Thursday, 21 July 2011

John’s Toys – 1 A way of cutting gas costs onboard.

For a long time I have been teased mercilessly about the number of gadgets and gizmos I have got on board, and how Freya Frey is the heaviest HT ever to remain afloat.  (“Really?” you say.)  I thought I would write a little series for anyone with a slightly geeky technophile outlook listing some of the additional things we carry which have proved particularly valuable, so this is really for the lads rather than the girls.
One of the concerns we had was the cost of French gas.  It really isn’t a problem for British boats which only come over here for a short time, but when you are planning to be away for as long as we are, it becomes an important consideration.  It is pretty much impossible to get UK gas cylinders filled in France, and the supposedly universally-available Camping Gaz (we have yet to see their refillable cylinders for sale anywhere!) practically requires a mortgage, costing almost £9/kilo. In addition, you cannot take gas cylinders on public transport, so the cost of a taxi fare may have to be added to the price of the cylinder.   With all this in mind we filled our aluminium cylinders with autogas at £1.60/Kg before we left, which gives us a stock of 22Kg of propane for cooking, which should last several months.  However, that isn’t quite enough to last us until the spring (especially at the rate Wendy consumes tea!) and although we have the Camping Gaz cylinder as a backup, I reckoned we would not have enough to get to Spain.
Remembering how we cooked on the first boat, I had an idea of how to get round this problem by using a Coleman unleaded stove.  (“What?” I hear you say).  This is a single burner camping stove, basically a modern version of the trusty Primus which as the name suggests, runs on ordinary unleaded petrol.  Pound for pound and calorie for calorie, petrol is much cheaper than the cheapest bottled gas, is universally available, easy to carry and easy to store.  So we bought a Coleman.  Now, each morning, I put the kettle on the Coleman to make a pot of tea and fill the big thermos flask with boiling water.  We use this during the day, bringing the water back to the boil with the gas stove.  When the flask is empty we reboil the kettle on the Coleman, and if we need a bowlful of hot water for washing up, out comes the Coleman again.  It is using around a litre of petrol a week, which is equivalent to around 750g of gas – a very worthwhile saving, and far better than using Camping Gaz! 

The stove is compact, very powerful (nearly twice as powerful as the burners on our gas hob!) so it raises boiling water almost as quickly as a domestic electric kettle.  It is very stable, so can be used on deck or in the cockpit (a big plus on a hot day!) or even on a beach, and it is completely independent of the gas system, so provides a backup in case we have a regulator failure.   

Monday, 18 July 2011

Wendy’s Diary 14 July addition – John’s proof that gadgets are worth having!

I think this was on Tuesday...but anyway....we decided to go to the supermarket, which is the best part of a mile away up hill. The folding bikes had been stowed away since the passage down the coast so we unhooked them and I passed them down to the dinghy to take them ashore.  We off-loaded the bikes on a nice wide pontoon, and then John went to tie off the dinghy at the end of the pontoon. I unfolded mine ready for use when some people needed to get by so I moved both bikes closer to the edge...can you guess where this is going now? As John reappeared, somehow I managed to nudge his still-folded bike over the edge, it slid in slow motion and slowly sank out of sight!

May I say at this point that had I been with either of my ex-husbands in this scenario, my anxiety levels would have been through the roof (or in the clouds as we were outside)! So my first thought was I am glad John is my partner and that I have a good relationship with him. J That thought quickly out of the way, and whilst watching the bubbles still coming up, I offered to jump in and try and retrieve it.  John assured me it was too deep and whilst I sat and watched the bubbles John went back to the boat to get the dinghy anchor and....the underwater CCTV!  Just to prove that this was worth the bargain price paid and the space it occupies on the boat.

As John lowered the anchor with the camera attached, the bike appeared through the seaweed on the screen. It only took three attempts to hook onto the bike and pull it back up to the surface. Safely on the pontoon, I rinsed it off in fresh water and finally we were ready with both bikes to head off to the supermarket. We shared a hug of reassurance before setting off. My chain fell off before I started, and then it started to rain...

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Wendy's Diary Thursday 14th July

Thursday 14th July
We enjoyed a few peaceful days in Chateaulin including a very nice lunch on the 9th at a local restaurant to celebrate my birthday. We  motor sailed back down the river on 11th, stopped overnight in a tiny peaceful anchorage before setting off out of the Bay of Brest the next morning and sailing down the coast to Audierne. As we left there was virtually no wind and the sun finally made a reappearance so we had a lovely warm start. Later in the day the wind picked up and we had a downwind sail all the way down and past the famous Raz de Sein, one of the most photographed lighthouses around.  I have a framed picture of it that used to hang on the wall at the house and is now in storage.
We arrived in Audierne around 9pm and after the long sail, dropped the anchor and went for a quick drink ashore to celebrate our arrival in John’s favourite harbour in France. Back to the boat and crawl into bed very tired. During the night I awoke to hear shouting and noticed bright lights. I looked closer and saw that we were moving! I woke John up who jumped out in his birthday suit to find out what was going on – a fisherman called that we were not allowed to anchor in the channel – our anchor and come loose and we were drifting along! He quickly sorted things out and moved us back to the anchorage and this time put out two and a bundle more chain to make sure we would be ok. At around 3.30am we settled back down for the night.
On 13th it was a hot sunny day so I did a load of laundry and John set me up with a washing line all around the boat to get everything dry, I quite liked to see the sheets blowing in the breeze, it was very here for photo! We had drinks with another English couple on their boat and swapped notes on favourite places to stay. In the evening we were invited to the Harbour Master’s (Alain) house for drinks and nibbles to celebrate his belated birthday. Just after 10pm we headed back down to the harbour as there was a fireworks display for Bastille Day. We joined another lovely friend Jean-Louis on his boat to watch the display.
Thursday today, a quiet day of “housework” .

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Audierne 12 July 2011

We arrived safely in Audierne yesterday. Will update again soon.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

L'Aber Benoir

Seaweed farming was one of the big trades in this pretty little village. Note how loaded down this boat is. They pulled up to a quay where it was loaded into a waiting lorry. 

 The beautiful white sandy beaches
 We liked the house that has been made to look like a boat, and again the white sand. 


We went our to celebrate Wendy's Birthday. Thank you to all who contributed to the Euro fund at the leaving party!

 John looking like he is holding on for dear life!

If you look ever so carefully in the next photo you can see Freya Frey moored up alongside the wall, through the arch of the bridge.

Dolphins swimming around the boat

The dolphins were literally swimming under the keels of the boat, 3 at a time and so close it was amazing. You can see the fenders stored on the bow in the bottom left hand corner:

Friday, 8 July 2011

Wendy's Diary Thursday 7th July

It has been a quiet few days, hidden up the rivers of Brest. The scorching weather changed as we left Landerneau to sunshine and showers with strong winds! The motors sail down the river was a little bumpy as we got neared the Rade de Brest (think Plymouth Sound) and we headed straight for the other river, the Aulne to keep out of the wind. We retreated round the bends of the river, past some pretty villages, retired French Naval vessels and a wide range of waterfowl, some of which we didn’t recognise. We found a quiet little anchorage in the entrance to a creek where we noticed the nearest boat was flying a Cornish flag – the owner soon appeared and informed us his wife was Cornish and they knew SE Cornwall well.
Next morning (6 July) we had a catch up on tidying, and unsuccessful attempt at fishing and a good snooze waiting for the tide to turn so that we could head further up the river. This was a lovely cruise of about 10 miles, most of which was down purely under sail – something we seem to rarely manage in rivers. The pull of the sails as the wind gusts is a pleasure to experience, such a peaceful way to sail and at one with nature. Not that the hundreds of ducks thought that as the scattered on our approach, along with egrets, cranes, curlews and many others. We passed pretty houses on the river banks that if global warming ever happens will be several feet underwater. We eventually reached a lock alongside a weir that would enable us to continue our trip further upstream.
Having spent a summer in Sutton Harbour I thought I knew what to do in a lock. What I failed to appreciate is that Sutton Lock has a mini pontoon that you tie up to, which rises along with the boat as the lock is filled. All you had to do there was make sure you didn’t untie too early before the water had calmed down. So we entered the lock and were thrown ropes from above to tie up to. John instructed me to keep tightening the rope as the water level went up. It was a polypropylene rope, (the sort we don’t have as the skipper doesn’t rate them) and as I loosened it from the cleat so I could pull the rope through, it slipped through my hands and the cleat letting the bow swing out into the middle of the lock. John shouting me to pull it in, me shouting I was trying to (did I think I was letting it go for fun?) and eventually working out how to get this awful piece of rope to do what I wanted it to rather than allowing it to do as it pleased.  A few minutes later we were safely out of the lock and apologising for the shouting under panic.
About a mile up the river is Port Launay, a very picturesque village/town with grass covered banks in front of the road for around a mile, which boats can tie up to free of charge. We stopped in the first space we came to, behind a boat flying a Cornish flag!  An enjoyable evening was spent over a bottle of wine or two with the owners, who were on the way back from doing the Atlantic circuit. He grew up in Millbrook, but like us, home is now wherever the boat is!
This morning we cycled to Chateaulin, it looked like the road would follow the river (so be flat) and we knew there was at least one decent supermarket.  It was a nice easy ride, and we spotted E LeClerc on the other side of the river as we approached the town.  We carried on into town to find a bridge and found a market in full swing so had an amble around the stalls. Back on the bikes we crossed the river and did our shopping, making note of the free WIFI.  On the way back we spotted an old road that looked like it could be interesting so followed it. John then decided he fancied going up the hill rather than back to the river and on the basis that I am very unfit thought the exercise would do me good.
Up the hill led to that increasingly common sign “Lidl” further up the hill, so as we were short of milk, thought we could pick some up cheaply. Six litres of milk and a bottle of Pineau de Charente later, we returned to the bikes once more. At the exit John was keen to go uphill again...think of the exercise I told myself, and agreed. A long way uphill, a few turns and a dead end, he finally consented to going downhill J The ride back along the river was easy with the wind behind us and we soon returned to the boat, feasted on an enjoyable lunch before nodding off for the rest of the afternoon.
Late afternoon the WIFI was calling so we moved the boat up the river to Chateaulin, walked the hundred yards or so to E Leclerc to find the cafe closed. Reminiscent of our second visit to MacDonalds, we sat in the car park and did our stuff.  Or tried to..we could receive but not send emails, and halfway through downloading some podcasts John was given the message that he had broken the terms of the free WIFI and would not be able to log on again for 2 days!! How we will live without the Archers for another 2 days I am not sure. We can get radio 4 on longwave but someone at the BBC in their wisdom has decided that cricket is more interesting than the Archers so whenever there is a match – there is no Archers!
So back to the boat to respond to the latest emails, drink tea, eat chocolate, drink Drambuie, and write my diary. Another day has come to a pleasing end. For those who may ask about my health, I am pleased to report that my neck is good, my nerve pain the same; it hurts when I touch/rest my head but is generally OK whilst I am up and about. The mozzies have found someone else to feed on and we are both feeling very well and enjoying not working.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Currently in Chateaulin 7 July 2011

Hiding from the strong winds in some beautiful places along the two rivers around Brest.

All well and good

Both happy to not be working.

Wendy's nerve pain the same but neck OK

Monday, 4 July 2011

Wendy’s Diary: Saturday 2nd July

Wendy’s Diary: Saturday 2nd July
We stayed in L’Aber Benoit until Friday. The weather has been warm and sunny but with a slightly chilly northerly/sea breeze. We took the boat up the river as far as we could go, it is similar to the Helford, with tree lined banks.
Having had 5 days of “being away” John spotted a slip that was perfect for scrubbing the bottom, something we did not get around to doing before we left. So we tied up, waited for the tide to go out and John first scraped, then pressure washed the hulls (yes we did find room to bring along the pressure washer)! Six million baby barnacles later and she was in much better shape for sailing. In the mean time I had the lovely job of cleaning out the unpleasant but necessary task. I also did my first load of hand washing..and the weather was perfect for drying.
We found our first boulangerie, but unfortunately for John it did not sell the Far Breton that he has hankered after since his last visit to Brittany. It did however sell some very tasty bread which went down very nicely with some pate.
On Friday afternoon we decided to head for the seas again as the weather appeared to be perfect for a trip south. We headed for L’Aber Ildut, but gave up on sailing when the wind dropped. On entering the very pretty natural harbour we found there was nowhere to anchor. A local fisherman called us up on the radio and suggested we pick up a buoy , and he promptly came over to join us.
 He showed us his days catch of half a dozen Pollock and asked if we would like one (as a gift). We readily accepted and he then very professionally filleted it for us and handed over two very large fillets, telling us to wait 24 hours before cooking it as it would taste better. It went straight in the fridge, and a round of beers came out to make the necessary room.  We chatted for around an hour and the fisherman (Jean) realised he had missed the tide to get home and asked John to drop him off in our dinghy. A small return for the dinner he had provided.
Early this morning on the turn of the tide we headed out of the harbour again (before the harbourmaster could charge us for the buoy – a mere coincidence honest!) and down the coast to Brest. It was a beautiful day again but with only a gentle breeze so sailing without the engines on was rather challenging. I missed the bulk of the run down through the Chenal du Four whilst catching up on some lost sleep. Not long after I got up, a pod of dolphins came and joined us. This is the first time I have seen dolphins properly, certainly the first from Freya Frey. In crystal blue waters they swam round/under and in front of the boat, ducking and diving as they went. It was a truly amazing sight to see and we took lots of photos and film.
The Rade De Brest is a large natural harbour, not that different to Plymouth in its natural form. John was amazed by the number of WW2 gun emplacements there were along the entrance, they just went on and on. The sea became flat calm and the sail into Brest was lovely, we had the fish donated the evening before along the way which was (in John’s words) very tasty (in my words) OK!
There are 2 rivers that flow into the Rade de Brest and we chose L’Elorn to explore first.  The pilot book told us that if we went right up the river then there was a swinging bridge bridge that was opened on request when you ring in advance about a mile before the very pretty town of Landernau. On cruising up the river we kept a close eye on the channel markers – I was on the helm and spotted two red marker buoys ahead and couldn’t work out which was the nearer. I asked john and he couldn’t tell either. As we got closer it became apparent that they were actually level with each other – aghh where is the channel then?? My thought was to aim between the two and the water was getting scarily shallow. John on the other hand had enough river sense to realise one had come adrift and was clearly in the wrong place and so I quickly changed course and steered around the other. 
Our next problem was that our chart did not go this far up the river, so knowing when we were “in advance” was rather difficult, so we decided that we would have to wait until we saw the bridge and then ring.  As soon as it appeared, I rang – only to get an answer phone message to say try again later.  I tried again a couple of times but still the same message, so we tied up to a conveniently placed wall outside what turned out to be the local sailing club.
We got our folding bikes out instead and cycled the last mile to the town. It was a very pretty town, one worth a stroll round by foot rather than by bike.  One of the things we wanted was WIFI access so we stopped to ask a young couple if they knew if any of the bars in town had it. The image in my head of a nice riverside bar, glass of French beer or wine and download a few emails, it sounded a nice way to end off the day. The couple suggested a bar which we thought they said was called Magdalen, back close to where the boat was tied up, next to the local Intermache . So we cycled back the way we had came, up into an industrial estate and there we spotted the bar with WIFI, not Magdalen, but MacDonalds!!
We found an outside table – next to the children’s play area rather than the river, and listened to their shouts and cries and we munched our way through our Big Macs.  We did the necessary with the WIFI which took much longer than we thought before heading back to the boat. We arrived to find the tide had gone out further than anticipated and top of the boat was now sitting about 6 feet below the top of the wall, her mooring lines like violin strings. We spent around 10 minutes trying to work out the best way to jump down without landing on a solar panel, John took a well judged jump down and landed safely. When he loosened the rope at the front, the boat dropped around 6 inches.  Unfortunately the cleat at the back had started to lift out of the deck and he had to cut the rope free – so an important lesson for us.
During the last few nights I have been feeding the mosquitoes rather too well, John not quite so much, so found the mozzi net and lamp and turned the cabin into a mozzi free zone before turning in.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Wendy's Diary Tuesday 28th June

Tuesday 28 June
We left Millbrook 2 days ago (I can’t believe it was only 2 days ago) with a crowd of friends  and family there to see us off – or a several including Mike and Claire put it – to make sure we really did leave. We motored in glorious sunshine across Plymouth Sounds and out to Cellar Bay at the entrance to the river Yealm. This has been a favourite spot of our to go for a day trip when the weather and winds have been right and so it was nice to see it once more before we set off on the big trip. 
We arrived in Cellar bay around 5pm, just as all the day trippers were leaving, so had the pick of the anchorage spots and by the time we settled down for the night there was only one other boat remaining. We slept well but were up early the next morning to strap everything down ready for the channel crossing. It was to be my first crossing so I had some anxiety over coping with sea sickness and staying awake whilst on watch.  We had agreed to do this in a “3 hours on, 3 hours off” watch pattern and John took first watch as we left at 10.30am. I went back to bed and slept well until lunchtime.
There were light winds as we left, but Southerly’s rather than Northerly’s, so we motored until the wind did as predicted and swung round to the West then the North, where John was able to set the sails up and we could switch the engines off. I managed to adjust very quickly to the watches, and only once called John for help when at around 2 in the morning a fishing boat seemed to be getting rather close and I couldn’t tell which direction it was going in. We both kept and an eye on it until it miraculously split in 2 and what I thought had been one enormous boat was 2 smaller ones working together.  John went back to bed and I finished the graveyard shift without further incident. I did have to keep getting down from the captain’s chair and peering out of the windows on all sides every few minutes but this helped with staying awake.  The Atlantic swell was messy with waves on the beam which caused the boat to lurch sideways every time a particularly large wave passed underneath us.
John woke me again at 7am this morning as land was in sight and he took a catnap before we got close in. We both kept our eyes peeled for the channel markers to get into the river at L’Aber Benoit, which looked very pretty in one of the books we had on board and met our expectations. Twenty three and a half hours after leaving cellar bay we dropped the anchor, did a quick check that everything was ship shape and went back to bed to catch up on missed sleep.
After a good sleep we decided that we deserved a relaxing day and sat and chatted about our journey so far. There was a stiff wind against tide blowing so we decided to stay on board rather than get the dingy out and venture ashore. After lunch another sleep and I was starting to feel very much better than I had a few hours earlier.  I made some scones on the stove top to go with some clotted cream that needed eating (sounded like a good excuse to me) whilst John did a few minor jobs that required attention after some of the bumpy bits in the crossing, nothing serious.
The estuary is very pretty and lined with very traditional looking Breton houses, with pointy roves and blue shutters. The sand along the banks is almost white, a stark contrast to Millbrook mud.
It is now 8.30pm GMT (boat time), so 9.30pm in the UK and 10.30pm here in France, so on that basis I think it is time for another sleep! Not a surprise to anyone who knows me well.