Friday, October 06, 2017

Accessibility: the Vilaine

I thought it might be worth summarising some of our good and bad experiences of using facilities for wheelchairs and a disabled user in west and south Brittany and the Vendée as far south as the Île d'Yeu, and observations on travel in and to France generally. I'm doing this from memory, so particularly good or bad experiences stand out.

I'm posting this in several sections but will try to link them all together.

For those who have not read the rest of the blog, these reports relate to locations where we have taken our Westerly Storm with Sam, who suffered a massive stroke in 2012 and has right-side weakness. He is lifted on and off the boat using a halyard and harness and normally moves around marinas in a wheelchair pushed by me. He can walk short distances along finger pontoons if they are stable enough and he has something to hold on to. We find very todal areas like north Britany difficult as we can generally only get Sam up and down ramps two or three hours either side of high water.

The Vilaine

The Vilaine from Arzal inland is protected by a tidal barrage, which was originally intended to reduce the frequent flooding. The whole area is very popular with yachts, especially British ones. It is very sheltered but is still subject to occasional strong winds even in summer – we saw a 47-knot gust at Arzal and know of someone whose electronics were destroyed by a lightning strike at Camoël.


Port d'Arzal/Camoël: We got to know this very well as Kalessin spent the winter here. We really liked the location but found a car was essential, as the only food on site is the little épicerie (and restaurants of course) and buses are far from regular. There is a boulangerie and small store in the village but it's at least 2km away. The big advantage is that it's inside the barrage and therefore tideless, so we could get Sam on and off at any time of day. One disadvantage is that the older finger pontoons on both sides of the river have a step down from the jetty. If you ask and keep asking, the capitainerie can allocate a place on the new pontoons where the jetties have been extended, which are all on one level although they are still not very wide. Away from the pontoons access is very good around the marina.

Of the three toilet blocks the best for disabled access (and the newest) is the upriver one on the Camoël side with lots of space, good lighting and hot water. I don't think the other Camoël block would have been usable, although there is a disabled access shower, but there are steps. On the Arzal side the access for a wheelchair into the toilet block is tight and the accessible shower a bit tatty with fixings sometimes coming off the wall - it's much bigger than the ordinary showers so is often used by able-bodied people.

La Roche-Bernard: The crucial word here is Roche, as pretty much everywhere is up a very steep hill to the top of the rock. The marina itself is ok although a bit up and down as you walk along the pontoons. There is said to be one berth with a hoist but we saw no sign of it and didn't ask about it. Accessible facilities are ok, but like the ones at Arzal space is very tight. We took Sam for a trip on the petit train, which starts outside the marina, and although he didn't get to see the heart of the old town it was a good option.

On a visitor berth in Redon
Redon: We went to Redon to get good transport access, as the marina is 10 minutes walk from the TGV station. Visitor moorings are on the port side as you enter the basin and are close to the road but also to the facilities, such as they are. The finger pontoons and jetties were ok and the ramp not too steep (and also non-tidal, of course). The loos and showers to which we were given a key are in a very tatty portacabin. The shower was big enough for Sam to use and it was possible to get a wheelchair in, from memory there was a single step. The floor of the shower was vinyl over some kind of board which had probably rotted underneath. Therefore the floor sagged somewhat and there were places where Sam would not have been safe to stand. Using the shower was an adventure... but slightly exhausting.
Sam in the Cours Clemenceau

We explored the town of Redon which is quite small but pleasant with a few very steep slops up to the ramparts. The Cours Clemenceau is a pretty garden area with views over the river which we could get Sam up to in the wheelchair.

Accessibility: France generally, ferries and hotels
Accessibility: west and southern Brittany
Accessibility: the Vilaine (this article)
Accessibility: the Vendée t/c

Accessibility: west and southern Brittany

I thought it might be worth summarising some of our good and bad experiences of using facilities for wheelchairs and a disabled user in west and south Brittany and the Vendée as far south as the Île d'Yeu, and observations on travel in and to France generally. I'm doing this from memory, so particularly good or bad experiences stand out.

I'm posting this in several sections but will try to link them all together.

For those who have not read the rest of the blog, these reports relate to locations where we have taken our Westerly Storm with Sam, who suffered a massive stroke in 2012 and has right-side weakness. He is lifted on and off the boat using a halyard and harness and normally moves around marinas in a wheelchair pushed by me. He can walk short distances along finger pontoons if they are stable enough and he has something to hold on to. We find very tidal areas like north Brittany difficult as we can generally only get Sam up and down ramps two or three hours either side of high water.


 
Roscoff Marina: This is a vast, relatively new marina, and the distance from your berth to the capitainerie may be considerable. There is a disabled access lift for use at low water, visible as a little cabin on the top level in the photo above, unfortunately out of order when we were there in June 2016. Access around the marina is generally excellent with very wide jetties and promenade areas and a relatively smooth ramp to the pontoons. I can't remember the detail of the disabled shower, I think Sam must have been too clean to need it when we arrived.

L'Aberwrac'h: We didn't attempt to get Sam off the boat here, nor from the moorings at Sainte-Evette. We have never found a way to transfer Sam to and from a dinghy alongside the boat.

Brest, Moulin-Blanc marina: We spent a week here in July 2017 and another unexpected two weeks in September 2017. We asked for an accessible berth in advance and were placed on the visitor's pontoon straight down from the capitainerie, where the boat is alongside a very wide, accessible jetty. One minor hiccup is that at high water, especially at springs, the little ramp connecting the main ramp becomes steeper as the main ramp becomes flatter, It took all my strength to get Sam up it. Otherwise the access everywhere was very good although distances quite long. There was a choice of disabled bathrooms but we used the men's facilities in the block under the Tour du Monde restaurant because it had a sturdy shower seat. The second time we used it the washbasin was no longer working. The car parks get very full and it is rarely possible to find a disabled space especially in the summer and at weekends.
In Brest we went to Océanopolis, one of France's biggest aquariums, which we would recommend for both disabled and non-disabled users and is just behind the marina. You need to take some proof of disability (eg a blue badge) to get a small discount for the disabled person, none for the carer. We also went by no. 3 bus into the city centre. The buses were great with wheelchair ramps available (although it took two goes to lower one of them so they are obviously not often used) but the city centre is somewhat dull. If we did it again I would get off the bus at Octroi and walk down the main street, which is a very long hill, instead of getting off at Place Liberté and walking up it!
It's well worth going to the botanical gardens, which are stunning, although we cheated and drove Sam to the lower car park, and didn't go to far in because the valley slopes quite steeply.

Port Vauban showing wide jetties

Ramp at a couple of hours before HW, still very steep and inaccessible for Sam. There is not enough space to turn a wheelchair or even lift it round on to the upward ramp unless you had several helpers
Camaret, Port Vauban: We went to the outer marina, Port Vauban, at least partly because it had lots of space on alongside berths and very wide jetties. However a comment on a CA report made me aware that the ramp is steep even at high water, because it goes to the top of the high sea wall. I went to investigate and not only is the ramp steep, but at the top is a little downward ramp which is far to steep for safe access of a wheelchair and offers nothing to hold on to. I could't think of a way to get Sam past it, so he stayed on board. Facilities at Port Vauban are in a small historic building and are down a number of steep steps, so are completely inaccessible. I didn't go into the facilities in the town centre marina but they looked rather old and tired.


Access to the citadel is bumpy but manageable for a wheelchair
The marina seen from the citadel in fog
Concarneau: this was the third time we had tried to get to Concarneau, this time with success in July 2017. We could have taken a berth at the very inner end of the visitors' jetty which would have been alongside the main walkway. I'm not sure if it would have been worth it however, as it was quite noisy. This is a base for the Glenan sea schools and every crew member from every one of the boats would be walking past your cockpit. It was marginally more peaceful on our own finger pontoon. The facilities are accessed through the capitainerie and it was one location where i never found the disabled showers, if there are any. The public toilets on the other side of the building are accessible but not very attractive. We took Sam into the citadel which was manageable but very crowded, and spent a lovely couple of hours in the maritime museum which was quiet, easy to get around, interesting and free for both Sam and for me as his carer.

Benodet,  Port du Penfoul: We were on the Benodet side of the river. Reasonable finger pontoons and jetties and good access around the marina. If you moored on a hammerhead, disabled access might be better, but there is a very strong tide running through the marina which is stronger the further out into the stream you are. This was the first time that Guy showed me how to lash the finger pontoon to the boat – if you use a short rope and make it as tight as possible, you stabilise the finger pontoon with six tonnes of yacht. Modern showers with disabled access. The town is also fairly easy to get around with a couple of small hills but the wheelchair is manageable all the way along the seafront.

Lorient: The visitor's pontoon has alongside moorings but was already rafted up two or three deep when we arrived, possibly with sea-school boats. We were allocated a finger pontoon instead. There are new-ish facilities with adequate disabled access, although again I don't think Sam used them.

The Port-Louis Capitainerie and bridge to the visitors' pontoon

Port-Louis: We liked Port-Louis a lot and would not bother going back to the Lorient city marina again. Excellent facilities in a new capitainerie building with a lovely view out over the river. Both ladies and gents had two disabled showers. After experimentation we ended up in the smaller shower in the ladies because there was more for Sam to hold on to. The ramps to the pontoons go over a bridge arrangement which is always disconcerting. The town is uphill whichever way you go to it, so we didn't get Sam much beyond the seafront moules restaurants. We didn't try getting Sam on the little ferries across the river, which might have been interesting.

Port Haliguen: We have been here several times but although convenient I find it very soul-less, perhaps because of the huge sea walls. Both in 2016 and 2017 we were a long walk from the capitainerie albeit on different sides of the marina and we didn't get Sam off the boat. Facilities were a bit disappointing but there are plans for massive further development so no doubt they will be much better in future. The beaches are lovely, however.

Fabulous aerial photos of the marina at La Trinité, click through to see them at full size. Romeo is the closest pontoon to the bridge and connects to a walkway at the far end
La Trinité: We were chucked off the visitors' pontoon and sent to Pontoon R which is actually the wavebreak. With luck and determination we got a really good spot on the inside of the jetty - outside is quite unpleasant in any kind of weather. The jetty was plenty wide enough to get Sam straight into the wheelchair but there was an extremely annoying raised barrier in the middle of the jetty which Sam had to climb over, and little bridges connecting the jetties which were rather hard work. Pontoon R is around half a mile by road from the rest of the marina and the town, but fortunately there are accessible but rather dilapidated facilities at that end of the marina. It's worth walking round to see the racing yachts and the Philippe Plisson gallery.

Accessibility: France generally, ferries and hotels
Accessibility: west and southern Brittany(this article)
Accessibility: the Vilaine
Accessibility: the Vendée t/c

Monday, October 02, 2017

Accessibility: France generally, ferries and hotels

I thought it might be worth summarising some of our good and bad experiences of using facilities for wheelchairs and a disabled user in west and south Brittany and the Vendée as far south as the Île d'Yeu, and observations on travel in and to France generally. I'm doing this from memory, so particularly good or bad experiences stand out.

I'm posting this in several sections but will try to link them all together.

For those who have not read the rest of the blog, these reports relate to locations where we have taken our Westerly Storm with Sam, who suffered a massive stroke in 2012 and has right-side weakness. He is lifted on and off the boat using a halyard and harness and normally moves around marinas in a wheelchair pushed by me. He can walk short distances along finger pontoons if they are stable enough and he has something to hold on to. We find very todal areas like north Britany difficult as we can generally only get Sam up and down ramps two or three hours either side of high water.

We found France generally to be disabled-friendly. This is surprising, especially as we have found Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands all somewhat disappointing in various ways. Almost every marina makes some effort to provide disabled facilities, although a key weakness is grab rails in the showers - but France is by no means alone in this and the UK can be even worse.

Sam tends to use portable options for going to the loo when possible as we don't always have time to find and get to a disabled toilet when we are out and about. So we have not explored every possible disabled toilet! We have a loo on board Kalessin, which he can use with a bit of help. And we use a lot of wet wipes. But he does like to have a shower every few days if we possibly can.

In the motorway service areas or aires it was particularly nice in hot weather that there is often a wheelchair accessible picnic table under shade of some kind.

Brittany Ferries: You can book a disabled access cabin but there are a limited number of spaces on the car decks from which you can get a wheelchair from the car to the lifts. A member of the booking team normally phones the day after making a booking to say whether they have disabled parking or not. On one occasion we were allocated a less accessible space which Sam just about managed, but he can't get through a six-inch gap between cars. On the fast ferry to Cherbourg we parked in the bow and used a ramp to get to the passenger deck. On the St-Malo ferry we always book a disabled access cabin, even for daytime crossings. These are small and windowless but much better designed than those on the Stena Harwich ferries. Brittany Ferries staff are very helpful, someone greets you on the car deck and gives you a card to show where you have parked, and they will usually try to clean cabins quickly so you can settle down.

Condor Ferries: We travelled only on fast ferries in daytime. On the St-Malo to Guernsey ferry we were parked on a ramp with good access to the passenger deck. On the Guernsey to Poole ferry we got Sam out and I then parked in a normal tight space. When we returned to the car Sam managed to get into a back seat on the right-hand side; if we'd had to wait to get him into the front side passenger seat it might have taken an extra 20 minutes at a guess. On both ferries we asked about the best seat for Sam and were given "reserved" seating which was easy to get in and out of, instead of the allocated seats. On the St-Malo to Guernsey ferry all passengers have to get off in Jersey for a passport check. We had a dedicated crew member to help with this but it was a pain in the b*m. Staff were again very helpful but not as organised as Brittany ferries.

Hotel F1, Saint-Malo: we have stayed here several times, partly because it is cheap. It looks very unprepossessing and is a bit shabby and the windows are small, and there are no ensuite bathrooms – you have to go down the corridor to use the loo or shower, although we get used to this after several weeks on a boat! However it's on a road in a retail estate which is close to the main roads and to a huge Carrefour supermarché, and 10 minutes from the ferry port, but is quiet overnight. The triple ground-floor rooms have plenty of space for a wheelchair, and a corner table which is comfortable to eat at. The double bed is adequate for one night and if not I could use the upper bunk. The staff whom I think must be husband and wife are very friendly and helpful.

Hotel Domaine de la Barbinais, Saint-Malo: We have stayed here once and it is lovely, with a huge disabled room where you can park right outside and walk in, and a huge wet room although the floor is a little slippery. However the room rate is about three times that of the F1 and if you eat in the nice restaurant you aren't left with much change from €200 for two people.

Accessibility: France generally, ferries and hotels (this article)
Accessibility: west and southern Brittany
Accessibility: the Vilaine
Accessibility: the Vendée t/c

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Giffgaff warning: Channel Islands

I have raised this on various social media but thought I should blog about it too in case it is useful for anyone who, like me, has a mobile phone on giffgaff.

Guernsey, and the other Channel Islands, are not in the European Union. This means that technically they are outside the EU roaming agreement which means that whatever bundle or package you have on your mobile phone can now be used in other EU countries too. This is particularly annoying because they are part of the +44 zone, so your phone does not recognise that it is outside the UK and you have to manually turn off mobile data.

My phone is on giffgaff which works well in the UK and in France. Under the old arrangement they charged me on Pay as you go when in Guernsey but it was at a manageable rate.

Under the new arrangement, no calls relating to the Channel islands are included in your goodybag. Phoning Guernsey from the UK costs 8p per minute to a landline, which is four times the cost of calling France or even China! Much worse, however, phoning Guernsey from France costs £1 per minute. And both making AND receiving calls in Guernsey also costs £1 per minute.

Here it is again bigger in case you missed that:

Making a giffgaff call from
Guernsey: £1 per minute

Receiving a giffgaff call in
Guernsey: £1 per minute

Making a giffgaff call from France to
Guernsey: £1 per minute


You can check prices by going to https://www.giffgaff.com/roaming-charges and entering Guernsey, which is helpful although shocking.

Now let's try that again with Vodafone (whom we gave up on when the local transmitter in Suffolk stopped working). If you have a contract or bundle, charges are as follows:
Making a Vodafone call from
Guernsey: 0p per minute

Receiving a Vodafone call in
Guernsey: 0p per minute

Making a Vodafone call from France to Guernsey: 0p per minute 

If you're on normal Vodafone pay as you go, rates are the same as in the UK.

I think the prices from giffgaff are shocking. In fact my account couldn't top up fast enough to keep up with them and I was cut off during a call to Robin from Brest. I couldn't afford to accept calls when in Guernsey.

Giffgaff says of itself "...we believe in something simple. A better way to do mobile...It's why we work our socks off every day to keep you." Dear Mr Giffgaff, please work your socks off to charge me sensible rates for the Channel Islands which are after all less than 30 miles in a straight line from France.

Warning to other giffgaff users: if you're going to the Channel Islands, take a different phone, or a different SIM from a more helpful provider.

There is an interesting discussion about this at https://community.giffgaff.com/t5/Contribute/Roaming-price-hike-in-Channel-Islands-Isle-of-Man-amp/m-p/20370095#M500627. It seems giffgaff didn't start planning for the EU changes until a month before they happened, in spite of having almost two years' notice. As one poster comments, "I really wonder how much additional revenue this will generate for GiffGaff and if it really worthwhile, considering the ill feeling generated amongst many GG customers." Giffgaff say they will be reviewing usage after September 2017, so perhaps they may be able to consider a better approach in future..

Friday, September 29, 2017

Separate voyages

We are now home, and so is Kalessin, unfortunately via quite separate routes.

Louis arrived at Brest on Tuesday, sailed on Wednesday evening and got back to SYH, after a phenomenal sail, on Saturday morning. According to my calculations they did 400 nautical miles on 60 hours, give or take (I haven't seen the detailed log) and hit a top speed of more than 11 knots surfing downwind in the Channel. It's good to know that Kalessin can sustain that kind of sailing, and even revel in it. The passage was so quick they had lots of leftover food apparently – Guy was able to meet the crew at SYH and take them out for a drink. And Louis, who spends his entire life doing deliveries on highly assorted yachts and hasn't even been home for five months, reckons the Westerly Storm is up there with the best. Praise indeed.

Meanwhile Sam and I left the boat on Monday for the relatively short drive to Saint-Malo. We had a slight hiccup in that Sam's right leg went into spasm as I was getting him off the boat. This means that he puts the entire muscular strength of his leg, which is still pretty considerable, into not bending his knee. Worse, he doesn't seem to know he is doing it and can't understand instructions to bend the leg. It has only happened once or twice before and I don't know what triggered it this time, but by the time I got him off the boat he had new scrapes on his head and his leg, I was dripping with sweat and we were both exhausted and furious. I will talk to a physio about ways to overcome this if it happens again.

Once again we spent a night in the delights of the Hotel F1, described by Steve as a Gulag, but actually I quite like it. I bought a picnic at the unbelievably huge Carrefour around the corner and combined it with a few leftovers from the boat, so we had mini fruits de mer with real mayonnaise,  bread and cheese, and raspberry tartlets. Tastier, cheaper and a lot less effort than going into Intra-Muros, but perhaps a bit lacking in atmosphere.

The ferry crossing to St Peter Port was fine apart from the fact that we had to disembark, on foot, to get our passports checked in Jersey. A nice Frenchman called William came and pushed the wheelchair and we were first off the boat (down the car ramp) and first back on again, but it did seem a ludicrous waste of time and effort. Every passenger going to Guernsey has to get off and go through the check. Then of course I had to grapple with the delights of driving a large estate car on Guernsey where all the roads are narrow and most have granite walls a foot away on either side. Thank god for the satnav. Sam knew the way, mostly, but kept either forgetting or forgetting to tell me, which didn't help.

Typical beach view
A week at Robin's went remarkably quickly and we were very lucky with the weather, with most days warm enough to sit outside in the sun for several hours. I thought the sunshine might help Sam's cough, but sadly not. He really has been finding it quite debilitating and is slower, less active and much more bad-tempered than usual. However I ran away several times for long walks around the island.
Some of the oysters...

A highlight of Wednesday was a bucketful of oysters provided by Robin's younger son Charles. They were misshapes (all oysters look misshapen to me) but just as delicious. Unfortunately at least one of them disagreed with me severely, although it took until Thursday night, but then I spent a lot of time talking to Hughie on the big white telephone and not much time sleeping. Of course the mere fact that I'm ill doesn't stop Sam needing help, and twice I had to break off from retching to assist him with personal needs. Grrr. Do I sound bitter?

Anyway, apart from the fact that my digestive system is still recovering a week later, all went well, with an excellent Sunday lunch gathering and barbecue in the rain on Sunday. At least we got to spend time with Sam's oldest son Tim who returned to Guernsey after his holiday late on Saturday. And the ferry back via Poole was fine, other than the fact that the A12 was closed and we spent 20 minutes or so wiggling through tiny foggy lanes at 11 o'clock at night. Tomorrow we'll check up on the boat, regroup, and start getting ready for winter.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Stop reading now

Dear reader, if you check this blog in order to read about actual sailing adventures, please look away now. For the first time ever (I think) we have spent two weeks on the boat without going anywhere at all, and have now decided to abandon ship and return to the UK by car.

In the previous post I outlined the forecast we were facing and many of you will have appreciated the delights of the wettest and windiest week we have had for some time. Yesterday, Friday, things started to ease, with winds a mere force 5 or so instead of 6-8 or more. However the wind has gone around to the north, which means that the Chenal du Four could potentially be either an extremely unpleasant wind-over-tide experience or a going-nowhere-for-several hours experience. In any case we have just lost too much time. William, our lovely crew, has a new grandchild who arrived as he was heading out here, and also has to return to the UK to scatter his mother's ashes.

So Wednesday was a day of rearranging and regrouping travel plans. The results were as follows:
  • On Thursday I rose well before dawn to get the first bus of the day into Brest, then trains to Rennes, Lison and Cherbourg, walk to the port, collect our Passat from secure parking and drive it back. Possibly the best bit of the day was my chat with the lady bus driver on the 0547, who wanted to know if it was cold on the boat, thinks Brexit is great, and recommended I read a really interesting article about Germany in Le Monde Diplomatique. Also she thought my French was very good, so she's clearly wrong about many things. Another good bit was a nice walk through Cherbourg in sunshine, and a refund on the bit of car parking I had paid for but not used. A very long day though, covering over 800km altogether, all of which would have been unnecessary had I not tried to do clever and expensive things with a one-way car hire.
  • William went home via Rennes and Flybe to Southend on Friday and is already much missed. We really hope to take him out actually sailing next year.
  • We will leave Brest on Monday 18th by car, stay overnight in Saint-Malo and get an 8am Condor ferry to Guernsey, with the car, on Tuesday 19th. There aren't many crossings that week (none on Wednesday, and Thursday's goes via Jersey which I felt was not a good option with Sam) so our choice was a bit limited.
  • We'll be staying with Robin Swift on Guernsey as he has very kindly offered the use of his lovely accessible bedroom and bathroom.
  • We are coming home a couple of days later than originally planned so that we can see Tim, who returns to Guernsey from his holiday late on the 23rd. So we are booked on a ferry from St Peter Port to Poole on the afternoon of Tuesday September 26th. Brittany Ferries won't give a refund as we have already taken the outward portion of the journey. If I ever do this again I might book as two singles so I can cancel and get a partial refund instead of a lady laughing at me.
  • Meanwhile Louis, who sailed the boat out with Guy last year, is skippering a crew from Halcyon Yacht Deilveries. If all goes well they will leave here around Wednesday and may well get back to the Suffolk Yacht Harbour before us.
I felt deprived at not experiencing the Chenal du Four, so today Sam and I drove out to Pointe Saint-Mathieu, the westernmost point on the French mainland, to look at the view. We had to go around high tide in order to be able to get Sam on & off the boat, so didn't really see the Chenal at its worst. Three heavily-reefed yachts were making good progress southwards and the wave height didn't look bad at all. We saw only one northbound vessel, too far away to identify what it was, but no doubt a fishing boat with 300hp engine. There was a steady NNW4-5, gusting up more in the regular squalls, and I think pushing into the wind would have been a deeply unpleasant experience.


View from St-Mathieu - you can just see the yachts

The lighthouse is open for visits.... but closed for lunch

Chapel with semi-detached medieval gateway
We drove straight back through the middle of Brest, which was quite interesting for three minutes in the middle but otherwise full of concrete social housing and pretty dull.

I'm glad we decided to come to Moulin Blanc. It has lots of pretty surroundings, including the Botanical Gardens which we discovered in July, the beach, and as I found today if you drive through Relecq Kerhuon the old bridge over the River Élorn is still open to pedestrians and cyclists only, which I thought was very creative and gives great views of the Rade de Brest, the pretty wooded point, and of the new bridge.

New bridge (1990s) seen from the old bridge (1930s)
There's a phenomenal selection of marine suppliers within a mile or so, plus kayak shops, sailboard shops, bike shops, bars and restaurants, and Oceanopolis of course, but no supermarkets. I miss the little Épicerie du Port at Arzal. In the daytime there 's always something to watch with hundreds of schoolkids learning to dinghy sail, kayak or stand on paddleboards, and this weekend there's a windsurfing festival at the port end of the marina (probably at least 500 metres away).

Getting Sam on and off the alongside pontoon has proved relatively easy, the berth is sheltered, and it's mostly quite quiet. Except for now that is. Betwen 11pm and 1am on Friday and Saturday nights the otherwise pleasant Tour du Monde bar turns into a massively loud disco. Actually when I say massively loud it has nothing on Vilagarcia which was our worst club music experience ever, but it keeps me awake. Still at least I have updated the blog. It's a pity there's nothing about sailing in it.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Oh for goodness' sake

This jolly-coloured effort is the forecast for 8am tomorrow from PredictWind. Orange is around a force 5 which is the strongest wind we sail in, usually. Very dark red is a force 8-9. So much for a nice peaceful September. This time last year we went to Noirmoutier and Pornic with Ben and then had a wonderful sail back to the Vilaine. This year is clearly different. Tomorrow morning is the earliest we could have left with our crew William, who arrives this evening.

There is a lull on Tuesday, but it doesn't count because wave height could be more than 5m. You know those pictures of Brittany lighthouses by Philippe Plisson?
Yep, that's the one.

And then on Wednesday, guess what?

Depending on the weather model, a Friday or Saturday departure might be possible. But in order to get through the Chenal du Four safely and in some degree of comfort we need calm conditions, a fair tide, and to avoid wind over tide at all costs. With possible northerlies we face the delightful choice of awful sea conditions, or making no progress into both wind and tide. In which case Monday, yes eight days away, looks like the first option, and the forecast is probably wrong anyway. Also William is due to fly home on Monday (from Guernsey).

I have agreed with William that we will make a decision on Thursday. If there is no chance of sailing I will go to Cherbourg and collect the Passat, then drive home, possibly via Guernsey. Is this God's punishment to me for trying to be too clever with the hire car? I do hope not. If it is, he's punishing an awful lot of other people too.

In the meantime things are really not too bad. Yesterday I got Sam off the boat for a shower and some moules frites at the Tour du Monde. We are safe (the Moulin Blanc is in the most sheltered corner of the Rade de Brest which is possibly Europe's best-protected natural harbour), warm (electric fan heater),  have plenty of food and more importantly drink, and even reasonable internet access – probably because no-one else is using it today.

Here are some jollier pictures taken yesterday (Saturday) morning.





Thursday, September 07, 2017

Two strokes of luck

We are back on board Kalessin in Brest, and looking at the forecast we may be here for quite a lot longer. Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Our plans for this part of the trip were partly shaped by the fact that although Sam’s legs are working much better than in June, he has a horrible cough and chest infection which leave him feeling even weaker than usual. (His cough is also very loud and keeps us both awake at night). So I wanted to make the journey as easy on him as possible.

Getting ourselves here and making sure we could get back again was something of a logistical challenge. Note: if you are really bored by logistical challenges, please skip the next seven paragraphs.

To start off with, when we first planned this year’s trip, Sam wanted to be able to sail to Guernsey on the way home, so he could see his sons Tim and Nick, visit Robin, revisit old haunts and do it from our own boat. This was a key factor in the whole itinerary and meant we had to make reasonable progress from Arzal around Brittany in July so that we could leave the boat and then get as far as the Channel Islands in the first two weeks of September. We also needed somewhere with good transport connections, and of all the harbours between Concarneau and Roscoff, Brest is definitely the best option. With Steve’s help we managed to get here in July.

So here we are, but Brest is pretty much as far west as you can get in France which makes it quite a long way from anywhere. We also needed to get Sam and me, and our car, home to the UK from somewhere reasonably close to Guernsey. Extra key point: we will get a paid crew to bring Kalessin home to Suffolk from France.

My tentative plan A was to take the car on the ferry from Portsmouth to St-Malo as we have before, drive to Brest, leave the car here, sail to Guernsey, then I would go back and get the car and get a ferry home. However that doesn’t work because of the ferry timings. It isn’t possible to get a foot ferry to St-Malo, then a train to Brest, then drive back to St Malo and get a vehicle ferry to Guernsey in one day. It’s barely possible to do it in two, and it would mean leaving Sam with somebody else for up to 48 hours which didn’t seem like a good option. And it was jolly expensive. And not ideal for a delivery crew who would have to get to the island in order to bring the boat home. Hmm.

Ok, option B was to do all the car-to-Brest-via-St-Malo bit, and the sail-to-Guernsey bit, then sail Kalessin on to Cherbourg, which is not far away from Guernsey by sea, only 60 miles from the south coast of England, and has the major advantage of being in the same country as the car. However, Cherbourg is a short distance away from the UK because it is at the top of a long peninsular sticking north from France (the Cotentin peninsula). That makes it about five hours’ drive from Brest and almost seven hours by train, which, whenever I collected or delivered the car would mean leaving Sam for up to 12 hours, potentially on his own. Again, hmm.

I nearly went with option B but was scuppered by the fact that by the time I booked there were no disabled access parking spaces on the St Malo ferry. There was a disabled access cabin, but I couldn’t have got Sam out of the car in order to get into the cabin. Brittany Ferries doesn’t tell you this when you book online, but it helpfully phones the next day to tell you if you have won the parking space lottery or not.

So, Option C. I thought this was really quite creative. Take the car on the ferry to Cherbourg. Then leave the car in Cherbourg and get a one-way car hire to Brest. Then sail somewhere, but by hook or by crook, get back to Cherbourg to get the car back and get a ferry home. Then the delivery crew brings Kalessin home from Cherbourg. Two big pluses: I do the overland trip between Cherbourg and Brest once instead of three times, and I don't have to leave Sam. Several minuses: it seems daft to take a car to France and then abandon it; it's quite an expensive option; I don't get to enjoy French trains; it commits us to getting back to Cherbourg, but then we have to get the ferry from there anyway.

So that’s what we did. Overnight at the Premier Inn in Port Solent, 9am fast ferry to Cherbourg, arrive 1pm French time. An hour or so finding, sorting out and paying for the secure parking at Cherbourg ferry port (so well hidden and so secure that in fact ours was the only car in it). Walk to the Hertz car hire office just as they open at 2pm. Collect car (large Fiat Tipo, needed room for wheelchair, two big bags, two boxes of stuff, loads of small bags, Sam and me). Drive back to car, transfer over Sam and all the stuff, park our Passat, back to the Tipo. Arrive back at the boat about 7.30pm, by the time Sam and all the stuff was on board it was about 9.30pm, eat a very late dinner, fall into bed. Sam coughed a lot but we did both manage some sleep.

Then for me, up betimes (Sam went back to sleep again), off to the supermarché while we still had the hire car, to do lots of heavy shopping, bring it back, quick lunch, deep breath and off to find the Hertz depot where it is cunningly hidden, fortunately on the same side of Brest as us, leave the hire car and then walk back to the marina (it was 3km but easier than getting the bus which takes a completely different route). I walked along the edge of the port and then through a whole industrial area which is entirely full of yacht sailmakers, riggers, engineers, guardiennage and more. I even found another, huge, chandlery around the back of Oceanopolis.

For what it's worth, we went with Hertz because their prices were ok, they had reasonable (walkable) locations in both Cherbourg and Brest, and they do unlimited mileage. Europcar charges a socking premium for collecting a car from the Cherbourg port, and their other office is miles away. Enterprise had good prices but a 250km limit, then a charge per kilometer. Blimey it's complicated.

So what about these strokes of luck, cries the patient reader? Well, they were both out-of-evil-cometh-good things, really. Before we left I loaded up my Kindle with everything I wanted to read, and then left it behind. But literally three minutes away from the Port Solent Premier Inn is a mahoosive Tesco Extra, and by finding a man who found a lady who found another lady who knew what was in the stockroom I managed to find another Kindle to take with me. An expensive option but a lifesaver, and after extensive fiddling I even managed to log on to the Premier Inn wifi from the Kindle to download all my books. Yes, I could have read the books on my phone or my tablet, and we have lots of paper books on board which are mostly of the “I must get around to reading this one day” variety. But a Kindle is better and that’s what I got. When we get back I’ll have to find a family member who might really appreciate it.

And the other thing was that I couldn’t find my business debit card anywhere at home. From my bank statements I worked out that the last time I had used it was to pay for fuel for the boat in Port Haliguen – my personal debit card has hysterics and won't work on marina fuel machines, because they work by pre-charging you for €300-worth of fuel, then correcting the amount once you have filled up. After deep thought I concluded that the card was most likely to be in the pocket of my waterproof jacket where I would have shoved it for safekeeping. So when we got on board yesterday I got out my jacket, put my hand in the pocket, and there was the card. First place I tried. How often does that happen?