We left in time to miss that squall!Gatteville lighthouse is always an impressive sightAll smiles after the narrow passage at Saint-Marcouf

Rolling downwind with the tide towards the race at Gatteville on a Friday afternoon in 30 knots, hoping the squall behind doesn’t catch us up – there must be a good reason for what might otherwise look like masochism..

The weekend’s project was to take the Sigma down to Saint-Vaast with Thierry and Bernard, in order to race there on Saturday, and for me to join Georges on his Winner 9m, with Ollivier and Benoit; Benoit and I were treated as honorary traitors from the Sigma crew, though this seemed to make little difference at ‘tisane’ time – especially as we were going to do the delivery back to Cherbourg.

We managed to sail over every ’haut fond’ (or shallow bit) on the way down to Gatteville, with depths of less than 5 metres, which in those conditions is shallow enough. The short cut inside the cardinals seems to be a feature of every section of the French coast, though it’s always best to do it with locals – Thierry seemed to take particular pleasure in being our guide for the afternoon’s surfing!

The forecast for Saturday was much like Friday’s, so the vote was to stay in the bay and use the many buoys down as far as Carentan and Grandcamp; it being a ‘low-tide’ race, we would not be able to get back into Saint-Vaast till 1830, so the longer the race the better – something of a paradox given the forecast! The race included about a dozen marks and a number of spinnaker legs, including one which passed between the Saint-Marcouf islands, (a first for me) then a long beat back upwind in 20-25 knots. We put a reef in for the beat, and regretted taking it out for the last tight reach back towards Saint-Vaast – we were managing 7 knots with the main right out at moments!

All fifteen boats got round the 30 mile course in less than 6 hours, so everyone anchored for an hour to wait for the gates to open - a good chance to look at the bay which was the preferred choice among military engineers for a military port in the Channel, until the navy’s proposal for the long offshore breakwater at Cherbourg swayed the vote. The project of a protected port had been made more urgent by the destruction of French ships seeking shelter at Saint-Vaast after the battle of Barfleur in 1692 – in these more civilised days, however, English sailors prefer to queue up to sample the delights at M. Gosselin’s legendary emporium…

On Saturday evening, the Cherbourg group joined members at the Saint-Vaast sailing club for a splendid feast of moules frites, and it was generally agreed that for a good long race with plenty of variety there were few places to beat the west end of the baie de Seine – and that the extra hour might have been spent racing, by the addition of an extra mark or two! We at Weymouth still have something to learn from such tiny clubs, with their minimal resources and boundless enthusiasm for racing whenever possible - it must also be said that for friendliness per square foot of clubhouse, Saint-Vaast is up there with CNC at Cherbourg!

Sunday morning involved a trip ashore to buy oysters, followed by a very pleasant sail back in a lot less wind, though still from the west. Even the dousing we got at Gatteville (Alderney race’s close relation) was a small price to pay for such a genial weekend, and we returned the Sigma to its place on the pontoon at Cherbourg with the feeling that it won’t be long before the next adventure, which will involve heading back to the baie de Seine for the Double de Normandie, and the delivery is next Saturday to Le Havre – I’m sailing with Georges in his boat, and Thierry and Bernard are taking the Sigma. Georges and I have agreed that surviving the experience and enjoying a pleasant week’s sailing are probably more important than the final position, but I suspect we will revise that view as we approach the start line. It will be unfamiliar territory for all of us, with legs up to Fecamp and as far west as Corseulles during the week – so watch this space for the all-Normandy action!

Steve Fraser

Submitted on Monday, 21st August