At last, Bertha gave up her reign on the Channel Islands and afforded us a weather window, which we promptly took, making a dash for St Malo, in France. It was a lovely four-hour crossing, with calm seas and wonderful visibility allowing us to spy France from roughly twelve miles offshore. On reaching St Malo, we approached the lock, which runs ten times every twenty-four hours. Having timed ourselves to perfection, we arrived in time for the last lock of the day at 1.30pm, before the evening locks began later. Having had the tide with us for much of the way, we had made good time, and arrived as the penultimate lock closed, the lock keeper promptly shutting the gates even though he could see us coming a mere hundred yards away, selfish man. No bother, we had the 1.30pm lock we had originally planned to get. Tying onto a waiting buoy we sat through the hour until the next lock.
1.30 came and we untied and headed over to the lock. Nothing happened. No green lights, no clunking gates opening. We waited for another ten minutes, with an English yacht, before realising that this is France, and English bureaucracy doesn’t apply here – it was a bank holiday, and the lock-keeper wanted his lunch, so actually there wouldn’t be a final 1.30 lock today, and we’d better wait until the 9pm one. Not that anyone told us this, we sheepishly retied onto the waiting buoy, made lunch and sulked.
At low tide a Frenchman in a small rib knocked on the window. Hanging onto our guardrails, he asked us in lilting English to please move off the buoy because he needed it. Peeking outside, we spied an old wooden yacht with many masts, packed with tourists, waiting to come onto the buoy. An anxious look at the depth gauge showed 1.5 metres under the keel, so we pulled off the buoy and drove into the shallower waters where the yacht couldn’t go, and actually we didn’t really want to go either. At it’s lowest, the depth came to 0.5 metres under the keel, which is a touch close to being grounded. Needless to say, we moored up safely on another buoy, and continued awaiting the lock.
By 9pm the small waiting area outside the lock was swamped with boats. Moored and bobbing around us were fourteen yachts and motors, all waiting for the lock. Now as we all know, the queue is a very British thing, which the French don’t abide, and when the lights went green, there was a scrum for us to enter the lock. Piling in with the best of them, Patience glided in, the two sides of this huge lock looming up alarmingly. In our hometown port of Chichester, the lock can fit four small boats, while Patience takes up the entire lock. This lock easily held the fourteen, some of which were longer than our 15 metres, and could have comfortably held double that many again.
Peering up the twenty-foot walls, the French lock keeper threw down a small rope, to which I hastily tied a sheetbend knot, attaching my line to his, which he then hauled up and tied off, leaving me to pull in the slack as the water rose.
Eventually, we were through the lock, and we came in to St Malo’s harbour in the dusky twilight to delicious smells and the sounds of choir singing in an evening procession. Rafting alongside a French motorboat, the owner came out, batting the air, indicating for us to move off. Embarrassed, we tried to explain the harbour master’s instructions for us to raft alongside, at which she begrudgingly took our lines. Once settled we tiptoed over the French boat, worried they might hack our lines while we were asleep, and walked a hundred yards to the main street, where at 10pm, the restaurants were buzzing with people and live music. It was a lovely day, topped by a beautiful entrance (if stressful) into St Malo. For the foodie continuance of this story, head over to Little Crick’s Big Appetite to read about our first taste of French cuisine! Happy days.