Three Men in a Boat
Following our recent cruises to Cherbourg and the Isle of Wight Lyn's
cousin Paul suggested a 'lads only' trip to the Channel Islands. Well I
wasn't going to turn up an opportunity like that so arrangements were
made to depart on the 1st of June.
Paul's yacht is a Westerly 330 Regatta which is
similar to the Westerly Storm in that both have GRP hull, deck and
superstructure, fin keel, spade rudder and tiller steering. Their vital
statistics are also similar at L.O.A.: 10.11m 33ft in, L.W.L.: 8.21m
27ft., Beam: 3.52m 11ft 5in., Draft: 1.68m 5ft 6in., Displacement:
5,130kg 11,310 lbs and Ballast: 1,910kg 4,210 lbs.
"Freetime of Hamble" sleeps six but with only three of us on board
personal space was never going to be a problem. Just as well really as
there was enough wine and beer on her to start our own pub.
Day 1: The crew consisted of Paul, skipper and
owner, Alex Collinson, a retired sub-editor on the Financial Mail on
Sunday and me, Mike (Over Easy) Baker. I suppose you could also count
'George' but he's electro mechanical and only works when he's switched
on and steering the boat.
We left the Mercury yard on The Hamble River at 15:45 and arrived at
Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight at 18:45. With the harbour packed for
the Old Gaffers Weekend and because we wanted to make an early start
the following morning we picked up a buoy outside the harbour and used
the Avon to go ashore for dinner at The George Hotel bistro.
Day2: We departed Yarmouth at 07:00 clearing The Needles at 07:45. The
sea was flat calm with hardly any wind to speak of. We had debated our
first destination over dinner the night before and had agreed on
Alderney. So, between the mainsail and Freetimes big Yanmar diesel
thrumming reassuringly we set off.
Paul settled on one hour
watches/helm duties each. By 14:00 we were crossing the mid channel E-W
shipping lanes. It's like the M25, only the juggernauts weigh thousands
of tons, and also being a bit hazy a careful watch on the radar plot
helped no end. We finally arrived at Braye Bay in Alderney at 20:15.
Just short of the Island we spotted a small whale which eased past our
starboard side not fifty feet away. No lack of wind problems for him.
After picking up one of the harbour mooring buoys we went ashore for
dinner at Bump's Eating House which completed a very pleasant day and a
Day 3: Was spent exploring Alderney which is
still littered with wartime German military installations including one
enormous observation tower known locally as 'the juke box'. It's so big
the islanders haven't found a way of demolishing it. Apparently, at one
time, they did consider blowing it up but thought better of it as it
would have smashed virtually every window on the island they decided to
leave it alone. I thought it was mis-named; it looked more like a stack
of three CD players piled on top of each other.
Amongst the more recent German architecture you can also find earlier Napoleonic forts, including The Arsenal and Fort Albert.
We lunched at the Alderney golf club which has the most amazing course.
Nowhere seemed to be flatter than about 25º. A common problem seemed to
be losing golf balls over the edge of cliffs or down old wartime
We ended up in the capital St.Anne,
which is delightful, albeit very small and mostly closed. That evening
we had dinner at the famous 'First and Last' restaurant overlooking the
Day 4: We departed Alderney for St Peter Port on
Guernsey at 06:30. We left around the south of Alderney and ran out
through 'The Swinge'. This is a stretch of water which runs between two
rock formations, about half a mile apart, that rear up out of the sea.
The sea is like a mill race and turbulent with over falls caused by
deep water being forced upwards over the rough seabed terrain; Just the
thing to get the heart racing first thing in the morning.
arrived at Guernsey at 10:15 having negotiated the Little Russell route
in and tied up on one of the many visitor pontoons in St.Peter Port
After a late breakfast on the quay we spent the rest of
the day exploring the town and downing a few at SPPYC before having
dinner on the rather agreeable outside balcony at Christies.
had a less agreeable diversion as a couple of local yobs knocked seven
bells out of each other in the public garden below.
Day 5: We
went for a No.7 bus ride around Guernsey and stopped off at Forest to
visit the German Occupation Museum. The Channel Islands were the only
British territory to be occupied by the Germans during the Second World
War and the museum tells the story of the occupation from June 1940 to
May 1945. The curator looked like he had never been liberated but
perhaps he was just having an off day.
After we completed our tour of the island we returned to Freetime and set sail for Sark at 16:30.
We arrived at 18:00 and picked up a mooring buoy under the cliffs at
Havre Gosselin having passed the fabulously wealthy Barclay brothers
island of Brecqhou, crowned with its pseudo-medieval castle, on the way
in. We dined on board that night, our rough and ready meal washed down
with one or two bottles of Merlot, as I remember.
Day 6: After
breakfasting on the boat we launched the Avon and crossed to the steps
at the bottom of the cliffs. The climb to the top must have taken three
quarters of an hour zigzagging backwards and forwards up a path that
must have been carved out by mountain goats.
Now people will
tell you that cars are not allowed on Sark, and that's right. What they
don't tell you is that everybody has a tractor. It's like tractor
central on Sark, they are all totally mad.
One haven of sanity
however was La Moinerie, a seafood restaurant situated between
Seigneurie gardens and Port du Moulin. This is three hour lunch
territory and worth every minute.
The rest of the day was spent
playing chicken with the tractors, taking photos and food shopping.
Having scrabbled back down the cliff we were not inclined to try and
re-climb it in the dark to go out for dinner so we brewed up a Spag
Bol, opened a bottle (or two) and discussed the meaning of life. Yeah
Day 7: Slow start but eventually we slipped our mooring
at 11:00 and headed for Carteret on the west coast of the Cherbourg
peninsular. No particular reason for this destination except that Paul
had never been there and it has a reputation for be an absolute bastard
to get into.
Out past Little Sark the wind freshened and we
goose-winged Freetime with the Genoa poled out using the yachts
spinnaker pole. Although having a spinnaker pole Freetime doesn't have
a spinnaker yet, I'm working on that.
We arrived off Carteret at
17:00 after a good crossing and motored into the marina which is at the
end of a short, curving river estuary. The tide fall here is about four
metres so you have to be very sure of your arrival and departure times.
low water the marina is dammed by a substantial concrete sill. We
moored against a French Westerly Fulmar and then walked into town to
find some dinner. That night it really started to blow.
Overnight, a yacht that had been pulled out and was on trestles up on
the hard, was blown over and severely damaged. The owner, a Frenchman,
was furious and stood for hours berating the boatyard staff.
meanwhile, set off for Carteret's sister town of Barneville which has a
magnificent beach. When we got back the boatyard workers were removing
the fallen yachts mast, no easy task with a keel mounted arrangement
and the yacht on its side. Eventually they extracted it and set about
slinging the hull, all the time the owner hopping from one foot to the
other and offering 'helpful' suggestions.
Though Carteret is
quite a small place it did sport one or two very good restaurants and
that night Alex and I ended up with a fruits-de-mer the size of the
Isle of Wight. It was hell, but hey, someone had to eat it.
Back aboard Freetime Paul announced that we would have to make an early start the next morning because of the state of the tide.
Day 9: Up at 04:00 for a 04:30 start. Quick cup of coffee and we
gingerly made our way out to the sill at the mouth of the marina. As we
approached I spotlighted the depth indicators on the piles at each end
of the sill. As we slipped between them I reckon we only had inches of
clearance under the fin and any minute expected to hear a tell-tale
grinding sound; but all was well and as we made our way back out to sea
we passed Carteret's small fishing fleet preparing to put out from the
Our destination was Cherbourg and we set a course
for Cap de la Hague on the north western corner of the peninsular.
The wind had come around during the night, we put in a reef and were
able to sail most of the way covering the fifty or so miles to
Cherbourg in eight hours at an average of almost six knots. As we
passed the big nuclear power station on the tip of the peninsular the
wind picked up to 18-20 knots and by the time we took the sails down to
motor across Cherbourg's outer harbour we were recording lively gusts
of 36 knots over the boat.
We moored on the visitor's pontoon at
Port Chantereyne and promptly crashed out and slept for a couple of
hours. Dinner that night was at a typical French port restaurant called
Le Faitout on the rue Tour Carrée just behind the Basilique de la
Day 10: Spent today exploring Cherbourg starting with a
visit to the decommissioned nuclear submarine 'Le Redoubt' now in dry
dock at the end of the Darse Transatlantique, just across from our
Really interesting and somewhat frightening at the
same time when you consider the destructive power that kind of boat is
capable of carrying - more than all the bombs used in the two world
wars apparently. Next a visit to one of Cherbourg's perfume shops
seemed to be a smart move to buy some presents for our absent 'other
halves' followed by more sightseeing around the backstreets.
returning to the boat the skipper decided that some housework was well
overdue and we set to work washing the salt off Freetimes decks and
fittings. No hosepipe ban in France. That night we ate in the harbour
Day 11: Departed Cherbourg at 07:45 and headed for
our waypoint off The Needles. The sea was flat calm and we motored all
the way with a little assist from the mainsail.
Along the way we
had an interesting pas de trios with a Brittany Ferry and a container
ship that menacingly changed course each time we manoeuvred out of its
We arrived back at Yarmouth at 21:00 where we decided to
spend the night. The log registered that we had covered the 75 miles at
an average of 5.9 knots which we thought reasonable given the
Though it was late, we went looking for dinner and
ended up at a new restaurant called 'On the Rocks'. Everything you
ordered was uncooked and was served next to a hot rock, which you then
use to cook your own food on. Novel we thought. The rock looked like a
slab of granite about ten inches square and two or three inches deep.
Actually the food was great and no chef to complain to other than
Day 12: Left Yarmouth at 09:20 and headed up and
across the Solent towards Southampton Water. The wind was out of the
east and we ended the trip with a great sail that really had Freetime
down on her lee rails.
As we entered Southampton water, the wind
died a little and it was time to down sails for the last time as we
neared The Hamble. We motored back to the Mercury yard arriving at
11:45. Having offloaded and cleaned the boat we took her out to her
permanent moorings in the river.
And finally … I really enjoyed
the trip. Paul and Alex were easy going and pretty laid back, though
that could have had something to do with the amount of wine we got
Freetime is a comfortable and well equipped yacht to
sail, while still demanding respect and sound sailing knowledge.
My thanks to them for everything they taught me and to Jan, Jill and
Lyn for letting us off the leash for a few days to indulge in our own
version of 'Three Men in a Boat'.
My special thanks also to Alex who
edited this article and suggested a few changes. Well, what better
person to do it than a professional sub-editor.