The voyage from Portsmouth to St Valery sur Somme


(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.

moving astern from our Haslar Marina mooring



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.

Spinnaker Tower and Old Portsmouth recede into distance

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




Speeding life boat astern to port!

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.


Sovereign Harbour Lock, Eastbourne


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.

The northerly shipping lane, for vessels moving East to West

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).




‘The Marseille’ time


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.





Blurry gannet


Sea birds sat serenely on the surface – yellow headed gannets, horned grebes, greater black backed gulls etc.




SO calm – unbelievable!

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!





Between the first pair of many marker buoys


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 ….

winding round to two more sets of buoys





…. 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 – is essential reading).


Seals, seals, seals


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.

Across the channel from our mooring at Saint Valery – 0700 hours 2nd April

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.



Published by lesley-jane

Wife of Stewart, mother of 3, Granny of 6 (yes, I am happy to define myself by my family; I value them more than anything), and living abroad Calliope, our replica Dutch Barge, currently cruising the inland waterways of France, Belgium and The Netherlands. Retired from a couple of enjoyable careers, and now being closer to the real, outdoor me. Love water, fascinated by animals, enjoy music, support Pompey and try to find fun in all parts of my life.

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