We have now arrived back in the UK and are having a few days enforced rest (otherwise known as quarantine).
We had tentative plans when we left Cascais to cross the channel to the West Country, possibly Falmouth. As we thought about this we felt that it was a little far from the kids and decided that Plymouth would be logistically better for a quick trip to Reading and the Midlands. We knew that berths might be limited as most British boats have stayed at home this year. We contacted some marinas in Plymouth to secure a berth for a month only to be told there were no places and we would be put on the waitlist.
This required some rethinking. A conversation with a delivery skipper passing through Camaret Sur Mer suggested Eastbourne might be a good option. We called and were able to secure a place.
This meant that our destination was the other end of the English Channel so we had much further to travel than expected when we arrived at Camaret Sur Mer. We arrived in Eastbourne on the 8th July.
When we last updated our blog we had just arrived in Loctudy.
We spent 6 days in Loctudy, summer had ended and the weather was cooler and wetter, we did manage to get our bikes out and explore the area. The local marketplace was being used as a rehearsal space for the Breton pipe band. Not wishing to be controversial but bagpipes are Graham’s least favourite instrument, hearing a band in rehearsal must be the worst possible scenario. We did not hang around long, Graham has often said that the best place to hear bagpipes is in the distance, Scotland being about the right distance.
Our next port of call was Audierne
Here you need to start thinking more about the tides. The channel is narrow and can be quite silted up. A Swiss yacht leaving the day before we did helpfully showed us where not to go when they run aground when leaving on a falling tide. They had to wait a few hours for the tide to return sitting at a jaunty angle in the middle of the river. No damage was caused, just a lesson learnt. The town and market were right next to the marina and we had an interesting time. The lifeboat was also out and about and you will see a picture of them letting off flares. There were also some very futuristic looking fishing boats.
Raz de Sein
We planned our departure for just after high tide and there was a noticeable current as we left our berth. Leaving at this time gave us plenty of time to get to the Raz De Sien, the first of the three tidal gates we needed to navigate on our trip home (a tidal gate is simply a place you want to be at when the tide is in your favour)
We had hoped for a gentle breeze to drift us in the right direction but there was none so we motored very slowly to arrive at the Raz de Sein at slack water. The wind indicator literally showed 0 wind. This area is notorious for rough seas when the tide is flowing strongly. If you want to see what it is like on a bad day click here ( a new window will open with a website) As on the way down we arrived at slack water and the sea was flat calm and presented no problems. We had an uneventful trip up to Cameret-sur-Mer which is what we like.
We visited here on our way south in 2019 and wanted to spend a few days here again. We could explore a little further afield with our bikes and cycled over to see the Rade de Brest and over to the city of Brest.
They have a fishing boat graveyard here, it was interesting to note that some of the hulls from 2019 had disappeared now.
Here we started to finalise our arrangements for the trip back across the Channel to England
We prepared to leave Camaret-sur-Mer, this involved navigating the Chenal du Four. This needs to be navigated at the right state of the tide otherwise the current will stop you or take you back where you have come from.
We had decided in the interest of time to skip a stop at L’Aber Wrach and head for Roscoff. The times of the tides meant we would arrive at Roscoff in the middle of the night which was not something we wanted to do so we decided to head straight for Cherbourg and spend two nights at sea. (it would have been nice to stop at Roscoff as a boat and crew we had met in 2019 had just arrived). We would have liked to stop in the Channel Islands for a night and wait for the tides to carry us to Cherbourg but with coronavirus restrictions, we did not want to leave France and then have problems stopping at Cherbourg.
The passage to Cherbourg started with a light wind and we joined the other boats enjoying the afternoon sailing off Brest. Unfortunately, after an hour it was clear we were not going to make the appointment with the tide at the Vieux Moines ( just off the Pointe de Saint-Mathieu) to head swiftly through the Chenal du Four so we had to start the engine.
The passage through was swift and once out we set a course for the Channel Islands. The winds had died and the sea was flat calm. On the positive, we were still being pushed in the right direction by the tides. In the morning we found that the fog was quite thick. On the Radar and AIS we could see a few fishing boats close by, these were less than a mile away but we could not see them. We were glad that we had replaced the broken radar over the winter. It is amazing the amount of rubbish you see floating in the English Channel, at some point we saw a rather large item emerging from the fog. It was difficult to size it in the fog but at first, it looked like a type of shipping container but on reflection, it was probably a large piece of polystyrene packaging. You do not want to meet rubbish like this in the night as you will not see it before you hit it. We approached the channel islands we were ahead of schedule so a quick look at the tidal atlas. It seemed better to pass through between Guernsey and Alderney and then we should be up the race of Alderney before the tide changes and be able to make progress to Cherbourg as we were close to a neap tide and the tide streams should not be too strong.
The plan went well as we sped past Guernsey with around 3 knots of current pushing us on. The strength of the current was very evident as we passed fishing pots that appeared to be steaming fast in the other direction. We made good progress through the Alderney race and arrived back on the English Channel. Now our luck had run out and we witnessed the power of the tides in this area. The sea was full of swirling currents and the autohelm could not cope. We headed further out into the channel to find smoother, clearer waters. It was a good reminder of the power of the sea. It would be scary and dangerous to be caught up in this in anything but the most benign weather we found ourselves in.
Once in clear water, we were able to make some progress against the tide but we were now only making around 2 knots towards Cherbourg. The sea was taking back some of the gains it had given us earlier. As mentioned in normal times we would have stopped at Alderney and waited but these are not normal times.
We had hoped to make Cherbourg before nightfall. As the first 6 miles took 3 hours this hope evaporated. We were now about to have a big lesson in night navigation. In the last 3 years, we have always planned our trips to avoid arriving in the dark. You can read books, watch videos and take courses but with everything in life you really don’t learn until you do it.
Cherbourg is a large harbour with two large entrances to the outer harbour. We thought it would be easy to identify this. We ended up far too close to the Eastern end of the Passe de l’Ouest. Reviewing the trip in the hard light of day we realised that we had been too close to the rocks for comfort. We have a checklist we use every time we sail in included are things like “is the electric cable unplugged?” (yes we have seen at least one boat attempting to leave with an electricity cable still connected). We also have a boaters prayer we pray including the line “ Protect us from unseen dangers” this time we really felt we had been looked after.
Once inside it is still a few miles to the marina but it was easier to find the key marks. Still, the buildings of the old ocean liner terminal and walkways made sinister shapes against the night sky.
By 1 am we were safely tied up and had successfully made our first-night entry to a marina. A lot of lessons were learnt and a whole list of things to do differently noted.
We were glad to have an extra day in Cherbourg as we had a lot to organise before heading off to Eastbourne.
The priority was to arrange a Covid test. Being a port city we thought this would be easy, wrong.
We had contacted a local representative of the Cruising Association and helpfully they had provided a contact. We visited the doctor’s surgery but could only make an appointment by phone. The phone only went to an answerphone. We tried a different tack and visited the tourist information office and helpfully they provided us with a list of test centres. Armed with this we headed off to the closest address (which was just opposite the doctor’s surgery we had visited half an hour before.) It turned out that the list was for centres who will test you if you think you have covid, not for travel tests. They referred me back to the doctors across the street we had visited earlier. Tried a few times to call on the phone, still, only an answer machine so decided we had to leave a message. My French is not good enough to do this so with an apology I left a message in English and also an English mobile number.
Time to wait so we found a coffee shop but no callback. We managed to find a few more doctors locally listed that carried out tests so tried a few more visits but still no luck finding someone to talk to. Another phone call and this time the doctor phoned back and we made an appointment for noon Monday.
We had stopped in Cherbourg for 10 days in 2019 but this time it did not feel relaxed as we were planning and preparing to cross back to England. The trip so far had been easy from a bureaucratic point of view, with no Covid test and no problems entering Spain or France. Somehow we knew it would be different going back to England. We had plenty of forms to complete (that are really only designed for travellers on commercial carriers). They need to be completed no more than 48 hours before arrival, (what happens if you plan a four-day sail directly from Spain?). We filled in the forms as best we could. On arrival in UK waters, and when you have a phone signal, you need to call the Yacht line and report your arrival to customs.
Our trip back was delayed by one day as a gale decided to blow along the channel. As has been typical this was replaced by no winds so we motored across the channel Wednesday night. This was a quiet passage, as we refuelled it started to rain but really did not come to much and we had a dry quiet trip across.
The eastbound shipping channel was crossed in daylight and we found it easy to get across between the ships.
The westbound section was in the early hours of the morning and it was dark. There also seemed to be more traffic. We adjusted our speed to time our crossing, it was a bit eerie watching the lights of nearby ships but with radar and AIS, it made it less stressful as you could see any risks.
We approached Beachy Head in the dawn and made it safely to Eastbourne.
What next? That is the big question. Once we have completed our quarantine we will take a week to visit the kids, meet our new grandson born 6th July and visit Judith’s mother. We will then spend a few weeks in Eastbourne and consider where we want to keep the boat for the winter.