In a cruise of contrasts, the participant boats of the Motor Boats Monthly Club Normandy fleet have enjoyed a short coastal hop to Le Havre, a long river run to Rouen and a day off, all in scorching temperatures.
The weather did much to enhance Deauville’s appeal, for with the sea just the other side of Port Deauville’s breakwater and the sound of breaking surf clearly audible on the boats, the long sandy beach was the place to be for dreamy midnight strolls and broiling bodies during the daylight hours. Two boats, the Nimbus 37 Lilac Wine and Sealine 410 Mirage decided that this was paradise found and opted to stay with the intention of catching up later on along the French coast. The rest of us took full advantage of a late afternoon tide to prolong our stay on Thursday (23 August) before hopping the few miles northward across the Seine Estuary to Le Havre.
The drying Deauville entrance is straightforward if using it at the right state of tide, although care needs to be taken not to stray across the training bank marked by starboard piles, or shallow water on the opposite side. As you emerge on a sunny day, you find yourself temporarily a part of the beach scene with hundreds of bathers on either side.
Care also needs to be taken when crossing the estuary as a lot of shoal water lies to the east; we found several shallower than expected spots when cutting the corner aboard Calm Voyager, although with an 8m tide it didn’t leave us with any problem. Staying out to the west keeps you safe.
After the predominantly leisure approach of Dives-Sur-Mer and Deauville, the heavily industrial skyline of Le Havre is stark. But there are plenty of berths in the all-tides marina and it is the first thing you find to port as soon as you enter the harbour. Once secure you find all modern facilities and we especially noted the fact that the reverse polarity problem of yore (typical of many French harbour shorepower supplies) had been solved by the installation of new boxes that took the standard blue three-pin plug.
A pontoon party was quickly organised, in part to celebrate the arrival of the VDL Pilot 44 Sapphire Rose, who had had the technical glitches of a few days ago solved and made a 13-hour run to Le Havre direct from Lymington on flat seas. We were now 22 in number.
When trying to recover lost schedule days earlier in the week I’d looked to see if it was possible somehow to work our fleet up the Seine from Deauville. But even for faster craft it is highly sensible to use the flood tide to the full and leaving from anywhere other than Le Havre makes that very difficult.
We had three particular reasons for not wanting to take full advantage of the 15 knot speed limit up to 10 miles short of Rouen on the 73 mile passage: fuel consumption, spring tide-induced debris in the water and wash. Of these, the latter was by far the most important. Just as the Port of London Authority are becoming increasingly stringent about wash on the derestricted sections of the tidal Thames, so the Rouen Port Authority are taking an increasingly dim view not only of speeding leisure boats but also those dragging a lot of wake especially if travelling mob-handed.
Aware of reports that some British boats had been pushing the limit just a few weeks prior to our visit, a careful briefing outlined the suggested strategy; wait for low water in the Seine itself, travel at maximum 15 knots if no other traffic was about up to the Tancarville Bridge (the second of two soaring spans over the lower Seine) and then drop to lower wash speeds and let the tide do the work, with even lower speeds in the run up to the several small car ferry crossing points and the pilot station at Caudebec. For the run up to Rouen itself we wanted even lower speeds than the theoretical 7 knots, to avoid dragging wake into the leisure moorings (it can roll on several miles if running with the tide hereabouts).