(Comments from the minimal one in italics)
Having mastered six months winter berthing at Haslar marina bouncing up and down on 10 foot tides twice twice a day we felt ready to face the challenges of la Manche.
Pilot Ray and super-lookout Hilary joined us at 8, stowed away their kit and after a cup of tea we slipped our moorings at 9 o’clock.
We bade farewell to Portsmouth for a few months – “a thousand times adieu” with friend Pam waving her Pompey flag from the Round Tower.
Setting off eastward along the coast we set our course following a sunlit pathway across the sea – plus of course Ray’s navigation lines on the chart.
We rounded Selsey Bill with less turbulence than expected and motored on towards Beachy Head. Calliope pushed forwards through the wind, waves and spray, eagerly seeking her port for the night at Eastbourne
Our main excitement during the day was being overtaken by a high-speed lifeboat whose wake set us tossing and pitching to such an extent that two partially filled mugs of tea leapt onto the seats and a tumbler in the kitchen flew to the floor.
As we got closer to our destination another of nature’s navigation aids appeared – a rainbow pointing to the harbour entrance and guiding us towards (today’s) journey’s end.
Phoning ahead, as instructed, we found a lock ready for us to enter, shared with a fishing boat, its crew and catch.
After a celebratory drink and good supper we had a superbly calm night moored in Sovereign Harbour and awoke ready for action. The forecast force 3-4 winds, with possibility of force 5 later, was a little concerning, but with trust in ship and crew we joined day-fishing boats in the 8.30 lock …..
….. and by 8.45 were leaving the lock behind them ….
….. to find another sunlit pathway cutting through gentle seas to guide us towards France.
It may have been 1st April, but we were not a ship of fools, or April poissons. We were ready and able to undertake our Piper Boat odyssey to France.
Using both our ‘Raymarine’ systems (technical and Mr Pilot Ray Graham) we steered a steady (relatively steady) course south towards the sun.
I felt a Mock Turtle moment as England slipped from view, “The further off from England the nearer is to France”, and after a while we were became coastless. This was a strange sensation for the Captain, who was more used to land he could almost touch on each side when cruising down rivers and canals (Indeed).
Some hours later we met the first shipping lane.
It has to be said that we had been a little anxious about little Calliope weaving in and out of gigantic tankers and cargo ships hell bent on reaching their destinations, but in fact we saw few ships and it was simple to steer behind any that were ‘close’, ie quarter mile away!
The second shipping lane, West to East bound, was even emptier than the first, though we did get closer to this one. Captain Carr took us skilfully behind the huge dredger (Oh it was nothing).
Soon after this we realised we were now in French waters, a moment recorded by the raising of the tricolour (courtesy flag).
Time to change the clocks too.
Sea birds sat serenely on the surface – yellow headed gannets, horned grebes, greater black backed gulls etc.
Far from the winds increasing to their forecast strength they decreased to an absolute millpond calm as we gradually approached the Baie de Somme.
We shared the waters with few other boats, most of them fishing and trawling in various fashions.
But we did have a moment when a (petite) French warship (Border Patrol vessel) hove into view and we wondered if we were to be boarded and searched for whatever constitutes contraband these days.
We obviously looked innocent and law abiding enough to be left alone and we cruised on.
Keeping on course we looked out for hours for the famous ATSO buoy marking the start of the labyrinthine channel into St Valery.
After a couple of false sightings we spotted it and made a lengthy, stately approach. Phew!
There was still an air of apprehension in the wheelhouse. Ideally we would have reached ATSO two hours before high tide. In fact we were about 90 minutes late ….
…. so anxious to follow our winding course as quickly as possible, but without any errors of the running aground type.
The combined efforts of Captain Carr, Pilot Graham and a Look Out Girl (not me!) ensured safe passage between over twenty sets of buoys, posts and beacons (spelled ‘buyos’ on the Port St Valery web site reminding me of daughter Hollie’s days at Cardiff Uni).
(Navigation note for those interested: we arrived on a Neap tide and, despite only drawing 3’ we were very short on water on a couple of occasions – http://www.portsaintvalery.fr is essential reading).
We could even enjoy a quick glimpse of the basking seals on the fast emerging sand banks.
The final turn into the start of the Maritime canal du Somme was unexpected and sudden, but by adding Google Maps satellite images into our armoury of sextants, charts, GPS, sun, moon, stars and the human eye, we made it. We made it!
Before long we were moored up on a hammerhead at the marina, champagne was opened, and the crew rewarded for efforts. (Thanks to Den and Linda for the bubbles – they didn’t last long.)
Our welcome at the marina included a booklet about cruising on up the Somme and, in our limited French understanding, an explanation that if we wanted to go up through the sea lock into the canal the next day we would have to be at the lock for High Tide at 0756, so an early night was the last order of the day.
A good nights sleep was enjoyed by the crew, who awoke to a beautiful Saint Valery scene, and ready to tackle the next phase of the journey towards Abbeville and Amiens.