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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!