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A straightforward, day to day account of what we have done during the current year's cruise. What we found may help others. I hope that anyone interested in the area will cherry pick rather than trying to read from start to finish.

Our boat is a Hallberg Rassy 34, Anhinga. This year it is crewed by Frank and Jennifer Singleton,.

Plans for 2012

For the first time since 2000, we have no plans for the sailing season. This is not a lack of ambition; there are just a number of uncertainties and making plans would be futile. We simply intend to be on the boat and see what seems best at the time.

I will try to give notes and comments on wherever we are although this is likely to be ground (or ea) where we have been before and in areas well known to many other sailors.

The only certainty is that we will be starting the season without Margaret although she and we hope that she will be able to join us before too long. Rochefort
Ile d’AIX
St Denis d’Oléron
St Martin de Ré
Sables d’Olonne
Ile d’Yeu, Port Joinville
Ile d’Belle Ile, le Palais
Lorient, Locmoquelic (St Catherines’s0
Port Tudy, Ile de Groix
Roche Bernard, River Vilaine
Rieux and Redon
Roche Bernard 2nd time
Port Joinville 2nd time
Sable d’Olonne 2nd time
Aix andSt denis – 2nd time
La Rochelle anchorage and St Martin de Ré – 2nd time
Les Sables d’Olonne – 3rd time
Port Joinville – 3rd time
Back to the Vilaine, Arzal lock and la Roche Bernard – 3rd time
Rieux again
La Roche Bernard, Arzal, Ile d’Yer
Ile d’Yeu – fourth time
Les Sables d’Olonne, Port Garnier
St Martin de Ré
St Denis for he last time this year.

Getting there, Launch, Fitting out

April 24

We flew from Southampton by FlyBe to la Rochelle. Two people have now called Southampton a “pretty little airport.” That may sound a contradiction in terms but we know what they mean. As airports go, Southampton has minimum hassle and is about as pleasant as an airport can be when through security and waiting to be called.

Having just about the maximum weight in both hold and hand baggage meant that we had to use a taxi at both ends. At Rochefort, they have no luxuries such as trolleys to carry bags but the marina staff did the carrying for us in one of their vans. Polishing/waxing and antifouling were done by a local form in a rather perfunctory manner. Cost was about the same as in Spain and Portugal but the end product was not as good.

April 25. Rochefort Ensoleilléé!

A very wet day indeed. Any work had to be inside.

April 28.

We had asked to be launched on Thursday (April 26) but that was not possible. Saturday, April 28 was the first possibility. This was a pity for two reasons. First, it was a very wet day. Secondly, due to a combination of a neap tide with a coefficient of 41 and water being removed by dredging, water levels were abnormally low. After launch we had to motor hard to get to about 20 metres away. Earliest opportunity to get into the inner harbour would be next Wednesday.

Judith and Mark, CA members on Wizard of Paget had hoped to come ashore on the same day but were unable to move – partly because of engine problems and mainly because of the shallow water.

April 29

We have decided to fit AIS (Automatic Identification System), We chose the Digital Yachts Class B equipment with a wireless interface. This will enable the recently acquired iPad to be used as a chart plotter instead of the power hungry laptop PC. Our rather small chart table and navigation area is a little too cluttered to have a large enough chart plotter suitable for my eyesight. Stage 1 has gone well; The AIS and Wireless interface are now both installed and talk to both the iPad and the laptop. Interestingly, the laptop software put us within a metre or so of our position on the pontoon. The iNavX software has us about 20 metres away. (That later rectified itself.)

One of the major pluses for Rochefort is the surrounding area. There are two good and not over-expensive restaurants, an adequate creperies and excellent small boulangerie that does good takeaway quiches. Pizzas, croissants au jambon with the usual range of too fattening goodies.

May 4.Progress report.

After a bit of a struggle, mainly my finger trouble, The AIT 1000 and its wireless connector are both working. Nick Heyer at Digital yachts was most patient. With a bit more iPad familiarity – and care, I should have been able to sort it myself. The joys of the Internet and email.

A small snack bar, Oliver’s, has opened for the season a few yards away. Disposable beakers, plates and cutlery but good galettes and crepes. Tow galettes, a crepe/ice-cream. Two ice cream boules and a demi-carafe of white wine - €25.

May 7. Nothing is ever easy on a yacht

Our domestic batteries had to be replaced. The on-site, exceedingly helpful, chandlers brought them along and kindly began to fit them for us. Two snags. First, one of the battery cables will have to be lengthened; no great problem. More seriously, the bottom and one side of the battery box had serious rotting; so much that one battery was falling through the bottom. This will not be an easy job.

It is as well that we made no plans. At least, Rochefort will not be an expensive place to be while we sort out the problem.

We had another meal at Oliver’s; this time we had moules frites, a rum crepe and a semi-carafe of wine. All very good and very good value; cannot be beaten for a combination of quality, price and convenience. Our oldest (21 year old) grandson, Oliver, would be in his element wither moules ass would our youngest (7 year old) grandson, Benjamin. Both began eating moules at a young age.

High Water, Rochefort style

When we launched some days ago, it was on fairly extreme neap tides. Tidal coefficients were down to about 40; rise and fall were small and the marina lock was advertised as not being opened for two or three days. This period was followed by some large spring tides, coefficients of about 110, some of the biggest tides of the year. Together with flood water coming down the Charente, we had some very high water.

On the neaps, even in the locked harbour, we had quite a climb up the ladder to get from the pontoon onto the quay even at HW. Then with the high x water, the pontoon was higher than the quay. When we walked round to the lock, we had the unusual sight of river water pouring over the top of the gates. The harbourmaster had to let the tide go down a little before he could open the gates to let boats enter.

May 8. Liberation Day.

I tried to explain to the French that we had never been liberated so did not have such a holiday. We did the liberating. It does seem a little extreme to have two public holidays seven days apart; again, many shops closed.

We took the batteries out and had a good look at the battery boxes. Not good news; we are going to need someone such as a shipwright/carpenter with skills rather better than mine.

Digital Yachts AIT1000 – AIS Transponder

We have been able to play with this using it with iNavX on the iPad. It certainly looks good all round. One day we were able to “see” a cargo ship entering the Rochefort commercial port and manoeuvre into a berth. People say that iNavX is “clunky.” I must say that it seems good enough to me. It is readable in daylight; bright sunlight would not be good for chart displays but course and distance to a waypoint would be clear enough. Down below, it will be fine and useable in its watertight transparent cover.

In the iNavX navigation program, entering waypoints is simple as is generating routes and being able to see them on the chart. The GPS showed a small movement from one berth to another a few metres away. The AIT1000 GPS/iNavX software has settled down and gives us an accurate position precisely as on the laptop.

Saga of the battery box, Nothing is ever easy on a yacht – Part 2

Removed batteries. . The base just crumbled. Absolutely rotten. . Decided that we would be able to fix the problem ourselves. That needs three pieces of marine play, none larger than 54 x 20 cm. Easy in a marine town, surely. No. The best offer is the very helpful local chandler who could get a piece 1.2 x 1.2 metres plywood for €81. We would still have to cut to a precise size. Even the local boatyard had no marine ply.

Discussed with Judith. Best suggestion is to take the train into la Rochelle for a nice day out. Return fare is only a few Euros, chandlers and boat builders abound. Someone will have marine ply and cut to size – surely? Watch this space.

Success - stage 1

We got the train into la Rochelle, €8 return fare. A short walk to a yacht basin where there are various boat builders. We looked into one, explained that “Notre boite pour les batteries est fichu.” My probably antiquated colloquialism seemed to amuse. We gave him our list of pieces and sizes. He quickly cut them, pondered about a price, then said €25. He was happy, selling bits of off-cuts. We were happy; a total of €41 with all pieces cut to size is better than €81 with me having to cut and having excess ply not required.

Stage 2

A slight setback was when we realised that the carpenter had given us slightly thicker ply than we really wanted. However, a bit of sawing and filing down was all that was needed. The deistic battery box ix now ready for the batteries to be put in and, no doubt the usual struggle with the power cables which will require some adjustment.

We took the opportunity to wander over to the mega-marina at les Minims; a massive marina that, we are told id both unfriendly and inefficient. By comparison, Rochefort may be somewhat disorganised but, at least, everyone is friendly and helpful.

Battery box Stage 3

Repairing the box was the easy part. Boat builders, or rather their electricians, seem to take great pleasure in making wiring so tight that any future alteration is nigh impossible. Over the years we have usually managed to connect new batteries reasonably easily. This time it was different. Partly because the batteries are now 15 mm more from one end of the box and because the battery construction was slightly different, connection was not at all easy.

May 15, Webasto and Weather problems

Right at the end of last season the Webasto warm air heater failed for the first time. Yesterday we telephoned the local agent in la Rochelle asking for an engineer to see if it could be fixed. Somewhat uncharitably, they refused on the grounds that “C’est très vieux.”

Forecasts for the next week show a low pressure area situated over Biscay. Forecasts are for strong winds from time to time and rain or showers. Rochefort is a pleasant enough place but we are getting cabin fever.

May 22. Progress with the Webasto and the weather. A step backwards otherwise.

The local engineers, J S Marine, put us in touch with a local boat owner who can service and repair Webasto heaters. So far he has cleaned and made serviceable tee blocked heater fuel pump. He has no, after much effort, removed the main unit. He says that he has the spares. We have to wonder why the Webasto agent in la Rochelle was so unhelpful. Why could they have given us names of local firms?

The weather has taken a turn for the better but the recent rain helped us to find a problem where the engine air venting vent pipe attaches to the side of the boat. This will involve some use of a filler and the fibreglass. Our first use of the filler was abortive. The recommended amount of hardener was far too much. In a second try, we halved the amount of hardener. Even that was rather too much, we hope that we just got it in place in time.

May 23. A better day

This time, we got the filler and hardener near enough right. The we fibre-glassed around the area where we had leaks. Leaving a few hours and checking, it looked OK. No water C through.

Next, we looked at our fresh water pump which had been both noisy and, apparently, getting air into the system although there were no leaks. We had a new fresh water filter and, although the old one seemed OK, we could not check how clean the filter was. So – we changed the filter. Lo and behold, the pump seems quieter and there seems to be no problem with air in the water. Maybe I have spoken (or written) too soon. We will see.

On the whole a more successful day than some of late. We just hope that the Webasto comes back at the weekend, as promised, and works OK.

People met at Rochefort

Brian and Margaret Dye on their large steel boat, semi liveaboards. Brian repaired our Aerogen. Colin and his wife with their campervan and Westerly Konsort. Colin kindly advised on our battery box repair. CA members, Mark and Judith on their classic yacht Wizard of Paget, Judith is a Vice President of the CA. Roger and Glynis, CA members on their HR Kutter, Guillemot, a 10 m motor sailer that we had not seen before. We had never seen the Kutter before. It is an interesting small boat in which HR have maximised the available space. Although the same age as Anhinga, their teak decks were in far better condition. We consoled ourselves knowing that Guillemot had a far lower mileage than Anhinga’s 29,000 with 10 years in the Med. Nevertheless, we were quite envious.

May 31. Webasto saga.

After a number of promises to come, M. LeGuen replaced the Webasto with everything working – apart from one vital component that he cannot source in France. Although he had spent about 4 hours on the boat and some more in his workshop he did not want any payment. We gave him a modest €100. At least we know the problem and can try to find the all important part. Or we spend nearly £2000 and get a new heater unit.

June 1. Ready to leave.

A final check showed that our flares were out of date. The chandlers had a convenient pack but could not take the old ones. He directed us to a M Poissant on S/V Eden in the marina who will arrange disposal at no cost

We plan to leave at the 1500 hours lock opening, go down river and find a buoy off Ile Aix.

First sail of the year. Rochefort to Ile d’Aix. 14 NM.

Well, motor sail down the contorted Charente river and across to Ile d’Aix. This was most instructive in seeing just how well the iNavX software worked. Good was the verdict. It certainly gave confidence. There were few AIS target but we were interested to see Fort Boyard as one.

Off the SW of Ile d’Aix, we picked up one of three visitors boys and were joined by yachts on the other buoys and several more at anchor.

June 2. Ile d’Aix to St Denis d’Oléron; 11nm

After an abortive attempt to sail, we motored this still learning the foibles of the iNavX and the Digital yachts software. All looks pretty good. We “saw” up to 17 vessels transmitting AIS signals, mostly commercial, of course. We saw at least two other yachts and a French lifeboat (on its mooring just north of Ile d’Aix. Curiously, although we were getting a signal from Fort Boyard there was no icon on the chart. From time to time the DY Hotspot seems to stop transmitting. A quick switch off and on seems to be the remedy.

As usual, the marina staff at St Denis, as welcoming and helpful as ever, showed us to a berth – unique, we believe in Atlantic France. Plenty of depth everywhere, they said, at least 2.5 n.

The market, better quality we think than Rochefort was open on Sunday morning as well as the supermarket and, of course, the boulangerie. I the afternoon we had a fair walk to the lighthouse and signal station at Chassiron.

June 4. Depth 2.5m???

On the sail from Ile d’Aix, we realised that our Raymarine wind indicators were not working properly. Inspection with binoculars shows that we have lost the small wind arrow on the sensor. Another job to be put in hand as soon as convenient. Probably Sables d’Olonne will be the best bet. Less costly than les Minimes and with good servicing facilities. Such is life’s rich sailing pageant. It stops us getting rich.

A fleet of handicapped sailors is due on the afternoon tide. We will have to move to another pontoon. A little after low water, we tried to move. Reversing out of the slot was OK. We then stopped, stuck very firmly in the mud. It appears that the pilot is a better guide than the marina staff. It says 1.5 to 2.5 but can silt up.

On a falling tide, just when we were beginning to think that they were too late, the fleet with its handicapped crew members arrived safely, At least 15 boats all with sizeable crews of carers. Using the visitors pontoons with their short, even for us, fingers these large yachts all reversed in. An open air meal had been arranged and the Rotary club was much in evidence.

To get back in a slot required help from a German skipper and from Missy B, a British motor boat registered in Port Dinorwic although all on board lived near Falmouth. One, a recent commodore of Restronguet Sailing Club knew old Firefly friends – Peter and Dawn Langdon, Guy English and John Baldock. The sailing world is, indeed a small one.

Loo and weather problems

After all the fuss of moving ordinary visitors and getting their fleet in, they all disappeared before Jennifer was out of bed. We just hope that it was all worthwhile.

Jennifer tried to use the holding tank last night but the valve was jammed. Of course what should have been a simple job was far from being so. The plumbing is hidden away under and overfilled locker floor. Well, that used four hours of the day.

The weather continues to be very unsettled. Tomorrow looks like being a window to get over the St Martin de Ré. Much as we like St Denis, we could do with a change. After tomorrow some quite windy weather is expected.

If you stay for three nights, St Denis gives you a fourth night free. Our four nights have been an economical €53.

June 6, To Ile de Ré for a one night stand. 21 nm.

Our well thought out plan to stay at St Martin de Ré fell flat on its face. We left St Denis on the ebb, had a pleasant Genoa only sail as we were not in a hurry and knew that we would have to wait outside St Martin for the next tide. I called the harbour saying that we wanted to come in and asking when the gate would be open.

When we eventually entered, rafted alongside another yacht and went to the Capitainerie, the said one night only. The handicapped regatta was coming and all visitors had to move out. Had we known earlier we would have had a nice, fairly fast sail to Sables d’Olonne where we hoped to have a rig check and get the Raymarine wind indicator working. The forecast is for a strong wind tomorrow. What to do?

La Rochelle or Sable d’Olonne? Neither looked all that good. Going north seemed like a good F 5 or 6 but a good direction. South would be less wind but less favourable direction. The evening Météo France forecast was encouraging about going north with less wind. We would have to decide in the morning. This evening, the decision was a nice meal at a good creperies.

June 7. Fortune favours the brave, To les Sables d’Olonne, 24 nm.

If anything, the morning forecast – and weather were not good news. To Sables d’Olonne, SW 5 or 6 with talk of F 7 not far further north. To la Rochelle, F 4 to 6 but with wind on the nose. The deciding factor, one we got out of the harbour was that the wind was free enough to have a fast Genoa reach with the benefit of the tidal stream. To la Rochelle would be wind against tide. The problem was that low water at Sables was about 1330 and we were on a moderate spring tide. Would we have enough water, especially if a swell was starting to develop. Houle, 1 to 2 m becoming 2 to 3. Marginal or impossible at TW.

In the event, we made excellent time, just a little over 4 hours and were entering the harbour just after noon. I had checked with the harbourmaster’s office. The said that we would only have 2 m at LW but nearly 3 m at 12 o’clock. Actually, we had a least depth of 3.7 m in the channel.

The kindly harbourmaster gave us a berth on the end of a pontoon – the wind was really getting up now. Unfortunately, it was deep in the harbour with little room for error before being driven down on boats right at the leeward end. In the end, I made 4 goes at getting the approach right for Jennifer to get onto the inevitably wobbly French finger pontoons. After getting in we checked the depth sounder. We had just 2 metres! Hmmm!

Having got in we were able to speak to Raymarine about the wind indicator and to another firm about a rig check. At least we are in. Nobody else came his way. We made a good, slightly lucky decision. We should have started an hour earlier. . Having got in we were able to speak to Robin Marine right by the marina, the Raymarine agents, about the wind indicator and to another firm about a rig check.

June 8. Organising and a little more plumbing

One of the possible local riggers, a young (to us) Scotsman at Eric Marine, a chandlery by the marina, said that they were snowed under with work. He recommended Yachtcare who are based in St Gilles but who do much work in Sables d’Olonne. We made contact and Thomas said that he would try to get to see us on Monday.

The Robin Marine technician came, saw the problem with the wind sensor – missing arrow. He has ST60 sensors but will need a rigger or someone capable of climbing the mast. I said that Yachtcare might be coming and had, in any case, asked me to give Robin Marine our card with contact details for him. It all seems too neat and tidy to be true.

Our manual bilge pump decided to stop working. Luckily we were able to remove it, clean up, put a little grease on the valves and.hey presto, it works. A good job as the three chandlers nearby did not have a kit for that particular pump.

Shopping is pretty convenient to the Port Olona marina at a large Carrefours. There is an excellent covered market in the town convenient for the smaller Quai Garnier marina. Port Olona is probably quieter. A bit soulless, Is near chandlers, boat yards and the Carrefours. Quai Garnier is probably noisier, is close to large unsightly port structures but nearer the town with its facilities. We have never use Quai Garnier but must do at some time.

June 12. Win some lose some.

Robin Marine, true to their word delivered the new wind sensors and fitted them. They charged what seemed to us a very reasonable price. Full marks. The man who went up the mast was not a rigger and looked rather askance at out Spectra main halyard. He really wanted something that looked more substantial and was relieved when I offered the topping lift – not nearly as strong as a safety line.

The rigger never came. Black mark. That will have to wait until later.

June 13. Chateau d’Olonne

I was running out of time and mb on my SFR dongle (USB Clé in French.) To our surprise there was no SFR shop in Sables – nor Orange either. On the Internet we found that they were in a Géant supermarket complex at Chateau d’Olonne. The bus ride there was an experience as the bus took a most convoluted route with a number of U turns. I do not know how the driver remembered the route. Perhaps she had GPS.

SFR were there usual helpful selves. We did a little shopping in the Géant and over to the nearby Lidl’s to top up on their drinkable but cheap gin. The return bus did not get us to the marina and we had to change in the centre of Sables. The lady driver on the bus and on the next bus took great care that these two aged Brits got the correct bust and stop close to the marina. All for €1.45 each way. The ticket back to Sables covered the extra short journey on the second bus back.

June 14. To Port Joinville, Il d’Yeu. 30 nm

The Météo France forecast was up and down like a Yo-yo, but it is a difficult situation. Last night it was SE 5 reaching 6 at times. This morning, it was SE 506 decreasing later in the day. However, it was going to be a dead run. As a precaution we rigged the storm jib. This was a clever move as we were then able to fly the Genoa with the storm jib out the other side – goose-winged. The wind got to a bottom end of F 5.

Arriving at Port Joinville, we were met by friendly hails – Judith and Mark plus several other CA members. There was an impressive number of Hallberg Rassy boats including HR 342 only a year old. That makes us still the smallest HR in town – as normal.

Port Joinvile has barely changed since we were here about 15 years ago. There is a new (to us) Super-U but the Casino supermarket is just as it was. There may e more touristy shops and slightly fewer food shops but there is still a good small boucheries/traiteurs, a small market with a lady making good crepes, the poissonnerie is still excellent.

June 16, New arrivals

Despite a brisk wind, more CA members arrived including the HR Kutter with Roger and Glynis; we cease to be the smallest HR in town.

Judith in her role as a CA Vice President organised a pontoon get together. There we met David and Roger on Tinsmith II – friends of Ross and Wei Wei who we first met in Corsica many years ago. We made contact with some HROA members also.

The small daily market on the quay had some good vegetables and fruit although the star turn was a lady who mad crepes to order either to eat there and then or “pour emporter.” The only problem was that she was not there every day.

Disaster strikes.

There was a total Internet outage that covered a large area; some said the whole of France. First it caused my SFR 3G dongle to fail. That meant getting a very helpful young lady in the capitainerie to talk to SFR. We could not resolve the problem but SFR have said that they will call me back. Just hope it will not be when we are on passage.

The second effect of the outage was that all cash point machines were out of order. We are running out of cash so are hoping that we can hold out until le Palais or wherever we get to next.

June 20, To le Palais, 50nm.

Forecasts in this most difficult of summers, weather-wise, had been up and down. Judith and mark had left on the Monday but there was too much northerly in the wind for our liking. We want to be at Lorient by or at the weekend for a CA rally. Thursday looked as though winds would have enough south in them. However, late Monday and Tuesday forecasts showed that Wednesday would be suitable with E or SE winds veering through S to SW. Ideal. However, Thursday now looks like being a strong wind, F 7 day. Météo France and the US GRIBs were identical, more or less, but Météo Consult were saying NW winds on Wednesday.

In the event, Wednesday was a nice run in winds that stayed SE until late in the day. My poor opinion of Météo Consult was confirmed. After some discussion we decided to try the Bassin à Flot. We have always used the outer harbour before. As we approached, we realised that there was a big race event in progress. Most seemed to be mooring in the Bassin. We later found that there were 52 boats in the week long regatta.

Young men in rubber dinghies helped everyone in most efficiently. At one place there are some seven boats so that you can walk across from one side of the Bassin to the other. All very friendly; all in good humour. Although packed in like sardines it was a pretty quiet night. There was an end of regatta party on the other side of the Bassin but it seemed pretty quiet nevertheless.

June 21. The longest day of the year – and success!

It started cloudy. Then heavy rain. All the racing boats left and a few cruising yachts despite. There is a grand frais forecast. I cannot use my Internet connection and the VHF has been quiet despite having transmitters on Bell Ile and at St Nazaire. Luckily NAVTEX is working even in the harbour.

The success was with my SFR dongle. Somehow, more by luck than anything else, I looked at “Parametres.” At first I could not see any problem. Then I saw that it had a choice of “websfr” which was highlighted and “sfrsfr.” Which was not. I changed the highlighting and hey presto!.

Spoke too soon. Sometimes the SFR connects and at other times it will not. I spoke to SFR. The technician said that there was a major problem with French Internet just now. Not very satisfactory as la Palais yacht basin has free WiFi that works pretty well.

The rain stopped just before lunch letting us buy some bread and look at the town. Very pleasant. Not over touristy. We paid €72 for three nights – Friday looks like being windy at first. In any case, market and shops are close by.

Despite being Mid-summer’s day, it was distinctly cold.

June 22. Harbour Hi-jinks

The gate was open and one of the two coasting vessels left and so did a few yachts. The second coaster was repositioning itself down the quay using it engines and creating much turbulent water. It was then that a foolhardy French Bebeteau 40 skipper decided to leave his berth doing a large turn to face out to sea. Unfortunately, this was right in the maximum turbulence.

The helmsman lost all control. A collision with another yacht coming safely down harbour, clear of the coaster, was only narrowly averted by the prompt action of the marina attendant putting his inflatable as a large fender. The same boatman then prevented the yacht hitting the commercial quay on one side and a berthed yacht on the other. Great work by the marina boatman and lousy seamanship by the French skipper.

In the afternoon we visited the Vauban Citadel. A great experience. One has to marvel at the man-hours needed to cut into the rock, cut the stones for the construction and then do the building. He must have been great engineer. Apparently the English captured Belle Ile in the 18th century but later traded it for Menorca.

We had a close encounter of the worst kind when a delivery barge came in to moor behind the remaining coaster. He was almost as wide as the gap between us and the coaster. As he turned, his cooling water spewed onto our decks and he missed us by all of 10 cm, when I complained to the boatman he said that the skipper was good. Maybe he is! But, he is also very lucky. We moved back a boat length as he was only there for half an hour. As he went he only missed another yacht because the boatman had placed himself between them.

June 23. To Lorient, Port St Catherine, Locmiquelic. 24 nm

The best sail so far. Météo France finally got it right after saying NW, they finally came in line with the GFS GRIB and agreed it would be SW. We sailed, literally from door to door. The marina boatman met us and showed us to a place. Unfortunately, it was the most exposed slot in the whole marina and we would be having noise of waves on the transom all night and tomorrow with a SW 5 or 6 expected. Eventually, we hailed the boatman again and he kindly helped us move to a quieter place, head to wind and better sheltered.

At least 4 other CA boats have arrived. The rally is to start on Monday.

June 24. Wet

It rained, more or less, the whole day but the wind slowly eased. After much discussion of weather for the week, the rally programme was changed. Tuesday, the Blavet river; Wednesday over to Ile de Groix; Thursday, Étel, Friday TBD.

Locmiquelic marina is well organised with the best showers that we have found in France, as good as the best Spanish. Shopping is easy with a short walk up the hill; there is a small supermarket and all the usual small shops including a good boulangeries. There is free WiFi at the marina although not always possible to connect to. A signal booster helped.

June 25 & 26, Volvo boats and the Blaver river. 10 nm

Monday was a foggy, mist y day. The CA group took the bus to Port Louis for an excellent lunch in a workers restaurant. Total cost was €12.5 each, including three courses, wine and coffee. All high quality.

Our “Journée” ticket, €2.75 covered the bus to Port Louis, a ferry across to the Lorient side of the estuary and a bus to the Cité de la voile – and return. We did not go into the exhibition but spent the tie there looking at some old boats and the Volvo RTW racers.

Next day we all went a few miles up the Blavet river for a communal mooring, coffee and lunch. The river is delightfully quiet. As predicted, although the day started misty, it brightened almost to become a sunny day.

June 27 & 28. Port Tudy, Ile de Groix and return. 14 nm.

A late start gave us a pleasant, short, sunny sail across to Ile de Groix. Thoughts of a communal anchorage were dispelled by a brisk easterly wind and a westerly swell. Some of use squeezed into the harbour. Others stayed in the anchorage. One boat lost its engine and, as the wind dropped temporarily, had to have a tow into the outer harbour.

Port Tudy is quite expensive in the harbour at €26 for our 10.3 m plus €2.40 for one shower jeton – it was more than ample for two people. Compared to le Palais and Port Joinville, this was on the high side. There is free and good wiFi.

The closing event of this short rally was dinner at a nearby restaurant. Good but relatively expensive.

The next day was forecast to be a W 3-4 and a w 4-5 increasing 6 tomorrow. That did not seem too good for Étel as some people had to get back to home berths. Some disappeared and the rest went back to Locmiquelic. The wind was a brisk W 4-5, about one force more than expectation. Six knots under Genoa alone. Entering the marina, I called on VHF and asked for a berth. They gave us one instantly, which side-to and the fact that it was an approach into wind. Excellent service.

Port St Catherine at Locmiquelic, is an excellent marina, well run, friendly. The Friday market is small but excellent quality. There is at least one good boulangerie and poissonnerie, a moderate supermarket but, curiously, no fromagerie. Nor, strangely, was there a dairy product stall in the Friday market.

June 30

We walked round to Port Louis, just down the harbour. The first person we met was Mark who told us that Tom and Ros Cunliffe were there with heir new boat. Knowing Tom, we went to have a look. It is every bit as good as you imagine from Tom’s reports.

Port Louis is more sheltered in westerlies than Port St Catherine. The Saturday market is, we gather smaller than at Port Locmiquelic. There was a visitors pontoon that seemed to be mainly English speaking. We gather that prices are a little less than the €26 we were paying at Port St Catherine but that showers are not quite as good.

July 1. A fast sail to Roche Bernard, 50 nm.

CROSS forecast was a W F 3-4. Well, they got the direction right. The wind started as a F 4-5 and increased to a good F 5-6. Luckily, it was all downwind and we kept full sail all the way reaching the Arzal barrage just in time for the 1600 opening. However, the lock was full. We and several others had to use a waiting pontoon.

Despite it being Sunday, the lock did not open again until 1800. The lock was, full or nearly so. When the bridge opened allowing us all to move up and allow more boats in, there was much shouting and instructions by the lock attendants. All done in typical Gallic style good temper. They have probably seen so many idiot yachtsmen coming through that they know how to handle any difficult situation.

The visitors pontoon at Roche Bernard seemed to be mainly occupied by long stay boats but we found one space on the hammerhead. The harbourmaster very kindly came down to meet us, give us the shower code and switch on the electricity. In the evening sun the river was a beautiful as we remembered.

July 2. Wet!

Another absolutely miserable day with rain throughout. In la Roche Bernard, many shops were closed. Only one boulangerie was open. About the only consolation is that the WiFi is free and works well. There are good showers and toilets. We paid €23 a night, not bad in July as there both WiFi and showers are free.

July 3. Still wet

Actually, there is much more to Roche Bernard. As we found many years ago, it is a quiet, quite delightful small town. There are good small shops, excellent boulangeries and traiteurs as well as a good Carrefours and a much smaller Shopi supermarket. We can well understand why so many British sailors get here and go no further.

The afternoon improved and we took a walk upriver. There were few houses and no people at all.

July 4. To Rieux. 14 nm

The day began with rain and mist, just about as miserable as you can imagine. Our original ideas about going upriver to Rieux seemed not too sensible. However, just as we were finishing lunch it started to brighten but then turned threatening again. But then more brightening made it seem sensible.

Rieux is about 14 miles upstream past Foleux and the swinging bridge at Cran. The weather was more or less dry and we arrived at Rieux at about 1830 – the bridge at Cran had a 1800 opening... At Rieux, there are pontoons for alongside mooring and rafting out is the norm. First impressions were good. There is water and electricity, the hottest showers so far this year. All for €12 a night – about half the price at Roche Bernard.

July 5. Rieux

The moorings are run in conjunction with a well organised camp site, the most pleasant that we have seen. There good showers to rival all but those at Port St Catherine, Locmiquelic. The only black mark is an absence of paper in all the loos. Clearly a management decision. Just about the hottest that we have see since Spain. The village is most pleasant with good looking houses. It is a pretty and quiet place all round.

Strangely, the only shops are a couple of boulangeries and a pharmacy. Provisioning would mean a cycle ride to an Intermarché or a bus into Redon. We are told that there is an excellent worker’s restaurant. We must try it out.

It was yet another day of mixed weather with several showers. Two were heavy lending some support to the Météo France forecast of local thunderstorms.

At Rieux, we met Paul Newgass, Royal Dart YC, on Ardeola a large, elderly, motor boat with sails. Going on board was like going to a three storey house after our bungalow. We also met John and Louise, with their large middle aged Moody, Pavrati. As there were no free spaces when we arrived, we rafted out on them.

July 6. To Redon, 4 nm

It started wet but the day quickly improved although there were a few showers later in the day... We lunched in the village at a “workers’ diner.” Not quite as good as the Port Louis version but a little better than Rochefort. Three course, wine and coffee for €12.50.

The short passage to Redon took about ½ hour. There was one space at the “deep” end of the marina which we entered with some trepidation as our depth was reading zero. We were met by David and Fletcher,, CA members. Apparently the marina is under new management. The capitaine, the first black man we have seen in the job since our Caribbean days, was welcoming and helpful. This extended to him responding quickly during the evening when out electricity power supply failed. Service with a smile.

July 7. Back to Rieux, 4 nm.

The market at Redon is small but of reasonable quality with a Super-U Express close by. At the marina, the toilets and showers were in the same small, scruffy looking building as in the mid-90s. They are about to open a Portaloo which can only be an improvement.

Redon is a functional rather than an attractive port to be in, Little charm.

It is a pity that we cannot say the same about the weather. We managed to dodge heavy showers to go to market and, again, to go back to Rieux. However, the afternoon was virtually near continuous outbreaks of heavy rain. Weather for ducks. Or, as the French say, “Too wet for the ducks to go out in.”

A pleasant surprise was to see Wizard of Paget coming upstream with Judith and Mark, our CA friends. As there were no spaces on the pontoon the rafted outside us. Much talking was to and will follow.

July 9. Back to Roche Bernard. 14 nm

After much agonising have decided that tomorrow is the optimum day to leave the Vilaine. Not ideal as the wind remains stubbornly west. It will be OK as long as it no more than the promised F 4. One round Pointe de Piriac it should be a nice 35 mile broad reach. As long as we can get round the pointe with a little coup de moteur if necessary.

Mark and Judith have to wait a sail repair and winds are forecast to increase, still westerly. They may be stuck long enough to enjoy the July 14 celebrations at Roche Bernard.

At least we had a dry if rather cloudy day and the next three days are also expected to be dry. We hope that Météo France will be doing better than over recent days when they have not covered themselves with glory.

At Roche Bernard we squeezed onto the end of a pontoon; shopped at the excellent Carrefours – they even have the Singleton Single Malt at a not too extortionate price. The town itself is like an enormous flower garden. Hydrangeas proliferate here in all colours from a brilliant read to a deep blue.

July 10. To Port Joinville, Ile d’Yeu. 57 nm in total. 47 from the mouth of the Vilaine.

Left la Roche Bernard at 0645 in nice time to have a quiet coffee waiting for the 8 o’clock Arzal Lock opening. Météo France forecast on VHF was W F 3-4. Yet again, it was a good force higher on the whole. To Pointe de Piriac it was a tight fine reach. The wind went messy approaching the point and the sea even messier. That meant ½ hour motor sailing.

After that it was a good broad reach with winds in the top F 5. I had some exercise putting in and taking out the first reef. We arrived off Port Joinville, Ile d’Yeu at about 1815. Average speed 5.5 knots.

Port Joinville, replied instantly on Ch 9; we were met by an inflatable, shown and helped to a berth. Prices have leapt drom€21 in June to €33 a night.

July 11/12 and 14 at Port Joinville

As always, often at least, when cruising you meet old friends. Here we met Richard and Jane Ogden of the HROA. Margaret and Jon from the CA who we met on the CA rally at Locmiquelic also arrived and had a coffee and beer on Anhinga..

The island has a good bus service to all points of the compass from Port Joinville. For a day ticket costing €3.20 and starting early enough, you can travel on just about every line. We did not get up early enough so made do with one ride to Port de la Merle where we had an excellent blackcurrant Brioche and coffee; a second took us to the lighthouse at the SE corner, Corbeaux, and back. The bus map shows bus routes and suggests walks between one and another so that you can take a bus to one location have lunch and a leisurely walk then come back on another route.

The weather is still mixed with a lot of cloud and rain at times. Thundery outbreaks are expected over the next couple of days, including Bastille Day. It looks as though we will be able to move on to Sable d’Olonne. The ECMWF 10 day forecast looks promising, not for the first time. One day they will get it right – we hope!

Drinks on Richard and Jane’s HR 37. Met Martin and Adrienne on heir Nicholson 35, Ian and Beverley, Naiad owners and members of the Guildford CCC who remembered me from a lecture last year, Anne and Nick on a Malo 38.

Latest forecast very uncertain for tomorrow with a small fast moving low very close to us. Still best to wait until Sunday.

Margaret and John invited us on their home built steel yacht. Most interesting to see a boat tailored to personal needs and wishes.’ It is still an ongoing project after about 20 years but they did much sailing during that period.

July 14. Bastille Day and Internet catastrophe

First, I ran out of megabytes on my SFR contract. Orange and SFR shops in France are few and far apart; nothing at Port Joinville and, without a French bank account am unable to renew on0line. Unfortunately, the back-up – Vendée WiFi is down until the 17th. No problem for weather, as long as I remember to have the VHF on for the Channel 80 broadcasts. The alternative forecasts available in the marina is Météo Consult. I have never found that they give a good service; Météo France is much to be preferred.

After a very windy night and an early shower, we had a nice morning. Took the bus to le Vieux Chateau, an impressive 14the century structure a short walk from the beach at Sablias. The recognised footpath from the bus terminus to the Chateau required the agility of a mountain goat. We negotiated it rather more slowly.

Bastille night fireworks were scheduled rather late in the evening and there were several showers. We stayed on the boat despite the offer of free moules and frites.

July 15. To Sables d’Olonne. 30 nm.

The forecasts yesterday and this morning were saying either “NW 4 parfois, 5” or “NW 4 passagèrement 5.” I am not sure about the difference; I thought that both really meant “occasional” or “at times.” As it turned out, we had more 5 than 4 and quite a lot near the top end of 5. It was a good, fast Genoa only reach. No histrionics.

We might have tried Quai Garnier but want to get some work done including a rig check. All the chandlers etc are at Olona. The Port Olona capitainerie were as welcoming and as helpful as usual. The new self-service fuel pumps on the waiting pontoon are a big improvement on the old fuel lines hanging down the wall. Refuelled using the new pups – with the help of one of the matelots. We took on 43.5 litres of diesel after 31.5 hours motoring. A surprising 1.4 litress/hour. With the exception of Ile d’Aix to St Denis and 15 miles of the passage Ile d’Yeu to la Palais, all our passages have been virtually entirely under sail. Most of our motoring hours have been in the rivers Charente and Vilaine using very economical revolutions. Nevertheless, the low consumption is a pleasant surprise.

A most pleasant surprise was contact from our old friends Ian and Jacqueline Lace. We first met them on their motor boat, Chantilly Lace back in 2001 in Spain and last saw them in 2008 in Ponza, Mallorca. They have had to leave Port Vell which is going to be only for mega-yachts. The annual berthing fee had gone up to €10,000. They are now on their way back to the UK via the Rhone in full spate and then the canals.

July 16. Getting organised at Sables d’Olonne

We still want a rig check and we have s small but deep hole in the hull where a French yacht hit us in the Arzal lock. Sablaise Nautique have booked the rig check for Friday and say that we will do the hull repair.

To recharge my SFR dongle meant another visit to Chateau Olonne – with two interesting bus rides. Making a virtue out of necessity, we replenished our gin stocks at the Lidls close to the SFR shop.

July 17. Summer at last?

Yesterday and today have been glorious. Wall to wall sunshine. It does not look as though it will last although rain over the next few days may to be too great or too extensive. We are not getting too excited just yet. In any case we, will have to stay here pending the rig check. Hopefully, we can move on Saturday. The latest forecast is for light northerlies by then. That would suit us fine.

July 18 and 19. Getting work done.

We have had two small but persistent leaks. One in the fresh water system we were able to fix ourselves by fitting a new washer. One in the return fuel pipe to the engine required a fitter. The Volvo agent came immediately and we are now leak free.

Sablaise Nautique decided to come a day earlier than advised earlier. They did a comprehensive rig check and repaired the hole in the gel coat. It looks as though we will be able to move on tomorrow. The weather continues fine and mainly sunny but still not at all warm.

July 20. Still at les Sable d’Olonne.

The Météo France forecast was over-optimistic although the US GRIBs had predicted rain this morning. The days started wet, cold and generally miserable. We stayed put.

The good news is that Sablaise Nautique mad a very reasonable charge for the rig check and the gel coat repair. This was excellent, the white is virtually indistinguishable from Hallberg Rassy white and the blue just about spot on. We can recommend them.

July 21. Up another creek – Marans. 35 nm.

Decided that we had never been to Marans up the river just north of la Rochelle. The obvious alternative, St martin de Ré, although a favourite of ours would be busy and probably jammed full as a good weekend is expected.

Leaving Sable d’Olonne, the wind was just too light to sail at a sensible sped to get the mouth of the river at the right time to get up to the bridge and lock into Marans. After a couple of hours we started to motor and the inevitable happened. We should have a little more faith in the Météo France forecast of a sea breeze. In the event we were far too early.

Getting up the river takes longer than the pilot book says. Not wanting to be going up with the strongest tide we waited and followed the pilot book notes. In the even we were a little late – 10 minutes for the bridge opening but the lock/bridge keeper is obviously accustomed to such idiots, He just kept the cars waiting.

After bridge and lock it is a 5 km canal to the port. Nobody being around we chose a vacant slot in the secure knowledge that nobody could possibly arrive until the morning and more likely late evening..

July 22. Marans.

This was clearly once a thriving port used by sea going trading ships. We are moored by a co-operative silo built in the 1920s when the port handled a large proportion of the French cereal harvest. It is still in use and, being in harvest season, there is a constant flow of wagons in and out. Right along the canal into the centre of town there are boats of many shapes, sizes and conditions. There seem to be many liveaboards and, as so often is the case, some of these are little better than rotting hulks. Others are in fine condition.

Around the port there are a few shops including a good boulangerie and a boucheries/traiteurs. The covered market is a substantial building and a nearby large and good Super-U. There is a reasonably priced DIY laundrette in the port. WiFi is €2 a day.

There are some good looking and well kept houses in the area. The area is reminiscent of the Norfolk Broads with drainage canals creating a maze of water ways. There are many small boats along the banks of the various waterways. All in all, a delightful and interesting place to be.

July 23

We had gone into a finger berth on arrival; however the owner has just launched his boat and we have to move. At first the port captain said that there were no finger berths available. I pointed out that there were three free spaces. After some humming and hahhing , he gave us a berth. Otherwise it would have had to be on a raft at least three out with possible problems in shore power connection.

Prices are low. We paid nearly €12 for a finger berth. Rafted out it would have been €8. Showers are excellent and the hottest imaginable; the only place this year where we have had to use the mixer taps to cool the water.

Had a good meal in a small restaurant run by husband and wife. Excellent. We were the only customers although they said they had another booking. We hope they succeed as they are trying hard and are really good.

July 25. To Ile d’Aix. 28 nm

We were quite sorry to leave Marans. We had checked with the lock/bridge keeper and duly presented ourselves at the lock at 0845. All went like clockwork. Leaving the anse de l’Aiguillon, we had a fairly slow sail to the anchorage off Ile d’Aix. All the buoys had been taken. We should have flown the spinnaker but were expecting the sea breeze to come. It did not.

However, it came in enough to give an unpleasant wave against tide until the early hours.

July 26. To St Denis d’Oléron. 8 nm.

The mud here is very glutinous. The anchor was difficult to lift. With no wind we motored over to St Denis where they kindly gave us a slot jut wide enough for us with a finger on each side. Luxury indeed. The first person we met was Neil Eccles and his wife, Bron, of the moody association.

July 30. Still at St Denis

We seem to have taken roots here. Had been hoping o go down to Spain but forecasts have been very inconsistent and we never really saw a reliable slot. St Denis is such a quiet laid back place it is easy to become part of the scenery. As it always has been, the capitainerie has glorious hanging flower baskets all round. The boulangerie is very good and the market is every day.

However, go we must because there is a big fleer arriving from Arzal-Camoen. We will probably go in the morning, anchor for a night and then to St Martin de Ré – if only for the ice-cream!

July 31, August 1 and 2, 1 . Finally left St Denis for St Martin de Ré via an anchorage near la Rochelle.

We really do like St Denis. Reasonably priced; with our free bonus day, less than €100 for 5 days. The flowers around the capitainerie are always magnificent. The market is good and the boulangerie almost as good as at Rochefort.

We had a nice quiet sail to an anchorage near the bridge from la Rochelle to Ile de Ré. The holding is excellent. It had to be as the wind got up rather more than promised. We hesitated about the 8 or so miles to St Martin and waited until after lunch when the wind backed to SW. It was then plain sailing.

St Martin was fairly crowded and we were fourth out on a raft when two more joined us. All very friendly. All remarkably quiet.

The covered market is so good that you really feel that you should stay for a week or two just to try a fraction of the traiteur’s goodies. The ice cream with its home made cones, a delight in themselves, is still an experience. A place for gourmets and gourmands.

However, probably we will move on August 3 up to Sables d’Olonne hoping to try Quai Garnier.

August 3, To les Sable d’Olonne, 29 nm.

Having aborted on the idea of going down to Spain because of the uncertain forecasts, we have decided just to wander around this area. Back to the Vilaine, try to get into l’Herbaudière, maybe Pornic ten back down to Rochefort via all these places yet again. We like them all. St Martin de Ré is a particular favourite despite being touristy.

A difficult decision was when to leave St martin for les Sables d’Olonne. The morning tide would mean leaving at a time that would get us to les Sable around low water and this as a spring tide. We might have to wait around with the probability of a rising wind as the sea breeze pepped up. The alternative was to use the afternoon lock opening and get to les Sables just before half tide, falling. Météo France were giving a SW wind 4 to 5 decreasing 4. Afternoon was the better option and give us time for a visit to the top class market.

In the event, the wind was more west or a shade north of west. It did not drop until quite late and then the swell was awkward. We had to put in a tack when opposite the end of Ile de Re. We arrived at les sable, with an hour of motoring as the wind finally dropped. It was just starting to get dark.

The very thoughtful harbourmaster for port Olona gave us a place on the end of a pontoon so that we would have no problems in finding it. Quai Garnier which we had hoped to try had all gone home. Port Olona is H24.

August 8. To Ile d’Yeu, 29 nm

The promised easterly was not strong enough to combat the sea breeze effect on this gloriously sunny day. We had a slow sail for about 10 miles, even with the spinnaker. Then light and variable, picking up on the nose for the last couple of miles.

As often at this time of year, Port Joinville was packed. We were 6th out on a raft of seven. All managed by the boatmen who are very calm under pressure. Even the locked basin had a large number of visitors. When many went in the morning, we were able to reposition ourselves to a place suitable for an easy departure tomorrow. After some necessary shopping, we settled on a quiet day for, an early start in the morning – hopefully to the Vilaine.

August 10 and 11... To the Vilaine. 52, 5 + 7 up to the lock. Thence to les Roches Bernard.

Météo France had said East 3-4 decreasing later 2-3. In fact it was a pretty steady 4-5 touching 6. Not their best effort, but is did give us a great sail. From outside Port Joinville to the mouth of the Vilaine with a couple of tacks in the baie de Quiberon, we did 52.5 miles in 9 hours. One reef for much of the time.

We just missed the 1800 lock at Arzal but got into the 2000 one which filled up just as ever to be chock a block. We anchored for the night just into the Vilaine above the lock

After a delightfully quiet night, up to la Roche Bernard where, against expectations, we found a berth. When we were here a little while ago they were about to unveil many large photographs set up on tripods and other supports all round the village. We just missed the grand ceremony but can now see all the pictures. A most imaginative and very French initiative.

August 12 – 14. At la Roche Bernard.

We had not intended staying her but the weather looked to be pretty awful until the 16th and la Roche Bernard has much to offer. The photos were truly magnificent. Two in particular, one of an owl swooping down onto a victim and one of a wind turbine from a most unusual angle.

We did some walking, this time down river and across the bridge to see a new marina à sec. We met CA friends Roger and Penny Bennee and had them on board for drinks. The Wednesday, Assumption Day, was extremely windy and a good day not to be near the sea. All in all, the weather was not quite as bad as Météo France had said.

A delight at la Roche Bernard is the honey museum right by the marina. They have just about every honey imaginable and a handout telling you which honey is a cure for which ailment. We took a look at the new marina à sec on the opposite side of the river. Prices look good. The price includes 5 launches a year. However, a car would be essential just to get to local shops.

Tomorrow, hopefully, we will go up to Rieux for a really peaceful few days.

August 15. To Rieux.

As some hot weather was expected we returned to Rieux just to enjoy a few days peace and quiet. This needs a little planning as there are only two boulangeries. We had a good simple meal at the creperies on site. The boulangeries are not the best but good enough.

Rieux dates back to Roman times and later became quite an important place with links to Jeanne d’Arc. The reason presumably is the fort on the adjacent hill top. There is little left but the walk up has many small placards, somewhat indistinct due to weathering with details of the various counts and others. Seeing the village now it is hard to believe.

John and Loose were still there on their Moody although they had been up and down the river.

August 20 – 22. La Roche Bernard, Arzal and Ile d’Yeu

Tide times at Arzal, it was spring tides suggested that it was time to leave Rieux, have a day for provisioning at la Roche Bernard, anchor by the Arzal lock and get the 0800 opening.

All went well. Winds were good for going southwards. We had hoped to get into l’Herbaudière then on to Ile d’Yeu. However, we would only be able to have one night at l’Herbaudière because of strong winds on Friday. The problem was that #, on springs, we would have to wait a couple of hours before entering. Result – we still not have seen l’Herbaudière.

August 24.... At Port Joinville, Ile d’Yeu.

As expected, the strong winds came on the Friday. A wet day. Some food shopping and then drinks on a HR 39 with Mike and Martha Dodsworth. They have an HR 39 which we last saw in Barcelona with it first and very short-lived American owner. For some unaccountable reason, he did not like the boat and after a short period of ownership was having it delivered back to Hallberg Rassy – complete with its 110 Vac power supply and air conditioning. It is an excellent example of a good HR design.

Aug 25. To les Sables d’Olonne, Quai Garnier

After two wind days, the forecast light winds came on the Sunday to give a rather frustrating half motor half sail to les Sables d’Olonne. We have been wanting to try Quai Garnier for some while but it has never worked out. This time it did. It was interesting to compare with Port Olona.

Quai Garnier was surprisingly quiet for much of the time. There were spells when ships were load in/unloading nearly opposite or when fishing boats were going out. On the finger pontoons these were not a problem but on the alongside berths there would be some disturbance. Shopping is more varied than at Olona where the Carrefours is a fairly close pretty good, one-stop shop for all normal food and other domestic items. At Garnier, there is a moderate sized Casino for the heavies – but in a different direction to the market. WE find the Carrefours good for most items and often better than the market, especially for apples.

The main plus on the food side at Garnier is the corner, hole in the wall, boulangerie that had some excellent multi-grain bread. There is a larger choice of restaurants at Garnier. However, the small, family run le Petit Louis has a nice ambience, is most friendly and a small but excellent menu.

We spent 5 nights here, doing a little exploring, visiting Chateau Olonne to top up my DFR 3G dingle and replenish the gin supplies at the Lidls.

August 31. Back to St Martin de Ré.

After some SW winds, northerlies came back in but were a little brisk at first. Not impossibly so by ant manner of means but we have time to spare and nothing to prove. Friday was forecast to be “secteur N” F 3-4, perhaps NW F 5 later. In the event it was largely NE, The strength was up and down. We had started early to leave Sables well before LW, although we could have left ½ an hour at least later with no problems. Going too fast we rolled in the Genoa for a while and again as we approached St Martin, getting there just before the lock opening time.

Getting into the basin was unnecessarily exciting. We and some others had to hang around in the avant-port while boats left. At last the green showed and we were second boat to enter. Just as we were in the narrowest bit a French yacht tried to leave against the flow. I am not quite sure how we did not collide. As the kind sailors who helped us into a tight berth said, “Imbecile.”

September 1 and 2. St Martin de Ré at the weekend.

It is the last weekend of le vacances so it was not surprising that, during the afternoon lock opening, the port quickly filled up By 6 pm it was choc a bloc. We had 7 boats outside us – we were against the quay. Not all of our neighbours were fairy footed. In the morning, by 0830, they had mostly all gone.

It seemed a big hassle for one night in St Martin, but what other options are there for a yacht at la Rochelle that wants a sail and there are few sheltered anchorages in a strong northerly? The options are really only St Martin and St Denis d’Oléron. Some of the boats were training yachts and, no doubt, manoeuvring in a tight space is part of the course.

La Flotte-en-Ré.

This drying harbour is impossible for a keel yacht, so we had never been there before being attracted by the evocatively sounding Ars-en-Ré. Today, we took the short bus ride and were rewarded by a delightful small town. Quite different from St Martin with a larger range of shops, a market rather like St Denis d’Oléron, and a good choice of restaurants. Finding somewhere like this, so photogenic and generally attractive, is what makes this such a great cruising area.

The bus stop is outside the town but there is a free navette to the port. We walked in but got the navette out. All these islands have their charms and it is difficult to say that any one is nicer than another. However, we would not argue with anyone who said that they rated Isle de Ré as their favourite.

The only negative aspect is that there are few finger pontoons. We have never had one. The result is that rafting is the norm. We do not mind too much clambering over several other boats to get ashore. However, staying for a few days means that you become inside boat. We had four nights as inside boat with up to seven outside us. Some were thoughtfully quiet and light-footed; others, French and British were incredibly heavy and did not bother to remove shoes. Rails were grabbed noisily; they did not seem to pass from one boat to the next at the most convenient place. All in all it took the edge of St Martin.

September 4, To St Denis d’Oléron.

Looking at tidal coefficients, we should either try to get to Rochefort before September 7 or on or after September 12. A few days at St Denis would be a low cost place to do some preparatory boat cleaning prior to a lift-out at Rochefort. We would almost certainly get a finger berth; the market is one of the best; it is nice and quiet.

The morning high water meant leaving St Martin before 0915; but we would not be able to enter St Denis before 1700. Starting with a brisk northerly, we went under the Ile de Ré bridge to find a nicely sheltered anchorage opposite la Pallice. After lunch we slightly over slept and did not get away until 1515 in a light wind against the ride. Eventually the afternoon sea breeze got up and we had a final 8 or 9 miles with a nice steady F4 to 5.

St Denis was pretty full; but when we told the boat man that we wanted at least 5 days, he kindly found us a vacant private berth. As usual in this area of France the marina staffs was as helpful as possible. We can now re-acquaint ourselves with one of the best boulangeries and an excellent daily market. Life is good!

At St Denis d’Oléron

After the hustle and bustle of St Martin, St Denis is quite peaceful and laid back. Certainly a joy not to have up to 30 people tramping across your deck. Without bicycles, sightseeing is limed. We could have repeated our long walk to the lighthouse but there were some very hot days.

Cliff and Gwyneth Rawlings, who we had met at St Martin, were there on their Westerly Fulmar, Lucy Louise. Judith and Mark Grimwade came in on Wizard of Paget just about every British boat that we see seems to be heading for Rochefort for the winter.

The black spot of our time at St Denis was a Swedish Yacht that stayed about 3 days and left without paying – according to the marina staff. It was s singlehanded, old vessel with an enormously long vow sprit and a high stern, almost like a galleon. The skipper said that he was heading for the Villamoura. He was old enough to have known harry Hallberg before Hallberg Rassy days. His views on the Rassys are as unprintable of ours of him.

The bright spots were the friendliness of the French people on the residents’ pontoon. They helped us in and out. When we commented on the size of the mackerel that one had caught, he gave u one. Having just bought some small ones in the market we had not the heart to turn them down so had a feat of mackerel that evening. Another French locally based sailor gave us some fresh ripe figs. They just seemed to want to make us feel welcome.

September 12/13. To Rochefort

Tide times and the sill at St Denis meant that we could not do this in one day. With little wind we motored over to the Charente and then found a mooring near Soubise, only 4 miles down from Rochefort. On the 13th, we had to wait until nearly 1500 before leaving for Rochefort. Whilst waiting for the lock and bridge to open, marina staff came alongside and gave us a berth for the 8 days before lift-out.

At Rochefort, we met CA members Ian and Carol Ann on their Oyster, Ostryea, Chris and Melanie on their Sparkman and Stevens Touchwood 2. Later, Mark and Judith returned just before winds from ex-hurricane Nadine really started to blow. All were kindred sailing spirits.

I may add some notes about Rochefort but that is the end of our 2012 season.

Summary of the year

This has been a slightly odd n that we have just wandered up and down between St Denis d’Oléron and Lorient. If it has been windy, we simply stayed in port. We have seen places that we had no seen before even though we have cruised this area in the past. Our early impressions were that there was more socialising in the Mediterranean where many yachts are long distance cruisers. In this area of western France, we thought that there might be a little less of that camaraderie. I think that we were wrong although at times, we rather got the impression that some British sailors only spoke when spoken nut, contact having been made, were all too happy to talk.

In total we only sailed some 790 miles,,Over the past 21 years we have averaged over 1760 hours per year.