These are the voyages of the sailing vessel Pétillant. Her original eight-month mission: to sail from Baltimore to France via Florida and the Bahamas, to successfully navigate the shoals of the French douane, to boldly go where few Maine Coon cats have gone before was completed in 2008. Now she is berthed in Port Medoc and sails costal Spain, France, and the UK during the summer months.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cherbourg to Fecamp– Slogging up the Channel

We finally made it to Dover, with both cats legally entered into the UK.  The trip from Cherbourg was all motoring or motor-sailing, which is not very pleasant, but at least the seas were not rough.


We waited in Cherbourg for four days for a break in the weather.  A stubborn  set of systems over the continent generated strong easterly winds in the channel for 3 days, and associated large swells, so we decided to see the wonders of Cherbourg, of which there are really not many. Although the commercial aspects of the harbor have been significant in the past, only the ferry traffic to the UK is left for passenger service, and the mainstay seems to be the large shipyard.  They are also trying to do a lot with a maritime museum, which we did not visit, and there have been big Titanic anniversary  events going on.  We did a fair amount of walking, and had two good market days in town, but did not take any meals out.  With the good produce that was available, it was more fun to sit on the boat and watch the various tourist-sailors arriving from the UK, and the students at the sailing school learn how to sail dinghys, Lasers, and other similar boats.   We also did a number of boat chores that have been waiting for a while, and we now have our netting back in place, and complete, to catch any wayward kitties (or boat objects) who might slide towards the gunwales…

Kids having fun
The sailing school seems to be quite large, and the younger students must be receiving encouragement from their educational institutions, because they were sailing during the school week.  We wondered whether it was part of their physical education program. In the morning, the instructors would tow long lines of dinghies out to the rade behind a RIB, and turn the really young children (maybe 6-9 years old) loose to have fun and sail back.  The older ones in the lasers had to sail themselves out the channel, doing short tacks all the way.  They invariably came back around 11:30 to have lunch (this is France, after all), and then back in the afternoon for more fun.

The Brits have been descending en masse.  Cherbourg is only about 65 miles from the Solent,  so a long day or a relatively short overnight trip is easy to do.  And with te east wind we had, it must have been a blast.  There were a lot of groups associated with sailing clubs in the UK.  One guy would be designated Commodore of the cruise, and they would all tie up next to one another and party together.  Then, they all left together, either back to the UK or further west to the more exotic parts of France. 


This was the last holiday weekend (of four(!)) in May for the French, so we knew that town would be quiet on Sunday and Monday, so on Sunday the weather appeared to be quite calm and we decided to try to make it further east.  Our first goal was Ouistreham, which is the port for the large city of Caen.  As we motored east with a large push from the current, we got ambitious, and decided to try for Le Havre, at the mouth of the Seine.  We often talk about heading up to Paris with the boat for a winter, so we thought we would check out the facilities in Le Havre, which is where many boat take down their masts.  Supposedly, demasting boats is a real industry there, and it is possible (and even inexpensive(!)) to have the mast shipped to the Med if you decide to take the canal route instead of the Spain-Portugal-Gibralter route.

However, as we approached Le Havre, we realized that it was really just another large French city, of which we know quite a few, and we really wanted to make some distance to the north.  So, looking at the charts, we decided to head to Fecamp, a former fishing village further along the coast.  This meant a bit longer day, and in the end we did about 74 miles.  A lot of this was motor-sailing.  For non-sailors, this means that we ran the engine with the sails up.  If you have weak winds from the right direction, you can use the motor to generate better winds for the sails so that you travel faster than you would if you just ran the engine or used just the sails.  We can pick up 1-1.5 knots this way.

When do we get to go ashore and party?
We arrived in a town that was partying because it was one of the first holidays of the season, and the fishing has been supplemented by tourism.  The marina is large, and we just managed to grab one o the last spots on the end of a hammerhead behind a visiting French boat, and next to some Dutch.  They were nice enough to help with lines, and could not get enough of the great red cat who wanted to explore the pier. 

We asked whether the marina office was open, and they said that of course, being a Sunday night, it was not.  And, malhureausement, they did not know the code to the sanitaires.  We explained that we just wanted to know  so that we could go pay for the night, and they gave the French laugh that says “Oh, why would anyone want to pay for use of a few cleats for the night?”.  So, we didn’t worry about it, and left early the next day without seeing the harbormaster at all.  We did this once before, at Treburden last year, and we have noticed a number of boats that seem to arrive late in the evening after the capitainerie is closed, but then leave early the next morning before it opens again.  The prices that are paid seem to level themselves out, somehow…

The White Cliffs of France
We walked around town, admiring the architecture.  This is the “Alabaster Coast” of France, with high chalk cliffs that also contain strata of flint and other stones, and the people of Fecamp have made good use of these stones to decorate their houses.  We also walked along the shingle beach and collected a few interesting stones there.

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