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The longest day

Our next stage starts in Caen, a few days after the mid summer solstice but to make use of the literary reference I have cheated a little!

This is a city deeply embedded in English history. It was the home and French capital of William the Conqueror, where he built a grand castle and two abbeys. Like Winchester Williams first English capital it fell into a slow and genteel decline over the next millenium until in June 1944 it become the focus of attention of the Allied Operation Overlord, invasion forces. Caen was at the epicentre of some of the most ferocious fighting of the Battle of Normandy. It was supposed to fall towards the end of D-Day 6th June, however it took a further month for the allies to secure the town completely, with devastating effects on its population, urban fabric and the rich medieval heritage. The city has been rebuilt and restored and there is much to see here.

Getting out of Caen/Ouistreham is a challenge. The canal bridges, including the famous Pegasus Bridge, only open during the day but the lock times are dictated by the tides. So on the first day we will traverse the canal in the afternoon and spend the night tied up just inside the locks ready for an early morning exit. We then have plenty of time to explore the D Day beaches of Sword, Juno and Gold as well as anchoring in the Mulburry Harbour at Arramanche; weather permitting! Low tide is around lunch time so if the weather is clement we may be able to 'attack' the beach for ourselves and dry out on one of the famous landing places. We should enter our next stop, Port en Bessin, traditional fishing port, about mid afternoon.

We currently plan to stay in Bessin for a day to give everyone time to take the short bus ride to Bayeux, a chance to see the famous Tapestry depicting William's invasion of England in 1066. There is also a very impressive cathedral originally built by Bishop Odo, one of William's key advisors and the patron of the tapestry, and pimped up in the high gothic style by later incumbents.

From Bessin we head north past the infamous Omaha and Utah beaches to the pretty port of St. Vaast la Hougue. It's famous oysters have been off sale for a while due to disease but there are plenty of other delights to be sampled here. The tide times mean we cannot enter the harbour until 18:30 so we may anchor off and run ashore in Boo, our tender.

Our last day's sail is from St Vaast, north to Pointe de Barfleur, the western corner of the Baie de la Seine, and back into the Channel proper. The tides here can be ferocious and cause strong overfalls inshore so careful timing and a wide berth are called for. With the right tide we can cover over 8 knots over the ground getting us Cherbourg, the final port of this stage in under 4 hours, to berth in the centre of town on Quay Alexandre III.

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