June 2002 – Home Again in Southsea

The last Friday in May, the 31st the wind was blowing from the north-east and yes we were heading north-east. Initially we motored round in circles in yet another attempt to calibrate the wind instruments before motoring off across the south east corner of Biscay. The sunset that evening was spectacular very red, very gold and accompanied by dolphins. The wind was pretty constant for the trip � F3-4 from the north-east but at least the weather was good and just after midnight on June 2nd the engine was finally turned off when tied up rather appropriately on the diesel pontoon in Les Minimes Marine, La Rochelle. It was our intention to head for the Vielle Port as soon as there was enough water in the channel. The �Old Port� of La Rochelle is right in the centre of town with probably the best harbour entrance anywhere. You sail up the channel and then between two grey granite towers with slate roofs like something from a fairy tale. There we tied up next door to an Aussie boat heading for Cardiff! Apparently the young couple have a house there. He is a professional diver by trade and as well as his wife Louise, onboard were their two young children (2 years and 6 months) and his mother. Seashell, their 36 foot wooden boat had just brought them safely through the French canals from the Med.

La Rochelle is beautiful and highly recommended to any who have never been. Obviously very wealthy in the past, most of the town is built of a grey/silvery stone. The streets are narrow and the buildings arch over the pavements. The town hall has a high wall all round it ornately carved. After eating in the local Indian restaurant (we fancied a change!) the Rough Guide recommended an English-speaking bar owned by Barry. What we found was an Irish pub owned by a Glaswegian (Barry) with a French wife. The wife played the flute and there was an impromptu folk session going on with locals on banjo, guitar and squeezebox. The music was mostly Breton but they were happy to play requests. What a night � we met Barry�s sister, on her way back to Paris from a wedding in Spain, her husband (who originated from Almeria in Spain) and many locals. Susie got stuck with a French optician who insisted in conversing in French so conversation there was reduced to schoolgirl level about the weather etc.  It was a late night.

Two nights in La Rochelle mean a third night free of charge which as well as reducing the berthing costs was good as the F5-6 north westerlies were not encouraging us to head north-west along the Vendee coast up towards Brittany. With over 3000 berths Les Minimes is one of the worlds largest marinas and is home to several well known boat builders including Amel with Beneteau and Jeanneau factories only a few miles out of town. We took the water taxi down there one windy afternoon and after a shopping spree in the chandleries we were able to do a pile of boat jobs giving Temptress some much needed tlc. With new lazyjack �strings� (over 100m of string was required), a new catch on one of the hatches (this last had needed replacing when we bought her four years ago but until now we had not found a replacement)  a pair of shiny folding bikes in the forepeak we headed out of La Rochelle on late morning on Wednesday.  It began to rain as we untied and motoring down the channel towards the sea it poured and blew like mad. Yuk � visibility reduced quickly to a few yards which was not what we needed in order to find our way across the sandbanks off the coast here and under the bridge, up the Rade de Pallice inside of the Ile de Re. After a couple of miles we gave up and after playing again with the wind instruments, returned to La Rochelle, this time finding ourselves a berth tucked safely inside Les Minimes marina in amongst a clutch of brand new 50 foot catarmarans.

The next morning dawned bright and clear and it was in glorious sunshine that we tacked back and forth up the Rade de Pallice enroute for Sable d�Olonne.  One huge bottle-nose dolphin entertained us for much of the trip swimming some five metres or so off the bow and leaping right up out of the water to land with a tidal wave of a splash on �his� side before repeating the gymnastics. Sable d�Olonne is the marina that the Vendee Globe competitors come back to so we expected great things but after cycling round the town of La Chaume (Sable D�Olonne is the other side of the river to the marina!) we found just one bar in the marina open! The following day Kevin decided we should head for Ile d�Yeu, the island furthest offshore in Biscay. Port Joinville was reached in the rain after a fast windy reach all the way. The island looks like it could be a beautiful place if the weather is nice.

After a quick trip to the supermarket on a wet windy Friday morning the sun came out. We got out our new bikes and with a map from the Capitainaire and some advice from the crews of a couple of other red ensigned boats cycled off across the island. Yeu is about 15 kilometres long and 9 wide. A short distance from the town we came across the Citidelle. Part of Frances massive fortifications in their long wars against both the English and the Spanish this grey granite edifice is now well hidden despite being on the highest point of the island � since Napoleans era trees have been allowed to grow all around. You cycle up the hill through the green woodland and suddenly come upon a draw bridge. Crossing over and under the towering gatehouse we came into a gravel covered courtyard larger than a football pitch or two. Four small boys were kicking a ball around, their shouts echoing off the surrounding walls. Turning around every window sill contained a box of red geraniums. The place was now a series of slightly scruffy homes. An ancient Citroen Dianne started across the open space and we followed it out across the drawbridge and down the hill. The countryside was rather like Cornwall or South Devon only flatter.   Small fields, front gardens packed with summer flowers � somehow we had forgotten what an Northern European Summer was like � roses, hollyhocks and lavender. The west coast of Yeu is wild, covered in gorse and heather. This is where the Atlantic meets its first obstacle since leaving the USA. The low cliffs are wrought into fantastic shapes and the small coves are beautiful golden sand and heaving breakers. The cycle path turned south across the cliffs dipping steeply down and narrowing � we had to carry the bikes down and up between the brambles. Once back on the top again there were fabulous views and eventually we came to the second little port on the island. The tiny harbour is narrow and shallow with lots of gaily painted wooden fishing boats tied front and back to moorings. A bar on the waters edge served cold beer and massive baguettes packed with ham, ementhal cheese and gerkins. After lunch the path led us back onto the sheltered east coast where there are more holiday homes and a couple of dinghy sailing schools. Then it was downhill into Port Joinville and supper on board.

On Sunday the northerlies had eased and another island, the Belle Ille beckoned. Temptress arrived just in time for the lock to open so we were able to tie up on the left hand quay in the commercial basin. Le Pallais is like Trumpton on Sea. The main harbour sees regular ferry visits from the mainland bringing stores for the supermarket and hoards of French OAPs each morning. Towering over the north side of the harbour is Fort Vauban � the great fortress builders majestic masterpiece.  The harbour winds around the granite walls and behind opens out with quays on three sides opposite the fort. Along the quay runs the road and behind that a mixture of art galleries, butchers, greengrocers and gift shops. Past the lifting bridge and through the lock – on the right hand side of the commercial basin are a couple of small warehouses belonging to a shipping firm and the local fisherman�s co-operative. The final warehouse in the row is occupied by the fire brigade with collection of shiny red engines and a couple of ambulances. Beyond that is the modern building containing the post office and the telecoms centre for the island. Our side of the quay is mostly houses with an occasional bar frequented by the fishermen. Through an arch opposite our berth is another street with a tiny well stocked supermarket and a couple of boulangeries. Most of the product we bought (meat, bread and veg) was produced on the island. In the late afternoon the tides were right for the ferry to leave. A forklift truck loads pallets of Atlantic salmon and various other items to go to the mainland. The OAPS queued in the drizzle wearing their matching plastic rain hats. A small line of cars were loaded, the one transit van had to go on last as it only fits in near the on/off ramp! The post arrived and the Captain came down from his bridge to sign for it. Trumpton in real life!

Belle Ille lives up to its name � inland was lovely reminding us of the Channel Islands. A little further north was another harbour smaller but still able to take tourist ferries in July and August and with a few yacht moorings. We tucked into moules frite after a mornings cycling before being blown back to Le Pallais. The next day was another wet and windy one so we climbed the hill to the fortress which dominates the town. It was fascinating and despite having little in English to aid us we learnt a lot from the informative displays before braving the mizzle to explore every nook and cranny � dungeons, wells, an incredibly designed powder room with weird acoustics where if you whisper in the middle of the room it is amplified to almost a shout whereas speaking normally around the edge you can hardly be heard by someone standing in the middle. To ensure that any explosion is contained within the room it is separated from the rest of the fortress by first a gap of around 1.5 metres all the way round its circular walls and then a thick secondary wall. The roof is a dome so that again an explosion should go up and not outwards. Vauban�s design was supposed to be impenetrable but in 1761 or 2 the English subjected it to a barrage of fire from just off the harbour walls and breached the defence. Before they could enter, the Governor of the Island marched out with full military splendour to surrender. The island remained in Brit hands for a couple of years before being part-exchanged for Menorca! What of the Arcadians? We managed enough of the French labels to understand they were deported from somewhere in North America by the English and landed in Southampton, Liverpool and other places. From there they managed to escape to St Malo and La Rochelle despite the war going on. An Archbishop took up the cause of the families and eventually some were given land on Belle Ille. Does anyone know where they came from or why they were deported? Both of us were fascinated and would love to know more. The museum listed all of the Arcadian families on the island together with the British port they passed through, where they escaped to in France and which village on the island they settled in. Most of the families still live there today several hundred years later.

From Belle Ille we aimed for another lovely spot, Benodet but the lumpy seas, grey skies and later, heavy rain were too much so we headed for the mainland. L�Orient might once have been a lovely city � as the name suggests it was home to the French traders who sailed to the East Indies, India and China. Then the Allies bombed it � all that remained were the U-Boat pens. Today it is a soulless, open, airy 1960�s city but we found a good TexMex place for lunch � steak au poivre, chips peas and carrots with wine and coffee for about 8 euros.

The next morning we motored back down the river in the drizzle, through the narrows and threaded our way out of the rocky channel and up the coast. The grey dampness eventually turned to warm grey dampness as we reached the entrance to Benodet. The long pontoon on the port hand side of the harbour offers free berthing except during July and August. There we met five boats from St Mawes. The crews� sorry story was like ours. Having left the UK for a couple of months cruising around La Rochelle this was the furthest south they had managed thanks to appalling wintery weather in the Channel. We were invited for drinks on board �Rameling� � 12 people crammed into their tiny saloon for a long session and the conversations went on into the small hours. The next morning we decided that as it was still and sunny we must head northwards so said good bye to our new friends amid promises to call into St Mawes sometime. Six miles later we turned back � you could hardly see the front of the boat through the thick damp fog. It was drizzling and we could hear the buoys letting out their mournful cries but even with radar we decided that it was too dangerous to continue especially as our course lay through the Raz de Seine one of the most treacherous pieces of water in this part of the world. Back in the sunshine we spent the rest of the day lazing around reading and chatting to the other crews. That night Temptress�s spacious saloon played host to yet another drinking session.

Slightly hungover we departed early as the tides dictated that we had to be at the Raz soon after lunch. A few vestiges of mist hung about but we could at least see the rocky shoreline. Then the sun came out and a southwesterly breeze sprung up � out came the spinnaker and we careered madly through the Raz and on towards the rocks off Toulinget Point. Using our new SHOM charts where 3 inches of paper represents about half a mile of water we were able to thread our way round the �Pots of Peas� and up the main channel off Toulinget itself. Well pleased with our navigational efforts we sailed on towards Cameret. As we rounded the corner we saw a forest of masts the marina was very full. Kevin spotted a space at the back behind the main run of pontoons on the far side of the wave break. The harbour master recognised us from previous visits and allowed us to stay put. Rameling arrived an hour or so later and the four of us had a superb meal of roast lamb with smoked garlic in the Hotel de France and then got completely soaked walking home none of us had brought a coat! All night and the following day the wind howled in the rigging and the rain poured down. Then the sun came out and the mass of boats waiting for a suitable window to cross Biscay left. Suddenly the marina was empty. Late afternoon the tide was once more flowing north and the Chenal de Four awaited us. It was foggy and the rocks of St Matthiue’s were rather close on one occasion leading to a lot of shouting from the skipper but we made it to l’Aber Wrach safely. Yet another beautiful location that we didn’t do justice to we must go back one day. The entrance calls for a cool head as it winds through the rocks then the harbour opens out into a remote ‘lake’. We should have headed up the river to a quiet anchorage but needing to depart early the following morning we choose a visitors mooring for the night. The harbour master was quick to collect his fees bearing down on us almost as soon as we had fastened off the last warp on the cleat.

199 miles to Southsea ten hours of day one was under spinnaker. It was a busy passage for the on watch with lots of shipping. Just what was that brand new Limmasol registered tanker doing drifting mid-channel? Her officers came out on the bridge as we passed and watched us through binoculars watching them through ours! It hardly became dark the moon was bright and being June the sun set but left a pale gloom round the horizon which before 4am became the dawn. We had motored through most of the night as the wind had gone with the sun but by lunchtime as we approached Yarmouth we were able to set the spinnaker once more and drift lazily up the Solent in baking sunshine until the wind died completely off Osbourne Bay. As we made our way up the narrow muddy channel to the marina the Skipper commented that it felt as if we were coming home after a weekend away not ten months. Rupert was on the waiting pontoon to welcome us home and soon we were having a beer in the Topdeck.

After a little over 5000 nautical miles Temptress of Down is now tied up just two spaces from her old berth and her crew are settling into life in the UK. That four letter word w-o-r-k beckons meanwhile we plan to visit Ireland and Kevin�s family, join a dinghy club nearby and simply enjoy as much of the summer as we can sailing. Oh and if anyone knows of a flat on Southsea sea front for sale we are interested in doing a buy-to-let.

Susie & Kevin

Temptress of Down