Tom Cunliffe: When the pips are squeaking, a cheaper mooring abroad becomes rather attractive, but is it worth the journey?

I’m writing this column anchored up the Tréguier River a mile or so below the marina. I’ve ridden out more than one gale here and it’s blowing now. Like many apparently easy options, however, it’s not quite
as ideal as it appears. We’ve a big tide this week. At low water I can easily toss a McVitie’s ginger nut across to cheer up the mussels clinging to the rocks; at high water I’m riding in 15 metres with a scope of cable to match. Long experience has shown that some miracle of tidal flow will keep me off the bricks at the bottom of the ebb; the holding is so good I’ve no worries on top of the tide.

In fact, it’d be just dandy if some local hadn’t dropped his pick right on top of mine with all the river at his disposal. The last Frenchman this close to my forward bunks was a midnight chancer giving his lady the full benefit of his amorous potential on my forehatch during a festival of the sea.

When my wife went out and asked him to stop, he offered hope for the immediate future only by promising to be ‘un moment, s’il vous plait.’ Back to the menace of the anchor, I have now fixed this latest son of the Revolution with the evil eye and he has shifted berth, so peace reigns once more.

A week back, I was in Binic, in the Bay of St Brieuc, one of those lovely little sill-protected ports which the sea abandons at half tide, leaving you wondering how you ever got near the place. Notwithstanding the excellence of the harbour, the sandy beaches, a baker rivalled only by nearby Dahouët for the succulence of
her croissants and the wall-to-wall eateries, I noticed spaces among the berths, so I asked the harbour master why. This exceptional professional replied in clear English.

‘Sailing is becoming too expensive,’ he said. ‘People are required to comply with all sorts of regulations. Every new demand costs money and spare cash is in short supply. Pontoon space isn’t cheap and some of my longeststanding berth holders are losing heart.’

One or two of his fingers have already been filled by opportunist Brits with an eye for a good deal. I’ve found the same in many harbours here in Northern France where, although things ain’t quite what they used to be, there are still attractive arrangements on offer. A Westerly Storm in Paimpol was paying a fraction of the English South Coast equivalent for an alongside berth, with two haulouts tossed in free to sweeten the pill. The lifts alone would have cost my yacht more in the Solent than the Storm stumps
up per year. I met a chap in Morlaix whose annual bill was the same as he’d recently paid for winter storage in Plymouth. The tales go on. Of course, there’s the cost of getting there and these tidal harbours don’t suit everyone, but if the pips are squeaking…

I’m not tempted to shift berth to France myself, but my boat spends a lot of summers in Scandinavia. Winter storage there is not much money. To know the boat is safe in a heated shed near Stockholm, a cheap flight away from Stanstead, would be reassuring; especially when it saves me hacking up the North Sea in springtime and does away with the dreaded upfront British berthing incubus hitting the doormat like a sack of Welsh nuts.

The idea of becoming a peripatetic yachtsman is attractive, but I’ve never plucked up the courage to do it since the days when I sailed the oceans in freedom with no home, no bank account, no berthing bills and no worries. Now I can be aboard the yacht any winter’s day in forty minutes from my front door. I love being able to pop down and potter about, pretending to do a few jobs as I air her through and eat my frugal pie at the saloon table. If I lived four hours away, it might be a different matter.