In the second part of his French canals odyssey, Howard Walker cruises up the lazy River Seine and explores the suburbs of Paris
Crossing to France
By sunrise the next morning, we’re back in the Channel. We wait for some rust-bucket coaster to be on its merry way, then head south-west-ish so we can take a 90º shot across the Channel Traffic Separation System to just south of Cap Gris Nez and into Boulogne.
We’d made our very first Channel crossing – from Dunkirk to Ramsgate – a month earlier. Now the butterflies weren’t so fluttery, the nerves not quite so jangled. Seas were glassy, traffic was light. All went without a hitch.
We stroll the narrow streets of the old town, quaff our first pichet of chilled rosé, play tourists on the pebbly beach, and thoroughly enjoy the well-run marina right in the middle of the town. We end up staying three days.
Unless you have a Sunseeker with a gazillion horsepower, tidal planning is fairly key. Our trusty 225-horse Perkins Sabres push us along at a stately 7 knots, which is a couple of knots short of a rope ladder when the tide is running at 5 knots against you.
As we leave the shelter of Dieppe’s harbour entrance, the night is blacker than the inside of a Kazakh coalmine.
No moon, no stars, no comforting reds and greens, no twinkly streetlights on the coast. This is our first true open-water night passage, and we’re a little, er, apprehensive.
Then there, right on our bow, not a boat-length away, I see it. A big fishing trap, unlit naturally, wallowing in the swell.
I spin the wheel and watch as the plastic pole disappears along the side of the boat, listening for any sudden change in engine note as some invisible cable or line gets snared around the prop.
Nothing. But now I’m freaked. I ease back the throttles to almost idle while my wife Mary Webb rushes to the bow to sweep our hand-held spotlight across the water in search of siblings. There’s one. And another. And another on the port side. Yikes.
Fifteen minutes later they’re gone. Or we no longer see them. I come back on the power and ever-so-gradually night turns to day.
Of course that’s easier said than done. As we approach the right turn into the lock, our trusty Simrad plotter is showing our speed as 10.5 knots with the engines barely ticking over.
That’s some tide. I turn the helm hard to starboard only to be swept past the entrance. Hard on the gas, I head for the slack-looking water by the cruise ship dock, and gradually claw into the open lock.