'Jolie Brise' returns to Le Havre

The May 2nd to 7th 2013 Centenary Cruise saw ‘Jolie Brise’ return, with a crew of eight current and past parents and friends, to Le Havre where she was built.

Briefly it was:

  • May 2nd/3rd: Hamble – Honfleur, sailing then motor sailing, arriving 2am.
  • May 3rd: Honfleur harbour in sunshine.
  • May 4th:  on to Le Havre to rendezvous with sister ship Marie Fernand and crew.
  • May 5th: Le Havre dock waiting for French TV, then sailing with Marie Fernand off Le Havre before parting and heading to Fecamp for fuel and overnight.
  • May 6th: Fecamp - cross channel to Bembridge under motor, then a smaller more challenging channel.
  • May 7th: Bembridge to Hamble under sail and sun arriving around 2pm.

Otherwise the trip featured plenty of sunshine, relatively little wind, quite a lot of motoring, interludes of good sailing, plenty of good humour, lots of conversation, copious amounts of tea and coffee, more sausages than most of the crew are used to, an unsuccessful quest for fish and/or moules-frites, a more successful quest for showers, a decent amount of PR … and a little snoring.

Picture gallery - please click on the thumbnails below to view larger images.

Please see a full report below the picture gallery.

We were due aboard ‘Jolie Brise’ (JB) by 8am on the 2nd and achieved it fully…. by around 10am. With Toby skippering, Adam as mate and following the obligatory safety briefing, we slipped our moorings in a fresh northerly. A quick raise of the headsail helped spin JB around in an impossibly small space for her long deep keel and off-set propeller. Once clear of the river we had our first chance to raise the sails: Leeward running backstay off: Main up (much puffing and grunting from we 8 hardened, young and agile crew members and a bit of help from Adam). Main topsail up (less puffing and grunting, but no less debt to Adam). Foresails up (3 of them – Foresail, Jib and Yankee) as for topsail, but add bowsprit acrobatics from the young and agile crew – and a little help from Adam. All this in bright sunshine and a freshening breeze which even had Toby musing whether it was getting too much to hold onto the topsail. Gradually though, as we settled into our 3 watches, the wind faded, though the sun held. Eventually, with yankee, jib and top sail all taken in, we were motor sailing by the time the sun gave way to cloud and we carried on that way into the night. Approaching the French coast around Le Havre meant shipping, and at night, the correct reading of other vessels’ navigation lights to stay out of trouble – the rack of electronic wizardry below notwithstanding. We crossed the Le Havre channel and leading lights, making for the entrance to the Seine river a few miles further on, where we finally turned to port and began to be pulled in by the tide – dodging freighters, dredgers and cruise ships the while. With the main down and not for the last time, Toby’s navigation brought us to the Honfleur lock bang on the targeted time - 2am - and a neat bit of manoeuvring across the tide brought us along side in the lock itself. There was an unsuccessful attempt to buy fish from the fishing boat sharing the lock with us, then up to the quai d’attendte and gratefully into our various bunks (more puffing and grunting from the young and agile crew – followed by the snoring).

A bright, warm, sunny morning saw JB motor through the swing bridge into the inner basin, moor stern-to and her crew head off in search of coffee, breakfast and showers, then later for food and wine and finally dinner (no moules frites though) and maybe a night cap or two in this very pretty harbour town. The following morning, with the perfect breakfast (fresh French baguette, English bacon, English eggs and some shore based French coffee) consumed, departure set for the 11am raise of the bridge and last minute showering completed, the young and agile crew raised JB’s anchor and we left that pretty harbour town. Not even the self-sacrifice of one member of the young and agile crew breaking an ankle in the middle of everything was enough to prevent that departure as the skipper had to get us to Le Havre for our re-union with Marie Fernand and a centenary celebration in the evening.

Le Havre is not a pretty port, but the enormous locks and general industrial scale and feel cannot fail to impress from the deck of a 100 year old wooden sailing boat; and the dock basin which JB ended up in felt somehow historic – how close were we to where she was actually built? We were made most welcome by the crew and supporters of Marie Fernand - JB’s 20 year older brother (“Le” Bateau of course so it has to be a he…who knew?...). Anyway he is a registered French “monument” so terribly august. The welcome extended to ferrying the broken ankle to and from hospital, a bar-b-q with almost as much sausage as wine, speeches and general good will – though no fish. In the morning we saw just how important JB’s visit was when a TV crew turned up towards lunch time to interview the skippers - in French (well done Toby) and to film the boats departing – which they did rafted together to help turn against the wind, in the very tight lock (again well done Toby). Once clear of the harbour, it was up sails. By now the young and agile crew really knows what it’s doing and piles everything on like pros - ably watched by broken ankle – and a little of the old rivalry is stirred as we realise Marie Fernand is slower with her hoists and raising less sails. After a while the TV cameras return on a modern day fast pilot boat to film the two older versions sailing together until, entente cordiale duties done, we all go our separate ways and JB heads for Fecamp, helped by the motor again as the wind dies.

Fecamp feels like it is hewn from the cliffs and the entrance between high piers is impressive. Diesel taken on, we found an empty end berth before more showers followed by an excellent dinner on board. The town, home of Benedictine (who knew?) is pleasant and supplied decent coffee and provisions and an additional crew member (a potential Marie Fernand skipper looking to learn from JB and Toby and an able substitute for broken ankle’s contribution). No fish though and the town had little further to keep us from heading for home on another beautiful, bright sunny morning. Sails were raised to catch the gentle breeze (one raise a day the young and agile crew had concluded was probably sufficient), but soon lowered apart from the main as the breeze died. We motored on across the glassy – even limpid – waters of the channel under a burning sun and clear blue skies (honest) with little to disturb the changing of the watches apart from standing by a small fishing boat with engine trouble until the lifeboat arrived looking, well, lifeboat like, to take it in tow.

On then towards Bembridge, off which we arrived around 10pm. Rounding the fort we picked up the first marker and began to work our way up the shallow, winding channel in the dark. Now Bembridge channel puts off many a yacht even in daylight. Add in darkness and the fact that JB is almost as deep as the channel even at high water and it begins to look particularly interesting. When someone goes and moves the channel without telling Toby, it becomes fascinating and an opportunity to practice getting a 44 Ton vessel off the mud by moving boom and young and agile crew around to heal and lift the keel while keeping the prop as deep as possible and not catching the main sheet around it. Finally alongside a slightly too shallow berth (another yacht having pinched ours) all, duly impressed, reflect on the pleasures of a challenging entrance.

The final leg home was a spinnaker run in a perfect breeze and sunshine. The spinnaker is Spanish and does not fit properly (or understands neither English nor French) so is difficult to fly properly (anyone feeling rich and generous talk to Toby). Nevertheless it took us from just outside Bembridge all the way to Hamble river, where we dropped it just before the entrance and seconds after a twitchy harbour master had wondered on the radio whether we were intending to fly it up the river – as if…. And so, having re-fuelled (it takes a lot of diesel to make up for a lack of wind) we made our way back to JB’s pontoon. As we were all leaving, Marie Fernand was arriving to moor alongside JB - Toby planning to host her crew to a return bar-b-q chez lui. But for the young and agile crew of JB it was the end of the 2nd to 7th May Centenary Cruise and time to return to homes, jobs and the following day’s rain, but with a lingering taste of salt and sun..…. and sausage….. and a determination to attend the Jolie Brise dinner if at all possible.

Well done and many thanks to Toby, Adam and to Jolie Brise for excellent seamanship and hospitality, a much needed dose of the sea and a really enjoyable cruise.