The early season booze cruise was organised because three of my shipmates had booked for their Yachtmaster exam in May but two of them had not done all their 60 mile passages as skipper. It was therefore decided to charter a boat so that we could do three 60 mile passages. The yacht was chartered back in the depths of winter, January I think, and in those distant days an April cross channel passage seemed a good idea. The crew consisted of three club members: Mark Blunden, Simon Hughes and myself, a shipmate who had sailed the Fastnet with us last year and three relative novices.
The yacht was booked from 1500 on Thursday 19th April but for all of the week before and then for Sunday to Wednesday a succesion of gales passed up the English Channel. I watched the weather forecast from eight days earlier and gradually it appeared as if the wind would ease a bit by Thursday. (Ever the optimist!)
The yacht we chose was a privately owned yacht, a Beneteau 38, based in Northney Marina. Low water was at 1630 and we had planned to pass over Chichester bar about two hours after low water. However this plan had to be changed immediately. We had the first charter of the season and the owner found that the ship's registration papers had been left at home. We therefore had about an hour delay whilst he went home to find them.
Eventually the paperwork was all on board and we set off a little late, crossing the bar just after 1900, hoisted the sails and set course for St Vaast. At this point the wind was from the NW at about 10 knots. Just after we passed the bar the log stopped registering any speed. After taking up most of the fore cabin sole in a fruitless hunt for the impeller we had to ring the owner to find where it was located. After many many warnings that the boat would sink if we removed it, he eventually told us where it was (almost at the aft end of the saloon!) and speed was restored to the display. We shipped almost two cupfuls of water in the process. Dinner (pasta and meat balls) was eaten off Bembridge Ledge.
During the night the wind increased to 20 knots and we put in 2 reefs and rolled up some of the jib. This was my first cross channel sail of the season and I was feeling a bit queasy despite taking Stugeron so I stayed on deck after my first 3 hour watch had finished and then remained on deck for my second watch. After 9 hours I was feeling the cold and managed to lie down for about an hour but could not sleep.
Barfleur light was seen at about 0400 and then, as we passed to the east of Barfleur, the wind backed round to S to SW leaving us with a beat for the last 10 miles. We eventually reached St Vaast at 0800, about an hour after the gate had opened.
St Vaast was almost empty. There were only the local boats and we were the only yacht with a courtesy flag. As soon as we tied up and were secure the beers were produced despite the early hour. (Well it was after 0900 French time!) This was followed by a visit to the showers and then we dodged the heavy showers and adjourned to the bar in the marina. At 1200 French time we walked into town, found a restaurant and sampled the local huitres, Steake frites and verre de vin rouge. The afternoon was spent sleeping on the boat.
After a few hours rest we visited M Gosselin, had supper (shepherds pie) on the boat and sailed at about 2200 for Fécamp. For this leg the wind was right behind us, again at about 20 knots, and we just unfurled all of the genoa. Even so we were doing 7 knots through the water. This leg, although the boat was upright was made uncomortable by the sea and the rolling motion. My off watch berth was one of the aft cabins and the berth was too wide to be comfortable. I wedged myself against the lower side but occasionally the boat would heel to windward and I would roll to the other side of the berth, only to be rolled back again when the boat resumed its slight heel to leeward. As we were appoaching Fécamp in the early morning a RIB came out of a small harbour just to the west of Fécamp and sped directly towards us. We wondered what we had done wrong. It looked a bit like an RNLI inshore rescue boat so it may have been the French equivalent. They came up to about 20 metres from our cockpit, could see that we were all relaxing, drinking tea and joking, waved at us and then sped back to the harbour.
We berthed in Fécamp around 0800. This time not only were there no visiting yachts but there was no harbour master either. We had free mooring. The routine was the same as the day before. The beers were opened, followed by a visit to the showers and then a walk into town to find a bar. After a few beers we found a restaurant, this time it was magret de canard and verres de vin rouge and then back to the boat for an afternoon siesta.
During our siesta the wind veered to the NW and the sky cleared but the wind stayed at 20 knots. Mindful of the swell that can build up in Fécamp we walked out to the pier and were horrified by the state of the sea in the entrance. It was still only half tide and we were planning to leave at high water. We therefore returned to the boat and had supper on board (curry, rice, poppadums and pickles). After supper we went back to the pier to look at the sea and I thought that it looked a little bit better than earlier. At least there would be more water underneath the troughs! We therefore slipped our lines and headed out of the harbour entrance in the dark. It's amazing how much bigger the waves appear from the cockpit than from the pier 10 metres high! I had the helm and had someone watch a transit behind to make sure we were not beeing swept sideways although there was plenty of light in the channel to see the wall on either side. After a few heart wrenching switchbacks we were clear of the entrance and in open water. With the wind in the NW it was a very close fetch back to Chichester. At least on this leg, with the boat heeling, the aft cabin was more comfortable. We arrived back at Chichester Bar right on high water at 1300 on Sunday. It is several years since I have sailed out of Chichester and had completely forgotten about the West Pole Waypoint Syndrome. Afer sailing for three days and nights without seeing another yacht we seemed to be rounding a Solent Racing Mark in the middle of Cowes Week. Suddenly we were surrounded by many many yachts from all directions aiming for the same waypoint.
We tied up in Northney in the middle of a downpour complete with thunder and lightning having covered 220 miles since Thursday afternoon.