Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Wendy’s Diary 18 January 2012

It has been a while since I updated the blog, so here goes with a summary of the last few weeks since I did.

In December the week before Christmas we cooked a traditional English Christmas dinner for Annie and Philippe along with one of Annie’s friends who we have got to know and the Norwegian liveaboard from the marina with whom we have also become friends.

In terms of shopping for the event it was quite challenging. The French do not typically eat turkey for Christmas, there were none to be seen on most supermarkets. We found one (just the one) in Grand Casino, that looked like it had been starved rather than well fed, and was smaller than your average chicken. Annie managed to find a market butcher who had turkeys and ordered a decent size one for us, which was just the job.

The other big challenge was Christmas Crackers, I thought, no problem I’ll just go on Amazon and order some to be delivered to France. I then found that they are classed as explosives so cannot be sent via airmail, and shipping was not an option. I eventually tracked some down on a French website that specialised in things from around the world, and they thankfully arrived a couple of days before the meal.

We gave the instructions for dealing with these foreign objects and informed the table it was obligatory to wear a silly hat whilst eating an English Christmas dinner, so we all did. Explaining typical cracker jokes was rather difficult, as most seemed to rely on words with more than one meaning...i.e. which side of a sheep has the most wool...the outside! This relies on left and right sides being the same word as in and outside, which is not the case in French.

It was a lovely meal if I say so myself, with nearly all the trimmings, we had got stuffing and cranberry sauce from our last visit to the UK, but cocktail sausages were not available to make pigs in blankets. The Christmas pudding had been soaking in brandy for about 4 years, seeing it set alight was another new experience for the guests. It was rather tasty and everyone finished the meal in a suitably stuffed state. The suggestion of turkey sandwiches a few hours later was turned down, but we did have a rather nice turkey soup the following day.

For Christmas itself, we went to visit my brother and family in Cyprus, flying from Paris. It is a long journey from St Nazaire to Paris and we were fortunate to stay with a La Route friend Sylvie in Paris the night before the flight which was on Christmas eve. Thankfully the flight was on time and with the exception of waiting for a rather long time for the suitcase and then not being able to find my brother, we arrived at their house around 9.30pm, just in time to see the children before they went to bed wondering what Santa would bring the next day.

Two excited children opened their presents with delight on Christmas morning. With my sister in law being a Yorkshire Lass, we had Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for Christmas dinner, along with crackers, lots of bubbly and laughter. On Boxing Day we had a BBQ on the beach with one of my brother’s colleagues and his family, which was in rather glorious sunshine on a near deserted beach. It was warm enough to go for a paddle in the sea and was thoroughly enjoyed by all. The rest of the week whizzed by far too fast and soon it was new years day and time to fly home.

We returned to the news that the school John had been working for had less hours available and John being the last one in, was, not unreasonably, the first one out. Whilst the money comes in useful, working all hours is not what we had planned for this trip so it was a relief to have some time to ourselves. For me this meant moving back onto the boat full time and it now feels like home again. We have managed to get a lot of jobs done and the place tidied up so got a lot of feel good factor from it.

The weather was settled the second week in January, if somewhat cold, so we took the opportunity to take the boat out for a run to make sure she still worked, or in John’s words, to prove she isn’t just a floating caravan. He wanted to explore the Loire river, it is possible to sail/motor as far inland as Nantes on a masted boat. Any further and the mast has to come down.

I was rather sceptical as I remember holidays in the region in my early twenties and thinking the river not very attractive, whereas John had images similar to the Tamar Valley in his head. The pilot book says “Not many boats venture up the river and it cannot be described as attractive”. However, John was keen to go so we set sail with the tide, and made once past the locks into the first part of the ship yard, most of the passing scenery is then made up of industrial sites and at least 2 power stations.

One of the power stations!

There are a couple of prettyish ports on the way up, but when it was time to stop on the first night as the tide had turned, we snuck into a disused canal to keep out of the way of passing ships (yes ships not boats) in the channel. John had looked up this canal on google earth and spotted moorings just inside, so we hoped to pick one of these up. It was pitch black by this stage after a lovely sunset, and for the first time ever, I stayed on the helm whilst John picked up the bouy. The entrance to the canal was narrow, and the chart indicated that there might be a ledge on the boundary with the river, so I was rather scared about hitting the bottom and/or the sides. I am pleased to say that it went like clockwork and it is something else to tick off on my list of abilities, and I did the same again the next evening, this time just before it got completely dark.

 We spent the day sat in the mud entrenched canal, waiting for the tide to turn. Not at all attractive, but at least the sun shone. Mid afternoon we ventured back out into the Loire, hoping to make it to Nantes, but in the end we didn’t make it that far before the tide turned again, so we stopped about 5 miles short of our destination.
We thought this place looked cute, it appeared to be a house  - the light was on!
Bright and early the following morning we picked up the tide to come back down the river and made it all the way back to Pornichet on a single tide.  The tides in the Loire were interesting; it had not rained much for a while so we were not expecting the river to be particularly fast flowing. What seems to happen is that when the tide starts coming in, whilst the water level is rising, the current is actually still going out. For a short time there is then a weak current going upstream and as the tide weakens again the river takes over once more and the current is downstream. This means that for every tide there is around 3 hours of upstream current, and 9 hours of downstream. It is understandable why it took us 2 tides in one direction with only one in the other.
Did I mention it was cold - John used the halogen heater to try and keep warm

As we approached Saint Nazaire on the way down stream we were averaging around 7 knots, which is quite nippy for Freya Frey. We went through a very turbulent patch of water not unlike patches in the Gulf of Morbihan, and on exiting this found the current to be racing and picked up speed to over 9 knots. We maintained this speed until well out of the estuary and round the corner heading towards Pornichet, by this time after low tide so we expected to be beating against a current not whizzing along with it.
Me trying to be artistic, this is the massive road bridge that  crosses the Loire at St Nazaire

The boat is now safely tied up back in the marina, and we have been especially glad of the electricity supply the last few days as the temperature has been below freezing overnight and we have woken up to white pontoons covered in frost and ice on the outside of the windows in the doghouse. And I agree with the pilot book, the trip up the Loire cannot be described as attractive. Possibly interesting if you like power stations, but definitely not attractive.

On a more personal note the physio I am having on my ankle continues to help and I am now walking without crutches, albeit not very far. It is pain free now apart from when I am walking or doing the exercises instructed by the said physio. Yesterday I had to go back to the doctors for a “prescription” for more physio as my last one had run out, and was surprised at the normal procedure when visiting a French doctor. She asked what I had come to see her for and when I said what I wanted she asked me to undress! But it’s only my ankle, have I understood her right?? Yes, take off most of my clothes to be weighed, then have my blood pressure and pulse measured (110/70 and 67 J) and my heart and lungs listened to. She then took a quick look at my ankle, asked me to stretch it one way then the other and was happy to give the prescription. It is normal in France for these basic health checks to be carried out on every visit to a GP.