day three in the bay, champagne still chilled
230 v ac power onboard all the time
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Some courage is needed to enter this small fishing port and marina, which can only be reached at high tide by a lock that’s barely wide enough. And you have to rely on the harbourmaster knowing whether there are any free berths, because you can’t see anything until you exit the lock. We get a pontoon number assigned to us only to discover when we arrive that the space is already occupied. We dock temporarily alongside a ship called the Eros until the lockmaster has time to sort us out. After reviewing the alternatives, we remain here. No electricity, no water and a small climb ashore, but enough depth and a friendly captain, who opens the doors of the Eros’s passenger deck to allow us through. The ladies in our crew are most grateful.
THINGS GET BUMPY
Le Tréport is located at the mouth of the Bresle river and with its chalk cliffs reminds of the English coast, perhaps the reason why Queen Victoria visited here twice. You can climb the cliffs on a path of nearly 400 steps or by the less energetic method of a lift hewn into the cliff-face. From the top there is a breathtaking view of the sea, Le Tréport and Mers-les-bains across the river. Both places share a train station, which now looks oversized for the places it serves but acts as a reminder of the railways’ great era.
The undisputed star of the area is the lighthouse, built in 1844, which stands on the top of the western pier at the harbour entrance. At high tide it rises impressively above sea level, but at low tide it has an even greater impact. The piers projecting out of the sand look like huge castle walls on which the lighthouse towers like a keep. It is complemented by an additional building that houses a large bell and several giant foghorns.
It is easy to imagine what could happen here in fog but the weather is fine and evening walkers perambulate along the pier to the lighthouse. The sea is calm sea and the evening sky a deep, silky velvet. We take many atmospheric pictures. Before we leave Le Tréport the next day, the wind turns and increases in strength. We only have a two-hour passage ahead of us to Dieppe before us but for the first time on this trip things get a bit bumpy. Dieppe can be accessed at any time and welcomes us with a well-protected large marina in the town centre. We rent a car and drive to Amiens, the capital of Picardy, which I recollect from my school days – first trip abroad, appearances with the school orchestra, accommodation with a French family and flirting with the daughter of the house!
Often the reality of the present fails to live up to the memories of the past, but here it is the opposite. The grey Amiens of my school days has become a charming city. The famous Notre Dame d’amiens – along with Chartres and Reims one of the three great cathedrals of the High Gothic era – has the tallest nave of any French cathedral and served as a structural model for Cologne Cathedral. It overlooks the old town, where the Somme, with its tributaries and canals, gives an almost Venetian feel.
At the point where the Somme flows into the sea, lies the Baie de la Somme, which is dry at low tide and home to over 300 species of birds. Places like Le Crotoy, Saint-valery-sur-somme, and Cayeux-sur-mer are connected by a wonderful steam train and despite their attractiveness have not succumbed to mass tourism. This is France at its most unspoilt and alluring. We celebrate the moment with a plate of fresh moules-frites.
The tide is unfavourable for Fécamp and Honfleur so we opt for all-tides-access Le Havre. The weather is getting more like the Mediterranean every day and a dolphin accompanies us into the marina. We are almost alone on our pontoon and I feel sure the waves of passing ships will soon rock us to sleep. But I am restless thinking about our power problem. The harbourmaster accidentally killed the power supply and even after restoring it none of our 220V devices work – including the fridges.
For the first time in nine years of owning Azura I have to trouble Joe, my Marlow contact in the US, as despite checking all the switches, fuses and settings on the inverter, the problem persists. After much headscratching and searching we find the cause: a trip switch in a hidden corner that had jumped to ‘off ’. Solving the problem makes the next cold beer taste even better.
Shortly before I pick up another rental car in the morning, the enormous cruise ship Meraviglia arrives, accompanied by a fireship blowing fountains of water into the air. Meraviglia was built in St Nazaire with capacity for 5,700 passengers and 1,500 crew. She is en route to Le Havre to be officially christened by the Italian film legend Sophia Loren.
We drive to the Rouen cathedral, which partly owes its fame to Claude Monet’s series of paintings between 1892 and 1894. Normandy was home to many famous painters.
We want to continue via Ouistreham to Caen, but the unfavourable lock times mean a long wait, so we head for St Vaast-la-hougue instead. The picturesque harbour sports a variety of flags that indicate its popularity with the British.
The nice weather is forecast to come to an end, replaced by winds gusting up to Force 10 in a day or two so we leave St Vaast the next morning and make for Cherbourg. We are assigned a nice berth at Marina Port de Chantereyne only to be turfed out by the owner. The harbour officials redeem themselves by giving us a berth next to the harbour office and a short walk to the city.
Cherbourg, at the northern end of the Cotentin peninsula, is the second closest connection to England after Calais. Its proximity to England is why the Allied D-day operation in June 1944 took place in this part of Normandy. Utah Beach and all the other main landing sites are close by. The fortifications on the huge flat sandy beaches are still visible and there are many museums and historical reminders.
It is the 73rd anniversary of the D-day landings and there are celebrations in Quinéville with military personnel and paraphernalia. Speeches in French and English recall the events and address threats posed by terrorism today. Germany is also represented and its national anthem and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy played. This is certainly no triumphalist celebration.
We use the storm-enforced break to explore and a look at the waves off Cap de la Hague makes us happy not be out there. At Nez de Jobourg we enjoy some local specialities and spectacular views to Alderney. On the drive to Carteret on Cotentin’s west coast we pass the huge nuclear plant, which is a stark contrast to the wonderful scenery.
Before World War II Cherbourg, with its Gare Maritime, was the largest European gateway to the New World. In this spectacular terminal you could transfer from the railway onto one of the big transatlantic liners. The Titanic docked here before embarking on her fateful journey in April 1912.
Despite the depredations of the war, much has been preserved. Today the area Cité de la Mer serves as a museum for oceanography and much more.
After several days the storm over the Atlantic subsides and we say au revoir to Cherbourg and allez to the Channel Islands. The next leg of our journey to the Med is about to start...
Friends and family regard me as a bit of a boat bore. My fascination for all things floating dates back to my childhood and a father who was a keen sailor. Indeed, all the holidays of my youth were spent, come rain or shine, on a comfortable 36ft ketch.
Later on as I started to earn money of my own, I was able to pursue my interest more voraciously. My first boat was an 18ft Ring with a huge Mercury outboard that I used for waterskiing in the Bristol Channel. It did almost 80mph and burnt through a 25-litre tank of petrol in under 15 mins. But what a boat! I loved it, even if the girls who were meant to be impressed by it were invariably appalled.
It wasn’t until my late twenties that I discovered, thanks to my beautiful Dutch wife, that there was a whole world of boating fun to be had in the South of France. We rented a flat in Villefranche and purchased a 28ft Cranchi Corallo. We had a lot of fun in that boat and managed to sell it for more than we paid for it, a notable but never to be repeated achievement. Subsequent upgrades included a Monte Carlo Offshorer 30, a Cranchi Aquamarina 31, a Cranchi Endurance 33 (the only new boat I have ever bought), and the then flagship of the Cranchi range, the Mediterranée 50. All of the Cranchis were great boats, designed for a specific purpose, built to a high standard and extremely well priced. Most of the time we used them as glorified day boats with friends and my growing family. The Med 50 was the one boat that we did sleep on occasionally, but a disastrous week of rain one half-term dented the rest of the family’s enthusiasm for cruising and we reverted to dayboat use once more.
A brief flirtation with a 1986 Riva Bravo proved to me that an old boat was not necessarily a bad boat: the build quality was second to none and she ran like clockwork. But I wanted to try the ‘cruising thing’ again and for three years I owned a wonderful Ferretti 57 that we used to explore Sardinia, Corsica and the Italian and French rivieras. However, as our children grew older, our time became more constrained and I again found we had started to use her as a dayboat. This made no sense given the costs of running a big boat in the South of France, so my thoughts returned to finding the ideal dayboat.
It needed to sit eight people for lunch around a table, have plenty of sunbathing space, a decent heads and the ability for four of us to overnight as and when. Crucially, I wanted more speed to get us further afield in less time.
Plenty of boats met the criteria, including models from Windy, Princess and others but my now boating-wise wife decreed that she didn’t want one “that looked like everyone else’s”. I liked the idea of an Axopar 37 but she didn’t like the loo being in the main cabin. The Rivarama 44 was perfect but too expensive. The Mochi 51 was too big. The Itamas and Pershings were only fast enough over a certain size and budget. A couple of friends had had good experiences with Huntons but I couldn’t find a 43 at a price I thought reasonable.
In the end, I concluded that I couldn’t find the ideal modern boat so I began to consider buying an older, less expensive one and refitting it to suit my needs. I looked at Magnums and even an OTAM but, again, couldn’t find the right boat at the right price. I ruled out the
I re c a l l a t r i p a b road with my school, s t a y i n g w i t h a French family, f l i rting with their daught e r The only space left in Le Tréport was alongside a trip boat A classic Dutch motor-sailer makes a fine sight Le Tréport at low tide looks an unlikely stop for a 72ft Marlow
The cruise to Le Havre gives a taste of better weather Azura sits out the high winds in Port Chantereyne, Cherbourg The vast cruise ship MSC Meraviglia awaits her christening Fort i f i c at i o n s o n t h e h u g e f l at sandy beaches are s t i l l v i s i b l e a n d t h e re are m a n y h i s t o r i c a l reminders here
Calm seas bode well for their visit to the Channel Islands
Words Tom Wiggin Pictures Joe Mccarthy and Jon Bagge