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Boulogne 3rd July

Yacht Quintet
Port au Plaisance
Pas de Calais

3rd July, 2005

<-Ramsgate 2nd July Boulogne 6th July->

We have arrived in France, after a long and frustrating day.

The latest forecast we had was from midnight last night, forecasting south westerly, force 3 to 4 inshore and west south west 4 to 5 and occasionally 6 for sea areas Thames and Dover, a bit strong for us 'but we can always turn round, or go into Dover' we thought. (even noted in the passage plans).

We requested clearance from Ramsgate port control, and at 6.00 am we motored out of Ramsgate, round the North Quern cardinal buoy and hoisted sail for a pleasant beat southwards. It was not a good start to the day. The winch handle slipped out of the main halyard winch and I hit myself in the balls with it. God, it hurt. God, I hate these halyard winches.

We studied the tide tables and tidal flow diagrams on the back of the Imray chart, last night, and concluded that we would have five or six hours of tidal assistance which could well have us in Boulogne for a late lunch, so we were surprised when just three hours or so into our morning, the speed plummeted from approaching six knots in the direction we were pointing, to less than three knots sideways. How could we have made such a simple mistake, and sober too?

Click for a larger imageWe discussed tactics and decided that a long dig inshore might well get us out of the tide so we tacked. Now we really went sideways. Between 8.00 am and 11.00 am we travelled ten miles over the bottom, heaven only knows how far through the water, but managed to move our position just four miles west of our 8.00 am fix and made no southing at all! However having got within a quarter mile of the coast, the tidal stream was reduced significantly and we short-tacked along the shore, in amongst the racing dinghies and close enough to share conversations with the families on the beach.

By 12.30 we were approaching South Foreland and could see the ferries queuing to go into Dover, so rather than dodge a way through them, we bit the bullet and steered a course towards the traffic separation zones. At about this time a light aircraft flew across our path just a couple of hundred metres in front of us and at less than mast height. It would have made an impressive photograph but, by the time we realised what was happening, it was gone.

We called Dover Coastguard and reported our position and intentions for Boulogne. We promised to report in on our arrival.

Clive had never sailed across the channel before. He was looking forward to dodging the continuous streams of vessels which ply the Dover straits. But I was pretty sure being Sunday, that traffic would be light. I was wrong, again! There was a pretty continuous stream in both directions.

We managed to steer a pretty good course, close astern of the South Goodwin lightship and out, across the lanes and had little problem with the westerly traffic. Although fighting the foul tide gave us a pretty slow speed over the ground, little more than three and a half knots, reducing our ability to manoeuvre if we had to get out of someone's way in a hurry. And we could now make out the French coast.

As we crossed the 'median strip', the no man's lane between the westerly and easterly lanes, the tide at last started to turn in our favour. We had debated going into Calais because of where the tide was carrying us but had discarded the idea because the somewhat unclear sailing directions for Calais strongly suggested that entry would be restricted to a couple of hours either side of high water, whereas Boulogne is accessible at all states of the tide. As high water was nearly midnight we could get to Boulogne and moor up earlier, even though Boulogne was another 15 miles or so.

Click for a larger imageBy the time we were half way across the easterly shipping lane, the tide was with us once again. We were back to making a respectable speed in excess of five knots and in the direction we wanted to go. The French coast was clearly visible now. It looks not a lot unlike the Kent coast we had left not so long before.

We left the shipping lanes and turned southeast. We would be in Boulogne in a little over two hours.

Soon after rounding Cap Griz-Nez, the wind died and we decided to motor the last seven miles to give our batteries a bit of a charge and ensure arrival before the restaurants closed. And soon the twin lights which guard the entrance to Boulogne outer harbour were clearly visible.

We motored between them and followed a veritable cavalcade of yachts towards the eastern harbour and the Port de Plaisance, fearing that we may have timed it too late and would find the marina already full. And then it started to rain.

I asked a French yacht for confirmation that we were in the right place. 'Ci vous plais. Visiteurs la?' I called. I got a Gallic 'nod' in reply. Je parle Francais!

And suddenly there were nice French people on the dock, calling and waving and directing us into a snug berth, taking our lines and securing us to the land again. We were there. And the restaurants were still serving.

Click for a larger imageWe dined at the Bar Hamiot, just around the quai. The Moules Frites was excellent (that is a French 'excellent' and not just an English 'excellent') and the smoked fish salad was also superb but with perhaps too rich a dressing and much too much fish for the tiny appetite which Clive has developed. An excellent choice of restaurant, albeit pure chance.

Tomorrow we must go in search of fuel for the cooker, called 'alcool bruler' and fuel for us, called wine and beer.

And we did remember to contact the coastguard, although it took a call to Annie to get the telephone number. You see, our radio range doesn't stretch as far as Boulogne to Dover.

By the way, the reason for our poor prediction of tidal effect we deduce to be because we seem to have matched the caption '2 hours before HW Dover' to the tidal diagram below rather than above, the one which is actually for '2 hours after HW Dover'. Silly us!

Les Sutcliffe

<-Ramsgate 2nd July Boulogne 6th July->