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.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Experimental map

Simon suggested I try this map generator.

View route map for Kalessin1 on

Meditation on the perfect crew

In recent weeks I have had several opportunities to muse upon the characteristics of imperfect crew. I thought it would be better all round if I turned the question around and asked myself what I require from the perfect crew.

No 1: willingness and enthusiasm. Not necessarily for everything, but it's nice to have a crew who are willing to get stuck in, not just with sailing, but also with helping to get Sam on and off, identifying mechanical problems, going to the boulangerie to get the morning croissants, washing up, or confabulating over weather, route or destination.

No 2: ability to step ashore with lines. This is actually the main physical reason we have crew. In many locations other yotties, and especially in recent days Rob & Jo, have helped us come in on a number of occasions but even so I'm not sure if I'd want to sail without a crew at all. It's also nice when crew can rig the lines without instruction. This is a major advantage of sailing with Guy and Ben who have been doing it for years and know how to tie the boat up much better than I do.

No 3: moderation of personal habits. Obviously crew can't help it if they snore. However it would be nice if they didn't belch, fart, clear their throats, or slurp their food, all at 110dB. Taking showers and foot washing are also welcome. Perhaps the ideal is to aim for behaviour as if sailing with your grandmother rather than on a lads' cruise.

That's it really. Everything else is a nice to have. A super-perfect crew would be at say Day Skipper level in sailing knowledge, know a lot about boat engines and systems and like nothing better than fixing problems, be obsessively tidy, cook from time to time, generously donate food, wine, gin and other stores, and never criticise anything on the boat or its skipper. And have an interesting fund of anecdotes and chat, and know when to shut up....

Monday, July 04, 2016

Ile d'Yeu

We stayed three nights in L'Herbaudière, not least because a regatta of 100 boats was in Port Joinville on the Ile d'Yeu on Sunday night so clearly it was a bad time to head down there. There's not much in the town but it was delightful to feel we were reaching the South, with terracotta roofs, white walls, and oh yes, grey skies and a bit of rain. Oh well. Robin and I both managed a swim on the beach which I thought was rather nice but Robin did not approve of, apart from the fact that the water was about 10 degrees more than in Guernsey.

Rob from Cyclone offered, bless him, to have a look at a couple of our leaks. No, he didn't offer to mop the dieselly water out of our bilges but he did put an extra jubilee clip on the leaking calorifier hose and manged to tighten a couple of screws on our water pump. Last time I looked neither was dripping so we'll see if they are permanent fixes. As a thank you we took him and Jo out to dinner in the town and had our moules frites at a pleasant brasserie overlooking the port. We ate ridiculously early, mainly because I wanted to ensure that Sam was on board before the tide, now approaching springs, got too low for him to manage the ramp.

Before dinner I took Sam for a shower. We have been impressed that almost every marina has offered a disabled shower of some kind but the space, and quality of fixtures and fittings,varies vastly. This one had shedloads of space but only one grabrail, by the loo, and when Sam used it, it came off the wall. The shower stool was broken and also coming away from the wall, and the pushbutton to operate the shower had to be pushed every five seconds. (I tried one in a non-disabled shower and it lasted 30 seconds). Also the water was distinctly lukewarm. I wonder how many of these facilities have actually been tested by a disabled user?

Incidentally I'm hoping I have traced the source of the diesel to the new sender, which, when mounted on the old gasket, should probably have been re-tightened after Guy fitted it. Brimming the tank and then going straight out and heeling in a bumpy sea with very little motoring, on the way to the Ile Noirmoutier, was obviously not the best idea. Grrr.

We left L'Herbaudière at 0800 today and motored almost all the way to the Ile D'Yeu, somewhat to Robin's disgust, but the winds varied from light to non-existent. We met the regatta of 100 yachts about four miles off Port Joinville at midday. Apparently the race had started at 10 am so they were obviously going to have a very long day.

This is quite a big marina and when we came in there was masses of space - not surprisingly as 100 boats had only just cleared off.  However as the day went on and the tide rose the berths filled up. Many CA members and others rate this as their favourite French Atlantic island. It's quite a walk into town although it's just across the harbour, but as there's the port de plaisance, a locked fishing basin, the ferry terminal and the old port to walk around, it all adds up. Anyway it all looks delightful and there's a lovely beach the other way.

The CA is much on our minds here. We are only here in the first place because last summer a CA member, Martin Deighton, wrote a delightful piece for Cruising about his unsuccessful attempt to to sail around Spain and Portugal last year. He didn't get there, but he did get to the Ile d'Yeu, which he described as the most beautiful island in the world. That was the inspiration for this year's voyage.

Martin's picture of the Ile d'Yeu which inspired this voyage

My picture of the beach beyond the marina this afternoon

We were also invited for drinks on board Mithril Aegis, whose drinks in Piriac we missed. Sam was filled with enthusiasm to climb aboard, possibly because Mithril Aegis is a 17-tonne steel 43-footer with jolly stout fixtures and fittings (apart from the ladder, which broke when Sam stepped on it) and it happened to be attached to a very wide pontoon. He climbed in through their side gate, along the narrow side deck, over the coaming and sat down in the cockpit. Hooray! Even better, after a glass or two of wine and innumerable delightful snacks, he climbed out again, and with the help of a supporting cast of dozens of English and French onlookers, managed to climb off Mithril Aegis and on to Kalessin again. It was a brilliant achievement.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Leaks and L'Herbaudière

It's easy to get stuck in a port like Piriac. It's a nice spot, the boulangerie is just around the corner, it's very sheltered and there are nasty scary winds out there. We had a very pleasant meal out on the Wednesday at a little restaurant which offered very good fish soup, oysters, choucroute à la mer and our host playing Hey Jude on the Breton bagpipes. We meant to spend two nights in Piriac and ended up spending three, mainly because of strong winds which came in overnight on Wednesday and would have made the sea particularly choppy. Also Rob and Jo from Cyclone decided to stay an extra night and invited me to join them for a 10km walk, which was delightful although the first half was drizzly.

Naturally by the time Friday dawned the forecast was actually worse than it had been on Thursday - SW gusting up to 17 or 21 knots depending on which forecast you read, and raining. We left just after 11 having filled up with diesel on the fuel berth. The Piriac digital readout said 2m but in fact we never saw less than 0.7m under our 1.65m keel, so it must have been pessimistic. 

The sailing started grey and a bit chilly, as we were tacking into the light WSW winds. A bit of judicious motoring got us around the corner, and after that with one reef in the main and for part of the way two rolls in the genoa, we bounded on at up to 7.5 knots, sometimes even more. Terrific sailing, although Robin said he expected it to be bumpier (I thought it was quite bumpy enough) and it would have been improved by more than two minutes of sun. 

The choppiest bit of all was the final approach, but fortunately Rob who had beaten us in (not by much, and they used more sail than us for much of the journey) was able to call us on VHF and guide us to a hammerhead. 

Having been to the capitainerie and paid the now high season rates (€30 a night instead of €20) I was ready for a drink when Robin announced that the floor in his cabin was wet. This turned out to be a disgusting mixture of diesel, probably from an overspill, washing up water which somehow got into the fridge last night, and fresh water which I had used to wash down the saltiest part of the engine. Mopping it up took the best part of an hour and the cabin still stinks of diesel. Then I cooked lasagne, fortunately already prepared by M. Carrefour. I do hate boats sometimes.