Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Existential angst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

Back to Camoël

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gracias a Señor Norit

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A brief visit to Yeu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Back on board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 09, 2017

On and off

This morning started with the news of a hung parliament. Knowing I had to get up early to take Guy to Nantes airport, I resisted checking the news during the night, but was haunted by dreams where Theresa May swept all before her with an enormous Tory majority. Also dreams where I found I was still at Arzal and the flight was due to leave any moment. Fortunately both were unfounded in reality.

Guy's flight home was due to leave at 1055, but Easyjet had warned that with recent terrorist stuff, security might take even longer than usual. We also didn't know what the rush-hour traffic might be like. So we left Camoël at 0715 and with minor delays dropped Guy off at 0825, which seemed pretty good. The return journey took about the same time. The biggest delays were on the Nantes Périphérique, especially crossing the Loire, although there were terrific views from the bridge which I couldn't look at for fear of running into the car in front of me. North of Saint-Nazaire there was much less traffic.

Tomorrow we are due to leave the boat and travel down to see Harry in Abzac (and making sure we go to the right one at 16500, not the one in the Gironde). I am distinctly nervous about getting Sam off the boat as our finger pontoon, though strong and stable :) by French standards, is only about 70cm wide and too narrow for the wheelchair, and his ankle/foot/tendon is still hurting quite a bit. Also having not walked anywhere for days both Sam's legs are like jelly. Bless him, after I bullied him this morning, he is now standing up and practising walking when he thinks I am not looking.

We have a new harness, very similar to this one:
That was exactly two years ago when Sam was lifted out of Kalessin at Tollesbury by the mast crane. A full-body harness means he is lifted upright and an extra control line can go to his chest. Also he can put on and take off the harness without even standing up properly, and there is a one-strap adjustment if we need to make it tighter. The downside for men is, apparently, the leg straps are quite tight around your sensitive parts. Anyway after considerable juggling of straps (the instructions don't actually show a person wearing the harness, which is unhelpful) I managed to use the new harness to get Sam into the cockpit yesterday with almost no help (other than advice) from Guy. With luck and practice I can do the same to get him off the boat tomorrow.

In the meantime, on Wednesday we managed a short sail up to La Roche-Bernard, when everything worked very well, and on Thursday I rigged the reefing lines, hopefully correctly. Guy was threatening to send me up the mast but by the time we'd finished various other things it was a bit windy. Yes, it's true, I have never been up Kalessin's mast & didn't especially want to, but Guy thought it would be good for me. Oh well. Next time.

After our visit to Harry we have a few more days on the boat before Ben joins us on the 17th, to go actually sailing on the sea.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Bonjour from Camoël

I've been a bit lax about posting to the blog so far this year. Life has been somewhat full. My father sadly died on April 23. He was very nearly 90, had been ill for a long time and was very fed up with life, so it was no surprise, but still sad. At least I saw him the evening before he died. Also, being involved with arrangements for the funeral and cremation and being there for my mother took up quite a bit of time. I designed the order of service for the funeral with tiny drawings taken from the Giant Alexander books (pictured), which naturally took far longer than I thought. And in between doing all of that there was June's issue of Cruising and the email newsletter to design and finalise. I thought I was quite together, but kept forgetting stupid things.

As ever the biggest challenge for the season was finding suitable crew. Guy is now working for the National Trust, running the ferry to Orfordness, and living with his lovely young lady in Leiston, but he doesn't start full-time work until the birds stop nesting on the Ness, so kindly agreed to come out for a few days and help with the build-up. (Kalessin stayed in the water this winter so we didn't have to worry about a launch). Ben is joining us for a week later in June which hopefully means we can get to the CA Biscay Rally in Yeu. And from June 30 we will have one and possibly two enthusiastic sailing crew and can start heading west on the long trip home.

Earlier in the winter I started getting ready to come out, putting together a box of stuff for the boat which was topped up with a new Turtle mat, a very shiny new kettle (the old one was at risk of putting out the gas flame when it leaked) and a few bits and pieces. In the last few weeks I arranged with Brittany Ferries to transport dangerous cargo (the serviced liferaft – I didn't know it was dangerous cargo when we brought it back to the UK), sorted out transport for Guy & Ben, arranged to extend our contract at Arzal for a month (which seems to have worked out at €4.60 a night, although they did warn us we would have to remove the boat during a festival from June 16-19, something of a problem with no crew). I arranged to fill part of the period when we have no crew by going down to visit our friend Harry in Abzac. There were lots of things I gave almost no thought to, but fortunately so far everything has worked out ok - the sails and the electronic chart were on the boat so it didn't matter that I forgot to look for them!

Sam seems to have strained the Achilles tendon on his good leg (of course) which makes walking even more difficult than usual. The pain also makes it difficult for him to cope with things he normally manages fine, and his balance is very poor. With Guy's help and lots of wiggling of the wheelchair we managed the trip to Portsmouth, the overnight ferry to Saint-Malo and the drive to Arzal.

Having arrived at Arzal on Sunday morning and spent a couple of hours unloading and unpacking, we tried to go out to lunch at the little port cafe which sadly was unable to accommodate us because it was complet (about five tables were full as far as I could see, but still), so we had a jolly nice burger at Le Barrage cafe instead. Kalessin thank goodness was on a finger pontoon with no step down (Arzal is possibly the only marina we have even been in where most of the catways are a step down from the ponton), and Sam was able to walk incredibly slowly down the pontoon, be hoisted up on his harness and dropped straight down below. That was Sunday and today is Tuesday, and he hasn't been anywhere else yet, so at least his tendon has been rested.

We extracted the cockpit tent, which had collapsed during a winter gale and had been very kindly rescued by the CA's Hon Local Representative, who rolled it all up and shoved it below, completely undamaged as far as I can see. Having redeployed it we enjoyed the sunshine, quiet evening and gentle breeze. Finally I thought I'd better check the forecast to ensure that this delightful weather was due to continue while we installed the sails. O hell and damnation, the forecast for Monday was starting very quiet and building to a F7 by mid-afternoon. So Guy and I got up early and got both sails on before 10:30am. Then I realised it was Whit Monday and any supermarkets were only open until 1230. So while I hastened to La Roche Bernard to buy food and diesel for the car, Guy checked and ran up the boat engine which started first time, bless it, and then we settled down for an afternoon of increasing wind and bucketing rain.

I did also manage to replace the catch on the forehatch, which broke last year resulting in the supporting rod detaching itself from the hatch, which is above our bed, and trying to stab someone, anyone, preferably in the eye. It took lengthy discussions with Trafalgar Yachts ( and £48.70 for the new catch, but it does work and the rain didn't come in.

We watched the Swallows & Amazons film on DVD in the evening. I'm glad I've seen it, but no film would ever work as well as the books IMHO, and the action was totally dominated by what was supposed to be a little subplot concerning spies and a British hero (aka Captain Flint). Rather Riddle of the Sands, with a touch of Sherlock as the baddie was Andrew Scott who is Moriarty

Today's excitement was an anticipated change of berth. The prospect of doing this in a westerly breeze of about 15-20kt, gusting occasionally to 25kt or more, was delightful as you can imagine. My main concern was that the feathering prop, which has been underwater of course all winter, might refuse to deploy at a crucial moment. Fortunately a very nice marinière, who had seen Sam struggling to get on the boat on Sunday and also spoke better English than the ladies in the capitainerie, found us a new berth on the Camoël side of the river where we have an even better finger pontoon, and we don't have to move for the festival on June 16-19. Even better, he and his mate turned up with their pusher workboat and shoved us across the river in 10 minutes while, as he said, we "could just stay below and drink a cup of tea". Camoël is rather inconvenient for the chandleries and petite épicerie but pretty, and worth it if we don't have to move the boat again.

One final twist. The marinières offered me a lift back to the car but I said I'd walk. Off I jolly well went, oh wait, I needed the car key. Could I jolly well find it? Guy had it last, late last night, but it was nowhere to be seen. Off I jolly well went anyway. The car was there, locked, no key visible. Inquiry at the capitainerie produced, thank god, the key, found on ponton B, wet but undamaged. The French talk about a mauvais quart d'heure, I think that was a mauvais heure at least. But all was well.

The wind has eased slightly but is still rocking the boat enough for Sam to struggle with balance. The sky has brightened and it hasn't rained for a while... blast, shouldn't have said that, it's just started raining again. We can, thank goodness, all chill out for a little while and I will try to stop worrying about Stuff.