I took the boat out yesterday at Les Petites Dalles (cf. A Sense of Wonder. Yes I have been there before), and took a few photos, which I could not yet do the last time. I would have liked to sail to Saint-Pierre-en-Port to the west, but the tide and wind were unfavourable for getting back. I sailed east towards Veulettes-sur-Mer and then went out to sea to get some better views.
This is Les Petites Dalles. The petites is a bigger village than the grandes! I had forgotten the beastly steep shingled beach, which makes for big waves at high tide. The cliffs at this part of the Côte d’Albâtre are majestic.
I was just a few hundred yards away from the cliff. Here is a place where there has been a recent collapse, going by the huge pile of pulverised chalk and flint not yet eroded by the merciless sea. These cliffs are receding each year, and many houses on the cliff tops have to be abandoned as too dangerous. No one in his right mind walks under these cliffs!
As I sailed out to sea on a beam reach, I saw the conditions becoming more gloomy and autumnal. The two gaps in the cliff are Les Petites Dalles and Les Grandes Dalles. The headland to the right (west) hides Saint-Pierre-en-Port.
This last one was taken a couple of weeks ago near Barfleur a little way to the south of the Gatteville lighthouse and to the east of Cherbourg. It is a favourite spot for weekends and days off, not too far away from home and very unspoilt. This is a lug rigged fishing boat, and apparently still doing its job. There are quite a few of these “old rig” boats around the coasts of France, and there is a revival, both for semi-professional fishing and pleasure.
Sailing in a dinghy or any small open boat is so much more flexible for exploring coastal waters than a deep-keeled yacht. I have often dreamt of having a yacht, albeit one of no more than twenty-five feet, but lack of money for mooring and maintenance has put paid to that idea. I say so thankfully, because the dinghy offers so much more. It is its own tender, and it is possible to beach the boat almost anywhere, inaccessible to yachts. However, a dinghy is limited and cannot cross seas and oceans. If I want to sail in England, I just hitch up the boat on its trailer and get on the car ferry! Then I can “do” the coasts over there. I would in time like a bigger and more seaworthy boat, but that has to wait for the time being.
I have often written about the sea as the last area of freedom for the man who learns to sail a boat and takes the necessary safety precautions. It is a place a mystery that speaks more of God than any treatise on theology. The depths are less known than the back side of the moon. The sea and inaccessible parts of our coasts are where we can find nature with no more disturbance from man than a single, silent, non-polluting sailing boat. The sea still offers peace and freedom to those of us who learn to handle a boat and navigate.
Seeing the land from the sea is a rare privilege, available only to those of us who board a ship or sail our own boats. The cross-Channel ferry is a vast stinky and noisy machine that bellows out diesel exhaust, but the views of the land are breathtaking. Most people stay in the bars, restaurants and shops like the town dwellers they are. Only a few go out on deck – the cigarette smokers and the lovers of the sea. If you go to the weather side, you can avoid the smoke and the nicotine from the Polish lorry drivers! On the other hand, the land might be on the lee side, and you might have the luck to be upwind from the smokers! On your own boat, the rules are different – no engine and no people who have no business being at sea.
Navigating is one thing that man has done throughout his long history, whether for food, trade or the quest for liberty. Boats also bring men (and women too) together in peace around a common understanding of another dimension in life. It is different from stamp collectors or people who are enthusiastic about motor cars or aircraft. Boats take us back to the dawn of civilisation and along the timeline of our history.
When I first attended sailing school, it was all about racing and modern high-performance boats. I only discovered dinghy cruising as I went along. I just began to sail along the coast and explore, and then found out that other people did it too. There are dinghy cruising associations in many countries and men writing books about this revival of the open boat, especially the reproductions of the fishing luggers of old. I am grateful for the racing training I had and being desensitised from the “trauma” of capsizing. One learns to “self-rescue” and cope with any problem so that someone else doesn’t have to risk his neck to rescue you. Again, I warmly recommend the The Dinghy Cruising Companion by Roger Barnes. This book is smaller and lighter than Le Cours des Glénans, reckoned to be the bible of sailing, but so much fuller of common sense, experience and humanity.
This is the big difference of outlook on the world between the Romantic and the Modern.