Passage to St. Malo, France

Wallace's Sailing Adventure on "Arbella"
Mike and Vicki Wallace
Wed 23 May 2012 10:42

48:38.96N 02:01.35W From the Distaff Side:  Vicki Here:  I will start with the end so you know we are safe.  What an amazing place and this is just  looking at the ancient walled city from the boat- tied to the town break wall. Can't wait to get off the boat and explore the town.  Arrived here at 8pm last night (not dark till 10:30pm). Our kids asked for more detai,l so here goes:  Departed Guernsey at 8am to make high tide across the Weir/controlled entrance to QE2 Marina, our home for 8 weeks.  Temp about 50 degrees, winds 12-15, swells 4-5ft. To prepare for this 10hr passage we have 3 layers of clothing on:  thermal long underwear, a fleece layer,  our Guernsey "jumpers" (sweaters -- a must),  wool caps, waterproof sailing foul weather pants and jacket,  pfd's with "position finders", and rubber/calf-high boots. It is sunny and very cold out there.  We are on a beam reach (wind at the beam) however with the following seas and swells we are rolling.  We are now grateful that all we had for breakfast were granola bars.  The sandwiches I made the night before will go uneaten and we will hydrate till we arrive. We put main sail and stay sail up and this helped to stabilize rolling to some degree. We also had 1-1.5 knots of current against us.  To make the St. Malo Locks at precisely 6:26pm we had to use the engine to assist us. The cruising guide was pretty vague about the Lock procedure and the marina so we were prepared to be open to anything and get there early.  If you miss the Lock (a 10min. window)  you wait 10-12 hrs till the next opening at high tide.  With a 30ft tide we did not know if it was possible for us to anchor anywhere outside the marina, which is on other side of Lock with controlled low water level.  Several hours into our trip we heard a report of a boat adrift off Jersey and to be on the lookout for a person in the water.  Coast Guard and Search and Rescue were on the VHF.  Sadly, an hour later we heard them calling out the diving team. As we approach the French coast at about 5:00pm, we hear all VHF chatter in French.  Now we wished we spoke French.  Dense, dense fog starts rolling in from the coast and we can barely see.  Ghostly shapes are in front of us and small Ferries zoom by. We slow way down and now are navigating by Raymarine.  There are a lot of shallow area's and rocks to avoid.  We have the dock managers phone number and we are to call him when we are in the area.  He does not answer.  So we circle and wait.   We finally reach him at 5:45pm. He is off work at 6:00.   He tells us to line up in front of the 40ft steel Lock Doors and wait for the green light to come on and then go to the left side. With the fog, we could not identify the location of the light, until it actually came on.    It is now unclear where the actual Doors are because of all the metal structures and it is unclear how we tie up to the wall inside.  The Fog is so thick it is hard to tell if any other boats are going to go through with us.  At exactly 6:24 we see a ghost of a small commercial ship pull in front of us and a small sailboat behind us.  Doors open and we follow the ship in.  We go to the left wall and start laughing because the top of the wall is 40ft and we don't see any lines or Lock Line Handlers.  When the water starts flooding into the Lock, your boat has to be secured to the wall.  "Have Faith".  Out of the fog comes a very short stocky man yelling at me (Mike at Helm) in French and throws what looks like a baseball with a line on it- at me, standing on the stern.  He is yelling the only English word he can get out in the rushed moment "blue-blue-blue".  Our dock lines are navy blue!  At the same time Mike is telling me to tie our dock line to the "Monkey Ball".  Excuse me! So I quickly tie a square knot to the Monkey ball and he pulls his line with mine attached and secures it to a massive concrete cleat on land about 30-40ft above us.  He throws another Monkey ball at me on the bow of our boat.  And we repeat the procedure.  Then he disappears.  Water is pouring in and we are going up, up, up.  The boat behind us is yelling "Arbella", and then a lot of French.  We wave and smile and laugh.  Wish again I could speak French.  Surprise!  We are now looking at grass and we are at the top.  The Lock Door creaks open and after our French Handler reappears to release the line, we motor out into a marina.  It looks like an airport parking lot, only it is boats.  A sea of boats.  We were told by the manager to stay left and there was space at the sea wall behind 1 white boat followed by 2 black wooden boats. Finally almost to the end, WALA!  There they were.  Mike snaked down a narrow lane with only about 18"leeway, yes inches,  on both sides of our boat.  I had fenders on both sides.  I was holding my breath when I realized our lane was a dead end and on Friday we would have to "back-out" all the way down the lane.  We pulled up to the sea wall and started laughing because there was no way for me at 5'4" to get off the boat because the top of the wall was too high.  We decided we were too tired and would work on that problem tomorrow.  In the meantime, towns people were out for a late night stroll and were smiling at us and some were even taking pictures of us on our boat.  Another boater who spoke English came over to welcome us.  He lives in St. Malo and gave us advise on where to go.  I have to say, the view from the boat is stunning, looking up at this walled, old city looming above us.  I feel so blessed and lucky to have this wonderful experience.  One last note.  As we exited the Lock and entered the marina, the fog was totally gone and the sun was shining.  It was like entering Oz!  I hope this supplied enough detail.  After a great night sleep we are preparing to problem solve how Vicki can get off the boat!   Vicki.