Stage One Christchurch to L'Aber Wrac'h

Dream On
Freddie Alderson
Wed 20 Jul 2011 13:50

Stage one – getting to France

Getting to France may be easy for some. For us, it feels as if there is an invisible net thrown up to snag us every time we attempt it.  

We spent most of the time from Christmas to Spring trying to get rid of the winter ravages by turning out different parts of the boat whenever there was a small relief in the weather. A long job as we attempt to root out and eject all mould, damp and wet, and as we discover and try and rescue those things severely attacked. It took us a day and a half just to get off the 3 rope bags, scrub them clean, dry them and put them back on. Some things just needed airing, and that could be quite difficult if they were mattresses, and/or if it was raining; others like the beach towels succumbed to mould attack and were too far gone. The crew came when weather permitted for further training (PICS) but not too many occasions were offered.


Great weather for airing if they don’t blow away       Practicing mooring….    & will she stow on deck if nec.?                         


And now for the dinghy………        Fine with the outboard………           Not quite so happy about rowing

Approaching Easter, with the boat and contents in a half decent state, we actually began to think more clearly about the voyage. We decided to leave late April to avoid any risk of the previous year’s tardiness. We initiated some improvements, internally hooks, shelves etc. We painted internal lockers white and were amazed at how easy it became to see what was in them. We raised the stove and blocked the places where food – never to be retrieved again – slips down. We had a new cockpit floor installed, which is great – easy to clean, easy to sweep water off and looks nice.


New white mould-free lockers! The last picture shows the mess that occurs inevitably any time a locker or cabin is emptied for cleaning or sorting. It does make it difficult to work, and shows why if there are workmen on board, it is virtually impossible to do anything else but watch and make them cups of tea, as there just isn’t room!


New cockpit floor – practical as well.   No more leaks from this hatch to locker below.   Saz being silly again – helps Joy!!!                                                                                                                                     keep us all sane.

We suffered grievous attacks from ………… a cormorant!

 It decided to use our masthead for after dinner snoozes and evacuation. We had never seen so much green stuff. It was truly as if someone had thrown a large bucket of greeny-black paint over the boat from the mast-head.  And that’s what it sounded like too. It stained badly and it needed an hour’s work to get it off. Recovering from that disgusting job with a cup of tea, we heard a familiar prolonged sploosh and there it was again – all over the boat and new sail cover. Attacks from a cormorant with diarrhoea !!!!!!!! And so it went on for a few days, when fortuitously, we were asked to change berths.

To add insult to injury, we discovered it had also bent our windex and poor old Saz had to go up and try to bend it back – successfully, thank heavens.


We also developed a leak from the little removable inner window above the breaker panel, which dripped on to the main breaker for 240v and blew the residual current breaker. We had that replaced and the new one works fine, but sealing the leak was harder. The water collects between the inner and outer windows and you can’t get the sikaflex gun down there. So it was down to sikaflexing Saz’s fingers and sealing with our new hi-tech tool, i.e.Saz’s fingers. It’s worked so far.


Brother Nick paid a ‘last time’ visit, bringing with him an enormous magnet, and a frame and other bits, to trawl the river bed and see what he found.

           Now what bit goes where?                                      What? Disrespect for your elders? Surely not


And off they went. Apart from a lot of rusty but interesting-looking rubbish, they recovered a teaspoon, part of a new set I’d bought last year, and apparently dropped in the same berth. More joy!

We had an AIS class B installed also, to transmit our position to other vessels especially the big ships. Crossing the channel  last year, we had  enormously benefitted from the AIS already installed, which told us not only where other ships were, but crucially how fast they were going and in which direction.  This latter is surprisingly hard to discern, especially if there are a few together as often happens in the Shipping Lanes, and you can just see ‘some lights’. I made a lovely new cover for the hammock seat, Saz got new cushion covers for the saloon, many little things we had had no time for the previous  year. Everything was progressing nicely.


Boat all clean and sparkly and ready to go. Everything we can think of checked and sorted and cleaned and stowed, all done apart from last minute provisioning.  Hard to believe it really is happening at last. We really really are going.

And then just before Easter we had a really bad week, full of sad news. The Tuesday 12th April, Fred’s mum, who lives alone in Stafford, fell in the garden and broke her wrist badly – so badly they could not set it as it kept collapsing. She was also in a state of shock and clearly unable to manage by herself. So Fred was off up to Stafford for the week to look after her, while I got on with what I could. Notwithstanding the impact on our plans, it was nice that she had this time alone with her eldest son before he left. Her recovery was slow, and though his 3 siblings also rallied round, Fred spent another week with her before we left.

The following Monday as I sat quietly doing emails in the saloon as Dream sat on our mooring, a motor boat turned in the river, did not quite make it and smashed into the nose of our starboard hull. It could have been worse. The rubbing strake, a big solid beast, was lifted off,  the stanchion was unseated and there were a few scrapes. I worried about what damage there was you could not see, but could not find any. Luckily, this was repairable, and the perpetrator was to hand and did not dispute his liability in any way. It was a bit of a shock though – the impact sounded like a gun being fired in the forward cabin.

The following Thursday brought the worst news. Jim and Sarah had over-wintered with his parents, while we over-wintered on the boat. That morning, just after all had left for work apart from his Mum, their house burnt down to the ground. His mum escaped thankfully, warned by their dog. They had been there 35 years, and lost just about everything. Everyone was in shock for a few days as the enormity of it sank in. Slowly steps were taken to assess possibilities. Several weeks passed before the situation could be assessed with any clarity, and some sort of recovery from the emotional impact could take place. What became clear very shortly after the fire was the ancillary impact on us, and our trip. Clearly the young people felt they could not leave Jim’s parents after such a calamity, and the trip was ostensibly off. We could do nothing but await the outcome and were totally behind them in this.

Local folk rallied round marvellously – a caravan opposite their house was offered by Cobb’s caravan park, and accepted, a fund was started by the local branch of G&Ts, local tradesmen offered their services for free.  Jim’s boss, Rob Morrish, an experienced local builder, has offered undertake the work of the rebuild/repair/new build, as the requirements emerge, so Jim knows his parents are in good hands. And Rob’s architect agreed to draw up plans and deal with the council – a boon anyone would be grateful for!  When this position was finally clear towards the end of May, our young crew, with Jim’s parents insisting, felt they could come.

So we were off again! And late again! Frantic preparations now started, with Jim and Sarah moving out (of home) and moving in (to the boat), and us re-organising the boat for 4 people, instead of 2. And of course lots of last minute things, to do with leaving England.

Finally ready, the departure date being set for the 17th, we went to the fuel dock on the 16th June to fuel up for the voyage. And then the Net raised itself and snagged us. When we attempted to return to our berth, the stern drive went, that is, it kicked up and we had no control or way.Neither its latch nor our rope reinforcement were holding.  Ho hum – this would mean the boat out of the water, and we did not know what delay that would bring. What a moment to choose!  The yard were great. Despite it being a really busy time for them, they diagnosed it as fair wear and tear, they organised the parts to arrive in 2 days, they made the crane available for Friday or Monday or whenever the parts arrived. They did the job immediately, and well and it’s been fine since. Fred has now reinforced it with an ingenious device to hold it down, in case it develops any other ideas, of which bottle screws form a large part. This was found on Gemcats, the Gemini owners website, (Many thanks to Lahr of Gemcats.)


Our boat in the air – always scary! Replacing all cardboard, dreadful on board, with Ziploc bags and  Lucy loving the chaos.                                                                                          

We finally left for Poole as soon as the weather permitted on the 25th of June. Jim’s family came to say goodbye, and inspect the boat. ‘Too small’ was the general conclusion, and seen from the point of view of a house, I can’t help but agree. Jim does very well to manage in the small aft cabin. Seen from the point of view of a monohull, it’s a palace.


On time, we finally head up the river and on to the harbour and the sea. Last farewells from Jim’s family at Mudeford quay. Because Christchurch has strange tides and is very shallow, you can’t always leave when you want to, so we usually overnight in Poole. Everything was fine, till we came to anchor, and then the anchor windlass failed. We’d only had it installed that year, so we were surprised. We managed to get it to lower, but not raise, the anchor. With Jim to help (he is strong) we managed without and would make it our first job in Dartmouth., determined not to be ‘snagged’ again.

Poole Surprise

As it turns out, we were in for not one but two more surprises before leaving.  To get maximum benefit from the tides across Lyme Bay, we needed to leave at 4.30 in the morning.  But we were very surprised to be woken before then by a violent noisy rocking of the boat, and what sounded just like machine gun fire. Looking out of the window made us wonder if this was actually a dream or possibly a nightmare.

First of all, there was thick fog – not just some fog or a patch or even a bank, or even a blanket – this was definitely a king-size thick duvet of fog. We were going nowhere. Then what we could see stunned us - we saw the boats – big ribs and gunboats with black clothed men in them, racing round the anchorage, setting all the boats rocking and slamming every which way, - and actually firing machine guns. We realised  eventually it must be the Royal Marines practising, and hopefully using dummy bullets. But with no warning, the sight and noise were quite baffling and shocking to our tired eyes and befuddled brains.




From the above you can see how many there were, the machine guns mounted on the front, how fast they went and how close to the yachts. The bows of the little yacht in the pic above shot up about 4 foot in the air as he went past. I felt sorry for whoever was inside. They were so close to us Jim could hear voices.

One might be tempted to ask, is it safe to race about in fog, and they were going fast! One might be tempted to ask about the shock for the boaters. But clearly, the marines were not tempted and gave not a jot either way. (The Cap’n says this is bang out of order as the part of Poole harbour we were anchored in is a designated quiet area with a speed limit of 6 knots).

Weymouth.   Weymouth??

Wednesday looked quite good, a few foggy patches, NE F3-4, some sun – great. Off we went at 5 am, all according to plan. Sails up but actually little wind, (note from log, ‘WHERE IS THE WIND?). The crew went to sleep, and we continued in a very relaxed way to Portland, seeing sights from the sea invisible from land.


Well, the wind arrived just before Portland at about 10am – no NE, no F3-4, but F5-6, gusting to 7, smack on the nose, a ripe old Souwesterly and a very disturbed sea. It got quickly very cold and uncomfortable and our speed slowed right down to 3kn. After 1 hour or so, with the weather deteriorating even more, we decided that we would turn into Weymouth for the night. We’d never done that before, whatever the conditions as it only adds hours to the journey length, but it seemed pointless to slog across Lyme Bay at no knots.

Weymouth is quite charming with a lovely beach, but the best bit are the showers, which are little rooms with loos, basins, everything you need, and enough  place to be able to keep things dry. Next day we were off again to the same forecast, and with the same result. Turning the corner at Portland, we were forced to turn back again meeting the same conditions as before. Sailors who came in after us on both days bemoaned the unexpectedly dreadful conditions out there, even those who’d had the wind with them.


The pretty harbour and fish and chips on the beach. The sand carvings are Weymouth were unbelievable. Above, the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Below photos of past amazingly life-like sand carvings.


Then we did a strange thing as Wednesday dawned with a lovely forecast for the next few days, and the weather at Weymouth – a beautiful hot sunny day – seemed to confirm this. Our weather window at last! Lucy had been coming to see us a final time at Dartmouth, driving there and back in one day, with 5 kids !! That’s Lucy for ya. Seeing the beach at Weymouth, and with fond memories of beach days from his childhood, the Cap’n thought it would be better to see her at Weymouth and more to do for the kids. The mate baulked a bit at missing a weather window,  and at having to wait till Saturday, as we would have to in order to see Lucy. But the mate also appreciated how much easier and safer the drive would be for Lucy, how much all would enjoy it, last chance and all that; and everyone seemed to like the idea so that was decided  The days before Saturday were used for washing, shopping and catching up on little jobs. . Much preparation was done in the way of shopping and cooking enough to feed the 5000 + Lucy – I say this advisedly as those kids can eat any adult under the table. And a great day was had by all.

Dartmouth – Brilliant sail

The next day off we went off with the 12 o’clock bridge opening at Weymouth and had a cracking journey to Dartmouth.


Leaving Weymouth as the bridge opened and meeting a destroyer with a Dalek on deck, which happily left us alone and fired no guns.(neither did the Dalek). The wind was E or SE, and  we got 7 knots and were sunbathing most of the way to Dartmouth. We were there in 9 hours. Brilliant!

Frist thing next day in Dartmouth was to see to the anchor; the solenoid had apparently gone. Though still under guarantee, we had no time for sending bits back etc., so we just had it replaced and the windlass worked fine. The weather then kept us there the whole week, though again various little jobs, housework and visits to our favourites haunts kept us busy. Also the Captain was struck down by a violent tooth infection, and had to have it out. It was a back one, deep rooted and he took time to recover. Lucy, my madcap daughter, decided she couldn’t resist coming to Dittisham if we were there. She had found a sweet cottage to rent for her family in September in Dittisham and ‘wanted to check it out’, and to see us of course. Despite our concerns re her journey, she did it in 2hrs 40, rather than the expected 4 hrs and was there before us!

So Friday we went upriver to Dittisham to play for the day, despite the bad weather predictions  – lovely lunch overlooking the bay where Dream On waits for us, Dittisham as beautiful as ever, and many happy  hours crabbing on the pontoon in the damp-but-not-actually-raining-most-of-the-time weather, that characterises the British summer.



                           A final – no, really! – farewell to Lucy and family and misty sunset over Dartmouth.

We slept on a mooring in Dittisham that night, and rested there the next day as everyone seemed to be off-colour, possibly tummy-related, not a good way to do a channel crossing. The weather was also wet, windy and miserable. We saw our favourite River Officer, Michael, and he was incensed about a local incident. A local farmer every year for the past 30 years has mown the local cricket pitch out of the goodness of his heart and at his own cost. He arrived this year to find 3 Customs and Excise vans waiting for him, who fined him £250 for using red diesel (that was in his tractor for use around his farm) for non-farm purposes. The community and Michael were incensed, and were organising a protest. We hoped they were successful.

Next day, we set off for Dartmouth downriver to provision, shower and fuel up before leaving the following day, and believe it or not, the engine wouldn’t start. It had been fine when we had started it for hot water that morning, and all the time up till now, but nothing we could do would encourage it. The Net snagging us again! And it always seems to do so just as we decide to leave. Fred hotwired the boat to get us to the yard at the Darthaven marina. A very patient electrician looked at all the switches and wires and cables, as we had, with no result. Then he looked at the engine and found a set of wires that had been taped together instead of being properly joined. One had worked loose and was our culprit. He connected them properly, and after that, it started fine, and no problems since. Fred, after four trips to riggers and chandlers to find the bits, also finished building the stern drive fix so we were all set for leaving on Wednesday 13th July.

So we finally set off for France the next day.


So it’s wristbands on, in with the fenders and off to sea. Goodbye Dartmouth and England.

We had another amazing journey. Not heaps of winds, but not on the nose, calm sea, hot sun all day and with the autopilot on, much reading, sunbathing and snoozing was made possible.


The crew are hard at work, and the sea strangely tartan, calm but definitely tartan, and strangely oily at night.


                                          Simultaneous moonrise and sunset

The night journey was the same – calm sea, and warm air all night – it was quite lovely being on watch with Dream skeetering over the dark sea, wake just visible, taking us on safely to port.  Where we were tied up by 8am on Thursday, safely inside the mole.

(Cap’n Fred’s note – very well behaved ships in the channel this time. There were a lot of them but they did not get in the way as they had crossing back to England last year, possibly as they – or some of them -knew about us this time).


Dream On safe and sound, the main street, where instead of railings in the middle of the road, they say it with flowers. ‘No parking’ is handled the same way – what car is going to argue with a big tub of flowers? A notice in the local supermarket translating Breton to French. Most Bretons hate to be called French.

And here we still are, doing the usual thing – waiting for the weather. It’s been blowing a houlie in the channel (F8)and across Biscay. The swell (15 ft min) and wave heights (12ft min) are far more than we like to sail In, especially down the Chenal du Four. The fact that L’Aber Wrach, normally very busy with South and North going boats, has no boats at all going in or out says a lot about the weather out there.

Again we’ve been visiting our favourite haunts – the Café du Port for breakfast and fresh bread and croissants – so delicious -, the little restaurant we love, L’Ecailler des Abers, tiny and specialising in seafood; in a tiny kitchen, they produce the most exquisite and uniquely delicate flavours, such that everyone wants everyone else’s food as well as their own. 

I had an interesting time trying to buy stamps for England. After looking, Madame of the Café du Port, regrettably said, ‘Je n’en ai plus – I haven’t any more. Ah, I must get some but the Post Office is always shut.’ Ah well, I thought, we’re going to Landeda to shop tomorrow, I’ll get them there. L’Aber-Wrach has no grocery shop – it is quite small – and also seems to lack an open Post Office. I’m not grumbling – because it isn’t ‘developed’, it remains full of character. In Landeda, I asked at the bar-a-tabac, where we usually get them. ‘Ah, je regrette’, she said, Je n’en ai plus. You must go to the Post Office in L’Aber-Wrach’.  I explained what Madame of the Café du Port had said, and with a smile and a very Gallic shrug, she agreed and said, ‘Ah yes, that is true’, ending the conversation. Scratching my head at their acceptance of a mystifying situation, I later found the Post Office had a phone number. Perhaps you have to ring up for a ‘private viewing’ or ask them to post you some stamps.

Fishy Tales (this heading is Jim’s contribution)

Our hearty young Very Strong-and Able-to-withstand-any-weather Seaman and Seamanette are often out fishing while we hunker down hiding from the elements. Despite many attempts and much preparation, stories of grand catches, or in fact any catches, have yet to be substantiated by something on the table for dinner, or even just something on the table. However, late one night 2 days ago, there were cries of great excitement. The line was taut, Jim had hooked something and was having trouble holding it. Out we rushed, me with my camera, and Jim had indeed hooked a veritable Sea Monster – a monster eel, over a metre long and thick. He wrestled hard for his freedom and was diving this way and that, all of us worried for Jim, who, of course, had his fishing gear on i.e. flip-flops and shorts. But Jim was on top of it and after a fearsome struggle, dashing this way and that, he managed to land it. A creature of great cunning, it lay quite still as Jim unhooked it, and the minute it was free, it thrashed its way back to the edge and into the sea, and Jim could not hold it, even with his great big fishing gloves on. But I did get some pics, though it was night-time; and in the most clearly visible one, you can only see the half of it. Not exactly ’on the table’, but pretty impressive anyway.

The Captain’s Fishier Tale

“Twas a dark and stormy night and the captain said to the mate we need a fishy for our tea. So the mate sent the able seaman apprentice and the able Seamanette, who proclaim their enormous fishering skills. They fished and fished for hours and hours and not a fishy was seen. AND then from the deeps rose the sea monster of L’Aber Wrac’h. It took Jim’s hook and sounded to great depths. After hours of battle Jim hauled the beast to the surface where it thrashed and roared. With the rod bent double and the entire crew holding Jim from falling from the ‘ponton’, he brought the beast ashore. It was a mighty eel of 15 meters the like of which has never been seen. With the entire population of the village subduing the creature, Jim cut away the hook. A second later the creature thrashed itself free and wriggled back into the depths from which it had come.”


The sea Monster bites……….         and fights…………..                              and struggles.                     


He darts away…………..                and is finally caught……………     for a few minutes before escaping.

All this horrible weather is set to magically disappear tomorrow, and it is forecast, if one dares believe It, that the whole Bay of Biscay is going to have calm weather for at least a week (!!) with light winds, swell of about 3 ft and the winds N, just where we want them. In view of this, we have decided to miss out our stop in our dearly beloved Port Launay. It would delay our descent South a further 4 days minimum, as it takes a whole day to get there and another to get back. Our plan is to leave tomorrow if it’s calmed down enough, or Thursday if not. Then to anchor up outside Camaret, and from there brave the infamous Raz de Sein and hop as far down as we can while we’ve still got this weather.

So far at 10.55 pm, it’s not looking good – the only yacht that’s gone out, after a couple of tentative tacks at the entrance to the channel out, turned round and came straight back in. And no-one else has come in. It’s still blowing quite strong, and the waters speak of contrary currents and much excitement. We’re rocking inside the mole, inside the marina and down a river.

Many boats gave gone out this am. Though improved it’s misty, murky and raining – not ideal among those rocks out there. They are mostly north-going boats, who are taking their last chance to go North before the Northerlies set in  - the same Northerlies that will hopefully will be carrying us South tomorrow.