Sign up here with your email address for notifications of new posts

Sunday, 12 July 2015

St Valery-sur-Somme - Dunkerque (11 July 2015)

After two very sunny and enjoyable days in and around St Valery and a picturesque sunset we regretfully had to leave with the tide at lunch time the next day.
Glorious sunset St Valery-sur-Somme
Sunday began wet and miserable. A great shame as it was the annual celebration of William of Normandy (the Conqueror) with people dressed in the attire of the time and demonstrating appropriate crafts - including that of archery! It was fair to say that they were using a conventional bulls eye target rather than King Harold's face! But sadly for the crowds (and us) we had about an hour of thunderstorms and lightening during the morning so we hurried back to the boat as soon as they eased off. At 1400LT, about 90 minutes before high water, we set off towards the winding channel that would take us to safe water. At first we had to punch the strong incoming tide so we made very slow progress but gradually it slackened and after about 2 hours we reached the safe water buoy and began to head NE. Not only that but we had a brisk F4 (about 14 knots) wind from WNW so we hoisted sails and silenced the engine. We were soon pushing along at 6+kn but in a moderate swell that kept us busy adjusting course. Looking at the coast we were now seeing sand and dunes rather than the high cliffs that were the feature further S. Every 5 or so miles a little holiday town with its high rise concrete blocks of flats would appear (or a power station, or a cement works, or wind turbines)! Not the best unspoilt coast.
The wind gradually increased so that by the time we could see the four wind turbines on the outer breakwater at Boulogne it was F5 gusting to F6 around 25+kn. But we had made good time for the 43nm and around 2130LT Andrea called Boulogne Port to request permission to enter which was duly given. After passing the outer breakwater and a little tussle to get the main sail wound away we called the marina and were allocated a berth. However on approaching what turned out to be a very full marina with boats rafted out it was apparent that we were being squeezed into a tiny berth close to the marina wall. Thankfully we had help from Dutch sailors to manoeuvre Whileaway into a very
tight corner but this took some time.
The next day was warm sunny and so we walked up to the beautifully conserved old walled city and reacquainted ourselves with its attractive architecture and general ambiance.
Boulogne fortified city
On this occasion the ambiance included quite a few groups of boisterous English schoolchildren presumably on school organised day trips. But there was also a film crew preparing to record a programme using the old town as their backdrop and the opportunity to walk the ramparts of the castle. After lunch we walked to and along the sea front, the beach being very busy. Then, in the evening, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at a local restaurant.
Marina, fishing boat quay and city centre high rise
By now we knew that the weather forecast for the coming days was strong winds for the Dover Strait as a depression moved through. As our next leg includes passing the headland of Cap Gris Nez we felt that reasonable weather was required. Also it was not going to be a short leg as we had decided not to call at Calais but press on to Gravelines or Dunquerke. With all the problems of migrants and dockers strikes at Calais there was also a risk of a port blockade and we certainly didn't want to be there if that transpired. With a forecast including gale or very strong winds for Tuesday and Wednesday we decided to stay put and Tuesday became a maintenance day when you do all those odd jobs that need attention. For us this comprised repairing small leaks on joints of two of the fresh water pipes; tackling a small leak on the davits support; cleaning off some scuff marks on the hull; further investigating the AIS failure; rectifying the data supply (position, speed etc) to the VHF; and re-securing some headlining that had come adrift. That evening and night were very bumpy indeed and it was still rough on Wednesday morning but with Thursday looking better. We thoroughly explored Boulogne, especially enjoying revisiting the old fortified city where there were, in the central square, some newly created artistic gardens, each with their own theme.
On Thursday morning at around 0900LT  we finally left Boulogne. After two extra days we had exhausted all the opportunities it could offer!
However heading east we had a very eventful trip as we had to fight the tide for 6 hours and so took 9 hours to do 35nm to get to Gravelines! We had to arrive at Gravelines near HW; for some reason this is only about 2 hours after the tide had turned to go north east whereas I would have thought that we’d have been entitled to the full 6 hours with the tide!
As we were arriving Andrea noticed that the cockpit locker had about 0.3m of water in it. I assumed that a leak on the fresh water system that I had repaired in Boulogne had failed. When we got into Gravelines I found that the engine sump also had about 0.5m of water in it.  On testing I discovered that it was salt water. Also that there was 0,3m of water in the bilges! I began rapidly pumping to return the sea water to the correct (outside) part of boat! After eliminating various causes I discovered a leak on the seawater cooling pipe for the engine which I think I have now repaired.
Gravelines is an interesting place. In the first (only available) pontoon we were on (close to the harbour wall) we ended up sinking into the mud as I think that the sill which is supposed to hold the water in the marina is not as good as it should be; or that the marina has badly silted. Fortunately on Friday morning a couple of other visitors left so we moved to the outer hammerhead and Whileaway then remained afloat again!
Visiting the Capitainerie was interesting in this small harbour. Part of the same building is a bar and restaurant and each time I visited (8 o’clock the first evening then 10’oclock the next morning), the office door was open but no one was there. Each time I found the HM at the bar with a drink in his hand!
We had a less frenetic day on Friday than the previous evening, exploring this nice country town with a market in the town square in the morning. The town also has nice medieval walls and fortifications, a suburb like a 1970’s English new town and a unique railway station from the 1880’s which is demountable so can be removed if no longer needed!
Gravelines demountable railway station.
We also went out to the beach where, at LW, the sea is about half a mile away! On our way there we passed the striking redundant lighthouse with a striped design which stands just behind the beach and acts as a navigation guide upon entering. It is also adjacent to the channel and we noticed a yacht that had run aground at the previous HW and was now definitely looking rather sick, laying on its side, with what appeared to be an anxious skipper on the land waiting for the next HW.

Gravelines lighthouse and stranded yacht
On Saturday we made a prompt departure at 0745BST and went with the tide and a pleasant F4 W wind 15 miles to Dunkerque arriving 3 hours later.
That afternoon we visited the Museum which is a tribute to the evacuation of 300,000+ British and French soldiers in 1940 and which has plenty of film footage and memorabilia. We also looked round the town, some of the architecture is “interesting”, but of course there had to be much rebuilding in the 1950’s. As Andrea remarked both Gravelines and Dunkerque have architecture which is very Flanders or even Belgium rather than the French style that we are used to. But there are some notable historic buildings including the Mairie. Why is it that the French are so much more committed to local democracy and central government is more cautious about interfering than in England?
Mairie Dunkerque
Amongst other buildings is the 15th century bell tower that somehow survived the German onslaught in 1940 and a 1980's tower, the two of these and the Marie acting as valuable landmarks. The carillon
bells in the 15th century tower played wonderfully for about 10 minutes to mark the hour.
Three towers of Dunkerque
The wind got up in the afternoon and worryingly the forecast was for strong winds for about 5 days. So we now engaged in thinking about when and how we can move on to Belgium. As we leave France what have been our favourite places? Well St Vaast-la-Hogue and Honfleur we had previously visited and it was again a pleasure. But of the other places probably the two St Valery's stand out as does Dives, Deauville/Trouville, Le Treport and Gravelines. All smaller places with great character.

No comments:

Post a Comment