Navigating across the English Channel

Sailing to France on a channel crossing is the first step for many sailors on their road to an extended passage. Since sailing to Cherbourg will probably take around 14 hours from Portsmouth, a good 6-8 hours of that is likely to be out of sight of land.

In a later article, I plan to review how a crossing works in reality and how to document a passage plan from Portsmouth to Cherbourg.

The RNA safe water buoy outside Le Havre

Here’s how I approach planning sailing to France and navigating the English Channel, using recent crossings as real examples.

The process for navigating across the channel breaks down into 4 steps

  1. Determine your departure time (which often depends on when you want to arrive or when you must arrive by)
  2. Estimating the net tidal set and drift you’ll experience during the crossing
  3. Applying tide, variation, deviation and leeway to determine your course to steer
  4. Final course shaping a couple of hours before arrival

Read part 1 of the series where I discuss the factors involved in choosing a suitable departure time.

Summary of recommended resources

You’re going to need access to one or more of these sources to help planning & navigating the English Channel. I cover each of them in the series so have a read first before buying.

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