In the second part of our guide to Channel Islands boating we ask local boat owners Colin Le Conte and Edward Fattorini to share their tips for cruising round Guernsey and its neighbouring reefs and islands.
Guernsey is at the centre of a uniquely beautiful and varied cruising ground. I have lived all my life in the Channel islands and still haven’t exhausted all the cruising opportunities this magical archipelago offers, which thanks to its sunny climate, white sandy beaches and clear blue seas can feel like the Caribbean at times.
It’s also uniquely challenging with a vast tidal range of up to 10m that dramatically changes the landscape in the course of a few hours. The idyllic island of Herm, for instance, doubles in size at low water and the Minquiers appear as a few houses on a rock at high tide yet cover an area almost the size of Jersey on a spring low.
I live in Guernsey and have a 2016 Princess V39 called Echo Beach. I was brought up on the sea and was introduced to the joys of the neighbouring French coast by my friend and former Windy 37 owner Edward Fattorini, who assisted with this article. Since then, we have organised many Guernsey Yacht Club cruises around the islands and to France.
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St Peter Port
The Bailiwick of Guernsey is made up of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm. We’ve picked our favourite spots for visiting craft from the UK and Europe to this very special group of islands.
First stop is Guernsey’s tiny capital, St Peter Port, where a maze of cobbled streets and colourful Georgian houses tumble down to the bustling seafront. Victoria marina is where most visitors berth their boats and is perfectly located in the heart of town, close to many excellent restaurants, boutique shops and cafes.
The imposing Castle Cornet has been guarding the entrance to the harbour for more than 800 years and is well worth a visit to learn about the island’s fascinating history. Watch out for the daily noon day gun, though. It’s loud enough to make you jump!
On arrival in St Peter Port, you will be met by one of the helpful marina attendants in the harbour Dory, who will guide you to your berth or show you where to wait for the tide – access to the marina is restricted by a sill to 2.5 hours either side of high water.
If you miss the window, there are five holding pontoons outside the marina which are connected to the shore throughout the summer. Fuelling with Guernsey’s famously low-duty diesel is available on the south side of the main fairway.
St Peter Port has managed to retain its character, and the high street is just a couple of minutes walk from the marina. Take the time to visit Hautevelle House where the French novelist Victor Hugo lived and worked during his 14-year exile from France. The interior was designed by Hugo and is a work of art in itself.
My favourite restaurants in St Peter Port are Pier 17 on Albert Pier, next to the marina, which serves excellent food with fine views of the harbour and castle, and the newly refurbished Slaughterhouse on Castle Pier. Le Petit Bistro is a good bet for lunch, serving authentic French fare and very good wine.
Beaucette Marina and the north of Guernsey
This attractive private marina is located in an old quarry in the Vale parish to the north of the island. Boat owners love the tranquillity offered by its rural setting and the interesting walks on offer nearby.
You can wander around the coast straight from the marina and explore L’Ancresse common with its Norman Martello towers, the La Varde megalithic ruins and the sweeping expanse of sand and rockpools at L’Ancresse and Pembroke Bay.
Entry to Beaucette is available during a greater range of tides but the narrow entrance can be daunting when approaching in rough weather. Visitors’ spaces are limited, so call ahead.
Fermain Bay and the south coast of Guernsey
In contrast to the flat northern end of the island, the south coast is rugged, with a fantastic cliff path linking some breathtaking bays. Just south of St Peter Port, Fermain is popular with locals and visitors alike. It is sheltered from westerly winds and boasts a very good cafe and takeaway next to the slipway.
The beach is quite steep and is one of the only pebbly bays on the island, but it’s a peaceful and convenient place to visit by boat, with the added bonus that the route takes you past some of the most expensive properties on the island with their panoramic views of neighbouring Herm, Jethou and Sark.
Further round the coast is dramatic St Martin’s point – a truly spectacular spot to drop your hook. On the way to Petit Port bay you’ll pass a group of towering rock pinnacles known locally as the Pea Stacks.
Petit Port is surrounded by high cliffs and is best enjoyed from half-tide down when a beach of fine sand is exposed by the retreating sea.
On very low springs it is possible to walk or wade past rocky inlets to atmospheric Moulin Huet Bay to the west of Petit Port. This was the French impressionist Renoir’s favourite spot in Guernsey when he visited the island in 1883.
VisitGuernsey has even created an official Renoir Walk with picture frames showing the viewpoints for five of the scenes the artist painted here.
If arriving in Guernsey near low tide, Petit Port is also a secure and peaceful spot to anchor and wait for the marina gates to open in St Peter Port, although there can be a swell if the wind is from the south or south west.
Tiny Herm is a slice of paradise. It lies around 4nm east of Guernsey and is like a perfectly preserved relic from a bygone era. With a population of around 50 permanent residents, it has no cars and the pace of life seems a little slower and more relaxed because of it.
All the more reason then to visit by boat and enjoy the unspoilt beaches, idyllic bays, well-kept footpaths and abundant wildlife.
The harbour is ideal for dropping off passengers above half tide. It’s a busy little port largely thanks to the constant coming and goings of the Travel Trident ferry shuttling people (and provisions) to and from St Peter Port.
There are some visitors’ buoys outside the harbour while the sandy seabed makes for good anchoring at other times. Local boats take the more direct route, mooring up on the beach and drying out overnight, usually accompanied by a visit to the popular Mermaid Tavern for a pie and a pint or two.
This east-facing three-quarter mile stretch of fine sand forming the north-east point of Herm is as close to the Caribbean as the British Isles gets (that is until you attempt a dip – “bracing” doesn’t quite cover it!).
The sand consists of millions of tiny shell fragments washed across by the Gulf Stream, giving it a shimmering white colour. Not surprisingly, the bay is very popular in high summer and has a handy kiosk for refreshments.
Head for the boulders at Alderney Point on Shell’s north-west tip if you want to escape the crowds. It’s a breathtaking spot and is often deserted. The beach is ideal for wild swimming and paddleboarding, although there are strong currents in places to be wary of.
Just to the south of Shell Beach, Belvoir is another good, safe bay. The small cove is much steeper and sheltered from most winds so makes an ideal anchorage.
This is one of our favourite spots and if it does get too busy, you can always pop north to Shell Beach where there is lots of space. This is a good place from which to join the coastal footpath that circuits the island and gives panoramic views across to Sark and Jethou.
Roughly double the size and distance of Herm from Guernsey, Sark is often referred to as the jewel in the Channel Islands’ crown. Like Herm, no cars are allowed on the island with horse-drawn carriages and bicycles the preferred methods of transport on its unpaved roads, some of which skirt along narrow ridges high above the rocky cliffs.
Down at sea level, it’s all sparkling blue water and dramatic rocky promontories studded with a handful of small protected coves and beaches – perfect for lazy days at anchor.
Situated on the east coast of Sark, south of the harbours, this bay provides good anchorage in a gentle setting, protected from most winds from the west and north. A picturesque, short walk up the leafy valley brings you to Stocks Hotel and then it is a further 10-minute walk to the small town.
Located just south of the famous Gouliot Passage, Havre Gosselin provides good shelter from easterly winds. There are a number of yellow visitors’ moorings which are in deep enough water to stay afloat at all states of tide. A small pier provides landing for dinghies only with a steep path that takes you up to the Pilcher Monument.
Just to the west of Sark lies the rocky island of Brecqhou, owned by Sir Frederick Barclay and his late brother Sir David Barclay, who built their own castle on the island 30 years ago.
Greve de la Ville
Another good place to anchor and again, yellow visitors’ buoys are provided. The beach is rocky and it can be difficult to get ashore when it’s rough but it’s a good place to moor your boat while you visit the delights of Sark – by foot or on rental bicycles.
This bay is towards the south west of Sark and is situated under La Coupée, a narrow ridge which joins Sark with Little Sark via a precipitous walkway. There is a path and steps up to La Coupée, 80m above the bay. You can go left to the main island or right into little Sark and the excellent La Sablonnerie Hotel, owned and managed by the well-known local character, Elizabeth Perée. The bay is sheltered from easterly winds. Even in calm weather there is sometimes a swell and care should be taken when landing a dinghy on the sandy beach.
The third largest of the Channel Islands after Jersey and Guernsey, Alderney is around 25nm north-east of Guernsey, making it an ideal place to stop and recharge your batteries after the crossing from England. Renowned for its spectacular wildlife including puffins, gannets, seals, dolphins, rare butterflies and even its own breed of blonde hedgehogs, this peaceful gem of an island is a reminder of how boating used to be before fully serviced marinas and walkashore pontoons became the norm.
There are 70 yellow mooring buoys for visitors and a very convenient water taxi to take you ashore on arrival. Both are chargeable but it’s worth it for the peace of mind that a safe mooring brings, not to mention saving you the hassle of having to launch and recover the tender.
There are no pontoons available here and sleeping on board can be challenging if the wind is in the wrong direction but it’s a great place to stop, and has a welcoming and helpful harbour office.
This popular beach is protected by an anti-tank wall built during the German occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War – one of many preserved German fortifications in the Bailiwick. The Nunnery Heritage Site is the best-preserved small Roman fort in Britain and also worth a visit. This is a lovely spot to visit during the day with good views across to France and the Cherbourg peninsular.
A trip to Guernsey and its surrounding islands should be on every confident boater’s bucket list. And when you have exhausted the delights of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, Jersey is only 27nm away. Personally, I’d recommend staying overnight in one of Guernsey’s marinas or Alderney Harbour, with day visits to the smaller islands, bays and beaches.
Some craft do occasionally stay in the bays overnight but with a tidal range of up to10m, flows that run at up to 4 knots and changeable weather conditions, I would not recommend it unless you’re sure of what you’re doing.
First published in the May 2021 issue of Motor Boat & Yachting.
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