update blog

Thu 2 Jul 2015 21:35

Date:                Monday 22nd June 2015


Position:          Cameret-sur-Mer, France



I woke up this morning to a pretty miserable day in Cameret after two days of brilliant sunshine. The sky was overcast and it was drizzling, that very fine drizzle that you take no notice of but before long soaks everything in sight.  I am still no further along with my autopilot problem.  I speak to the engineer everyday to find out what is happening but to no avail.  I have managed to work out that there are three parties involved, the engineer in Cameret, who is dealing with a French marine supplier, who in turn is dealing with a company in the UK.  I later found out this was Lewmar so I could have spoke with them myself and saved some time if I had known but hay ho. that’s the way it goes!  For the last four days the engineer has come down to the boat at around 4 pm requiring more information.  Out comes the tape measure, notes are made and he leaves me saying he needs to make a telephone call and will come back to me.  Now, rather naively I thought this meant he was going back to his office to the make a phone call and would be back later that afternoon with further news.  No, what it actually meant was that he was going home for dinner and would forget about my problem until I chased him up the next day.  I deliberately didn’t chase him until the afternoon because I did not want to antagonise him after all I was in his hands to a certain extent.  For the last three afternoons I have been back to his office for an update to find him working on another projects.  As soon as he sees me he stops what he is doing and says he will make a phone call which he does and then informs me the other party will call him back and he will let me know what is happening.  Somehow, this return phone call never happens until the next day when yet again I have called into his office for an update.  Twenty-four hours to return a phone call, no wonder the French economy is down the toilet.  On Friday I took, by what had now become my daily routine, a walk to his office in the afternoon and exactly the same scenario happened.  Off he went to make the phone call and when he came back he informed me that the other company would call back in an hour and he would come down to the boat to speak to me.  This was at 3.30 pm and I waited on the boat until 5.30 pm, which is when I knew he closed, for him to return.  Nothing, not a sausage! I thought bugger this he’s giving me the run around. He didn’t work on a Saturday, or so I thought, which meant nothing would happen until Monday and the whole scenario would start again.  So I decided that I was time to move on and planned to leave mid morning on Saturday and go the Brest, a city, which I hoped would have better facilities.  Thinking he would not call Saturday morning I had a lay in and rose at about 10 am.  As I looked out into the cockpit I saw some papers laying there and picked them up to have a look.  Finally, we were getting somewhere. The information had been downloaded from the internet and show the replacement motor that Lewmar, the UK company, were recommending for my boat.  There was also another hand written figure at the top of the page and through my blurred morning vision I thought it must be the model number as it was that long.  I wiped the sleep from my eyes, put on my glasses and looked again.  I had to quickly grab hold of the table to stop me from falling over.  It wasn’t the model number at all it was the price!  Ma Ma Mia!  I took a few moment to gather my sense I concluded that it was a case of Hobson’s choice.  I must have a reliable working autopilot so I had no alternative but to go ahead.  How the hell was I going to go back to Ann yet again with cap in hand to asking for more money for what is, essentially my hobby.  The money I have sunk, I hope that is not appropriate saying, into this project is not inconsiderable but Ann has always supported me and once again she understood the issues involved.  I can see a massive bunch of flowers on the way, although her car is coming to the end of its useful life so she may have some leverage to play with at some stage.


I confirmed the order with the engineer this morning, Monday 29th June, so hope to have it fitted and be away by this Thursday.  About time, although I have grown to appreciate the delights of Cameret I am getting itchy feet and its time to move on.  The drive unit turned up on Tuesday afternoon and he came down to offer it up for the first fitting.  Inevitably, there were a few modifications to be made but by Wednesday morning the drive unit was fitted securely in place.  The only remaining issue was the chain.  The chain supplied with the unit was to big for the existing sprocket and the existing chain was to short for the new drive.  So off he went again saying he would be back, yer, right!  Thursday 2nd July I should have been away but guess what, it is 4 pm and I am still waiting.  I have just seen him on the way back from town and he said he would come and see me next.  Lets see shall we.


Anyway, what else has been happening during my stay in Camerert.  Now I have time to settle into shipboard life without the distraction of a time limit as such, I have been observing the different nationalities their attitude towards sailing.  The French have always been very keen on sailing.  It would be a hard call to say which was more popular, sailing or cycling although I suspect cycling would just clinch it.  However, I have noticed that when it comes to arriving and leaving a pontoon they are the worst of all the nations and seem to make rather meal of it.  I will give you a couple of examples.  The other day a French sailboat was coming alongside the pontoon to moor up.  There were four people on board two men and two ladies.  On first observation they looked pretty well set to take on the manoeuvre.  Their fenders were out and the two ladies had lines in their hands ready to jump ashore and make fast.   To make things even easier, two chaps who were already on the pontoon made themselves available to take the lines from the ladies, something we yachties tend to do to help each other out.  There was a slight off shore breeze so they would have to get the lines attached sharpish but apart from that and bearing in mind the amount of people involved, the manoeuvre should have been quite simple.  So as the skipper brought the boat alongside the lady on the stern handed her line to the man ashore who made fast the stern, then the lady on the bow throws her line to man at the bow but misses him.  She quickly pulls the line back in and tries to throw it again but by now the wind had started to push the bow off the pontoon and after one more failed attempt the skipper had no alternative but to ask the man ashore to let go his stern line and start the manoeuvre all over again.  Second time round the skipper lines up for his run in, the stern line was successfully thrown and made fast and the lady at the bow threw her line which was caught by the man on the pontoon.  The only problem was, she had not attached the line to the boat so the man on the pontoon stood there holding a line with no boat at the end of it shaking his head.  Inevitably, the wind took hold of the bow again so the whole process had to be started over. Third time around they were successful, although I did hear what I thought must have been some French expletives emanating from the skippers mouth.


The second example was only yesterday, Saturday 27th June.  A small trimaran with two men on board sailed into the marina under a headsail, quite impressive and generally a sign of good seamanship.  As they got further into the marina the headsail was furled and the skipper went to start the engine but this is when it all went tits up (excuse my French).  Quite often such boats do not have inboard engines and use an outboard instead.  This means you have to lean over the stern to pull the cord to start the engine and sometimes it takes a couple of pulls to get the thing started. The engine would not start first time so the skipper could not slow the boat down which still had a fair amount of way on.  Whilst the skipper was frantically trying to start the engine the crewman was bounding about the deck like a headless chicken trying, I assume, to get himself in a position to fend off any dangers.  Both their attempts were pitiful.  First, they t-boned the last boat on the pontoon right in front of them, a new Bavaria I think, whose skipper was not best pleased.  When the engine did finally fired up the skipper immediately threw it into reverse and revved the hell out of it only just missing the boat on the pontoon behind him.  Finally, with a little control restored he managed to come alongside in front of me but not before crashing into the pontoon first and scraping all down the side of his starboard float.  You can imagine that as soon as I saw he was heading for the space in front of me I was there ready on the pontoon to take his lines, not for the usual pleasantry reason you understand, but because I didn’t want the idiot to hit Celtic Dawn. 


The final example happened also happened yesterday.  I was relaxing in the forepeak having a little afternoon snooze like you do, when I heard and felt a slight jolt.  It didn’t feel like the boat pushing against the fenders shore-side so something else must have caused a bump.  I got up and looked aft through the cockpit and saw a French boat with its bow very close to my stern.  The boat was just leaving so I could not be sure if the skipper had hit me or not but he was extremely close to me as he left.  But that wasn’t the issue.  The elderly husband and wife couple on he boat behind the one that just left decided to move their boat nearer to mine.  No problem. They released the shorelines and started to move the boat backwards towards me under warps (ropes), with the husband on the bow line and the wife on the stern line.  There was no wind so conditions were ideal but as the boat started to move to stern I was concerned that the husband had not prepared a spring line to stop the boat from moving to far back.  He merrily heaved away pulling the boat along and I could see that the wife was going struggle to slow the weight of the boat down and before I could do anything his stern hit mine.  Now in normal circumstances I would not have been overly concerned as the bump was not all that hard but his boat had a sugar scoop stern, (the bottom of the stern sticks out further than the top so it looks like a sugar scoop), and it was the back of this that hit my Aries windvane on the swinging arm, the most sensitive area and the most easily damaged.  Already agitated by the thought that the other boat had hit me on leaving and they had just done the same thing, I expressed my dismay in rather strong terms, although I did not swear.  They both looked at me as if to say, “what’s your problem mate” and didn’t even offer any apology.  Sometimes people can really irritate you!


This morning, Sunday 28th June, I woke up with the noise of thunder in my ears.  I thought it must be a thunderstorm and got up to make sure that all the port lights and hatches were closed.  But when I got on deck it was a brilliant sunny morning.  After coming too a bit more and assessing the situation it appeared to me that this must be bike day in Cameret.  I walked into town and there were motorbikes everywhere, at least a thousand or more I would say.  The rally was very well organised with areas closed off for bikes and marshals at every point directing the traffic.  Having been a biker myself for many years, I had a good look around to see if there were any of the models I used to own among the throng.  There was a Honda Goldwing 1200 Aspencade.  I had owned two versions of this bike, the basic 1200 Aspencade and the Limited Edition, which came in a gold paint job and had fuel injection rather than naturally aspirated carburettors.  The limited edition was a great bike.  Next I looked around for a 1500 Goldwing.  There were a number of them around. One or two had been converted into trikes or had sidecars attached to them which, because of the size of engine, the Goldwing had lent itself to this kind of modification.  I once knew of a setup in the UK consisting of a 1500 Goldwing with sidecar attached towing a small caravan.  Yes, that’s right a caravan.  The whole setup was colour coordinated and must have cost a small fortune to build.  Each to his own though, I suppose!  The latest incarnation of the Goldwing is the 1800 version and is supposed to the best handing Goldwing of them all.  I had already moved into sailing as a hobby by the time this model was introduced so I have never ridden one.  Maybe one day if I work hard enough on Ann!


Then there were the Harley Davidsons.  I had owned a Heritage Softail once for about a year.  It was a beautiful looking bike with a black and cream paint job and whitewall tires.  I still love the look of a Harleys as a piece of art but as a bike to ride? That’s another matter.  What really put me off of owning one though was the image.  Not, as you might imaging, that of a traditional hairy biker stroke Hells Angel type, but quite the opposite.  A friend of mine who owned a Harley Fatboy, Kevin Rex, and I were thinking about joining HOG (the Harley Owners Group).  For a start the name,  HOG seamed a bit pretentious and that should have been the first clue.  We found out that a meeting of Kent HOG was taking place at a country pub near Maidstone in late September and decided to go along to check it out.  We turned up on our bikes and were surprised to find hardly any other Harleys in the car park.  We looked at each other and thought it couldn’t be much of a group if this were anything to go by.  When we got inside there was another surprise waiting for us.  The pub was full of bikers all dressed up in leather gear with colourful badges on their backs displaying the name of their Chapter.  For the less initiated, Hells Angels used to divide themselves into rival groups each called a Chapter and each with its own logo which was displayed on the back of their jackets.  As we looked around we saw the Maidstone Chapter, the Old Farts Chapter, etc., etc., you get the picture.  Rather puzzled we wondered where all the bikes were?  We got our answer when we left the pub.   As the assembled crowed started to leave they took off their leather jackets, opened up the boots of their BMWs, Mercs, Jags and Porches and carefully folding the jackets, laid them neatly in the boot of their cars and drove off.  Respectable citizens during the week but plastic Hells Angel at the weekend?  Not for me thank you very much and I sold my Harley a few months later.  Mind you this was not my only reason for selling the bike.  It may have looked great but it rode like a piece of junk!  Any Harley owner will tell you the first thing you do is take your bike to a mechanic to uprate the engine to get more power out of it.  Now you have made it go faster you have to fit breaded steel brake lines and new brake callipers to make it stop. At the same time why not add a few flashy chrome bits to dress it up.  What a great business to have created, sell a crap brand new bike to a customer and then sell them all the aftermarket products as well.  Harley Davidsons got this nailed.


Anyway, to get back to the present, Harleys lined the front of Cameret from one end two the other.  All the models with all manner of modifications and in all manner of paint jobs.  What a spectacular sight!  As I walked around I observed groups of bikers huddled around various bikes, pointing at things on the engine as a very authoritative looking person held court.  I could imagine the conversation “ye mate, I had the cylinders bored out and fitted 106 inch stroker kit from S&S.  Of course I had to modify the what-you-ma-call-it, attached to the thingy-ma-jig that makes the thingy-ma-bob go round but it has given me an extra 10 bhp”.  The assembled disciples were hanging on his every word, offering the odd comment here and there and asking more questions to the delight of the Guru, who was more than happy to talk about his pride and joy.  I know this type of conversation, as over the years I have been involved in many, usually as one of the disciples not the Guru.  You can even see huddles of men gathered around boats in marinas doing exactly the same thing.  I guess all hobbies have there “you didn’t want to do it like that mate you wanted to do it like this” men to help you out.  Anyway, the bikers have all gone now so peace and tranquillity has once again descended on Camerert.  What is that you ask, what’s for supper tonight?  Salted and chilli cod served with a salsa dressing followed by beef nnnnnnnnnnnn all of my own making.


There has been a rather colourful yellow boat moored here for the last week that appeared to be owned by what we would term travellers.  They are in fact a troop of street performers that sail from port to port putting on shows for reduced mooring fees and other considerations.  I think there are two families with small children and another couple in total.  Anyway, they are putting on a show at 10 pm to night so I thought I would go into town to check it out.  The show starts with a kind of Town Crier.  I have been told that it has long been the tradition in France for street performers to visit the bars and restaurants in the town during the day, inviting the population to make written comments, statements etc. on any subject they liked.  These could be political statements or just plain funny comments about life in the town or any other subject they could think of.  The show starts off with the Master of Ceremonies reading these out and obviously making them funny and generally playing up to the audience.  A kind of later day satire I suppose!  This was followed by a mime act with two men, a comedy duo, trying to erect a screen for the film show to come later.  Then finally the evening ended with the screen-show itself, which was a combination of mime acting, shadow puppetry and music.  Quite interesting really but as I don’t speak French a lot of it was lost on me so I moved on before the end.


During the evening I met a French chap called Matthew who spoke really good English and we got involve in conversation.  He was in his early thirties and was a Historian specializing in both the First and Second world wars.  He’d spent some time lecturing on the subject but now work as an independent tour guide taking groups of people on tours of the Breton area.  He was originally from Normandy and the reason he spoke such good English was because he used to take groups of American veterans on tours of the landing beaches and the war cemeteries there.  As the evening progressed, and after a few more beers, he told me two stories that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  His grandfather was a farmer but had also been a member of the French resistance during the last war, engaged in the usual underground activities such as blowing up rail lines, disrupting communications and generally being a pain in the arse to the Germans.  Anyway, a local neighbour of his had desires on his land and reported him and two of his fellow resistance members to the Gestapo.  The Gestapo came to his grandfather’s farm to arrest him.  They beat his grandmother up, who was pregnant at the time, threw her into the corner and then took his grandfather away for interrogation.  You can imagine what the Germans did to him and the two other resistance men before they were sent to a death camp.  His grandfather was put into forced labour by the Germans but rather than be part of the German war effort he put his hand in the machine he was working to disable himself and lost two fingers into the bargain.  At the end of the war the Russians finally liberated the camp he was in and he returned home three years after he had been taken away.  His wife did not recognize him at first. The other two resistance men did not return home. The story does not end there though.  One night his grandfather and two other men visited the home of the collaborator who had reported them to the Gestapo.  They took him for a walk in the woods where he still remains today.  Apparently, there are some twenty five thousand similar stories of reprisals against collaborators although it is not a subject much talked about in France.  I guess to fully understand stories like this you would have to have lived in one of the occupied countries.


The second story he told me was really poignant as Ann and I have visited the village concerned. During his studies as a historian he had had the privilege of meeting one of only two survivors of the atrocity the Germans perpetrated at Oradour-sur-Glane.  The man, Robert Hebras, who was sixteen at the time of the atrocity, guided him around the village where it took place.  The village has been left exactly as it had been when the Germans left and at the end of the war General De Gaulle declared it a national monument to remain untouched forever.  A new village has been built 100 metres away and there is a Memory Centre telling this appalling story of mans inhumanity to man.    


Just like the concentration camps in Poland you can visit, it has a very eerie and disturbed feel to it.  The D-Day landings had taken on the 6th June 1944 and the allied forces were making inroads in to Normandy.  Resistance activity throughout France had been stepped up to cause as much disruption as possible in order to aid the allies.  On the 10th June 1944 the Commander of the SS Das Reich division decided to take measures to deter further French resistance activities in his area.  On the 9th June 1944, 99 resistance fighters had been hanged in Tulle.   On the morning 10th June, troops from the 3rd company of the 1st Battalion Panzergrenadier commanded by Major Adolf Diekmann of the 4th SS-Panzer-Regiment Das Reich entered the village of Oradour-sur-Glane and began to put roadblocks in place to stop anyone from leaving the village.  After the Germans arrived the local policeman informed the residents that they must all, without exception and without delay, make their way to the Place du Champ de Foire, (the fairground or village green) located at inside the village, carrying their papers for an identity check. The villagers were not overly concerned at the time because this was quite a common practice for Germans to check papers but this day was to end differently, much differently.  The troops searched each house and the outlying farms and made everyone go the village green where the women and children were separated from the men, marched down to the church and locked in.  The men and boys were divided into six groups and taken to various locations around the village mostly barns where they too where locked in.  When the barn doors opened up again they were machine-gunned to death.  Those that did manage to escape from the barns were soon caught and put to death.  The father and uncle of the Robert Hebras stood in front of him to give him some protection.  They were both killed instantly and fell on top of the boy who was soaked in blood of his father and uncle.  He had been hit in the arm but survived the initial onslaught of the machine gun.  Next, a German officer went around with his pistol shooting the bodies in the head ensuring there were no survivors.  Luckily, the officer missed him.  Finally, the Germans set about burning the bodies by setting fire to faggots of straw and scattering them about the bodies, some of whom were still alive.


The fate of the women and girls was even more horrific.  Rather than waste bullets on them, the German SS men set up a box in the Nave with fuses leading from it.  They lit the fuses and withdrew.  The box was supposed to produce poison gas but something went wrong and it exploded into flames.  In the following mayhem the SS troops opened fire and began to throw faggots of straw, chairs and anything else that would burn into the church to finish the jib off.  Only one woman escaped the carnage, Marguerite Rouffanche.   In total 642 French men women and children lost their lives that day. It was three days before anyone from the surrounding towns or villages dared to enter Oradour-sur-Glane.  I cannot begin to imagine how they felt as they entered the village and were greeted by the horrific sight.  There were the burned bodies of five family members found in the baker’s oven an in a well on a nearby farm many bodies unable to be identified where left as a mass grave.  After searching for survivors, the young boy was eventually found crawling among the dead bodies and the woman in a hedgerow not far from the church.  For a historian it must have been a unique experience to hear the account first hand from one of the survivors.  Sorry the be on such a downer but I feel it is necessary to remember what people had to endure to give us the freedom we so casually forget these days.


Forgive the ramblings of an old man but I am just filling in time while I am waiting here in Cameret.  There is one other person I have met that I should mention who sums up the very spirit of sailing.  His name is Daniel and he is the skipper of the sail training boat I mentioned in an earlier blog, the chap who gave me the spider crabs for supper.  The name of the boat is Belle Etoille, which translates into Beautiful Star, and despite looking very old she is in fact a replica of a lobster fishing boat that used to work out of Cameret the early part of the last century.  She was built in Cameret by a consortium of businessmen in the 1990’s and is leased to a company who now run her as a business and it is for this company that Daniel works.  I had done my usual regarding supper, I had seen some rabbit in the butchers and decided to make a rabbit stew.  The problem with stews is that to get any real flavour you need to have a good size pot of it and as Ann will tell you when I cook stew I generally cook for am army.  So it was I ended up with a big pot of rabbit stew with just me for supper.  So as a thank you for the spider crabs I invited Daniel and his mate Sam to join me for supper and they readily agreed.  Sam was waiting for his girlfriend to arrive and we decided not to eat until she arrived.  This was at 7.30 pm and by 9.45 pm we were all hungry so we started to eat just when she turned up.  I had an interesting conversation with Daniel.  He was fifty and had been married before with a nineteen-year-old daughter.  His second wife was much younger than him and he had a three-year-old daughter with her.  I remembered I had seen a young woman and a child on the boat for a few days after I arrived so I assumed this was they.  His wife and daughter were currently visiting her mother and this was why he was alone.   I mentioned the travelling street performers on the yellow boat and he told me that he had also started life as an actor.  He had worked for a very well known company in Paris with a renowned director but eventually left because of the internal politics.  He set up his own company of street performers travelling the county for the next ten years.  There were four in the troop, three dressed up as various animals walking around on stilts as he directed them like a Ringmaster.   I got the impression that during these years he had accidentally fallen into property development.   He’d brought a property in a down beat suburb of Paris and renovated it to live in.  The area suddenly became a very trendy area to live and property prices went through the roof.  So he sold up and moved onto the next project and did the same thing again.  At the age of forty he had never sailed before in is life but took up the offer to accompany a friend on a trans Atlantic crossing.  He fell in love with the sea there and then and is determined to make his life one way or another on the sea.  He does not own a house and spends his time living between Belle Etoille and his campervan.  There was something a little spiritual about him when he talk of the sea and this reminded me of Bernard Moitessier a famous French sailor.  We have the likes of Sir Frances Chichester and Sir Robin Knox-Johnson and the French have Bernard MoitessierIn 1968 Moitessier participated in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, the first round the world yacht race.  There were two prizes up for grabs, the first of which was for the first person to sail around the world non-stop and the second prize to the person who did it in the fastest time.  Knox-Johnson entered along with the likes of Chay Blyth who, incidentally, had never sailed in his life, but thought he could learn on the way round.  It was billed as a race for mad men which, as it turned out, was quite apt as indeed one man did go mad, Donald Crowhurst, but more about him another day.  Anyway, with the fastest circumnavigation time, Moitessier was the likely winner.  He had rounded Cape Horn and was making his way north up the Atlantic but found himself so in tune with the sea and his boat that he turned around and elected to continue onto Tahiti again and not return to the start line in England, rejecting the idea of the commercialization of long distance sailing.


Anyway, that all for now I hope to be on my way tomorrow.


Bye for now.


Signing off Ted.


Belle Etoille                                                                        Watch out the bikers are in town 


The Street performers boat                                                 Salt and Chilli Cod with Salsa (thanks Steve one of you best recipes)