Sunday, 14 July 2013

Wendy’s Diary 13 July 2013 – Summer at last.

Picking up from my last entry we spent a full week in Ars en Re waiting for the wind to turn, but for once happy that it gave us a break. I have said this before so apologies to those who have heard it, but most of the time living on the boat is just that, living on a boat. But sometimes it feels like we are on holiday. No real difference I guess apart from the weather and lack of pressure to move onwards. The anchorage was for the most part sheltered, and the weather was good most of the time. We spent the evenings socialising with Sarah, Mark and Anthony from  Wandering Star,  taking it in turns to host nibbles, drinks, meals or whatever fitted with our days.

Freya Frey was tucked into an offshoot of the main channel that dried which meant we had to time going ashore around access to the boat. This wasn’t too much of a problem and it allowed us to once again have a quick scrape off of weed that had attached itself to the underside of the boat. Replacing the coppercoat antifouling that has been on for 9 years is a must this winter, as the speed at which things grow back is getting a little too fast, and there are the first signs of osmosis (a technical word that I partly understand, and know it must be sorted in the winter before the new antifouling is applied and something you don’t want to see on a survey if you are thinking of buying a boat). 

Market day on Re
The Ile de Re is almost flat, so taking the bikes ashore and going for a ride around the salt marshes and up to the lighthouse were pleasant easy trips, the island is full of cycle paths keeping bikes and cars separate. It is also full of cycle hire points so sometimes the paths would be a bit crowded with holiday makers a little wobbly having not ridden a bike for years, but on the whole it was quiet.

The town of Ars was pretty, the old houses for the main part had been preserved and new build was restricted and where allowed kept in line with the traditional architecture of the island. It has a reasonable supermarket and lots of tourist shops selling typical touristy things, bowls with names on, table linen, seaside related ornaments etc. There are two locked basins, but we were happy to anchor free of charge out in the bay and could use the dinghy on the upper half of the tide to get into town.

Paella with Sarah and Mark
We held our annual multihull paella evening the day Anthony left and I understand from Sarah she told him the details of our rather slap up meal aboard Freya Frey that night (apologies to Anthony if you are reading this, we didn’t deliberately wait until you had gone, it just happened like that!). As an aperitif we introduced our guests to Pineau de Charente, something a little like sherry that is one of the regional specialities. I discovered it on holiday in the area about 10 years ago and buy it when I get the chance.  We had fish soup for starters (ok I didn’t as I don’t like it but the others did) the Paella of course and for desert I have been trying to perfect a chocolate cheesecake recipe using chocolate flavoured Philadelphia cheese, and didn’t do a bad job on this occasion. Cheese (French) and biscuits (English) with a glass of port and finally coffee and chocolate truffles. We made a call against the liqueur or whiskey to finish due to Sarah and Mark needing to dinghy back to their boat safely.

Wandering Star headed south for Arcachon on 1st of July and we headed north on the 2nd hoping to get to Croisic. The weather forecast was for a westerly breeze veering southwest during the day, and although gentle it would at least be in our favour. In order to get tides in our favour, we calculated on a 3.30am start which would also get us to Crosisc just before it got dark. As we left the wind was blowing a gentle north westerly, right on the nose and by late morning the wind direction hadn’t changed. Our speed meant we missed the tidal flow we wanted and by the time we were 10 miles off of Ile d’Yeu, with both the wind and current against us and a lumpy sea we were struggling to make 3 knots so made a swift right turn and headed for the shelter of St Gilles Croix de Vie instead.

Pilot books can be very annoying when they get things wrong and this was no exception, as the anchorage shown in the 2011 Bloc  (and our older Imray pilot book but I let them off as it is more than 10 years old) was, we were told, now a forbidden place to drop hook, so our only choice was the marina. It being only lunchtime we thought we would just hang around for the tide to turn again and head out to Yeu or Croisic depending on sea conditions. We paid a visit to the Capitainerie to be told that we would have to pay the half-day rate of 17 euros, was that a problem she asked? I responded that “oui”, it is a problem, we only want to stay for about 4 hours. After suggesting we buy some fuel whilst we were there she relented and said we could stay until 5pm free of charge.

We left on cue having checked the weather forecast again which was still saying the southwesterly was imminent, but on leaving the river we had short choppy waves and a northerly wind to battle through. Leaving rivers on an outgoing tide usually means you have some lumpy stuff to get through where the river current meets the waves coming in, but this time it continued and after an hour or so we reassessed our options. Ile d’Yeu was not that far away but I had not route planned for it and the boat was too bouncy for me to do a proper job of that so the safest and most comfortable thing to do was to abort the trip and head back to St Gilles.

We arrived back in the marina after office hours, but there was still someone on duty to help take lines. This is another problem we have – people “helping” when we arrive somewhere, whilst it offered for the right reasons we prefer to turn it down. The reason for this is that we have perfected a standard approach to tying up somewhere and this is different from how most sailors do things (blame John,  it is his method – although I must say it works very well). Standing on the port bow, I knew what I wanted to do but felt obliged to pass the rope over to waiting hands, but he then headed for the cleat John didn’t want. I quickly jumped onto the pontoon, asked that it go on a different cleat and quickly (non, non, ici, vite vite), when he just looked at me I virtually snatched the rope out of his hand and secured it where I wanted to. John then motored back against it swinging the stern in gently against the pontoon enabling us to secure that end. He then rather amusingly complimented us on our ability to come alongside competently, as most boat owners don’t know how to. He didn’t want to use the cleat we wanted as most yachties would have then collided with the boat in front and he was setting out to avoid that. When we had the pontoon berth at Millbrook with about 6 inches to spare at either end, coming alongside was something that had to be perfected (ok so it may have been a couple of feet at either end but we still had to motor in sideways and I always freaked out whenever John encouraged me to have a go).

We checked the forecast again before visiting the capitainerie in the morning and decided that a voyage that day would probably end in the same way as the previous afternoons, so gritted our teeth and booked in for 2 nights at a cost of 69 euros - our most expensive nights yet and two of them to boot! We met a lovely couple from Amsterdam on the same pontoon who invited us on board for coffee.

We discovered there was a large shopping centre and a Lidl in town so cycled up a rather long hill to get there and spent the morning browsing the shops and came back laden with groceries. In the afternoon I went off for a mooch on my own to the local shops which were mostly tourist shops selling the same sorts of things, but it was pleasant to wander around none the less. In the evening the Dutch couple joined us for drinks and nibbles aboard Freya Frey so we did at least have a both useful and pleasant stay, having forked out so much for it.

En route to the Vilaine
8am on 4th of July we headed out again this time with virtually no wind and sunshine. Learning from the previous run and again wanting to make a good distance north, I plotted a route to Arzal, the entrance to the Vilaine river, but had escape routes marked for Ile d’Yeu, Pornichet and Croisic in case conditions deteriorated. The sea was much calmer and we had a gentle run for 16 hours approaching the Arzal dam at around midnight. The tide was just turning but it was low and we managed to run aground just after midnight, waiting half an hour before the boat floated off again and getting to the waiting pontoon at 1.30 am. A long day but a pleasant run with no lumpy bits, and apart from running aground near the end it was an uneventful one. 

We skipped the first lock opening of the day on the basis that I was still in bed, and caught the 9am one instead, John was worried if we left it much later there may be a queue and we wouldn’t get in. We did this dam together in August 2012, but only John who came back the other way, as it was at the top of the navigable Vilaine at Redon where I broke my ankle so spectacularly. We were 2nd of 4 boats so an easy time with no worries of being crashed into. The harbour master was chatty this time, I remembered him from last time and had him down as someone with “small man syndrome” due to his manner of barking of orders at every boat. Maybe the number of boats going through the lock at any one time has an impact??

Anchored next to an elephant!
So half a mile upstream we anchored, had breakfast and went back to bed! After catching up on sleep we headed upstream to La Roche Bernard, or just short of it so we could anchor without risk of being charged. We were amazed at the number of British boats there, it seemed half the boats in the marina had a red ensign. The sun finally came out properly and the temperature shot up to the high 20’s.

On Sunday 7th July our French friends Annie and Philippe came over for the day to join us, when we took a short run up the river, dropped anchor again and had our first BBQ of the year out on deck, albeit using the George Foreman grill.   My chocolate cheesecake on this occasion was not one of my better efforts, with the cream separating and the only thing I could find to blame it on was the weather. This time I had put the Cointreau in the base so that the chocolate part would set better and that did work very nicely. In the midst of my inadvertently separating the cream I texted Ann in Macclefield for advice, she being properly trained in the field and her advice was use the thick stuff for the cheesecake.  It was edible and enjoyed by all, just not up to my standard.
La Roche Bernard

Annie and Philippe waving us off
In the evening Annie and Philippe treated us to a meal at one of the waterside restaurants which was lovely, particularly as it was still being warm enough to comfortably sit out at 9pm without a jumper. John had an enormous bowl of Moules Marinere, whilst the rest of us had savoury crepes and a bottle of cider to wash it down. Ice creams all round to follow rounded off the evening nicely. It was lovely to see them again, I hadn’t seen them since recovering from the latest lot of surgery at the end of March and that seemed an age away. On Monday morning we headed back down to Arzal and caught the 9am lock to exit the canalised part of the river, having enjoyed a few days without tides, currents or swell. The sun was shining brightly and a gentle northeasterly wind took us over to Belle Ile. 

In contrast to most of our sailing this year, it was a very gentle ride, I am glad to have South Biscay well behind me. In fact it was such a smooth sea (Belle Mer as they say in France - beautiful sea) that I washed the sheets (making use of the hot water the engine had generated) and hung them out to dry on the stern. I then remembered the buttermilk in the fridge and made some scones (from scratch) and baked them whilst the engine was running to power the oven. Ann’s advice on this subject was excellent, if I say so myself, they were some of the best scones I had ever made! A cream tea (minus the cream) followed; I always think scones are at their very best whilst still warm from the oven. Doing any of these things whilst sailing in South Biscay would have been very challenging.

Dolphins near Belle Ile
We headed for Le Palais on Belle Ile. John had been a few years back and I had never seen that part of the island. He remembered you could tie up on the town quay free. Ummm not this time, the town quay with no facilities (and it dries) would have been 27 euros a night for us. We turned them down and headed further along to Sauzon (home of our biscuit tin) where we knew we could anchor. We were charged 7.5 euros for dropping our hook up the very busy creek, for which we were allowed access to the showers. As the tide went out we realised we had picked a duff spot with the nose right down in a fairly muddy puddle, so decided we would move first thing in the morning to a better spot.

John was able to rig a spare anchor and lines up to a wall at low tide and secure a small mooring buoy, then in the morning all we had to do was pick up the buoy and we were sorted. That was very kind of him seeing as we needed to move very early and it was my birthday! By the time I got out of bed he had moved up to a new spot that gave us access to the boat at all states of tide.

I have been to Sauzon once before as part of La Route de L’Amitie, arriving late afternoon, partying on the square and departing early next morning so this time I decided I wanted to see a bit more of the Island. The pilot book describes a fjord like anchorage on the west of the island and I reckoned we could easily cycle there to have a look. Unlike Ile de Re, Belle Ile is not flat and it wasn’t quite so easy going, but after a trip to the light house en route we headed over to the fjord to check it out by land. It is a beautiful spot and I took the opportunity for my first swim of the year before tucking into a picnic lunch on the beach.
The lighthouse at Les Poulains on Belle Ile

My evening swim
We decided it would be a lovely (and free) spot to spend the evening so cycled back over to Sauzon, had a birthday treat of an ice cream and waited for the boat to float off so we could get to the fjord. We erroneously thought that most of the boats in there would be day trippers, who would head safely back to their marina berths in the evening. When we got there, there were more boats than earlier and no one looking like they were about to pack up and go. We squeezed in closest to the beach but only had enough water for a couple for hours as the bottom was likely to be scattered with rocks. We had a BBQ tea out on deck hoping one of the other boats would move with plan B being an overnight sail back to the mainland.

Plan B won and at around 10pm we headed back out of the anchorage and in the direction of the Aven river, past Ile de Groix. John had made a large flask of coffee and suggested I got some rest whilst he did the first leg. The first part of the journey was quite lumpy, the sea had picked up from nowhere and made a fairly uncomfortable ride, albeit pure sailing with no motor for a change.  I struggled to get some sleep being bounced around in the cabin and popped up wondering if John wanted to swap. He had just topped up his caffeine levels and was fine so I went back to bed. Unfortunately at one point the boat slammed hard with the wash from a fishing boat as John was making his way back up from the galley and he slipped and banged his ribs hard on the seatback. Possibly a broken rib but they can’t do anything even if you go to a hospital so he is just managing with pain killers. After a while the sea state calmed (basically because tehere was no more wash from dozens of fishing boats) and I got some sleep, but I then repeated the pattern of popping up to see if he wanted me to take over the helm to be told he had just had another cup of coffee. This continued until daybreak when we were just approaching the mainland and he then wanted an extra set of eyes to check for buoys and channel markers.

We were a little thrown by an additional light flashing at Port Manech, and couldn’t work out which was the light house. As we got close in and the day got lighter, we realised that one of the flashing lights was a large catamaran’s anchor light, but flashing as if it were a north cardinal. It may seem like a good idea if you want other people to notice your boat in an anchorage and so not crash into it, but pretending to be a cardinal marker is not perhaps in everyone’s interest!

A chateau on the Aven river
John managed to spot the first of the channel markers for the Aven river and we made it up past the moorings and dropped anchor at Rosbraz at high water. We had breakfast and John went to bed whilst I found a book to read (Jodi Picoult – My Sister’s Keeper – thanks to Amanda at Royan for offloading on to me, I am really enjoying it). As the tide came back in again we upped anchor and slowly pottered up the river to Pont Aven, running aground in the soft mud a couple of times in the process and hanging around for a few minutes each time for the water level to rise.

I visited Pont Aven a few years ago (maybe 10??) during a summer holiday with both my and my sister’s family. It could well have been on a cloudy or even rainy day as we generally used to haul the children off to a beach whenever we could. I remember it was pretty and had lots of arty shops but not much more. It is a very pretty town with lots of arty shops and a town quay that charges 12.5 euros per night to tie up including water and electricity. We have completely blown the budget this year already but decided we could stretch to this as it was such a nice spot and we would be able to get diesel from the supermarket filling station instead of a marina. On this basis we reckoned we would save more than the 12 euros by buying fuel there.

We like this car sticker
 - but you have to know Breton food to understand it
We secured the boat and tucked up for the night. In the morning we did a supermarket run on the bikes, each with a 20 litre jerry can on the back. I went and got some fresh supplies whilst John filled the cans and we then whizzed back down the hill to the boat to offload.   John’s ribs were hurting a lot by this point so I did two more runs on my own, giving us 80 litres of fuel in total which should keep us going for a while.

The day flew by and by evening we reckoned we hadn’t seen enough of the town so decided to stay put for another night. Whilst enjoying the evening out on deck, someone called bonsoir from the quayside and it was 3 French people we had met a couple of times before on La Route de L’Amitie. We invited them to join us aboard and treated them to some of our English Beer collection – some Tanglefoot and Hobgoblin which both went down very well.
Enjoying the shade 

In the morning a Welsh boat moored up just ahead of us and we had coffee on board with them, exchanging information on places visited. We then set off to do some further exploring of the town, John did a wifi session in the tourist information office whilst I pottered around the shops, then back to the boat to chill out and read in the sunshine. I am amazed that a river you (we) can sail up can turn into something that looks like it is in the middle of Dartmoor in the space of about 100 yards. Philip and Margo from the Welsh boat joined us for a late afternoon Sangria before we all set sail back down the river on the tide, them to Port Manech and us just halfway back down the river to the same anchorage we used on the way up.

On this morning’s tide we headed round into the Belon River, which shares the same bay and approach as the Aven, and found a very peaceful anchorage in one of the creeks. As the tide went out I sat out on deck reading, catching the morning sunshine before it gets too hot. The thermometer is now showing 30.8 degrees outside with a mere 28.9 in, so I am hiding in the shade of the salon writing this, aware that I haven’t updated it for a while, mainly due to the fabulous weather stopping me form wanting to spend time indoors typing. We are thinking of going back to Pont Aven tomorrow for the Bastille day celebrations, and the weather forecast is just more of the same. Life is so much better than it was a month ago!!

Wow – 3900+ words, apologies for scribbling so much, I hope I haven’t bored you!

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