Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Wendy’s Diary 29th November – 5 jars of jam and a wedding!

Another quiet few weeks have passed by for me, still on crutches but I managed to offload the wheelchair a couple of weeks ago. Whilst I can’t walk too far on the crutches, the wheelchair had become a bit of a luxury and with having to pay a weekly rental I was happy to say goodbye to it. I had the “big” screw removed from my ankle yesterday so am hoping that I will be able to start walking before long and I will be getting some physio starting soon.

My French has continued to improve and the need to break a leg to learn a new language has become a frequently used phrase.

In early November we were delighted to attend to wedding of our friends Julie and Chris in Plymouth.  We had a full on 3 days of visiting friends and collecting supplies (John had ordered a new wind generator and anchor chain). It was a mad rush of seeing people, we weren’t anywhere for long enough, but it was lovely to see people for the short time that we did. The wedding was lovely, it was fabulous to see the happy couple looking radiant.  

We started the weekend staying with some French friends in Le Bono, and they had invited some other friends from La Route de L’Amitie to dinner so we had a lovely evening before driving up to Roscoff for the ferry. We stayed with the soon to be weds on the first night and boaty friends Richard and Chris the second night in the UK.

As part of my meticulous planning I booked the car in for an MOT, 10 -11am on the Friday morning. Then came the phone call to say it had failed and the spare part would arrive on Monday – when we were sailing back to France on the Saturday. After an anxious phone call, the garage confirmed that they would be able to get the part and have the car fixed for the end of the day. One problem solved, another created. How to get to the wedding in the afternoon?? My dear friend Jane ran us around doing everything else we had planned to do, fed us a Full English brunch and delivered us to the wedding.

Another very kind friend Richard took us from the church to the reception, then back to Saltash after the wedding, waited whilst John collected our car key which had been delivered back to Jane, then took him to the garage to collect the repaired car before travelling back over the bridge to his own home, much closer to the wedding venue than Saltash! We really do have some very kind friends and it was a blessing that when we needed help there was no problem in getting it.

We had a heavily laden car and were rather tired by the time we got on the ferry on the Saturday evening. I had booked the ferry a few weeks earlier, before I knew whether my leg would be out of plaster, so as a precaution booked a wheelchair accessible cabin. On the way over, this meant we were the first car to board the ferry and the first car off again. We weren’t first on the way back, but there were so few cars anyway it hardly mattered. The cabin was a lovely size, with plenty of room for the wheelchair and a shower with a seat – bliss. I did use the wheelchair on the ferry, mainly because I was afraid of falling over if I was on crutches.

A week later we were off to Audierne for the weekend for a dinner laid on for the volunteers who make La Route happen. It is the biggest sailing event in Europe that is run by volunteers, anything bigger and several smaller have professionally paid staff, caterers etc and the whole thing becomes much more expensive. So to thank the volunteers and evening of food, drink and entertainment is put on, and we had a very enjoyable evening meeting up with old friends.

Back in October, when One of Annie and Philippe’s friends came to stay, she noticed the tree in the garden and pointed out that “Les Anglaise” make jam with the little apples that grow on it. Then when Hannah visited, she confirmed it was a crab apple tree and she had the recipe for the jam, which was duly emailed. So Annie and I decided we would give it a go. Annie had made jam before, but never with crab apples, I have just never made jam before.

We spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the garden picking the apples, there were so many of them that you couldn’t tell any were missing by the time we had filled two colanders. Bibiche (means something like fluffy) the cat joined us in the garden and I took great amusement in throwing the fallen apples around the garden for him to chase. When we had picked enough, we sat and drank a cup of tea in the garden, enjoying the November sunshine. It has been a remarkably warm autumn here, with the weather being ok for tee shirts in the sunshine right through to last week.  
Two bowls of crab apples ready for the kitchen

Bibiche keeping an eye on me!

We sat in the kitchen preparing hundreds of the little apples for cooking, cutting out the blossom heads and checking for bruises before putting them in the pan. One bit of information missing from the recipe was the quantity of water to add to the apples and I put in plenty to be on the safe side. This was where it got entertaining. The instructions said that once cooked, put the apples in a jelly bag and leave overnight to drain. We did as instructed and within 5 minutes, the liquid had drained through – neither of us knew what to do, neither of us had the language skills to express “I haven’t a clue” in each other’s language never mind suggest what may be wrong or what to do now! So we laughed and laughed until our ribs hurt, it seemed the best thing to do under the circumstances. In the end we left it overnight anyway, just in case a bit more liquid should choose to dribble out.

Two days later, Annie added sugar to the liquid and produced 5 jars of jam. After a very apprehensive first tasting, we all agreed it was lovely and well worth all the hard work and laughter that went into making it. Even better, having recently returned from the UK with a fridge full of goodies, we were able to have a clotted cream tea, home-made scones (one of my specialities) with crab apple jelly instead of strawberry jam – if you have never had it I thoroughly recommend it. In the last couple of weeks we have nearly finished the second jar, and so impressed with ourselves, gave one to a friend as a thank you for inviting us round for dinner.

As I sit typing this, watching the wind and rain lash down for a change, there are still quite a lot of apples clinging to the tree, and I reckon that later this week we will be making another batch of jelly with them. 

John finding a bit of time to fix the car headlights
John continues to work long hours, often more than 30 hours contact time in a week, so by the time he has done his lesson planning the weeks fly by with little time for anything else. However it is the work that has enabled us to buy the new wind generator, and pay for my medical bills (hoping to get a refund soon), so the salary is welcome. After Christmas his hours should reduce significantly and we are looking forward to spending more time together.

Oh, and the boat - she is sitting quite happily in Pornichet Marina, proudly sporting her new wind generator. If you want to know what it is, how it works or how much power it produces, Wendy's diary is not the place to be looking!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Wendy’s Diary Wednesday 2nd November - Dinner Party Dialogue

I have had a quiet few weeks recovering from surgery, hobbling around on crutches or being wheeled around. The plaster came off on Monday and it is nice to have the freedom of having a shower and being able to move more easily. I am booked in for surgery at the end of the month to have one of the screws removed from my ankle, it is a large screw that goes through both the fibula and tibia, and I will not be able to walk properly with this in.  In the meantime I am now allowed to start putting some weight on my foot, which makes walking with crutches somewhat easier. Hopefully by the time the screw comes out I will be able to walk small distances without crutches.

So, what else have we been up to? Firstly John is working long hours, much more than either of us anticipated. He is teaching for around 30 – 35 hours a week (contact time) so by the time you add class prep time to that he is a busy man. The school doesn’t have any admin support so the boss asks the teachers to do a fair bit themselves, and I have started helping John with this, much of which is in excel which is one of my skills. He is enjoying the teaching though and it pays well, so it is not all bad. We are treating ourselves to a new wind generator out of his wages, so there will so long term gains out of his hard labouring.

We are living with Annie and Philippe still, with John sleeping on the boat 2 nights a week when he starts work at 7am the next morning. They are a lovely couple and we share a lot of laughter with them. They have two sons; the younger has been staying with us recently, between working on the Ille de Groix in the summer and travelling to Turkey, firstly by air and in a couple of weeks time is driving over there with a friend, in his very old Renault Quatrelle!

At weekends we cook a special meal for them, a Sunday roast, or John’s specialities in Chinese and Indian cuisine. This is something we both enjoy doing and it is nice to be able to give something back to a couple who have and still are doing so much for us. Annie adores my pastry and with a crate full of apples in the garage, apple pie appears on the table at least once a week. I have also introduced them to my homemade cheesecake which they are both very fond of. When I first decided to make this in France, I of course needed the ingredients. I make it with Philadelphia cheese, now when I came to describe what this is so we could buy it, I struggled. What is Philadelphia, I know it by no other name, France has many types of cheese, including the soft varieties, but I was at a complete loss. With Annie’s help we guessed at Fromage Blanc, and whilst not the same, it did work, and with the help of a drop of Baileys, I made my first French cheesecake.

On my next visit to a supermarket, there it was hiding between the Goats Cheese and the Raclette Cheese – Philadelphia. We bought some and I produced a fantastic Blueberry cheesecake. A friend from Groix was staying at the time and a couple of days later when back at home, she rang and asked for the recipe, and made the same for some friends of hers. A big compliment for me that she liked it so much she wanted to make it for her friends. I think I have made 3 more since.....

Round the dinner table we tend to have discussions on correct grammar, either in French or English, and also to laugh a lot! One particularly amusing evening with friends for dinner we somehow got on to the topic of bad language. Merde is a French word that I think everyone learned at school, but what we didn’t learn is that it is less vulgar in French than the English translation, so it is in very common use. Annie says she wouldn’t have used it in front of her parents, but her boys use it in front of her...a sign of changing times perhaps. Zut is rather like saying “oh bother” and I haven’t heard it used except for in jest.

So back to the dinner table and the Merde conversation, it went something like this:

Groix visitor: what was the correct pronunciation in English,
Philippe: Sheet
Another : Sheet
John: no not sheet, sh#t
Groix Visitor: Sheet
John: No not sheet......

A few more rounds and a bit of practice and all the French people round the table could now pronounce a word that we told them was offensive in English and best not to use it!

Along similar lines, one that appealed to me was how the French pronunciation of Spreadsheets sounds and they think it applicable that excel spreads sheets! Remember the previous conversation??

The boat is in a sheltered place for the winter, so it is always calm there. The tides are big and getting up and down the bridge onto the pontoon has been rather challenging for me at low tide. Everyone we have bumped into down there has been friendly, and a Norwegian chap who is living aboard with his French wife left us a note inviting our acquaintance. Somehow he managed to find this blog and had read it before we met, so already knew what we had been up to (hello Espen)!  He has been a visitor for coffee a few times, and I am waiting for my leg to improve before I visit their boat.  

My French continues to improve, although I think the pace has slowed down. The grammar is getting more complicated and I have hardly started yet. Annie and I sit at opposite ends of the table for dinner, with John and Philippe facing each other between us. There is a fair bit of rivalry goes on between the sexes, which again causes laughter. Whenever I know a word that John doesn’t (perhaps once a week if I am lucky), Annie will tease him and question that surely he knows the word. Yesterday’s word of the day for this was beetroot!

Having finally lost my plaster, I no longer have the pleasure of the daily injections by the nurse to stop my blood from clotting. The injections cost around 7 euros per day, the nurse another 3 to inject it, and another 7 for the nurse once a week for a blood test – which then goes to the lab who charge a further 10 for the result.  I think at present I have incurred around 700 euros in medical costs, a much reduced rate as I have the EHIC card, without this it would be about 3 times the amount PLUS hospital in patient time which is free with the EHIC. In the next week or so I will be paying a visit to the local health social security office to find out how much I can get back, I believe around 70%.

That’s all for now, hopefully I will be updating with stories of me running marathons in the next blog.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Wendy's diary 11 October. Recovering from Surgery and speaking French

Now that we have tied up the boat for the winter, I think that updating the blog will become less frequent, or at least shorter (phew I hear you say)! I cannot report on new places explored or how good or bad the sailing is, but just on our day to day lives now in one spot. With my broken ankle this time arrived a little earlier than expected and we missed out on the last few weeks of the season sailing. Anyway, the news for now:

The surgery on my ankle went well, I now have a plate and 5 screws in my leg, I had 18 staples which were removed last week, and am in plaster until at least 31st October. The attitude to risk is obviously different in France, so there is no explanation of the proceedings, the risks etc, nothing to sign to say you absolve the surgeon of all responsibility, so rather different to when I had the surgery on my neck earlier in the year. Being used to UK proceedings where full explanations are given, I left hospital with virtually no information other than to return 2 weeks later. So I made a list of things to ask, like how much longer in plaster, would the plate be removed at a later date, what is the prognosis on the nerve pain in my big toe...no more than that, and the surgeon thought I was suffering from anxiety as I asked so many questions! Annie tells me that normally surgeons do say more and I just got one who was bad at explaining, although reputedly a very good surgeon which is more important.  Hospital food is possibly slightly worse than the uk, so I came out ravenous!

I am still living at Annie and Philippe's, John is spending his time between here and the boat. He is working long hours 4 days a week, but happy that he likes the work and is well paid. Two days a week he starts at 7am, so sleeps on the boat the night before so that I don't disturb him when he wants an early night and he doesn't disturb me in the morning when he gets up at the crack of dawn (or before - the nights are drawing in). 

I can only stand/use my crutches for very short periods as my toes swell up within about a minute and if I don't sit down again fell like they are going to explode! I have a wheel chair and most days Annie takes me for promenade somewhere when John is at work. On John's day off and weekends he delights in seeing how fast he can push me or how far back he can tip me up to get up a kerb. Getting to the boat can be challenging and at low tide impossible, the slope down to the pontoon is just too steep. Once at the boat I heave myself around and can get to all parts, but it is very difficult and I am glad that Annie welcomes me to stay with her.

The weather has suddenly turned to autumn, on Sunday 2nd October, the world and his dog was on the beach as it was sunny and 30 degrees. A week later the traditional Sunday afternoon promenade was made up of people wrapped up snugly in their coats. It isn’t really cold, around 17 degrees, but after the previous week it felt cold.

My French continues to improve and it is really nice for me to be able to have conversations with people in a different language. Two years ago when we were last in France I was unable to say much more than hello, I could book a hotel room, and say my name and age, but conversation was not possible. I took up conversational French classes on my return to the UK and struggled through these for the best part of two years. Now, mainly with Annie’s help, with some from John and Phillippe, and with what I had learned in the evening classes I can now achieve what I aspired to do. I am working on my grammar which is still appalling, but I can make myself understood and know enough vocabulary to get by. Yesterday a neighbour called round whilst Annie was out, and we spent half an hour chatting about all sorts of things, the boat, my leg, the weather etc. Two years ago this would have been a nightmare situation for me, full of awkward silences and stuttering. By the time Annie got back, and started pass on the news, she was greeted with the neighbour saying, oh yes, Wendy has already told me about that. J

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Wendy's Diary 21 Septembre

Just a quick update for now.

The boat is now in Le Pornichet Marina where we intend to spend the winter, altough John has now joined me in living with friends in their house in St Nazaire as I can't manage the boat. More bad news with my ankle - it was hurting lots so I went back to the equivalnt of A&E and an xray showed the bone had slipped out of place. I am booked in for surgery tomorrow so will be back in hospital for a couple of days. Oh well!!!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

John's Diary 1

John’s diary – singlehanded sailing
It was a bit of a shock to find no Wendy on the boat and a message to “Come up to the Hotel behind leClerc and we can have a chat” when I arrived back at Redon after nearly eighteen hours travelling on Sunday night.  I was a bit disgruntled by the mysterious messaging, especially as I was practically asleep on my feet, and all I wanted to do was to get my head down!  That said, all the irritation evaporated when I discovered Wendy’s injuries.
Having got Wendy packed off safely to Annie and Philippe, it then fell to me to get the boat out of Redon on my own – an interesting task, as it had needed the lockkeeper pulling hard on the spinnaker halyard to heel the boat enough to get the cap shrouds clear of the bridge, while Wendy fended off.  We are 4.2m wide, and the lock is only 4.5m, so we have only about six inches clearance on each side, most of which is taken up by fenders!  The young lady eclusiere (lockkeeper) didn’t seem to have any concerns, which might have been something to do with my having helped her out with a large barge a few days earlier when the holidaymakers on board had spent nearly fifteen minutes making a hash of it.  She had been tearing her hair, calling out things like “Now go slow ahead, helm to starboard.  No! No! NOOOOO! STARBOARD, not PORT!!!  AHEAD not ASTERN!!!” and all the time the queues were getting bigger at her bridge and I suppose she was imagining the complaints which were going to flood in to her boss about the delays.  I was as much concerned about the barge hitting our boat as their difficulties getting into the lock, and after several near misses, I offered to help and got them into the lock.  As I came away afterwards the eclusiere gave me a big beaming smile, a thumbs up, and blew me a kiss which made me grin.
Anyway, on the morning of my departure I had everything ready, and I had disconnected the cap shroud, pulling it out of the way with the spinnaker halyard to clear the bridge.

The eclusiere called across to me, and so I set off.  She raised the bridge and I gently nosed in with a crowd watching (that normally guarantees a disaster!) but in we went, gently nudging the fenders on both sides as we did so.  The eclusiere was outside her control tower, camera in hand, snapping away with a big grin.  “Oh god!” I thought.  “Don’t mess this up now!”  However, it all went perfectly, and I got another wave from the control tower and a big smile as I cleared the lock and went into the port de Plaisance.

As I went down I noticed a heron on the bathing bathing platform of one of the yachts, quietly waiting for breakfast.  It was unfazed by my passing quietly past.

At the other end I saw a British Moody (Globil) just having the mast stepped, and I went alongside for half an hour for a chat while I reconnected the rigging.  Bill and Gloria (hence the name of the boat) came aboard and had some coffee and madeleines (little sponge cakes).  Neither of the couple had been on a cat before, and Gloria said to Bill just before they left, “Now if we had a boat like this, I’d be more than happy to live aboard!”  I’m not sure whether I have done him a favour in cementing his relationship, or whether there is now an impending divorce! I hope it’s the former…

I went gently down the Vilaine with one engine just ticking over, replacing what we have used from the batteries over the last few days of immobility. Eventually I came to a lovely little halt in the middle of nowhere, called Rohello, consisting of a car park, a beautifully-maintained aluminium pontoon and a set of rubbish bins.  I offloaded the rubbish and dinner went on, comprising a couple of gallettes au lardons et fromage (pancakes with cheese and bacon bits) with duchesse potatoes on the foredeck washed down with a glass (well, two actually!) of Normandy cider.   I settled down to a lovely night’s sleep and awoke early enough to watch the thick mist drifting in the moonlight before the sun came up.  

Sunrise quickly dispelled the mist, and the day warmed up quickly.  I carried on downstream.  There are dozens of abandoned boats tied up on the banks with large square nets on small cranes off the sterns.  Apparently these were used for a fishery which has now evaporated through overfishing, and the boats have just been left to fill with rainwater and rot.  Some of them are little sailboats with the masts lifted off, others are traditional rowing boats and some are basically mini pontoons.

A bit further downstream I turned off into a tiny insignificant creek behind a boatyard, a creek so small that it appeared to go almost nowhere.   It turned out that it was actually navigable for about half a mile and I was treated to the sight of a large bird of prey flying across, the streak of iridescent electric blue from a kingfisher which went ahead of me along the stream as well as countless beautiful dragonflies, thousands of pond skaters and blooming water lilies. 

 I finally turned round when the creek got really shallow and only just wide enough to swing the boat around.  It was a lovely diversion, and showed rural Brittany at its absolute best.  The creek is a couple of miles above la Roche Bernard on the left bank of the river behind a busy marina.  Any reasonably small boat could anchor up there free of charge in complete peace and tranquillity, yet with the marina facilities a short dinghy ride away.  There is a lot to be said for having a slightly smaller boat like an HT!

After the diversion, I headed downstream again.  The port of La Roche Bernard is busy, but they were happy for me to use the visitors pontoon for a couple of hours (without charge – what a contrast with the UK!) to do a bit of shopping and hunt down a bar with wifi to catch up on emails.  I topped up with water at the same time, before setting off for the lock at Arzal. Up to this point I had been able to sail most of the way down the river, sometimes hitting nearly five knots under just the (reefed) genoa, but after a few hours of perfect calm, the wind changed and I found myself motoring downstream with 18 knots of wind on the nose.  Having become accustomed to making three knots at 1,200 revs on one engine, I was not impressed to be making just under 2 knots at 2,000 revs, but then I spotted a tiny cove on the left bank, about half way between la Roche and the lock.  It looked interesting, so I nosed in very gently and although very shallow (the props were kicking up the mud a lot of the time) it was perfectly sheltered so I spent the day there, out of the wind in warm sun, getting ready for the passage ahead.  When evening came, I raided the fridge and freezer and had smoked peppered mackerel (oh boy, what a glorious meal!) with a handful of chips and garden peas, accompanied by another glass of cider, all on the foredeck in the setting sun.  “Life doesn’t get much better than this,” I thought, and much as I miss Wendy’s company, being able to have smoked mackerel (which she can’t bear) was a real treat which went a little way towards making up for it. 
The following morning, I had a call from Wendy, asking if I might be able to get to La Roche for lunch with her and Annie. You can imagine my delight at the idea, and so I upped anchor and relocated just below La Roche, leaving the wind generator to do its stuff in the breeze.  

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Wendy's Diary 15 September A bad week

I am typing this on a french keyboard which makes it rather slow as lots of the keys are in the wrong place!!

So after the good news at the end of August with John being offered a teaching job we started to make plans of what we needed to do before he started work. We had a few restful days socialising, reading and watching the time float by whilst planning ahead.

We met another heavenly twins owner from Cork in Ireland called Francis (the owner not the boat) and enjoyed comparing notes with him life abord these boats.

We moved the boat round to just inside the canal, where we were told it was free to tie up along a wall which was at just the right height for the boat. It was rather interesting going through the lock with the lifting bridge, as it did not quite lift far enough to avoid the shroud on one side and we were stuck. The lock keeper came to our aid and pulling on the rope attached to the top of the mast (I have forgotten what it is called) he managed to lean the boat sideways and the shroud cleared the bridge by at least an inch! The trafiic had waited around ten minutes by the time we were done.

John will need transport for his job and having both the car and motorbike back in the UK being looked after and available we decided the bike would be best mainly for economical reasons, so last Thursday morning I waved John off on the train to Roscoff, I stayed behind to look after the boat.

I had a wander around the clothes shops and others that John is not really interested in then returned to the boat to fetch the bike so I could cycle to the supermarket. I got the bike on the grass bank, fetched a couple of bags for shopping (very green of me) when one of them blew out of my hand in the wind and I ran to retrieve it. Reaching the slightly damp stone quay I slipped  and fell between the boat and the quay, managing to land with an arm on each and only my feet going in the water.

Ouch, that really hurt I thought, and in pain knew I needed to swing my legs up on to the boat, which took 2 attempts. Once my legs were safely up, the ouch factor increased and I saw that my ankle was distorted - I had dislocated it!  OMG what do I do now. I thought that John would be close to Roscoff by then, we had piad for the crossing, he needed the bike for work, so I chose not to ring him but my friend Annie instead. She knew exactly where the boat was so with my panic level rising with the pain, I managed to tell her (in French) that I had fallen and needed an ambulance NOW and she sorted everyting for me.

A few minutes later the Pompiers arrived, 4 strapping young men with half a dozen words of English between them. They found my twisted lying down position on the back of the boat made it rather difficult for them to move me, but managed to get me on to a stretcher and then to the van. I say van as it is not like an English ambulance, there is no paramedic, no pain relief, no taking of pulse or blood pressure, just a taxi to hopsital.

Fortunately along with having my phone in my pocket I also had my purse, which contains my EHIC card. This made things much simpler and I would recommend to anyone abroad to carry it with them at all times just in case. They took some xrays which not only confirmed the dislocation, but that I had fractured one of the bones quite badly in the process. They needed to do surgery so I was finally given a drip for pain relief and hydration.

Annie had arrived and managed to act as interpreter between the medical staff and myself. Having had surgery only 6 months previously I knew the routine which made it much easier to work out what they wanted to know. I was scared when she was not allowed to come with me when I went for surgery, being in a foreign country and not having met the surgeon or what he planned to do. It turned out that the plan for the evening was to yank it back together under anaesthetic and hope it worked, although they were doubtful. I was pencilled in for open surgery in the morning. 

It was Friday morning before the surgeon had examined the post op xrays and thankfully declared it was perfect. No surgery necessary and 6-8 weeks in plaster. He said if all was well I could go home the following day. I made the decision to not tell John as I did not want him worrying about me when he had a long list of things to do in the UK.

I was discharged on the Saturday with a bundle of precriptions including one for a pair of crutches, the hospital does not issue them, you have to buy them from the pharmacy. Annie and Phillipe thought a wheelchair would also be useful, and picked up one of them at the same time. Annie and Phillipe had been sleeping on the boat whilst I was in hospital, as they knew we did not like leaving it unattended. There was no chance that I could climb on to the boat in my condition and so Annie and I stayed in a local hotel.

On Sunday afternoon we awaited John's return in a Creperie overlooking the boat. He was sending me texts to update his e.t.a whenever he stopped and then sent one to say the GPS had died, he had no map, and would have to find the way on major roads through towns he knew so would be late. The Creperie was closing so Annie and I went back to the hotel and Phillipe had to return to St Nazaire as he had work in the morning. When John finally arrived at about 10.30pm not knowing why I wasn't there, was very tired and a little grumpy. Annie drove to fetch him back to the hotel so that I could explain all. Later he returned to the boat to get some much neede sleep.

He sent a text on Monday morning to say the bike had been stolen overnight and that he was at the local gendarmerie!!! Unbelievable. Annie collected him and we sat and had breakfast together at the hotel and managed to laugh rather than cry about our misfortunes.

Later Annie brought me back to her house in St Nazaire to stay for as long as I needed to, as the boat was so inaccesible to me. Yesterday John left Redon to sail back down the Vilaine, and will slowly work his way around to Le Pornichet. I don't think either of us will ever go to Redon again!

I am being very well looked after, spending most of my time propped up on the settee with my leg raised to stop it swelling up. I have to have an injection everyday to prevent blood clots, with the nurse coming to the house. We went for a promenade along the seafront yesterday, with me in the wheel chair. We sat and watched the sun on the waves for a while and I was very envious of the surfers catching the waves and longed to be able to do the same.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

John’s toys 3 – the cockpit

One of the things I found really tiresome on overnight passages was standing up at the helm to keep a lookout.  All of the commercially-available cockpit chairs I found had no armrests – or at least, no armrests which were at a height suitable for resting my arms. So I experimented with garden chairs.  First of all, I bought a cheap plastic one, and took a saw to the legs, extending two of them with bits of wood to rest on the deck, and shortening two others to rest on the cockpit lockers.  This was a dummy run for the real thing to establish the precise location of the seat support:  too close to the wheel and it would not be possible to get past; too far away, and it would be uncomfortable on the arms of the helmsman.  Having established that the idea was viable, I bought a hardwood garden chair kit for about £15, raised the arms by a couple of inches and fitted a foot rest.  I then fitted a proper stainless steel seat support into the deck with a hardwood stiffener to the cockpit locker and put the seat in place.  It’s a tight fit in the HT cockpit, but worth its weigh in gold, as the helmsman can keep a 360 degree lookout from the chair, making long-distance shorthanded passage making far less tiring.

With the arrival of Wendy, it was evident that we needed another raised seat in the cockpit, as she far preferred to sit on a plastic stool on the locker tops so that she could see forwards without standing up.  I built a lightweight hardwood seat close to the centreline using beech decking. 
It cost around a tenner to make, and it is used daily as:
·        a seat by the off-duty watch, with optional cushions
·        a mini-table for drinks and snacks in calm conditions or in harbour
·        A workbench for  the vice
·        A very convenient place to put the Coleman stove when the water is flat, so preventing the saloon from getting too hot.

Another useful modification in the cockpit is the hardwood rail behind the helm’s seat.  This uses light line attached to lacing hooks for storing our mooring warps. As the cockpit is fully-enclosed, this means that there is a range of neatly-coiled and dry warps of various sizes and lengths immediately to hand whenever they are needed.

The really big modification is our enclosed cockpit.  When I bought the boat she had a plywood cuddy with a canvas cover over the after half.  The soft top was something which I never felt the need to remove, so last winter when it took on the properties of a colander, we extended the original cuddy to make a wheelhouse.  This has been incredibly valuable, and we now have no need of oilskins, except to go on deck or in the dinghy.  It is light and airy, with lighting at night, space for the dry storage of our folding bikes, provides dry access between the aftercabin and the saloon, and most important of all provides perfect shelter underway, be it from wind, spray, rain or intense sunshine. When we rounded the Raz de Sein a couple of weeks ago, other boats’ crews were wrapped up with just their eyes peering out of their oilskins.  We were in tee shirts and shorts…  An unplanned by-product of the hard top is that we now have well-placed handrails all around the after superstructure, making access to the afterdeck and bathing platform much safer.  On the top of it we mounted a pair of 80watt solar panels which provide power for the freezer, and a solar water heater so on sunny days we can have a shower without using any fuel.
With hindsight, I would have made the after surface slope slightly more, at the same angle as the after edge of the aft coachroof to make the lines a little fairer, but apart from that, it has worked really well, and we are delighted with it.  

Wendy’s Diary Mardi 30 Aout The generosity of fellow sailors and the end of retirement.

John had sent text a fellow French “amitier” to say we were in Le Bono, and George replied that his crew member Jean, whom we had met a couple of times, lived in Le Bono and sent his number. John sent him (Jean) a text and he invited us for dinner back at his house. When we arrived, he showed us around his rather large garden, the chickens (eggs and meat), the ducks (look pretty on the pond and meat), the vegetable garden, the greenhouse etc before sitting down to a dinner of the unlucky chicken of the day.  They invited us to stay the night as it was getting late and the wine was going down well and the following morning we had bread and jam (homemade) for breakfast with Earl Grey tea (yummy). Jean offered to take us to a supermarket on the way back (out of the way) to the boat and before we left his wife had collected together a huge bag of fruit and veg from the garden, half a dozen eggs (some chickens still out there then), a loaf of bread  and a couple of jars of jam (homemade).  All this from someone we had met a couple of times on La Route!

We left the Auray River and Gulf of Morbihan early the following morning and had a very good sail across to the Vilaine, albeit a bit bumpy at times and we both felt a little green around the ears. We went through the lock at Arzal  - fascinating,  about 15 boats in one go with a lock master who enjoyed the power given to him.  He would call in each boat in turn, shouting where they should go in a tone that made them hurry, before then shouting “doucement” when they were going too fast. I think he must have been bullied at school!!
After the lock we managed to continue sailing up the river, sometimes very slowly, but without the engines on, all the way to La Roche Bernard.  We stopped to talk to some English people who advised it was 20 Euro’s a night on a buoy, but 100M further up river it was free to anchor – a hard choice but in the end we opted for anchoring.  Our friends Annie and Phillipe joined us for a very leisurely lunch on the boat and in the evening we went ashore for a wander around the old town. Finding an Auberge named “The 2 Magots” was temptation enough for me to take a snap of the sign hanging proudly above the door. These are some sort of monkey, but the thought of wiggly little maggots made me smile.  We found an excellent little creperie in a half timbered building and finished off the said crepes with lashings of Breton cider.

The lock at Arzal

The wonderfully named Auberge

Another day another sail (after a nice long lie in) this time up to Redon, passing through the swing bridge at Clan. There were lots of abandoned fishing boats lining the river and we wondered what had happened to cause an apparently abrupt end to something previously so popular and presumably profitable. Much higher up the river we spotted some animals which we thought were otters, but my dad informs me are coypu’s. Anyway they looked cute and I got a snap of them too, along with some sunset type shots which I must say I am proud of. Finally around 9pm and getting dark we reached our destination of Redon, where we anchored just outside the town.

Redon is a large town, the first thing we wanted was WIFI, so we set the sat nav to find the nearest MacDonald’s, just over 2 miles away, which no longer felt like a barrier when one has to cycle to get there! John wanted to email his CV (now translated into French with the help of Phillipe and Annie) to a contact who runs an English Language Centre in St Nazaire.  We spent a while catching up with friends on facebook and email and I managed to Skype Mum, Dad and daughter Amy whilst we were there.  Although we now have a French mobile it is still expensive to call the UK, around 19p per minute. We stocked up on a few goodies at Lidl’s next door before cycling back down to the boat for lunch.  In the afternoon John telephoned said contact at the language centre and was offered an interview the next day (Tuesday). 

Late afternoon an English family had wandered along the quay and we got chatting. Mum declared that he one thing she missed was a good cup of tea, so our kettle went on and we spent a couple of hours sat on the quayside chatting and drinking Earl Grey. Their 3 boys were studying French, German and Spanish between them, so they had booked a holiday in each country to help the boys with their language skills. In the evening we were joined by another couple who had arrived on their catamaran, “Wandering Star II” an Ocean Winds, the big brother to Freya Frey. As often happens we had several common acquaintances and they had arrived at Millbrook just after we left at the end of June. A pleasant evening chatting and a rather late night.

On Tuesday morning Annie arrived to drive John to his interview, 45 minutes away in St Nazaire. She helped me finish ironing John’s shirt, I have a very cute little travel iron which made its first appearance on this trip. No ironing board, just a towel on the saloon table – four hands made it much easier than two. I went along for the ride and whilst John was being interviewed, Annie gave me a car tour of the docks at St Nazaire (unbelievably huge), including the submarine garages from WW2. We carried on to the sea front and had a cuppa at an outdoor cafe on the promenade waiting for John to call – and before we had finished the call came to say he had finished and had been offered a job starting in October!!

Over a very leisurely lunch back at Annie’s house John filled us in on the details, he’d be working around 20 hours a week probably over 3 days teaching professionals in the aerospace industry.  The next thing we needed to do was check out where to put the boat for the winter. We discovered that the docks at St Nazaire have now stopped taking leaisure craft, “it’s not a port de pleasance” said the grumpy chap at the capitainerie! Apparently there is an argument going on between the mayor and the dock owners over the inclusion of a port de pleasance, and in between time, the docks are refusing entry to all leisure craft!

So on to Le Pornichet, the next port along, tucked just inside the entrance to the Loire estuary. We had been warned that this was a very expensive marina, but kept our fingers crossed that for the winter it would be affordable. It is a lovely looking marina, quite large, and has a handful of boaty related shops along the main wall. With a price of 229 euros per month, including electricity and wifi we thought it not a bad deal and it certainly seemed a good option. Back to the boat to look at charts and discuss plans for the next 5 weeks, it feels nice to know where we will spend the winter even though I didn’t think I felt unsettled by not knowing!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Some recent photo's

Cooling off in the Morbihan

The sailing club which made us honorary members

A charming little cottage on Ile D'Arz, one of many.

Sunset over Ile D'Arz

Me and Annie!!

Wendy’s Diary Mardi 23 Aout - Seagull Soup and the joys of WIFI

Bonjour encore.... A much quieter time to report than last time – but here goes...

We left Hennebont and stayed on a mooring at the boat club down the river at Kervignac as invited, where we received a very warm welcome. We stayed for two days and it rained for two days. We had a couple of wet bike rides to the local shops (easy reach of several supermarkets) to provision and were both pleased to find that cycling up hill is becoming much easier and we don’t have quite so sore bottoms when we get off!!

The weather finally brightened up and we had a long day motor sailing around Quiberon and into the Gulf of Morbihan where we blasted through the entrance at 12 knots and found our way to an anchorage off of Ile D’Arz.

I promised you a story of seagull soup...we carry a fishing rod and so far have not had any success, but keep trying in want of a free dinner. As we left the river Blavet we set up the line but at the speed we were travelling the bait (a plastic fish) kept jumping out of the water. I relayed this to John along with the thought that it could be attractive to seagulls, his response being of we caught one we could always cook it for dinner. A while later he went down for a sleep whist I took the helm, whilst keeping an eye on the line. I woke him up with the line ”you know what you said about seagull for dinner??” He managed to pull the line in along with a very angry but young gull who had managed to catch the bait only in his wing and hadn’t swallowed it. A few bite marks later in John’s arm, a lot of struggling, getting caught and re caught in the hooks we finally had the poor thing free of the bait and sent him on his way. Neither of us fancying the idea of having him for dinner. Sorry to disappoint if you were after the recipe, but I guess to quote a Terry Wogan line – it probably tastes like chicken!

 The following morning a trip ashore in the dinghy proved this to be a very pretty town with quaint houses, a couple of bars, a handful of arty shops along with a very expensive Spar.  The weather was beautiful and we returned to the boat to chill out for the afternoon. John spotted a boat dried out on the beach and went to investigate if we could do the same the next day to scrub the weeds off the bottom.

He declared it a fit place to dry out, so the following morning – John’s Birthday saw us both in knee deep water scrubbing and scraping away. How so many barnacles manage to find their way onto the bottom of the hulls I have no idea. A French family wandered along the beach and stopped to chat, John issued his usual invitation of joining us on board for coffee, they declined, but said they would be pleased to provide us with coffee at their house later once we had finished working on the boat.  

At the end of a long days work we found our way to their house where we accepted beer rather than coffee as it was so hot. A tart was cooking in the oven and on hearing it was John’s birthday, they produced a set of candles and we all sang happy birthday (in French then again in English). John was very touched, this was a family whom we had only met on the beach and chatted to for about half an hour, it is amazing how friendly people can be to us foreigners!

We moved on to Vannes as we needed more fresh supplies, and to avoid harbour dues, we anchored outside and went in to the harbour in the dinghy. A quick whizz round to where we thought we would find Lidl, but failed and settled with Monoprix instead. This was a mixture of very expensive stuff (Jam at 8 Euros a jar) and very cheap (Cucumber 25 cents) so we were content to find the bargains and stock up. We took our purchases back to the boat, exchanged them for the bikes and went back ashore for a general site seeing tour.

After Vannes we crossed to the eastern end of the Morbihan to a little place called Le Passage, which was not very inspiring, but it was the entrance to a pretty river Noyolo and we spent a pleasant morning in the sunshine exploring the river. On the falling tide we managed to go aground and it was nearly midnight before we could leave again when the tide returned. An interesting night-time run back down to the anchorage at Le Passage, using the instruments in the dark and working out where the channel was, spotting buoys etc.

Another quick trip over to Ile D’arz again, we needed water and internet access and knew both were available here and on the afternoon tide headed off to the Auray river where we managed to find room to anchor at the end of the buoys opposite the tributary that leads to Le Bono.  I had another important email to send and so we went up to the town centre where the bars were but couldn’t find any with access. I wandered around with the netbook open hoping to come in range of something.  We gave up in the centre, looped back down to the foot bridge across the river where I picked up a weak signal. We followed the path back down to the harbour where it (the signal) appeared and disappeared about 20 times. We got back to the boat where I sat on the harbour wall above the boat and spent the next hour trying to get the thing to send. Orange is my email provider and there appear to be lots of WIFI providers who do not allow outgoing emails to connect to the server through outlook, although received items arrive ok. John has only had this problem once with Google mail – maybe orange is worse for some reason.  Anyway, back on the boat, as I started reading through the new emails I noticed I was on line, with the strongest signal I had had all morning. BAAAAAAAHHHHHH. 

Thursday, 18 August 2011

John’s toys 2 – a vice!

John’s toys 2 – a vice!
If you are as much a fiddler and tinkerer as I am, there are times when you need to hold something really steady in order to work on it.
When I saw this little beastie in Lidl for under a tenner, I thought it would be useful for some of the work I was doing at the time, which it was. It’s a bit on the heavy side, so when we left on our travels I hummed and harred for a good while about whether to take it or to put it into storage.  Then yesterday I discovered that the shackle on the dinghy anchor chain needed replacing, and that it was rusted solid.  The only thing for it was to get the hacksaw out and cut it into two pieces, and doing that without a vice would have been difficult – although not impossible - so although it doesn’t score as highly as the petrol stove, I’m glad I brought the vice along.

We had Conger eel soup, look out for seagull soup in the next episode!!!

If that doesn't get you thinking I am not sure what will!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Wendy’s Diary Vendredi 12 Aout

Bonjour a tous!

La Route de L’Ametie – this was a whirlwind of sailing and partying and chatting this year. My second attendance at the event and I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I am not quite so ecstatic about it as John – he says I need to wait until I have done 4 and then I will understand!
In general terms the days go like this
1.     Get up (quite early – at least earlier than I would choose)
2.    Plan the route to the day’s port (I would do this on the computer whilst John did so on the paper charts and then we would compare notes
3.    Sail or motor sail depending on the weather – up to 28 miles on the longest leg
4.    Tie up at the port (usually on a shared buoy but if lucky on a pontoon).
5.    Drink a bottle of beer with the boat next to you
6.    Drink a bottle of beer with someone who comes to see you
7.    Drink a glass of wine with someone you go to see.
8.    Have a meal and a bottle of wine with 800 other people on huge lines of trestle tables, food served by huge numbers of volunteers.
9.    Go chat with someone else that you didn’t get to sit with at dinner and have another glass of wine.
10.  Remember where the boat is, find it and fall into bed.

Strangely enough by the end of the week we were both rather tired!!
More specifically we left Audierne for Loc Tudy (Pontoon), then the next day on to Concarneau (harbour wall). Two and four years ago in this port it rained, and 2 years ago the mayor promised that in 2011 it would be sunny. Thankfully he was right and it was a warm balmy evening. We went over for the evening meal to find it was Chicken Curry – something awful in my books. I had made a quiche earlier in the day (yep, pastry and all), so went back to the boat and made myself a plateful of quiche and salad and returned to the crowds to find John. He had not been able find a seat with anyone he knew – it was incredibly busy, so he sat at a table on his own.

 A French lady took pity on him and asked him to join her and her husband at another table – it would be a bit of a squeeze but she was sure there was room.  I spotted John and as I sat down, I thought, I know the lady on the other side next to me but can’t place her – I couldn’t associate her with a boat. I looked across the table to see her twin boys – Dave and Mike (Jason’s schoolmates) and it all clicked – Saltash. So you sail all this way and bump into people you know. Tracy and I sat chatting for a couple of hours, interspersed with a little bit of French with Annie – the lady who had taken pity on John. After our Cornish friend left, I chatted a bit more with Annie, a lovely lady who was very patient with my poor French.

The next port was Ile de Groix, we were tied up between 2 buoys, in a line of boats about 20 wide and 4 deep! If you are prissy about your boat this is not the place to be. Lots of fenders and a couple of bottles of beer and everyone is happy. Another meal, this time I spotted Annie and we sat with her and her husband (Phillipe) and she introduced us to her sister and brother in law on whose boat they were sailing. She was again very patient with my French and it was good to get the practice. With John and Phillipe on hand to interpret where necessary we had a lovely evening.

Friends on the only other catamaran taking part had caught a conger eel along the way and offered us the tail end – it was a big beasty so the trail was not small. On consulting my cookery book, I turned it into conger eel soup the next morning!
Overnight the weather turned and the event organisers pulled the plug on the days sailing. It started off very foggy and windy, a strange combination. With some very small boats taking part the decision was one based on safety.  I slept for most of the morning, but what does one do when stuck in port on an event such as La Route – Party! So in the afternoon we joined the throng on the harbour wall, a selection of wines and ciders along with some interesting snacks appeared and we drank and chatted with our fellow sailors.
Whilst we understood the organisers responsibilities towards the safety of the crews we were still sad to have missed out on the next port – Le Bono, in the Gulf of Morbihan.  The street would have already been closed and marquees erected, food ordered etc at the point the plug was pulled. It was too complicated to delay everything by a day so we had to miss this one out. It is a very pretty town and very capable of feeding hundreds of people in a short period of time with hot tasty food.

So the following day we made our way to Huat, another of the Islands and a tiny harbour. We arrived fairly early so got a good berth on a buoy (no pontoons here at all). Some boats had to moor outside the harbour where the sea was a bit choppy, so we were glad to be inside.

The last stage of La Route was to Port Louis, where were allocated a pontoon berth with electricity, indeed all boats here got a pontoon berth, it is a huge marina, how they made room for 180 boats I am not sure, but that they did. We had been having problems with the new fridge cycling all the time and using up the battery so it was good to plug in. I made some scones on arrival and invited some German friends to join us for a Cream Tea (I had another tub of clotted cream left over from my quick visit to Plymouth). She had commented that she liked them when we had been drinking onbe of several glasses of wine on their boat so it was good to be able to serve them warm and fresh from the oven.

More beer, wine, food and chatting for the remainder of the organised event which finished on the Sunday evening. By now Annie and I were firm friends and we were both improving our conversation skills in each other’s languages. On the Monday morning when it was time to depart, Annie and Phillipe joined us for a journey up the river Blaynet to Hennebont. Phillipe took the helm, which was a very different experience from using a tiller on a monohull. He enjoyed the challenge and soon got the hang of using a steering wheel.  Annie and I went for a wander around the town and they stayed with us for the rest of the day and departed with Annie’s sister and brother in law who live nearby.
Annie’s brother in law had arranged to go with John to sort out the French mobile phone. We had bought a top up voucher back in Audienre but couldn’t get it to work. After being promised some good coffee the day before (has anybody ever heard of John not offering coffee), Clement arrived with a bag of fresh warm croissants and pain au chocolate (my favourite) to accompany the coffee. They set off and I did a load of hand washing (I’m working on an exercise routine that involves stomping in a big bucket of washing), hung it out to dry, did some tidying and vacuuming, felt I’d deserved a rest so made a cup of tea and sat out on deck to read my book.  This is when they finally retuned having failed to achieve the desired result. In the afternoon we cycled up to Lidl’s to stock up on fresh food. Another uphill all the way trip, but that means when there is a heavy bag on the back, it is an easy ride back to the boat.

Clement had recommended a trip along (up) the river as it was so pretty, so another day saw us setting off on our fold-up bikes and it met our expectations. It is a beautiful river and the path was tarmac and of course fairly flat for most of the ride. Hennebont is the last place that masted boats can reach, a low road bridge (adorned with hanging baskets) prevents yachts going any further without dropping their masts. It is also the start of one of the canal routes, and we cylcled past around 7 locks in 6 miles. With slightly bruised behinds we returned to the boat very pleased with our excursion.

On Thursday we decided to go up to the visitors’ pontoon for the day. Max stay 12 hours, room for two very small or one medium boat. Free electricity provided you don’t exceed the 12 hours, so again time to top up the battery with the fridge still misbehaving. Another load of hand washing done and hung out to dry whilst John paid another visit (his fourth) to the Post office (still no credit on the French phoneI went with John in the afternoon for the fifth trip to La Poste, and this time they came up trumos and we left with a topped up phone – woo hoo!! ).  A cycle ride (uphill) to get some diesel, a fast journey back with the extra weight.

Friday – a day to tidy up and sort out some niggles with equipment. I had a good sort out in the “garden shed” and put away all the things that seem to get lying around everywhere. John moved the fridge into the dog-house to see if a shorter lead would help with power consumption, and then got on with some electrical stiff that needed doing. I decided to write my diary. I was sitting in the dog-house as it was so warm, suddenly a call of “JOHN” from the harbour wall. A fellow sailor from La Route was waving and john went over in the dinghy, and he came back for a cup of coffee. He is the president of a local sailing club which has its clubhouse and pontoons further down the river and we were invited to use them if we wish.

Before he left, another call of “JOHN, WENDY” from the harbour wall. This time it was Annie and Phillipe here to pay a surprise visit on their way home. I whizzed over in the dinghy and they too came back to the boat. They also knew the chap from the sailing club, and after a quick chat I took him back ashore. It was lovely to see Annie again, we have lots of laughs together and at the same time both improve our spoken language skills. Conversation gets easier and more in depth each time we meet and it is so nice for me to be able to chat in French after spending 2 years at evening class, thinking I had hardly improved.