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!)

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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.

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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!!!!)

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