Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas message 2016

Dear friends & family

Despite the delights of Brexit and Trump, 2016 has been a pretty good year for us. Sam and Camilla started the year with a voyage on the tall ship Lord Nelson, one of only two accessible tall ships in the world. We flew to Gran Canaria and sailed to Madeira and back. The trip was somewhat harder work than we expected, as Nellie has room for wheelchairs, but only just. In addition the conditions heading north into the Atlantic swell were pretty bumpy – Sam’s wheelchair had to be lashed to the deck a couple of times – and initially the weather was cool and rainy. Still, as we got used to the way of life the conditions improved. Madeira was terrific and on the voyage back home again we were rewarded with calm seas, clear skies, wonderful night watches and 25°C when we got back to Las Palmas. We’d love to go again but would prefer to try Nellie’s sister ship Tenacious, which is newer and more spacious, but currently unfortunately in Australia, which is a long way to go. (We have just heard that she is due back in Europe some time in 2017, hooray!).

Part of the luxury accommodation on Lord Nelson. Sam had the lower bunk. Stowing the wheelchair was a major problem in rough conditions as it frequently ended up in the bathroom across the way!

One of the three wheelchair lifts on board. Getting from the cabin, on the lowest deck, to the helm area up top is quite a lengthy process

We are sailing...

Nellie dwarfed by a Norwegian Lines cruise ship in Funchal

Our Titanic moment. Sam & Camilla out on the bowsprit on our last evening

On our return Camilla went up to visit Ben, who was still living in Nottingham and job-hunting, but not finding much… so we came up with a 15-point plan of action for exploiting every contact Ben has ever made. Just before he got going with this, Ben decided to apply for one more job in the traditional way, and it turned out to be the job for him. He is working as a proper, grown-up civil engineer at Stanton Bonna, between Nottingham & Derby, making manholes, slot drains and huge concrete slabs for platforms on the River Severn.

In April Camilla & Sam flew out to Guernsey to stay with Sam’s oldest friend Robin, who kindly lent us his (ground-floor) master bedroom for a few days while he camped upstairs. 

Robin's beautiful and accessible master bedroom

Gorgeous seas in Guernsey

Sam admires the quayside bench erected in memory of his brother Adrian in St Peter Port
It was a delightful break where Sam managed to spend time with his older sons Tim & Nick, and Camilla stomped around the Guernsey countryside.

Camilla’s working year has been dominated by the Cruising Association, for whom she is now producing not only the quarterly magazine, but also the monthly email newsletter, and the printed yearbook. Members seem to like the magazine a lot, and some have even suggested we launch it commercially as a rival to Practical Boat Owner or Yachting Monthly. (No thank you). The great thing about working for the CA is that it actually encourages you to go off sailing. Inspired by one contributor to Cruising who described the Île d’Yeu as the most beautiful island in the world, we decided to take Kalessin to southern Brittany and explore the bits we never got to in 2006. It took a fair bit of planning, as Sam and Camilla need at least one extra crew person to sail safely, but we managed it, hooray!

My two favourite 60th birthday cards
At the tail end of May we had a family-and-close-friends get together aboard the lightship at Suffolk Yacht Harbour, to celebrate Camilla’s 60th birthday. Then Guy, as skipper, plus one paid crew member (Louis) and one unpaid one (Chris) sailed out of Suffolk Yacht Harbour and got to Ramsgate, where they were trapped by strong winds for over a week – giving them plenty of time to bond, which seemed to work quite well. Meanwhile Sam & Camilla took the car via a Brittany Ferry to St Malo, and finally met Kalessin in thick fog in Roscoff. If you’d like to read more about our adventures the full story is elsewhere on the blog (with lots of pictures), but here are the highlights:

Louis & Chris on Kalessin on a rough day in the English Channel :)

The day we decided not to leave Roscoff (there's a Brittany Ferry out there that you can't see)
  • Camilla, Sam & Guy sailed from Roscoff to L’Aberwrac’h, where the fog cleared just long enough for us to get into the marina
  • Another foggy (and long) day took us through the Chenal de Four and Raz de Sein, and then on to Benodet the next day for a weekend of rain & meeting Tim & Nick who had travelled from Guernsey
  • At Lorient Guy headed home and we met up with Simon Evans for an excellent week of sailing in marginally better weather, culminating with a trip up the Vilaine to Redon, which has a station nicely placed on the TGV route
  • We heard the results of the Brexit vote on the day Camilla took the train to Roscoff to collect our Passat estate. It was the longest Sam has been on his own since his stroke, which was one good thing to come out of that day
  • The car promptly broke down with a mysterious electronic brake ailment; fortunately we could leave it to be fixed at a garage in Redon, and went sailing with Sam’s friend Robin
    West coast of the Île d'Yeu
  • We had two weeks of mostly lovely weather with Robin, making it to the Ile Noirmoutier and finally the lovely Île d’Yeu, before leaving Kalessin at Arzal on the Vilaine and heading back to the UK for six weeks so Camilla could edit September’s Cruising. Again there is lots more detail elsewhere in the blog.
In September we headed out again, this time with (youngest son) Ben, and had two more weeks of lovely gentle sailing before heading home, earlier than planned, for the funeral of Camilla’s uncle. The boat is in Arzal over the winter but we still plan to bring her home next year (and will be looking for crew again for June, July & September).

On the whole we are delighted with the amount of sailing we managed this year: with more than two months on the boat, it’s the best since Sam’s stroke. It makes the winter more bearable when you feel you have made the best use of the summer.

Guy & Kai
Ben & Anne
In addition to his sailing exploits Guy has continued to work for Camilla, and occasionally for others, as a photographer. He also has a lovely young lady, Kai, and spends time at her home in Leiston, although is always available to Sam-sit if required. And Ben is still with his lovely young lady, Anne. We hope to see all of them over Christmas.

Camilla's colours. Photo added by popular demand! They are from the Firelight palette (aka Autumn) with a Tealight type and Dreamlight/Starlight influences. Lots of orangey browns and teal greens but no navy blue or black - the actual colours are slightly warmer than they look in this pic
In October Camilla had her colours analysed, as a present from Lucilla – this is when a helpful lady gazes into your eyes, asks you lots of questions about yourself and holds up colours against you for two hours, and comes up with a bunch of colour swatches which really suit you. All jolly good fun and a great opportunity for Camilla to give away about a third of the clothes in her wardrobe, and then fill it up again with new clothes in better colours.

Camilla & Sam on board Kalessin

Sam with Elaine who runs his communications group

At Sutton Hoo, driving for the first time since 2012
Meanwhile Sam carries on, with little improvements here and there, and of course days of huge frustration. Sailing is a mixed blessing as there is so little he can actually do on board, and not enough walking to keep his legs active. He still thinks it’s worthwhile though! His health has been generally fine this year, he has sailed with the East Anglian Sailing Trust when we haven’t been on Kalessin, and he continues weekly sessions with Street Forge Workshops where last year he was the surprise (to him) winner of the annual woodwork award. We also campaigned, successfully, to save the communications service provided by the Stroke Association and funded by the NHS in Suffolk, which means a lot to Sam and helps his speech to continue to improve very gradually. Both of us are involved with various Stroke Association activities and Camilla chairs the Stroke Association's East of England reference group.

I’m sure you remember Sam’s delight when his Rolex was unexpectedly found in the dredgings from SYH exactly a year ago. With the help of Oakleigh Watches we were able to get the watch restored at a relatively modest price – and then they paid half of the cost! The only downside is that Sam is now terrified of losing the watch again, so doesn’t wear it as often as he might.

Camilla's parents still soldier on, both almost 90. Frank's many ailments continue to make him frailer but he is still with us. Patricia is wearing herself out looking after him, but at least all the running around keeps her fit... 

A couple of weeks ago Camilla attended a weekend yoga retreat, held only 10 miles away in Suffolk, but organised by a yoga studio based in Brentwood, Essex. The yoga and the relaxation were terrific, but perhaps even more of an eye-opener was to spend time with people who were bowled over by the beauty of this part of Suffolk. It’s so easy to take things for granted, but since that weekend Camilla has been really appreciating our quiet countryside, dark skies, timber-framed village houses, medieval churches, local people focused on quality of life rather than money, and perhaps most of all, our lovely friends and family.

May all of you continue to flourish during 2017.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Belated update

Well we got home late on 18 September as planned, and since then things have been a bit busy, but I'm not quite sure how 11 days has gone by!

We sorted out a couple of things before leaving the boat. One was a result of complete brain fade on my part. Given that we encountered several days of fog I was very concerned that we hadn't got the radar to work. Checking all the connections means getting down the headlining in the saloon, which is easy, and putting it back again, which is a complete p*** in the a***. So I put off doing anything about it and then the day before we left I suddenly had a Thought... for some reason which I can't now remember the radar doesn't work when the plotter display is in the cockpit. It only works when the unit is connected in the alternative position at the chart table. I took it below, connected everything up, turned on the radar and bingo. It works. I did kick myself quite hard but at least I hadn't taken down the headlining or even worse attempted to brief a French electricien.

I also changed the engine oil, which had been on my conscience since Rob mentioned that the oil is supposed to be changed every 50 hours, and our engine had probably done more like 150 in the season. Checking online suggested it would be better to change when we laid up rather than while the engine was still in use, so I did it after Ben had left and we were firmly fixed in Arzal. All very easy when you have the right tools. Note to self: I have left the oil extractor pump on the boat. Some oily substance still seemed to be leaking into the bilges. It looked very yellow but smelled like diesel. I couldn't work out what it was or where it was coming from so I turned the diesel feed off at the tank and crossed my fingers. Hopefully it's just something leftover running into the bilge and no more was hiding.

We left Arzal on Saturday a bit later that I had hoped - I think this is the first time we have ever left her over winter in a location where she may suffer from dampness, other than the UK where we can pop down and check her. She has either been in the warm Algarve or Med, or in a dry shed in Denmark. It is forbidden to connect a boat to shorepower in Arzal when no-one is aboard, so we can't run a dehumidifier. So all the bedding is sealed in bin bags, cupboards & lockers left open etc. There was a lot to worry about and it was a bit later than planned when we got away.

However the drive to Saint-Malo was easy and the F1 hotel proved really quite pleasant, with an accessible room quite intelligently laid out for wheelchair use and a disabled bathroom just along the corridor (which we didn't actually use as we knew Sam could have a shower on the ferry). Sam conveyed to me that it would be nice to go out for a pizza and using various electronic gizmos I thought I had tracked down an Italian restaurant. However either it was closed or very poorly lit, because we drove past it without spotting it. We carried on through Saint-Servain, which is very pleasant but hides any restaurants extremely well, and down to the old citadel, Saint-Malo Intra Muros, which is ringed by car parks almost all of which were full as it was a Saturday night. It was almost dark, and not knowing what I was doing I wimped out of finding a parking space and headed back to the hotel, where we dined rather well on leftovers from the boat fridge that we had brought with us. On mature reflection (and looking it up in the Rough Guide) this was probably a sound move, as Saint-Malo Intra Muros is the most expensive place to eat in Brittany and is also characterised by very bumpy cobbles which would have been far from ideal with the wheelchair.

Sunday's ferry was another pleasant crossing, with warm sunshine and smooth seas, and we reached home late in the evening, by which point I was more than somewhat knackered.

in the intervening days we have done mountains of washing, and on Wednesday 21st travelled to Wales for Luke's funeral, staying overnight in a pleasant but far from outstanding hotel at roughly four times the cost of the Hotel F1 (but probably a better location for a family gathering), returning to Suffolk on the Thursday.

On Friday I abandoned Sam and went by train to the Southampton Boat Show. It always amazes me what you can and can't get at these shows. I wanted to treat myself to a new Spinlock lifejacket and there were dozens of places where I could try one, although it was much harder to find someone who could provide an intelligent comparison between the Spinlock and its cheaper rivals, as the salesmen are linked to one brand. I wanted to look at bulkhead LED light fittings and I found a couple of places which displayed these, although only one which actually had them on sale to take away. And I wanted a new gas kettle, as our old one is leaking - if there was a single one of these at the show I missed it completely. Last year I looked in vain for a lightweight cockpit table and ended up buying a camping table from Aldi during the summer. Surely I can't be the only sailor who wants a lightweight cockpit table or a gas kettle? Maybe Aldi will come up trumps with a gas kettle too...

We're now getting back into the rhythm of life at home and in a mad moment I have signed up for French classes, in the hope that next season I will be able to enjoy more relaxed conversations in the capitaineries and boulangeries. Otherwise, all is quiet.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

On the houseboat

I hadn't realised it was five days since my last post. Once you settle into a mooring the days seem to pass surprisingly fast.

One slightly annoying factor is that we have had to move the boat a number of times. When we arrived late on Friday we went into a spot on the outer end of D pontoon, as our old berth at D127 was full. Enquiries at the capitainerie the next morning revealed unsurprisingly that the owner would be returning shortly but we could go to D27 on the other side of the same pontoon. When we returned from our brief sail on Sunday (see below) someone had moved into D27 and the captainerie had gone home for Sunday afternoon, so we tried D28. On Monday we moved again to C29 where hopefully we can stay until Sam and I go home. Each move is only a few metres but it's almost as much hassle as moving to another marina!

After our grey day on Saturday we thought we'd show Ben the delights of the Vilaine in the sunny spells on Sunday. There was almost no wind so we motored a couple of miles upriver with the sails hoisted to dry them after Saturday's rain, before Ben convinced us to stop the motor and drift at speeds approaching almost a knot, all the way through La Roche-Bernard and under the two bridges. We turned intending to drift back even more slowly so that Ben could swim, but after he'd been in the water a few minutes the wind picked up and the sky went grey so we hastened back to Arzal... only to find a nasty boat called Bel Air in our berth. In spite of all that it was a delightful afternoon in the most beautiful part of the river. Sam and Ben were very keen to take off the sails while we were under way but unfortunately the wind was so fickle we were never head to wind for longer than a couple of minutes before it swung around. Once we got back to the berth the wind which had picked up died away again, and we managed to get the genoa off and packed. Monday was another quiet day and we got the mainsail off and packed too.

Tuesday was Ben's last full day on the boat and we felt we needed an outing. Sam certainly needed one as he was very wobbly having not been off the boat for several days. Anyway we kept things low-key and went to Penerf, a little village on an oyster river just north of the Vilaine estuary, which was very peaceful in an East Anglian sort of way, and we had a good lunch where I indulged myself in fruits de mer and in fact Sam and Ben also had fish. A short drive took us to a viewpoint where we could look out over the Morbihan, very different waters which we have bypassed this time around, notorious for their terrifying tides but looking very unthreatening.

We sat in the cockpit on our return admiring the very exciting lightning on at least two fronts and whopping great black clouds approaching from the south. You could see a squall was on its way but even so we were a bit shattered when the wind went from 6 knots to a maximum of 47 knots! and then back again, all inside a minute. Bearing in mind we are 10 miles inland the power of the wind is phenomenal. Hopefully anyone out sailing would have observed the two lightning storms and very clear signs of a squall and taken in some sails (in fact they would have to have been slightly blind and deaf not to notice them), but a knock-down would have been easy in those conditions.

Wednesday saw an early drive to Redon to deliver Ben to the station. He went home via TGV and Eurostar, for a few more pounds than Easyjet from Nantes, but with the advantage that he ended up at St Pancras station perfectly positioned for a train home to Nottingham. Trains are much more fun anyway. I managed a bit of boat tidying, an engine oil change which has been on my conscience as the engine has done a lot of hours this season, and a walk which turned out to be about 6km, which was about 4km more than I was expecting, and included a nature reserve pretending to be a rain forest, thanks to some very good maps left on board by Alex & David.

And today, after a rather late start, I thought we should keep up the good work with Sam and get him off the boat again, so we went to Nantes. Getting there and back was a bit of a schlep, quite a long stretch of motorway and a very lengthy drive in and out through the suburbs with a million roundabouts, but it's a very pleasant city. We had a good wander around the old centre, the castle and the cathedral, with a lunch which included the Nantes answer to cheesy chips for Sam - chips with just about everything on them including cheese and steak. I think he enjoyed them. We gave the giant mechanical elephant a miss because it was just too much hassle to get there - another time perhaps.

I picked a multi-storey car park slightly at random because our new TomTom satnav suggested it, and it was all good and right in the centre, but was reached via a short stretch of extremely steep ramp - very disconcerting in the car, rather a challenge to get Sam down in the wheelchair, and getting him back up it could have been enough to give me an instant heart attack, although we made it with me gasping for breath. Not surprisingly perhaps all the disabled spaces in the car park were empty.

We are now booked on the daytime ferry which leaves Saint-Malo at 1030 on Sunday, meaning we'd have to leave here by 0700 at the very latest. Getting Ben off on Wednesday brought home to me that it's not really light now until 0730 and getting Sam off early on Sunday would not just be a question of hopping gaily over the guardrails and into the car, it takes at least 30 minutes even on a good day.So we are booked into an F1 hotel on the edge of Saint-Malo. We may live to regret this but after weeks in marinas I think we are used to not having en-suite facilities and it was a lot cheaper even than the Ibis, never mind the nice but pricey place we stayed last time. We'll see.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

In memoriam: 43 miles under sail

My uncle Luke died peacefully at around 11am on Friday.

I don't remember that he was ever a sailor or interested in boats. Nevertheless we celebrated his memory with an astonishing nine-hour, 43-mile sail, using the engine for only a few minutes at each end, and arriving at Arzal exactly on time for the last lock of the day.

We considered the option of going to Pornichet for a night. Pornichet is a large and reportedly boring marina at the extreme eastern end of the trendy development of La Baule. I thought it would make a reasonable one-night stop, but although the sailing weather for Friday looked good, the weather on Saturday looked windy, grey and wet, so we would have had to spend two nights. We programmed it in as an option but thought we would carry on if we could.

As ever, getting into the Vilaine was restricted by tide. There was really only one lock which might work, the 2000 lock, which meant crossing the shallowest part of the estuary just before half-tide. It's almost neaps, with a tidal range of only 1.7m, so there is no time when the channel actually dries, but also no time when it's particularly deep. There has been a drought in the Vilaine and they have now stopped opening the lock at 2100 - when it would have been dark anyway.

The wind was forecast to be "secteur ouest" from the delightfully vague Meteo France, but when we left Pornic just before 1100 it was really SSE. You can see from the map below that this was perfect for our initial course which was just north of west... and then somehow the wind followed us all day so it was either a broad reach or the wind was astern. Our speeds were modest, although approaching Le Croisic for a while with both wind and tide in our favour we made more than 6 knots. But every time I thought we would have to give up and motor the wind picked up just enough to keep us about 4 knots, and the GPS mostly gave us an arrival time just before 2000.

So it all worked out beautifully. We crossed the Vilaine estuary with at least, ooh, 1.5m under our keel at all times. We dropped the main and sailed smoothly up the river with the genoa and the tide, and reached the lock at 1955. We could even have sailed into the lock if Ben and I hadn't wimped out. And thanks to tremendous organisation en route, we were able to enjoy a salade niçoise almost as soon as we arrived.

Today has been a sad, windy, rather grey day with rain at the end. We will need to return home early for the funeral on the 21st. What a good thing we got here so smoothly.

Our route from Pornic to Arzal

View route map for Kalessin2 on

Pictures of Pornic

I have a mental block about place names in Brittany beginning with P. I kept forgetting Piriac, and now we have been to Pornic as well, I keep confusing them. We nearly went from Pornic to Pornichet, which could conceivably have caused complete brain fade, but fortunately we gave it a miss.

These pictures are almost certainly Pornic.

View from the boat on Wednesday evening

Late walk into Pornic

Eglise de Saint-Gilles in the upper town

Ben goes paddling

Small but perfectly formed creperie

The rather challenging ramps down to the pontoon. This is at high water when the ramp is at its most level. We got sam up at high water but buy the time we returned it was two hours before LW and he had to walk
Looking up the ramp at high water. For the first couple of metres there is nothing for Sam to hold on to, and there are also regular ridges which stop trolleys running back but are a nightmare to get a wheelchair over unless you are as strong as Ben

Thursday, September 08, 2016

In the midst of life...

Media vita in morte sumus. 

I only have one uncle, my father's younger brother. Just a month or so ago, after a very long and slow decline, he was finally diagnosed with inoperable and terminal cancer. I was able to travel with my parents on a quite extraordinary helicopter ride to see him one last time just three weeks ago. This evening we phoned and spoke to my aunt because Ben wanted to express his sympathies - is that the right phrase? Anyway my uncle is now too ill to speak on the phone, and is dosed up with morphine and really just awaiting death, but both Ben and I managed a good chat to my aunt, who is pleased that their two sons, who have barely spoken to each other for years, are now reconciled.  It was far more upsetting than I had expected, given that we knew just how ill he was, and that my father has been threatening imminent death for several years. Still, if anything was needed to make me believe that we are doing the right thing, it was that phone call. 

Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian a few weeks ago wrote about the challenges of making choices: He quoted psychoanalyst James Hollis: 'Ask yourself "does this choice enlarge me or diminish me?" Go for enlargement, every time.' Well, I think going sailing with Sam enlarges us, despite grumpiness, rough weather, fog and the many challenges of sharing a boat with a disabled and frustrated husband. 

And today was a good day. We slept badly because the wind, exactly as forecast, went westerly and gusted up to 25 knots or so in the night, resulting in loud sloshing noises because our stern was into the wind. Still somehow we all got up and dressed and took Sam into Pornic, which was quite an undertaking because the pontoon is very long, the ramp steep, and the route into town not 100% wheelchair friendly, but a delightful trip into a pretty town. Sam and Ben had a late brunch while I went to the supermarket, and then we all went to a very pretty little creperie by the river for a small and expensive ice cream for Ben, a crepe for me, and a nice disabled loo for Sam. 

We got Sam to walk for a bit on the way back, which woke his legs up before he had to stagger down the rather steep ramp down to the boat. Later in the afternoon we bit the bullet and warped the boat around using ropes (the technical term is "winding ship"), with only a hour's planning by me and some bad language from Ben. With our head to the wind we were able to have a Cobb barbecue without filling the boat with smoke, and then we phoned my uncle. A good day though and plenty to think about. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Biking and easterlies

Dying creek at Nourmoutier-en-Ile

Having visited the boulangerie and the laundrette on Tuesday morning it was a bit later than I planned when we got our trusty Compass folding bicycle off the boat and up on to the harbour wall for some practice pedalling. This is the basic model with no gears and backpedalling brakes, which take a bit of getting used to. All seemed well so off I went in the general direction of Noirmoutier-en-Île, the island's main town. I didn't have a proper map so ended up on the main road, which was OK but not much fun. The town is lovely, with pretty little streets and squares, and a drying creek full of dilapidated boats rather like Maldon, but with a blue sky you'd never see in Essex.

Sadly the tourist office where I'd hoped to get a cycle map was firmly closed, so I headed out of town on the track on top of the sea wall which follows the creek - a bit like Wells-next-the-sea.

One of many gorgeous beaches
With some help from Google maps I managed to follow the coast most of the way back to L'Herbaudière. And very delightful it was too. I may have been guilty of thinking that the Ile Noirmoutier was a poor cousin to the Ile d'Yeu, but although it lacks cliffs and rocks it's just as attractive in a different way. And the beaches are gorgeous.

Later Ben and I had a swim before we took Sam off the boat for a shower and a pre-prandial drink in one of the harbour cafes. That was all terrific but the plan was slightly blown by the fact that the Remoska, which should have been gently baking a chicken, had tripped the power switch so the chicken wasn't quite done.

All the time we've been here this time around, the wind has been somewhere between southwest and northwest. Today we wanted to go east, so guess what? The wind blew from the east. And when we wanted to leave it was blowing us ferociously off the pontoon, and we were facing the wrong way. A Westerly behind us did some juggling with ropes, turned their boat successfully and then for some reason we didn't understand blew sideways across the fairway and hit a boat on the other side quite hard. We hoped for a lull and when none was forthcoming we also juggled ropes, turned halfway around so our stern was to the wind and then stuck. Fortunately a combination of a slight drop in wind speed and keeping the engine revs up really high (which takes a bit of courage for me) got us safely round, then out of the marina and of course, heading almost into the wind.

Still, it's only 10.5 miles from L'Herbaudière to Pornic, we could make 4.5kt with engine and double-reefed main (it was meant to be a single reef but the lines are labelled incorrectly) and the advantage of heading east was that the closer we got to the coast the calmer the sea was, and entering the marina was quite easy. I still don't really know where the visitors' berths are, but we ended up on a hammerhead which seemed to be no problem and is good for Sam. The temperature when we arrived was in the mid 20s and as the wind eased and the temperature rose to the low 30s I thought I was going to melt.

Pornic is pretty good so far. It looks like a little port and Edwardian resort which has successfully reached the 21st century, with a pleasant and astonishingly busy beach next to the marina and a 15-minute walk into the old centre which I recced this evening. Tomorrow we'll take Sam into town which will be an interesting challenge.

Post now updated with photos - I hope.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Bancs de brume

Sunday was a quiet, grey, drizzly day. Ben and I went for a walk along the coast, exploring some of the territory I saw with Rob and Jo two months ago. Ben ran back - I walked, feeling much wearier than I'd expected. Then just as we'd got dinner cooking in the Remoska, there was a knock on the hull and Mark and Judith Grimwade asked if they could pop over for a drink. Judith is CA president and was one of the interview board when I first applied for the editor's job (and didn't get it). She's also Biscay section secretary. She and Mark have been very kind to me and it was lovely to chat over a few glasses of wine, although at some point I apparently spoke over Sam, or interrupted him, or insulted him - not sure which. Anyway he was very upset and went to bed in a huff.

Monday was forecast to be a better day but didn't look promising when I rose at 0730 to go to the supermarket, bakery and newsagent. By the time we left Piriac at 1000 it was just as grey and drizzly as Sunday had been. We motored around the rocks to the north of the point but once we were level with the coastguard station on the point we were able to sail fairly close-hauled into the WSW wind, and once we cleared Le Croisic free off a bit and sail, rather gently, into winds generally only 7-9kt, straight for L'Herbaudière .

Judith and Mark had headed west for Port Crouesty at the entrance to the Morbihan and as we crossed the entrance to the Loire I was composing a message to them saying what a pleasant but undemanding sail we'd enjoyed despite the very grey conditions. Then I noticed that the pilot ship Courronnée had disappeared. The fog continued to close in and as we approached L'Herbaudière it got even thicker. Even worse the sun was bright overhead and condensation formed constantly on sunglasses, so we were not only blind but dazzled.

We came in entirely on the GPS, with Ben on the bow ready to sing out or hoot if he saw anything. The harbour entrance and extremely large harbour wall weren't visible until we passed the second green buoy which must have made visibility well under 100m - not quite as bad as Guy coming into Roscoff, but pretty scarey for me. Ben has total confidence in electronics and was not worried. Even inside the harbour, which is a confusing one anyway, I couldn't see where to go and ended up following our track from last time we were here. Fortunately several hammerheads were free and we moored on J.

Within 10 minutes of our arrival just after 4pm the fog started to clear, then rolled back - it seemed to come in with the breeze. But by 6.30pm when Ben and I went for a paddle, the sky was brilliantly blue and the whole coast south of the Loire was clearly visible.

We're staying two nights here to do some washing and perhaps explore a bit on our folding bicycle, if its tyres will hold pressure. It hasn't been used since, um, Denmark?

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Up and down in Piriac

It took a while for us all to get going this morning after a warm and damp night. The sky was grey clearing to blue later. Eventually Ben and I went off to explore the market, which was huge... admittedly we only caught the tail end of it last time we were here but this seemed more than twice the size. I chickened out and bought some basics in the supermarket but Ben charged in and bought us a ham hock and some excellent tomatoes. We put up our new table in the cockpit and had a very civilised lunch with a fresh baguette and olives.

Wonderful colours in the market
Unfortunately I felt distinctly under the weather. Isn't is funny how many euphemisms there are - low rent, sub fusc, under par, off-colour etc. My tummy hurt and I had no energy. I really don't know what caused this but I suspect it's a reaction to rushing around all the time we were back in the UK and not finishing Cruising until the last possible moment. Anyway although we were supposed to be deciding where to go next and we all looked at charts etc I found it quite impossible to decide a route or even our next destination. Actually we had the same issue last time we were here, which is why we ended up going straight to L'Herbaudière.

After a rather fractious afternoon of doing not much except getting Ben's new tenancy agreement printed off, filled in, signed, scanned and emailed, with the help of the Capitainerie, I managed to pull myself together with the help of a modest Ricard and we all went out to the jolly creperie we visited with Robin two months ago. Madame from the motor boat next door came out to tell us in slightly incomprehensible French that she was more than happy to help in any way she can as she has had lots of practice - her husband is also in a fauteuil (wheelchair). She said how good it was to go out to eat as her husband won't go out unless they have a car (I think) and also that looking after a disabled person is très fatiguant. Too right, and perhaps that is also why I wasn't feeling too brilliant. Anyway with Ben's help we did a very efficient job of getting Sam off & on the boat, using a new technique where we leave the guardrails in place in the last moment on his way back to the boat so he can hand on to them.

Probably fortunately, tomorrow's weather looks a bit rubbish - grey, possibly drizzly, a bit windy and rather bumpy seas. That's all the excuse we need to stay an extra night.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Dithering and bouncing

Looking at tides this morning I couldn't work out where to go. We'd planned a night in La Roche-Bernard but somehow it had escaped my attention that it was already Friday and we needed to Get On. The trouble is that you can only get out of Arzal through the lock in the barrage from mid-tide upwards, otherwise there's not enough water in the tidal Vilaine so the lock doesn't open. And we can only get into Piriac, the next available marina, for three hours either side of HW. The next attractive port of call is L'Herbaudiere which is a long trek but might have been possible if we'd left on the first lock of the day on Saturday.

Anyway Ben wanted some proper sea and sailing so after lots of dithering, we decided to leave for Piriac on the 4pm lock. It gave me time to sign and pay for our mooring contract (a good day to do this as the pound is up against the Euro) and buy chandlery essentials such as electrical tape, more WD40, and string.

Two major problems transpired: the 4pm lock was so slow with loads of boats coming in that we didn't get out until 5.15. And then the westerly wind, more or less on the nose in the wiggly Vilaine, was much stronger than we expected, gusting up to about 16 knots. It was an unexpected pleasure to meet Judith and Mark Grimwade from the CA in the lock - they were going to spend the night on the waiting pontoon just outside the lock and leave first thing, which is a good wheeze I hadn't thought of. And by cunning positioning we were first out of the lock, which helped a bit.

In summary we wound up the revs on our dear Volvo engine to get us down the wiggly bit of the Vilaine, crashed slowly and painfully across the shallowest bit, and then turned on to a fast close reach for the last 6 miles to Piriac. Once we deployed both sails and started heeling as well as crashing through waves I really didn't feel happy having Sam on deck, so with a lot of strength from Ben we got him below, and covered the last six miles at mostly over 7 knots.

The shallow entrance was, as anticipated, horrible and once in there were very few visitors' spaces left. (This despite the fact that I had phoned ahead to check, in French, whether there would be space for us). Having gone down one pontoon and reversed out we hurtled into a berth with the wind behind us and with the kind help of two Frenchmen didn't hit anything... which is more than can be said for the Dehler which came in next to us five minutes later and caught us quite a whack.

No sailing tomorrow. It's market day and we want to take Ben for a meal at the creperie where they played us Breton bagpipes last time we were here. Also despite not leaving our berth until 3.45pm, we're all shattered.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Back in Arzal

Well here we are, back on board just six very busy weeks after we left, with an edition of Cruising and one of the monthly CA email newsletter all done. Kalessin is just where we left her in Arzal and we now have a contract until June 1 next year. 

This time we came out with Ben, who has very kindly taken two weeks off from his civil engineering job to join us out here. I feel bad that his first task on board was a marine engineering job. When we left the domestic water pump was leaking pretty much constantly. During the time our friends Alex & David were out here it failed completely. Fortunately I had already ordered a replacement from ASAP and even more fortunately it was pretty much a straight swap, with our new onboard electric drill making it a bit easier to drill the new holes. Ben did all the hard work, which was exceedingly kind of him. 

When we arrived around 11am after our overnight crossing to St-Malo it was a pleasant warm morning. As we loaded everything and then Sam on board it rapidly turned into a very hot afternoon with hardly a breath of wind. Fortunately by around 3pm there was both breeze and cloud to bring relief, so Ben and I left Sam dozing in the cockpit while we drove to a supermarché and stocked up on heavy wine, beer and potatoes, among other things. 

What with not much sleep on the ferry, unpacking, shopping, water pump fixing and general sweatiness we are all very weary so this is a short blog post. 

One other bit of good fortune. We have a cockpit table which is very nice, slightly too small, made of solid wood and is so heavy we almost never use it. For years I have been looking for a light but strong camping table which might replace it. Then a few weeks ago in Aldi I saw a table which looked as though it might be just the job. I took a punt and bought it, brought it out with us and behold, it fits perfectly. Not very robust perhaps, but a lot better for Sam than balancing a plate on his knee. Now all we have to do is find a place to store it when not in use...

Friday, July 15, 2016

Home sweet home

We are finally home, to a house which has briefly been empty because Guy is in Greece, sailing with my sister and her family, and reliving old memories. Apparently we are in the Sailing Holidays history book!

Probably around 18 years ago...
But at least there are a couple of friends who are pleased to see us...

Jade trying to climb up my nose
On Monday we took an expensive taxi ride to Redon to deliver Robin to the station, as promised, and collect the car from a VW garage somewhere in a "zone" (industrial area) north of Redon. Like an idiot I left the (road) GPS on the boat so used Mrs Google Maps on my phone to get away from the industrial zone and back to Arzal, and very impressive she was too. The Passat seems to be ok, which is just as well as the roads were much busier than the previous time I drove from Arzal to Redon.

We couldn't have achieved what we did without Robin, and he is 78, so it's perhaps excusable if he lets someone else get on with things. Although it's a pity he cleaned the teak all down one side of the boat and never quite got around to doing the other side - this is the story of his life. Here is a sneaky picture taken by the other Robin from Cyclone of Langstone as we got ready to leave L'Herbaudière for the first time.

Rob's caption reads: "Camilla (skipper) gets boat ready to depart. Robin (crew) eats croissants!" 
I spent the rest of Monday cleaning and sorting things out, and talking to the marina about options for leaving the boat over the winter, if that's what we decide to do. They will come back to us in August with a proposal.

I thought that as our immediate mechanical problems had been sorted we could take a day off on Tuesday and have an outing in the car. This proved incorrect, see below, but we had a delightful couple of hours in Guérande, which is a very pretty tiny walled town, full of tourists, and then the port of Le Croisic where we expected to spend barely an hour and actually enjoyed it even more. Le Croisic has a marina which dries even at neaps, and moorings which would have meant that Sam had no access to the town, so was no good to us in Kalessin. Anyway there are loads of restaurants and cafes along the very long harbour frontage, and a vente directe of poisson where we could have ordered an assiette de fruits de mer if only we could have come back the next day. Just as well we didn't, probably, since for several days my tummy felt very odd in the evenings and a supper of raw shellfish would not have been a good idea. 

Sam in Guérande

Part of the city walls

This could have been us - moorings at Le Croisic

I really wanted some fruits de mer....
Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning saw us packing and sorting. A final mop of the bilges revealed quite a lot of fresh water in the bilge under the aft cabin. It transpires that the drinking water pump is still leaking, and what's more it leaks slightly all the time, even when switched off completely. It seemed best to drain the freshwater tank to reduce the chances of finding 70 litres of water in the bilge when Alex & David get to the boat in August. I should have spent Tuesday sorting it out, but hey.

I had booked a hotel in Saint-Malo for Wednesday night when we thought that we might be travelling to see Harry & Liz in the Limousin. Sadly this has not proved to be possible, and a couple of recent emails from Harry suggest that Liz may be coming home for the last time very soon, as no treatment is helping her cancer. Anyway we still had a night at the very pleasant Domaine de la Barbinais which was only just over two hours' drive from Arzal, and were in plenty of time for the next day's Brittany Ferry at 1030. The room, dinner & breakfast for two of us came to more than €160 though, which makes me realise that a total of say €45 for a mooring and boat-cooked dinner for three on board Kalessin is a budget option!

Au revoir to France - for now
 We were very lucky with the ferry crossing. To start off with the wind and bumps from the day before were still with us, but La Manche showed her more benign side with blue seas and sunshine for almost all the trip. I'd hired a cabin at modest cost because this was a day crossing, and it proved well worthwhile as Sam spent around half the time lying down & taking things easy, while watching the amazing news about Theresa May's new cabinet. We had a couple of picnics with food garnered from the vast St-Malo Leclerc the day before, and finally got home about 2230. Phew. I should of course be working on Cruising rather than updating the blog, but thought I should write this while things were fresh in my mind. Things will now go quiet for a while.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Arzal at last

When we left L'Herbaudière on Friday morning the sea was almost unrecognisable as the bumpy, wet, blue water from the day before. The sky was grey and there was hardly a breath of wind - with what there was coming from the south - and most importantly the sea was almost flat. For the first time on this entire trip we sailed with Sam in the cockpit instead of below.

I dithered over the time to leave, as I wanted to reach Arzal with time to be allocated our permanent berth - but without actually touching bottom in the very shallow entrance to the Vilaine. The lock in the barrage was due to open at 1800, 1900, 2000 and 2100 but the first opening would have been too early on the tide to cross the entrance safely, while the last carried the risk that if you didn't make it you'd be stuck outside in the mud. The office at Arzal closes at 2000 and I was keen to make contact with them if I could.

In the end we left L'Herb around 1030 and for the first few hours it was rather a dull motor across the entrance of the Loire. The only things to look at were the ships apparently permanently anchored in the bay, the suspension bridge at Saint-Nazaire and the astonishingly ugly tower blocks of La Baule which apparently is very chic and has a wonderful beach, but looks very unappealing from the sea. As we approached Le Croisic the sun came out and the wind started to strengthen just a tad - it was probably a sea breeze as it was helpfully on our port quarter all the time as we turned north towards Piriac and the northwest towards the Vilaine. Anyway we were able to sail on and off and with a bit of tide sailed just slowly enough until about 1700, then with some engine and a lot of tide hurtled up the Vilaine at 7 knots to get into the 1900 lock opening, which was perfect. (And nowhere near full of boats, in spite of all the manipulations by Herr Obergruppenführer who runs the lock).

As we waited in the lock I managed to raise Arzal on the VHF, who allocated us berth L33. This turned out to be on the Camoël side, very sheltered, rather pretty, but away from all facilities except loos (which we didn't have the code for) and perfectly placed for the full blast of a concert from somewhere just downriver. The music was quite nice, fortunately, a sort of Breton rock, and although it continued until just after midnight I was shattered enough to sleep most of the time anyway.

This morning I made the long march to the capitainerie, which is on the Arzal side of the barrage. They were desolé, but we would have to move. I was less desolée, as our new berth is on the Arzal side, berth D127, head to wind, with a pleasant view upriver and good access to all facilities. The only downside is a spectacularly low finger pontoon with a step up to the main jetty.

Tomorrow I have to arrange a taxi to collect the Passat from the garage in Redon (possibly delivering Robin to the station at the same time), and then we have a couple of days of sorting stuff out before we head back to Saint-Malo on the 13th for our ferry home on the 14th.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Heading back


In the end we spent four nights in Port Joinville and the longer we stayed on the Ile d'Yeu the less we wanted to go. It may, possibly, not be the most beautiful island in the world, but offhand I can't think of one I like better. The only downside is that the marina has Brighton-style vast walls which are probably needed in winter but are a bit claustrophobic at low water on a hot July day.

House facing the beach

After our first evening and Sam's amazing visit to Mithril Aegis we had a catching up sort of day on Tuesday, with a shop in the morning and a bit of exploring. In the afternoon when the tide was higher and the ramps more manageable I took Sam to see the lovely beach and then into town to explore and enjoy a pression (beer). We agreed to give the petit train a try and accordingly were up bright and early on the Wednesday to get to the start location by 1030. Astonishingly the first train, due to leave at 1100, was already completely full. It is theoretically possible to book on line, but apparently not if you use a 3G connection, because I had just got a "timed out" message immediately. Anyway, we pootled off to the big Super U supermarket, about twice the size of the Casino I'd used the day before, and bought the ingredients of a French bread & cheese lunch. Then we retreated to the beach behind the supermarket for an early picnic - it's not every supermarket which is a few yards away from a rather nice beach. We were back at the train stop by 1300 and with grim determination managed to get aboard, all ready for the 1400 departure. Fortunately the seats on this train faced each other, which gave Sam fractionally more legroom than on the La Roche Bernard train - just as well, as this one had a two-hour route. Also the sides were open and the canopy provided good shade, so it was not a bad place to wait. The trip was lovely and a great way for Sam to see the island, because even the buses didn't look very accessible.

Boats in the old harbour would have been perfect for a painting by my beloved aunt Sonia

Dramatic west coast

Robin hired a bike, which he very much enjoyed, and not wanting to be left out we decided to stay an extra night so that I could hire a bike too, and do a lap of the island on a mixture of surfaced and unsurfaced roads. The weather on Thursday was hot and the light was brilliantly clear, and by getting going at 0930 I managed to have the tracks almost to myself for the first couple of hours. Even once things got busier it was still not really crowded. The west coast is rocky, the south coast picturesque and the east coast reminiscent of parts of the north Norfolk coast, flatter and more shaded with a belt of pine treas between the beaches and the road.

Everywhere is clean and bright with no major developments, and all the houses are low and white with bright-coloured shutters, usually blue. There are beaches everywhere but very little in the way of beach facilities - La Meule has a rather up itself restaurant, where dishes start at €25 and they really aren't interested in people who only want one beer; La Croix had a slightly unattractive kiosk. But I had water and biscuits, and a swimsuit (though no towel) and everything was so beautiful you could easily forgive any slight weaknesses.

La Meule has a rather snooty restaurant (right of pic) but an enchanting harbour

Gazelle of the Sands was spotted at Les Vielles
We decided to leave today (Friday) with the intention of reaching Piriac. At 0700 we said farewell to Rob and Jo who are heading south towards La Rochelle on Cyclone. It was another lovely day with modest force 4 winds but rather a nasty chop and the wind unfortunately almost on the nose. After three hours of crashing to seaward with the wind showing no signs of going more westerly, and also forecast to strengthen, we chickened out and branched off to L'Herbaudière. The last couple of hours were much nicer, with the engine off and wind on the beam, but still a slightly uncomfortable sea and with me checking and rechecking tidal calculations to ensure we would have enough depth. We got into L'Herb just before low water, around 1400, which turned out to be a good move as visitors have been pouring in ever since.

Tomorrow the forecast is for lighter winds with a fair bit more south in them, and a flatter sea, so we may still make it to Arzal before bedtime.