48 16.800N 004 35.314W
Date: Monday22nd June 2015
Position: Cameret-sur-Mer, France
This will be by way of a catch up blog, as I know I have been rather remiss in keeping a regular account of my progress. In my defence though, I have had a number of issues to deal with along the way. I left you mid channel halfway between Guernsey and L’Aberwrac’h on the French coast. I left Guernsey at 10.30 am on Tuesday 16th June. It was a lovely sunny day but the wind was very light so I had to motor the 22 hours to L’Aberwrac’h. The new autopilot was working great and everything seemed to be going well for once. I arrived at L’aberwrac’h at 8 am the next morning and the harbourmaster showed me to a rather difficult mooring on the pontoon right in the corner but with a little manoeuvring I came alongside and made fast.
I had been told that there was not a great deal at L’Aberwrac’h and indeed there isn’t. A large sailing school, a few restaurants, that never seemed to be open and most importantly of all, a bar. Apparently, there was a supermarket 2 km up the hill but I had enough supplies on board for a couple of days so I did not need anything extra and saved myself the trip. I had a couple of beers in the bar while I looked at the pilot book and tide times for the next days sail down the Chenal du Four, the first of two difficult areas to past. The Chenal du Four and the Raz de Sein are two of Europe’s nastier tidal races and can be dangerous areas for small craft especially in bad weather. Some of you may have seen a fantastic photo taken from a helicopter during a storm. It’s looking down at a lighthouse with the lighthouse keeper standing in an open doorway at the bottom and a huge wave breaking around him about one third up the lighthouse. That was taken in the Raz de Sein. The weather for the next day it seemed to be fair for making the passage to Cameret-sur-Mer but I would need to leave at 7 am local time to take advantage to the south going tide in the Chenal du Four. With that sorted, I finished my beer and made my way back to the boat for a well-deserved rest.
The French are really good at getting young children involved in sports/hobbies. I remember when I was a biker the club I belong to was twinned with a club at Saint-Lo in Normandy. They had a clubhouse in the town and at weekends families would come down and teach their children to ride on the small motorbikes the club owned. It is the same principle in all the coastal towns I have visited in France except of course it is sail rather than motorcycling the children get involve with. I observed them for a while and I noticed that the instructors did not mollycoddle the kids. They would let them get in trouble, nothing serious of course, which meant the kid had to work the problem out themself which is good grounding in any discipline. The French do seem to be very family orientated.
I caught up on my sleep and arose late afternoon and did a bit of housekeeping. Soon after an old wooden boat moored alongside me with three Frenchmen on board. I said hello to the Skipper whose name was Francois. They all looked a little bedraggled so I offered them a whiskey and Francois invited me on board. Soon the cured sausage and peanuts appeared and we had a good chat in the cockpit. All three of them were retired. Francois and one of the other chaps were from Paris and Francois’s cousin, the other, was from Bordeaux. Francois owned two of the four shares in the boat that had been built in 1936 and was still a great sailing boat. Modern is not always better! His companions did not own the other two share of the boat but joined Francois once or twice during the season for a sailing trip.
Once we had finished the decanter, which didn’t take long, I left them to tidy up their boat but before leaving Francois invited me to supper that evening. The supper was a simple affair, rice and onions served with pan-fried Mackerel that they had caught that day. This was follow with the traditional Camembert and finished with a pot of pudding of some sort. All washed down with red wine that was labelled with the name of the boat. Simple but all very tasty! I left them around 11 pm and went to bed. The next morning I woke at 6 am and looked out to be greeted by fog that had descended during then night. Visibility was reduced to around 300 metres but I had radar so I was not too concerned about delaying my departure, besides which I had a tidal gate to make in the Chenal du Four. Francois and his crew were preparing to leave so we said our goodbyes and shortly after they slipped their lines and were off. I followed half an hour later with the radar on and keeping a good lookout. Once away from the marina I attempted to put up the mainsail but encountered a problem. I put a reef in when I left Studland Bay but had not used the mainsail since so the reef was still in. I tried to shake it out but the thing was stubborn as hell. In the end I decided to leave it in and deal with the problem later. After leaving Libenter and Portsall cardinal marks to Port and passing Le Four light, I entered the Chenal du Four proper. The conditions were reasonably benign and I was making good progress until I heard a grinding sound coming from the drive unit of the autopilot. I tried several time to get it working properly but each time I engaged the pilot a few moments later the grinding noise would start again so I turned it off altogether and took the helm myself. The problem for a solo sailor is steering for long periods of time, which is why it is essential to get the autopilot working properly. Still, on this occasion it was only another 15 miles to Cameret-sur-Mer so I was not overly concerned. I eventually passed Saint-Mathieu point and cleared away for Cameret-sur-Mer about an hour away. I arrived at 3 pm and took a mooring in the outer marina on the inside. Visiting yachts are not allowed in the inner harbour, which is for local craft only. Once I got the boat shipshape I took a walk into town. I was not overly impressed at first. It is a small Breton town with a seafront about half a mile long. The front is full of bars and restaurants and on the Thursday I arrived it seemed pretty dead. That day I did not venture further than the front but it seemed to me that the inner town was just residential. The next day I did a bit more exploring and found that the back streets beyond the front were filled with art galleries of all kinds. There is obviously a big art community to be found in the area. After a few more days decided my first impression had been unfair as the town grew on me more and more each day.
I called into the sail maker to enquire if there was an engineer in Cameret and he very kindly gave me the details of a chap near the marina. On my way back I called into his office but it was closed form 12 noon to 1.30 pm. It was now 1.20 pm so I decided to wait until he returned. As I was waiting this English chap, Vernon, turned up also looking for an engineer. We had a brief chat and he explained he had a problem with his drive belts on his engine. He was just about to take on a long passage and wanted an engineer to take a look before he left. He was anxious to get back to his boat though and asked me if I would ask the engineer to visit his boat that afternoon which I agreed to do. At 2.15 pm the engineer finally returned from lunch. You’ve got to love the French and their laid back ways. Anyway, I explained my problem to him but he said he could not do anything that day but to call back at 9.30 am on Monday morning. Vernon had seemed pretty anxious to get his problem sorted as he wanted to leave fairly promptly so I did not relish the thought of telling him the engineer was not available that day. I got to his boat and explained the situation but said that if he wanted an second opinion I would be happy to take a look, not that I am any kind of engineer. He showed me the problem, which was quite simple really and why between him and his two crewmates they could not solved it themselves I couldn’t understand. Basically, the alternator belt was fine and still had plenty of adjustment left. The water pump belt on the other hand was very loose and was at its limit for adjustment. In practice the water pump belt is never under a very heavy load as all it does is turn a rubber impeller to drive the water through the cooling system for the engine. However, the belt was at the end of its useful life and really needed changing. I explained this to Vernon who seemed a little agitated at my confirming his theory. I couldn’t leave the chap like that so I asked him if he had a new belt and any tools, which he duly produced. He offered me a cup of tea and I set to with the tools. By the time he handed me my tea, I had whipped the cover off the engine, removed the alternator belt and was working on the water pump belt. Getting the water pump belt off proved to be a bit more difficult. I worked out the only way it could be done was to remove the pulley wheel but the locking nut holding it in place was stuck solid. I tried using a pair of molegrips to hold the wheel in place but I was concerned about putting to much pressure on the wheel and breaking it. I then tried to grip the belt with the molegrips to clamp the wheel but only succeeded in jamming the belt tight between the wheel and cover. The only way to remove it was to cut it and when I asked Vernon if he minded he looked at me horrified. Anyway, he gave his permission and before he could change his mind I cut the belt in two. After removing the belt I looked at the problem of undoing the nut again. We found an old piece of wood that I shaved down at one end and jammed this between the wheel and outer cover. It gave me just enough purchase to get the nut moving and within moments the wheel was off. There’s always more than one way to skin a cat! The rest of the job was simple, install the new belt and put everything back together again, job done. I walked away rather pleased with myself for having helped a fellow sailor out. Lord knows, enough people have help me in the passed so it is only right to pay back in kind when you can.
Vernon was very pleased and had offered to take me out for a beer so I caught up with him later. He was a very interesting man. He was now 76 but had retired at 53 from his job as a banker with Citibank in London. I didn’t hold this against him, as it was a long before the bankers had us all over. After retiring he had taken up car racing for some years and then brought his boat a British Hunter that he had sailed through all shorts of conditions. He had kept it at Lagos in Portugal for many years but was now bringing it back to the UK with his crew of two. As we sat and had a beer I reckon he had been a bit of a lad in his time as whenever a young lady passed by he would raise his eyebrow in appreciation and made the occasional comment. I was amazed when he told me that he had had a stroke fifteen year ago. Once he had told me I could tell, but only very slightly, as on occasions he would forget the names of places or people that frustrated him. But he was a living example that even if you have a stroke it doesn’t mean that life is over. You should always follow your dreams. We were then joined by his two crewmates and then went off for dinner at a restaurant they had found in a square just off the front. They left early the next morning.
On Saturday the boredom was broken by a little excitement. I was boarded by French Custom officers. Their mother ship had anchored outside the harbour and four officers had come ashore in a rib. They spent half an hour or so walking up and down the pontoon looking at various boats and just as I thought nothing more of it they came up to me and asked to board. The Chief asked me for the ships papers and my passport whilst two other officers gave a cursory inspected below decks. After about fifteen minutes my papers were handed back to me, they thanked me for my cooperation and left to board the next British flagged boat. It’s all right Bobby, they didn’t find the 77 Port.
Sunday I decided to have a day on the boat rather than going into town and spending any more money. I had everything I needed food wise and Vernon had given me a case of beer as a thank you so I was well stocked. Anyway, a day saved on the budget would be welcome. I set about shaking the reef out in the mainsail that I mentioned earlier. After sorting the lines out it proved to be a simple job. At the beginning of a season it always take a few times of rising and lowering the sails before everything starts to run smoothly. As the wind was very light I also took the opportunity to see what my new sail looked like which, to date, I had not even taken out of the bag. As part of the refit I had had a removable inner forestay fitted to the foredeck and Kemp Sails in Wareham had made me a heavy weather jib for sailing upwind. The forestay could also be used for a storm jib should the occasion ever arise. I pottered about the boat until around 4 pm and was just settling down for a well-earned cold beer when I looked across the bay and saw lots of coloured stalls set up along the front. I had not noticed them before so I decided to go and investigate. Ann would have loved it. Stalls all fully of the usual tat that nobody really wants, but always seem to end up buying anyway. I wasn’t in the market for tat but I was on the prowl for food stalls. Now, as anyone who knows me will tell you I love good food. I resolved not to buy too much though if I did come across a stall but perhaps a little nibble of something with a cold beer before supper might be nice. There were two stalls selling food. One sold mostly pastries but did have a selection of cured sausage on the side. The other sold all smoked products, fish, various styles of ham and duck. Neither stall looked particularly inviting and when I saw the man behind the smoked produce counter smoking a large cigar my days as a health inspector kicked in and I shuddered. But I am a sucker for smoked duck and even though it was expensive I brought half a breast for 7 euros. I then called in at the other stall and picked up three cured sausages, bison, rabbit and pork for 10 euros. I returned to the boat poured a cold beer and cut a few slices of the smoked duck breast and rabbit sausage to go with it. The duck was the most incredible flavour and texture I have tasted. It was heavily smoked but the flesh had retained the texture of almost being raw, just like smoked salmon. It ate just like fillet stake. I finished the last pieces and the thought suddenly hit me that I only had enough left for the next day. I shouldn’t should I, I couldn’t could I but then again I might not find such a delicacy again. It was now 6 pm and the stalls were beginning to pack away. If I were quick I might just make it, so I leapt off the boat and legged it into town again. I was just in time as the proprietor was beginning to pack away. I selected the biggest smoked duck breast I could find, paid for it and returned. I tried the bison sausage next and it too was fantastic! No, I couldn’t do it again could I, but this time I knew couldn’t because I had already clocked that the sausage man had packed up and left on my second trip into town, c’est la vie. Not bad for a man who was not going to spend any money today. Not only have I blown todays budget but most of tomorrows as well, 31 euros on smoked duck and sausage, it was worth every penny though. Anyway, for supper I knocked together a frittata. I had one courgette left, one red onion, cooked potatoes from the night before, sausage (from Guernsey), a tomato, garlic, Palma ham and three eggs. Put it all together and there you go you have supper (see photo below). Are you getting the idea I really like my food!
Today, Monday 22nd June, is dobby day or laundry day in army parlance. I have put the washing on in the laundrette and am now sitting in the La Tourine bar having a cup of coffee writing this blog. The engineer called this morning and came to the conclusion that, in his words, the drive unit was tired, buggered is the phase I would use! However, after thirty-six years I am not really surprised. He is researching a replacement but how long it will take is another matter.
So that brings you all up to date with what has been happening at this end. I hope I can get away from here soon as my timetable is slipping away.
Bye for now.
Signing off Ted.
PS The French chaps opposite me from the big sailing training boat have just given me two spider crabs. What are you having for supper tonight?
Ted arrives at Cameret in one of his previous boats. Lets hope this one holds up as well!
Frittata a al Ted Looking forward to these tonight