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.  

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