Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Brest is best

I'm sure I've used that heading before. [Edit: yes I have, see the link. We were there at exactly the same time of year, but going in the opposite direction].

Just a quick update to say that we arrived safely at the Marina Moulin Blanc in Brest yesterday. Our original plan was to spend Saturday and Sunday in Loctudy and then get on to Audierne and Brest. However it transpired that the forecast for Tuesday had become rather awful and we really needed to get moving. So on Saturday we did the 44 miles from Concarneau to Audierne (actually Sainte-Evette as we were on the mooring buoys). On Sunday we rounded the Raz in very peaceful conditions and went to Camaret for the night. And then on to here, which is cheaper but less central than the newer Marina du Chateau. Today the wind was gusty and the heavens opened, and I got the 0804 bus to the city, a TGV to Rennes which was late so I missed my connection, a rather later than planned train to Questembert, and then a taxi to the Camöel side. Then I drove the Passat back here, so I'm a little weary.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

A few photos

It's 0727 on Thursday and there's fog. So as we're not going anywhere just yet here are a few photos.

Piriac is full of flowers
Sunset over the marina
Port Haliguen has nowhere to buy groceries but lots of creperies
View from Port-Louis looking across the river, citadel on the left
Port Louis is a Petit Cité de Bollards de Caractère
and again
and again

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

On the move

On Friday Steve arrived at Nantes airport. His flight was due at 1725 which, it belatedly occurred to me, meant that I would be driving around the Nantes périphérique during a Friday rush hour – also, as it turned out, in bucketing rain. Still, it meant that by the time I got to the airport Steve was outside and could just run across the road and leap in so that I barely needed to slow down.

The forecast for Saturday July 1 looked pretty unattractive with NW5-6, so I'd already decided to stay an extra day. It was also the day our contract with Arzal ended and they charged me the full, high-season day rate for the extra day, which I thought was a bit mean after I'd paid them for 11 months of short-term contracts in total.

Sunday saw us locking out of Arzal at 0900. The wind was forecast to be NW3-4 increasing at some point after lunch so I thought we should make the most of relatively light winds.The Vilaine and its entrance were fine but I really wasn't sure about heading straight into the strengthening wind to Port Crouesty, which was plan A. So instead we went with plan B and sailed for a pleasant couple of hours to spend one last evening in Piriac. Lots of people like Crouesty, which is a vast marina with lots of restaurants and bars,  and perhaps we would have enjoyed a night there, but instead we got Sam off the boat and went for moules frites at the place where M le Prop plays the Breton bagpipes very badly.

On Monday there was less wind, still NW unfortunately.We slipped out of Piriac as soon as there was enough depth over the sill, and motored to Port Haliguen just enough off the wind to keep the mainsail full. With more time and enthusiasm we could probably have sailed, but being hard on the wind would have been uncomfortable for Sam and a longer way round as we'd have had to do proper tacks. I don't really love Haliguen although it is in a very convenient place at the bottom of the Presqu'Ile de Quiberon. We were welcomed and shown to a berth by a nice lady in a rib, who also took our money as we were about 1km from the capitainerie (and almost as far as possible from the berth we were in last summer). Steve had a nice walk around the bottom of the peninsular. He is an enthusiastic walker, also cyclist, sailor and many other pursuits, which he much prefers to working as a GP which he did before he retired.

Tuesday saw easterly winds, hooray! and very nice too as we attempt to press westwards. I was quite keen to get slack or even favourable tide through the Passage de Teignouse at the bottom of Quiberon, as wind against tide there is said to be a Bad Thing, and pushing the tide is never that much fun. So we left at 0700 (after a slightly false start when we tried to take the shore power cable with us), filled up with fuel, motored a tad nervously through the Passage, and sailed most of the rest of the way to Lorient in decreasing winds and increasing temperatures. Port Louis was just as nice as we remembered and we have been here for two nights before pressing on again tomorrow – I really want to get to Concarneau after failing to go there several times in the past. We got Sam off today at lunchtime, which was relatively easy as the welcoming boat here had directed us to a berth with a finger pontoon wide enough to get the wheelchair more than halfway down. We managed moules frites at the place which does them 70 different ways and last year had run out when we tried to eat there. Then I gave him a shower and the extremely good facilities. We had a lovely chat to the owner of the beautiful wooden yacht next to us, who turns out to have gone to the International Boatbuilding Training College in Lowestoft for a year to do their wooden boatbuilding course. In the course of conversation I mentioned to him that I understand IBTC takes retirees, mid-life crisis subjects and young apprentices, and even the occasional special needs student, and I had heard of one who was almost adopted by staff. He said he could vouch for that because his son had spent several months there. I wonder if his son was actually the lad I had heard of, but who knows.

It's currently 2330 and still sweatily hot. It's a pity France can't manage pleasantly warm weather, although we really shouldn't complain.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Existential angst

We thought we should make the most of the extra time with a car to go out and about a bit. So on Friday, all three of us went to visit Le Croisic, which Sam & I visited and very much liked last year. Ben had already persuaded Sam to walk up the companionway steps without the harness, which was a major achievement given his leg problems over the past couple of weeks, and he did it again on Friday morning. Unfortunately on the top step his weak right leg gave way a bit and he cracked his shin on the step, in a place where he already had a graze from a previous effort. We didn't think much of this at the time but it caused us problems later, as you will see.

The pier in Le Croisic
Le Croisic was lovely, with blue skies and fluffy white clouds meaning it was not too hot to wander about. We found a nice spot for lunch overlooking one of the harbours, chosen mainly because there was a table to which we could easily get the wheelchair. I had my assiette de fruits de mer, which I need a few times a season if possible, Sam had moules frites and Ben had a salad which turned out to be mainly lardons and melted cheese. Then we wandered on down to the fishing pier (part of which is now blocked off – it looks as though a mooring pontoon which was there last year has been swept away) and admired the tide coming in at 3 knots or so. There is no marina at Le Croisic and you can only use the harbours if your boat can dry out, but having seen the tide, which fills and empties vast acres of salt flats where sel de Guérande is made, I'm quite glad we gave it a miss.

Unfortunately I'm starting to think that I should only have fruits de mer when I can lie down for a few hours immediately afterwards, as my stomach clearly needs time and energy to digest all that raw protein. Sam was also rather tired and bad-tempered and when we got back to the boat we got him from the wheelchair to the side deck using the spinnaker halyard, which we haven't done for a long time, and then from the side deck straight down below using the main halyard. All of this is much easier using the new full-body harness but I really think I might struggle to do it on my own.

View of the Vilaine from the Sentier Botanique
Saturday was a relatively quiet day catching up with stuff around the boat; I took the chance to go for  walk around the nature reserve on the Arzal side which I discovered last year. On Sunday I took Ben to Nantes airport to catch his flight home. I think he was a bit shocked to have spent only a week on the boat. Over the years he has spent longer on Kalessin than anyone except Sam and me and we miss him terribly when he goes.

When I got back to the boat, I was keen to get Sam to do more walking and exercise as clearly part of his problem is jelly legs from not walking anywhere. He had also spent two days just sitting below, which is a bit of a waste as the boat might just as well be in Suffolk Yacht Harbour if you can't see out. However, he seemed quite incapable of stepping up even the smallest step and refused even to try. This caused me considerable angst. I feared that keeping him on the boat was permanently impairing his walking and also his enthusiasm for doing, well, anything. I hope that not everyone in Camoël could hear us shouting at each other, but it was not a happy time. In the meantime I started work on the July issue of the CA newsletter, which is supposed to take me a day and always takes at least two.

On Monday I changed the dressing over the graze on Sam's right leg. It's a big hydrocolloidal dressing and there had been some seeping of gloop from underneath it. Behold, when I removed it, there was a huge bruise which had been invisible before, extremely tender to the touch and generally a bad thing. This had been the cause of his bad temper and inability to do anything. Ho hum. I used the harness to get him to the cockpit for a while and repeated the process on Tuesday, so at least he could look around a bit while I worked on the newsletter and sorted out stuff.

The newsletter is now almost done, this blog is updated, and I need to start tidying and cleaning so that when Steve arrives on Friday evening he doesn't think we live in a slum. The forecast for the next few days includes winds of F6 but it all seems very uncertain. Our contract runs until July 1 but we probably need to get going fairly soon after Steve's arrival if we can.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Back to Camoël

Well, we left Port Joinville as planned at around 7am, and had a long motor in almost zero wind to Piriac. Conditions were hot and calm and in fact I realised that the French forecast included Bancs de brume – fortunately, although I thought I saw fog in the distance, we didn't actually run into any. This time we crossed the entrance to the Loire considerably further out to see, but it's a funny area – last year we ran into thick fog as we sailed towards Noirmoutier, and winds often seem to change as you round the various headlands. I guess it's a large, shallow and therefore relatively warm river hitting the cold Atlantic.

The timing was intended to get us away from Yeu a couple of hours before high water and into Piriac in plenty of time to get over the sill and tidal flap. In fact we also benefited from a fair bit of north-going tide over most of the route and reached Piriac considerably earlier than I expected, just before 1500.

It was nice to be in Piriac, again albeit surprising that there were brilliant blue skies and hot sun – conditions have often been grey and drizzly when we visited. We thought a lot about Rob & Jo from Cyclone of Langstone whom we met there last year when we were sailing with Robin Swift. I wondered about staying an extra day, but forecast conditions seemed very similar on both Thursday and Friday: light winds in the morning becoming NW 4-5 mid afternoon. We can't leave Piriac until there's enough tidal depth over the sill and that would be an hour or so earlier on Thursday, which was a deciding factor. So we chugged out at 1220 or so when the digital tide gauge said 1.9m, and in fact as ever there was actually 30-40cm more than it said.

This time with light winds forecast we had Sam in the cockpit for the first time this trip. It's only 15M or so from Piriac to the Arzal barrage and we did it all with just the foresail, arriving in plenty of time for the 1600 lock at just after 1500. This year the lock is closed all day on Tuesday and Wednesday because of a shortage of water in the Vilaine, which is a drinking water reservoir, and because most yachts need at least half tide to cross the shallow Vilaine entrance, this was the first accessible locking since Monday. Naturally it was rammed.

The rather full lock after the bridge (visible as the yellow structure on the left) was opened and we all moved forward
I may have mentioned this before but the Arzal lock has a distinctly bonkers layout. The road bridge crosses the lock about two thirds of the way along. They leave the gates open to seaward and it fills up with boats, who can all get only as far as the bridge if they have masts, with numerous others hanging around outside. At the designated time, the bridge opens and every boat in the lock then has to move forward so that the tail-enders can get in. Then they close the seaward lock gates, let in the water, open the river-ward lock gates, let out all the yachts going into the river, let in all the yachts who are going out to sea and finally close the bridge. Traffic waiting to cross can easily be there for 45 minutes which is plenty of time to drive round via the bridge at La Roche-Bernard. And meanwhile boats are all banging into each other, being shouted at by the lock keepers and generally having an entertaining time for up to two hours.

Anyway our berth was still free so we slipped in and settled down to relax for a few days. Ben was due to fly home on Sunday and our next crew, Steve Jones, joins us on Friday 30th.

Gracias a Señor Norit

Sometime between nine and 11 years ago I bought a bottle of Norit handwash detergent in Spain. Today I finished the very last dregs on washing the genoa furling line. It says 50 washes but may have been many more. It cleaned very effectively, left clothes smelling pleasant but never strongly scented, and didn't leave embarrassing bubbles in marinas when handwashing clothes in a bucket. You couldn't ask for more. Muchas gracias.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A brief visit to Yeu

Ben arrived on Saturday afternoon by train as planned, and on Sunday we set off rather early (by his standards) for L'Herbaudière on the Île Normoutier. It was a bit unfair to face him with a 40-mile voyage straight away, but I felt we should make the most of the forecast NE4 on Sunday becuase Monday's wind looked like being bugger all. Which proved to be correct.

The 8am lock opening at Arzal finally disgorged us on to the river about 0845 and after that we sailed the majority of the way. We reefed south of Le Croisic - the entrance to the Loire always seems to produce funny and unhelpful weather (last time we passed that way it was thick fog). The wind indicator showed only around 12 knots but we were quite close to the wind and steering was getting to be quite hard work. At this point we discovered that my reefing lines tied on in slight haste in Camoël were rubbish; at least one wasn't long enough so must have been tied to the the wrong reefing point, and one of the bowlines came untied the minute we hauled down on it. Thank goodness for Ben who calmly tied it all back on again.

We were allocated a berth on pontoon L in L'Herbaudière with a wafer-thin finger pontoon. Still, the tides wouldn't have allowed us to get Sam off anyway as we arrived just before LW (neaps, so there was enough depth in the entrance). A paddle on the beach, a risotto and a West Wing were required before bed, and large drinks all round as a reward for doing so well.

Sam had appeared rather un-enchanted by the whole event until we started heeling and then surprisingly perked up and seemed to enjoy sailing more. He refused to stand up for most of the day though so unsurprisingly his feet were extremely swollen. I made him promise to stand up more on the passage to the Île d'Yeu.

Monday was another stonkingly hot day with very little wind, what there was of it again mainly NE. It was a motor all the way to Port Joinville. After some to-ing & fro-ing we were allocated berth C20 - a reasonable finger pontoon but not alongside a jetty. Having seen all the other yachts which have arrived since we did, that seems like a reasonable trade-off- the alongside yachts have at least two or three more yachts rafted up alongside while we are free to come & go. Anyway we had a pleasant afternoon & evening; Ben & I enjoyed a really lovely swim in the turquoise but slightly seaweedy waters of the nearest beach and we entertained Mark & Judith Grimwade to drinks on board..

The plan was to stay here until Thursday (22nd) or ideally even Friday (23rd) which would have allowed us to participate fully in the CA's Yeu rally. However, the winds are somewhat against us. Ben needs to be at Nantes airport on Sunday and our car is at Arzal. On Thursday the winds go firmly NW and stay that way for the forecastable future. We tried leaving Yeu in a NW last year and really didn't enjoy it at all. So tomorrow we will leave at the crack of 7am and motor to Piriac, hopefully, in very light to non-existent south-westerlies.

Knowing we were here for such a short time has focused our minds. We got out the folding bike, and I cycled to Super U at 9am while Ben jogged alongside. We got Sam off the boat at lunchtime and with considerable encouragement from Ben he climbed the companionway steps without assistance from ropes, hooray! and walked along the pontoon, more or less. We went into town for moules frites (and a burger for Ben) and a bit of an explore. Then Ben gave Sam a shower and we got him back on board. More pontoon walking. Then Ben & I went into town again so I could buy him one of the nice (but rather expensive) YE polo shirts. Then we got Sam of the boat again, twice in one day is a record, for the CA pontoon party. And finally back on board again for sausage sandwiches made by Ben, and bed. We'll have an early departure tomorrow so I must get to bed, but it's been a really good day with lots of achievement by Sam, a bit of exploration of Yeu, and an acceptance by all concerned that sometimes you can't stay for the whole rally, but that's sailing.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Back on board

Well, we managed to get Sam off the boat to go down to the Charente, and yesterday we got him back on. In between he has been the most wobbly I remember him since the early months after his stroke, which has been a bit of a challenge.

We tried to visit Harry and Liz last summer, but Liz developed cancer of the pancreas and very sadly died only a few months later. Harry has still been keen for us to visit and offered the use of their gite, an extension to the house which is designed to be wheelchair accessible. It seemed a perfect way to fill the time when we had no crew. So last Saturday we set off, and by hanging on to Kalessin's guardrails Sam somehow managed to walk as far as the wheelchair. It's only 350km (215 miles) to Abzac but although there's dual carriageway and then autoroute as far as Poitiers, it's then relatively slow D-roads, so it took us well over four hours with a couple of stops.

View from the guest patio
We managed to get there and find the house without problems, heeding Harry's dire warnings of what might happen if we tried to go to the other Abzac, in the Gironde. Unless you know the geography of inland France well it's hard to pinpoint, but the correct Abzac is not far from the river Vienne and the nearest major city is Limoges.

We were expecting to be enlivening Harry's solo existence, but in fact he has got together with a lady called Janet, his former next door neighbour and a good friend to both Harry and Liz. Harry says at his age he really doesn't want to waste time, so they expect to get married by the end of this year. Huzzah! Both of them were incredibly welcoming, especially given that Harry and Sam only really knew each other quite well for a couple of months in the area at the entrance of the Rhone in 2008.

The abbey church at Saint-Savin is a Unesco world heritage site. Construction started about 1050
They gave us wonderful food and wine, a day trip to see the astonishing Romanesque church at Saint-Savin, peace and quiet, an introduction to their four dogs and several cats (two of which enlivened our first night by running away and not reappearing until 6.30 the next morning), and we took them out for one very excellent meal at their local auberge, which was not much of a payment.

In all the time we were in Abzac, Sam appeared to have reverted to the sort of state he was in six months after his stroke. He seemed completely unable to lift his weak (right) leg unless hanging on to a stout piece of furniture. Even transfers between the wheelchair and bed or loo were a bit fraught. It made me realise that most of the time I am lucky that Sam is able to do so much for himself. It's always more difficult in an unfamiliar environment, but even so he seemed to have lost not only confidence but also the ability to move his leg. It wasn't as simple as that though, because when lying on his back he could lift the right leg very well. All very baffling and discouraging, and I spent the last night before our return to the boat worrying about how the hell I was going to get him on board, or whether we should give up and return to the UK. It seemed pointless seeing a doctor because unless he sees someone who knows what he is normally capable of, they wouldn't notice anything untoward for a stroke survivor. I tried emailing our physio for advice, but sadly got no response.

The journey back north started warm and got hotter and hotter. By the time we reached Arzal and I went on board the boat, about 5pm, it was 35º down below. In spite of all that Sam seemed better, and we took the opportunity to use the very good disabled facilities on the Camoël side and give Sam a shower. Then it was time for the moment of truth. I had the spinnaker halyard rigged to lift him from the wheelchair to the side deck if required, but somehow he managed to walk part of the way down the finger pontoon with the stick, hang on to our neighbouring boat (occupied by a Frenchman & his mates who seem to use it as a boys' club) for the last few steps, get lifted into the cockpit by me using the main halyard and new harness without problems, and later get lifted below with no more problems than Sam snarling at me when his foot got in the wrong place. (His fault).

Phew. And today we are taking it easy, catching up on washing, tidying and updating the blog, enjoying slightly cooler weather, and planning for our trip down to Yeu next week.