La Rochelle and xenophobia…….

Posted July 28th, 2011 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

P7270084, originally uploaded by melandnick.

La Belle Isle was beautiful, I suppose the clue is in the name.
3 nights on a mooring in a slightly rolly but very picturesque anchorage were pleasant.
I managed to get the wind charger rigged and working and I had my first dive of the trip coming back with a nice sized golden mullet for dinner.
The mullets head went into our crab pot and I threw it over the side for the first time.
In the morning we had a 1 meter long conger in the pot and a few small crabs.
Since the monster conger I shot a couple of years ago, Mel will not cook them as the smell is BAD.
So it went back.
Next morning, another bloody conger, a little smaller but still, enough! At least we know the crab pot works, though it should have been sold as a conger trap.

We were still happy to be on our way though and heading South.
The trip to La Rochelle was pretty uneventful apart from the fish.
I always tell people that Borne is a very lucky boat when it comes to fish.
If I put a line in there will always be something on it when I reel it back.
But I still get majorly excited when the line starts to run.
Mel had never seen anything other than mackerel being caught while sailing and she was more excited than I was.
This time, we were racing down wind with the genoa poled out and 6 knots plus showing on the log.
I could not reel the fish in, the pull was so strong so we hove to and stopped the boat and I reeled the line back in until Mel could see the fish under the water.
She called it correctly. It was a gorgeous Bass, Mel’s favourite fish and at about 2.5kg it’s a perfect size for us.
We only catch to eat so the line stayed out of the water and Mel cooked the fish last night in white wine, rosemary, lemon and some other stuff I can’t remember. It was delicious!

We arrived at Minimes marina just after lunch. One of 3000 or more boats berthed in this massive marina just outside of La Rochelle.
I fluffed the approach into the berth. It was tight and down wind and I had very little sleep on passage. They are my excuses anyway and I don’t mess up very often but a English couple on the boat next to us took our lines and we eased in.

At the risk of being branded a xenophobe, I would like to share my observations about the French.
In the last 2 weeks or so that we have been sailing in French waters, I don’t think I have seen anyone smile.
For them, it’s all about the attitude.
And Hair…lots of hair….like , big, bufty, long, permed hair…..on the head but also elsewhere for all I know.
So they seem to walk around with a permanent pout and a cigarette hanging nonchalantly from their fingers.
Don’t get me wrong, they have all been very pleasant and helpful but enough with the attitude.
Now I know why older French women all still have that great unblemished complexion……no laughter lines.
However, they also have so much going for them.
They take food sooooo seriously, and we like that a lot.
We walked around La Rochelle today and came across what has to be the most amazing market I have ever seen.
Fresh fruit, veg, meat, cheese and fish. Displayed on hundreds of stalls in such beautiful arrangements that it seemed a crime to take something and destroy the symmetrical perfection.
We were literally dribbling.
In the UK, a fruit and veg stall at the market will have its produce still sitting in the boxes, some a little over ripe, some a few days away from being edible but here everything was perfect. When we asked for some nectarines she asked how we like them and then tested each one with delicate care to make sure that it was just as we wanted.
And then there is the bread, why can’t we get our baguettes that crunchy in the UK? and the cakes and buns and, and, and its making me hungry writing this.
Something else we have noticed is that they seem to have a much more relaxed attitude to sailing and it’s something we could learn a lot from.
Go into any marina or anchorage and you will see old, cheap, hard chine, plywood or plastic boats with young families on board. Mum and Dad pouting away with cigarettes still hanging nonchalantly from their fingers and a couple of young kids all out enjoying the water together in a very relaxed atmosphere.
Talking to Mel about this she tells me that she doesn’t ever remember seeing kids on a boat in the UK. Here it seems that they are part of standard sailing equipment.
It also seems to be OK here to sail a scrappy old boat if that’s all you have….no shame, no need to aspire to a new shiny Tupperware yacht. They really don’t seem to have the class hang ups that we have in the UK where its assumed that you are upper class if you have a yacht. Maybe it’s because they have no upper class having cut all their heads off?
Anyway, time to sign off as we are about to leave now and head to Bilbao in Spain. Should take us a couple of days and the forecast is for very light winds so we are likely to spend most of the time motoring.
We will post again when we get there.

Le Belle Isle

Posted July 24th, 2011 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

P7220012, originally uploaded by melandnick.

Having arrived in L’aberwrac’h much relieved and tired, we spend a day or two relaxing waiting for a huge low pressure weather system to pass. It turned out that the storm blew for 6 days which meant we were stuck in the marina with rain and high winds keeping us company. I’m sure when the sun is out, L’aberwrac’h is a delightful place, but by the time we left, Nick and I were very pleased to see the back of it.
Whilst we were there, we did meet up with a friend from Portland, ‘H’, who’s waiting for a friend to accompany him across the Bay of Biscay. ‘H’ has a yellow steel boat called Vaha, which is cavernous inside, and has been built and fitted out by him and his partner Eve over the last few years, to take them cruising around the world. ‘H’ helped us put up the wind charger and set up the wind vane, two valuable things that needed doing to clear some room on the boat, and make our sailing much easier. I’m sure we’ll meet up with ‘H’ and Eve soon, to share more sailing stories, until then we wish them happy sailing and fair winds.
We left L’aberwac’h on the morning of Thursday 21st July. The sea just outside of the rivermouth was very rough, caused by the strong winds over the previous week, so it was a bit of a bumpy ride to begin with and a fair amount of our carefully stowed food/equipment was on the floor within an hour or so being tossed around the boat. By the time we’d got to Chanel Du Four (where the tip of Brittany nearly touches Isle D’Ouessant) the seas had calmed and we passed through the channel with no dramas. The same can be said for our passage through Raz de Sien just as the sun was setting.
One quiet night at sea later, we could just about see Le Belle Isle on the horizon, and, upon arrival our first impressions are that the place certainly does live up to it’s name. We also saw our first dolphins of the trip! At around 9am we said hello to a small pod of dolphins that were swimming in the opposite direction to us, but were leaping out of the sea just a few yards from the boat, it was very cool!
We’re moored just off a beautiful little place called Sauzon, and we’re surrounded by clear water and we’re less than 50 meters from a couple of little beaches. Sauzon, is full of picture perfect French scenes. It’s a small village lining a river mouth which has beautiful houses, shops and restaurants along the harbour, and lots of fresh fish and ice cream vendors! It’s been quite good fun rowing in and out of the harbour in our little dinghy for showers and to buy bread  – The sun is out too!!!
For dinner tonight I will be treated to a Golden Mullet speared by Nick this afternoon whilst diving! We also lifted up our crab net from the side of the boat to find a meter long Conga Eel in there! After dinner Nick’s going to put him back, we were hoping to get some shrimp which the conga has probably eaten already!
Our plan is to leave here tomorrow and head south again for a couple of days to La Rochelle, as we still want to spend the vast majority of August in Spain so that we can explore the Ria’s and catch our breath for a few weeks.
Lots of love to everyone!
Mel x

Vive La France

Posted July 16th, 2011 by Nick and filed in Borne, Diary, Food, Places, Sailing, Uncategorized
SANY0020, originally uploaded by melandnick.
What a mission!!!
Mel and I sat down in Alderney with the charts and pilot book spread out before us and worked out that it should take us about 24 -26 hrs to sail to our next port of call, L’Aber Wrac’h.
That at least was the plan………
So here we are in safely tied up in the cute French marina after over 49hrs at sea.
What went wrong? Well let me tell you…..
It all started so well. We left Alderney early in the morning to catch the tide and get a ride through the channel alongside Alderney called the Swinge.
We shot through the channel and out like a cork from a champagne bottle and started the 120 nautical mile sail to L’Aber Wrac’h.
The wind was fine, not too strong and in the perfect direction to help us on our way. It looked like this was going to be an easy passage.
If only!
The wind soon began to die away and we fired up the motor as we also needed to charge the batteries.
The day wore on but the sky was a bowl of pure blue above us and the sea was hardly broken by the light winds so really, on the whole, all was well in the world.
Let me tell you about the cold though. The sun was out with not a cloud in the sky and the wind was quite low but I was wearing:
Thermal underwear (tops and bottoms)
Jeans and T shirt
Fleece, my thickest one
Full set of wet weather sailing gear, the same stuff that the racers wear in the Southern ocean when dodging icebergs.
As well as gloves, normal undies, thermal hat, hood over that………….and I was still cold.
Mel put on another layer or so to try to warm up!!!!
By the middle of the first night we could see the lights of the French coast ahead of us, still many miles away.
By morning we were 10 miles away and closing and that’s when it all started to go wrong.
The wind had dropped low again and we were motoring along with the slightly hypnotic and steady throb of the 20hp diesel pushing us inevitably to our goal when the engine spluttered and died.
Now this doesn’t happen very often (unless I turn it off with the key) as these engines are sooooo reliable that they almost become boring.
But it stopped.
To cut what seems to be an infinitely long story shorter, I figured out what was wrong.
In Portland I had the fuel tank altered and though I had about a quarter of the tank full, the pickup pipe that the engine sucks its diesel through could not reach it and when the boat pitched in the swell the fuel rocked in the tank which uncovered the pipe and let the engine suck up air. Not a good thing on a diesel. And yes, that really is the short version.
So not an easy fix and I needed more fuel.
Not a problem you cry, after all she is a sail boat, so you can sail.
Well yes and no.
The wind was down around 6-7 knts which meant we were sailing at about 3-4 knts but as the wind was now blowing from our destination we had to tack against it to make any headway.
Oh, and did I mention the tide? Well it flows at about 2 knts here and was against us.
We sailed all day and as evening fell we were 10 miles away…the same 10 miles away as 1st thing that morning.
The entrance to the river on which the marina is situated is one of the nastiest I have come across. There are big tides and everywhere you look another rock sits waiting to sink you. Not a place to sail into at night, with no engine and not enough wind to fight the tide so we headed back out to sea to spend the night bobbling about in the almost flat calm.
Mel let me get 3 hrs sleep which I sorely needed and when she woke me and crawled into the still warm bunk I decided that I would have a go at sorting the engine.
Two hours later and she was running again.
The engine cover was off and a piece of water hose was bodged on to the engine fuel filter and came through the main hatch where it went in to the fuel tank through the filler hole and in to the back of the tank where all that lovely, previously unreachable diesel lived.
But she ran and we were heading towards our destination once again.
We got through the maze of rocks that passes for an entrance channel and started heading towards the marina situated about 4 miles upriver.
The way up is narrow and there were dozens of kids in small dinghies and windsurfers from a local sailing centre making the trip a challenge.
Half way up the channel the engine started to miss its beat. My heart had been in my mouth for the last two hours as I know this was inevitable and was just waiting and praying that it would hold on long enough.
We were 10 feet from the visitor’s pontoon outside the entrance to the marina and in the full current of the ebbing river when the engine stopped again. With the momentum we still had I swung Borne towards the pontoon and we touched alongside just long enough for Mel to jump off and get a rope on to a cleat and stop us from being pulled away and sent spinning out of control down the river by the current.
So here we are, tired, cold and hungry.
I have slept about 7 hours in the last couple of nights and Mel has not slept much more. Dinner on the first night was a saucepan of rapidly cooling pasta shared between us in the cockpit and on the second night Mel went without anything and I dined on a can of Ambrosia creamed rice.
We popped into a tired looking canteen type restaurant appearing from the outside like a cross between a tourist shop and a junk shop and Mel had the best moules marinere we have ever experienced. The mussels literally melted in your mouth. I had steak frites and it was so rare that a decent vet would have had it up and running around again but it was perfect.
After, we strolled a little way to the next town to get a few essentials (including rum and coke for me) and walking back with a heavy load we were picked up by a local gent and given a lift right back to the pontoon steps, how friendly is that?
So far we have bumped into a Danish couple on the way back from the same trip we have planned and we have also bumped into a friend from Portland, H, who is heading the same way as us and is hoping to cross the Bay of Biscay in the next couple of weeks in his steel yacht VAHA.
Time for a nap now, we are exhausted. The forecast is for very bad weather in the next day or so and we will try to get some more work done on Borne tomorrow but this evening is definitely for relaxing and recuperating.

Farewell Portland, Hello Alderney

Posted July 12th, 2011 by Mel and filed in Uncategorized

Despite being in Portland longer than originally planned, really enjoyed our stay, and we wanted to post a little bit about the people we’ve spent time with.

Firstly we must mention Tim, Denise, Jerry, Ryan, and Will from Clarks Boatworks. Borne has been at the yard since leaving the garden, and Tim and the team have been hugely supportive in getting her to the point where she’s floating and ready to go. Not to mention making us laugh on a daily basis! Thank you!

Over the last few weeks we’ve got to know Aaron, a local crab and lobster fisherman who’s boat, Red Rose, was tied up next to us on the quay at Portland. We’ve traded some rope with Aaron in exchange for a fresh crabs and lobster, and Aaron was so generous that we also enjoyed a wonderful Bream the night before we left Portland, that’s my favourite and tasted great roasted in our new Tailors paraffin cooker! Aaron also has given us sound advice about the state of local waters which helped with our passage planning.

We arrived in Alderney at 3am on Monday morning, it took us 10 hours to sail here. It was very good sailing and the sky was clear and I’ve never seen so many stars!!! A clear blue sky greeted us when we awoke, so we had a picnic on the beach and spent the day relaxing which was a welcome break and has made us both feel that the trip has really started now. The plan is to leave here tomorrow morning and be at sea for around 36 hours to get us around the point to Brest and even sunnier skies!



It Fits & We’re Off!!!

Posted July 10th, 2011 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

P7070002, originally uploaded by melandnick.

It fits & we’re off!!!

In our last post you will have seen that we have been delayed by all manner of things which has meant that we’ve yet to leave the UK. Thanks to those of you who have been in touch with words of support and encouragement, you’ve kept us going this week!

To update you on progress, Borne is gradually becoming more and more like home; we have a tap with running water, a loo, and a fridge which all seem like luxuries. Yesterday we finished loading everything onboard, and we’re pretty much set to go!

This comes as a huge relief to me, as I have discussed with many of my girlfriends, I’ve been rather anxious about whether or not (all of) my clothes would fit into the single locker that is available for these all important items. I’m very, very pleased to report the fantastic news that all my clothes fit, with room to spare – hurrah!!!

For those following our posts more interested in news that is a little more sailing related, we are due to set off later this morning!!! The swell has died down now from the stronger winds earlier in the week and the sun is shining so we’re offski and starting our journey at long last!

The wind will be coming from the South West, blowing at around 10 mph, so we’ll have to head straight south (our ideal would have been to head South West), meaning our first port of call will be either Alderney or Cherbourg, France. Later in the week the wind is due to swing to the North, which will be good for us to head west and around to southern Brittany

Thanks all for your support and good wishes, hopefully we’ll get good at Cherbourg/Alderney so will have a chance to catch up on emails and posts etc.

Lots of love to everyone,

Mel x