A roly poly day at sea…

Roche Bernard – Herbaudiere, Ile Noixmoutier

Friday 3rd August 2012

SW 4-5 (gusting 6) with horrible choppy seas and then rollers. Moderate++.

47NM (Cumulative: 393 NM)

If Pete were writing this blog, it would have a very different flavour.  He thinks we’ve had a cracking day at sea (minus the lock bit), except the shallows at the mouth of the Vilaine, which even he’d concede was horrible!  As a kind of compromise, we have arrived safely.  I wasn’t sea sick.  Nothing is broken.  We are moored alongside our Dutch friends, and all is good.  There you have two versions of a story.  I will now offer a third.  To my mother, read the bit about the lock and then stop, knowing that all is good.  In fact, it’s Friday night, and body and soul have reconnected enough to think it’s time to find a beer! 😉

The lock I found more stressful on the exit.  We had a very smooth, calm exit from Roche Bernard, and we chugged down the river with little wind.  The sun was rising behind us, and there were only three boats moving out for the 08:00 lock.  There are two marinas near the lock, and all sorts of people were popping up and congregating around the lock… which was very firmly shut.  We rafted up against our Dutch friends until the three green lights shone!  On your marks!  The book describes it like a Grand Prix.  The Dutch were joking that they have very good experience of this, as they have it at home.  They were second in.  Respect!  We got completed trapped by a large German in a large boat, who couldn’t seem to hold his boat against the wind.  He completely backed us against the wall.  At which point I screamed, banshee-like, at him across the water.  He took this as a sign to move forwards.  Stress-overload.

The lock keeper, who was excellent, kept on changing his mind as to whether he wanted us in the middle or to starboard.  He settled on starboard.  I hooked the chain first time (one of the few things that seemed to go right today), and had the bow secured.  We were about a meter behind the boat in front.  Pete was on the stern, and rather pinned there.  He kept shouting at me to watch the bow, but it was fine.  That was very stress-making, as I was desperately trying to help a small British boat raft onto us, which he did.  Then the lock keeper wanted him to move, which frazzled the skipper.  “She doesn’t do to well with the motor in small spaces,” he whispered to me.  So, I was trying to hold on to her as long as I could, so that I could help him out.  Pete yelling at me every so often.  In the end, the boat behind knocked off something, so the drama was at the back.  Everyone was twitching, and yet, after 30 minutes of madness, we’re all out.

The tide was on the ebb, flowing out to sea, and we knew that there would be a southwesterly.  We knew that this would bring a chop in the shallow water, the effect of wind blowing one way, and the tides pushing the water the other.  In a maximum of four metres of water, and 20+ knots of wind, the effect is dramatic.  It was a horrendous chop that we ploughed into.  Truly grim.  It can’t be technically classed as rough, as the waves weren’t big enough, but given the available water, it’s a crazy not to define it as such!  I didn’t want to helm, but Pete had to re plot the course out – we were due to head south, and over the rocky shallows, but these weren’t the conditions to do it in. So, I said I’d take the helm.  I was really twitchy, having been pumped with adrenaline in the lock, and now here was some more.  I knew that we were safe, but it was utterly unpleasant.  Even more so, when we punched, no buried ourselves, into a bigger wave which I saw heading up over the spray hood, a moving wall of water, which completely dunked me.  I was dripping wet.  Not exactly a mood-enhancing moment.

We hauled the stay sail, when we reached deeper water (all of 7m), so that we might sail through the seas, generally giving better motion.  It worked, to a degree.  We had a passage to tack through – between the mainland and a small island (Dumet, featured in the Battle of Quiberon Bay).  The trouble was, according to Pete, we didn’t have enough sail up to make speed, as the wind wasn’t constant.  We pounded through the seas, every now and then a big wave almost stopping the boat.  Utterly frustrating, and pretty miserable.  We didn’t deploy the yankee instead, then, because it’s so much harder to tack (a much bigger, heavier sail), and with me getting more pathetic, it was a kind thing of Pete to do – or not do.  Once through the island, Pete set our course for Plan A, an island some way off.  At this point, we switched to the yankee, me being fairly useless in the operation. We were pounding into the sea, sailing at about 35deg to the wind.  I felt the strength leaking from my body, and I knew that I had to shut my eyes and try to rest.  I was fighting rising bile, that metallic taste, the one you most fear as the route to certain seasickness.  I basically conked out for the next four hours – according to Pete.  He changed to Plan B at some point, shaving some 25 NM off our passage.  He woke me to remark on a frenzy of feeding sea birds.  I also watched a fishing boat on the water at some point – him rapidly disappearing and reappearing from sight as the waves rolled on.  I clamped my eyes shut.  At some point, when I was starting to get shivery too, I shifted to the sunny side of the boat – at least, sunny on my legs.  I had a proper sleep then, waking with about 15 minutes to roll.  “Can you do mooring?” Pete asked, tentatively.  “Sure” I replied.  And I did.  It was a lumpy roll into the marina, me having no idea where we were.  Pete said that my boat French caused the mooring lads to chuckle, but I was understood.

And guess where we have landed up?  Next to our Dutch friends.  This time, with us being the ones rafting on them.  I was so happy to see them and know that they’d take our lines.  We are good for a couple of nights, as they will stay too.

Pete tells me that I missed a cracking sail – although he didn’t venture to make any lunch as it was bouncy, and he was skipper and crew out there today.  We were scooting along.  Fast is good, you see.  Apparently 10knots over the ground when surfing down waves…. Yep, that’ll be when I was trying to move out of body (and succeeding).

So, we’re in a new district, the Vendee, in a somewhat massive marina, a bit concrete at first appearance, and we are about as near the harbour entrance as you can get.  No matter.  It was good boat watching this afternoon, that and noticing the ever flattening of the sea.  We will go and explore tomorrow, there’s a town about 5km away.  We’re on an island, connected by a road bridge.  If they hired bikes at the port, we might have done that, but a long walk feeling the ground beneath my feet will probably give me much delight.