Fleur de Sel – The Far North on a Dufour 455 sailboat


Exploring Norway under sail is a cruising dream for many, but intrepid Dufour owners Martine and Christian Le Cleach have chalked up no fewer than three trips. Over 17 years, their faithful Dufour 455 Grand Large Fleur de Sel has carried them from Martinique to Helsinki; Spitzbergen to Greece’s Dodecanese islands. We caught up with them during a brief stopover in their native Brittany.

And my first question is what draws them to the far north.

The landscape is really breathtaking – it’s magnificent. This remains a part of the world that is still a little wild. And the sailing is relatively straightforward.

Relative to what, I wonder? But in fact, Christian is quite right. Low pressure over Iceland typically funnels in warmer air to the north Norwegian coast in summer, and there are long days of light winds and sun. Small, sheltered ports and pontoons are common in the region, even as far as the awesome North Cape.

Last year, we reached North Cape early – at the start of April,” Christian says. “There was snow everywhere, but not much stormy weather. In fact, it was really fine and when there was bad weather, it snowed rather than rained.


Even Spitzbergen, 500 nautical miles northwest of the mainland, was no big deal, Christian says. “It’s a four-day passage and there is a place to stop on the way, called Bjørnøya – Bear Island,” he tells me. “We stopped there last year for a few hours to wait for more favourable winds. In 2016 we went ashore on a beach at the head of the little bay.”

For such a passage, you might have expected a flurry of work to equip the boat, but Christian says it wasn’t necessary. When they ordered their 455 Grand Large back in 2007, they already had half an eye on Norway, and chose the options that would make it possible in comfort and safety. There were just a few key additions.

The most important thing for Spitzbergen was a Refleks diesel stove for heating the saloon,” he says. “It provides a lovely, gentle warmth. We already had an Eberspacher heater, but that consumes electricity. It’s fine when you have access to shore power on a pontoon, but in Spitzbergen you want total autonomy.

The other useful thing we got is a cockpit tent, as favoured by Baltic sailors. It’s great, and you can actually sail with it up – under cover. Then it has a greenhouse effect when the sun’s out – sometimes in Spitzbegeren we were sailing in shirt sleeves!


Other options include the 220V inverter, from which they run a coffee machine and a microwave oven. Less important, Christian has found, is the watermaker. There is no shortage of fresh water in Norway, while the cold sea temperatures mean that the yield of a watermaker is quite low. It all runs off a relatively small 150W array of solar panels and a D400 wind generator, which produces abundant power from just 10 knots of wind.

The 14-metre sailing yacht Dufour 455 has always been known for its generous sail plan and a good turn of speed, and that is one of the characteristics that appealed most to Christian. 

I have always liked a boat that goes well. I found this boat to be more seamanlike than the others we looked at at the time. I already had experience of the Dufour 36, and the bigger boat was kitted out with serious equipment, fiddles on the furniture – it was better suited to passagemaking.


All the same, he has extended the sail wardrobe over the years to make the boat easier for him to singlehand.

I bought a staysail on a roller furler, to avoid having to reef down the genoa. It makes it comfortable when there’s a stronger wind. It allows me to trim the sails better, and it often keeps us sailing at the same speed, but with less heel than the big headsail.

We also have a triradial spinnaker, which we don’t use much – I’m not getting any younger! I rigged it up with the snuffing line coming back to the cockpit, so you can douse it from the helm. That’s an old racing trick I learnt. Downwind, I often simply pole out the genoa.

These days the couple are avowed cruisers, but Christian grew up racing dinghies, then took the Dufour 36 across the Atlantic singlehanded as part of the Transquadra race from Brittany to Martinique via Madeira. The cruising life only opened up after he sold his industrial software engineering business and took early retirement. Ireland’s west coast was the first destination in 2009, during a windy summer holiday, then Norway two years later.

But their sailing has taken them down the Spanish and Portuguese coasts, past Gibraltar and as far the Greek islands in 2018-19.

It was a very beautiful voyage, too, with quite strong winds. Greece is busy, sure, but not so full. And anyway, we never went right next to the beach. What we liked was a pretty, little bay with some ruins to visit by foot. The little tavernas were nice as well.

They were amazed by their passage through the narrow Corinth Canal, but the fondest memories were undoubtedly the Dodecanese islands clustered just off Turkey’s west coast. “They were a little like the Cyclades, but instead of Force 7/8 winds, we generally had Force 4/5. Patmos, Symi – such beautiful islands!”

At the other end of Europe, Christian and Martine are full of warm words for the Swedish islands between Gothenburg and the Norwegian border. Then the Stockholm Archipelago.

It’s magnificent there. Even though everyone from Stockholm goes out to their little summer cabins at the weekend, there is plenty of space: little bays everywhere and lots of anchorages. They moor up with a stern anchor, then make the bow fast to a rock – it’s crazy! The landscape isn’t as wild as Norway – more like piles of rocks than soaring hills and mountains.


You might think the novelty of exploring Europe under sail would wear off after 17 years, but Christian and Martine are really liveaboard sailors. Though they have a home in south Brittany, they spend at least five months per year on Fleur de Sel and 2024-25 will be no exception. The plan is to cruise down to the Canary Islands this summer, then leave the boat for a month or two ahead of an Atlantic crossing in the new year.

Normally, I cross in the first weeks of January with my son, who is a marine engineer. Then my wife will join us in Martinique. We’ll just stay for one season, heading down to the Grenadines, then up to the Leeward Islands. Come May, we’ll head north, then east for the sail back to Brittany.

With a dog who doesn’t sail, longer trips are complicated, says Christian. He might have fancied a Pacific cruise at one time, but not any more. However, I can hear his ears prick up when I mention Greenland and the glacial north. There are no firm plans, he says, but I think that might be changing as we speak.

Iceland would be difficult because of the prevailing weather, but Greenland – that could work nicely from Spitzbergen, it’s no more than 250 miles, you know!