Foggier and foggier...

Not what you need before breakfast - 20 knot squall off La Hague...A busy hour ahead - note the Barfleur heading south just to add to the fun...

The fog was hanging around all week, though (FLW*) 'the forecast said it would clear', and at 0530 on Friday morning there was good visibility and a SW breeze, so off I set, imagining a pleasurable sail across to Weymouth to conclude a very pleasant month in France...

It always takes time to adjust to the boat as a boat rather than just my home; outside the passe de l’Ouest there was little wind, though La Hague was covered in thick cloud. I decided to add a can of diesel to the tank via the filler cap on the port side deck, and while doing so felt the boat heel; looking round I saw the sea going green and white under the cloud, as 20 knots of wind filled in…

Concentrating on not spilling any diesel, I finished pouring the can’s contents and replaced the screw-top to the tank, by which time the lee rail was under and it was high time to reef main and jib. Aliya took off as her name (which means ‘ascending’ in Hebrew and Arabic) suggests she should, and for an hour we romped along, with the wind moderating as we escaped from the cloud. So far so sort-of good, but the fog rolled in with the wind – never mind, I said to myself, it’s supposed to clear by midday, so the shipping won’t be a problem…

Surrounded a bit later by ships I couldn’t see, with the AIS and the radar as the only means of working my way through the assembled throng, I had to eat those words; the fog cleared for a bit after the shipping, only to come back worse with more wind, so that the first thing I saw apart from a momentary glimpse of an anchored ship in the bay, was the Nothe and the stone pier at 300 metres range. The wind of course veered the nearer I got, and I motored into it from F mark, having by this time had my fill of nautical excitement for one day, and was glad to arrive safely on the mooring.

Planning a strategy for going through the shipping was necessary, as the photo of my AIS screen shows; at one point I had to pass in front of one ship, then call the next one so that we were both clear I was passing behind rather than in front of him, so that I knew he wasn’t going to alter course and I could adjust my course so that he was never nearer than 1.5 miles, which is a suitable minimum when you can’t see anything! This happened twice – it’s interesting how long you can stare at a blob on a screen without getting bored, as your world is reduced to a very simple binary hit-or-miss outcome, and how calm you need to be as you check that your plan is working out...

I was reminded of a story told me by a Cherbourg friend, Hubert, who used to drive a pilot boat; in fog he would aim to pass across the wake of the ship so as to locate it, then chase up the wake till he found the ship to put the pilot aboard, sometimes only seeing the bit of hull where the ladder was…

The discerning reader will no doubt have noted the typographical device of using … to illustrate the ubiquitous uncertainty which (together with some great sailing) characterized the day…

* - famous last words!

Steve Fraser
Aliya

Submitted on Tuesday, 5th June