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Published: July 21st 2016
Our deadline for getting to the Channel Islands Custom Office was June 30th
. Fortunately on June 28th
it looked like a good time to get away from the dock in Cherbourg to head down the Alderney Race and over to St. Peter Port in Guernsey. It wasn’t a lot of wind that day, but that was fine for getting through the “Race”. First off for those of you that aren’t familiar with the term race, it is when there is a narrow stretch of water such as here with only 8 miles between the coast of France and the Island of Alderney. What makes this an interesting area to travel though is that you need to be sure to time your travel through here so that hopefully the wind direction and the direction of the current goes together and are not working against each other. If you get the timing right you can gain quite a bit of speed “racing” through this area, where if you get it “wrong” the seas area very chaotic and can produce waves of up to four meters (approx. 12 feet) and very choppy due to the rough bottom with numerous shallow areas. Bob worked out the
timing perfectly as the seas were quite calm and we only got a small amount of time in what we call “the washboard” with swirling water appearing to have a mind of its own. We left on a light wind day, but even with that the current helped us get up to a hull speed of 10 knots. It was definitely worth getting away from the dock in Cherbourg at 3:15AM as we able to arrive in Guernsey by 11AM local time (10AM French time) on a lovely sunny day.
The marina in St. Peter Port has a ledge which keeps the water from draining out of the marina and keeps it at 2 meter level. Without the ledge at low tide the marina would be empty of water. You can safely enter and exit the marina from 2 hours before to 2 hours after high tide. If you arrive at a time that is not safe for entry, they provide visitor pontoons to wait on. They have an excellent system for getting as many boats in as possible as you first are met by a harbormaster in a dinghy to find out what your boat depth is so
The Visitor Pontoon where You Wait
until there is enough water in the marina to enter
they will be able to find the right place within the marina as the depths differ. We were fortunate that we only had to wait about an hour before we were told to follow the harbormaster in his dinghy to the location they picked out for us. This is a very effective and efficient system indeed. When we first got there it wasn’t too busy, but later on in our stay as more boats arrived we had a boat rafted to us which is very common here.
We were pretty tired when we got there so took a nap and figured we’d go to the customs office in the afternoon. We walked over, but found that the office was closed at 3:30PM and it was already 4PM – another reason we arrived an extra day early! The next morning we went to the Immigration/Customs Office and it went very smoothly and quickly. We are now legal with the boat for another 18 months and we can start to relax with our schedule.
We had been to Guernsey before but we didn’t get a chance to explore much of the island due to the weather so that was on
our plan for this time. The Candie Garden is a lovely walk from the marina and we knew it had a small café, so incorporated this stop on one of our walks. The home and garden had been donated to the island of Guernsey back in 1887 which is when the present layout of the gardens was developed. Within the gardens there stands two statutes, one of Queen Victoria and one of Victor Hugo. The statue of Queen Victoria was unveiled in 1900; however, the money that was raised for it was done earlier to honor her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Victor Hugo’s statute was produced in 1913, purchased by the French government and then shipped to Guernsey for unveiling in 1914. The café is actually located in the bandstand that opened in 1892 and where musical performances were held. It now has been incorporated into the Art Museum that is located here. It is located high on a hill that overlooks the harbor of St. Peter Port providing a wonderful view while giving you a chance to wander through a formal English garden. A pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
The Town Church is a prominent feature in
Views of the St. Peter Port Harbor
some areas dry out, others are for fishermen
town and its south transept was completed in 1469. It is a beautiful church located on the main street in the town. One of the more prominent citizens of Guernsey that is honored here was Sir Isaac Brock who they state saved Canada and fell at Queenstown Heights in 1812 (Ottawa). Unfortunately many of the windows blew out when bombs were dropped in the harbor during WWII, but they were restored after the war was over. Among the many memorials that line the walls of the church are some of the men that left Guernsey to fight in various battles throughout the world.
One thing we saw when we walked over near the chandlery here was an artificial pool in front of the yacht club that youngsters were learning to sail in. It is quite shallow as the instructors would walk in the water with high boots to be close to their students. We thought this was a very clever new idea, but were surprised to read later that this pool was actually built in 1887 for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Fortunately there were a few days of sunny weather so we took advantage of it and took
a wonderful bus trip around the perimeter of the island. We figured this was the best deal you could get in Europe as the trip cost about $1.35 and it lasted 1 ½ hours. The north and west side of the island is spectacular with its rocky shores and many beautiful beaches (that are much larger at low tide). During our time here we traveled this coast a few times seeing how different it looks at high and low tide. At low tide many of the boats are resting in mud and there are plenty of beaches, while at high tide the beaches disappear and the boats are afloat with waves crashing along the break walls.
One thing that strikes you very quickly when touring the island is the amount of fortifications that encircle it. These are not all during WWII and the German occupation, but many were from Napoleonic times as well. The Germans were very clever in incorporating many of the earlier fortifications into their own by adding concrete to these already fortified locations. It seems that no matter where you look you see reminders of these forts, bunkers and observation towers. We decided to visit one
of these, Fort Grey, which now houses the Shipwreck Museum. With living on a sailboat, we weren’t really sure we wanted to hear about these shipwrecks that occurred in the area, but it was very well done and gave us a chance to see the inside of this fort. The design of this one was different from the others you see and due to its design; locally it is called “the cup and saucer”. In 1803 a 10 foot thick semi-circular wall was built around a battery that was established on the top of a previously destroyed chateau. The following year to strengthen this defense the wall was completely enclosed and a tower was built in the center. This was one of many lines of defense built to protect against attacks from Napoleon. During WWI this location was manned by the Guernsey militia, and then during the German Occupation of WWII it was used as an anti-aircraft battery. Fortunately it never saw battle, but it did fall into disrepair. In 1976 it was opened to the public as the Shipwreck Museum. It was obvious by all that we learned that the reefs near the island claimed many lives and ships
even with the help of navigational aids. The Hanois Lighthouse that was first opened in 1862 after taking two years to build can be seen from this Fort. It is amazing to think that they could even finish it this quickly when you find out that each stone weighed 3-4 tons and had to be taken to the location by barge. Each stone had been carved in such a way to dovetail into the neighboring stones to lock them in place. It took 14-16 men in 14 hours shifts to accomplish this feat. Remember that lighthouses by their nature are put in locations where there is danger, so they had to deal with many difficulties. It stands 100 feet tall and is 32 feet in diameter. It had been first powered by an incandescent oil burner and manned by 2 – 3 person crews working 28 day shifts. It was converted to being powered by electricity, with a light range of 23 miles and became automated. Solar power has been used since 1995 and still works at saving lives each year. Even with this there continues to be shipwrecks, but fortunately many are rescued by the Lifeboats (a completely volunteer
organization) here in Guernsey.
One particular interesting wreck was of an oil rig, the Orion, in 1978. The 19,000 ton oil rig sitting on a barge was being moved from Rotterdam to Brazil in February. The tow line that connected it to the tug broke during hurricane force winds and resulted in the barge running ashore. The 33 crew onboard were all rescued between the work of the Guernsey Lifeboats and the Royal Navy over a 2 day period. A Dutch firm was hired to salvage the oil rig valued at $13.5 million. With the storm raging they were successful in accomplishing this after 25 days of the rig being grounded. A few weeks later the barge was also refloated and both went to Cherbourg, France for repairs. As everyone says, if you need something engineered and it deals with water, be sure to hire the Dutch! They had a video you could watch of this operation – quite an accomplishment indeed.
We read there was a farmer’s market at the Saumarez Mansion on the other side of the island so we hopped on a bus again to explore. In fact when we got there the market was
quite small, but we did some walking around the area before taking the bus back to the boat. They did have a sculpture garden with quite a few beautiful ones – there was one of a magnolia tree that was quite interesting but we decided that we weren’t in the market when we saw the price tag equal to $15,750. We decided it really wouldn’t fit in our garden in Greenwich anyway!
We celebrated the 4th
of July in Guernsey. We originally thought we would go to a concert that we saw advertised that evening in the Town Church, but in the afternoon we were invited over by Bob & Angela to their boat for tea and to go over pointers of places to see, where to anchor and just overall tips about sailing in southern UK. This worked out very nicely as we always like to pick up local knowledge. Luckily I had decided to make an apple pie that morning so I had something to take over to go with the tea. I hadn’t thought of it but when we were climbing off the boat, another British couple were wishing us a happy Independence Day – when
they saw the apple pie, they said “oh, how wonderfully American”. Needless to say when sailors get together to share ideas and stories it always takes longer than you think. By the time we got back to our boat it is was closer to bedtime, so figured the tea and pie was our dinner that night – still not too bad of a way to spend the 4th
of July! We did notice that the harbor had more than 1 American flag in it which was a surprise to us. We found out that many of the British boats were decked out with US flags as they were part of a British yacht club that has a sister club in the US. Some of the US members were visiting so they flew the flag in their honor. Quite nice to see we weren’t the only one flying a US flag that day.
With the weather finally being more like summer we decided to travel to the other side of the island to do some hiking. It was a beautiful day to walk along the coast – there were plenty of people out taking advantage of those numerous beaches and
outdoor cafes. W came across another Fort that was quite extensive, Fort Hommet which is located at the point near the beautiful Vazon Bay. Everywhere you walked you could see the older parts that had been built during Napoleonic times and the further fortications by the Germans during WWII. They had a German bunker that they had renovated and opened to the public. We had been in many destroyed bunkers, but this was the first one that was restored. It was amazing to see how complex the bunker was. It was not just a massive concrete structure, but it was fitted with a separate water supply, highly filtered air supply, all of which were heavily protected from outside attack. The bunker would have normally been manned by four or five men and one CO; however nine bunks were set up in case of extra crew being needed for prolonged action. It was completely self sufficient, but they even built in an escape hatch in case of an emergency. This casement was one of 21 bunkers built in Guernsey. Four were located at this location of Fort Hommet. These were part of a chain built along the west coast to defend
against beach landings. Hitler directed in October 1941 that the Channel Islands were to be converted to an impregnable fortress. In fact these were not built until 1943 which was when there was a railway that would reach this area with the vast amount of materials needed for the construction. These were built with external walls and roofs of 2 meters (over 6 feet) thick reinforced concrete. They would have taken only a few weeks to complete. The well known Hitler “Atlantic Wall” ran from northern Norway to the Spanish border and these installments on Guernsey were a part of that plan.
The fort itself was built in 1804 to defend the island from the French as the coast, but with it being in such a strategic location, the Germans integrated parts of this into their defense. The Germans added numerous searchlights and guns in order to help in their defense of this coastline. Fortunately for all, the island of Guernsey was sparred any battles even though they were occupied by the Germans for 5 years. While walking around the fort we talked to one of the workmen that is helping to maintain the structure. He mentioned that his
grandparents lived here during the time of the war. His grandmother and their children were evacuated to the UK, but his grandfather remained on the island. They owned a farm and the German’s moved in with him. He had to supply them with vegetables to eat and provide housing. His grandmother told the family that when they returned to Guernsey after the war, all of the floorboards from their upstairs were removed as the Germans had removed them in order to use as firewood. Fortunately none of his family had been harmed.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time exploring Guernsey and learning more of its history. Having a chance to see the rest of the island this time around was a definite bonus as it is an island of amazing beauty. It was however time to keep moving. The weather looked to be good for our next move across the English Channel to Dartmouth, UK. We wanted to try to go as far west as we could within a day sail as the winds typically are out of the west making movement in that direction more difficult. Everyone we have met keeps telling us how beautiful the southwest coast of
the UK is so we are taking their advice and moving in that direction.
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