All participant boats on the Motor Boats Monthly cruise in company to Normandy are safely home in UK ports after enjoying a two-night stay in the secret haven of St Valery-en-Caux.
In many respects we had been surprised that this Normandy haven has had a quiet summer with British-flagged visitors down in number. As with many Normandy harbours, you do have to time your arrival carefully – HW plus/minus 2h15m in daylight hours in St Valery-en-Caux’s case and you wouldn’t want to be entering on a big northerly wind, but the entrance is otherwise straightforward and accurately documented in the Macmillan almanac and the Shell Channel Pilot.
Once inside the harbour proper, accessed via a tidal gate and a road bridge that lifts every half-hour when the gate is open, you are sat in a basin that runs south for a good half mile. A run of shops and restaurants lies close by, there’s a small casino if you fancy your luck, a stony beach with sand at low water, good childrens’ play facilities and walking country in three directions.
There’s no fuel facility as such but given sufficient notice and a minimum take of 1000lt, the harbour staff can lay on a road tanker. The one we arranged charged 5.20FF/lt, the cheapest price of the whole trip.
The weather had, as expected, finally turned during our stay, bringing overcast skies, some rain and a northerly-propelled swell through the harbour entrance that made the visitors’ moorings take on a gentle sympathetic roll when the gate was open near high water. The ideal antidote was to get ashore for a final meal together on the Friday evening (31 August) organised by Patricia and George Mackin.
Saturday morning we were back to business and, once again, the final decision to go was made as late as possible, to ensure that an anticipated weather window was available. The wind had howled out of the north overnight, but barometer and latest synoptics were agreed that a high-pressure system was on the move. We needed to get out whilst the wind dropped to lighter from the north and, preferably, get the job done before it built stronger from the west as fronts arrived and the high moved on.
A check on the entrance revealed some swell but winds of as light as 10-12kn out of the north, so a final brief gave the green light and also revealed that we would be attempting to push the whole fleet out on the 1030 bridge lift.
Untangling rafts, holding boats in spare pieces of water and allowing for several local boats also on the move took on the appearance of a giant game of water chess and drew a crowd of bystanders. But all played their part and, within minutes, the fleet were punching out into the slightly confused Channel, 21 craft simultaneously throwing grand white moustaches from bows pointed homeward – an impressive sight to retain in the memory.
When working off this stretch of coastline we normally run a northwest route to the edge of the Dover Strait Traffic Separation Scheme before crossing immediately to the west of the Greenwich light. But today we wanted to get as much north on our progress as quickly as possible, to gain some lee from England and to give us a nearer diversion port in the form of Eastbourne Sovereign Harbour. So we headed north out of St Valery-en-Caux and then crossed the TSS at the obligatory 345T, emerging just to the west of the CS2 buoy, south of the Sovereign light.
The first few miles out were uncomfortable but manageable and, as expected, conditions gradually improved to the point where, off the English side of the TSS, there was hardly any movement at all, at least at first. A big bonus was the sighting of Beachy Head from 25 miles out in the crystal clear visibility.