It was nice to be able to speak the local language fluently - Exploring Guernsey & Sark in the Channel Islands (7/16-7/22/13)

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Europe » Channel Islands » Guernsey » St Peter Port
July 22nd 2013
Published: August 7th 2013
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Land ho – the fog lifted nicely so we were able to see the island of Guernsey before we came into port.
For those of you that only know of the Channel Islands off the coast of California, the ones we sailed to are located 10-30 miles to the northwest of France.

The Channel Islands have a very interesting and unique history. When the Normans first controlled Normandy, currently part of France, the Channel Islands were part of Normandy and thus belonged to the Duke of Normandy. In 1066 when the Normans conquered the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings, the Duke of Normandy became the King of England. This meant that the King of England not only ruled over England but also controlled Normandy and the Channel Islands. In around 1240 the French took control of Normandy but were unable to get control of the Channel Islands meaning to this day they have remained under the control of the English monarchy. You noticed I did not say the British government, that is because the Channel Islands never became part of Britain but remain solely under the control of the monarch and the Queen also has the title of Duke of Normandy. If you’re not confused yet then you’re way ahead of us! The Channel Islands are independent of the British government
View Before Entering the MarinaView Before Entering the MarinaView Before Entering the Marina

While waiting at the pontoon outside the sill these were a few of the views we saw – lots of boats waiting with us and a beautiful castle nearby.
“kind of”. They depend on England for security and diplomacy but in all other ways are independent and answer directly to the Queen. You can use British pounds in the Channel Islands but often you will get local currency (only in one pound notes). When you get change, however if you ask they will try to give you only British pound currency because the local currency can only be used here. In the post office you use Guernsey stamps which are only good in Guernsey, we believe that the other major island Jersey has the exact same arrangement. You see Jersey and Guernsey are two different bailiwick’s (yes that is a word) of the Channel Islands.

The Channel Islands consists of seven islands, however, the two main administrative units (bailiwicks) are Jersey and Guernsey. We had originally thought we might travel to both, but in talking to others, looking at the charts and our time frame (we are near the middle of July already) we decided to only sail to Guernsey. Jersey would have worked out as well, but we had heard that if we could only pick one, we might enjoy Guernsey more so we took their advice.
The SillThe SillThe Sill

The sill that separates the marina from the outer harbor is unforgiving to boat keels – as a result it is critical to wait until there is enough water over it to make it safe to go in or out of the marina.

It was a fairly long days travel to Guernsey from Roscoff and we needed to work with the current again so we left at 6:30AM and had an excellent passage to St. Peter Port arriving at 6:30PM local time (French time was 7:30PM).

Guernsey like much of the French coast in this area has extremely high tides, 20 to 30 feet. As a result of this they have developed some interesting ways to control water levels in marinas. The Marina in Guernsey utilizes something called a “sill” (somewhat like a fixed lock). When the tide goes out it ensures that there is at least 2 meters of water remaining in the marina. When the tide comes in the water rises above the sill and raises all the water in the marina to the point where there is enough water for the boats to leave and enter passing over the fixed sill (lock). This movement of boats can only occur from 2 hours before high tide to 2 hours after high tide. In our case that meant that we had to stay at a pontoon (floating dock) on the outside of the sill area and then move into the
Tidal DifferenceTidal DifferenceTidal Difference

The tidal difference is very noticeable here in Guernsey as you can see by these photos.
marina at 11PM! There were many boats waiting to get into the marina so boats were rafted up 5 boats deep. There wasn’t anywhere to go so everyone just stayed on their boats having dinner and waiting for the 11PM green light to move. It looked like it could have been quite a bottleneck to accomplish with boats coming out of the marina and others going in, but the British do it right and are very organized. When the time comes to move there are people from the marina coming around in dinghy’s directing which row of boats are to move in and then telling us the specific location inside the marina to tie up to based on your draft (depth of boat). It went very smoothly even though we did have to disturb our neighbor because we had to tie up them rather than a dock. He was very helpful and said he was expecting someone to raft up with him as he knew there were many boats coming in that night. We were all tied up and secure by about 12:30 AM. With our day starting at 5AM the day before it was a long day so hit
Be Sure to Check the Depth of the WaterBe Sure to Check the Depth of the WaterBe Sure to Check the Depth of the Water

The measuring stick on the wall shows how deep the water is – very important when you need to go over the sill.
the bed as soon as we could and slept in the next morning. We made it to Guernsey!

The marina is right in the center of St. Peter Port so you wake up to traffic on the streets, church bells and the hustle and bustle of a city center. The first noticeable change for us was that almost everyone was speaking English (well, kind of – British English that is!) We were fortunate to have beautiful, sunny days while in Guernsey so summer is definitely here. The scary thing was that everyone was telling us that it just turned nice and that they figured summer was almost over – not a good thing to hear when we are still traveling north. All we knew for now was that it was nice and that we could wear shorts and short sleeve tops so all was good!

Fortunately for us the gentleman that helped us out at the tourist information bureau told us that on Friday night’s there are free concerts in the Castle nearby (Castle Cornet) and that there were a couple of very good groups playing. He advised that we pack a picnic dinner and take some cushions
Rafted UpRafted UpRafted Up

Here you can see Tsamaya is rafted up with another boat in the marina in St. Peter Port, Guernsey. This is one way to definitely meet some other people!
to sit on for a fun evening out. We took his advice and had a great time listening to two groups, the Barley Boys being the most popular locally. It was a great evening and reminded us of our summer evenings spent at the Taughannock Falls Park concerts. We met a couple of women sitting next to us and found they were both school teachers celebrating the last day of school today, July 17th. We were surprised they didn’t close til this late in the season as they return to school in early September. We had a great Friday evening listening to some sea shanties and folk music sitting on the lawn inside a castle originally built in the 10th century. This is what traveling is all about – taking advantage of events like these!

Victor Hugo, a famous French poet, novelist and dramatist (you may recognize the name as the person that wrote 'Les Misérables' among many other well- known works) was exiled from France in 1851 due to his political ideas. He went to Jersey for a short time and then after being exiled from there moved to Guernsey where he stayed for 19 years. Many of
And Now We are ThreeAnd Now We are ThreeAnd Now We are Three

As the marina gets fuller, the depth of rafting of boats increases. Now Tsamaya is in the middle. It makes it interesting when one of either of the inside boats want to leave.
his most famous works were written here in his home called Hauteville House. He was informed by France that he could return there in 1855, but he chose to stay in Guernsey due to his love of the island, its people and his home. He did not return to France until after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. We had heard his home which he completely redesigned inside was worth a visit. The home remained in the family until his granddaughter gave it to the city of Paris; it is now open to the public by reservation. The tour takes you through the darkened and almost oppressive rooms of the first floor to the second floor that let more light in and was used mainly for entertaining guest to the very light, private 3rd floor where a balcony was built to allow Victor Hugo to do his writing while looking out to sea toward his country France. Hugo was a collector of furniture and decorative household items which he used to decorate his home, not in the usual sense, but in taking parts of them and turning them into other useful objects. A simple example of this is a door being
Castle CoronetCastle CoronetCastle Coronet

A view of Cornet Castle (fort) originally built in the 1200’s that is located right at the harbor in St. Peter Port.
used as a table top, to the more innovative, using a lid of a cooking pot as a ceiling decoration. This is much more than your typical house tour – it is a story of a person that went through many tragedies in his life and was able to create a retreat for himself whose interior design spoke of the struggle between dark and light. Just as an artist signs his paintings, Victor Hugo also signed his creations of each room with a VH – you just had to look to see where and how he signed the room. Although the outside of this residence is quite a plain, white building the interior is an amazing contrast and worth a visit.

During World War II the Germans occupied the Channel Islands. As part of their defense plan for Europe, the Germans built a number of defensive structures throughout the islands. There was a museum nearby covering the war years so decided to check it out. It was housed in what had been a fuel storage bunker the German’s had built during WWII. The bunker had been built to hold four large tanks that were to be used for fueling
Guernsey is ConnectedGuernsey is ConnectedGuernsey is Connected

Guernsey is connected to the UK and France with the Condor Ferry that runs back in forth regularly.
submarines, but in fact, none of it was ever used during the war. After the war the fuel was removed and used by local farmers and businessmen. Three of the tanks were removed and are still in use today. The museum is of the old school type with many display cases containing old memorabilia, but the write-ups were very detailed and informative. Reading some of the information here such as the decrees that the German’s published when they occupied the island told a very gruesome tale of how the people of the island were controlled. It seemed that failure to comply with any of the decrees resulted in the same punishment, death. This was the first time we got a glimpse of what it was like to live in an occupied community. We all know about the horrors of wars from movies and books but how many of us understand the plight of the civilians who had to survive the occupation.

We had hoped to take the public bus around the island to explore other areas as there are things to see, but unfortunately our time on the island was shortened from what we had originally thought. The weather
Friday Night at the CastleFriday Night at the CastleFriday Night at the Castle

We had a great evening sitting in the castle listening to music while in St. Peter Port. The upper left photo is the view from the castle as we were leaving that evening
has a way of doing that sometimes. We fortunately did have a couple of days to do some exploring around the town of St. Peter Port. We followed some of the trails that the tourist bureau puts out taking you to the historic areas of the city and meandered off the track at times when something looked interesting. One thing that is noticeable is that there are numerous plaques all over the city commemorating numerous events – everything from when the Queen came to visit to the time the Germans bombed a convoy of trucks thinking they contained munitions only to find out they contained tomatoes. The British love their commemorative plaques. They did help us with learning a bit more history of the area.

One of our day trips was to the island of Sark which is about a 45 minute ferry ride away. The island is rather small and falls under the administrative control of Guernsey. There are many unique things about this small island, one of the biggest one is that cars are not allowed on the island. The primary mode of transport is the tractor, tractors pull the wagons that deliver the tourists from the ferry up to the center of town, tractors pull the fire wagon, and tractors pull the ambulance. I think you get the idea. The only other mode of transportation besides bicycles (you must rent as they are not allowed on the ferry – only 7 euros for the day) and walking is by horse and buggy which can be rented for a one or two hour tour of the island for quite a reasonable sum (15 euro). One of the reasons we chose this day to visit the island is because of the annual weekend event which is organized to raise funds for the island’s healthcare. Remember earlier on we said that the Channel Islands are not part of England, well that means they are not part of the English healthcare system. The event is much like any small town American fair except for the major event, the sheep races. Yes, you heard that right, white, woolly sheep with stuffed teddy bears/ rabbits strapped to their backs running a course leaping over bales of hay in a race to the finish. The way the community raises money is by selling the race cards for one euro each and then they run the betting establishment. The racetrack is maybe 100 yards long and each race includes six sheep with stuffed jockeys. There are seven races starting at 12:45 PM and ending at 4:20 PM. Each race is named such as AXA’s un-baa-lievable Derby or how about, The Lamb-bourghini Derby. In the race card the name of the sheep is given its color of jacket (worn by the stuffed bear or rabbit) the name of the stable it is from and the trainer. For example, Long Grass out of Where’s My Mower by Rossford’s Common, sponsored by Sark Island Cemetery or how about, Ewe 2 out of Can Be Civil by If Ewe You Try. And one more, To Bleat or Not To Bleat out of The Flock by Sheepspear. I could go on and on, but you get the point. People arrived with blankets, chairs, tables, champagne glasses and picnic baskets to set up on the green near the racetrack and have a wonderful time. They also sell food and drinks at quite reasonable prices - it is just a lot of fun and it raises money to help with medical care. They even started the event with a parade –
Formal GardensFormal GardensFormal Gardens

The grounds at the Castle Cornet were well kept up and a great place to spend part of a day.
it was one of the shortest we have ever seen – we think it was the local elementary teachers with their students singing and marching through the green with a float that was pulled by none other than a garden tractor! The weather was absolutely beautiful so the place was very busy. As much as we were having fun at the races, after seeing 2 of the 6 races we decided to ride our rental bikes and take a tour of the rest of the island. It is a very peaceful place and it was a great way to spend the day. By 4 o’clock we were ready to go down to the dock to catch the ferry back to Guernsey. We realized that the weather had changed and although it was very sunny, the wind had picked up considerably and was blowing against the tide to create a very rough sea. When the ferry arrived they had to escort people onto the boat one at a time because the ferry was moving up and down so erratically it was difficult to get on board. These people took it all in stride, apparently this is a common occurrence, and in no time we were back on Guernsey.

There is so much about this place that is amazing that I could go on for pages more but I will spare you the details. I think Janice’s pictures and captions will fill-in what I skipped over. Our next stop will be back in France to a place called Cherbourg which is in the area where the D-Day invasion took place. We intend to rent a car and do a lot of land travel while there.

We have included a very amateur movie on YouTube that you should be able to see here as well - it actually doesn't do it justice, but the waters had gotten quite rough while we were enjoying Sark. This is the first time trying to put a video up here so we will see if this works. If it doesn't you can go to YouTube to find it by searching on Janice Waller. We'd appreciate it if someone would let us know if in fact you can see the video from the blog site. We had a chance to watch some of the boats on the moorings in the harbor and were just glad we
Bob As An American SoldierBob As An American SoldierBob As An American Soldier

While touring the Castle they had a re-enactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill as an officer from Guernsey was involved. Bob had to participate as one of the American soldiers of course!
didn't come over by boat. We found out that the captain of the ferry had been a captain on one of the lifeboats so we were definitely in good hands. He went back a different route than normal to try to get as much protection as possible from the island. A local sitting next to me said that only a person that really knows these waters would have tried this.

We are working hard to get the blog updated - we know we are out of date as we left Guernsey on July 22nd and went to explore Normandy by car. We now have moved on from that area and are in Dieppe, France until this Friday when we will leave again and continue moving farther east. We are getting close to our goal of reaching the canals of Holland which we will dedicate quite a few weeks to exploring. Hope your summer has been going well wherever you are - please do keep in touch! We enjoy hearing from you and thanks for traveling along with us.

Additional photos below
Photos: 77, Displayed: 33


Looking Toward TownLooking Toward Town
Looking Toward Town

A view looking toward the town of St. Peter Port from the harbor.
Main Street - St. Peter PortMain Street - St. Peter Port
Main Street - St. Peter Port

The main street of St. Peter Port edges the marina that we are located in.
Water PumpWater Pump
Water Pump

Every country we have been in seem to have their public water pump – this one was built in 1873.
Smart Modes of TransportationSmart Modes of Transportation
Smart Modes of Transportation

With the narrow streets and the price of gasoline, the smart way to travel is by bicycle or motorcycle as you can see are a popular way to get around.
Privately Owned NowPrivately Owned Now
Privately Owned Now

We were fortunate to get a chance to get on one of these retired British lifeboats. They are all privately owned now and it is a labor of love to keep them so well maintained.
A Polite SignA Polite Sign
A Polite Sign

Never saw such polite signs before – there were a few of them here in Guernsey.

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