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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

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.

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