Saturday, 15 August 2015

Arromanches!

We woke on Friday to an unpromising forecast - head winds - but once we got out of the harbour at Le Havre Dave and I found a moderate Southerly wind. My original plan had been to stop at Ouistreham but when we got there we were doing over 6 knots with all sail up including our large reaching jib. We were going so well we decided to carry on and by midday we were off Arromanches-les-Bains

This little Normandy town is the site of the Mulberry B harbour which was, for a few months in 1944, the busiest harbour in the world. This remarkable harbour was assembled from prefabricated sections and towed across the Channel immediately after D-day to provide the flow of troops and materials needed to support the liberation of France and defeat of Nazi Germany. The Allies took three months to get out of Normandy and the supply lines through Mulberry were crucial to sustaining this effort. 

Bonita with the Phoenix breakwater caissons at Mulberry B
Today the remnants of the harbour consist mainly of an outer semicircle of huge concrete caissons that formed the
outer harbour wall. Sadly the harbour no longer provides any shelter from the weather but the large quantity of wreckage make entering it and moving about hazardous. My father, Allan Beckett, was here in 1944 on the second day after D Day. He designed the floating roadway, codenamed 'Whale', and the Kite anchors that secured them and he then supervised their assembly here at Mulberry B which is now called 'Port Winston'.  The floating roadways allowed rapid unloading of tanks and lorries inside the harbour. There are several preserved sections of Whale roadway ashore and a replica Kite anchor sits atop a fine monument that the French have erected to my father close to the beach. 

We have been to Arromanches a number of times before for events associated with commemorating Dad's work; however we have never visited by sea before or had the opportunity to see the Mulberry caissons close up. This was Bonita's first ever visit to Mulberry harbour.

Bonita with the town of Arromanches in the background
We threaded our way carefully through the remains of the entrance channel and anchored in 8m water.  There is of course the risk of losing the anchor if it becomes entangled with some of the many pieces of wreckage here.    We would liked to have gone ashore but sadly this didn't seem like a good idea. The beach is very flat so we had to anchor almost half a mile offshore. Also a strong NW wind was forecast and black clouds were gathering. The whole anchorage is very exposed to winds from this sector.

We had lunch and I rowed around taking pictures to record the momentous occasion.

At about 4pm there was a tremendous rain squall with a strong NW wind. As soon as visibility had improved a bit we got the anchor up and set out to sea. It was blowing very hard and even with a fully reefed main Bonita was going too fast with lots of solid water on deck and plenty of wet down below as well.  So we dropped the mainsail altogether and carried on under mizzen, staysail and jib. She was much more comfortable under this rig and was going almost as fast. We carried on like this overnight and with daylight the wind moderated and eventually shifted to the SW.  We saw the unmistakable shape of Beachy Head ahead and by 3pm we were tied up in Brighton marina.

More details on Allan Beckett's work on Mulberry Harbour can be found here.