Tuesday, 27 September 2022

En France 86


"Who knows where the time goes?
Sad, deserted shore,
your fickle friends are leaving,
Ah, but then you know,
it's time for them to go. . . . .
So come the storms of winter,
and then the birds of spring again,
I have no fear of time."
(from 'Who Knows Where the Time Goes' by Sandy Denny, 1967)

The seas mound high, in Fecamp's entrance. Vaulting the close-set pier heads, in their eagerness to reach the shingle. Stargazer will not be leaving yet a while. The metronome, of wind and tide, must decide our timing. As they have done all summer.

Within the shelter of the harbour, we can only ponder our options, patiently. Stargazer must decide where to cross the Channel, to the English shore. That decision now bound up with the, post-Brexit, requirement to book out of France ; and the limited ports at which that is possible.

Monday, 26 September 2022

En France 85

Behind tall lock gates, Fecamp has an inner basin. Within it lies a nautical legend.

Plain Barracuda now. Once Barracuda of Tarrant. Star of the nineteen eighties TV sailing soap, Howard's Way. Nemesis of Sadler Yachts. Which was bankrupted by building her and her sisters.

An Ultra Light Displacement (ULDB) flyer, designed by Tony Castro. Forty five feet and displacing just seven tonnes (Stargazer is thirty one feet and displaces four and a half). At launch, considered extreme. Not only for her innovative twin rudders and meagre weight, but also for her beam. Both its extent (of three point eight metres) and how far aft it was carried.

To contemporary eyes she looks moderate. Her girth, on the slim side for a forty five footer, carried aft to a lesser extent than is Stargazer's (a conservative 2010 German Frers cruising design).

Barracuda was forerunner to today's JPK's, and others of her fast cruising persuasion. (See En France 16 and En France 20). Jean-Pierre Kelbert himself is pictured here, commissioning a JPK 39.(Displacement five point six tonnes, beam four metres - carried all the way aft. Twin rudders too). His only problem is a three year queue of impatient would-be owners. 

Barracuda was a boat launched twenty five years ahead of her time.

Stargazer is moored outside the lock gates, in the avant port. Riding out a Channel gale.

Wooded cliffs climb skyward, to take the edge off the wind.

Whilst the scrunching shingle beach, and bottleneck entrance, quell the worst of the swell. Reducing it to a residual scend, reminiscent of that in Ramsgate harbour.

Picture Credits

Barracuda of Tarrant, racing in the 1980's courtesy of  Patrick Roach (patrickroach.com).

Sunday, 25 September 2022

En France 84

Glorious Gothic excess is never far away, in Fecamp.

The fine - boned fairy-tale tower, of the Benedictine monastery, stands high above the harbour front.

 Lancing theatrically skyward.

Above a playfully intricate masterclass, in the mediaeval stonemasons art.

 Well may those cavalier gargoyles smile, fuelled perhaps by a shot of the famous liqueur : 

For the season has been flexing its mercurial muscles, since Stargazer's arrival. Quick-fire thundery deluges loom. Their stair-rod rain rattles down.

Only for the wind squalls to abate and the black clouds to scurry away.

To be replaced by innocently smiling sunshine. Steaming soaked sightseers dry.

Saturday, 24 September 2022

En France 83


We stumble upon each other, unawares. The trawler, intent on its catch, halts abruptly to haul nets. Leaving Stargazer heading directly for her. Only the cries, of its entourage of gulls, had alerted me to her presence, five minutes beforehand. For she was not transmitting on AIS ; and must have been lost, to my line of sight, behind Stargazer's jib.

I don my waterproof jacket. Ready beside me, as I con from the companionway steps. Snug beneath Stargazer's sprayhood. Fortunately we are now reaching under white sails. So it is easy enough to sheet in and duck around the trawler's stern. Unwilling to go ahead, because she could set off again at any minute.

Earlier, in a blue-tinged bleary dawn, Stargazer was riding the tide, off the Pointe de Barfleur. Cherbourg already fifteen miles astern.

Her cruising chute is aloft, whilst the south westerly wind builds. She is making seven knots over the ground. Constrained to a course of between sixty and one hundred and twenty degrees, to the apparent wind. Which suits the breeze, but not close quarters trawler dodging.

Today's tactic is to work the strong eastbound flows, off the Pointe de Barfleur and Cap d'Antifer (orange arrows). Taking the westbound tide at its weakest (blue triangle).

Predictably, progress slows, as the tide turns and Stargazer enters the 'blue triangle,' of the river Seine approaches. Ships steam purposefully, in and out of Le Havre. Following predictable tracks, and transmitting their positions on AIS.

The fisher folk, of the area, are more erratic in their motions ; and strangely forgetful, in the operation of their AIS equipment.

The long awaited south westerly breeze is a moist maritime airstream. As its force increases, the morning mizzle turns to a determined afternoon drizzle . Stargazer's stoic tiller pilot steers.

I keep watch from the companionway. With the comforts of the galley close at hand.

At eighteen thirty three, Stargazer crosses the Greenwich Meridian (black vertical line). Longitude zero. After her summer out West, Stargazer has arrived back in the East.

By dusk, Stargazer has a fair tide beneath her, once more. Sweeping up the Cote d'Albatre (Alabaster Coast), of caves and arches. Making seven knots. Running, under main only, in twenty knots of breeze.

 I rig lines and fenders, to be ready on deck, in anticipation of a night arrival. Half an hour after dark, Stargazer romps in, through the familiar pier heads of Fecamp. One lit white, one green, with a red transit behind it, on the waterfront. For it is a narrow, tide-swept, entrance.

Thursday, 22 September 2022

En France 82

 "It is late September and I really should be back at” Chatham. To paraphrase Rod Stewart's, non-PC, lyric. Tempting though it is to tarry, amid these Indian Summer conditions.

The (end of season) Southampton Boat Show is already underway. Attended by 'Psi Paul,' who ensures Stargazer's electrical health. He calls with welcome news. He has secured discounts on a B&G Zeus plotter, plus the necessary Navionics cartography, with which to complete Stargazer's instrumentation update. Begun last winter.

Tomorrow is the autumnal equinox. Marking the meteorological start of a mercurial season, of calms and storms. Also the first day on which tides favour an east-bound crossing, of the Baie de Seine. Ten to fifteen knots of south westerly breeze are forecast, to speed Stargazer on her way. Three cheers, for a first sighting of the elusive south westerly wind!

Picture Credits

Southampton Boat Show courtesy of Classic Boat Magasine.

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

En France 81


Stargazer lies on her favoured berth, before the Gare Maritime. Her ensign wafts languidly, stirred by the lightest of zephyrs.

The waters, of Cherbourg harbour are glassy still.

A strong autumn sun burns low in the sky.

Bowling long shadows along skittle-alley streets.

Creating tranquil pools of warmth, in which to linger.

As fountains play, in the square.

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

En France 80


Stargazer steals up the Little Russel. Winning her northing centimetre by centimetre. The dawn breaking over St Peter Port's rooftops astern.

Wind and tide are against us. For we have timed our departure to catch the favourable tide, from the foot of the Raz Blanchard (Alderney Race). Stargazer is making two to three knots over the ground, as she passes St Sampson.

Affording ample opportunity to enjoy the scenery. As Stargazer passes Bordeaux harbour. Where small shellfish boats shelter between jutting rock pinnacles. Overlooked by lichen topped whitewashed cottages.

Inexorably the tide slackens. Then turns in our favour. Increasing the apparent wind and lifting Stargazer north, as high on the wind as she can go.

To the foot of the Race. Where tidal magic occurs. Stargazer's ground track (purple line) swings north east, into the eye of the wind. On the water, her bow still points a little north of east. But the force, of the north east bound torrent, allows us to follow our 'impossible' line.

Up past Alderney and the castle off Quenard Point. The white finger, of the lighthouse, clear and bold on the skyline. Marking the eastern extremity of the island.

And out of the Race. Just clearing the Cap de la Hague. Albeit at the expense of a bumpy ride through its overfalls. Where the northbound waters, exiting the Race, meet the eastbound waters of the Channel. Both leaping and swirling over (deeply) submerged reefs.

Half a mile to seaward, where Stargazer's all-weather 'safe clearance' waypoint lies, the Condor fast ferry creams past. In flat water.

Soon the seas flatten for Stargazer too. As she shoulders her way east, across the swell, the full force of the sluicing tide still beneath her

We edge inshore, as Stargazer nears Cherbourg. To guard against the tide turning west, before we reach the entrance. For the breeze is easing, as the sun dips toward the horizon.

Stargazer slips through the western entrance, on the last trickle of the easterly tide. Gliding in beneath Napoleon's forbidding fortifications. Which assume a welcoming glow, in the honey-gold light of evening.