Estuaries are funny place to sail, because you have to be careful of the tidal current and the current of the river flowing into the sea. If you don’t know what you’re doing, they can be dangerous. You can’t sail against a tidal current in an estuary, so you have to plan and sail with the current.
I found pleasant conditions – about 12 knots east-south-east, but the forecast warned of heavy cloud cover, rain showers and gusts. Hmmm. Gusts can be survived – just let out your mainsheet and jib and steer to the wind. The boat becomes wildly unstable and rocks like a bucking bronco, but you don’t capsize. Wait out the gust and then haul in your sails and carry on.
The outward trip from Honfleur to the moment of beaching at Le Havre took only one and a quarter hours, mostly in a broad reach. I arrive three quarters of an hour before the turn of the tide. I was going with the tidal current plus the flow of the river increased by two days of rain – which I forgot to take into account, and which would make my return “hairy”. There was the added hazard of ships, but they go very slowly, and it is quite easy to judge whether the ship and my boat are converging – and there is plenty of time to tack or heave to, or just carry on.
I left Le Havre about about 12 noon. What little was left of the tidal current would push me slightly out to sea and I was beating, so it was just a matter of crossing the estuary and being close to the beach to escape the river current. About an hour after low tide, I started to get a little help from the rising tidal current. The two currents against each other caused a lot of turbulence in the water, and the waves went in all directions. It was hard to keep forward speed up.
My greatest friend was the fresh wind and the gusts that made it possible to sail closer to the wind and wind more in terms of course. The cruise took six hours. A friendly Coast Guard helicopter flew over me several times, keeping watch over such a small dinghy in such a big sea. I didn’t have a Coast Guard boat saying that I wasn’t allowed to do what I was doing. I suppose the helicopter pilot just said – Well it’s his problem. He seems to be doing OK.
This was my biggest stunt – nothing on the Jack de Crow or Captain Blighe making it to East Timor in the Bounty‘s 20-foot shallop, but it gave me a taste for adventure with minimal risk.
I’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight!