Up to Ouistreham

As it turns out, we have broken our journey north at exactly half way. We did about 470kms yesterday and Sally Satnav says we have 471kms to go today. So, it should be another 7 hours that would get us into the ferry port at 19:00, four hours ahead of the boat, if we left at midday. Some poor buggers had been stuck waiting for six hours in queues at Calais earlier this month, so extra time is good. Half our population needs a frontal lobotomy.

We spent a leisurely morning packing as slowly as I could, in between bouts of rain, waiting for the camper vans to move off the pitches I thought I needed to manoeuvre out. They duly left. I still couldn’t find a turn that I could make without endangering Guillaume. I ended up on a larger pitch to do a 3-point turn with Guillaume and finally broke free.

Wet RouteThe drive up to Ouistreham went swimmingly. At least, it felt as if we were swimming. There was a corridor of yellow weather warning which matched exactly our route. We were paying for missing out on the rain yesterday. We pulled in to the ferry port, as expected, a little before 19:00. The gates were not yet open and we joined a handful of other vehicles waiting for the three check-in booths to open.

Eventually, shutters went up, lights came on and open they did. We were about the 3rd or 4th vehicle through. We joined the next queue. Boarding a ferry is an exercise in moving from one queue to the next, there being about three. Now things began going south.

While we were waiting in the security line, eventually a douane officer asked to look in Guillaume. Bien sur. I unlocked Guillaume’s door and muttered “attention” while I got the step out for him to step in. He was satisfied, I replaced the step and locked up again. Eventually we were beckoned forward to move to the next line but the lady wanted a ticket from the douane man. We don’t have a ticket.

“Yes we’ve been checked but he didn’t give us a ticket.”

“I can’t let you through without a ticket”, she said.

It was, by the way, raining so folks weren’t terribly happy.

Eventually our lady returned and wanted me to move somewhere near the side fence ‘cos I was now not allowed to proceed but was blocking progress being at the front of the line. I imagine she’d forgotten in all the excitement but unseen by me, madame had stuck a traffic cone in front of our car. I drove forward, over the cone and it ended up between our front wheels. Having been beckoned forward by her, she glowered at me as if it were my fault. She bent down in the rain and retrieved the cone.

Then our wet lady didn’t seem to like where I was going. Look lady, I’m heading for the fence but I can’t make the caravan jump sideways. I opened my door and shouted “where do you want me to go?”. That earned me a “don’t yell at me sir”. Mon Dieu!

I parked as near to the fence as I could get given manoeuvring restrictions. We sat. We continued to sit. Eventually pretty much everyone else had moved on the the next queue, the boarding queue. A collection of douane officers sauntered back towards us and our earlier douane man muttered, “I checked you, you’re fine”. Tell her, not me. “I know”, I said, “but you didn’t give us a ticket”. Gallic shrug; “I didn’t have any left”. [Fume]

Finally we were beckoned through. Another collection of officials seemed to want to examine us again but our posse of douanes overrode them them. Onwards ready for our next piece of entertainment.

Our next piece of Gallic amusement was coming across a hooded young man standing in the rain and holding a long pole towering above him. We paused to let him use his pole, which he positioned beside our car and peered upwards into the rain. We have our bicycles mounted on the roof of the car. He looked down again. I had opened the window.

“Do you know how tall your car is with the bikes?”

“About 2.8m.”

M. Poleman consults a sopping wet piece of paper; “2.8 is on the limit”, he said, “you may have to wait longer to board. Join line 31.”

Well, of course, heaven forbid anything this evening should go smoothly. Guillaume is 2.7m tall but the bikes make the car a tad taller. We wait in line 31 with a few others.

Boarding commences and slowly all the other boarding lines empty. Vehicles in front of us in line 31 board but we get held. We wait yet again. We continue to wait until there is just us and one van left in the boarding area. It’s gone 23:00, still raining and beginning to feel quite lonely. Madame in charge of releasing would-be boarders is on a walkie-talkie. She walkie-talkies off for a few minutes and disappears. This is when you start thinking, “oh bugger, they’re full up”.

Being full up at Calais is not much of an issue; there’s another boat in about 90 minutes. Being full up in Ouistreham would be a very different prospect; the next boat is tomorrow.

Madame Walkie-talkie eventually returns and checks with us our estimation of our height.

“If the bikes are too tall, do you mind dismounting them on board?”

“No, of course not.”

Much relieved, we finally move on up the ramp to meet our loading team who, as I slow to a near standstill, watch our bike handlebars like a hawks as they approach the deck roof. 2.8m is the height limit on this deck. I think the bars would be OK but it’s clearly very tight. We advanced as much as the loading team deems safe and halt. A man wanders up armed with a traffic “stop” sign and stands it in front of our car. Beside us, a Carthago motor van suffers a similar fate with its very own “stop” sign. Curiously, behind us, literally out on deck in the open, is an articulated truck which is considerably taller than either of us.

A loading supervisor explains that, once the cars in front have disembarked followed by those on the mezzanine deck above us, they will raise the roof creating more headroom for us, the Carhago and the truck behind us to drive forward and off. No need to dismount the bikes.

The boat was not actually full. There’s a taller deck for trucks which is where caravans often end up. I’m curious why they didn’t just stick us with those in the first place, not that we were there in the first place after all queuing shenanigans, it was more like the last place.

With all the stupid Brexit-induced delays getting into a sensible country and then the pain of getting back into a stupid country that’s intent on flushing itself down the toilet, I’m beginning to wonder if travel is yet worth it again.

Posted in 2022-09 France

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