Thursday 19 October 2006

Sailing the Channel Islands

St Peter Port

I went sailing to the Channel Islands for a week last August. Originally, I was booked to go with the Hamble School of Yachting but they didn't have enough participants so they transferred me to the British Offshore Sailing School at no extra cost. This was an excellent deal since BOSS charges more and my impression is that BOSS is a bit more "hard-core".

The odd thing with this kind of holiday is that you never know who you're going to end up sailing with and a yacht is a rather intimate environment. Turned out John Williams was our skipper - nice bloke. There were two university students - Yeet from Turkey and Will, a history student going on law student, from Cambridge. There was also Giovanni, a somewhat eccentric Swiss pensioner who was not the easiest chap to get along with.

We got delayed leaving Hamble Friday morning as we were hemmed in by another learning yacht but we eventually got out past the Needles before the tide turned. Our goal was Alderney but we were head to wind and had to make our bearing Cherbourg. It took us 18 hours to cross the channel arriving at 2am! It taught me that I have no interest in long distance passages. I didn't mind the rain, night sailing or force 5 sailing but it's just not pleasant sailing for that long.

It was an easy sail to Aldernery the next day and the day after, I got to navigate us down to Guernsey. We had good wind with dashes of rain all the way. The area has wicked tides - third in the world for the tidal range. If you get your timing wrong, you can get in big trouble. Even an engine won't help.

After three days of intense sailing, the crew voted to take the fourth day off. John, Yeet and myself hired motor scooters and toured around Guernsey. It's a pretty island and would be a nice place to spend a week for a holiday. Lots of beaches. Plenty of old WWII installations. Quaint. It's how you might imagine England fifty years ago. People still sell flowers and vegetables on the roadside with a just a tin to accept payment. The seafood is excellent. The picture above is St. Peter Port where we were moored. 

The next day we sailed back to Cherbourg where I stocked up on a case of wine and we had a great night out drinking and playing pool. We had quite a bit of time ashore as the plan was to do a night passage across the Channel. Didn't manage to get a lot of rest in the day and we left the harbour around 8pm. Luckily it was a beam reach all the way back. It's a little scarey crossing the channel at night since shipping freighters do come up quickly and can pass you quite close by. They wouldn't even notice if they hit you.

I was too tired after my watch and fell asleep in the cabin. Missed the dawn but it turned out to be a lovely sunny day as we made our way back to Hamble, cleaned up the yacht and went our seperate ways.

It was a good trip and I'd be happy to do one again. I wouldn't cross the channel though. I'd like to try cruising around Brittany. It's great how sailing pulls together a bunch of strangers and makes you work as a team. It could be a nightmare but I think it turns out to be fun more often than not.

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