The Motor Boats Monthly Normandy Cruising Club fleet have now achieved all intended harbours on the itinerary, albeit in slightly different order, and are currently lying in the picturesque Normandy town of St Valery-en-Caux, much to the great interest of local residents.
A total of 23 motorboats took an easy run down the Seine from Rouen on Monday (27 August), having enjoyed a relaxing weekend in a city that is well worth a visit. After sweltering temperatures, it was a relief to feel a breeze through the boats again. It was also pleasing to see how, by keeping wash low, we were able to enjoy friendly waves from bystanders and ferry captains all the way down the river. One couple on the bankside even enthusiastically produced a Union Jack from their house and waved it with gusto.
Towards the river mouth we had expected some rain and a north-easterly – instead we got light cloud and a north with a touch of west in it that rucked up the waves into a typical Seine estuary tantrum of the kind often seen near high water. There were not many miles to endure the bounce, but it was a sharp reminder that we were back into seagoing trim.
Boats were soon alongside in Le Havre and hosing off the salt using water points with enough pressure to stand a flat hose out straight in the air like a snake charmer’s python on steroids. Soon afterwards we were all seated in the excellent restaurant of the Societe des Regates du Havre for a three-course buffet that surpassed expectations.
The marina at Le Havre suffers from being bordered by a massive edifice of the ugliest block of flats that ever graced God’s earth. But probe behind, or walk along the beach and you realise that this is yet another of those more major French ports with a hidden soul. Strong F5 northeasterly winds and a current that would have been opposed to it had cancelled our planned move to St Valery-en-Caux on Tuesday (28 August), so there was plenty of time for crews to wander ashore and explore. The sound of trolleys from a nearby supermarket clickety-clacking along the pontoon walkways was common that day, the contents predictable for France.
Le Havre has the slowest diesel pump we use on any cruise, but we gradually plodded our way through a task made easier by the fact we could pull the boats from the generous run of visitor moorings without disturbing others.
The day off gave time to consider strategy. It looked as though we had easterlies and then winds out of the north for at least the next two days and so four options evolved – stay where we were, try for St Valery-en-Caux which, with its HW plus/minus two window would mean a wind against tide run, run further east to all-tides Dieppe with wind and tide together in the morning or head west with the wind to St Vaast (an easy entrance in promised northerly winds) and use the Cherbourg Peninsula as a base for a crossing on a long term forecast south-westerly. For the record, Fecamp was out because it was hosting a multihull event and couldn’t accommodate visitors. A return to Dives or Deauville was also a possibility, but exploring new harbours was the name of the game.
At this stage it is worth reporting that the harbour staff in St Valery-en-Caux, Dieppe and St Vaast were all very understanding and promised to fit us in if we arrived. Participants on this cruise have been impressed by the pricing and welcoming attitude of the marinas we have visited in Normandy. When paying on average one third of the fee that is charged for one night visits on the UK South Coast it seems there is little argument about preferred destinations and such savings go some way to negate the cost of diesel that is averaging somewhere between 5.5FF to 6FF per litre.