These are the two principal entry ports into the waterways network for boats crossing the Channel from the English south coast. They are very different in character; each has its particular style and charm. Note that there is now (2011) an excellent mast un-stepping/re-stepping facility at Rouen. Travelling the tidal Seine mast-up is greatly to be preferred (there is no bridge headroom problem). See also general notes (foot of page).
Le Havre is France’s biggest ocean port. The central (docks) area was almost completely destroyed in 1944 and was then rebuilt in a coherent concrete-based style under the direction of the Belgian modernist architect Auguste Perret. Le Havre was awarded the Legion d’Honneur and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Le Havre doesn’t suit everyone but after having spent a few weeks there in 2008 we overturned our ‘boring, grey’ views in favour of genuine affection. The architecture just needs a little sunlight to make it sparkle, there are plenty of trees and boulevards, the most recent buildings are all eye-catching, terrific beaches (yes!), lots of facilities, France’s second biggest gallery of impressionist art and – of course – lots of cranes, docks, ships and all things maritime.
The marina (above left) is excellent (chandlery, workshops) and an easy walk into the city centre. A couple of points to bear in mind – 1) There are two marina areas: that closest to the entrance suffers most from the wash from ships and ferries entering and leaving the port. By the same token, the outermost pontoons also suffer worst. 2) The tidal rise and fall is substantial; all pontoons have adequate depth at low water, but the sight of all those boats surrounded by mud-banks is quite remarkable.
CNHM Boatyard – Stephan Reiset
CNHM (Chantier Naval Havre et Manche +33 (0)235 253 051) is/was a well-known yard run by Stephan Reiset. Stephan would unstep or restep your mast and will also arrange transport of it using Wolfgang Graf’s service ‘masttransport.de’.
However (April 2012) it appears highly likely that CNHM has closed – no signs of any activity at their premises – Rouen is now preferred.
The Wind Break
If you’ve got the time and inclination, try a visit to the amazing curved concrete wind-break at the end of Quai Mazeline in the central mole of Bassin Theophile Ducrocq. It was erected in 1950 to protect the repair dock behind, following the disastrous sinking in 1948 of the SS Liberte (SS Europa), one of the fastest transatlantic liners, within Le Havre harbour. She had been seized as war reparation and taken to Le Havre for refurbishment in 1946. During a storm, she broke free from her berth and drifted into the wreckage of the “SS Paris” nearby – and sank. She was refloated several months later and taken to St Nazaire for fitting out, during which she then caught fire.
Established by the Vikings, Honfleur is steeped in maritime and cultural history. The port is linked with the foundation of Quebec and was remodelled – the Vieux Bassin – in 1681. In more recent times the town was associated with the painters Boudin, Courbet and Monet; and the composer Erik Satie. The Vieux Bassin (the topmost photograph on this website page) must be one of the most picturesque harbours in Europe; it is however, often crowded with both boats and tourists.
The aerial photograph (top right) is marked with three yellow dots -
a) The outer ecluse, access from the Seine (see top left photo), located by the distinctive control tower. The ecluse is closed during Low Water, which is important to note for both access and exit. The deepest channel lies towards (but not hard by) the tower itself. Entering from the river at LW, the ecluse can appear intimidatingly high and the water ingress quite fast – be thoroughly prepared to manouevre and tie up. To take advantage of the Seine’s ‘rolling HW’ up the river to Rouen, it is necessary to pass out of the lock back into the river as early as possible after LW – take care not to ground on the shallows then.
b) The Vieux Bassin, access through the inner ecluse, open at set times.
c) Frederick Challe’s ‘TEC Ocean’ boatyard in the Bassin Carnot – +33 (0)231 895 589. To get there one has to pass – from the Outer Harbour (Avant Port) – through the opening bridges into the Bassin de l’Est and then into the Carnot. These bridges also open according to timetable (consult the harbour office in the tower house by the Vieux Bassin). The yard steps and unsteps many masts each year, they’re friendly and know what they’re doing – but they will expect you to be pretty clued-up too and to do all the preparation and ancillary work.