The stage was set ready to leave Sunday, weather fair and in daylight! I was determined to get to Ouistreham this time as I had phoned them and advised of our arrival for the second time and did not really want to have to ring again and say we weren’t coming again! The young man on the phone had remembered me from my first call as all I had to say was dix-sept meters and he knew who I was!
Our final farewell to Michel, on Saturday afternoon, proved our suspicions correct – the whisky Steve had shared all those days ago was moon-shine as Michel admitted that he and his mate have a still and as he is president of a shooting club it is probably in the woods somewhere!
Sunday morning’s plan was to leave the berth in order to get through the 9am bridge opening. Like all good plans, we executed it perfectly! The forecast was for very light winds so we knew we would be motoring in very flat seas. We passed Etretat, which was very underwhelming from our angle, compared with the postcards we had seen.
Everyone says dolphins make the world a happier place and I agree – we spotted two pods on this trip, although not close enough to photograph this time. Unfortunately my whale sighting was not confirmed by Steve who insisted it was purely the wash from a container ship entering Le Havre!! Spoilsport!!
We had planned to arrive in Ouistreham at 17:30, which would coincide with the first lock opening. However, the lock opening times had been shortened due to low water levels in the river Orne, which now meant that the first lock was 19:30. For the first time this year our average speed was higher than anticipated and we arrived outside Ouistreham fairway at about 16:30. After contacting Port Control for permission to enter we were informed that the Brittany ferry was due to leave her berth in ten minutes. Rather than play chicken with the Caen to Portsmouth ferry in the fairway, we decided to wait and bobbed about a bit! Once the ferry had left we were given the go ahead by Port Control to enter. The waiting pontoon dries at low water and we were unsure of the depth but good old Port Control said that there was loads of water and nothing to worry about – 4.5m at least and it was a rising tide.
Whilst making our way in, a French yacht who was sailing, experienced difficulties with his main sail and obviously lost concentration on where he was, so after three quick blasts of the very loud horn the jolly chap moved out of our way with a sheepish smile knowing he’d made a bit of a faux-pas! Normally we would give way to a vessel under sail but the channel dries either side so effectively we were limited by our draught.
On entering the harbour the visitors pontoon had at least ten deep of various sized vessels in no particular order, i.e. large yacht, small fishing boat alongside. Whilst making our first attempt to raft, a young lad from the marina (I think it was the one I had spoken to on the phone) shouted to us to go on channel 9 (we were still on 12 for Port Control). Once on channel the lad said that they had a special berth for us once we were through the lock!! This first attempt was met with turned backs and not the usual helpful response we’ve been used to. There seemed a reluctance from every possible rafting position to allow us to join the end of the string – was this because they’d all been listening on channel 9 and we were the special ones?! At this point the wind also decided to pick up. After several manoeuvres in the limited space, we decided that our best course of action, whilst waiting for the lock, was to circle in the Brittany ferries turning circle – for approximately 2 hours!! Steve’s boat handling was put to good use! During this time the steady stream of various sized boats continued to enter the harbour. We knew that this weekend was a French bank holiday weekend so I suppose we should have thought it might be busy especially as the weather was exceptionally good, so those not on the beach were on their boats! This meant manoeuvring space diminished and Steve had to time his turns to avoid boats milling in and around us. He only used his horn once when a pleasure cruiser was going to be in the space he needed.
At 7pm Steve radioed Port Control to ask what the lock procedure was, knowing the reluctance at the waiting pontoon showed a lack of consideration for others. The response went pretty much like this: “Are you the ketch circling by the ferry terminal?” “Yes I am the ketch.” ” OK, it is good policy to allow larger vessels in the lock first, but not everyone knows this. I suggest that in 10-20 minutes you make your way to the lock gates, there is a tug and motorboat to exit, then you can make your way in.” It appeared to have been said in such a way that we had been given permission to knock everyone out of our way, so, off came Steve’s Mr Nice Guy gloves and ‘take no cr*p Monaghan’ appeared! I know he found it incredibly difficult barging his way through as it is most definitely not his normal behaviour.
Once the lock gate opened it was like a swarm of locusts going through a funnel! We made our way calmly but forcibly through the melee with vessels (particularly small yachts and even smaller fishing boats) trying to squeeze through closing gaps (either between us and other yachts or even between us and the wall!) We made it to the lock wall unscathed to be greeted by the young French lad who had been awaiting our arrival with some excitement. “We don’t get many yachts of your size here, do you permit me to come aboard and take a look?” After emerging, his comments to Steve were “you have a very large bedroom and your kitchen is bigger than mine in my flat – very nice boat“. He then explained to me where our special berth was and that he would be waiting to take our lines. I think the only other non-French boats in the lock were two Dutchman. Steve had conversations with both. The first one said he had seen our interaction in the fairway and commented that the French don’t know how to sail, as he should have taken in his Genoa to sort his issue with the main. The other one said he had heard our radio conversation and, as we were now experiencing, there is definitely no procedure, except, perhaps, to get to your berth as quickly as possible and open the wine. The exit from the lock was very uneventful in comparison but there was quite a queue to enter the marina. Our special berth is absolutely perfect and Shearmyste is now being fully supported again!!!
Usually yachts enter through the smaller lock but, I assume due to the number of boats waiting, they decided to use the larger commercial boat lock. We think there must have been somewhere between 80 and 100 boats in the lock! Our limited experience with locks has meant that we thought they were busy if there were 5 or 6 boats in! Steve took this photo a couple of days later of one of the usual occupants of this lock – it might give an idea of the size!