Wednesday 31 August
While there was still activity aplenty on deck, Mate dealt with some of her pile of admin: post, accounts ledger and preparing some parcels for posting. The crew cycled into Cherbourg, to visit the large Carrefour for provisions, the post office and the wine cave. Later the Mate took out her trusty sewing machine to start making some very smart cushions for the cockpit – in red, of course.
Tuesday 30 August
My boys continued fitting my new sails today, while the Mate was busy in the galley baking lots of lovely-smelling treats. During the cooler evening my crew removed my sail bag so the Mate could lay it out on the pontoon to scrub it clean.
Monday 29 August
Today is my crew’s 21st wedding anniversary, and they received some lovely messages from friends and family. Celebrations have been postponed, as they needed to take me round to the Allures technical pontoon so my boys at the chantier (boat yard/builder) could bring my two lovely new sails, a stay sail to make me into a cutter rig, and my beautiful red light winds gennaker.
Sunday 28 August
A wet day, encouraging my tired crew to rest and potter with a few essential jobs and a gentle stroll around town to stretch the legs.
Around 0330, now Saturday 27 August, Mate noticed that waves seemed to be breaking just off to my starboard side: a green glow from the bow light now indicating we were motor-sailing as the wind had dropped. She felt the presence of, as much as saw, a pod of between six and a dozen dolphins, playing around and under me, surfacing right alongside her and ‘blowing’ like a whale. She felt very privileged by this private show, and for their joyful company in the darkest hours of the night.
Skipper’s last watch was lit by the silver path of a quarter moon along our wake, until the sky finally began to lighten as dawn crept over the Eastern horizon, and the sun rose on the new day. He tried to goose-wing my sails but there was some swell and not much wind, so I was rolling around and the sails slapped about noisily, which disturbed the Mate’s rest. She put me onto a broad reach, which was faster and less sloppy, but frustratingly in the wrong direction. An hour later they jibed me onto the right course for Cherbourg, but again it was hazy and the coastline indistinct. The heat steadily built through the morning, and we finally tied up on the waiting pontoon in Chantereyne Marina at around 1400: 32 hours non-stop and my longest passage yet. After a brief nap we moved into half a space amongst my Allures and Garcia sisters, which is at least free of charge and has water and power.
Friday 26 August
Another day begins before sunrise, with the anchor weighed by 0615 local time, and we set off in no wind and thick haze. I felt a couple of light rain showers on my topsides before the sun came out and Skipper organised an undersized spinnaker to fly off my bow. Unfortunately progress was still too slow at the beginning of this 140 nautical mile passage, but I did enjoy a brief moment of excitement when a Gendarme Militaire vessel came out of Boulogne directly to catch us up and check we didn’t look like anything untoward was occurring. They gave my crew a cheery wave, so it seems we didn’t look suspicious – shame, I do like a man in uniform. I could hear the big ships trundling along the shipping lanes ahead of us (in the Traffic Separation Scheme: TSS), but they weren’t yet visible through the persistent heat haze.
My crew followed an approximate three-hour watch rotation, but they really need to practise this, and learn to relax quicker when they are off watch. Mate’s evening watch saw us racing along at eight knots on a close reach, heeled a little on a starboard tack: I do love this kind of sailing; it’s so what I was built for. The sunset entertained her for ages, and sailing west into the lighter sky makes the night feel shorter. Lights along the French coast were far more visible than the land had been in daylight. Before the moon rose a canopy of stars arched overhead, including the Milky Way, rarely seen from land, and a couple of shooting stars were spotted. There was also a sighting of the Skylab in orbit, identified by a steadily moving single white light.
As the new electronics give an estimated arrival time at a given waypoint destination, Mate decided I was travelling too fast and tried to slow me down by easing the sails to reduce the heel and improve Skipper’s rest. This didn’t have much effect, so she furled the genoa completely, reducing my speed to a mere 5.5 knots. However, this was to prove a short-sighted decision, as we should have banked good progress against wind speed reduction and direction changes, and the adverse tide, yet to come.
Skipper came up on deck to relieve the Mate at around 2300, and the wind backed a little, giving me a broader reach, a more comfortable and faster point of sail. He was a little concerned about a couple of ships of unknown identity that seemed to come a bit close to us: it’s always disconcerting to find something large, lit up like Blackpool illuminations, not following the shipping lanes. When Mate took over again at the helm, one of these mystery ships turned out to be the Brittany Ferries overnight boat from Portsmouth into Ouistreham-Caen.
Thursday 25 August
An early start ensured a favourable tide to cross the English Channel to Boulogne, a passage of 37 nautical miles that I completed in seven hours in perfect winds and calm seas. My crew were on the lookout for huge numbers of commercial vessels in these ‘busiest shipping lanes in the world’; their final tally was three ferries and three ships. Far more entertaining was the seal that came to say hello when we’d settled at anchor behind the sea wall in Boulogne’s outer harbour, and bobbed around me all evening. After a dramatic sunset, a little breeze blew up overnight, disturbing the Mate’s sleep.
Wednesday 24 August
If you ask me, Mate was feeling just a little jaded after last night’s indulgence over the mezze, and quietly took herself and Bertha off for a little retail therapy. Skipper fixed my autopilot, Jeanny (say Zhonny – Johnny in French, please), ready for the next leg of our journey – he’s not one for hours on the helm when he’s on watch. The crew cleared some leftovers out of the fridge for supper and retired early ready for tomorrow’s crossing to France.
Tuesday 23 August
Having checked the weather forecast for favourable winds to make a Channel crossing, my crew decided to make the most of this *Refuge For Those In Need* for a three night stay. It was very hot and Mate braved the laundry facilities and passed the time indulging in a refreshing shower, while Skipper tackled the never-ending list of maintenance tasks – well, my beauty takes work, you know. The crew then relaxed with apéritifs et amuse-bouches before wandering off to enjoy a proper Greek supper at a taverna on the quayside. [* The Latin inscription is engraved around the ring of stone just below the shelf that supports the light.]
Sunday 21 August
After a bit of a kerfuffle about whether the lock-keeper was going to let us out or not, we finally escaped unscathed to slip into the river in almost no wind. It’s almost always easier to leave than to arrive. My crew had planned to overnight at Erith yacht club, but in fact the tide carried us downstream at some speed, and Erith didn’t actually have enough space (or shelter) for me, so having waved hello to a seal in Gravesend Reach, we finally settled at Higham Bight, a super anchorage just East of Gravesend. This was calm, comfortable, peaceful and free!