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For those who love pilotage and navigation challenges, the Channel Islands and nearby France is heaven (10/10), especially if your vessel can take the ground, since this allows many drying anchorages to be used. Within a day sail of most places there's a good choice of destinations in all directions; lively or quiet, French or English, marina or anchorage. Enough to keep you occupied for a good two weeks or more. But unless you're a fast vessel (over 10kts?) you must "go with the flow", and that often means rising in the early hours to catch the tides.
The area is swept with strong tidal streams - up to 4kts at springs, with twice that in some places. This dominates passage planning. Plan conservative offsets to avoid being set down tide of your target, or up-tide of hazards. Spring tide ranges peak around 12m in the corners, so a wide and accessible channel at high water becomes completely different (rock encumbered) at low water. Many ports are inaccessible below half tide.
See Channel Overall for information which applies to all Channel regions.
Hazards are many. There are patches of overfalls. Bad visibility occurs about 10% of the time. Plateaux of small islands and rocks routinely extend up to 5nm offshore. They are well marked, so are main channels into harbours. The Channel Islands use some idiosyncratic beacons, in addition to IALA standard marks. GPS, with properly set waypoints, a route plan and a screen indication of your position relative to that plan should enable you to approach most ports in poor visibility. However, entrances subject to rapidly changing cross tides may call for course changes of 20 to 30 degrees to stay on track. These are best piloted using visual transits. Secondary entrances and passages are narrow and can be very exciting below half tide, and should only be tackled by those with plenty of expertise in visual pilotage - forget GPS, except to check you've entered at the right point!
The islands and coasts are very attractive, quite lightly populated, with many lovely beaches - a great reward for the challenging pilotage. The small towns of Brittany are enchanting, with lovely old architecture and half timbered buildings. They're generally at the head of long, attractive estuaries, and you should make a point of visiting as many as possible. The whole area is geared to summer holidays. French holiday makers are thick on the ground for July and August, when cafés, restaurants and bars are open in the smallest places. Outside this time small French resorts are very quiet, with many facilities closed.
Marinas are conveniently spaced along the coasts, and cope with busy transient yacht traffic. Many beaches are suitable for anchoring off, sheltered by headlands or surrounding islets. Secure anchoring in reversing tidal streams calls for mooring with two anchors - one up tide, and one down tide, and big scopes to cope with the tidal range.
For pilotage detail of most harbours in this area, go to http://www.digimap.gg/marine/marinas/
The Islands offer a wide variety of experiences, from anchorages in remote rocky archipelagos (the Ecrehous, The Minquiers) to marinas in the centre of lively holiday towns (St Peter Port, St Helier); or anchorages off other-worldly islands where horse, bicycle or foot are the main means of transport (Sark, Herm). The whole experience is dominated by the change of seascape as the tide ebbs and flows. Good, free information is available for visiting yachtsmen in English and French, giving pilotage hints, outlining all yacht services available, and listing attractions. And yes, although they mostly speak English, food is much closer to the French style. Don't miss the ready boiled fresh lobsters from St Helier market, cheap compared any restaurant offering, and a great take-away meal for the yacht on a sunny day. Add a bottle of Chablis . . . and don't forget that your French neighbour's time is likely to be 1 hour out, so his "4am departure" may well be your 3am.
The Channel Islands (CI) without VAT or duty, are popular spots for picking up limited "duty free" goods. They are British Crown dependencies, outside the EU, and outsde the EU VAT area, but part of the EU customs union (puzzle that one out!). When planning to leave the EU from UK (ie, going to the CI) skippers should fill in UK customs form C 1331.
Inbound. Entering the Bailiwick of Guernsey (Alderney, Guernsey, Herm and Sark) requires customs clearance (Q flags and forms). Also, only private medical care is available in the Bailiwick. Jersey is more relaxed, has a reciprocal health care agreement with UK (bring your EHIC) and only requires arrivals from outside the EEA (European Economic Area - think EU plus Norway) or with non-EEA nationals aboard to clear customs.
Outbound. If you enter UK territorial waters from CI you're required to hoist your Q flag and call HMRC Yachtline (0845 723 1110) . After a couple of questions you'll be given instructions - either cleared by phone, or where to drop C1331-2, or (rarely) where to meet customs. The French don't bother with reporting entry from CI, and if your last port of call before arriving UK was in France, there's no need to notify UK customs.
Braye Harbour is a favourite first port of call after crossing the Channel. It's available at all states of tide, but exposed to the NW. Tidal streams on the approach are sometimes faster than small cruisers can sail, so large offsets may be needed to avoid the many offshore rocks and ensure you're not swept past. Moor up on the yellow visitor's buoys, or anchor. Dinghy ashore or water taxi, report to customs if you've come from France or UK, then enjoy your pint at a busy harbour pub or the yacht club. Yacht services on the quayside. This is a small island, population about 2,500. It's only half a (nautical) mile up the hill to the narrow cobbled streets, shops and restaurants of St Annes. Some quiet, fair weather anchorages around the island, depending on wind direction. This is the most quiet and British of the Channel Islands, least affected by tourism. More about Alderney.
St Peter Port is another favourite first port of call after crossing the Channel. The usual caveats about navigating in strong tidal streams around rock bound coasts apply. Pontoons outside Victoria Marina (the visitor's marina, tidal) accept visitors at all hours. This is a very busy port in summer and at weekends, with yachts rafted many abreast on pontoons, at times jostling each other in the crush to leave or enter the marina. Add a few dorys whizzing around and there's not a lot of peace and quiet. A free Visiting Yachtsman's Guide (big download) to the island is available. The town itself is attractive, and has a lively holiday scene, well suited to young crews who enjoy a night out. Older crews seeking tranquility should perhaps seek out Beaucette marina, on the NE corner of the island. Attractions for visitors include a Shipwreck Museum on the west coast, and a fascinating German Occupation Museum near the airport - recording daily life during the second world war. There are attractive day anchorages off the SE corner which are reasonably accessible. Others around the coast call for local knowledge. Day trips to Herm and Sark anchorages are very rewarding.
Herm. Herm (part of Guernsey) is less than 3nm from Peter Port, has no cars, stunning beaches, few people, a couple of anchorages and a drying harbour. Also a few exciting passages through the rocks for dedicated rock dodgers. A great day visit.
Sark. Sark (also a bit of Guernsey) is car free; great exercise for the 600 strong population. This other-worldly feudal outpost of the western world has a rugged and deeply indented coastline. Some indents have moorings for visitors, which provide reasonable shelter for overnight stays in settled weather. There's sometimes room in the small drying harbour. It's a stiff climb to reach any civilisation, but the cliff top walks are worth it. (more)
Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands. It's outside the EU, but has a reciprocal health agreement with UK (bring your EHIC). Its capital, St Helier, surrounds a well run town centre marina which hosts short term visitors. A waiting pontoon is open at all states of the tide; the marina is open at half tide or above. A maritime museum, restaurants and bars are nearby. This is a civilised spot to spend a day or three, especially if you enjoy seafood, with many good restaurants to choose from. There are further drying harbours at St Aubin and Gorey, both attractive stops. Gorey also has two, slightly exposed, deep water moorings for visitors. And, whatever the wind direction, there are attractive anchorages off beaches around the island, most backed with good restaurants. 10m tidal range at springs calls for lots of chain when anchoring over a tide! (more)
Les Ecréhous. These are a group of tiny islets, some with fishermen's cottages. A small anchorage with a fairly challenging approach is probably best sampled at neap tides first time around. Part of Jersey, about 7nm NE of Gorey. (more)
Les Minquiers. "The Minkies" are an almost completely tidal plateau of rocks, popular with fishermen catching lobster and crab. Part of Jersey, 12nm S of St Helier. The southernmost outcrop if the British Isles. (more)
From the east, The following are significant French harbours around the Cherbourg Peninsula and within an easy day sail of the various Channel Islands.
St Vaast, on the east of the Cherbourg peninsula. A lively fishing port, busy with restaurants and cafés, a maritime museum on the small offshore island, and a marina with visitor's berths accessible only above half tide. (a bit more)
Cherbourg is a major port, easy to enter in any conditions, and a favourite first port of call after crossing the channel. Well sheltered berths for visiting yachts in Port Chantereyne marina. In high season a busy harbour master boat will direct you to a berth. An easy destination for a first channel crossing. Ferries to UK.
Granville, a small commercial and fishing port which is also a popular holiday resort. Marina with visitor's berths available above half tide. Massive tidal range of 11m at mean high water springs. (more)
Îles Chausey is a beautiful (French) archipelago of granite rocks and and islets, a popular summer anchorage with some moorings off Grande Île.(more)
St Malo is a "must visit". Wander around the old citadel, a massive stone fortress, rebuilt in its original style after serious war damage. It's always busy with tourists and has many (rather expensive) restaurants and cafés to serve visitors. Top of the range, but good quality, is 'Duchesse Anne', just inside the Porte St Vincent on the left. Book: 02.99.40.85.33, and be prepared to pay over €50 a head. Otherwise, for value, look outside the citadel! Visitors first have to find their way through 3nm of rock encumbered approaches. There is good berthing close to the old citadel through a lock at Bassin Vauban; further away, 20 min walk from the citadel, is Sablons. Main channels are well marked, while minor channels add interest for confirmed rock dodgers. Ferries to Plymouth.
La Rance. Shallower draft vessels can lock into the tidal barrage enclosing "La Rance" (more), maybe to stay at Plouer marina (more) before going through Lyvet/Chatelier lock into the non-tidal river, availbale to craft with less than <1.5m draft. This leads to Dinan, a "must visit". Dinan's old half timbered streets are a favourite filming location for mediaeval costume dramas. Beyond the town is an inland waterway: ICC and CEVNI will be required, <1.2m draft, and 2.5m air draft.
St Cast. This large and useful marina can be approached at all states of the tide. The nearby town has a good beach and plenty of restaurants.
St Brieuc A long muddy drying channel to this locked in marina
Binic about a mile of drying approach to the lock.
St-Quay-Portrieux is another large and useful marina which can be entered at all states of the tide. A plateaux of rocks ½nm off shore is well marked and easily avoided.
Paimpol, a small town only approachable above half tide. Marina with wet basin.
Île de Brehat. A pretty offshore island guarding the entrance the Trieux river, popular with day trippers. A couple of anchorages, best used in neap tides, and a well sheltered drying anchorage for those who can dry out.
Lézardrieux/Pontrieux. The Trieux river is navigable at all tides to Lézardrieux marina. Views of the rocks surrounding the outer entrance are dramatic at low water. The 7nm inland from Brehat is well sheltered and beautiful, with anchoring possibilities en route. The village is small with limited facilities. Beyond Lézardrieux, under the bridge (28m over chart datum) Pontrieux lock can be reached at high tide. Pontrieux village is very pretty.
Tréguier is a lovely half timbered town on a long river estuary about 7nm inland of the outermost rocks. The cathedral and it's square on the hill above is a delight. Look out for the simple but excellent fish restaurant in Rue Ernest Renan - 'La Poissonerie de Trégor'. It's just above the fish shop - very good value. Cross tides make the marina daunting to approach in anything other than slack tide.
Port Blanc is an easily entered anchorage sheltered by a pretty archipelago of granite rocks and white sand. Moorings available, and vessels which can dry out can use a well sheltered inner anchorage. The village is quiet outside July and August.
Reviewed Jan 2015