Saturday, 27 July 2013

Flying the Union Jack

We made it to the Channel Islands this week !  This is our first foreign country visited with Spray, and we had great fun hoisting the British courtesy flag as we sailed into Guernsey harbour.

Hoisting the UK courtesy flag on Spray for our first foreign waters sail.

Toasting our entry into English waters.  Yes, it was chilly out there...
We are grateful to our friends on Alize who led us through the daunting waters of northern Brittany, where we would have feared to tread alone.  Most of the ports in this area have swing gates or sills that prevent entry except for a few hours around high tide.  At present, the tidal coefficient is a whopping 109 out of 120, which means 6 knot currents and 11 meter tides in many places.  But the weather has been exceptionally mild (sunny and warm) with only light winds, so it has been less frightening than it could have been.  While light winds and strong currents are not the best combination of elements for sailing, at least we can now say we have thoroughly tested the motor, with one passage totalling 11 mind-numbing hours.

This is what a +30 foot tidal range looks like.  Me (5' 4") standing at the bottom of the dock at low tide, and the same dock (now perfectly horizontal) at high tide.  (The sign in French warns not to bring animals ashore because of rabies.)

Our first stop in the Channel Islands was Guernsey.  Sailing into the beautiful harbor at sunset was a thrill.

Sailing into the port of Guernsey.

The sill holding 2 meters of water in Guernsey harbor to keep the boats afloat.  The sill is just apparent in the water as the tide goes out. 

Both Jersey and Guernsey are known for something that can be smelled several miles offshore. No, not duty-free. Cows !  Napolean said he could smell his native Corsica from miles away at sea, where the Mediterranean sun would roast the thyme, rosemary, sage, and lavendar of the island hills.  While cow manure doesn't have the same poetry, it was a homey, welcoming smell for this hillbillly girl.  Shortly after we arrived, the churchbells rang out for an hour.  I thought this was rather over-the-top for a welcome, but I had been warned the Channel Islands were quite chic.  We later discovered that the bells were, in fact, to celebrate the birth of little Prince George.  (As an aside, most of the Guernsey natives I spoke with were hoping for a girl...).  

Spray in Guernsey harbor.  Looks like someone put her in the drier on high heat and shrank her in comparison with the other boats in the harbor !
But beyond duty free and cows, Guernsey and Jersey seem to do their best to have nothing else in common.  There is a rivalry between the islands that is quite silly to outsiders, but which they take rather seriously.  They even go so far as to have seperate money printed (although it seems to be all perfectly interchangeable).  Guernsey is more of a boutique town with beautiful little streets and shops in a preserved old-town setting.  But once you've roamed through the 3-4 streets of the center several times, there's really not much else around, and even in summer, things shut down at 5:30 sharp.  Jersey, on the other had, was bombed during the war and lost much of its original charm.  As you pull into the harbor, you wonder why you bothered to pick your way through the rather tricky and confusing channel.  It's simply butt ugly.  But pushing a little bit past the port, you stumble into a bustling market area and modern city that's pulsing with energy unlike anything in quaint little Guernsey.

But one thing Guernsey has that Jersey doesn't seem to have (at least haven't found it yet) is Red Diesel.  Because the diesel is duty-free, they are obliged to put a red dye in it that allows the customs officials of other countries to know if their citizens have been sampling the local tax-free gas.  The rumors around the port were that foreign boats were not allowed to fill up, and that customs officials had been known to sample the gas from your tank to see if it was red or not.  Another sailor said that it was okay as long as you kept your receipt to prove that you had bought the gas on Guernsey.  This really made no sense to me so I chatted up the gas pump guy to know if we were officially allowed to fill up or not.  He told me that the only countries that had a problem with this were the Netherlands and Belgium, but that there hadn't been any sanctions against sailboats for years.  If you are only filling up your own tank, there's no problem.  There's no other diesel on the island, so you have no choice.  But what you are not allowed to do is to fill up containers or jerry cans to take back home as a souvenir.  They have signs all over the gas dock saying "no cans beyond this point."  After our marathon 11 hour motor to Guernsey, we took full advantage of a half-price Red Diesel fill-up in Guernsey.

Jersey suffers a bad reputation from sailors (at least those sailors preferring Guernsey) since it is closer to the French coast and thus more accessible and crowded.  We were warned by the Guernsey sailors that the port of Jersey would be packed with rental boats, which is to say, inexperienced skippers who will ding your boat as they attempt to manoeuver their over-sized, over-powered floating camping cars.  But when we arrived, we had several berths to choose from and we were not rafted up 3 deep as we were in Guernsey (it was an absolute zoo, but all in good fun).  So far, the port facilities have been superior to those in Guernsey (although, admittedly, with not as lovely surroundings) and we will be staying for a few days.

As Oscar Wilde said, "If I had more time I would have written you a shorter letter."  Since free time in ports with good internet connection is scarse, I'll stop blathering on and simply post some photos...

Spray, spraying, with Alize in the lead.  (Just to say we did do SOME sailing.)

The rugged northern coast of Guernsey at low tide.

A well-deserved Guinness mustache.

Laundry day in the swank Guernsey marina facilities.

Jersey marina.  Not the prettiest marina in the world, but it has the classiest showers I've ever seen.  (Sorry Guernsey)

Jersey food markets.  We're not going hungry...


Anonymous said...

Apropos of the cows and smelling land from sea: I remember a story of a New England coastal schooner skipper who used the smell of skunk in the fog to know he was too close to shore near Falmouth.