Epsom based Channel Sailing Club organises sailing trips and I was lucky enough to be invited on their July visit to the Normandy ports taking in old favorites such as Fecamp and St Valery en Ceux.
Whilst most of the club members’ boats are moored in the Solent I joined Mike Price’s 28 Moody in Eastbourne.
The trip across the English Channel started with good weather then the typical wind and rain arrived before the sun came out again as we approached the French coast. The crew all took it in their stride.
The sheltered harbour at Fecamp was welcome after a 12 hour trip. We found a space on the visitors pontoon easily enough.
The town centre has an array of cafes and bars to choose from. On Monday a few shops were shut but most were open.
In the inner basin there are always lots of different boats to admire.
During July and August Fecamp is at its best with many French people choosing it as a holiday destination. It has a number of outdoor activities for teenagers and younger children.
We arrived a day before the others coming from the Solent. They all had stories to tell but made the crossing safely.
The organisation was excellent proving our organiser Trevor Barker to be both a good sailor and efficient administrator.
Great was the debate over supper venues and choices of restaurants, but that’s all parts of going cruising together. The atmosphere was really relaxed, people could join in or wander off and do their own thing.
St Valery en Ceux
We got the tide absolutely right for our morning trip up the coast eastwards to St Valery en Caux.
At one point it was providing four and a half knots of additional speed. As a harbour St Valery is much more difficult to spot from out at sea. Fecamp has a definite cleft in the cliffs where a river valley meets the sea.
St Valery was renown in earlier times as a shelter for French warships slipping out to raid English commerce in the Channel.
Although smaller than Fecamp it has a lot of peaceful charm.
The houses on the western side of the entrance are old and must have seen many sights over the centuries.
The harbour has an inner basin, protected by a wall and lock which is only accessible a couple of hours either side of high water.
The bridge opens for us. I always feel an embarrassed thrill when a town’s traffic comes to a standstill just for us. People watching as we chug past is timeless.
As we came through there were some moorings dead ahead already and waiting for us. The friendly and efficient staff were on hand to help should we need anything.
The yacht club provided good quality showers and hot water once we had understood the entrance code.
In both Fecamp and here the Yacht Clubs only opened at the weekend. At this time of year they were missing out a lot on passing trade.
To have a break from the yachting a brief walk takes us to lush greenery and some well tended gardens. If venturing a little further we would have been in woodland leading to open countryside.
The walk up the western cliff face is easy and tarmacked. the view is good. St Valery’s cliffs are a mix of spectacular colours.
The warm afternoon passes in pleasant company. The quayside is a good spot because the traffic isn’t enough to cause bother yet there is enough people passing by to keep our interest.
This lovely black 55 ft yacht although sporting a Dutch flag looks positively German in its prim efficiency. Indeed many Germans keep their yachts in Holland to escape taxes.
Of course, I wonder if any of today’s German visitors are old enough to remember when they came in war?
On 10/11 June 1940 Rommel’s Panzer Armies West swept all before them and brought death to this beautiful little town.
An ugly scar of a gun emplacement is all that outwardly remains of the occupation. But many of the buildings along the seafront are made from post war concrete.
The French still exhibit a sense of shock. Neither do they remove all trace nor do they turn it into a lasting memorial to the fallen. Instead they just seem to pretend it’s not there.
During our brief visit a real Viking ship arrived. If was surprisingly wide and deep with shelter from the elements.
Lot’s of room to take the plunder home! Truly, ships of this design could be imagined sailing up and down the waves upon the chill Atlantic.
On the morning of our departure our neighbours came to breakfast. Some were going on to Dieppe before returning to the Solent.
We had decided to head back and awaited the 10.30 lock to get going. Because Eastbourne is only 56 miles to the north we actually made the trip in daylight.
Once we passed the lock on the way out we motored to the entrance getting the sails ready to hoist and adjusting the straps on our life jackets so as to be them comfortable.
Out to sea we saw through the haze this lovely three masted barque. Sadly our skipper wouldn’t detour so we could get a closer look.
Once a year St Valery has a festival of the sea inviting all sorts of wonderful craft such as this one.
We had a lovely south west breeze to blow us along to start with but as the sun climbed into the sky the wind died.
Many a late summers’ afternoon I have looked to the northwest scouring the horizon for that first glimpse of Beachy Head. But no, it is but another cloud.
At long last the skipper brought his boat and crew safely home again. Eastbourne was host to this wonderful two masted schooner, its rear mast just a little higher than the foremast.
So ended a great trip. The Channel Sailing Club had just the right measure of laid back fun combined with efficient organisation and responsible leadership.