Skysail Training


Cross Channel Passage Plan -  Solent to Cherbourg  or Alderney

Let's assume you will travel from the Solent or Poole, though this process works well from Weymouth and even Brixham and Dartmouth if you can make 6 knots.

Conveniently, it is 60 miles from the Needles Fairway buoy to Cherbourg, so at 5 knots it will take 12 hours.  It is not hard to use other speeds and times

Do not work out a course to steer for every hour.  The easy way is to Reeve-Fowkes Manual of Tides for the Central or Western Channel:

See here for more detail on a course to steer for several hours of tide:   Tide Planning


The Reeve Fowkes atlas gives you the average tide for each hour before/after High Water, and you find the actual speed by applying the height of HW at Cherbourg to a look up table, so there is no need for Computation of Rates.

Find the tide (east or west going) for each hour of the passage, using HW Cherbourg as the reference port: Cherbourg tide card 2011.pdf   

Assume the tide is at right angles to your Course over the Ground.  Add up the west and east going columns, and subtract one from the other.  This gives the net tide for your Course to Steer for a 5 knot boat speed.

My priorities….

If leaving early, get rested beforehand.  Leaving late at night after work is better avoided for novices.

Brief the crew on the boat and the passage plan. Check lights, fuel, water etc.

Food and drink prepared.

Lobster pot marker buoys – in Solent, Needles channel, Bembridge Ledge and beyond, W Princessa shoal, in Cherbourg Harbour entrances. Keep a sharp lookout.

Keep the crew occupied. Watch out for seasickness.

Have a watch system, particularly for the Skipper. You will be handling the harbour entrance and mooring after 15 hours.

Listen to the VHF for weather and navigation warnings. Advise Solent Coastguard of your departure, they will want name of boat, call sign, port of departure, ETA, number of crew on board. Call Solent CG when you can on return passage.

Shipping lanes: it is not a TSS, but the ships are there  – you don’t have to cross on a right angle heading, but it gives better visibility. Otherwise you are looking over your quarter. Use the hand-bearing compass, it works. The bearing of the target only changes significantly over the last mile or so. Get in close and cross close behind. Show the ship you have seen them.

Make your landfall up tide of Cherbourg. The tides are very strong off the entrance.  Work out the net tide East/West over 12 hours. You have two entries to aim at.
If you can, steer slightly upwind – if the wind heads you, you lose less.

Watch for ferries aft as you enter the harbour, and more lobster pots. Plan the entrance, particularly at night, when fishing boats can be busy.  There is room in the inner harbour to furl sails and rig fenders and warps.

Also plan  pilotage for return passage. Your main choice is the Needles or Bembridge; the Needles is time critical for a favourable tide.

Don’t get pressured if the weather deteriorates for the return.

Have a sharp knife available, there are ropes and nets floating out there.

If motoring, don’t leave the helm, get the engine in neutral at the first sound of a rope round the prop. (Brief the crew on this). Grease the stern tube as necessary. Enjoy it!


Cherbourg is one of the easiest places to get into. Keep an eye open for ferries arriving and departing, they use both east and west entrances; make sure you pass west of the port buoy near the inner harbour entrance, it marks the end of a reef that sticks out, then head straight for the marina just west of the big Gare Maritime building.

Again watch for the ferries, their berths are just east of the Gare Maritime building. Marina visitor berths are the first 3 from east, clearly marked 'Visiteurs', pontoons N, P, Q , largest boats go to the east pontoons.  Access to the marina is at all times, no sill or anything, and plenty of water. There is also a waiting pontoon as you enter in case everywhere is full. 

Cherbourg pontoons are very short, get the fenders on the fore part of the boat. You may find a hoop on the end of the pontoon rather than a cleat.  You may have to go right up to the wall to find a space; early arrivals take the first berths. Be prepared to do a 180° turn in a confined space, or reverse out - or reversing into the fairway could be best. Look for moorings close to the wall, it’s a long walk to the Capitainerie and as many people take the first berth available there are often spaces further in. Anchorage outside the marina is free and well sheltered, but the bottom has a lot of weed.


Have a good time, we like the place even though you might hear more English than French around the shops. We use La Régence (good, moderate prices), Cafe De Paris (good but occasionally a bit mean with portions), these and others like Vauban are on Quai Caligny en route to the Carrefour Hypermarket. La Ciboulette is good (not pricey) up the road opposite the Capitainerie then make a right turn and on the left. 

Just as good we thought was Restaurant 32, in Rue Maréchal Foch, just behind the Tourist Info office.

La Taverna in the main square (up road opposite middle of Marina) does a good cheap lunch either inside or out on the terrace, everything from moules frites to salads via steaks.  

Au Bout de la Monde is off the main square to the left - very good and cheap for lunch, many French eat there.  

The Yacht Club over the Capitainerie is usually good, and convenient, with a good view of the marina.

L'Ambroisy - 39 rue Grande Rue Tél  02 33 10 19 29

Cafe de Paris    40 quai de Caligny 50100 Cherbourg - Tél. : 02 33 43 12 36  Excellent in July 2010

Sel et Poivre
17 , rue du Port
Tél  02 33 01 24 09

Le Faitout
25 Rue Tour Carree
tel 02 33 04 25.04
Go up to Place de La Republique and turn left. A short walk from the Marina.
Traditional Normandy specialities.

Le Pommier
15bis, Rue Notre-Dame 02 33 53 54 60

Look up for more info, including restaurant addresses/tels. Harbourmaster will usually give you a folder with a map and other useful stuff. Visit the Normandy Landing museum at the fort on the hill (long steep walk), Cité de la Mer maritime museum by the ferry port (inc nuclear submarine).  Gardens and Art Gallery are good.

Things to take

Water hose with connectors - BSP female thread. Water pressure is very high.
Power lead, normal  caravan type connection, with a polarity reverser.  A cable splitter can be useful.

Make sure your flares are in date, and the liferaft has been serviced, French customs can inspect these.

Documents to take:

Passports, E111 card, SSR Certificate, Insurance certificate, VHF certs for you and the boat.  Euros.

Posted 2nd May  2011