Rum Sodomy and the Lash

sailing around the world on our yacht, Ruby Rose

Category: France

Homeward Bound

It’s been over a week since I last updated this blog, and the main reason for the lag between posts is because we’ve been sailing pretty much non-stop. We’ve been racing against the clock, trying to make as much progress north as possible before the predicted storms came through, and I now sit on board with rain and wind battering the boat, port bound in Cherbourg and feeling relieved for the excuse to take a few days break.

 

After our overnight stay in the Iles de Glenan, we sailed only a few hours to a rather uninspiring coastal town called Loctudy, where we spent the night. We cycled into town, such as it was, had a lovely meal (I had moules au cidre, for those who are interested in these things), visited the supermarket and stocked up on supplies. The following day we dropped our lines and made our way through the Raz de Sein, which is a passage between the western-most point of France and a small island off its coast, famous for its strong tides and large swell, then found a stunning anchorage where we spent the night.

 

The following day was a pre-dawn start in order to time our passage with the tides. We spent most of the morning trying to decide how far to go, and in the end we anchored in a river mouth we’d visited briefly last year in order to ride out a storm. I recall it most vividly because we were stuck on board in the driving rain, with no food except tinned cassoulet and nothing to watch but the box-set of The Lord of the Rings. This year we were much better stocked, and the weather was considerably better, although still unseasonably cold, so we were better able to appreciate the peaceful beauty of our surroundings.

 

River anchorage

River anchorage

Another day of sailing followed, and we arrived at our chosen anchorage late afternoon. It was off a small island called Ile de Brehat, and despite the fact that we were feeling tired, we wanted to make the effort to go ashore and have a look around. And what a pleasant surprise! We decided that this was the prettiest island we’ve visited in France. There were no roads, just footpaths, and the small town centre was about a 15 minute walk (20 minute limp for Nick) away from the dinghy dock. We sat in the small square and enjoyed a drink, then made our way back to the bay just near the boat, and had another drink in the open-air bar overlooking the picturesque pebbled beach. We ruminated that we wished we could stay for another day here, perhaps have a day swimming in the crystal clear water like everyone else, but we had a weather window to catch, so on we went.

 

Ile Brehat beach

Ile Brehat beach

 

Enjoying a drink in Ile Brehat

Enjoying a drink in Ile Brehat

The next day we sailed to Guernsey, which was a let down even by our low expectations. The fact that everything was English (even if the Channel Islands aren’t, strictly speaking) didn’t help. We trudged around, visited the pub, bought some food in M&S, had a drink at the pretentious yacht club, and decided that we were leaving. We’d planned to stay for two nights in order to recuperate after 4 days of sailing without a break, but we couldn’t bear it and left for Alderney.

 

Preparing for sail

Preparing for sail

Alderney was pleasant enough. It has a large harbour full of mooring buoys which has a castle at one end and a small collection of shops at the other, a large sandy beach stretching between them. We enjoyed a couple of drinks in the pub before a dinner of fish and chips, then headed back to the boat by dinghy for a sleepless night due to the swell rocking the boat. 4:30am found us awake and we decided to get going for a channel crossing. However, we found that the wind was in a northerly, not a westerly as predicted, and we just couldn’t face it. So we turned east and found ourselves back in France, in Cherbourg.

 

We’d never heard anything good about Cherbourg and being a major ferry port, it doesn’t have a particularly romantic reputation. So when we tied up mid-morning and our neighbour, an English guy from the Solent who intercepted us for a chat, told us that he and his wife had planned a two-week cruise to the Channel Islands, but were so taken by Cherbourg that they decided to just stay here for a fortnight instead, we were intrigued. Indeed, when we went for a walk into town we were pleasantly surprised. It’s not a beautiful town, but it’s certainly lively enough, and is packed with bars, shops, restaurants, as well as a large outdoor market. We stopped for a coffee and soaked up the atmosphere. We had planned on staying only one night in order to take advantage of our last day of fair weather before a low pressure system was set to sweep in, but instead we just slept right on through our alarm the next morning, deciding that one day isn’t going to make any difference, and we needed the rest. We’re now feeling recuperated: the boat is clean once again, we’ve done three loads of laundry and stocked up in the french supermarket, so we’re now ready to set off once again towards Conyer.

 

 

Down to the Last Bottle of Shandy…

I’m sitting here drinking our last bottle of shandy and considering the fact that, despite making shandy a priority on our shopping trips (they’re £2 for 10 bottles in Super U- you can see why we drink so much of the stuff), we’ve allowed ourselves to run rather low on certain essential provisions. The fact that we keep inadvertently freezing the salad stuff doesn’t help. Tonight we’re down to the last of our fresh food, and tomorrow begins the test of how well my resident chef, one Nicholas Fabbri, copes with nothing but dried and tinned food left in the cupboard. I think we have some cheese in the fridge, and possibly some yoghurt. Beyond that, it’s baked beans, couscous and canned peaches. That, and the basil plant which is having a little holiday in the sun under the sprayhood in a desperate, last ditch attempt to revive it. I look forward to the culinary delights to come.

 

I realise that we’re not exactly cut off from civilisation- in fact, the mainland is only a few miles away- so we can get to a supermarket whenever we need to. But that would require leaving these rather pleasant anchorages off secluded French islands that have nothing on them apart from a lighthouse or two and the tiniest of villages- if we’re lucky.

 

We left Ile d’Yeu a couple of days ago, and this time it was my turn to feel a little woozy. The weather wasn’t terrible, and the swell slowly dropped off during the course of the day so I kept the nausea at bay by slowly munching my way through the diminishing contents of our snack cupboard. Hey, maybe I was just a bit peckish. Once again we had high winds on the nose, so had to motorsail. We reached our destination, Ile Houat, in the early evening and it took some time before we found a spot to our liking due to the high number of sailing boats packed into this picturesque, sandy bay. However, thanks to our lifting keel, we were able to get in nice and close to the shore and take full advantage of the wind-break created by the island.

 

The view from our window in the evening.

The view from our window in the evening.

The next morning we had big plans for a circumnavigation of the island by bike (the island was only 2 miles long, and about half a mile wide, so we were confident this wouldn’t impinge on our equally big plans for a lazy afternoon drinking shandy in the cockpit), but no sooner had we stepped ashore, dragging our heavy dingy with our heavy bikes inside, we were accosted by the local police (I was pretty surprised at the presence of police on an island so small, but whatever) who told us that our boat was anchored too close to the shore. There’s a line of yellow buoys that you’re meant to stay behind, but on our arrival we saw many french boats on the wrong side of them (two were even dried out on the beach itself), so we decided to live dangerously for once and join them. But those boats were long gone now, leaving us to face the authorities alone. The cops were pretty strict about it: we had to move. Now. So that ruined our plans for our little bike ride, but we did manage to negotiate a slight reprieve to allow us a quick trip to the local boulangerie where we bought a lovely ham and melty cheese baguette thing. So at least the excursion ashore wasn’t a complete waste.

 

Ile Houat

Ile Houat

 

 

Don't know what we'd do without our beloved folding bikes!

Don’t know what we’d do without our beloved folding bikes!

 

We moved the boat out, re-anchored, enjoyed a lovely lunch of fresh bread, salad and chicken and spent the rest of the afternoon reading on deck, relieved that if any part of our day was to be interrupted at least it wasn’t the bit where we get to sit around doing nothing.

 

View of the anchorage from the beach- that's our boat right in front.

View of the anchorage from the beach- that’s our boat right in front.

 

This morning we left Ile Houat and once again motored to an archipelago of islands called, collectively, Les Iles des Glenan. There’s nothing here apart from a sailing school and one bar- not on the island we’re anchored off, alas- but it’s very picturesque and makes a pleasant change from the more lively marinas we’ve spent so much time in on this trip so far.

 

Tomorrow we plan on making another long (well, longish- these things are relative) passage north, and we’re looking to be back in the UK in two short weeks! We can’t believe how quickly the last month has gone and how much we’ve done, and we’re determined to make the most of the rest of our time in this incredible country.

Where’s the Summer Gone?

The sunny, warm weather we’d hoped for this week utterly failed to materialise. We left Sables d’Olonne on Monday morning, as planned, and it seemed that half the boats in the marina had the same idea. We donned our jumpers and sleeveless jackets for the first time in weeks and joined a mass exodus of sailing yachts who had apparently also been stuck in this port for far too long. Our departure was due to desperation to make some progress and frustration from being stuck in the same port for almost a week- never good enough reasons to leave a perfectly good marina in questionable weather.

 

As soon as we left the harbour, we realised our mistake, but we certainly weren’t going to turn around now. The swell was around 3 metres high, and the wind was blowing around 20 knots on the nose. We put the main up, mainly in an effort to stabilise the boat, but kept the engine on, unwilling to lose any speed. In these conditions, we preferred to get to our destination as soon as possible.

 

It didn’t take long before Nick was requesting the ginger sweets we keep on board for seasickness. Unfortunately for him, he enjoys the taste of them so much that they’d been largely depleted. He hadn’t bothered taking any anti-seasickness tablets that morning as neither of us had expected the conditions to be so unpleasant, and before long I was left to my own devices as Nick succumbed and spent the rest of the passage in a collapsed state on the sofa. At least we managed to dodge the rainclouds, although actual sunshine was too much to hope for.

 

We had planned on making some decent progress that day, but because Nick was feeling so miserable, we ended up back on Ile d’Yeu which was directly en route to our original, more northerly, destination. Thankfully, Nick managed to rouse himself as we were approaching the marina, much more cheery now that the journey was all but over. I was, however, warned against entering the forward head unless I felt the need to be greeted with a sink full of partially digested yoghurt and peaches which he had yet to clean up. Nick delicately broke the news to me that some of my toiletries had not escaped unscathed either.

 

Despite feeling pretty washed out, we had recovered sufficiently by evening to enjoy a couple of drinks and a meal in one of the bars along the harbour front. The atmosphere had ramped up considerably since our last visit, undoubtedly due to the commencement of the French school holidays. There were people everywhere. We were lucky to spot a free table. Bikes abounded once again, to the point where it was a struggle to find anywhere to chain them up.  We sat and enjoyed our beer and pizza in the lively atmosphere, the difficult morning forgotten, and agreed that if we were to be port-bound again, Ile d’Yeu was a most satisfying option.

 

One of Ile d'Yeu's beaches

One of Ile d’Yeu’s beaches

The next day there was rain and more high swell predicted, and Nick rather forcefully declared that we weren’t going anywhere until the weather was more accommodating. So we went for a bike ride instead. We explored the parts of the island that we missed out on last time and our high opinion of Ile d’Yeu was reinforced as we discovered the series of beaches that lay to the east of the main town, Port Joinville. It’s just such a laid-back, charming and beautiful place. Or, at least that’s how we felt about it until the moment the heavens opened and we had little choice but to cower under a tree for the best part of an hour. Soaked, busting for the loo, and lamenting our utter lack of snacks, I was beginning to get rather grumpy. The French didn’t seem too bothered. They just zipped up their rain jackets, pulled their hood up, scoffed a chocolate bar, and carried on, giving us the occasional rueful greeting as they passed. However, once the rain passed and we were once again on our way, our spirits picked up and we cycled back to the marina via a quick walk along the beach. Once back on board, we enjoyed a much-needed cup of tea.

 

Waiting for the rain to pass.

Waiting for the rain to pass.

Today was more leisurely and less wet. We woke to strong winds but clear skies. Nick’s maladie du jour was an infection of one of the lacerations on his ankle, so he rode (still can’t walk) to the pharmacy to get whatever he could over the counter. I remained on board and did a workout, which requires a little creativity when you have no space and no equipment. I found myself using a box of wine in lieu of actual weights. See how essential wine is to so many aspects of life? The rest of the day passed without incident and we amused ourselves by sitting in the cockpit and watching boats attempting to manoeuvre in the windy conditions. We were about to settle down to watch an episode of Band of Brothers, congratulating ourselves on managing to avoid having a boat rafted up beside us as we have plans for an early start in the morning, and then I spotted a boat entering the marina at full speed, heading determinedly in our direction.

 

With a sinking feeling, I raced up to the cockpit, Nick on my heels, and we watched in horror as this french boat, only a few feet shorter than ours and being sailed single-handed, attempted to come up alongside us. We realised very quickly that this skipper was foolish in the extreme. The reckless high-speed manoeuvring was bad enough, but he had exactly one fender out and no lines attached. I couldn’t believe my eyes- surely he wasn’t going to attempt to raft up alongside us with no fenders or lines? He was sailing solo and so had no-one else on board to help, but my sympathy was limited; he should have been prepared before entering the marina, and now he was putting our boat at risk. We’re more than capable of scratching our hull ourselves, without this bloke’s help. We were furious. He came alongside, but, due to his lack of preparation, was unable to tie up in a timely manner, and so ended up drifting away before we could secure the solitary line he had managed to hurriedly tie on. Our polite demeanour gave way as his bow, anchor leading the way, swung around toward us and he made no effort to prevent it from colliding with our starboard side, preferring instead to just stand at the helm and look around helplessly; at this point, we screamed at him to watch out, reverse, turn, something! He did, only to collide with the boat behind us, who luckily had its owner on board fending off, and he’d swung around to collide with it side-on, so no damage was done. Nick and I looked at each other in disbelieving horror- was this guy for real?! As he executed a rather wild u-turn, reinforcements arrived in the form of our various neighbours who had witnessed the altercation. We had no less than 5 of us lined up along our starboard side waiting for this maniac to return, and this time nobody stood in shocked silence. He received plenty of shouted instructions, mainly of the “Slow down!” variety. He still bounced off the boat behind us- again- but once he came up alongside us we were able to hold the boat still while he ran around tying up. Nick asked him the polite version of “WTF!?” and all he had to say was that he was expecting someone to help him when he got into the marina. As we returned to our saloon to commence our evening DVD session, Nick observed that at least we’ve never cocked up our mooring that badly. So that’s something.

 

 

Port-bound in Les Sables d’Olonne

The last week has moved pretty slowly, which is in keeping with our general pace of life at the moment. After leaving La Rochelle on Monday we motored a whole 8 miles to an anchorage off the nearby island of Ile de Rè. We had planned to enter the stunning marina there, but because it’s so small and popular we knew we were likely to be crammed in like sardines, making extraction a difficult task; hardly worth it just for one night. We’d been to Ile de Rè before and although it’s a gorgeous island, we weren’t fussed about a second visit. So, in short, we were happy to anchor. Plus it’s free.

 

We spent a lazy afternoon watching the beach slowly swell with people enjoying all manner of watersports: kayaking, paddle surfing (we want to try this one!), sailing, swimming, windsurfing. As we motored over from La Rochelle we saw a lot of jellyfish lazily floating in the water, but this didn’t seem to bother anyone. However, my healthy respect for any sea creature, which, thanks to my Australian upbringing I assume to be capable of causing me all kinds of fatal and/or painful injuries, prevented me from jumping in the water myself. Nick’s foot injury barely allowed him to hobble around the boat, let alone go for an excursion to the beach, and the last thing he needed was a jellyfish sting to add to his increasing list of woes. It’s now been 6 days since he fell off his bike, and he’s still unable to walk without considerable discomfort. Ironically, cycling is the only way he can get around at the moment, so our bikes have been seeing a lot of action.

 

The next morning we sailed to Les Sables d’Olonne, which is one of France’s premier yachting ports. The Vendee Globe, a famous sailing race which takes the contestants non-stop around the world, departs from this port every 4 years. We made the decision to come here reluctantly because we’d visited this seaside resort last year and considered it a charmless place, but there was some rough weather predicted for the week and we thought it prudent to take advantage of the extensive facilities the marina and town provides. The view from the boat coming into Sables is rather off-putting: the stunning beach is somewhat ruined by the long line of ugly post-war high-rises stretching along its length. However, having spent the past 5 days here, we’ve reviewed our initial impression. The architecture improves as you move back from the beach, and although it hardly has the medieval charm of La Rochelle, it’s atmospheric enough to make up for its aesthetic shortcomings. This is also a main centre for boat building and is home to many large boating manufacturers, lending the area a rather industrial feel. The marina itself is interrupted by a large artificial island of factories and warehouses in the middle of it which is visible from pretty much everywhere, but there are also plenty of streets full of restaurants, shops and bars, which are far more pleasant. In short, although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Sables d’Olonne as the perfect holiday destination, we’re enjoying our enforced stay far more than we thought we would.

 

Les Sables d'Olonne beach

Les Sables d’Olonne beach

The weather’s been a little unpleasant, but still warm enough for shorts and t-shirts despite the near-constant cloud cover and rain. We had some friends who are staying nearby come and visit for the day, and the sun was kind enough to make an appearance for them, but apart from that it’s been fairly grey and wet. We got soaked in torrential rain yesterday, and the french news has been headlining the unseasonably bad weather. However, we apparently only have one more day of rain, and then there should be some improvement next week. Our plan is to leave Sables on Monday and return to Brittany for the remaining 5 weeks until we have to be back in the UK.

La Rochelle Sejourn

Matt and Kaitlyn flew back to London on Friday, and since then Nick and I have been trying to get out of “holiday mode” and into a more settled routine. So, less eating out and more cleaning basically! That didn’t stop us from once again prioritising wine and bottled shandy on our shopping trip today, but at least we had the foresight to take a backpack as well, which we stuffed with more sensible purchases.

We're insisting that Matt and Kaitlyn return as soon as possible- I'm having to make my own cups of tea now!

We’re insisting that Matt and Kaitlyn return as soon as possible- I’m having to make my own cups of tea now!

After a week in La Rochelle, we’ve decided it’s time to leave: not only have we reached the point where we would naturally want to visit somewhere new, I’ve also come to the conclusion that this place is cursed. Not that we aren’t having a lovely time! We couldn’t be happier. La Rochelle is one of my favourite places in France. But first we took a hunk of hull out of the boat, then Nick lost his rather pricey Ray Bans over the side while doing the repairs (that brings out total value of items lost over the side or broken to roughly £400 thus far- not something we’d factored into our budget calculations). He was sufficiently pissed off to don a snorkelling mask and flippers and go diving under the boat in the foul marina water, but came up empty. Finally- I hope- this afternoon Nick went for a tumble on his bike, taking a couple of chunks of skin out of his ankle. I was sitting in the laundrette, reading my book and waiting for Nick to return from his trip to the chandlery (which was closed anyway, as it turned out), when he limped in looking rather sorry for himself, trailing blood all over the floor and announced that he’d clipped a curb and went flying. This latest injury is on top of hurting his back a few days ago, so he’s a bit of a mess at the moment. On top of all that, we’ve had thunderstorms over the weekend and 5am this morning found us closing all the hatches we’d left open, bringing in our belongings we’d left outside, and mopping up puddles of rainwater. So, on balance, time to leave.

 

La Rochelle

La Rochelle

La Rochelle

La Rochelle

 

Tomorrow we head to Ile de Rè to begin the journey north. We’ve struggled with the decision of whether to stay in France over winter, or to bring the boat back to the UK, and in the end we’ve decided that despite the fact that it would be so much more convenient to leave the boat here and continue south next spring, we’re never going to feel comfortable abandoning the boat to an unknown marina for 3 months while we’re in Australia. In Conyer, we’re friends with everyone in the marina and so worst case scenario, we have people near the boat we can rely on if it needs any attention. Therefore, tomorrow we begin sailing back towards southern Brittany.

 

Despite not being overly impressed with La Rochelle marina, which is a monstrous 3000 berth port, the biggest on the west coast of France, we adore La Rochelle itself. We’ve walked or cycled into town every day to attend the impressive daily market, which we’ve come to realise is a massive rip off despite (or probably because of) it’s lively, bustling atmosphere. A promenade of brasseries and restaurants wraps itself around another, smaller marina, behind which lies a maze of charming streets full of shops, glaciers, bars and yet more restaurants. On a busy weekday we’ve been unable to ride through the throngs of people in the pedestrianised areas, having to dismount and make our way through the crowds on foot. In the evening we’ve been drawn towards the northern side of the harbour which boasts a wide tree-lined footpath full of market stalls selling jewellery, paintings and sweets. We’ve only eaten out a couple of times while Matt and Kaitlyn were here, preferring to cook our own food from the impressive produce found in the market, but I’m insisting we return to a small restaurant we found in the backstreets on Matt and Kaitlyn’s last night on account of their chorizo and cream moules frites. I do consider myself to be something of a moules frites expert nowadays, and this particular dish has the honour of being the very best moules I’ve ever eaten. Ever.

 

La Rochelle

Walking into La Rochelle

 

 

Ups, Downs and Dolphins

We arrived in Ile d’Yeu mid afternoon on Sunday and, in the warm, calm conditions, moored up to our allocated pontoon with textbook perfect technique. I even managed that trick where you lasso a cleat with a line without having to leap off the boat. Brilliant! If I can manage that and keep hold of my cup of tea at the same time, we’re laughing. Once we were all tied up, paid up and had washed up, we went for a wander into town. We walked around the narrow side streets full of white houses and shops but empty of actual people, figuring we had to come across the main drag at some point. Never happened. So, defeated, we found a bar along the harbour front, had a couple of drinks before moving a whole 10 metres to the restaurant next door (to be fair, we weren’t exactly overwhelmed with options) and ordered some moules frites and yet more wine. It may have been the alcohol, it may have been because we’d been out sailing all day and were knackered, it may have been because the food was genuinely amazing, but we devoured those mussels like it was our last meal on earth, pausing only for the occasional appreciative grunt, before staggering home.

The Islands rocky coast

Ile d’Yeu’s rocky coast

The next day was a Monday (for those who need these things pointed out to you) and we were delighted to discover that the town was far more lively on a weekday than it had been the evening before. The small streets were crammed with people, most of whom were either on a bike, wheeling a bike, or, probably, on their way to one of the many bicycle hire shops. We joined in the fun, happy for an excuse to bring out our Bromptons which we purchased only last month. Kaitlyn and Matt preferred a walk, so while they took in the beaches to the east of town, Nick and I pedalled west towards the tip of the island, before following the coast around to the south to check out a crumbling old castle perched on the rocky shores. We had to go off road in order to reach the castle, but out guide book assured us it was well worth it. I’ve seen more impressive castles in my time, but the surrounding scenery was lovely, and it was good exercise at least. Once we’d taken a few snaps and got our breath back, we then cut through the centre of the island to arrive back in town via the more residential areas. We were also thrilled to find a small supermarket, not least because it had been at least a few hours since Nick had had his last peanut puff fix (a local delicacy, usually found in the crisps aisle), and he was starting to get the shakes. We had limited space in our bike basket so had to make some tough decisions: wine or salad, beer or vegetables, crisps or something for dinner? The basil plant definitely did not fit, but Nick wasn’t about to sacrifice that- he perched it on top of the mound of booze and confectionary and we rode back to the marina with the basil plant leading the way.

Wind-swept but happy!

Wind-swept but happy!

We were quite surprised at how taken we were with Ile d’Yeu. The evening of our arrival left us underwhelmed, but having the opportunity to explore the coast and smaller villages of the island allowed us to appreciate the natural beauty of the place and the charming architecture which reminded us of Ile de Ré. The island is flat and mostly sandy, unlike Belle Ile which looks more like something out of Jurassic Park, and we were struck by the geological and architectural differences between two islands that are only 50 miles apart. It felt like a completely different part of the world.

Coastal view of Ile d'Yeu

Coastal view of Ile d’Yeu

We left on Tuesday morning, which was a day where things started well- sunny, pain au chocolats… I don’t require much else for a good beginning to a day- but it gradually went down hill. We left the marina first thing and enjoyed some downwind sailing with our favourite toy, the parasailor (see photo). A pod of dolphins also came to join in the fun which was just awesome. We’ve had dolphins swim alongside us before, but I don’t think it will ever fail to amaze me. They leaped around our bow and alongside the boat, weaving in and out, up and down, rolling and turning to show us their pale bellies. I don’t know what gratification they receive by swimming alongside us, except perhaps the pure joy of showing off their aquatic prowess- although another couple of swimming lessons, and I reckon Kaitlyn could give them a run for their money.

The Parasailor, perfect for sailing downwind.

The Parasailor, perfect for sailing downwind.

 

Dolphins!

Dolphins!

More dolphins!

More dolphins!

Anyway, that was obviously exciting and invigorating, but then the sun disappeared behind a cloud, the wind picked up steadily throughout the afternoon and the rolling waves just got bigger and bigger. At least we were sailing with the wind and waves, not against them as we were in the Channel. It turned cold and uncomfortable, and I went down below to warm up and rest late in the afternoon. That’s when things turned interesting.

 

Nick poked his head down the gangway and told me to put some shoes and a jacket on, I had to take the helm. There was a large, grey, scary-looking customs ship not far from us who had just done a lap around us (Nick waved politely, hoping they’d just go away), before obviously deciding that we looked sufficiently suspicious to justify an onboard search. They launched their rib which sped towards us with four tough-looking customs officials with radios, guns, and other intimidating but unidentifiable objects attached to their crisp uniforms. I took the wheel, Nick sat down next to Matt and Kaitlyn, and suddenly we had three large men looming over us in the cockpit, Nick, Matt and Kaitlyn looking for all the world like they’d been dragged into the principal’s office. One of the uniformed men made a joke in French, and we all laughed hysterically, nervous as hell and not sure what to expect. He frowned then, perhaps picking up that three quarters of his audience didn’t have a clue what he just said, and asked if we spoke French. Nick was quick to answer, “Oui! Bonjour!” and was ushered downstairs while Matt, Kaitlyn and I remained in the cockpit with the most kindly-looking of the three, who attempted to make some small talk before we all descended into awkward, nervous silence. From my helming position I couldn’t see what was happening below, but it seemed to be taking a bloody long time. Nick told me later that they went through our passports with a fine toothed comb, asking dozens of questions and filling in paperwork before they finally relaxed and started chatting about rugby, music and boats. The moment I relaxed was when Nick moved back into view, camera in hand, and started taking photos of the custom officials holding their handcuffs up in a menacing manner. After that, obviously satisfied that we weren’t smuggling refugees across their border, or drug dealers, or undesirable in any other way, they jumped back in their rib, waved goodbye, and sped back to whence they came.

 

We were only just outside La Rochelle marina by this time and the wind had continued to increase. We were directed to a berth which would have been no major challenge ordinarily, but we just, well, fucked up basically. The wind was pushing our boat away from the pontoon and because it was being such a pain to manoeuvre, Nick was using the bow thruster a lot, which eventually decided it just needed a little rest; a fuse blew and it simply stopped working. This is a big deal- we find close quarters manoeuvring difficult at the best of times because of the size and shape of our boat. To lose control of the bow in such high winds was nothing short of disastrous. To make things so much worse, I threw the wrong line to the marina official who was helping us moor up. I won’t go into details, mainly because it laborious and boring to most people, but it meant that instead of securely attaching the middle of the boat to the pontoon, we were pushed sideways and into the sharp edge of the finger pontoon opposite, gouging out a significant amount of gelcoat and fibreglass. Nick and I looked at each other in horror, and not an insignificant amount of guilt on my part. Eventually, thanks to the owners of the crafts nearby who rushed to our rescue, we were able to berth the boat, but everyone was feeling pretty shit about the whole thing. Now Nick has several day’s work ahead of him to repair the gash. Feeling deflated and utterly exhausted, we couldn’t even bring ourselves to go to the bar for a drink. Instead, we cooked some pasta, emptied out the snack cupboard (yes, we have such a thing) and watched The Hobbit.

Island Hopping

After 3 nights in Belle Ile we sailed south this morning, leaving bright and early at 6am. This is not by choice, but we’re dictated by the weather and if we left our departure until Monday, which was our original plan, we would have missed a window of fair weather with which to sail the 50 miles south to Ile d’Yeu. If we waited until Tuesday, we would have put ourselves under too much pressure to get to La Rochelle by Thursday for Matt and Kaitlyn’s flight on Friday. See how much planning goes into even the simplest of decisions?!

 

We left Concarneau last Wednesday in the calmest possible weather. We put the sails up, turned the engine off and practically came to a screeching halt; there was absolutely no wind at all. There were, however, plenty of sailing yachts out enjoying the sunshine so evidently this didn’t put anyone off.

 

It was only a few hours sail to Ile de Griox, our overnight stop, and I spent that time sitting in the sunshine on the coachroof attempting to paint my nails: a clumsy procedure at the best of times, you can imagine the result on a moving boat. When I went to show off my turquoise toenails to Nick, he exclaimed, “Christ, what did you do, lob the nail polish at your feet from standing height?!” I have to admit, he had a point.

 

Our Ile de Groix anchorage

Our Ile de Groix anchorage

We arrived in Ile de Griox and slowly motored around the small rocky island looking for an anchorage. We were aiming for what looked to be a very pleasant bay with a sandy beach and some white washed french houses, but when we arrived it was heaving with our nemesis: lobster pots. Not good. So we carried on and found the boat party around the next corner; we could see the dozens of white masts gently swaying in the light breeze and as we rounded the corner the reason for the popularity of the anchorage became clear on account of the gorgeous beach nearby. As we approached, Nick, monocular pressed against his eye, annouced with a certain glee that it appeared to be a nudist beach judging from all the bare skin on display. Obviously this completed the picturesque view, and we all settled down for an afternoon and evening of yet more reading, beer drinking and sleeping. Occassionally somebody would mention that perhaps we ought to go for a swim, or row the dingy ashore and take in the delights of the island, but our laziness had reached truly epic proportions and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to summon the required energy.

 

The next day was an early start so we could get to Belle Ile for lunch. Nick and I had fond memories of this island from last year’s cruise, and we were keen to return. We stayed in a colourful village called Sauzon, which is spread along the banks of a small drying river. The further upstream you go, the more it dries out, so most boats are moored in the entrance where there is always water. However, we were keen to dry the boat out, mostly as an interesting exercise since we hadn’t done it before, and Nick wanted to get to the hull to give our rudders a good scrub. So we continued upstream, put out two anchors so we wouldn’t swing around when the tide turns, and settled in for three relaxing days.

Sauzon, our home for the past 3 nights.

Sauzon, our home for the past 3 nights.

 

Low water in Sauzon

Low water in Sauzon

We celebrated Nick’s birthday while we were in Sauzon with a meal out, and although it was excellent it was also hugely expensive, so most of our meals were eaten on board. We also managed to get a bit of exercise, to everyone’s surprise. The coastal walks are truly spectacular and there’s plenty of cycling paths, both of which we enjoyed exploring. We also spent a memorable afternoon in the clear, frigid water off the back of the boat teaching Kaitlyn how to swim, although I do believe she may have played down her abilities slightly. For years she’s claimed that she cannot swim, but she jumped into the water with confidence, didn’t sink, and managed to move in the direction she wanted with a reasonable amount of coordination. That’s swimming, as far as I’m concerned.

 

The dramatic coastal walking path

The dramatic coastal walking path

 

We’ve only been in France for 5 days and it’s not just the cheap wine and plentiful pastries that are keeping us happy. It’s also the French approach to sailing. One of the differences we’ve observed between the attitude towards sailing in France compared to that of the UK is that it’s not only extremely popular, it’s also a sport for everybody. The snobbery that we encounter regularly in the British sailing communities simply doesn’t exist here in France. Everybody who lives near the coast sails, and it truly is an activity for the whole family. It’s a common sight to see a dozen or so children being towed out to open water in their tiny sailing dingies, like a row of ducklings. The older children have their lessons on a sailing yacht; we spent hours in Concarneau watching them practice mooring up, taking turns at heming or managing the lines. They’d tie up, swtich places, cast off and come back around to do it all over again. The cruising community is also a pleasing mix of different people: you see as many families with young children sailing around as you do retirees, as well as everything in between. There’s such a wonderful, inclusive attitude towards sailing here, unlike in the UK where it’s considered to be something of an elitist sport, and it’s one of the many reasons we’re loving our time sailing in France.

 

 

Bonjour France!

After a 40 hour passage, we arrived in Concarneau as dawn was breaking on Tuesday morning. I was unceremoniously pulled from my warm, comfortable bed at 5:30am as we motored towards the marina and sleepily observed the approach of land from the cockpit, wrapped up against the early morning chill in my favourite blanket. We radioed the harbourmaster to request permission to enter but they were sensibly asleep, and so we invited ourselves in, found a berth on the visitor’s pontoon and moored up quickly and easily. The passage across the channel and around the coast of Brittany had been challenging at times, especially for our guests Matt and Kaitlyn who had been sailing only once before, so we stood around congratulating each other on a job well done before returning to our beds for some much needed sleep.

 

We met Matt and Kaitlyn on the same trip to India where Nick and I first met, and I think it’s fair to say that our own developing relationship paled in comparison to the bromance that quickly blossomed between the two boys. It was love at first sight. Or, perhaps more accurately, at first fart joke. So we knew that the four of us travelled well together (always a tough one when inviting friends to come and stay) and they took up our invitation for a 2 week sailing holiday with us without hesitation.

 

They travelled down from London on Saturday and we celebrated the beginning of our holiday the traditional way- in the pub. The boys hadn’t seen each other for a whole week, so there was a flurry of excitable giggling, nipple tweaking and the usual puerile humour. Eventually they wore themselves out and we were able to plan our passage across the channel to France.

Making our way across the River Dart by dingy

Making our way across the River Dart by dingy

View of Dartmouth from the river

View of Dartmouth from the river

We left the next evening, having decided that it may be easier to get the night passage out the way first. We still weren’t sure of where we might make landfall; this would depend on weather and how everyone was coping with the long passage. As we sailed out of Dartmouth and the English coast slowly receded behind us, the wind and swell picked up to a level that was a little uncomfortable. During the day, it’s easy enough to deal with a heeling and rolling boat, but when you’re trying to sleep it becomes extremely arduous. Nick and Matt took the first watch, but Nick didn’t end up going to bed until 5am because of the need to be extremely vigilant whilst transiting the busy shipping lanes. However, by then the wind had dropped, the sea state had calmed considerably and the boys were able to enjoy a few hours sleep.

 

The next day we motor sailed because of the light winds, but it was sunny and warm, and we were all feeling pretty mellow and relaxed. We took the decision early on in they day that we would continue south for a second night passage, arriving into Concarneau the next morning. I think it’s fair to say that nobody was particularly looking forward to a second night at sea, fearing a repeat of the lumpy conditions of the night before, but it turned out to be the most pleasant night crossing I’ve ever done: it was still and calm, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky; the stars were absolutely phenomenal, the milky way clearly stretching over our heads in a massive arc. After living in London for the last 5 years, I’d almost forgotten what stars look like. We even saw some dolphins as the sun started to rise. And, to top it all off, everyone slept well while they were off watch. Perfect!

 

We spent 24 hours in Concarneau; the only reason we went there to begin with was because it is a port of entry, and as an Australian I need my passport stamped when I enter a new country. However, as with our experience last year, nobody seems to care. My passport wasn’t even checked. In fact, I snoozed through the whole experience while Nick dealt with the officials in the office.

The streets of the old town, Concarneau

The streets of the old town, Concarneau

Everyone was pretty shattered that day. We managed to rouse ourselves for a very french lunch of baguettes, charcuterie, cheese and fruit before yet another nap. But we rallied once again to go out for dinner; food is the ultimate motivator. We decided to explore the old town, which was actually a small fortified island in the middle of the marina, connected by a footbridge to the promenade. We were greeted with medieval streets full of shops, bars and restaurants, one of which tempted us inside with their talk of moules frites on the menu. And so we celebrated our successful passage to southern Brittany in true french style, with wine, mussels and the internal organs of some unknown animal which I enthusiastically chowed down thinking it was ham. Nick didn’t feel it necessary to enlighten me until we were licking our ice-cream cones on our way back to the boat afterwards. What a gentleman.

The big decisions: what to have for dinner?

The big decisions: what to have for dinner?

So now we’re en route to Ile de Groix, where we plan to anchor for the night before continuing onto what was our favourite destination last year, Belle Ile. The weather is gorgeously warm and we have a fridge full of cold beer, wine and french food: life is good!