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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

St Malo - Portsmouth (24 September 2014)

We left St Malo just as the sun was rising on what was forecast to be a day of light winds. Surprisingly this was correct and we mainly motor sailed on a warm and sunny day. Navigation was not difficult; we just had to avoid a few islands and rocks. After leaving St Malo it was very quiet and we saw just two other boats.

One of these was a traditional oyster boat from Concale which was heading home, perhaps, judging from its course, from a trip to Jersey. Concale claims to be the oyster capital of Brittany but I suspect that a few other places would also claim that! Our destination was 50nm to the north of St Malo, Carteret a commune on the west side of the Cotentin peninsula.
This part of the coast features lovely gently sloping sandy beaches backed by sand dunes. Consequently the approach to the harbour and river that leads to the marina dries extensively. For a boat of our draft there is normally enough water to enter the harbour and pass over the sill which holds water in the marina for about two and a half hours each side of high water. So our departure from St Malo had to take account of that. As it happened we arrived just before HW in late afternoon and were met by the cheerful HM who showed us to a residents berth that was vacant.
In the evening could see lightening many miles away (probably 50+), but with no sound effects. That night we had light rain briefly in the night, the first since we had returned 18 days previously! Saturday brought another sunny morning in this lovely quiet spot behind the dunes and with plenty of bird life.
Having visited Cartaret before we knew that there was an excellent street market at its sister commune of Barneville (about a mile away) on Saturday mornings. We patronised many stalls buying fish (Dorade and crevettes), fresh vegetables, olives and so on. We were also reeled in by the same stall holder that we had seen on our last visit about three years earlier who sells his own farm produced Normandie Pommeau and Calvodos. He is very ready to call passers by over with a flourish of glasses quickly filled with a very generous taster! And it is excellent and good value, so bottles purchased. After lunch we decided to cycle along the coast to Port Bail an attractive ride through the countryside. As with other places in this area this is a significant year remembering the 70th anniversary of liberation in 1944. Those who read the first blog of the summer may remember that at the beginning of our cruise we saw in Cherbourg a special day with many historic American vehicles and locals dressed in 1940's uniform. After D Day it was the Americans' responsibility to advance up and secure the Cotentin peninsula whilst the British and Canadians had objectives to drive eastwards. Port Bail had a special committee overseeing their remembrance with small information points around the town. From these we learnt that much of Port Bail had been abandoned by residents during the occupation and that Port Bail had to be heavily bombed to dislodge the German army. It was said that it was the first French town to be overflown by Allied bombers on the night before D Day. Another story was of a local French hero who after D Day but before the Americans arrived climbed the Church tower and hoisted a French flag in defiance of the Nazis. As part of the remembrances the flags of France, Britain, Canada and USA have been flying on the four corners of the Church tower this year.
We had various choices for our departure on Sunday. After talking it over we opted for a departure in the afternoon as soon as the sill opened, likely to be by 1630LT. That would mean arrival at Cherbourg at around 2300LT, quite late but considered a better option than leaving at 0345! Again going with a fair tide was crucial as we needed to leave as soon as we could to get us through the Alderney Race and around Cap de la Hague. Even then we might have to fight a turning tide in the last hour. Looking at the forecast it could also be lively in the morning but perhaps F4 reducing to F3 for an afternoon departure. So we were ready to go on time but the combination of high pressure and a still fresh wind reducing the height of the tide we couldn't leave until 1650. We then had a great sail for the 25nm up to and into the Race with a F5 NE wind. Off Cap de la Hague we had the not unknown very confused seas and had to turn into a continuing strong F5 now E wind. Whileaway coped well but it was like being on a roller coaster in what was now pitch black with no moon, just the sweeping light from the lighthouse. We were glad to get round the Cap and turn ESE towards Cherbourg. But it was nearly midnight LT before we were tied up in Cherbourg, just a little way from Eos whom we had last seen in Roscoff! This had been a testing 46nm that had been covered in a relatively quickly just under 7 hours.
I had been watching the weather forecast for the following days for a week, in particular monitoring a brief quiet period on Tuesday and Wednesday as a potential window for our Channel crossing. On Monday morning, Tuesday was still looking good but winds were now definitely increasing on Wednesday. Exchanging notes with Em and Mari on Eos we agreed that we needed to be ready to go on Tuesday. So on Monday we stocked with essentials such as cheese and then visited Cave Marcel to choose the wine which about an hour later were delivered along the pontoon to Whileaway. A farewell seafood dinner at a restaurant that we often visit in Cherbourg was as good as ever. Before we sailed there, Cherbourg was known to us just as a ferry terminal through which we quickly passed. From years visiting as sailors (including periods when we have been storm bound) we now know that it has some very interesting history, attractive parks, good quality restaurants and a very high standard, welcoming and comfortable marina! 
On Tuesday Eos and Whileaway left at around 0500, again in pitch black! Eos was heading for the Needles Channel and then Yarmouth whereas we had opted for Portsmouth, a longer distance but more convenient and trying to make use of  the initial strong east bound tide. So after leaving the outer Rade we went our separate ways. It was a day when winds started at F4, reduced to 3 and then 2 before increasing to 3 again. And started off NE and gradually moved round through E, SE, S to SW. So we had a mixture of motor sailing and sailing generally under summer skies. We saw few ships before, around 1730, we passed the Nab Tower off the E coast of the Isle of Wight. At 1900 we picked up a mooring in Portsmouth Harbour having completed 87nm and relaxed for the evening.
The next morning we went the short distance into Gosport Marina.
So ended our summer cruise of 79 days covering approaching 1440 nm and on which we sailed for 48 days.
If you have read this far, hope that you have enjoyed the blog!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Lampaul, Ile d'Ouessant - St Malo (18 September 2014)

We left Ouessant on a sunny morning about an hour before LW. As a consequence many more rocks were visible as we left the sound of the main town! The strong advice in the Pilot not to take a short cut just inside the lighthouse was clearly right!

Like the UK we were geting sunny and warm weather. However we were squeezed between a High over England and a Low to the south giving easterly winds which were very unseasonal! From Ouessant we again headed straight into this pattern. We had left before the tide turned  to make best use of the Passage du Fromveur between Ouessant and Ile de Molene and that was successful although because of the mist we couldn't see Molene, only its lighthouse! Leaving at that time was also designed to counter the wind over tide problem and that worked for a few hours but then conditions swiftly worsened. We had  thought that we might get to Roscoff but after passing L'Aber Wrac'h and with conditions deteriorating we turned back into the port. The problem of the previous four days was that the winds were invariably E, ENE or NE, the direction that we are heading. As we were also having to coexist with the strong spring tides we were invariably facing rough conditions when we were trying to go with the tide but against the wind.
However a big bonus from visiting Ouessant was that we enjoyed seeing dolphins in the bay Even more satisfyingly after a couple of hours passage we had three of them began playing around the boat. They were in and out of the bow wave, twisting and turning just a metre or so in front of the boat. then one would shear off and swim parallel to Whileaway just at the surface a couple of feet away. They seemed to take turns. Magical! Their tracking of us lasted about 10 minutes and as other sailors have remarked they seem to peer up at you. Must research more about why they behave in this way.
On Thursday we left L'Aber Wrac'h well before a fair tide; but by the time the tide had turned the wind was increasing, at least top of F5 and getting into F6 (up to 24kn) so we had a very rough 30 nm. This was especially so as the waves and swell worsened as we passed shallower areas of the sea bed even when shallow in this context meant 20m! We did eventually get a little respite from the rough seas once we started to get some shelter from Ile de Batz. As it was HW we used the passage between Batz and the mainland at the end of which we let the Pont Aven bound for Plymouth pass and then headed into the new Roscoff marina. Roscoff is a very attracrive town and in the event we stayed three nights. On one day we cycled many miles through the local countryside. The countryside around there is the biggest vegetable growing area in France with two particular specialisms, pink Roscoff onions and artichokes.
On our last night we met up with Em and Marie of Eos whom we had last seen in Concarneau and are also on passage to southern England. They sail from Wales so we were able to learn more about favourite places there and in Ireland and W Scotland whilst we talked about Brittany and southern England. They also had some very amusing sailing stories to tell!
We were up at 0520 the next morning! Slipped mooring at 0600 and headed 20nm east to Ploumanac'h. Wind (even at that time of the morning) was F4 increasing to 5. First hour was rough but then as we moved further away from Roscoff and dawn broke, the swell and the waves eased to moderate. We got to Ploughmanc'h in just under 4 hours which was good all things considered.
We had a very enjoyable 3 +hour walk that afternoon
around what is known as the Rose Granite Coast. Unusual coloured stone and different shapes. Unique landcape.That night had very nice meal, excellent moules and sardines.
There is a sill in this otherwise delightful harbour so the following day we again left early, around 0630, and headed into the wind until the tide turned Again it was E5 with some very confused seas and rough cconditions (mer agitee as the French say). So we were glad to stick to my plan which was to get to Ile de Brehat where, at the shallow inlet of La Cordiere on the W side, we picked up a mooring and took a four hour break.

A very pretty stop.
Later, after navigating the narrow channel to the S of Brehat we enjoyed a very pleasant sail in a gentle F3 breeze to St Quay Portrieux where we arrived about an hour after dark. Unusually Stin Brittany St Quay has both 24 hour access and staff on duty 24 hours so we were met and assisted in by the duty HM in his dory. Very welcoming.
On Wednesday we cycled to the nearby villages of Etaples and Binic, places that we had not visited before. Still warm and sunny so plenty of people enjoying this unusual September.
A day later we again battled into what was to begin with an E4 but by noon was E3. Our destination was the attractive and historic city of St Malo. We did sail some of the way but after rounding Cap Frehel decided that we would do better to motor sail closer to the wind.
Our preferred mooring in S Malo is by the ferry port at Les Bas-Sablons. From here it is a15 minute walk to the walled city but the very attractive village of San Savan is just five minutes away. Today we have had a leisurely time in the walled city as well as walking around the headland to San Servan. It has been a day of little wind and temperatures of 24C. An unusual September. We have also learnt much about the liberation of St Malo in 1944 and aspects of the Resistance. The classic view below I
is looking N from the City walls.

Tomorrow we plan to head N to Cartaret on the W Cotentin peninsular before sailing for Cherbourg on Sunday afternoon. Last legs now!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Locmiquelic - Lampaul, Ile d'Ouessant (9 September 2014)

Our return to Locmiquelic and Whileaway went well and we were back on board by 1800 BST having left home 10.5 hours earlier. Our journey involved taxi to Warminster station; trains to Southampton Central and then Southampton Airport;  flight to Nantes; bus to SNCF station; train to Lorient;  bus to Port de Peche; and ferry to Locmiquelic!  We even had nearly 2 hours waiting for our train in Nantes, sitting in 25C in a very attractive park near the railway station as we had a sandwich lunch while waiting for our train.
We decided that we should have a relatively short passage the next day especially as that meant returning to the R Belon about 17nm north. We had called in there on our way south in May and enjoyed an excellent Plateau de Fruit de Mer at the renowned Chez Jacky. You cannot have too much of a good thing and we were not disappointed!
On Friday morning we headed for Concarneau.  We left Belon as soon as we had sufficient rise of tide to enable us to cross the bar at the mouth of the river and motored north in a light wind under a sunny sky. We moored in the marina under the ancient city walls and spent the rest of the day doing domestics such as replenishing stores from the supermarket and visiting the launderette! And exchanging notes with fellow sailors!
Sadly this is the time of year for making passage home. Our French neighbour on the pontoon was heading for Vannes in the Morbihan Gulf; whereas a Welsh couple in Eos were, like us, heading north, in their case for Chichester as they needed some repairs.
On Saturday morning we went to the market hall and purchased some excellent fresh shrimps and merlu (fish) for dinner. We then had an enjoyable very warm afternoon cycling around the old port and then the southern headlands looking at the views and discovering some really tucked away drying river estuaries. Finally we had a leisurely walk around the old city, quieter than in the busy months, but still with quite a few visitors.

On Sunday we left early,  just after 0700 BST. Our plan was to round the Pointe de Penmarc'h from where we turn NW and to then to moor overnight at Ste Evette, about 10nm S of the Raz de Sein. This would be a passage of about 35nm, perhaps just over 6 hours at our usual cruising speed. But if we could make good time and get to the Raz with the tide still with us we could press on. As it happened we had another warm sunny day, but quite misty and thus regrettably with little wind. This did though give us a flat sea. Apart from enjoying our first sight of dolphins this summer, two pods as we motored towards the Raz, there was little else to seen in hazy visibility.  We arrived at the Raz with just under an hour to spare before the tide turned. Success! Of course after the Raz we had to begin to fight a little tide but we arrived in Camaret just SW of Brest and after 63nm at 2000 local time and picked up a mooring for the night.
On Monday morning we moved into the harbour to discover, sadly, that the Harbour Master was away for two days (exceptionalle!). What a shame; free mooring! On another sunny afternoon we again cycled this time along the peninsular to the east. Many old and current military fortifications here as this peninsular guards on one side the entrance to the Rade de Brest.
For some time I have been intrigued by the Ile d'Ouessant, that windswept land on the NW coast of France looking out to America and which has many shipwrecks around it. There are two possible mooring and landing points, one exposed to the SW (and winds from S to NW) and one to the NE (and winds from NW to SE). Unusually we had a forecast of NE or E  moderate winds enabling us to visit the main settlement of Lampaul in the SW part of the island.
It was a tricky passage some 30 nm WNW of Camaret out into the Atlantic. Another warm but hazy day so plenty of time trying to discipher shapes in the mist before we clearly made out La Jument the lighthouse on the SE tip which guards many rocks. We then had to cope with a rip current and swirling waters that rush us past the entrance to a deep and wide inlet. Once we had the sails down and regained control we started to motor the 2nm up this wide bay at the jead of which are visitors mooring bouys.
We then took our dinghy ashore to discover an island that is certainly different. The houses seem to crouch into the landscape as if hiding from the wind and adverse weather. The landscape is mainly scrub with only about a third cultivated. There are some shops and restaurants and a few tourists clearly help to sustain the economy. The island is probably cut off for days at a time by adverse winter weather so you have to be happy to live here.
That evening the Mist comes down and Iit felt like a remote part of Cornwall (if there is such a place any more!). Next day it is sunny and we see a unique island in a good light!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Piriac-sur-Mer - Locmiquelic, Lorient (27 July 2014)

We left Piriac early on an initially sunny Sunday morning. We were now only about 60nm due south of our destination for this leg, but our plans and the geography meant that we would be covering some 130nm in the final week. Our first objective was to enter the Golfe du Morbihan, a large inland sea of over 100 islands. The three mile entrance to the Morbihan is relatively narrow; and with all that water needing to move through the gap it is essential to enter or leave at slack water or with the tide. We arrived at the entrance on schedule about 30 minutes before HW and moved rapidly through the entrance being greeted by a heavy shower. As you move quickly with the tide and there are not only islands but shallows too, you have to be alert to the navigational challenges.
Our objective was to go about 6 or 7nm up the River Auray to the small town of Port Bono. We thought that we might find a mooring there from which we could also take the dinghy to visit Auray itself, which is beyond a bridge with a span 14m above the river (Whileaway is just over 15m from water line to the top of the mast). Bono is a quiet very attractive small town which grew up, like others, on the cultivation of oysters. Unfortunately a disease in the 1950's killed all the stock. We moored in the river near a relatively new high level road bridge which has enabled the old cable stay bridge to be retained for pedestrians.

The next morning we motored the dinghy for about 45 minutes to the very attractive and busy town of Auray. Auray and its adjoining town on the other side of the river are full of old buildings, has a huge market (the day that we were there) and very busy with tourists.

After a couple of nights we decided to retrace our steps to the mouth of the Morbihan and then head up to the main part of this sea (to the south). I noticed when we started the engine the battery sounded as if it was struggling. So in light airs we set off, gently motoring to help charge the battery. When we were at our planned destination of Le Passage I checked the battery to discover that it was still flat. So we decided not to anchor off but head to the safety of the busy Port du Crouesty just outside the mouth of the Morbihan to sort the problem out. The next morning I called at a local electronics dealer at the port. He was very helpful and said that he couldn't promise anything as his technician was on a job and might be tied up all day. But as soon as he was free he would send him over. In the meantime I started tackling the water pump that had also failed the previous evening and discovered a sticky pressure switch that I managed to get behaving again. I had just finished when the technician turned up with his box of electrical tricks. Within 90 minbutes he had confirmed that the battery was life expired, replaced a faulty wire from the alternator and fitted a new battery. Excellent service. By early afternoon we were heading back into the Morbihan to anchor off Ile d'Arz.
This is a small inhabited island that we have walked around before. It was a lovely sunny evening and we watched the locals sailing or rowing their traditional boats (the next morning racing too).

After a walk across the island the next morning we weighed anchor and headed to the other main island, Ile Aux Moines. This is larger and had more visitors. But it has some lovely traditional buildings and is very pleasant to walk round.

We had a mooring and having been ashore for a shower found that a thunderstorm had rapidly approached on what was a very warm and humid day. Although we tried to dodge between the heavy showers we still ended up being thoroughly soaked motoring back to the boat in the dinghy.
Time to leave the Morbihan and our penultimate stop was Sauzon on Belle Isle, another one of our favourite villages. On a beautiful sunny day we picked up a mooring just outside the harbour and enjoyed a pleasant afternoon and evening wandering around and sampling the local sea food and lamb!

On Saturday we enjoyed an excellent 30nm, five hour sail into the Lorient estuary and to the harbour at Kernevel. We had not visited here before. This harbour is on the north bank of the estuary and to enter you pass the submarine pens built by the Germans during the Second World War. They were built to resist the Allied bombs and so are still there over 70 years later! Another pleasant walk along the busy beaches that evening and the next day we just had the final 3nm across the estuary to Locmiquelic. Fate decreed that we had a problem with the sea water intake that cools the engine, to which we were alerted by the high pitched whistle of the engine alarm. We suspect that the intake had been blocked by either seaweed or some plastic but after a hectic five minutes we managed to restore normal service and got to Locmiquelic.
On Monday we were up early to travel home. This involved 5 minute walk to the Ferry; Ferry across the harbour to the Port de Peche; Bus (there within 5 minutes) to the Railway Station (30 minutes, combined ferry/bus fare 1.40 euro); train Lorient to Nantes (1h 45m); Airport bus from outside the train station; flight Nantes to Southampton; train Southampton airport Parkway to Warminster; taxi home! Left Whileaway 0730 LT; home 1530LT, so 9 hours.

Marans - Piriac-sur-Mer (18 July 2014)

The last blog said that we had been asked to be at the Brault lock by 1600 Local Time (LT). It was only 3 miles along the canal and we were in front of the swing bridge above the first lock gates in good time. In fact time enough to see the lock keeper arrive in his van! After a short while he stopped a couple of cars and swung the bridge. We tied to a pontoon inside what is really a large canal but then had to wait about 40 minutes for the tide to flow into the lock and lift us to HW level. We then passed under the lifting bridge, a Belgium yacht going in the opposite direction.

The river was very high (high spring tides) and some of the adjoining fields were flooded. Our destination options were limited by tides and the relatively late afternoon departure. We could either go back to La Rochelle for a night; or call again at St Martin de Re. We had opted for the latter but then had to tackle a very hurried and bouncy crossing into a stiff wind across the bay to St Martin de Re. We knew that the lock there closed at 2015 LT. We were just over half a mile from the harbour with less than 15 minutes to go so we called them on the VHF and they said ok. As we passed the breakwater and then turned towards the lock we saw that there was a red light and the footbridge across the entrance was in use! However the Harbour staff waved at us to wait and the footbridge began to lift. As soon as we were inside a very crowded harbour (rafted 6 boats out) the lock closed! The town was noticeably very busier than when we were there just over a couple of weeks before. It is a place that is very popular with British and Irish tourists judging by the voices. Next morning the lock was due to close again at 0845. We learnt that many crews were aiming to leave at 0800 and we decided to do the same. Weather forecast was W3/4 in the morning but increasing to 4/5 in the afternoon with some rain. Within an hour of leaving we had W5 gusting to 6, heavy swell and choppy seas combined with heavy rain. Super! Our plan was to go about 20nm roughly north to Bourgenay but as we got closer and conditions worsened we discussed the advice in the Atlantic Pilot that for Bourgenay "Entry should not be attempted in strong W or SW wind" as there will be very confused water in the entrance. So we carried on to the better situated Les Sables d'Olonne and took refuge there. In the afternoon the sun came out and the weather brightened up! After a wander around another busy town we had an enjoyable fishy three course dinner in a popular restaurant for 18 Euros each plus wine. French National day on 14 July was sunny and warm with light winds so we left about 1300 and sailed north to Saint Gilles Croix de Vie. After the rough seas of the previous three passages it was a pleasure to gently sail along the coast at 3.5 to 4.5 kn! Saint Gilles is surrounded by camp sites and is very much a bustling holiday resort. That night we were in grandstand seats in the harbour to see the splendid fireworks which marked the close of the national day. There is a prodigious tide in the harbour at St Gilles. We awoke early on Tuesday morning (0700LT) about half an hour before HW slack and within the hour we were casting off under a blue cloudless sky and heading the 20nm away from the mainland to Port Joinville on Ile d'Yeu. Another quiet passage this time with little wind! Ile d'Yeu is one of our favourite places. About 10km x 5km the only connections are ferries and helicopters.

Port Joinville (see photo) is bustling in the morning and evening and has a delightful feel to it. The traditional catch which made money for the islanders in years gone by was tuna and one of their specialities is smoked tuna. Very enjoyable it is too. Other fish and crabs can be bought straight from the fishing boats in the harbour. Locals travel on bicycles or in predominately old cars so we admire the Renault 4, 2CV,  and wonder that they still go.

We decided to stay 3 nights and did plenty of cycling around on very quiet roads (more bikes than cars). Discovered the 150 year old fort where Marshal Petain was held after WW2. It was very sunny with a temperature over 30C one day and just a little cooler on the others. Because of its location off the coast, Ile d'Yeu is very popular with sailors and on our third night the harbour was absolutely packed.
However the island benefits from lovely coastline and beaches and they are not crowded.
On Friday we headed N to Piriac-sur-Mer. This was a passage of about 45nm including crossing the mouth of the Loire. We kept an eye open for the big ships but there were more anchored off the estuary than entering or leaving. In the morning there was hardly any wind but we did get a couple of hours sailing in as we passed Le Croisic (where we moored on our journey south). We arrived off Piriac not long after LW so we had to anchor for an hour or so before we could cross the rocks and then the sill to go into the harbour. Chatting to our French "neighbour" on the adjoining pontoon (who had also been anchored outside) we discovered that he has a job with two offices - in Brest and Lorient. When Lorient has its renowned Celtic Festival in August he moors his boat in the city centre marina and enjoys the craic! Today (Saturday) there was an excellent market so we stocked up with bread, cake, fruit, vegetables, fish, crab and olives. And did the boring bit of clothes washing using a local launderette. Piriac is a pretty small town with lots of centuries old buildings and beautiful flowers. Plenty of cafes and bars and quite a few musicians playing. With all the cider, crepes and Far Breton (cake) we are definitely back in Brittany.
For the next few days we plan to go into the big inland sea, the Morbihan Gulf and visit some old and new locations.

Boyardville - Marans (12 July 2014)

After a pleasant couple of days in Boyardville we left early on the morning of Friday 4 July and motored just 8 nm north to Saint Denis on the north east corner of Ile d'Oleron. En route we had to carefully avoid the extensive mussel and oyster beds where the traditional flat bottom boats were busy lifting the stocks that would be on sale that day.
Saint Denis is a delightful small town with a large market in the square every day. Very wide range of produce as you expect in French markets and we bought poisson, bullots, fromage, pain, hericot vert, petite pois, vin etc etc. Nearly all from the island. We again cycled our main call being at the Chassiron lighthouse on the northern tip where our climb up 224  steps was rewarded with a superb view of the island and across to La Rochelle. The first lighthouse was built in 1685 with a wood burning light! The modern version was completed in 1836.
On Saturday early evening we joined the locals in a packed bar to watch France play Germany in the Football World Cup Quarter Finals. Germany won by the only goal, a disappointing result especially as France applied considerable pressure in the second half.

The next day we sailed across to La Rochelle, through the two guarding towers and into the inner harbour (Vieux Port). It was a very busy Sunday afternoon in the City and we enjoyed a wander around seeing the sites and the sights!
On Monday 7 July we left early (0800 LT) as we were heading for Rochefort about 25nm south. This entails a coastal passage followed by about 12nm up the River Charante. It was a quiet morning as we headed inside Ile d'Aix and past the 18th century forts that guard the river estuary. Once into the river we saw the many fishing huts that are built on wooden piers extending about 20m or so into the river. Each has a large net about 2m square which is lowered and raised on a winch. These are a feature of the Vendee and the Charante regions. Andrea remarked that it is a different way of fishing, but usually with the same result - no success!
As we got nearer to Rochefort we passed under the 1980's high level concrete road bridge and then quickly after under Le Pont Transborder, the last remaining transporter bridge in France. A "gondola" is suspended by cables hanging from the span of the bridge and moves across without hindering river traffic. Built around 1900 it originally carried carriages and then motor vehicles before the bridge was built but now only pedestrians and cyclists. During our stay in Rochefort we took a return crossing on it.

Rochefort harbour is inside a lock gate which is only open for around an hour each side of High Water, so at the appointed time we were there.
Rochefort is a city full of historic buildings as you would expect in a place that was the French Navy's shipyard from the seventeenth until the early twentieth century. The town is built on a grid with many fine 18C buildings and a few mid to late 20C architectural disasters! A current major attraction is L'Hermione; an almost completed replica of the French frigate originally built in 1779 and which supported George Washington in his fight in the American War of Independence. L'Hermione will be crossing the Atlantic next year (2015) to visit the colony! It is an excellent replica, well worth seeing. Interestingly we learnt that the original had been lost in the early 19C when a navigational error led to her hitting the Le Four rocks off Le Croisic a port which we had safely visited earlier this year.

Two days later we left Rochefort in mid afternoon to return to La Rochelle. This was not a pleasant trip as strong winds, up to F6, together with a rough sea and significant swell made the crossing of the bar at the river mouth and then the coastal passage very bumpy indeed notwithstanding Whileaway's best efforts.
Being either naive (or believing the weather forecast of F4/5) (or foolhardy) next day we decided to move on north to Marans which is a little visited inland town. This requires a coastal hop of about 12nm from La Rochelle, under the bridge to Ile de Re, and then across a very large and shallow bay and into another river and then a canal. Timing is again crucial as the road lifting bridge and the subsequent lock only open at local HW. Of course once we left La Rochelle the wind blew up and even well reefed in we had a strenuous sail. We lost a little time through having to tack across the wind but we did eventually find the red and white striped cardinal that marks the entry channel to the bay. At this point, some 5nm from the mainland, we have to carefully find cardinals and then a channel with port and starboard marks to stay in the deeper water. We passed numerous mussel and oyster boats before swinging to port and beginning to motor up a narrow river with reed beds and low lying land either side.These are the wet and dry marshes. We were now about 3 or 4nm from the road lifting bridge, this being about 0.25nm before the lock into the canal. It was clear that if we didn't get into the canal we would have to return to La Rochelle as there was unlikely to be sufficient depth for us in the river or the estuary at LW. Both the Atlantic Pilot and the French Almanac (Bloc Marine) indicated a need to telephone the Lock Keeper to request an opening of the lifting bridge. This we did to be told to be there by 1600 LT about 20 minutes earlier than I had expected. So we increased the revs and progressed at nearly 7kn with the tide until finally, with 5 minutes to spare, we rounded a bend to see this busy road with many articulated lorries and cars crossing the bridge ahead of us. After a few minutes traffic signals halted the vehicles and slowly the bridge began to lift; then we noticed another boat, a cabin cruiser, speedily approaching also keen to make today's bridge opening. Through the bridge and then into a big wide lock we went where we tied up to a pontoon and the cabin cruiser joined us. It took 20+ minutes to automatically fill the lock so the Keeper joined the two boats for a chat. We learnt that much is now automated and he operates the lifting bridge from the lock gate with the assistance of CCTV cameras to view the road and river traffic. Once through the lock we motored 3nm to Marans and became the only boat on the visitors pontoon.
Visited the Capitainerie (the Harbour Master's office) to sign in and not surprisingly found that extensive paperwork had to be completed and documents formally stamped and all for a very small fee!
That evening was a very jolly one in Marans as it was one of their occasional summer night markets with many craft and other stalls. Yesterday we got the bikes out and saw much of the many canals, lakes and countryside. A strong agricultural area mainly growing wheat, barley and sunflowers.

From the boat we have been amused by the various flotillas of ducks with their eight or nine ducklings. Grain being delivered to the mill nearby has been spilled on the road and so the ducklings are encouraged to risk life and limb to get this treat. No fatalities so far! A disappointing feature of the last five or so days has been the lack of sun. By mid morning the sky clouds over with the clouds only clearing by the late evening.
Last night we called our new "friend" the Lock Keeper to ask him to operate the lock and the lifting bridge today. He immediately recognised the name "Whileaway" and told us to be at the lock by 1600 LT.

Pornichet - Boyardville, Ile d'Oleron (3 July 2014)

We returned to Pornichet on Tuesday 24 June, only slightly delayed by the latest French Air Traffic Controllers strike. We had time to wait for our train in Nantes and discovered an excellent park close to the station. Back at the boat all was well in the sunny 25C.. Our first relatively short trip the next day was to L'Herbaudiere on the northern tip of Ile de Noirmoutier. This harbour is conveniently located for those making passages along the west coast but it is not the most comfortable. The alongside visitors pontoon is always busy so rafting is required. In addition the many fishing boats seem to delight in creating considerable wash thus ensuring a bumpy night. On our first evening we were hailed by Frank and Jennifer Singleton of  Anhinga who are fellow Cruising Association (CA) members. But more than that Frank is a sailing weather guru who often presents at yachting meetings. See So naturally an invitation to pre-dinner drinks on Whileaway. Very enjoyable! But a late dinner! Bikes out the next day for a cycle to Noirmoutier the main town. And very interesting with some attractive traditional buildings it is too. Excellent cycle routes again, including through the salt marshes and later potato fields that the island is noted for. And the long sandy beaches by the camp sites. A surprise event on returning to Whileaway. A well equipped  French steel cruising yacht had arrived and moored behind us whilst we were away. And on it talking to three middle aged people, were about half a dozen Douane (Customs Officers). Their cutter was moored a short distance away on the other side of the harbour. At one stage Andrea thought that she heard the sound of a power drill from the inside of the boat! After about an hour one of the trio (a woman) was taken away in the Douane rib to their cutter; it then returned and collected a man. They had not returned to their boat before we left the following morning. Intriguing! We would love to know more! On Friday we had a sunny 10 hours down wind sailing with a W3/4 to Les Sables d'Olonne. As previously a friendly welcome at Port Olona. Unfortunately the Saturday weather was most unfriendly and unusual;  almost constant rain! We went and viewed the Le Figaro Solitaire race boats due to go to Cherbourg on their fifth and final leg of a race that had included Plymouth in the harbours that they had called at. It is a prestigious single handed race and there were quite a few British contestants. Although we were like drowned rats we ventured on to the Poissonerie  on the fish quay and selected our dinner!

On Sunday we had another downwind sail, but this time with "beaucoup" swell on the starboard quarter making for a very rolly passage. Our destination was St-Martin-de-Re about 28nm S on Ile de Re. By the time we arrived the wind was a fresh W F5, we had some protection from the swell but now had a very short chop which combined with the wind and a very narrow gap between the wave breaker and the jetty made it a "challenging" entry! St Martin is described as the most attractive harbour in W France. Once through the entrance you can turn into a locked harbour that's right in the middle of a very attractive town with traditional building's all around. (Photo).

Of course it is busy and there are many tourists but it is a lovely location. Another plus point on Ile de Re is excellent cycle paths and over two days we totalled over 40m on our Bromptons and were still (just) able to walk at the end of it! Other places we visited were also very pretty and there were also some lovely beaches with many camp sites.During our stay here France won through to the World Cup Quarter Finals so much cheering. After three days yesterday we sailed south again, under the bridge that for the last 30 years has now linked Ile de Re with the mainland, past La Rochelle and on to the relatively tiny Ile d'Aix where we picked up a mooring to have lunch and wait for sufficient tide to enable us to enter Boyardville on Ile d'Oleron. This is another of those timing issues where you need sufficient rise of tide to get you across the sand. So not so many attempt to visit but you then get a warmer welcome from the Harbour Master. In to another lock and as we did so a band on the quayside struck up to announce our arrival. Well maybe they were playing to others too ....Boyardville is a sharp contrast to Saint Martin being in the centre of a camping area and with very much a beach holiday feel. But an interesting area surrounded by water courses for many miles. Again we have cycled,  this time around 20m and enjoyed some interesting small towns and villages as well as very different countryside. Tomorrow we make a short hop to the north of the island and to find a bar to watch France play Germany in the quarter finals!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Belon - Pornichet (4 June 2014)

The day after our visit to Chez Jacky we moved on to Locmiquelic in the L'Orient estuary. We have been there before and I had been in email contact with the lady in the Capitainerie in the hope that we could leave Whileaway there for  August.  The personal visit worked - contract for 5+ weeks from end July until early September agreed!
After a couple of days, last Friday we sailed to Port du Crousty at the entrance to the Morbihan. We were then only 30nm from Pornichet where we were to leave the boat so good progress. In contrast with the quiet Belon, Port du Crousty is very very busy, a bit "motorway services" I suppose! But the peninsular is very attractive with excellent rural and coastal cycle paths and on Saturday we cycled over 20m on our Bromptons.
Two more new harbours were planned before Pornichet.  Firstly another downwind sail, in light airs on a sunny Sunday late afternoon, to Le Croisic. This is another little navigational challenge as entry is restricted to around 4 hours either side of HW; in addition you have to carefully line up with leading marks on the shore to follow a channel. Most of the harbour dries but there are some moorings in a pool which has a minimum of about 1.5m of water. We picked an empty mooring and fought our way to it - now mid tide and it was coming in very fast - but we got our lines on. The Pilot says that all the moorings are locals but visitors can use vacant ones. Over the next three hours we watched as half a dozen boats returned, fortunately none for our mooring! Le Croisic is the "city of salt" as all around are sea salt pans as well as oyster and muscle beds. We have seen the pans before but not the town. It is very attractive with some fine old buildings, a number centuries old. Two small hills in the town are apparently formed of the ballast from 19 century ships that came to take away the salt.
The photo shows Le Paule (photographed from the Town) at LW and you may just be able to see the tractors of the muscle farmers on the exposed sand in the background.
Our next harbour was only a short 15nm down wind F4 sail away. But timing is even more cruical at La Baule/Le Pouliguen. The entrance is across a long sandy beach so I was keen to visit at high water the first time. There is a marked  channel but even at HW we only had 2m. A further question is that different Pilots suggest that the minimum depth on the Visitors pontoon was somewhere 1.2 and 1.5m. And we draw 1.4m. Apart from a rib, a sailing dinghy and a catamaran we had the pontoon to ourselves. And that night we had nearly 2m of water at LW. Le Pouliguen was quiet, a pretty old town but with newer blocks of flats on the sea front. Photo shows the channel at LW!
On Tuesday we had plenty of rain from mid afternoon. And early on Wednesday morning it was getting windy. We left around 0930 LT. Fortunately Pornichet was only 4nm across the bay but it was the windiest part of our trip, gusting to 33kn,  F6/7. We wouldn't usually go out in that! Good news was that Pornichet had our berth available and we arrived very quickly!

Ste Marine - Belon (27 May 2014)

Since our last update we have had mainly sunny weather and it has gradually warmed up.
From Ste Marine on the R Odet we had a pleasant 30nm down wind sail to another river, the Belon. Belon itself is a small quiet village up a river with a shallow bar at the entrance. Timing was important and we crossed the bar with about 1.5m under the keel about 3 hours before HW. Once across the bar there is plenty of water. The mooring that we had used before wasn't ideal with the strong tied running so went further into the village centre.  A local guy helpfully pointed us to a fore and aft mooring that was available for visitors.  On the opposite bank to the village is a famous sea food restaurant Chez Jacky. We decided to blow the budget and had probably the best ever plateau de fruits de mer. Superb Belon oysters, excellent crabs etc etc. And vg Muscadet sur Lie (Chateau) to go with it. Only snag was that by the time we left nearly 3 hours later, our dinghy was well aground so it took a bit of lifting and carrying across the silt and sand! (Photo from Belon with Chez Jacky beyond Whileaway).

Audierne - Ste Marine, River Odet (26 May 2014)

On Sunday the sun was out and on a lovely day with light winds we sailed south round the Pointe de Penmarc'h. One of our sailing books talks of entering a new warmer world when you come round that headland and it certainly felt like it yesterday. We were heading for Loctudy (about 10m W of Concarneau). Last year we called only to find the harbour closed for dredging! We passed the distinctive chequer board light which welcomes you to Loctudy (photo) and then discovered that this year the visitors pontoons were full of local's boats! The nearby harbour of Lesconil is being dredged and so all their residents were in Loctudy. Fortunately there were plenty of spare mooring bouys close by so we picked up one of them for the night. We were miffed though as we like Loctudy (and especially the fish market open morning and evening when the fishing boats come in) but we feel that the Harbour Master doesn't have a very "customer considerate" approach!
We did get to spend time watching the antics of the herons who had a nest with youngsters at the top of a very tall tree.
But on a brilliantly sunny morning today we gently cruised a very short distance across the bay to Ste Marine on the River Odet on the opposite bank to Benodet.
Today we have cycled along the long sandy beach to Ile Tudy and also popped across to Benodet on the small passenger ferry.
Our next stop as we carry on south will probably be the small village of Belon and then one of the harbours in the L'Orient estuary.
Lets hope that we are all now in for a spell of sunny weather.

Trebeurden - Audierne (24 May 2014)

We left Trebeurden last Wednesday bound for L'Aber Wrac'h on the NW corner of France. In my opinion that day showed that the French weather forecasters are not much of an improvement on their British counterparts! The "suggestion du jour" was E4 reducing to E2 in the afternoon. A very nice suggestion with a following wind. What we got was top end of NE4 to start then NE/E 5 and 6 from noon onwards including gusts to 33kn. As some of you know this north west corner is renowned for significant swell so we had that to cope with too!
The good news is that we sped along and did 52nm in 8 hours despite fighting the tide for the first 3!
What we did achieve for the first time was a passage through the channel between Ile Batz and Roscoff.  What Tom Cunliffe describes in the Shell Channel Pilot as a "rock strewn chamber of horrors". We have seen it (from above Roscoff) at low water with rocks and sand bars everwhere and agree! We passed through at high water, a flat sea and motor sailed. Very satisfactory and beats going around the outside of Ile Batz notorious for its rough seas and heavy swell.
We had planned just a night in L'Aber Wrac'h but strong winds suggested a longer stop.That day we had nearly 18 hours of rain!
On Friday morning we set off for the Chanel du Four, a major tidal and weather gate on the north west coast. As we left L'Aber Wrac'h we had heavy driving rain for about 20 minutes but that proved to be the last heavy rain of the day. We left in company with another British boat making the same passage. That NW corner of France is also renowned for heavy swell as is S of Cd4 and around the Raz de Sein 20nm on. The wind was soon at W4 later 5 but after about three or so hours, once we were in the Chanel, it eased considerably. We were planning to go to Camaret SW of Brest but made good  progress so decided to press on to see if we could get through the Raz, the second gate. We had heavy swell and gusty wind but got to the Raz just before the tide turned. A result! We then followed the coat round to the E to Ste Evette where there are moorings in the bay. There is also a river entrance to Audierne (where we had not been before). It was just after low water so we gingerly motored up a channel following leading marks. Despite what it said in the Pilot (dredged at least 1-2 m) it has silted. A few times we had just 0.5m below the keel and plenty of sand near us. But we made it to the harbour about 2nm upstream. So 60nm L'Aber to Audiern W4/5 occ 6. Nice town with plenty of suitable restaurants! (Photo)

On Saturday the weather was much improved and amongst other things we did an 8m return walk to the nearby town of Pont Croix listed as a "Petite Cite de Charactere" and very attractive it is.

Gosport - Trebeurden (20 May 2014)

We left Gosport at 0500 on Friday morning 16 May and after a quiet motor sailing crossing with little traffic (just 5 ships and 2 yachts sighted in 13 hours), 85nm later we tied up in Cherbourg. A bonus was that it was the weekend of the opening of their new marina - so a free stay for regular visitors! On Saturday morning we shopped in the market and saw their other weekend event - vintage American army vehicles as used on the liberation. And French dressed up in WW2 combat gear. They take the liberation of Cherbourg in late June 1944 seriously and this year is the 70th anniversary with a summer of events. We were moored next to a German boat in the marina but thought that we wouldn't mention the event!
On to Guernsey on Saturday afternoon and on a lovely sunny Sunday we enjoyed a day with friends Steve and Dot going over to Sark with a picnic on the boat.
Decided to move on yesterday and spent 11 hours getting to Trebeurden. All uneventful except for the last hour when we enjoyed a thunderstorm with the wind quickly reaching 30kn! We had not long got down the sails as the wind had diminished.
Photo shows a view of Trebeurden harbour at low water. We we enter between the green and red posts at mid tide and above. By then the sea level is about 4 metres higher than in the picture, a little above those square concrete platforms.
Decided to have a rest day today! So an enjoyable walk around the beach and on the hill above Trebeurden.
On to L'Aber Wrac'h or L'Aber Benoit tomorrow,  possibly Chanel du Four on Thursday.

Welcome to Whileaway

Welcome to news on Whileaway,
a Westerly Oceanquest 
sailed by Richard Kitson & Andrea Llewellyn

The cruises on this Blog include: 
Channel Islands, Brittany and the Biscay coast of France
North coast of  France, Belgium and the Netherlands (including the Standing Mast Route)
 The north of the Netherlands, East Frisian Islands and in the Baltic Sea, Germany, Sweden and Denmark.  

SSR 69025     MMSI 235075682