Monday, August 31, 2009


It’s hard to believe that only two days ago we were in Guernsey. Our passage to Tréguier was relatively fast, and we averaged a little better than our normal five knots. The rocks at the approach to the river were quite impressive, and the current was fast, but it’s well-marked and wide, so we had no problem negotiating the twists and turns, even when our chart plotter didn’t quite line up on the buoys. What we didn’t anticipate was the tiny little sticks, most with tiny little flags, that mark some sort of fishing pot or net or line all over the approach. Some of them were very difficult to see, and we did have to turn to avoid one.

Channel markers at the approach

View of artichoke fields from the river

It was due to the fishing sticks that we changed our plans again. We had thought that we would leave here at high water slack about 0420 this morning—still in the dark. Instead we’re leaving at high water slack 12 hours later. So instead of another stop on the English Channel, we’ll be sailing overnight all the way to Cameret in South Brittany. That’s where we’ll wait for our weather window to cross the Bay of Biscay to Portugal.

All of this gave us extra time in Tréguier, and we’ve enjoyed it very much. The town is very old—15th and 16th century—and unlike many French towns along the Channel, it wasn’t destroyed in either world war. Also, in contrast to Honfleur, for example, it hasn’t been overrun by tourists. You can really feel the history here among all the old stone buildings. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the details of that history and haven’t been able to find much on the Internet in English.

Typical stone houses with flower boxes

Cat in the window

We also had very nice neighbors here. They're from Jersey, and we didn't get their names, but we did watch them sail into the entrance behind us. Then while we were waiting for slack at the pontoon outside the marina, we watched them go past us and dock. That's when we decided that it must be slack enough. The currents through the marina are notorious, so we were being extra careful.

Our night lights: buoys off the stern

John got lots of pictures despite yesterday being overcast. The evening light was beautiful when we came up the river, and today is bright and sunny. I'm sure the photo page will be great when we get it done.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


We’ve really enjoyed our stay in Guernsey, but it’s coming to an end this morning as we continue to make our way out the English Channel. They say Guernsey is English with a little French dressing, and that about sums it up. It feels like we’ve done more tourist things than usual, but it’s probably about the same.

Harbor with 800-year-old castle

A little French dressing

When we first arrived, John asked the harbor control guy where a good place to get real ale was. Although reluctant to give advice at first, he finally recommended the Cock & Bull up the hill. We checked it out the next day and liked it. The ale was good (John said the IPA was the best he’s ever tasted), and the manager was friendly. He said we should come back the next night for a live Irish music session.

The Cock and Bull

Often we mean to do things and don’t follow through when the time comes. We decided, though, to make a point of going to the pub for the music, and we’re really glad we did. The music was outstanding, and the pub was so pretty in the softer light. John took lots of pictures, and yesterday we dropped off copies on our way back from Victor Hugo’s house.

About half of the Irish musicians including the manager's daughter on the left

That was another thing that was recommended to us: visit Victor Hugo’s house. Hugo spent a large part of his 19-year exile from France in Hauteville House here in St. Peter Port. He bought the property from proceeds from the sale of a poetry collection and spent years decorating it. It was here that he finished Les Misérables. The house is definitely worth seeing if you’re ever here. John took lots of pictures, so we’re sure to have a photo page on it later.

Our guide at Victor Hugo's house

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On to the Channel Islands

Dinner with Laurie and Sue was lovely. John says both times he has had home-cooked moules, they were significantly better than the ones he had at the restaurant in Dieppe. After dinner we watched NCIS, which was fun. Laurie and Sue didn’t have television last year when we were there. They seem to enjoy some of the same American shows that my family and I do.

We stayed an extra day in Cherbourg to take care of some boat chores. The staysail halyard was chafing in the middle, and the deck light and steaming light (the same fixture) was out. John had to go up the mast to fix the light, and several people walking down the dock talked to him. They seemed impressed with his mast-climbing equipment. It turns out that a screw on the deck light fixture had a protruding sharp edge that was damaging the staysail halyard. John smoothed it out and covered it while he was up there. Then he reversed the halyard so that the chafed part isn’t under tension when the sail is up.

Sunday we set off for Alderney. There was wind off and on, so we sailed when we could. At one point we were doing more than nine knots, but there really wasn’t any wind. It was all current!

In Alderney we decided to anchor rather than pick up a mooring buoy. According to Reed’s if you fly your quarantine flag (a plain yellow signal flag that stands for Q), the harbormaster comes to you with the customs forms and other paperwork. Although we arrived in mid-afternoon, no one came by the boat, so in the morning we put the dinghy in the water and went to the harbormaster. He called Customs, and we took care of all of the formalities in one stop. Märzen couldn’t go ashore, but we know she doesn’t mind about that.

Alderney is a rocky island, and the town of St. Anne is pretty with lots of stone houses. We had lunch and a beer, but didn’t visit the museum. As in France most businesses close for an hour or two at lunchtime, which was when we were in town, of course, so that kept us from the temptation of buying anything. John could really use a few new t-shirts to replace ones that have been ruined by boat chores, but he’ll have to get them somewhere else.

When we got back to the boat, the young harbormaster’s assistant stopped by to see if we wanted to pay him. Of course, we paid at the office, so there was nothing for him to do. In the morning he stopped by again. This time it was with a printout of the weather forecast, which was much appreciated, and we took the opportunity to confirm the time that we should leave for Guernsey. The tidal streams (or currents) in the Channel Islands are fierce, and you really have to go with the flow.

Some weather in the Atlantic is really affecting the sea state in the Channel, and it was a decidedly bumpy ride to Guernsey this afternoon. We also had 20-knot wind on our nose most of the way, so it wasn’t a quick trip, even with favorable current. The current only really kicked in once we got in the wind and wave shadow of the island.

St. Peter Port, where we are, has a fairly large harbor filled with boats. We’re rafted on a pontoon that isn’t connected to the shore because of Märzen. The neighbors are a French boat, and they also have a dog. They’ve been very friendly and curious about us, and they even gave us a bottle of wine! (I’d said that we like French wine.) They’ll be leaving at six o’clock tomorrow morning, and then we’ll get to be the inside boat. The pontoons don’t have electricity, but they do have fresh water. And there’s free wireless Internet, which John rowed ashore to arrange after dinner tonight.

Another map. Our proposed next stop is Tréguier

It’s the next day now. I didn’t get this posted last night, but we were up early to let the French boat off the dock. Either they hadn’t been in a raft-up before, or they didn’t understand that we were staying. In any case, we drifted in the crowded harbor on a fairly windy morning while they watched us, looking puzzled. Finally, I indicated that we wanted to go back to the dock after they left. They got the message, but by then we had found another open spot and took it. High winds are expected to blow through here today, and our other spot would have been a little less exposed, but we’re securely tied and heavily fendered now, so we’re good. (We’re also closer to the wireless Internet antenna, and that’s a plus, especially since we don't much feel like going ashore in this weather.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Honfleur to Cherbourg

We had a great sail in company with Anaconda almost all the way from Fécamp past fantastic white cliffs with pinnacles and on to the mouth of the river Seine. The challenge was to leave late enough so that the current would be with us and still make it in time for the last opening of the bridge into the old harbor at Honfleur. We did it, but suffered some heartburn when the lock before the bridge closed right in front of us. Anaconda was inside the lock and had everything worked out with the harbormaster by the time we got through. The harbor was full, but she let us raft up at the steps to the old port captain’s building.

Anaconda sailing to Honfleur

Honfleur is a beautiful old town filled with tourists and businesses that cater to tourists. Lex said when he was there 15 or 20 years ago, artists lined the harbor with their easels. Now cafés line the harbor, but there are still a few artists and galleries. We couldn’t help but notice that the artists who were painting the area where we were moored left our modern boats out but included the old wooden boats behind us—from memory, I guess.

Solstice hiding Anaconda at the steps in Honfleur

The weather was beautiful, and we enjoyed exploring the town and its public gardens. We even walked to the beach. The second night Maria made Dutch pancakes for us and insisted that we take some with us for the next day. It was so great to spend time with Lex and Maria again, and we were all sad to wave good-bye in the morning. We hope we’’ll see them again sometime.

Pond in the public gardens

From Honfleur we motored sailed to St Vaast-la-Hougue where we anchored for the night. Thanks to a favorable current most of the way, we made good time so that it wasn’t totally dark when we arrived. We were thankful for Maria’s pancakes, which made an easy and tasty dinner. The anchorage was peaceful that night, but in the morning the wind changed direction, and the swell increased so that we were happy to be on our way when the tidal stream changed.

We were looking forward to a downwind sail with the current, but when we reached the cape at Barfleur where we turned west, the wind became west-southwesterly. Yet another passage spent sailing to wind. What’s more, the wind increased from the 15 knots in the anchorage to 25 or more, and the seas became more than just un peu agité (a little agitated, one of Lex and Maria’s new favorite terms). We had started with a reef in the main but hadn’t rigged the staysail. After struggling with a partially furled jib, John finally rigged the staysail, and we put the jib away. It was a bit more comfortable, but we were still pretty tired by the time we docked in Cherbourg.

After showers and dinner we went to find our friends Laurie and Sue, who we met last year. Laurie had been trying off and on to raise us on the VHF radio (oddly, we’ve never exchanged telephone numbers), and they were very glad to see us. After just a glass (or two) of wine, we arranged to meet in the morning for a shopping expedition to the market at Valognes and a couple of major supermarkets. We took advantage of being in a car and stocked up on heavy things that would normally take more than one trip to get to the boat. Tonight we’re having moules (mussels) and crab on their boat.

Area around Cherbourg with places we visited circled

One of the best things about cruising is the people you meet, and this summer has been especially rich in friends: Tom and Tutten in Denmark, David and Gunilla in Sweden, all of our Dutch friends who came to see us at various stops in the Netherlands, Lex and Maria and Laurie and Sue here in France. It’s been great. And now we’re looking forward to seeing Richard and Andrea when we reach Spain. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll see Gerry in Portugal too.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reunion with Anaconda in Fécamp

We are very happy to be docked right next to our friends Lex and Maria on Anaconda. They waited here in Fécamp for us to catch up with them, and we’ll be going on together to Honfleur tomorrow. The boats are so close together that we can go from one to the other without stepping onto the dock.

Last night both galleys were busy cooking mussels (provided by Anaconda) for a feast that was consumed in Solstice’s cockpit (because we have a cockpit table). Tonight’s feast is our treat, and John will be making sea bass with a wonderful cream sauce that he made for me in Dieppe.

Boulogne, Dieppe, and Fécamp

Boulogne’s major claim to fame is its ancient fortified city, parts of the walls of which date to the second century A.D. The buildings only go back to the 17th century for the most part, but they are very beautiful. We visited the old city upon arrival in the afternoon, and it was our intention to go back the next day for more pictures, but our full day in Boulogne was cloudy, cool, and even a little drizzly, so we stayed home.

In Boulogne’s old city

Low tide in Boulogne

Dieppe has a nice harbor right in the middle of town. Beautiful old buildings with sidewalk cafés surround it, and you can see the towers of nearby churches behind them when the tide is in. When the tide is out, the view is somewhat limited since tidal range here is about nine meters. That also makes the ramp from the dock to the street quite steep at low tide.

Dieppe at low tide

The sail from Boulogne to Dieppe was a relatively long one, so we treated ourselves to dinner at one of the cafés where John had his first mussels in France. Dinner was good, but it couldn’t compare to the next night’s dinner. John bought fresh sea bass from a local boat (the boats put up stands in the mornings near the harbor office). Then he baked it and served it with a wonderful cream sauce. That’s the recipe he’s going to reprise tonight.

We did more exploring in Dieppe than we did in Boulogne visiting a really old church and the beach. All in all, it was a very good stop, and we recommend it highly to others.

We motored from Dieppe to Fécamp; there just wasn’t any wind. Unusual for us, we stayed quite close to the shore, which is lined with beautiful white cliffs. The weather was warm and sunny, and we were very impressed with this stretch of Normandy.

White cliffs of France

Besides being the location of our rendezvous with Anaconda, Fécamp is the home of Bénédictine. Today we visited the Palais Bénédictine with Maria. A monk may have invented the recipe centuries ago in an abbey pharmacy, but the production and marketing of the liqueur is recent, as is the palace. The palace is a marvel of gothic excess, but according to the brochure, it actually opened in 1900. It really is where Bénédictine is made, though, and we got to walk through parts of the caves where it is aged. The displays with the plants and spices used in the secret recipe were really interesting, and at the end there was a tasting and, of course, an opportunity to buy. So our liquor cabinet now contains a bottle of Bénédictine.

Bénédictine palace

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Another day of firsts

This evening John had his first mussels in France. That may not be very exciting, but his other first today was. He finally had to go into the water to clear a snagged line from the prop. At sea.

In the three and a half years we’ve been sailing on Solstice, one of the big fears has always been that we’d snag a line—from a crab pot, a long line, a net, or whatever. We’ve been cautious and we’ve been lucky (especially at night), but we’ve also been prepared with wetsuits, flippers, masks, and knives, just in case.

Today it happened. It was a derelict line, and the float was below the surface so that we couldn’t see it until we started dragging it. John pulled yards and yards of the line into the boat, hoping to find the end, but finally he accepted my offer of a knife to cut the thing. As someone who had done commercial fishing himself, he didn’t want to mess up someone else’s livelihood, but from the frayed and spliced lines that he hauled in, it was clear that this was something someone had lost long ago and had given up on finding.

The fishing boats generally tend their lines—here they’re for nets—so we see them sitting like spiders on a web, and we look for their floats nearby. In the Baltic and North Seas, the floats usually had flags as well. Here in the English Channel, we’d noticed that there were no flags (although near Dieppe where we are now, the flags are back), so we were paying even more attention than usual since floats without flags are much less visible. But it happened anyway.

After we killed our engine and hove to, I noticed a sailboat heading our way. It was a Dutch boat that had noticed our erratic behavior and came to see if we were OK. They apologized that they couldn’t tow us and offered to call someone to help. We waved them off with thanks.

And then John tied a rope around his middle, donned fins and mask, and cut the line from the prop. We were lucky that it wasn’t a snarly mess; John only had to go under once, cut and surface. John wasn’t so lucky that it happened in the English Channel instead of some beautiful, warm tropical sea. It was lucky that it wasn’t in the North Sea or Baltic. The Baltic has very nice, clear water, but it’s really cold. The North Sea is also cold, and not much clearer than the English Channel. And it wasn’t windy with rough seas.

All in all, it probably only took 15 minutes from first encounter to getting under way again, but it seemed like slow motion, of course. When we got to Dieppe, we found the Dutch boat, let them know we were OK, and thanked them again for their offer of assistance.

I’ll have to backtrack to fill in the gaps about Boulogne (our stop after Calais), but this first was worth posting out of order.

Monday, August 10, 2009

About Dunkerque

We ended up spending three nights in Dunkerque, mostly taking it easy, but also sightseeing a bit. In keeping with our tower-climbing tradition, we toured the belfry. This was an easy one as an elevator takes you most of the way up. Unlike our other tower-climbs, this one included a guide, which we appreciated.

View of the harbor from the belfry. Our marina (the Grand Large) is in the distance toward the harbor entrance and difficult to see in the haze.

Of course, Dunkerque (Dunkirk) is most famous for the evacuation of allied forces in 1940 as the Germans were closing in. The war museum was near the marina, and we visited that too. All of the Flemish coastal towns were hard-hit by the two world wars, but Dunkerque was nearly completely destroyed. The old buildings we saw there were all restored or rebuilt in significant measure.

War museum in a bunker

These days Dunkerque is primarily a beach resort, and that was to our advantage as a free bus runs along the beach in the summer. We used it to go shopping at the Carrefour, a huge supermarket, that isn’t really within walking distance from the marina, but is certainly worth a trip or two. Now we have lots of French cheese in our refrigerator.

Children picnicking in the sculpture garden

A boules tournament was going on by the marina, and John couldn’t resist this photo of Fred’s snack place.

Sunset view from the boat in Dunkerque

We’ve been in contact with our Dutch friends Lex and Maria, who have been visiting the English south coast aboard Anaconda. All summer we’ve been looking forward to meeting them in France. The weather hasn’t cooperated for their plans to visit northern France, but it looks like they will be able to cross the channel to meet us in Boulogne or Dieppe. We’ve also been in touch with Laurie and Sue on Princess Sue in Cherbourg, and we’re looking forward to seeing them again too.

Unfortunately, our friend David won’t make it to France on Ventura this summer. Jim from Orinoco and Liz and Paul from Aphrodite are all in Gosport, England, now, David tells us. These are the people who left Fort Lauderdale last year with us. Except for David, we haven’t seen them since Horta. David plans to visit England in September, but by then we need to be in Portugal. There is a ferry from Cherbourg to Portsmouth, so maybe…

We aren’t doing much in Calais, and frankly, there doesn’t seem to be all that much to do here. The excitement here is getting into the marina at high tide and timing our departure for tides and currents tomorrow. We have quite a few boat chores that we could work on if we get motivated later today.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dunkerque, France

Despite what our home page says, we're actually in Dunkerque, France, and have been since Thursday. We're at the Grand Large municipal marina and have been enjoying it, except for the lack of wireless Internet access. In order to connect, we have to walk into the city center and go to the basement of the Point Micro computer store. According to the tourist office, this is the only public Internet in town. Tomorrow we sail to Calais.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Back in Ostend, Belgium

We had planned to stop overnight at Roompotsluis in the Netherlands, but I missed the part about an 18.2 meter fixed bridge. Our vertical clearance is 19 meters, but we’d be more comfortable with 20. Still, if we got to the bridge near low tide, we would have the clearance we needed. Unfortunately, the wind and current conspired against us, and we decided to play it safe and continue overnight to Ostend. Hours later we realized that we hadn’t reset the local time on our instruments after the repair, and we probably had plenty of time to get to Roompotsluis, but we were way past it by then, and we like Ostend anyway.

Several people had told us how much fun the Royal North Sea Yacht Club in Ostend is. Last year we stayed at the Mercatur Marina because it’s more sheltered, but this year the winds are supposed to be calm, so we decided to try RNSYC.

The yacht club is right by the beach, which is nice, and the harbormaster is very friendly. He comes out in his dinghy to direct you to a place, and then if you need help getting into position, he helps with that too. First he put us on the outside of a boat that was going to be leaving in an hour. John finessed that maneuver beautifully. Later when we had to make the boat go sideways to get to the dock, we appreciated the nudging he did on our bow and all of the line handlers lined up on the dock. This is a small harbor, but they sure pack them in. Still, we're the closest to shore and the facilities that we've been in a long time.

Full harbor at RNSYC. There's Solstice in the lower left corner.

Today is Märzen’s birthday; she’s 14. We got her an extra treat to celebrate and then took her for a walk to the end of the jetty. It was nice to get out in the breeze because it got hot on the boat this afternoon. Yes, we’re finally having summer weather again. We even dug our Mexican fan out of storage in the quarter berth.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


As we prepare to leave Scheveningen in the morning, I realize that I haven’t done a blog entry since IJmuiden. We’ve done a lot here in Scheveningen, so I’d better capture some of it before we continue.

Marike and Shirlee in IJmuiden

Anouk and the remains of a Mexican feast in IJmuiden

Geography lesson: Scheveningen is the seafront of The Hague. It was once a separate municipality, but now the two run together. The yacht harbor here has no access to the canals in the interior of the country, but it’s a very popular stop along the North Sea coast. We’ve seen and been part of the biggest raft-ups of our cruising career here.

The instruments that we came here to have repaired are all fixed. It only took an afternoon (Friday), so we were pleased. The problem was with water collecting in the aft port lazarette where the GPS junction box was.

Thursday afternoon we enjoyed the Gemeentemuseum (municipal museum) of Den Haag (The Hague). It’s a huge museum, but we think we saw everything. They had lots of works by Modriaan (from Amersfoot). I had only known his geometrical works in primary colors, but his earlier work was more expressionist. I particularly enjoyed the way his windmills evolved over time.

Saturday we took the tram to see the Peace Palace and then on into the city center. The Peace Palace was as impressive as I had hoped. And I was more impressed with the Binnenhof, the Dutch parliamentary center, than I’d expected. All in all, The Hague is a lovely city. It’s newer, more spacious, and cleaner than Amsterdam, but it really isn’t fair to compare the two. My sense is that Amsterdam is the creative center of the country while The Hague is the governmental center.

Peace Palace

Tourists in The Hague

Finally, today Esmeralda and her parents came to visit us. It was such a treat to see them, and we were honored that they made the drive. As it turns out, Sjoerd (our harbormaster in Amsterdam) couldn’t make it to visit because he broke his ankle kite surfing.

Esmerald and her parents with Shirlee and Märzen