Breaking the five rules of the English Channel

We had heard a lot about the English Channel and while looking forward to this legendary stretch of sailable water we were also a bit scared of unexpected obstacles like strong currents or armadas of big ships. To make sure we didn’t make any mistakes, we decided to go through the seven thinking steps with our boat-neighbours who were headed the same direction and had a lot of sailing experience in the area. We compared our tidal charts and exchanged strategies. Our goal was to get from Paimpol in France to Leiden in the Netherlands as fast and safe as possible as Bernie’s first work-day was only two weeks away. The five main rules: Do not provoke a current-against-wind-situation! Only sail when you have the current in your favour! Do not steer through unknown shallow waters in the dark! Avoid close encounters with big scary boats! Do not get involved in any military exercises in the area! Although these rules seem simple, there is no way to get through the Channel without breaking all of them.

Roughly, we always had a window of 6 hours with the current in our favour, followed by 6 hours of current against us. The first challenge was to get out of Paimpol, towards Guernsey in order to anchor there. So concentrated to find the perfect time to pass the Cap de la Hague, we completely ignored the fact, that we steered out of Paimpol right into a picture-perfect current-against-wind situation. We got shaken around pretty crazy, but only for about 40 minutes until we were in deeper waters. Phhuhhh… On our way North to Guernsey, we were first pushed West for six hours and then East again for another few hours before we arrived at the anchorage. There, our boat-neighbours were already waiting for us. Next morning we got up really early in the dark and steered through really shallow waters between unknown island-territory. Luckily our GPS didn’t leave us and we got to the Cap de la Hague in daylight, where the water looked like it was boiling because of the strong current. We were speeding like never before! When the current turned, we made a 6-hour-stop in Cherbourg, where we anchored on forbidden military ground. From Cherbourg we went on in the direction of Boulogne. 1 ½ days and quite some current-on-the-nose later, we met our friend Mark in Boulogne at midnight. An epic scene to meet at midnight in a dark corner of an industrial harbor! Mark hopped on board with a few hamburgers (what a great delivery service!) and half an hour later we continued right on through the night, passing the famous stretch between Calais and Dover – what a rush! Poor Mark – the hamburgers actually didn’t stay very long in his stomach (another broken basic rule here, as we usually don’t do this crazy stuff with visitors on their first day… but Mark is a tough guy and he soon recovered). The ferries that steered into Calais were pretty wreckless and one of them was on a real close collision-course just a few minutes away from us when we called them on the radio „That ferry in the English Channel heading towards sailing vessel Naïma – please change course immediately!“. This was definitely our worst VHF call so far. To make up for this pretty unprecise information, we turned on our strong deck lights, which can be seen from far away. One of these two actions worked as the ferry changed its course and we didn’t crash! With only one rule left to be broken, we got closer to Belgium as a warship called us up and said they were practicing under-water explosions in the area and that we would better take at least 1 nm distance. A few minutes later we heard on the radio „explosion imminent“ – followed by a muffled boooom coming from underneath us. Check, we broke all of them rules!

Up next, we spend a wonderful time in Oostende and Brugge in Belgium thanks to the remote-organization of our friend Kris.

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