French Ladies Of The Night And A Couple Of Shags

Well, here we are sitting in Beaucette, Guernsey, looking at the black clouds and missing the French language and especially French tv – it is amazing how much! Yes, even Steve, he is devastated that he can no longer watch his “Les Carnets de Julie”!  A wonderful programme about, yes you’ve guessed it, food!

So a quick recap of what we have been up to.

In total we spent two weeks and two days in Cherbourg.  The marina was great, although the walk to the showers/toilets was quite long – we were on Pontoon H and almost the farthest from the Capitainerie – but the exercise did me good!  The biggest issue was, as it is an all-tide access port, the pontoons rise and fall with the tide resulting in inclines especially with Spring tides (the highest highs and the lowest lows).  This meant careful planning (if at all possible) of shower and shopping trips!

The first week was a focus on using the clear waters of the harbour and removing any signs that we had been so friendly with the ugly French buoy, so Steve set about removing the evidence of the up-close and personal kissing of the buoy.  The first stage was cleaning the topsides, this was done both from the pontoon and then from the dinghy.  My role was Safety Officer which, on occasions, I took seriously but with so much going on around us I did get a little distracted, this was evident to Steve when, several times, he had to ask me for something more than once. With the topsides back to pre- kissing condition it was time to clean under the boat.  Steve rigged up a 10ft cleaning brush which proved successful at cleaning off the winter growth (well impressed with the Jotun anti-foul , it has been on since the re-launch in 2014).  He then undertook his underwater survey (which was done during one of my now traditional afternoon siestas).  His 20 Euro video camera worked a treat, it showed that the anodes were in good condition and the only area that could do with a bit of cleaning was the prop and prop shaft.  This meant that he had a chance to try out his newly purchased face mask and snorkel (for some reason he thought the flippers were a step too far!)  He donned the wet suit and he was going to get under and give it a clean.  He hadn’t taken into consideration that what looks like the Med isn’t always the Med and that the water was obviously still in its winter plumage.  As he stood on the ladder at the back of the boat with most of his body in the water, “getting used to the temperature”, and even with my encouragement to “man up and just get your head under” it was, in his words: “bloody freezing” he stated that perhaps that’s a job for when we get to warmer waters!   The rest of the underneath was good to go; the prop work would only cost us a bit of drag which he was prepared to live with on a big ship.

We went out on the bikes a few times – mainly to the supermarkets (Carrefour and Lidl) but also along the seafront and across to La Cite De La Mer (which, although was probably only 200 metres from us as the crow flies, was a pleasant enough 10-15 minutes’ cycle).  There are three major attractions there:

  • an aquarium – the deepest in Europe at 11m (but in our opinion not a patch on The Deep in Hull)
  • a Titanic exhibition and
  • Le Redoutable – France’s first nuclear submarine. The main reason we wanted to go there and also the subject of one of my better “blonde” comments.  Whilst sitting on the back of the boat on our first rising tide there I commented that it must be floating as I could now see more of it.  Steve pointed out the reason I could see more was because we were rising not it. I think my head was still at St Vaast where even though we were going up and down I couldn’t see any difference but then again I couldn’t focus past the bedroom (that’s my excuse anyway).

Our berth at Cherbourg was next to the Allures/Garcia yacht berths.  It seemed that this was where they were put for the new owners to take possession.  These are “shiny, new” aluminium go-anywhere yachts.  When we arrived there were at least four new owners taking possession, a mix of nationalities – Swiss, French, Dutch.  Shearmyste sat proudly alongside these ¾ million Euro yachts!  But I think you can buy a hull for less than 100,000 Euros (dependent on the current price of aluminium).

In line with our usual naming of individuals we had John Le Measurer (a French man and not the English actor with a similar name!!)  So named as the back of his padded gilet said “Measurement” which we later found out was because he was part of the scrutineering team for dinghy racing at international and Olympic level and not a QA man as we had assumed and was, in fact, a banker by trade!  He liked his tape measure and also had a very lax approach to health and safety – highlighted by grinding his brand new Fortress anchor with no safety gear whatsoever.  He then later used both his favourite items (tape measure and grinder) to cut his anchor chain with his hands just millimetres from the spinning disc.   He and his wife were very friendly and must have taken pity on us.  She enjoyed baking and on two occasions they appeared with cake and then tart.   The cake was definitely the best cake we have eaten in France – we thought it was pear and chocolate cake but it might have been apple.  The tart was not as successful for me as it was an apple tart but with a custard-type base.  Steve asked her if it was ‘Crème Anglaise’ and her response was “no, it is milk, sugar and eggs”.

During evening drinks on our old tub, which John couldn’t believe was aluminium so had to go outside and tap it to be sure, he explained his sailing style and the fact being that he now has a “push button”boat.  He can just push the buttons and sit inside as he gets seasick.  He accompanied his comment with a gesture – he would lick his forefinger and then imitate pushing a button.  He also explained that it was “an old man’s boat” – he is 62 and not getting any younger or stronger.   He also said that he didn’t like using the engine very much and admitted that his wife was a better sailor than him. During this conversation we said that we don’t mind using the engine and that almost made us a “push button” boat too where he conceded “15 all” as Steve had mimicked his gesture.

We got in touch with Serge to let him know we had arrived and he invited us out for a meal.  He knew that I was a vegetarian and thought that there must be a vegetarian restaurant somewhere in Cherbourg or at least a restaurant with a good vegetarian selection.  However as it turned out he couldn’t find one so he and Francoise invited us on board Kazan 4 for a completely vegetarian home-cooked meal (Steve was a little worried as he is not the biggest vegetable fan!) We had a wonderful evening conducted entirely in Franglais! At one point Francoise was speaking away to Serge and he replied “you can speak to me in French, I’m French, you’re French!!”

Close to the end of our pontoon there is a public toilet block on the quayside which Serge had warned that it wasn’t the cleanest of facilities and when Steve had been there before, Serge had commented that “ladies of the night” frequented it.  Every day, whenever we passed the facility, on route to the town or the ‘sanitaire’ there were two suspicious, not very young or pretty, “ladies”.   We only ever saw them in daylight so they couldn’t possibly have been ”ladies of the night” although they may have made more money if they were!  Being a country girl it was a first for me when, one afternoon as we were returning to the boat, a “Mr Magoo” lookalike on a three wheeled moped kept circling the area.  Just after I spotted one of these “ladies” he parked up and appeared to go shopping!  I may be paying him a disservice but this was the first time I had ever seen a man shopping in the public toilets!  It made me smile and I had to keep looking back to confirm my suspicions!!

Our next “Everest” on this trip was to be the notorious Alderney Race – where Walti lost his mast last season.  We planned to leave on as calm a day as possible knowing full well that the white flappy things were not going to be used as we didn’t want to spoil the start of the season!!  We had decided to go to Beaucette marina, as it had been recommended by someone on a Cruising Association forum where Steve had asked about refuelling – diesel in the Channel Islands is a lot cheaper than it is in France.  I had tried to contact them by email, but on reading their website they seem to prefer phone contact – great, we were still without one.  We then contacted them via the “Contact Us” page on their website and waited patiently for a response.  Steve started thinking that we would have to go to St Peter Port instead and wanted me to contact them, but I held firm – Beaucette appealed a lot more than St Peter Port!

The trip to Beaucette marina was 40nm so should be completed well within my 8 hour wellness window!!  So we spent a few days watching the weather closely and looking at best tide days for a daylight trip with a dignified wake up time and waiting for an email response from Beaucette as I still had no phone.  We decided on Saturday 22nd April and everything seemed to fall into place – North-easterly winds (Beaufort 2-3), 6am high tide at Cherbourg which meant an 8am leave and a tide window at Beaucette of between 2 and 6pm – and we had even heard back from them!! “John” got up especially to see us off – what a nice man!!

The pilot books and almanacs recommend that leaving Cherbourg two hours after high tide is about the right time to get the most comfortable advantage from the Alderney Race which started 14 nm from Cherbourg at Cap De La Hague.  We arrived there at 10 am as planned and this is where I got the boat speed record (although admittedly under power).  We were receiving five knots of assistance and my top speed was eleven knots, which beats Steve’s nine knots under sail around Norfolk!  The race was like a slightly bubbling mill pond and was nothing like I’d expected from what I had read and been told previously.  We had encountered quicker tides on the West Coast of Scotland when we travelled round Britain.  The weather was slightly overcast although we had been able to see Alderney from 12 nm out.  This is where I saw my first ever Shag (enough of the giggles, we aren’t in Cherbourg anymore!)  They are slightly smaller than Cormorants but with a wonderful quiff on the top of their heads.  Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to get a picture (sounds familiar).

With the fair tide we decided we should slow ourselves down as our ETA at Beaucette was looking to be at least two hours before entry was possible.  We arrived outside the marina just after 12 (BST) and, luckily our phone had been reconnected the day before, so we were able to contact Ricky the harbourmaster to ascertain the earliest time to enter due to our draught and the height of the water above the sill.  Ricky confirmed our calculations and said that 2.30 would be a good time to enter.  So this then gave us the opportunity to look at the entrance from afar and bloody hell was it scary!  All we could see were rocks and a brick wall!  As we had to wait a couple of hours we thought we would have a little sightseeing tour along the coast and to check out the “block of flats” I had previously spotted anchored just outside St Peter Port.  It was, in fact, the sister ship to Ventura (we’d seen in Cherbourg), the Azura.

So, at 2.30 we met Ricky on the fairway with the plan to follow him in – however he took off at great speed and we were only doing 4 knots!  I stood at the mast so I could easily see the entrance and be in a position to do anything if needed.    Steve’s suggestion that I get my boobs out was not well received!! (Too cold for that nonsense and I wasn’t even standing right at the pointy end!)  Now, imagine this, our 4.5m wide boat going through an 8m gap (however with the tide higher the gap was slightly wider, thankfully) with the most jagged rock face, no smooth sides to bump against and a brick wall dead ahead.

Guess what? No dramas here, my super skipper followed Ricky and made the turns (even though he was probably going a little fast!) and we calmly moored against a nice long pontoon!  Ricky helped with our centre line and left us to it as he had other customers to attend to.  Beaucette Marina is Beautiful (with a capital B!) if you like rocks and couldn’t be more different from Cherbourg.  Here for at least a week, possibly two!!

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Author: shearmyste

Steve and Theresa (Tee), living the dream aboard Shearmyste, our 55ft aluminium ketch.

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