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?

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.