With work finishing for me on the Thursday (with
much 'whooping' and punching the air.....!), Friday was a day off and also
'packing day'. I keep a comprehensive list of everything I need to take
with me (a copy of which I gave to James so he could modify it and use it) and
by the end of the day I had most of my stiff packed and ready, leaving just
clothes to pack on Saturday morning. I had one or two new items this year,
including a new pair of radio headphones and a second hand Canon 100-400L zoom
lens. I had tried it out at a couple of James' hockey matches and was
pretty impressed, but I was keen to see how good it would be for racing shots.
James and I were packed and ready to leave by
midday (despite James disappearing early in the morning for a quick round of
golf!) and we headed off at about 12.20 for the journey to Portsmouth. It
seemed very strange to be driving there myself instead of relying on James to
drop me off at the ferry terminal as he had done many times before. The
car was fully laden, but everything fitted with ease. We arrived just
after 1 pm and I topped the car up with fuel before heading into the terminal.
As I didn't need to sit and wait for James F to arrive this year we drove
straight in, checked in and then parked up in the first queue. I had time
to nip to the loo and exchange texts with James F who had apparently arrived
with Ramona just before we moved off to the second queue inside the border
control area at 1.20.
The second queue always involves a longer wait so
we got out of the car to look out for the arrival there of our travelling
companions, who arrived in the row next to us about 10 minutes later.
After chatting for another 10 minutes or so, cars started to board the Mont St
Michel and we headed on. We ended up parking close together which would be
handy on the other side of the Channel and after securing the car so that it was
locked but not alarmed, we made our way up to the familiar bar for a lunchtime
baguette and a drink, along with the annual discussion about how unreal it was
to be back here again! Having said farewell to The Tourists after the 2009
trip, this was now my ninth Le Mans with James F and I remain very grateful
indeed for the association, just as I was in 2010 when he 'took me under his
wing', so to speak!
The sailing was due to take place at 2.45 but my
first photograph on board was taken at 2.40 by which time we were already 2-3
minutes away from the dock. As is always the case with this crossing the
ferry was a long way from being full, the main horde of British Le Mans fans
wouldn't be travelling over until a few days time. After watching
Portsmouth disappear in bright but rather breezy weather we did all the usual
things that we always do on a crossing to try and while away a bit of time.
We checked out the cabin that James F had booked, then we did the rounds of the
few shops on board, not buying anything of course. Once again, James F
resisted the temptation to buy one of the 'beautiful' hats and I managed to pass
on the watches on sale.... I recall that we watched some of the French
Open tennis up in the bar as Ramona was keen to see how her fellow Romanian
countrywoman Simona Halep got on in the the ladies final. Despite a rather
dodgy satellite connection we were able to see her win, which was a good way to
start the trip....
We had a meal in the self-service restaurant at
about 7.30 (now French time of course) as we wouldn't be eating again before
tomorrow morning before going back up ,on deck at about 9.15 as began the long
approach into the dock at Ouistreham. We began to turn to dock at 9.20.
The process was completed with typical efficiency however, once docked, it took
rather longer than usual to disembark as we had both had to park up on a ramp so
we had to wait for the vehicles below to leave before we could set off.
Although I had pre-programmed all of the destinations I would need for the whole
trip into the BMW's satnav (amusingly via an app on my phone), we had agreed
that for the first couple of journeys at least I would follow James F and after
a little jockeying for position in the exit queues, we set off in convoy out of Ouistreham for the journey to the Campanile at Alençon, which would be our
Saturday night destination for the fourth year. The journey would take
about an hour and a half.
Having left Caen it was pretty much a straight
drive all the way to Alençon on the autoroute with James on péage duty with my
credit card. We needed to press on (semi-legally) as James F knew already
that the manager at the Campanile was due to leave at 11 pm, but we always knew
it would be a tall order to get there by then. About half an hour into the
journey we noticed that we were heading into a little bit of fog. I wasn't
bothered as there was very little traffic about, but by another half hour later
the 'little bit of fog' had turned into a real 'pea souper' and that, combined
with the hordes of nocturnal French insects turned what was normally a
comfortable drive into a rather unpleasant one.
Despite completing two thirds of the journey in
thick fog we still managed to get to the Campanile at 11.10 and after some
initial concern that the manager had already left and we might be left to the
fun and games of the automatic machine again, she appeared and we were able to
get into our rooms. For me, I had the same room as last year, something I
seem to make a bit of a habit of these days! We unpacked what we needed
and then settled down to get some shuteye, ready for the relatively short final
leg of the trip to Le Mans in the morning.