A Midweek Cruise to Normandy

  • Robert Lewcock (Skipper)
  • Bob Cousins (Mate)
  • John Jennison
  • Peter Hammond

After over 5 weeks of blistering summer sunshine we had all been carefully studying the weather predictions and looking forward to a chance to enjoy some cool sea breezes.  As things stood it looked as though the high sitting over Northern Europe would continue to stew us. Then it broke. That weekend fetes and garden parties, weddings and gymkhanas were deluged with downpourings of biblical proportions. As we assembled on Quartette on Sunday evening the immediate prospects were grim. We each consulted our favourite app and the conclusions tallied, anything up to F6, rain, occasional poor visibility and unpleasant seas. Our planned departure time was now long discarded and as we ate that night’s meal we mulled over the options.

Our intended destination was the Normandy coast where big tides make passage planning essential and 24 hour delay would mean a major rethink on our plans. By 10pm however things looked a little better, the front was rapidly sweeping east and Monday’s forecast showed real improvement. Peter introduced us to a helpful web site which showed the wave height at the Channel Light vessel and with reefs ready we set forth .

It wasn’t the best of crossings. The short nature of the channel wave pattern created the “Channel Chop”, that uncomfortable short stubby sea that never lets the boat build up momentum. At least the fish were well fed that night. Even with the lumpy sea, our passage to Fecamp was only slightly longer than estimated and our early afternoon arrival meant that we had the choice of the visitors moorings. Despite the extensive breakwaters the harbour still experiences swell at certain some states of the tide so well fendered and good springs needed here.

Sadly the Yacht Club bar right on our doorstep did not open Mondays or Tuesdays so the much anticipated mooring beer took a while to find.

Fecamp Harbour

Fecamp is a pleasant port often overlooked by boats from this side of the channel. The facilities are good, there is a small Carrefour and several good restaurants right on the harbour front and unusually for small Normandy ports it is accessible 24/7.

Restored by sleep the next day we took a walk up the steep path to the cliftop. The sheer limestone cliffs are a match for Dover any day and next to the old signal tower lies the remains of a wartime German radar station which is occasionally opened up for tours. Alas not this day but the fortifications are impressive.

A brilliant sunset was followed by an excellent meal at La Marine.

Wednesday we set out for St Valery en Caux just a dozen miles to the north.  On this coast timing is everything so our departure was carefully calculated to get us to St V an hour before High Water taking account of the 3 knot current sweeping us northeast. Our final approach was CTS of 140 degrees giving a COG of 105 degrees.  The windfarm on the cliftop made a very useful set of transits.

The entrance is only passable at  HW-2.5 to HW+1 and deeper water definitely on the north side.

St Valery en Caux Low Water

Inside the shelter of the outer harbour one finds the harbour bridge which opens every half hour. There are (allegedly) some waiting buoys but one had been commandeered by some dinghies and it is better to try to time your arrival to a few minutes before the opening time as manoeuvring space is limited.  Helpful staff indicated that we should moor just inside the marina.

St Valery en Caux marina

In the afternoon we again took a clifftop walk this time to visit the monument to the 51stHighland Regiment. Sometimes known as the “Forgotten Army” this brave band of soldiers held the rear as British troops were evacuated from Dunkirk. They were told that they would not be evacuated and to make their own way home.  Combined with the remnants of the 3rdFrench army they fought a rearguard action across Normandy and were eventually cornered at St Valery. Finally forced to surrender, over 400 died and thousands were taken prisoner.  The BBC recently broadcast a fine documentary with contributions from survivors.  It’s available on the iPlayer if you search for “Forgotten Army”. 

St Valery en Caux Monument

Dinner that night at La Bacarole was pleasant and very reasonably priced

Thursday morning we took the short bus ride to Veules Les Roses, apparently one of the 150 prettiest villages in France.  Certainly a very pleasant place to stroll around.

Veules Les Roses

 Departure from St Valery is dictated by the tide and at HW-1 we slipped out into a windless Channel for a long motor home arriving at Haslar as the heat of the day started to build.

Weather wise a trip from one extreme to the other but a great way to explore the Normandy coast.

Bob Cousins


2 Responses

  1. facebook-profile-picture Judith Hankey
    We loved Fecamp when we went over, ages ago in the last summer heatwave, but we never got to St Valery because by then the high pressure was giving F5/6 NE when the entrance is not recommended. I am glad you got there and the crossings do seem to have been quite a contrast!
    • Bob Cousins
      Thanks Judith St Valery is not the easiest of entrances even with a fair wind because of the strong tide across the entrance. Get the CTS wrong and you can end up on the delightful beach to the north. Fortunately we had Master Navigator Lewcock on board. He managed to deliver us at the right place at the right time.

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