We really can’t believe it is already April. Winter’s over – did it really begin? Having experienced the past ten years in the north of England (other than a brief interlude in a snowy Somerset) a winter in Northern France has almost been like a summer up north. Other than the highest winds the area has seen in at least fifty years it has been rather benign. I haven’t even had to use my “clamp-ons” (spiky things that go over your shoes so you grip not slip!). I have, however, on about ten days had to be escorted to the ‘bloc sanitaire’ to perform necessary ablutions. I think one of my favourite moments was watching a coot struggle on the ice – his wings flapping to maintain balance much as I think I do (well, I use my arms not my wings).
On the upside, compared to all other marinas we have been in in England, maybe by chance or luck, the marina staff told us that our electricity consumption would be included in our mooring fee. Bearing in mind we have a 32 amp supply (the proper visitor pontoon has 6 amp, I believe), our heating and shower facilities were effectively incorporated in our mooring fees – a huge saving as we used to spend around £500 on electricity and gas for an English winter.
Over the Christmas period Steve finally got his head around this “not working” thing and decided he needed to compartmentalise his life – End of Season, Break, Prep for New Season, New Season. This really helped with his mental state! As he had decided it was now Prep for New Season he could focus on what needed to be done before our departure (preliminary date April 1st – end of 6 month contract) and created a Before We Leave List.
The only significant activity that appeared on this list (other than him rearranging the galley cupboards – no. 1 priority!!!) was to replace all the batteries. This required a little bit of homework as the costs in France would have been maintenance budget busting for the year. We needed to replace two engine and four domestic batteries – total ampage (for those numpties that want to know) 1260 amps. These batteries also weighed in the region of 50 kg (7 stone) each. We decided on a company in England that could supply them at approximately a quarter of the French price (and with free delivery!). We needed to try and arrange a delivery date where the boat would be stable enough and with the weather amicable in order to exchange them. Thanks to a really good French delivery driver who wheeled them along the pontoon on his trolley they were deposited on a pallet right next to the boat! Our little trolley was breathing a huge sigh of relief I believe!! Next came the fun part – imagine this – Steve’s 6’ 5” frame having to lift a seven stone lump whilst bending over on his knees in a confined space (the size of a kitchen cabinet!) twelve times, whilst also getting the old ones off and the new ones on board – all on his own – what a sweaty hero!! Fortunately the marina here will accept the old batteries so along came ‘Marina Man’ with his trolley and took them away – saved us making several trips to the local tip.
Following this it was time to get Shearmyste back into her summer plumage, so off came the window covers, on with her sails, decks and windows cleaned – oh she does look pretty!
So now, we are ready for the off again – one year on from Steve quitting work – still talking to each other and loving life!
We plan to leave here on Monday morning (3rd April) so thought it appropriate to reminisce and reflect on our time here.
In order to assist in our internal communication and not knowing our neighbours and passing yachties we have fallen into giving individual unique identifiers (names to the uninitiated). So we would just like to share a few of these with you:
- Grimsby – so called as when we first spoke to him, he asked where we were from and we said Hull, the Humber and he said “oh yes I worked out of Grimsby for a while”
- Smiley, friendly motorboat man. This chap helped us on our arrival – taking our lines
- Grandad – spent most of the remaining summer on board his yacht with his grandchildren (also passed on his knowledge on shellfish cleaning to Steve – purging the sand)
- Pyjama trouser man – sports the most wonderful pair of pink (although could be very faded red) trousers
- The Belgian – self explanatory!! His yacht is named “Bye Bye Bruxelles” and apparently he owns a classic 2CV
- Deux noeds (translates to two knots – the speed limit in the marina) – This man on the next pontoon spends most of his time shouting “deux noeds” at any passing vessel that may or may not be sticking to the speed limit
- Cute Dog Man – needs no explanation, however during a stormy evening after Steve had helped both him and Grimsby securing the boats, they joined us for a drink (non-alcoholic for them) when he mentioned that, in fact, it was his dead wife’s dog. (We had often seen him with a lady and were concerned that he was recently bereaved – however that lady reappeared a few days later so was obviously not his wife – we assume)
- Monsieur et Madame Le Criou – Le Criou being the name of their yacht – he speaks quite good English and waves like crazy every time you walk past his boat
- Strawbridge – This man has the most amazing Dick Strawbridge-like moustache and hairstyle – he is only a passing yacht but always acknowledges us
- Smoker No. 1 – chap on our pontoon who coughs like a good’un whilst smoking and talking on his mobile
- Smoker No. 2 – worker at one of the local yacht businesses, who collects boats from their pontoons and takes them across the canal. Practically every single time we have seen him (usually in enclosed motor/day fishing boats) a roll-up dangles from his lips. Although I must say I did see him the other day without a fag – in an open yacht!!!
- Paris Boat Show man. Another Pontoon E berth-holder, initially called Old Man but renamed after he spotted and greeted us whilst visiting the Paris Boat Show
- Blue boat man – Plays music (and not necessarily good music) loudly whilst sailing and manoeuvring around the marina. Steve thinks he looks like one of the jailers in Monty Python’s Life Of Brian – bald on top with long hair on the sides
- Guy and Jacques – because we were told their names!!!!
- AND FINALLY – Serge (Wiz A Little Lemon Twist for fans of Beverley Hills Cop!) He bought Guy’s boat (in the adjacent berth)
Now over for a little bit of input from Steve!
During our time here Serge became the new owner of Kazan IV, a Bavaria 36 with slab reefing & furling head sail – which was his first foray into owning a larger yacht. We believe that his previous boats were either dinghies or perhaps a 24 ft day sailer. He had spent January and February understanding bits of his boat and playing with a few things and had taken the boat out into the canal twice with his other half, Francoise. We had quite a few conversations (Franglais) and he said that his ‘maiden voyage’ was to be taking his boat to his permanent berth in Cherbourg. His wife was possibly going to do it with him or he would do it alone. About a week prior to his departure date I had been assisting him in how to pull in his genoa and thought that it might be a nice idea to offer to act as crew if he was going to be short-handed. (His wife seemed less than enamoured with the idea of the trip and gave a huge grin at the offer). Initially although Serge was grateful it appeared that he wouldn’t accept, however Francoise obviously worked on him as we received a very pleasant email saying yes please (I think google translate had a hand in it as it did in our reply!) This was likely to be a challenging operation for both of us as Serge’s English is on a par with my French (next to nothing). The week passed with checking the forecasts and the only near favourable forecast was for Monday 6th March, however this was still force 6 and 7 – and, of course, in the direction we were heading – yet more wind on the nose. We had calculated that the trip (66nm) should take 12-13 hours assuming the boat could do 6 knots. What we both didn’t know was what the boat could actually do.
So Monday morning I got up at 5.30 in preparation for the 7am lock out. We cast off at 6.45 just as it started to rain. Serge managed his first SAS successfully and was very pleased with himself. After leaving Ouistreham and passing the Cardinal buoy we headed for the headland at Barfleur which was approximately 45 nm away. Due to the headwind, (fairly light at this stage) we could only motorsail with the main fully raised and a small amount of genoa. At this point we were doing maybe 5/6 knots maximum. The wind then decided to pick up and was in a slightly more favourable direction so Serge cut the engine and we sailed for about an hour. At that time our average speed went down to less than 3 knots so we pulled in the genoa and restarted the motor. At about 12 o’clock, whilst attempting a French definition of a sandwich, the wind picked up to a degree where I made the decision to put a reef in as we were getting gusts of up to 20 knots. (The following day Serge did comment to his wife that I must have had a sixth sense at that point). About an hour later the wind increased to maybe force 7 with possible gusts of 8 and another reef went in the main, however due to the wind and the rain we were lucky if we got above 2 knots. I was bored out of my brain. After a few more hours and with the skipper coming out of the cabin deciding that he was feeling seasick and needing to get closer to the rails (without his lifejacket on) I decided that the best course of action would be to head towards St Vaast la Hougue and anchor as we were likely to miss the tide gate for entry into the harbour. If we continued to Cherbourg at this pace we would be trying to round the headland with a foul tide and gusts of force 7/8. During this redirection from a course of 305 degrees to 270 degrees, the skipper, whilst at the helm, was quite often nowhere near the required heading – maybe this was due to tiredness/seasickness. We made it to the safe anchorage at St Vaast just before 9pm – therefore 14 hours to travel 44 nm! (Pace a little bit slower than I am used to now). We anchored successfully in very good holding and by 9.30 we were secure with the engine off and twenty minutes later Pot Noodles to the rescue! Serge’s phone was unable to make international calls so we had to send Tee an email to let her know where we were and our plans for the following day.
Before any “relaxing” could occur Serge was insistent that I tell him when we should leave the next morning. In my mind it was a very simple equation as the tide window to go around Barfleur on this day was at 5pm, therefore simplistically the next time would be 13 hours later – 6am Tuesday. So our plan was set to get up at 5 o’clock and, due to the amount of diesel used, head into St Vaast to refuel and then proceed to Cherbourg. The trip around Barfleur headland was a little bit lumpy but not unexpected and with very light winds (I would have hated to have done that the previous night in force 7/8). On the way round we talked about whether we had done the right thing the day before – my mind was yes, his was no. Maybe we had different perceptions or experiences that led us to these conclusions.
We arrived at Cherbourg at approximately 10-10.30, after securing the boat and Serge talking to his other half, it came to pass that she (having Serge’s car) was unable to get to the port due to work until 8pm. So 9 hours to kill in Cherbourg – after having a well-deserved shower and letting the water run as long as I wanted I thought it would be a good idea to have some time apart and trundled off into the town to see what we could expect when we (me and Tee) arrived. Feeling a bit peckish I decided upon a kebab for lunch (prohibited when Theresa’s around) – couldn’t tell you what the meat was as it wasn’t a doner, maybe some pork derivative? However at 3 euros 50 including chips it did the business! I then managed to find a Carrefour City where I decided that a couple of bottles of cheap Chardonnay would help me get through the rest of the afternoon (which it did!) Here endeth my little tale other than I did have a sore arse from the trip but honest it was down to the hard seats on the Bavaria.
Back to me!!
My time was spent somewhat differently! I got up at about 6ish and watched all the activity as they got the boat ready (thankful that they had made some decisions as to how they would communicate basic actions!) and waved them off – then I had the day to myself – the first time since March 31st 2016! I did my usual pottering about and decided to eat my main meal at lunchtime – a two course effort as I misjudged how long my pasty would take to cook so started my veggies too soon! This meant I could have a go at making my own crumpets – we have been able to buy them in France but I’d found a recipe on my favourite baking website (BakingMad.com) and wanted to give it a go and not having Steve around meant if they were awful I wouldn’t have to admit the attempt! As it was they were lovely and I had two for my tea with four left over for breakfast the next day with Steve (or so I thought!) I spent a fair amount of the day wondering how the boys were getting on – especially as the rain didn’t stop all day! The evening rolled around and I thought it would be the ideal time to watch some of the DVDs we have that Steve isn’t interested in so out came “Far From The Madding Crowd” but I couldn’t get into it, so tried “Guys and Dolls” – for all of about two minutes – then I remembered that I had Season 6 of Castle on my laptop so started watching that. When my phone signalled an email at about 9.30 I thought “ah good, they’ve made it” so I was very surprised to see that they were only at St Vaast. With nothing else to do I continued watching Castle until about 2am!!! Next morning I got an email at about 10.30 to say they’d arrived and please ring – so I did! This was when I discovered that I would get another full day on my own as it was unlikely Steve would be back any time before 9.30pm. This really put the whole trip into perspective – it had taken them 19 hours by boat but the return journey by car was 1 hour 20 minutes max!
We did manage to eat the crumpets for breakfast the following day and Steve reckoned they were better than shop bought ones – although to me they weren’t as good as on the day they were made – so success and a new sometime breakfast (when I’m organised enough!)
Another essential before leaving Ouistreham was “restockage”. Steve’s latest favourite word! We know we are not going to be too far from supermarkets anywhere in France but it is nice to know that we don’t have to immediately search out provisions on arrival. The supermarkets are relatively close to the marina here so Stevie decided that, with the help of his trusty trailer, we would refill the empty lockers.
Our first foray was to Carrefour and Lidl where we purchased:
- 6 kilos of flour (three different types!)
- Cream crackers
- 6 kilos of pasta (on special offer!)
- 6 bottles of milk
- 2 kilos of rice
- 15 litres of fruit juice (various)
- 2 litres of olive oil
- 2 litres of vodka
- 10 litres of wine
- Loo roll
To name the bulky items!!
Then Steve went to E Leclerc (on his own – while I got my hair cut!!) where he returned with:
- Another 4 litres of vodka (it’s a better price at Leclerc!)
- Another 10 litres of wine
- 5 kilos of potatoes
- Various crackers/breakfast bars.
The only problem with the Leclerc trip was that the wine was on special offer (half price) meaning a 5 litre box was less than 5 euros – this meant that Steve was adamant he would return to do some bulk-buying! The offer was running until the 1st of April so we had a few days. Unfortunately in this time Steve managed to pull a muscle in his back which had him walking around like a 90 year old twisted body man. However the pull of the price reduction was too much and so he decided that he would see if cycling helped with his back. This time he returned with:
- Another 40 litres of wine
- Another 2 litres of vodka
- An additional 32 rolls of loo roll (he cannot pass up a bargain!)
It is lucky we don’t have any guests at the moment as the wardrobes are full with wine (well for the next week or so!) We really aren’t alcoholics – honest!
The little bike trailer performed perfectly, although when fully laden it did try to push Steve down the hill! His back survived the trip too, fortunately.