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Old 07-01-2011, 01:13   #1
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The Saga of St Vaast (France)

I am sure that over the years many CF members have had some interesting adventures sailing but I never expected it to happen on our first crossing of the English Channel, or in the sleepy town of St Vaast in Northern France of all places

It all started when I brought home a tin of antifoul paint. Suddenly the kids made excuses such as extra homework and wouldn’t be available for a spot of bank holiday painting. Vivienne and I resigned ourselves to the task and April Lass was booked in for a liftout in Gosport.

A week before the holiday I browsed our sailing club website and saw a rally to St Vaast. Weather looked promising so gave Viv the option, painting or dinner Saturday night in the Fuchsias a very posh restaurant with superb food. She thought about it for a nano second and before looking through her wardrobe for stripey French tops etc, the decision was made

We slipped our lines at 7am on the Friday and headed south into a calm English channel with a pleasant NE 3. A phone call to the organisers at lunchtime confirmed we were on our way and gave our position 15 miles south of the Isle of Wight, mid English Channel. However by tea time the wind had increased and we now had 23 knots across the deck as we approached the French Coast. The last transmission from Solent Coastguard gave a worsening weather report and a warning that French fishermen had blockaded ports along the North Coast. To late, we were nearly across. However about 8pm it all went pear shaped. April Lass fell off one particularly nasty wave caused by wind over tide and Viv fell badly. We now had a lee shore 3 miles away and I was rather short handed. Thankfully April Lass has both furling genoa and in mast roller mainsail which are all handled from the cockpit. Angus our 9 month old labradoodle kept watch from the leeward rail with nose and paws under the dodger fascinated by the white waves as we charged along. At 9.30 pm we finally rounded Isle de Tatihou and could see St Vaast in the distance, but not before running into a mine field of French lobster pot markers with small black flags just as darkness approached. We did at least one 360’ before finding a route through. As we motored though the lock gates French fishermen could be seen with banners and a rope across the lock entrance. A stranger in the darkness warned us that they would let us in but we wouldn’t be allowed to leave. After 14 hours at sea and exhausted from hand steering all the way, we had no choice but to go in. A mixture of English and French yachties on the pontoons assisted us along side and for that we were grateful. After quick introductions to the other members of our yacht club we collapsed in a heap in the cabin with a cup of hot tea.

Saturday morning revealed trawlers with banners protesting about the price of marine diesel, pickets on the entrance to the marina and a rope with anchors attached across the lock entrance barring all vessels from leaving harbour. Ignoring the antics of the fishermen, after all we were on holiday; we set about exploring the quaint harbour and shops of St Vaast and its Saturday morning market.

The organisers had booked a table at the Fuchsias and we had fabulous evening getting to know other members of the yacht club that evening. Great company, superb food and the food presentation was breath taking.

On Sunday morning to our surprise and relief the French fishermen disappeared and boats were allowed to come and go as normal, hurray. Viv wondered if we should go but then pointed out that we had only just arrived and it would be a shame to spoil our holiday by departing early. However, as the lock closed in the afternoon for the low water the rope and anchors was strung back up. Now trapped, we resigned ourselves to a long siege of the harbour by the French fishermen

By Sunday evening strict rationing was introduced forcing members to scavenge the foreshore for oysters and mussels for supper. A BBQ on the harbour slipway raised a few eye brows amongst the local French who seemed most bemused that with so many good restaurants in the town we would choose to burn food on lumps of hot charcoal. Whilst quenching the tin tray afterwards one member noticed that it floated quite well and continued to burn, suggesting we could use them as fire ships against the trawler blockade.

Monday was a pleasant day until lunchtime when one English yacht tried to force there way out. There timing couldn’t have been worse. 2 dozen pickets on the lock and in broad daylight meant they couldn’t be seen to loose face by allowing a vessel out of harbour. The events turned quite nasty with the yacht being rammed by a trawler, the rope being cut by one of the yachts crew who then ended up in the water. Only for the rope to be replaced by heavy trawler chain and two trawlers moved into the lock to reduce the gap.

An earlier pontoon rumour of being allowed out at midnight now seemed to be in doubt. However that night we prepared for a possible departure on the tide only for all hopes to be dashed as the chain could be heard being dragged across the lock entrance as the gates opened. There was nothing for it but to turn in for the night. A shame because the weather was now a SE F2 and it would have meant a quiet crossing home.

Tuesday brought even stricter rationing but this time with electrical devices as mobile phones started to run down. We settled down for a long week and Viv went shopping to stock up supplies but not French fish. Another pontoon rumour suggested that we might be let out during a 40 minute window from 1.20 pm until 2pm that afternoon. Viv arrived back with a weeks shopping and instantly beamed a big smile. Suzie our 11 year old had a birthday on the following Saturday with friends planned so Viv desperately wanted to get home. At 1.15pm a nearby yacht slipped her mooring. Asked by the motorboat next door what we intended to do we replied were going to follow them. Perhaps if the fishermen see how many boats needed to leave now they may keep to there promise of dropping the chain in five minutes time. Sure enough at 1.20 pm down came the chain and 14 boats (some French) escaped.

We motored north into a F2 against 3 hours of flood tide until clear of the Cherbourg peninsula before raising the sails. But within an hour the NE wind had picked up giving 23-24 knots occasionally gusting to 27 knots. Now ten miles north of France with the wind just 30’ off the bow and Viv not feeling to good some decisions had to be taken. I asked Viv if she wanted to divert to Cherbourg but risk being trapped again or carry on. To her credit although she knew how long a rough trip would take to cross she said keep going. In rolled the Genoa and on went the engine to motor into the wind. By 6pm the sea had calmed down to 20 knots hard on the nose so although bumpy we could motor at 5.5 knots on our chosen course so settled down to a long night. Angus feeling cold was sent below laid on a duvet on the cabin sole and went to sleep. At sunset low cloud and mist followed by driving rain arrived cutting visibility to nothing in the bitterly cold dark and stormy night. The wind rose back to 27 knots making the lashing rain all the more unpleasant. A shipping forecast as midnight approached gave even worse news. NE F6, later F7 locally, possible F8 cyclonic to SW really spooked me. 20 miles and 3 hours south of the Isle of Wight in the middle of the Englsih Channel I cracked open the throttle and motored at 6.5 knots into the gale desperate to reach shelter in the Solent. Only easing back when we reached Gosport as dawn broke. Home just in time for Viv to cook a full English breakfast including sausages for Angus, a shower and off to work were I was asked if I had done anything interesting over the bank holiday!

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Old 07-01-2011, 01:45   #2
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Pleasing writeup thanks.. In Cherbourg as we speak, but no strike action in the past few weeks

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Old 06-03-2011, 07:54   #3
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Re: The Saga of St Vaast (France)

Great write up P7
Fair Winds,


Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of each other's yarns -- and even convictions. Heart of Darkness
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Old 06-03-2011, 08:07   #4
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pirate Re: The Saga of St Vaast (France)

Nice one Pete...
“I do not exist to impress the world.
I exist to live my life in a way that will make me happy. ”

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Old 06-03-2011, 09:56   #5
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Re: The Saga of St Vaast (France)

Nice write up, the last part reminded me about my sailing last summer. Forecast had calm seas, no wind...then while being on the way, 20 miles from nearest shore, our Navtex gave a near gale warning withing the next hour!

Some strange weather patterns, which were unpredictable had moved faster than they should have. Soon we were beating to headwind in F7.

Nasty experience and your writing reminded me again about that
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Old 06-03-2011, 10:09   #6
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Re: The Saga of St Vaast (France)

A wonderful story, Pete.

If I had been you, I would have used the blockade as an excuse to lie around in gorgeous St. Vaast for a week or so.

I was in St. Vaast last August and had a wonderful time there. We did not go into the harbor, preferring to anchor out in the excellent anchorage off the South breakwater and dinghy in. I can't wait to go back. The fishermen, by the way, were extremely friendly to us, making room for our dinghy on their quay. One of them even dove for my dinghy painter when the end of it got submerged by tide.

I have my own "confession" concerning St. Vaast -- I went overboard there for the very first time in my life. But it's too embarrassing to write up.
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Old 06-03-2011, 11:14   #7
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Re: The Saga of St Vaast (France)

We love St Vaast as well, not least due to the excellent food in the Fuschias and the Saturday market. Our new curtains material came from the market.

We did consider anchoring out but the wind during the weekend was an unusual NE so whilst the island gave some protection there would still have been a chop coming in from the channel.

Photo of Angus on watch.

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Old 06-03-2011, 11:39   #8
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Re: The Saga of St Vaast (France)

Great story Pete!

" off the wind on this heading lie the Marquesas"

"Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On"
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