North from La Rochelle to Brittany

La Roche Bernard 15th June 2006

Finally school was over! I had been very busy getting the house set up, the jeep sorted and still had to make sure that the exams and stuff in school were set, corrected, and reports sent out. Phew ! I was shattered when the plane took off to take me back to France, to Bordeaux this time. A two and a half hour train ride was no problem when I knew that SD and her wine was awaiting me!

I then had a full day of cleaning, reinstalling electrical bits, stocking up with food, and generally getting her ready for sea. The next day John Carlson and wife Trish arrived, but just for one night. Elena also arrived that day. She is from San Sebastian and hoped to be with me for 3 weeks. Monday 7th June saw us, And about 80 other boats heading out from La Rochelle for a day sail to Ile D'Aix where we anchored in calm seas and lunched before a great afternoon sail past Fort Boyard, the last place Napoleon was imprisoned in France before being sent to St Helena. Winds stayed friendly almost the whole way back thanks to a High Pressure system over Ireland (who says the Irish never did the French any favours!!).

The winds did us equal favours for a few hours of Elena's first long sail on SD, behind Ile De Re on the way to Les Sables D'Olonne.

Seas were calm and we relaxed our way into the trip. From there we went to Port Joinville on Ile D'Yeu in winds up to force 5 in the beginning. We cracked on under 2 reefs and all of a sudden it felt great to be alive. Gradually the winds eased to force 3-4 but we were able to sail the whole way there. Once I arrived, I wanted to spend some time. Other sailors over the years had told me that this was a great place to spend a few days. Elena wasn't convinced but after we hired bikes the next day, I think she was persuaded. The houses are very Andalusian, whitewashed with shutters to keep out the midday sun. It was 25+ degrees which made you feel even more like you were in the south of Spain.

From Yeu we had a forecast for lovely light winds to head north into the Baie de Bourgneuf past Siobhan's favorite place Le Herbivore (L'Herbaudiere in French) to Pornic. It comes highly recommended in the guide but I didn't get there on my way south 2 years ago. A lovely force 3-4 on the beam set us off nicely. We were doing 5 knots in a lovely slight sea but it evantually eased as we approached the end of Ile Normoutier only to rise again from exactly where we wanted to go. Rounding the lighthouse at the end of the island we were set for a tacking duel to get to Pornic. But the wind rose to 25 knots over the deck and it started to get very hot, a sign in the Basque Country of the arrival of a Galerna (thunderstorm to you and me) so I deiverted to L'Herbaudiere 3 miles away. The wind continued high and made mooring the boat difficult. Luckily some French sailors made sure we had room to moor and helped us tie up in difficult conditions. Sadly Elena found that she had to leave at this stage and so the folowing morning she started the long bus and train journey to San Sebastian. I hope she learnt lots on her sadly short stay on board.

After a suitable rise of tide I headed off to Pornic, 9 miles away, in light winds and calm seas. The crossing lulled me into a strange sense of confidence which was quickly wiped away by the breeze and tidal currents in the harbour. But evantually I got settled just in time to head to the pub to see England play a dismal first game in the World Cup. Then it was off to get a feel for the town 10 mins away. It has a real old world feel and I am sure that in days gone by its main business wasn't tourism as it is today. The centre of town around the harbour is dominated by the castle of Blackbeard the pirate and the small streets of the high town speak of a day gone by when the town thrived on fishing and the benefits of piracy in the constant struggle with "les Anglais".

An early start (0830 imagine!!) saw me heading along the coast to cross the entrance to the Loire which gets a fair amount of commercial traffic. The wind came up and on slight seas I creamed along at 5 knots towards the Le Croisic peninsula. It started to rain for the first time in ages and it was on with the wet weather gear past Le Croisic going north. I was going to anchor off the Ile Dumet but decided that being off a deserted island in the rain sounded too depressing. So I altered course to Piriac Sur Mer, a small fishing town with a small marina accessible nearish to high tide. I anchored off the port near to a small beach where I could take the dingy ashore. First, I had to wait for the rain to stop but it continued for hours only easing at 6pm. I had hoped to hear from Tony and Jean on Ocean Angel who were leaving Pornic behind me but I guess that they either stayed another day or they diverted somewhere else on route.

When I am sailing single handed I try to hook up with another boat so that someone knows where I am and possibly to help if I have any difficulties. This northern UK couple had been very good to me, inviting me to dinner on the night we first met. I was hoping to meet up with them to go with them up into the Vilaine River, 7 miles north of Piriac Sur Mer. As it turned out, they phoned my mobile that evening telling me that they were coming to Piriac and would arrive the next evening.

Tuesday 13th dawned brighter and the weather continued to improve all day. I was still anchored out but got busy doing little jobs like servicing the outboard and putting filler in small chips in the fibreglass in the cockpit. I was going to stay anchored another night but decided to head in near high tide as there was some uncomfortable weather forecast for that night. It also meant that I could find a pub to watch the France vs Switzerland match with Tony and Jean when they arrived. It all worked out according to plan except that the French were not pleased with their 0-0 draw.

The following day started overcast and breezy and showers followed with the wind gradually easing. We were waiting until 5pm to head out for the spin up to the Vilaine. I busied myself with some more pottering. Now, there is a phrase that only a cruiser sailor could understand. It generally means taking stuff out of lockers, messing with it or rearranging it, and puttting it back. It can also mean servicing of stuff, repairing, cleaning, etc. When I am on my own I have lots of time to "potter" which I do enjoy. After that I went for a wander to take some shots to capture what is so chilled about this place where very little really happens. The small streets are full of interesting different houses, much more Breton now with the use of lots of stone and decorative plaster. It is a "Ville Fleurie" which means that they have flower baskets and such stuff everywhere. A really quaint spot which, like Pornic, I will have to come back to.

A cloudy day was brightened up by the result in the Spain Ukraine game where the Spanish finally showed some world cup potential. A 4-0 result had me excited as I motored the short few miles up to the mouth of the Vilaine River. I then entered a meandering wonderland which reminded me a lot of summers on the Shannon with my Dad all those years ago. I wonder what he would think of his son pottering up a river in a small boat not rushing to get there quick. I think he would love it here.

We arrived late so anchored off La Roche Bernard, 4 miles upstream from the tidal lock where we went from being on the sea to being in the river. Jean and Tony had made a chicken and sweetcorn soup for dinner so it was dingy in the water and over I go to be regaled with stories of the great things their kids have done like driving beat up Bedford busses to Spain (sounds familiar?). In the morning they sorted themselves out with a berth in the marina and got ourselves sorted for the England match that evening. I had a quick wander around the town and understood straight away why this place has become so popular with the English. I could hear many wandering around the market, and these were not boating types I thought. Many seem to have bought here and live here permanently. Indeed, there is an English person on the town council! Peter and Linda Hill from Distant Drum, who I met in Bilbao so long ago, spent a winter here and painted a picture of a charming multicultural place. I could see why it would be a great place for liveaboards to congregate for the winter. Anyway, more important, I found the internet cafe to send this out so that you can see that I am alive, safe, happy and still odd.
Fair winds