Mike Fox and his wife Carol are seasoned sailors, having enjoyed sailing and yacht ownership for the last 30 years. After taking early retirement in 2017, the dynamic duo decided to set sail on board their Wauquiez 40 Pilot Saloon with pet budgie, Snowy and cross the Channel to enjoy a spot of cruising on the continent. Mike and Carol made use of the Passeport Escales scheme, which is a free visitor berthing scheme available to MDL Freedom Berthing members that provides access to 124 marinas across the UK, France and Spain.
Mike explains: “After carrying out extensive sea trials in late spring, we waited for a weather window to cross the English Channel from Cobb’s Quay, our home marina in Poole. Once the strong winds and fog had passed, we completed the trip across to Cherbourg in about ten hours.
“We had visited Cherbourg some 25 years earlier, but even for a first-timer, it couldn’t have been easier. As we approached the marina, a harbour master in a dory came out to greet us in English and to find out how long we were planning on staying and the length of our boat. We were led to a berth, where other visitors helped us to tie up. With a cheery wave, the harbour master departed, leaving us to adjust our lines, plug ourselves into the mains electricity and celebrate our first crossing of the year!
“After an hour or so, I popped along to the Capitainniare (the Harbour Office, sometimes known as the Bureau de Port) and handed over my Passeport Escales Card before using my best schoolboy French to request a berth for two nights. The lady on reception inputted our details, asked a few questions and then handed us a receipt for two free nights, along with a goody bag with security codes for the shower and toilet facilities, the free WiFi, a map of the town and details of events and offers. The Harbour Office has lounge facilities with TVs providing local news and weather, along with printed forecasts in both French and English.
“This experience was to be repeated time after time at the other marinas we visited. The level of English varied, but there was never any question about the willingness to help and make life easy for visiting boat crews. The Passeport Escales system is well-tried and tested in France, and with dozens of participating marinas, it’s so much easier than filling in forms at each one.
“Unfortunately stormy weather kept us in Cherbourg and after our two free nights, we paid for our berth, but at a much lower rate than July and August would have been. We made the most of the chance to visit local markets, bakeries, shops and restaurants and we had a very enjoyable and relaxing stay, in spite of the weather!
“Once the bad weather passed, we topped up the water tanks from the taps on the pontoon and cruised on down to Guernsey. Having left the EU, here we had to fill out forms and obtain Customs clearance. We stayed one night before heading on to Lezardrieux in Northern Brittany.
“This is one of our favourite harbours in the region – we have been coming here for 23 years and know the staff well - and once again, we were greeted by the harbour master, led to a berth and settled in. On showing the Passeport Escales card we were provided with a free berth, along with the pass codes for the facilities and then left to our own devices. Daily weather and tidal details were posted in English and French behind the sill.
“From here we travelled to Roscoff, a completely new harbour for us, and the first of many on this trip. We were certainly not disappointed; the scenery was great, dolphins visited us and our route planning preparation paid off again.
“We were met on arrival, and with a through-tide in the marina, the harbour master’s help into our berth was much appreciated. Other boat crews also took lines to ensure it was a smooth arrival and we passed the favour on to the next few yachts that arrived. The facilities in Roscoff are superb – being a new marina, it has all the usual facilities, plus launderette, chandlers, cafe and restaurant on site, plus a free bus service to Roscoff in season.
“As we moved further south, we visited many more marinas under the Passeport Escales scheme and found the standard to be universally high, facilities very good, and if we arrived at peak times, we were usually greeted by the harbour master. We never had any issue with the card and it certainly helped to keep costs down. There were no harbours or ports we wouldn’t go back to, and in fact, some could become firm favourites.
“We reached the Gulf de Morbihan and offlying islands fairly quickly and spent an idyllic month in the area, before journeying north again and heading to Brixham for a family celebration in August, before cruising back over the Channel to Brittany and Normandy for a few more weeks.
“Overall, we travelled almost 1,200 miles in three and a half months and visited dozens of harbours, marinas and anchorages. There were a few bad spells of weather, but these were forecast well in advance, so we were able to hole up in carefully selected ports of refuge, with better shelter and access to shops.
“The Passeport Escales scheme worked really well for us and is a valuable part of our MDL member benefits package. We benefited from around 60 free nights and with so many French marinas on the scheme, there was plenty of choice. We certainly made good use of it this year and will definitely be doing it all again!”
Find out how to become a Freedom Berthing member so you too could tour Europe in style!