Normandy Calvados Cruise, July 2018

Avril and I left Gosport at 0506 on Friday, July 6. The forecast for Wight was variable 3 or 4 with occasional fog patches. We motor-sailed in a light westerly breeze around Bembridge ledge and out into the Channel. Shortly after 11am, the wind had built to the point where we could turn the engine off and sail for most of the rest of the trip, in cloudless sunshine. The engine came back on just after 5pm, and we tied up just after 6pm in Cherbourg marina to discover that the Hallberg Rassy that had been buzzing us just north of Cherbourg was none other than Graham Broadway and the other half of the rally.

A Friday start allowed for a relaxing rest day in Cherbourg visiting the markets and buying cheese, bread, wine and people watching. Cherbourg is under-rated and its markets definitely have the edge on Gosport high street.

Sunday meant a gentle afternoon trip around the north east corner of the Cotentin peninsula, passing Barfleur and on to St Vaast, in continuing sunshine. Winds were light, no doubt frustrating to the crews taking part in the Le Tour des Ports de la Manche 2018 whose fleet we met coming the other way on the first leg of their trip from St Vaast to Granville.

Monday involved a trip to Île Tatihou aboard the amphibious bus from St Vaast and a visit to the fort, one of a chain along this part of the coast intended to warn off aggressive Englishmen, no doubt. The natives seemed friendly enough, and the trip provided an excellent view of the oyster beds which are the source of St Vaast's famous product.

Tuesday: St Vaast to Courseulles-sur-Mer, next to Juno beach and site of the Canadian D-day museum. On the way we found time to loiter at the remains of the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches, a place which gives you some sense of the scale of the 1944 invasion. A rest day gave us plenty of time to explore, especially the numerous fish stalls alongside the quayside, followed by Thursday's gentle day sail to Ouistreham and then along the canal to Caen. The timings for lock openings into the canal seem to bear no relation to those in the almanac, but once in the canal the bridges on the way to Caen open without fuss or too much waiting.

Caen was a real surprise. Having read about how much of the city was destroyed in the fighting of WW2, I was expecting a grey concrete mass but it's not like that at all. Many older streets remain, or were restored, and there are numerous shops, restaurants, churches and abbeys. It's definitely worth visiting and since the marina is a good 8 miles inland, unlikely to suffer from swell except during the apocalypse. The marina is also a short walk from the railway station and we took advantage of SNCF to visit Bayeux, the tapestry and the museum of the Battle of Normandy.

Graham’s brilliant organisation meant we were in Caen for Bastille Day fireworks which we were able to enjoy from the marina. He even managed to organise France’s World Cup victory to coincide with our trip, so a friendly party atmosphere followed us much of the way, without a rowdy fan in sight.

On Sunday, we headed to Deauville, along more sandy beaches and once again in sunshine and very light northerly winds. More R&R followed, with an excellent dinner at the floating restaurant at the marina.

You could tell how upmarket Deauville was because the usual token system for showers was replaced by an attendant, a somewhat frightening woman who imposed iron discipline by forcing users to sign-in.

Tuesday meant another hop along the coast, this time to the Seine estuary and Honfleur. Once again, the almanac's view of lock openings was wide of the mark, though in this case hugely pessimistic: we'd been expecting to wait for the lock but it was open all along. Oh well.

Honfleur was the end of the trip. Delightful and not too crowded. While it has the reputation of being a place where you can end up on a stack 8 or 9 boats deep, Shearwater was the second boat from the harbour wall and Aeolus third, so not too much dancing was required to get ashore. Being able to stagger from the boat to a breakfast in a street cafe was a very pleasant experience.

We were joined by the Commodore for dinner on the last evening and feasted on all sorts of local seafood. And snails. Calvados was taken. And so the cruise came to an end. Just under two weeks of very relaxing sailing with plentiful breaks ashore for exercise and food and not one spot of rain.

We left Honfleur a little after 8am on Thursday July 19 and tied up back at our home port in Haslar at one minute to midnight on the same day, happy but probably heavier than when we started.

Many thanks to Graham Broadway for a trip that will live long in the memory.

Andy Ormsby, 26.10.2018 | More from Andy Ormsby’s blog