The dispute centred on the increasing cost of diesel. This issue is likely to spread
across Europe during the summer with road hauliers planning protests in London during
May. Red diesel is due to be withdrawn in the UK in November 2008 under EU directive.
One can't help feeling some sympathy for the French fishermen but it was France and
other founder members of what is now referred to as the EU that introduced the directives
that are now causing the trouble.
Interestingly, when the French people don't like this there seems to be one rule
for them and another for everybody else. The action they took at Cherbourg, and elsewhere,
would be deemed as illegal anywhere else but when has that ever stopped them, especially
when there own authorities stand by and do nothing. I can't help wondering what would
happen if our fisherman were to place a steel hawser across the entrance to one of
our harbours and refuse to let boats out. I'm pretty certain they'd be arrested and
the obstruction removed before they had the chance to light their first oil drum
Our cruise on 'Freetime of Hamble' started on Saturday 16 May. Paul Haddock, the
owner, Ken his son and I sailed from the Mercury Yard on the Hamble River to Lymington.
On Sunday 17 May we put into Poole Harbour mooring at Parkstone YC. Ken then left
us there and returned to Hamble on the train.
Monday 19 May - At 05:00 Paul and I cleared Poole Harbour and headed for the Cherbourg
Peninsular. The wind was NE 4-5 and the seas pretty choppy with wind over tide. The
crossing was 'boisterous' to say the least and we eventually arrived at Cherbourg
We crossed the outer and inner harbours without incident taking down the sails as
we went but as we motored up to the entrance to the marina all hell let loose. Cables
were strung across the entrance, backed up by a variety of small fishing craft. We
were waived off and told the marina was closed. We reversed away and circled out
to starboard where we eventually dropped anchor. Even here the wind was howling and
the swell was enough to make you keep a wary eye on the anchor chain.
We spoke to another Westerly on the radio that was moored near us and discussed the
situation. At around 19:00 we had just decided that we would have to eat on board
and set an overnight anchor watch when the blockade opened and one of the smaller
fishing boats came out and informed us we could now go into the marina. Several boats
which had arrived by now immediately formed up line astern and entered Port Chantereyne.
The boom closed behind us and we were in the bag. This pattern was repeated every
night and by the end of the week there must have been several dozen British, German,
Scandinavian and other nationality boats moored up on the visitor's pontoons.
Later we were told by marina manager Pascal Maguérez that there was to be a meeting
between the fisherman and the government on Wednesday. He went on to say that while
the marina was blockaded Port Chantereyne would not be charging berthing or hot shower
fees. It must have been the day before that a British diving boat broke out by following
a French trawler. He got away by out-running his pursuers according to the papers.
He was amongst the last to escape this way. The fishermen got a lot more wary after
Tuesday 20 May - Awoke to a lot of shouting. A British motor cruiser had tried to
leave and was turned back at the entrance. Flares were fired and bottles thrown but
nobody was hurt. One or two other boats tried their luck that day but were forced
back. After dinner that night Paul and I walked out to the marina wall. The cable
across the entrance was nearly an inch thick, not the sort of thing you'd want to
run into, let alone get wrapped around your prop.
Wednesday 21 May - The tall ship Royalist, which was moored up on the waiting pontoon,
put out at 18:00. She was allowed to go because she was classed as a commercial ship
with a schedule to keep. Again boats tried to follow her but the fishermen were expecting
this and quickly closed to blockade to stop them.
Thursday 22 May - The boat owners had a meeting on the pontoon with the British Consul
and the marina manager. The Consul, who was French, looked uncomfortable and shuffled
around in a duffle coat and scarf. After a lot of waffle his advice was to sit tight
and wait. He got a real earful from some of the owners in terms of what he, the Major,
the Gendarmes and the Government should be doing to lift the blockade. He didn't
stay long. Shortly after that meeting three large sea going trawlers came out of
the old harbour, passed through the blockade and turned to starboard into the commercial
part of Cherbourg Harbour.
Paul and I had decided to leave Freetime and catch the evening ferry to Portsmouth.
We ordered a taxi to go up to the ferry terminal but as it arrived the marina manager
came out and informed us the terminal had been blockaded by the aforementioned trawlers
and the incoming ferries had turned back mid channel, in fact all ferry ports that
shared a harbour with fishing vessels were effectively closed. We were beginning
to feel really trapped.
Friday 23 May - There was another meeting with the British Consul at 11:00 but no
real news. It was thought ferries were still operating out of Caen but were oversubscribed
and the trains infrequent because of another issue with the rail workers which had
to do with pensions. During the meeting Pascal, the marina manager, suggested a BBQ
that evening on the marina wall. He would arranged everything, no charge.
That evening Paul and I had drinks on the next door Westerly Corsair and then we
all wandered up to the BBQ. The marina restaurant supplied potatoes and salad and
surprise, the fishermen supplied the fish. They even sent a couple of their number
over to eat with us. Cheeky buggers! Actually it was an enjoyable evening, a lot
of wine and beer was consumed and some ex-military crews started plotting escape.
Some of the crews that had arrived that night looked very perplexed as we chatted
with fishermen and discussed their problems over a drink.
Saturday 24 May - Still no news and it was a lousy day, very windy and plenty of
rain. Most people battened down, opened a bottled and dived into a good book.
Sunday 25 May - Still no resolution so we decided to leave 'Freetime' in the marina
and head for Caen and a ferry home. The marina office said there was a train just
after 14:00 and a ferry to Portsmouth at 16:15. After breakfast on the boat we cleared
up and taking an absolute minimum we wandered up to Cherbourg station. The trip to
Caen through Bayeux took just under an hour. At Caen we grabbed a cab down to Quistreham.
There were a lot of vehicles on the dock but not many foot passengers.
The crossing took six hours, plenty of time for a good dinner and to read the papers.
Of special interest were the articles about what was going on at Cherbourg! The crossing
was very smooth, definitely at odds with the weather forecast we had listened to
that morning. Another taxi back to Hamble and Paul was home. I got back to Epsom
early on Monday morning. We heard later that a British yacht tried to slip out of
Cherbourg as the fishermen allowed a French boat in. Apparently she was rammed and
a cable dragged under her presumably intended to foul her prop.
And finally, at the time of writing we still have to go back and bring Freetime home.
I have no bad feelings toward the French fisherman and the action they took. I do
have a problem with the French authorities for not taking immediate action against
what in any other country would be an illegal action. They did nothing and even today
(27 May) the action taken yesterday to open the Cherbourg blockade for a couple of
hours and let boats leave, was taken by the fishermen, not through any action taken
by the French authorities.
I must stop going to Cherbourg, everytime I go near the place something untoward
happens. Trouble is if you cross the channel it's the obvious first port of call,
unless you’re prepared to push on around Cape de la Hague and head for the Channel
And finally, finally . Paul and Ken brought 'Freetime' back to the Hamble in mid
June ahead of further threatened action by the French fishermen.
Mike (Over Easy) Baker