Passenger ships have been calling at Le Havre since the start of Trans Atlantic Travel. It was the home port of the French Line and every major liner has called there. Since the demise of the regular liner service, cruise ships call here using Le Havre as a gateway to Paris. It is a very busy port with a continuous flow of traffic going in and out. That traffic is regulated by Le Havre port control. Port control operates in a similar way as traffic control does at an airport. It assigns the pilot times, berths in the harbor, sequence of arrival and departure etc. etc. Occasionally it settles disputes between ships captainâ€™s who all want to do something at the same time, as nowadays we are all in a hurry and time is money. As a cruise ship, we seldom have scheduling problems as, with the exception of local ferries; we normally have preference over cargo traffic.
Approaching Le Havre is very straight forward. The approach channel or fairway is covered by two very strong lights, called leading lights, and as long as you keep these two lights in line, you are in the middle of the channel. It was a breezy morning and as I wanted to park the ship portside alongside the pier, that is nose to open sea, it meant swinging around in the harbor and then backing to the dock. The harbor is not that wide for a comfortable swing and with about 20 knots blowing full on the beam, it was a tight maneuver.
There is a large tidal difference in the port, 8 to 10 feet is a normal range and for that we needed a shore gangway, as the Veendam has no crane capacity to carry its own long gangway. The agent was excited about the long shore gangway as it was a brand new one. With ever larger cruise ships visiting the port, having their break doors high up in the ship, the normal gangways were becoming too short. So the port had invested in a new one. It was indeed a very nice one and although it was of the step up kind, the steps where sufficiently close together to make wheelchair use possible.
In the afternoon we were regaled by a French choir, singing Russian Folksongs. I never got to the bottom of that combination but it was very pleasing to listen to. Although about 800 guests were on tour, there were still sufficient of them around to create an audience. The cruise terminal is a converted cargo shed but it was done up very nicely with a little bar, tourist stands and a lady selling maritime paintings. These maritime paintings were not of the ships as such but artists impressions. And although they were very professionally executed some of them where a bit too culturally advanced, to be fully understood by me. If I see a painting of a ship, then it has to be a painting of a ship, regardless whether it is a harbor scene or the ship itself. So give me the paintings of Spurling, Shoesmith or Stephen Card any day. All the tours from Paris were back on time, and we sailed on schedule at 19.30 hrs., for our run up the English channel to Dover, England.