Instructions were simple… bring an interesting hat, a joke, and an NYC burgee, and meet in Alderney on the evening of the 20th. This imposed a notoriously challenging start from the Solent with the prevailing South West winds. The fleet comprised Chesterton and Navy Blues, Sea Dragon and Samollu, the gleaming Malaika, and Favorita. The smart ones headed out early, and were happily ensconced in Braye at least a day before the allotted time. The rest headed down to the Western Solent on Friday night, and set off early Saturday morning, into a freshening South Westerly… hmmm.

It was bumping and on the nose, but going well until the tide turned .. slowly our Easting increased and the chances of making Alderney diminished. Malaika was first to crack (off) followed by the redoubtable Navy Blues … they both headed into Cherbourg. Fav put their heads down, and their engine on… and made 2.5 knots towards the destination… Pig-headed, maybe, but Samollu appreciated the effort with a resounding fog horn welcome when they finally made it into Braye.

The fleet was being kept together by WhatsAp … a social media system that Debby (Samollu) had set up. Photos of feasts in Cherbourg were balanced by sunrise photos in Braye harbour, and a lot of encouraging chatter. We all agreed to meet up in St Helier on the Sunday evening.

Sunday was one of the best days sailing that Barney could remember. Clean steady wind from the SW giving a single tack past Sark, and a clear blue sky kept the sunblock busy. They stayed ahead of the Braye fleet, as they all (oddly) chose to take the Swinge, and lost about 15 degrees on the course? Various tactics were used, most involved diesel, but one dogged, grey sailed, boat kept hunting us down. Malaika, storming down from Cherbourg, leading Navy Blues, fought us to the Corbiere and the fleet were together along the South coast of Jersey.

Jersey Marina did us proud, with a reserved section of the waiting pontoon and a healthy discount. Sea Dragon seemed keen to improve storage space onboard, as every boat was greeted with opened, cold bottles of beer for each crew! We celebrated our togetherness with an amazing seafood meal “inside” the Quayside Brasserie… no blankets required!

The Monday saw us head out for St Malo. We chose to go West of the Minquiers and found an amazing wind again The sky was summer blue and the wind freed us as we cleared the Brisant Du Sud, and headed up towards the entrance channel. Navy Blues flew every sail they could find to try and keep up, but yet again Malaika stormed past; pointing higher and faster in the perfect conditions.

Chesterton, desperate for a beach to keep Ron happy, had decided to visit the Isles Chausey and had headed East from Jersey. They entertained us with the most beautiful pictures of the anchorage and beach, to prove they made it, and joined us the next day in St Malo.

Two events punctuated the day. One involved an intimate encounter with a French fishing float, and the other a shoe-overboard drill. Luckily both had satisfactory conclusions.

The reduced fleet again stayed pretty much together, and all took the same lock into the Basin Vauban. For those that do not know, this puts you right at the side of the old city wall. St Malo .. the Corsair City …. absolutely magical.

We all had a lay day messing about in St Malo. Some took to bikes in search of beer and beaches, some polished boats, some actually did some paid work .. and most had a good nose around the old city. We met up for a beer in the “freaky” bar and then all ate together in the old town .. a fabulous and reasonable meal. It was the night of the “interesting hats” .. won by Debby on Samollu with a hedgehog tea cosy .. although Sara ran her a close second with the film star look!

Wednesday dawned with pretty thick fog. Chesterton were staying in St Malo, while the rest were heading to St Quay Portrieux. We locked out together and motored all the way in convoy. The visibility was poor to say the least, but the hardest part of the trip was avoiding a French team of Foggy, Cleg and Compo in a small, highly powered, fishing boat. Depleted diesel tanks saw us safely into St Quay-Portrieux just as the sun burned off the fog. Here we had another lay day, resulting in Samollu issuing sunglasses to all who gazed on her after Phil’s polishing. Lori and Barney found a magical beach bar with beer, moules, and chips… heaven!

That evening we set up a Safari supper with one course per boat. Samollu set the pace with the most amazing array of hors d’ouves, followed by Malaika with a opener of a range of tapas. Sea Dragon followed with more tapas (the frittata was amazing), and we then had all eleven below on Navy Blues for strawberries and meringue. The closing party on Favorita was relatively well behaved .. everyone was so full!! This was joke night, and to be frank not many were memorable .. or was that the wine? No prizes won, as I still find Rob Crispin’s joke about the man, the dog, and the funeral procession the best…

We headed back for St Peter Port on Guernsey for the last supper on Friday. Sadly Samollu (of no fixed abode) was bound back to St Malo, but happily Chesterton were to re-join, having stayed in St Malo and then gone straight to Guernsey.

Navy Blues left a little early and the rest set off together and remained in sight. We had another cracking sail on the wind, just nipping ahead of the Roche Douvres and fetching the South coast of Guernsey as the tide set East. A tacking duel with Malaika ensued which Favorita predictably lost (that boat sails like a witch!) .. however we suddenly found ourselves ahead! Malaika had ‘issues’ that seemed in danger of turning into more. The wind had died and so had their engine. It seems Andy was unfamiliar with concept of fuel, gauges, and heeling boats… they had an air block in the fuel line and very little fuel ! Favorita agreed to tow them in, but there was much scratching of hins around the fleet, and many mentions of a father’s brother called Albert?

Both Favorita and Malaika were directed to a Northerly pontoon, not connected to shore. Barney is always nervous of depth, drawing 2.7m, and Malaika was not much better drawing 2.4m,. so they asked the harbour master. That evening was an extremely low spring tide, and the harbour master made a few calls and confirmed 3.5m at low water. Echo sounders confirmed his view, but none had counted on the Easterly wind.

We all met at La Perla for a fab final meal. Speeches were made and awards evenly distributed. Samollu had already received the French Fishing Buoy award to remind them what to look out for. Bill received a single magnetic shoe, which seemed appropriate. Sea Dragon had the Bretton Cidre cup in recognition of magnificent hospitality, and Malaika the smiling pirate for their permanent grins about how well Malaika sails… Chesterton won the beach spade for their sandcastles on Chausey, and Mike on Navy blues won a Brittany courtesy flag to encourage more long trips. But, the major award for bravery and stoicism on the high seas was unanimously won by Sara …… a pirate flag on a stick!! What a star she had been!!

Malaika awoke at 00:30 hard aground outside Favourita, with Fav touching ground within half an hour. There was still a further 90 minutes of falling tide. Luckily Malaika leant away from Fav, who managed not to lean on them. With a long fender watch through the night ,no damage was done – but little sleep was had. Andy and Jane had to abandon to Favorita, and Andy had to use climbing techniques to check over their still gleaming boat. Further up the same pontoon, Navy Blues was inside two other boats… all hard aground but not leaning so far … and beyond them two French yachts had their masts knitted together. It was a disaster.

We sorted ourselves out the next day, and talked things through with the harbour master. The issue was clearly the extent of lateral movement of the whole pontoon set up, with so large a tidal drop and the unusual wind direction ….. we all live and learn.

The team broke up and started to leave. Chesterton had already gone, as we were struggling with the grounded boats. Navy Blues headed North the next day, followed by Sea Dragon that evening. Malaika waited for a freeing wind, and Favorita had another week of holiday fun …

This had been a long-legged and challenging cruise, with a few decent lay days in between. The weather had been exceptional (apart from one foggy day), and the only serious damage appears to have been to pride ….. mostly Barney’s … at the ease with which Malaika sails past me ….. maybe we’ll catch ‘em next year .. ahhahh …. (talk like a real Corsair) …..

20th-29th May 2017