Friday, September 29, 2017

Separate voyages

We are now home, and so is Kalessin, unfortunately via quite separate routes.

Louis arrived at Brest on Tuesday, sailed on Wednesday evening and got back to SYH, after a phenomenal sail, on Saturday morning. According to my calculations they did 400 nautical miles on 60 hours, give or take (I haven't seen the detailed log) and hit a top speed of more than 11 knots surfing downwind in the Channel. It's good to know that Kalessin can sustain that kind of sailing, and even revel in it. The passage was so quick they had lots of leftover food apparently – Guy was able to meet the crew at SYH and take them out for a drink. And Louis, who spends his entire life doing deliveries on highly assorted yachts and hasn't even been home for five months, reckons the Westerly Storm is up there with the best. Praise indeed.

Meanwhile Sam and I left the boat on Monday for the relatively short drive to Saint-Malo. We had a slight hiccup in that Sam's right leg went into spasm as I was getting him off the boat. This means that he puts the entire muscular strength of his leg, which is still pretty considerable, into not bending his knee. Worse, he doesn't seem to know he is doing it and can't understand instructions to bend the leg. It has only happened once or twice before and I don't know what triggered it this time, but by the time I got him off the boat he had new scrapes on his head and his leg, I was dripping with sweat and we were both exhausted and furious. I will talk to a physio about ways to overcome this if it happens again.

Once again we spent a night in the delights of the Hotel F1, described by Steve as a Gulag, but actually I quite like it. I bought a picnic at the unbelievably huge Carrefour around the corner and combined it with a few leftovers from the boat, so we had mini fruits de mer with real mayonnaise,  bread and cheese, and raspberry tartlets. Tastier, cheaper and a lot less effort than going into Intra-Muros, but perhaps a bit lacking in atmosphere.

The ferry crossing to St Peter Port was fine apart from the fact that we had to disembark, on foot, to get our passports checked in Jersey. A nice Frenchman called William came and pushed the wheelchair and we were first off the boat (down the car ramp) and first back on again, but it did seem a ludicrous waste of time and effort. Every passenger going to Guernsey has to get off and go through the check. Then of course I had to grapple with the delights of driving a large estate car on Guernsey where all the roads are narrow and most have granite walls a foot away on either side. Thank god for the satnav. Sam knew the way, mostly, but kept either forgetting or forgetting to tell me, which didn't help.

Typical beach view
A week at Robin's went remarkably quickly and we were very lucky with the weather, with most days warm enough to sit outside in the sun for several hours. I thought the sunshine might help Sam's cough, but sadly not. He really has been finding it quite debilitating and is slower, less active and much more bad-tempered than usual. However I ran away several times for long walks around the island.
Some of the oysters...

A highlight of Wednesday was a bucketful of oysters provided by Robin's younger son Charles. They were misshapes (all oysters look misshapen to me) but just as delicious. Unfortunately at least one of them disagreed with me severely, although it took until Thursday night, but then I spent a lot of time talking to Hughie on the big white telephone and not much time sleeping. Of course the mere fact that I'm ill doesn't stop Sam needing help, and twice I had to break off from retching to assist him with personal needs. Grrr. Do I sound bitter?

Anyway, apart from the fact that my digestive system is still recovering a week later, all went well, with an excellent Sunday lunch gathering and barbecue in the rain on Sunday. At least we got to spend time with Sam's oldest son Tim who returned to Guernsey after his holiday late on Saturday. And the ferry back via Poole was fine, other than the fact that the A12 was closed and we spent 20 minutes or so wiggling through tiny foggy lanes at 11 o'clock at night. Tomorrow we'll check up on the boat, regroup, and start getting ready for winter.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Stop reading now

Dear reader, if you check this blog in order to read about actual sailing adventures, please look away now. For the first time ever (I think) we have spent two weeks on the boat without going anywhere at all, and have now decided to abandon ship and return to the UK by car.

In the previous post I outlined the forecast we were facing and many of you will have appreciated the delights of the wettest and windiest week we have had for some time. Yesterday, Friday, things started to ease, with winds a mere force 5 or so instead of 6-8 or more. However the wind has gone around to the north, which means that the Chenal du Four could potentially be either an extremely unpleasant wind-over-tide experience or a going-nowhere-for-several hours experience. In any case we have just lost too much time. William, our lovely crew, has a new grandchild who arrived as he was heading out here, and also has to return to the UK to scatter his mother's ashes.

So Wednesday was a day of rearranging and regrouping travel plans. The results were as follows:
  • On Thursday I rose well before dawn to get the first bus of the day into Brest, then trains to Rennes, Lison and Cherbourg, walk to the port, collect our Passat from secure parking and drive it back. Possibly the best bit of the day was my chat with the lady bus driver on the 0547, who wanted to know if it was cold on the boat, thinks Brexit is great, and recommended I read a really interesting article about Germany in Le Monde Diplomatique. Also she thought my French was very good, so she's clearly wrong about many things. Another good bit was a nice walk through Cherbourg in sunshine, and a refund on the bit of car parking I had paid for but not used. A very long day though, covering over 800km altogether, all of which would have been unnecessary had I not tried to do clever and expensive things with a one-way car hire.
  • William went home via Rennes and Flybe to Southend on Friday and is already much missed. We really hope to take him out actually sailing next year.
  • We will leave Brest on Monday 18th by car, stay overnight in Saint-Malo and get an 8am Condor ferry to Guernsey, with the car, on Tuesday 19th. There aren't many crossings that week (none on Wednesday, and Thursday's goes via Jersey which I felt was not a good option with Sam) so our choice was a bit limited.
  • We'll be staying with Robin Swift on Guernsey as he has very kindly offered the use of his lovely accessible bedroom and bathroom.
  • We are coming home a couple of days later than originally planned so that we can see Tim, who returns to Guernsey from his holiday late on the 23rd. So we are booked on a ferry from St Peter Port to Poole on the afternoon of Tuesday September 26th. Brittany Ferries won't give a refund as we have already taken the outward portion of the journey. If I ever do this again I might book as two singles so I can cancel and get a partial refund instead of a lady laughing at me.
  • Meanwhile Louis, who sailed the boat out with Guy last year, is skippering a crew from Halcyon Yacht Deilveries. If all goes well they will leave here around Wednesday and may well get back to the Suffolk Yacht Harbour before us.
I felt deprived at not experiencing the Chenal du Four, so today Sam and I drove out to Pointe Saint-Mathieu, the westernmost point on the French mainland, to look at the view. We had to go around high tide in order to be able to get Sam on & off the boat, so didn't really see the Chenal at its worst. Three heavily-reefed yachts were making good progress southwards and the wave height didn't look bad at all. We saw only one northbound vessel, too far away to identify what it was, but no doubt a fishing boat with 300hp engine. There was a steady NNW4-5, gusting up more in the regular squalls, and I think pushing into the wind would have been a deeply unpleasant experience.

View from St-Mathieu - you can just see the yachts

The lighthouse is open for visits.... but closed for lunch

Chapel with semi-detached medieval gateway
We drove straight back through the middle of Brest, which was quite interesting for three minutes in the middle but otherwise full of concrete social housing and pretty dull.

I'm glad we decided to come to Moulin Blanc. It has lots of pretty surroundings, including the Botanical Gardens which we discovered in July, the beach, and as I found today if you drive through Relecq Kerhuon the old bridge over the River Élorn is still open to pedestrians and cyclists only, which I thought was very creative and gives great views of the Rade de Brest, the pretty wooded point, and of the new bridge.

New bridge (1990s) seen from the old bridge (1930s)
There's a phenomenal selection of marine suppliers within a mile or so, plus kayak shops, sailboard shops, bike shops, bars and restaurants, and Oceanopolis of course, but no supermarkets. I miss the little Épicerie du Port at Arzal. In the daytime there 's always something to watch with hundreds of schoolkids learning to dinghy sail, kayak or stand on paddleboards, and this weekend there's a windsurfing festival at the port end of the marina (probably at least 500 metres away).

Getting Sam on and off the alongside pontoon has proved relatively easy, the berth is sheltered, and it's mostly quite quiet. Except for now that is. Betwen 11pm and 1am on Friday and Saturday nights the otherwise pleasant Tour du Monde bar turns into a massively loud disco. Actually when I say massively loud it has nothing on Vilagarcia which was our worst club music experience ever, but it keeps me awake. Still at least I have updated the blog. It's a pity there's nothing about sailing in it.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Oh for goodness' sake

This jolly-coloured effort is the forecast for 8am tomorrow from PredictWind. Orange is around a force 5 which is the strongest wind we sail in, usually. Very dark red is a force 8-9. So much for a nice peaceful September. This time last year we went to Noirmoutier and Pornic with Ben and then had a wonderful sail back to the Vilaine. This year is clearly different. Tomorrow morning is the earliest we could have left with our crew William, who arrives this evening.

There is a lull on Tuesday, but it doesn't count because wave height could be more than 5m. You know those pictures of Brittany lighthouses by Philippe Plisson?
Yep, that's the one.

And then on Wednesday, guess what?

Depending on the weather model, a Friday or Saturday departure might be possible. But in order to get through the Chenal du Four safely and in some degree of comfort we need calm conditions, a fair tide, and to avoid wind over tide at all costs. With possible northerlies we face the delightful choice of awful sea conditions, or making no progress into both wind and tide. In which case Monday, yes eight days away, looks like the first option, and the forecast is probably wrong anyway. Also William is due to fly home on Monday (from Guernsey).

I have agreed with William that we will make a decision on Thursday. If there is no chance of sailing I will go to Cherbourg and collect the Passat, then drive home, possibly via Guernsey. Is this God's punishment to me for trying to be too clever with the hire car? I do hope not. If it is, he's punishing an awful lot of other people too.

In the meantime things are really not too bad. Yesterday I got Sam off the boat for a shower and some moules frites at the Tour du Monde. We are safe (the Moulin Blanc is in the most sheltered corner of the Rade de Brest which is possibly Europe's best-protected natural harbour), warm (electric fan heater),  have plenty of food and more importantly drink, and even reasonable internet access – probably because no-one else is using it today.

Here are some jollier pictures taken yesterday (Saturday) morning.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Two strokes of luck

We are back on board Kalessin in Brest, and looking at the forecast we may be here for quite a lot longer. Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Our plans for this part of the trip were partly shaped by the fact that although Sam’s legs are working much better than in June, he has a horrible cough and chest infection which leave him feeling even weaker than usual. (His cough is also very loud and keeps us both awake at night). So I wanted to make the journey as easy on him as possible.

Getting ourselves here and making sure we could get back again was something of a logistical challenge. Note: if you are really bored by logistical challenges, please skip the next seven paragraphs.

To start off with, when we first planned this year’s trip, Sam wanted to be able to sail to Guernsey on the way home, so he could see his sons Tim and Nick, visit Robin, revisit old haunts and do it from our own boat. This was a key factor in the whole itinerary and meant we had to make reasonable progress from Arzal around Brittany in July so that we could leave the boat and then get as far as the Channel Islands in the first two weeks of September. We also needed somewhere with good transport connections, and of all the harbours between Concarneau and Roscoff, Brest is definitely the best option. With Steve’s help we managed to get here in July.

So here we are, but Brest is pretty much as far west as you can get in France which makes it quite a long way from anywhere. We also needed to get Sam and me, and our car, home to the UK from somewhere reasonably close to Guernsey. Extra key point: we will get a paid crew to bring Kalessin home to Suffolk from France.

My tentative plan A was to take the car on the ferry from Portsmouth to St-Malo as we have before, drive to Brest, leave the car here, sail to Guernsey, then I would go back and get the car and get a ferry home. However that doesn’t work because of the ferry timings. It isn’t possible to get a foot ferry to St-Malo, then a train to Brest, then drive back to St Malo and get a vehicle ferry to Guernsey in one day. It’s barely possible to do it in two, and it would mean leaving Sam with somebody else for up to 48 hours which didn’t seem like a good option. And it was jolly expensive. And not ideal for a delivery crew who would have to get to the island in order to bring the boat home. Hmm.

Ok, option B was to do all the car-to-Brest-via-St-Malo bit, and the sail-to-Guernsey bit, then sail Kalessin on to Cherbourg, which is not far away from Guernsey by sea, only 60 miles from the south coast of England, and has the major advantage of being in the same country as the car. However, Cherbourg is a short distance away from the UK because it is at the top of a long peninsular sticking north from France (the Cotentin peninsula). That makes it about five hours’ drive from Brest and almost seven hours by train, which, whenever I collected or delivered the car would mean leaving Sam for up to 12 hours, potentially on his own. Again, hmm.

I nearly went with option B but was scuppered by the fact that by the time I booked there were no disabled access parking spaces on the St Malo ferry. There was a disabled access cabin, but I couldn’t have got Sam out of the car in order to get into the cabin. Brittany Ferries doesn’t tell you this when you book online, but it helpfully phones the next day to tell you if you have won the parking space lottery or not.

So, Option C. I thought this was really quite creative. Take the car on the ferry to Cherbourg. Then leave the car in Cherbourg and get a one-way car hire to Brest. Then sail somewhere, but by hook or by crook, get back to Cherbourg to get the car back and get a ferry home. Then the delivery crew brings Kalessin home from Cherbourg. Two big pluses: I do the overland trip between Cherbourg and Brest once instead of three times, and I don't have to leave Sam. Several minuses: it seems daft to take a car to France and then abandon it; it's quite an expensive option; I don't get to enjoy French trains; it commits us to getting back to Cherbourg, but then we have to get the ferry from there anyway.

So that’s what we did. Overnight at the Premier Inn in Port Solent, 9am fast ferry to Cherbourg, arrive 1pm French time. An hour or so finding, sorting out and paying for the secure parking at Cherbourg ferry port (so well hidden and so secure that in fact ours was the only car in it). Walk to the Hertz car hire office just as they open at 2pm. Collect car (large Fiat Tipo, needed room for wheelchair, two big bags, two boxes of stuff, loads of small bags, Sam and me). Drive back to car, transfer over Sam and all the stuff, park our Passat, back to the Tipo. Arrive back at the boat about 7.30pm, by the time Sam and all the stuff was on board it was about 9.30pm, eat a very late dinner, fall into bed. Sam coughed a lot but we did both manage some sleep.

Then for me, up betimes (Sam went back to sleep again), off to the supermarché while we still had the hire car, to do lots of heavy shopping, bring it back, quick lunch, deep breath and off to find the Hertz depot where it is cunningly hidden, fortunately on the same side of Brest as us, leave the hire car and then walk back to the marina (it was 3km but easier than getting the bus which takes a completely different route). I walked along the edge of the port and then through a whole industrial area which is entirely full of yacht sailmakers, riggers, engineers, guardiennage and more. I even found another, huge, chandlery around the back of Oceanopolis.

For what it's worth, we went with Hertz because their prices were ok, they had reasonable (walkable) locations in both Cherbourg and Brest, and they do unlimited mileage. Europcar charges a socking premium for collecting a car from the Cherbourg port, and their other office is miles away. Enterprise had good prices but a 250km limit, then a charge per kilometer. Blimey it's complicated.

So what about these strokes of luck, cries the patient reader? Well, they were both out-of-evil-cometh-good things, really. Before we left I loaded up my Kindle with everything I wanted to read, and then left it behind. But literally three minutes away from the Port Solent Premier Inn is a mahoosive Tesco Extra, and by finding a man who found a lady who found another lady who knew what was in the stockroom I managed to find another Kindle to take with me. An expensive option but a lifesaver, and after extensive fiddling I even managed to log on to the Premier Inn wifi from the Kindle to download all my books. Yes, I could have read the books on my phone or my tablet, and we have lots of paper books on board which are mostly of the “I must get around to reading this one day” variety. But a Kindle is better and that’s what I got. When we get back I’ll have to find a family member who might really appreciate it.

And the other thing was that I couldn’t find my business debit card anywhere at home. From my bank statements I worked out that the last time I had used it was to pay for fuel for the boat in Port Haliguen – my personal debit card has hysterics and won't work on marina fuel machines, because they work by pre-charging you for €300-worth of fuel, then correcting the amount once you have filled up. After deep thought I concluded that the card was most likely to be in the pocket of my waterproof jacket where I would have shoved it for safekeeping. So when we got on board yesterday I got out my jacket, put my hand in the pocket, and there was the card. First place I tried. How often does that happen?