Etretat and Fecamp

For a long time, I have wanted to sail at Etretat, a coastal town some way to the west of Fécamp. What is most famous about this place is this (not my photo):

etretat-needleIt is a collection of parts of the cliff that have not yet collapsed, but have been eroded by the sea. These are obviously harder pieces of chalk and flint. This cliff formation attracts many tourists and it figures in the film Arsène Lupin as the place where the treasures of Louis XVI would have been hidden (in the needle connected to the mainland by a secret tunnel).

Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to launch a boat from the beach today due to substantial breaking waves and the wind exactly perpendicular to the beach. You can’t fall off the wind without being beaten back onto the beach by the waves, and probably having the boat broached, rolled over and the mast and rigging broken. I didn’t even try it. The weather was beautiful today after several weeks of rain and high winds. The wind was about ten knots and a dozen in the gusts, but the old westerly swell from the Atlantic persisted, combining with the chop from the north-east and a brisk tidal current. Below, the beach of Etretat looking east with the mariners’ chapel up on the cliff. The fishing boats are pulled up onto the beach and tied up.

sail20140514_01You can just about see the “flying buttress” and the “needle” at the end of this majestic cliff.

sail20140514_02Here the camera is pointing into the north-east wind. It was nearly high tide.

sail20140514_03After taking these photos, the choice was to give up and go home or sail out of a port. I therefore went to Fécamp and launched my boat from the sheltered slipway. I could then run before the wind, turn to port and go into a beam reach and then tack to get out of the port. The port entrance is quite narrow like Saint Valéry en Caux, so I would come about at the very last moment before touching the wall. Some nice gusts enabled me to point up better and get out of the port with fewer tacks – quite energetic exercise.

sail20140514_04There is the port-side jetty (with the red light), and the sea is quite choppy, waves all over the place and from all directions. It was quite a little maelstrom and I shipped quite a lot of water. That calmed as I headed east in the direction of the rising tide, about to arrive at high tide. I then hove-to for photos.

sail20140514_05This is the cliff looking east towards Saint Pierre en Port, Les Grandes Dalles and Les Petites Dalles. Beyond the far headland is Veulettes sur Mer.

sail20140514_06Turning around in the boat I photographed the coast to the west of Fécamp. The little port is Yport and the distant headland is Etretat, where I regretted not being able to sail today. There will be another day…

sail20140514_07There are two old fishing boats  at Fécamp belonging to associations. They have a a skipper and two crewmen, quite enough for that cutter-ketch rig. These old boats take paying passengers for excursions and are also used to take young people in difficulty sailing, a true humanitarian vocation. This boat here is the former lobster boat Michel & Patrick, nicknamed Mil’Pat. I was surprised to see the reefed mainsail in such a light wind, but it is because the mainsail is old and the clew point is broken. This boat has a powerful diesel engine, but was doing quite well under sail with the two jibs. I say in all modesty that I was faster than Mil’Pat when I followed her in a full reach!


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