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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

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.

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