Well, after a wonderful start to our voyage with good weather and prevailing winds we suddenly remembered what sailing can be like. The last bulletin informed you that we were off to Guernsey then the plan was to have a few days there and then move on to St Malo. Five days later we were still in Blighty anchored in Portland again. We made two attempts to leave with bad weather forecasts and we had to turn back both times. The second time we had managed 40 miles during the night but the wind was cutting up and the seas were like a seething witches cauldron. The visibility was poor and we were heading towards the Shipping Lanes so we decided to turn back. We were pleased to sail back into Portland Harbour the next day I can tell you. When we let Val know we were still hanging about she kindly made us Sunday lunch and we had a day ashore. When we got back to the boat, which we’d left tied up on one of the pontoons owned by the National Sailing Academy, there was the most beautiful sunset but within half an hour the wind got up again and we had to move back on our anchor as the pontoon was trying to buck us off like a wild steer! They are not official visitors pontoons and there was a warning sign that they might become uncomfortable - they certainly are in a strong nor-easterly! The following day was still windy so we sat it out and the Tuesday morning dawned with an eerie silence and calm seas. This is it. Let’s go for it! Time was getting on now and we couldn’t chance reaching Guernsey then being storm bound again as we had this journey to Barga to arrange for Margaret’s wedding, so we decided to just head for Cherbourg instead.
We upped anchor at 0730 on Tuesday 22nd May and motor-sailed all of the 70 miles to Cherbourg in exactly 12 hours. We had a flag raising ceremony 12 miles out. For my non-sailing friends, it is etiquette to fly a courtesy flag of the country you’re visiting whilst in their waters, and this was special as it was our first. We ate out at the Yacht Club that night and celebrated with a bottle of the old vino. Sheila and Brian had kindly given us some Euros to spend on our first night abroad and we drank a toast to them. Thanks.
We reported in to the capitainerie of Chantereyne marina early the next morning and when we asked about reporting to customs he just gave a Gallic shrug and said “ No need, we are all in the European Union now”. I only hope we don’t get boarded or raided as being suspicious foreigners who tried to evade the Customs!
Cherbourg is an excellent base for exploring with good roads (and cycle tracks) leading into the surrounding countryside. The D-day landing beach of Utah is just down the road and there are many museums and historic sites in the area. We climbed all the way up to the Museum of the Liberation housed in the Fort du Roule overlooking the town and it was shut! Of course we hadn’t checked the opening times and had a choice of walking all the way back down and coming back up an hour and three quarters later or waiting there until it reopened. We waited and at 2.00pm a van arrived with two bored looking chaps who opened up, took our €3.20 each, then we walked round the most boring museum we’d ever visited. The fort had seen hand to hand fighting between the Germans and the advancing Americans after D-day and the capture of it and the town of Cherbourg opened the way into France for the remainder of the liberating forces in the autumn of 1944. There are quite a few of these Museums of Liberation dotted around the area and we just hit on one of the feeblest. We couldn’t help comparing it to the Nothe Fort in Weymouth where the displays really brought the past to life. We would have liked to have visited more of the D Day sites but didn’t have time to go further south.
We rode the bikes along the coast to Querqueville where Operation PLUTO’s pipe lines were situated which supplied oil from Britain to the Allies as they advanced to Berlin. We then moved inland to the tiny village of Greville-Hague which is the birthplace of the artist Jean-François Millet. There was quite a lot of climbing involved in this trip and Pat did more pushing than pedalling. Mind, it was grand returning to the coast!
Another afternoon was spent in La Cite de la Mer in Cherbourg. Situated in the restored Transatlantic Terminal building it was a vast and spectacular exhibition of two major maritime areas, the field of the Ocean and the field of Submarines. The ocean area contains the deepest aquarium in Europe, spanning the three floors of the exhibition, and contains over 3000 fish. There are other aquaria containing jellyfish, sharks, cuttlefish, seahorses, moray eels and others too numerous to mention. The submarine area tells the story of man’s dream of adventuring in that domain and how, since the the time of Alexander the Great, there have been numerous attempts to travel underwater. There are numerous exhibits of all kinds of underwater apparatus ranging from diving suits, diving bells, bathyscaphs, diving saucers and modern submersibles. The highlight is the tour of the nuclear submarine Redoubtable. It was launched in 1967 from Cherbourg and decommissioned in 1991. Life aboard, although cramped, was the height of luxury for it’s crew, who all actually had their own bunks.
The night of Sunday 27th May was one to remember - or forget! There was a strong northerly wind forecast for the following day. The pontoons are lying east-west so the wind that did get up during the night was blowing across the boats and how they rocked. People were up most of the night checking lines and fenders and we thought there would be damage the next day but fortunately there did not seem to be any, although an Oceanis yacht two fingers along from us had no one on board and was badly tied up and ended up lying across it’s neighbour. Another boat lost all it’s mooring lines bar one and it took over half an hour for the Marina staff to push it back around onto it’s mooring using the harbour launch. Another boat came in, having been caught in the storm, with both mainsail and genoa completely blown out and shredded. We were buffeted all night and the bows were being thrown up and down with such force that we broke one of our fairleads. We may have been better off lying to anchor outside the marina. At least the boat would have rounded up into the wind and should hopefully have behaved more quietly.
At last the day arrived to leave for Italy. We caught the train at 0800 and got in to Paris just after 1100. A short journey on the Metro to Charles De Gaulle Airport saw us leaving on an Air France Embraer 145 plane en route to Pisa. This is the smallest plane we’ve ever been on, only 30 metres long with 50 seats. The pilot was a woman too - although they called her Patrice which was a good omen! The journey was uneventful and it was great to see Sheila, Jim, Neil, Helen and baby Ella waiting for us at the airport. Another hour and a half’s train ride to Barga, then at last all of the family were reunited. Barga is a beautiful mediaeval walled city which Margaret and John first visited some time ago and decided that when they got married this would be the place. We had misgivings about the amount of travelling people would have to do, the difficulties of arranging a wedding in another country, the language problems etc. but everything went well on the day and a wonderful time was had by all. Some photos are on the archive page of the Barga News web page above. Just follow the links to archives - June 2nd - Wedding Whittaker Nolan in Barga Vecchia.
Our stay in Barga Vecchia was made complete by the warm welcome given by our hosts Ron and Suzi Gauld of the Casa Fontana. This is a lovely old house in the old town within walking distance of all the attractions. We can certainly recommend this bed and breakfast and can only thank our hosts for the concern shown when Ella developed a high temperature and had to be taken to hospital for a check up. Ron kindly took us there and to the nearby town for medicine on the Sunday and we couldn’t have managed without him. We’d also like to apologise for waking up other residents on our return in the early hours after the wedding. They were probably glad to see the back of us on the Monday!!
We left Barga on the Monday and after a fleeting visit to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa we waved good-bye to the family and prepared to board our plane for the journey back to Paris. That’s when the day decided to go wrong!
Firstly, the plane was delayed by over an hour due to ground crew striking, so when we finally landed at Charles De Gaulle we were cutting it fine to catch our (last of the day) train to Cherbourg at 2039.
Mike couldn’t get his credit card to work in the ticket machine so a passenger kindly used his pass to get us the tickets and I paid him cash from my purse. We then proceeded to Gare Du Nord where we had to change trains for St Lazaire. After finally finding the right platform we were sitting on the train waiting to leave when there was an announcement in French and everyone got up and left. We followed and everyone started to run back up the escalators to go to a different platform so we asked a fellow passenger what was happening. He said that the original train had broken down and we had to use a different one on the platform we had just wrongly been on a few minutes previously! We followed the crowd, jumped on the train then within seconds another announcement was followed by another mass stampede to the original platform! When we got back to that platform we still couldn’t get on that train so we decided that we had better try for a taxi as we were going to miss our connection to Cherbourg.
As we sat in the taxi Pat looked for some money to pay our fare and - you’ve guessed it - her purse was missing - although her passport, camera and mobile phone were all still there. I can’t remember if I had put my purse away or if I had been holding it during the stampeding up and down stairs and escalators. Whether it was stolen I couldn’t say but when I phoned Nationwide later neither my credit or Debit cards had been used, thankfully.
You can imagine how we now felt and as we scuttled out of the taxi we stood in the foyer of the station trying to see our train departure time on a screen. There wasn’t a 2039 departure listed for Cherbourg so we started to panic further. A passing Irishman shouted that that screen was only for local trains and we had to be at the other end of the concourse to find our platform so off we scurried and finally found the train, still sitting there, with about 3 minutes to go. We were starving by this time and Mike ran across to a kiosk and came back with the most revolting packets of Bolognese flavoured crisps and two Mars bars. “Couldn’t you get a sandwich?” Pat queried. “That’s all I could get” came the retort.
At 2039 the train set off and it was an old fashioned one with separate compartments. French trains don’t have a buffet car, only a trolley service, so we sat and waited and saw the trolley go past one way then shortly afterwards go past the other way without the attendant even looking towards us. Our tickets were inspected and on asking if the trolley would be coming back were told to go along the train to find it. Mike had to do this (remember I didn’t have any money) and he finally returned from the other end of this very long train with two cans of orange and two revolting sandwiches with bone dry bread - and Pat had asked for wine!!! Mike was furious as they’d cost 15 Euros. (All is forgiven British Rail)
During all of this Pat was trying to cancel credit and debit cards on a phone which had very little battery power left and a rapidly diminishing amount of credit which can’t be topped up now until she receives replacement cards!
We finally reached Cherbourg at midnight and as we walked down to the marina were approached by two youths asking for a ‘few centimes’. Mike’s reply isn’t for delicate ears but he thundered “We’ve just been ****ing robbed” and the two youths melted away into the shadows!
We have been back a couple of days now and everything has settled down and life doesn’t seem so bad. Trying to report the lost purse has been an almost impossible job. There is a Bureau of Objets Trouves (lost property) in Paris but the local police here can’t help, the British Embassy could only confirm that the Bureau’s phone line doesn’t give you the opportunity to report anything lost, only to collect lost items on the English language telephone line, and e-mails come back ‘fatal error, unable to be delivered’. Pat has written to them and asked that if it should turn up to e-mail her. There was money in the purse (including a £20 note Pat was keeping for an emergency) but the worst thing is that she has to reapply for her driving license and European Health Insurance Card which is a bit of a bind but not the end of the world. Thank goodness Sheila is in England to sort things out and forward mail.
It is now the 7th June and we are leaving for Guernsey tomorrow.
We are hoping for fair weather and kind winds. See you there.