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!!

Advertisements

Ugly French Boys (Sorry, Buoys)

Following on from our false start the day before with the pea soup, we arose on Tuesday 4th April to a favourable outlook, fairly good visibility, no real fog and just a little bit of drizzly rain.  Bearing in mind this was our first movement since 15th August we were a little apprehensive!  We left the mooring with absolutely no issues whatsoever almost as if we had been practicing all winter rather than just sitting about drinking wine and vodka!  On leaving the marina we were confronted with a trawler coming down to get the same SAS as us.  We got out of his way quick and decided it would be better for us to follow him rather than lead especially as we were getting no feedback from the port via VHF even though we could hear them talking to the fishing boat – do we have radio issues again?

We had pre-planned to pick up two vertical wires to secure our lines to in the larger lock as they were still trying to fix the smaller one.  I asked Steve which one he wanted me to get, followed by: “should I get this one”, “should I get this one” – but he seemed to ignore me and by the time he was ready for me to get one they weren’t any close by.  There were helpful markings on the quayside, showing where the lines were meant to be, however there were an awful lot missing!!  We had a little drift around a bit in the lock and I was wondering if I should perhaps put some fenders on the other side as the boat is a little stubborn when we want her to go backwards.  As it was Steve managed to get her alongside the quay on the right side and he jumped off with the rear line in hand.  I threw the front line up onto the quayside and returned to the cockpit, where I was to be in control (me?!!)  Steve told me when to apply reverse or a touch of bow thruster so I wasn’t  really “in control” but it was close enough for me!

We left the lock and our winter home with no major issues  – NEW SEASON, here we come!!

We had decided that we wanted to ease gently back into this cruising lark and wanted  to make sure that our first trip would be a nice, flat, calm one so we motored from Ouistreham to St Vaast La Hougue.  We took turns helming and I was, by far, better at sticking to the compass heading!  So when we encountered a fog bank, I steered and Steve kept lookout (my eyesight really is poor!)

We picked up a hitch-hiker on route – a little bird (some kind of warbler from the looks of him).  He only stayed for about five minutes but obviously got enough of a rest to continue his journey. Our only other wild-life sighting was a solitary dolphin in the distance.

As Steve had previously spent a windy night (with Serge) at anchor at St Vaast, he knew the holding was good so we had decided that we would have a go at anchoring ourselves,  but coming up to the anchorage Steve noticed that there was a mooring buoy marked on the chart in the same vicinity. Steve pointed it out but I thought it was a little boat in the distance.  However, once we were closer I could see that my “people” were in fact cormorants!  The buoy itself was definitely ugly, however Steve insisted that it would be less stressful overnight than trusting the anchor as the wind was forecast to get up to 20 knots plus.  Having arrived exactly at high tide we could have entered the port, but with the weather being ok and me feeling fine we chose to give it a go.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  It was like a scene from Custer’s last stand as we circled the buoy three or four times attempting to catch hold – Steve’s grabbing hook thing (the ideal tool for the job) was too heavy for me to manage at full stretch with the sea state not helping my aim/footing.  Steve then decided it would be better if he did it (thankfully!) and a few minutes later we were rubbing alongside and attached.  After attaching a few more lines to the buoy off went the engine and a successful first foray was over!  I hadn’t felt the slightest bit seasick all day and had even managed to go below and make Steve a coffee – I think that is the first time ever (whilst moving!)

DSC02415
The Ugliest French Buoy Ever?

Unfortunately for me, this started what is possibly one of the worst 36 hour periods of my life.  I was a bit cold and had a slight headache so decided that it might be an idea to have a lie-down whilst Steve enjoyed the view with a well-deserved glass of wine.  When I got up again (still cold & headachey), our pre-prepared menu choices did not appeal at all so we decided on a bowl of noodles.  This helped to warm me slightly but all I wanted to do was go back to bed – so I did.  Steve waited for low-tide before coming to bed and then was up again at 2am to check the lines as he noticed the boat position had changed and this was when the wind was predicted to be at its strongest.   He did come back to bed but, in his words, didn’t sleep and so he subsequently got up at 4am and stayed up. Steve used my phone to check the weather, now that I had changed my EE contract to a 4GEE Max, allowing us data access.

IMG_2188
What Steve saw!

Apparently he spent a very pleasant day on the Wednesday, enjoying the nice weather and the comings and goings of St Vaast with a couple of glasses of wine in the afternoon.  I showed my face at least three times during the day but never for more than 10 minutes at a time.  I did manage to eat a couple of bread sticks and a couple of plain Pringles.  Steve did the planning for our next stage on his own (we normally do this together but he couldn’t be sure I would even get out of bed before we left).  He decided to check the weather again and discovered “No Service” on the phone.  He came and asked me what he was doing wrong but I could only do the same as him and it was still “No Service”.  A little niggle hit the back of my head when I thought of the date.  (More on this later!)

When Steve came to bed (stinking of wine – urgh!!) he advised me that he had had a lot of “alone time” and had been doing a lot of thinking.  His thoughts had been along the lines of: perhaps we are not cut out for this life, he can’t imagine not living on a boat but perhaps it is another type of boat we need (without sticks or keels and only ever goes on flat water). He had even thought about selling the boat, buying a smallholding and raising pigs.  I thought this was a bit drastic but couldn’t really argue as although they say nobody has ever died of seasickness I would have quite happily been the first!)  We agreed to discuss it at a later date as we hadn’t really given this season much of a chance.

The next morning Steve’s plan, if he felt that the weather matched his last available forecast, we would catch the fair tide around Pointe de Barfleur which meant leaving the mooring buoy at 08.45.  Steve’s day of doing nothing had obviously given him the opportunity to plan in minute detail how we would extricate ourselves from the ugly French buoy.  My only job was to stand at the helm and if required apply some backwardy or forwardy drive.  As it was all fenders were cleared away, lines were slipped and we drifted majestically away just as Steve had hoped.  We left the buoy at 08.43 (not bad planning Stevie!!)  The trip around Barfleur is renowned, like most headlands, for fast running tides that can be uncomfortable and treacherous but with a favourable forecast the seas were fairly benign not to say that it wasn’t a little bit lumpy in places.  I became reacquainted with Fred (but only the once) during a particularly confused, lumpy bit of water.  I then had a bit of sleep (surprise, surprise)well I had been up for at least  two and a half hours.  I regained some level of brain function as we were approaching the outer harbour of Cherbourg (Grande Rade).  Steve called up Jobourg Traffic on the radio where a very pleasant man told us we didn’t need to contact him and could just contact the marina – well that at least proved the radio works!  He then placed the fenders and lines whilst I steered having been given instructions from the marina staff that we were going to the deep water pontoon just inside the marina entrance.  Coming up to the pontoon we noticed a few people sitting on the back of a Garcia and we wondered if they would give assistance.  They immediately came to help and it turned out one of the individuals was Walti, the Swiss owner of Alunga who we had previously met in Dieppe.  Shearmyste parked herself beautifully and we were secured.  Minutes later I was feeling much better!!! Unbelievable.  Initially we thought we would stay here for a week, however considering it will be Easter next weekend we have decided to stay for two weeks before considering the next appropriate weather window to move on to Guernsey.

Now back to the phone situation:

We had discussed getting rid of my EE account as it was quite expensive for what we were using, even though it was my comfort blanket.   So, as my contract was due to end on 5th April, on the 3rd March I rang EE and asked to cancel my account at the end of the contract.  They suggested some other plans that might be suitable but we decided no, we would cancel.  On reflection this decision was not a good one as there are times we do actually need to use a phone.  So on 8th March I rang EE back and said I would take up one of their new plans.  The girl I spoke to made a point of saying she was cancelling the cancellation and setting up the new plan.  I got confirmation of the new plan by text and also on the myEE app – so thought nothing more of it – except we now had data so could check the weather etc even if we were not in a marina on Wi-Fi.

So, back to St Vaast on 5th April, with the phone showing No Service – I thought, oh dear, they’ve closed my account.  No worries, nothing we can do until we get to some Wi-Fi.  So once settled in Cherbourg I decided to see what I could do to sort it out.  The only way I seemed to be able to contact them was by using Twitter.  The guy who responded said I needed to phone Customer Services or go to the EE help pages and launch “Live Chat”.  I tried this “Live Chat” business as, obviously, I couldn’t phone them.  After unsuccessful attempts at the live chat I reported back and was told that as that wasn’t working the only thing they could offer was for me to ring as soon as I was able.  They seemed unable to understand that we only have one phone and didn’t know anyone well enough to ask to borrow a phone to make an international call.  This continued for two days, me asking if there was any way that someone from customer service could contact me or if I could contact them by email but no – I could try “Live Chat” again or call, and the live chat still wouldn’t work.  It finally dawned on me that as EE had closed my account maybe I no longer had access to the ”Live Chat” page – why on earth couldn’t they have just told me that at the beginning and saved Steve two days of me sitting in front of my iPhone, iPad and computer getting more and more frustrated?

In summary:

  • You can contact EE on Twitter and EE Community but all they can do is tell you to contact Customer Services
  • You can contact Customer Services by live chat (if you have a live contract)
  • You can contact Customer Services by phone (if they haven’t cut you off in error)

Hooray for EE.

So in a nutshell we no longer have a phone and will be relying on Wi-Fi in the marinas we visit! (Another reason for no more nights at anchor or mooring buoys!!!!)