it was said to have been very important in that the Allies decided that a full scale invasion could not be based on landing at heavily fortified and defended towns and so D Day planning involved the beaches. It was said that the experience of Dieppe meant that many fewer lives were lost later but it all feels a little like post justification for a pointless attack.
After two days in Dieppe it was time for another short hop, this time to Le Treport. This is another busy fishing town with limited access this time through a lock available HW+0330/-0230. again you pass between two jetties into the Avant Port where lights indicated that the lock was closed. On calling on the VHF the lock keeper said that he would be ready in three minutes. This was indeed the case and we entered the lock, the only boat in it. We had a day here in what is a friendly town that developed in the Victorian era. Of particular note was the free funicular which takes you to the top of some of the highest cliffs in Europe. On the other bank is Mers-les-Bains another coastal town from the Victorian era with some "bizarre" but attractive architecture.

Mer-les-Bains sea front
Our next departure was around 1100LT when the Lock Keeper thought that there would be enough water for us. A busy departure time with a full lock. We again headed NE this time looking for a red and white striped safe water buoy (marked "AT-SO) off the mouth of the Baie de Somme. We were attracted to St Valery-sur Somme by the description in the Pilot that also suggested that it was the nicest place in this "navigationally challenged" region. But getting there proved to be the  most testing part of this holiday so far. The Baie de Somme dries to 3nm out. The Pilot recommended being at the AT-SO at 2 hours before HW but because of the traffic in the lock at Le Treport we arrived about 75 minutes before HW. From this buoy you follow a truly meandering channel, The Pilot and the Almanac can not show the Channel as it constantly changes. The buoys are regularly moved. I had downloaded from the St Valery Port web site the latest bouyage as laid in mid-March (, but even this turned out not to be 100% accurate. After you find (from the AT-SO) the first two buoys, S1 (starboard) and S2 (port) you have to tick off each pair of buoys as you cross backwards and forwards between the two coasts which act as the jaws of the bay. The last buoys are in the 40s and it was nearly 90 minutes motoring at above average speed before we closed on St Valery. Then the fun started as the tide was now slack but unbeknown to me the river and the canal discharge into the channel at St Valery so in the last mile or so we were fighting a current of 2kn. Engine revs further increased and on a hot day we suddenly had the engine overheating alarm sounding. Through gritted teeth I pressed on for the couple of hundred metres before we left the channel and entered the marina and slack water!

Looking out from St Valery towards low water- hope that the will tide return!
St Valery is a very attractive town with a medieval quarter that is well maintained as well as later buildings. There are interesting walks (or cycling) along the front that enable you to see the bay as well as along the Canal de la Somme which you can enter here. There is a very pretty narrow gauge train that has been running for 130 years, now by volunteers. We kept hearing the whistle of the steam engines and seeing them so on Saturday we went on an hours journey to Le Crotoy which is on the opposite bank and is an attractive holiday town.

Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme
Unsurprisingly this is another town that claims the 'William the Conqueror was here' tag! But they make much more of it and this weekend they have their annual celebration. It seems that he really did leave from here in 1066 to put the wind up the Saxons following a dispute about inheriting the English crown.

Sunset St Valery
Our last night in St Valery produced a beautiful sunset. On Sunday we leave for Boulogne some 35nm to the north. As we cannot leave (for lack of water) until about 90 minutes before HW we will have to fight the tide most of the way. But first we have to follow all those buoys again to the safe water mark.

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