The furthest point south….

Herbaudiere, Ile Noirmoutier – Port Joinville, Ile d’Yeu

Sunday 5thAugust 2012

SW 4-5 with short, quick, lumpy seas… moderate with the occasional “woah” rollers

33NM (Cumulative: 426 NM)

I think we were both happy to be leaving concrete central of the Herbaudiere – the main town was enchanting, but there?  Not really.  We were up and busying to leave, but Pete was really stressed.  I haven’t seem him so uncomfortable in a while.  It had been a night of unrest, squeaking constantly against the line of fenders as a defence on either side of us.  It seemed to be a constant reminder of the horrible mooring yesterday.Just about as quickly as we could, we were all packed up and ready to leave.  The wind was behind us, meaning that we couldn’t just back up and go.  She kicks to port, so the pivot point was on the back of the metal boat… Yep.  We were facing the same in reverse.  I took one of his flimsy fenders, and tied it to the point of impact, and then we were to go.  Pete knew exactly what was going to happen, and had given me precise instruction.  On casting us off, I was to go to the port side, and pull towards the offending metal boat!  Completely counter intuitive!  It’s normally the other way, when you’re trying to fend off.  So, as well as I could, I clung to the rails of the boat as we slowly edged back.  This was my sole job, that and saying when we were clear of the bow.  I thought that we might back out, the wind having chased the stern, so I was deeply impressed as Pete edged slowly so that we could go out forwards.  We’d done it.  I think Pete did a brilliant job; I felt very proud of him.

As we exited the harbour, as I was stowing the fenders, I saw the lady from the Dutch boat.  I waved, Pete waved, she waved.  We all waved for the longest time.  I felt quite sad.  People we’d shared small experiences with, yet we never knew their names.  Funny old sailing world!

So, as a special treat, Pete’s course was over a set of shallows, with the tide going one way, and the wind coming right at us.  Nice.  All very lumpy.  No big waves, but the sea was so short, with waves rolling in every couple of seconds.  Unlike before, I wasn’t that phased.  It wasn’t that comfortable, but it wasn’t so bad.  Of course, the wind was right on the nose, and Pete said the channel was pretty restricted (rocks lining either side), so we motored through it.  Bang – bang – bang through the waves!

As we headed to deeper water, we hauled all the sails and off we flew… fast, but into the wind. We had winds of 16-20 knots true, so more into the wind.  Pete had clearly decided that it was a day to increase my knowledge of sailing technicalities.  I had a lesson in sailing to windward, I think from a racing perspective, but clearly relevant when cruising distance, when speed counts.  OK.  I’m not sure that I have this right, but every boat has a theoretical amount that it can sail into the wind, to windward.  The closer you get to the wind, your speed drops, but your course is better to a point ahead of you, your course.  This is your Velocity Made Good, your VMG.  So, if you’re me, you may have thought that your speed going up was good – but it’s taking you faster away from the course you want to steer, so that’s not so good.  However, in compromising some of the boat speed, and maximizing the VMG, then you’re in for a better course, and less time on the bouncy seas.  This has to be a good thing!  The charts which hold all the dark arts on this are the polar diagram, which racing boats use, apparently.  It all varies with the strength of the wind, which makes it more complicated.  We don’t have one, so it was a bit of try and see.  When I had the helm, and we were sailing 30 (apparent), I had a boat speed of about 6.00+ knots, and 4.00+VMG, which Pete was pleased about. This was in about 16 knots of wind.   When Pete helmed, when the winds picked up, he was able to get a better yield from the wind (not sure if that’s the right term, but it works for me).  Follow?  Not sure that I do!!  Good job am no racer!

Anyway, that and a lesson on tack tactics, and I’ve saturated my sailing learning for the day.  We tacked out until we could hold the course, which was slightly south.  And then were on a long tack, of about two hours to the island.  In all of this the sea was being a bit relentless.  There was an underlying swell, which was about 1m, but on top of this was the ‘wind sea’ as the French translate, the waves created by the winds.  So we had waves over the swell, which occasionally was a bit “gulp”!  When we were sailing close to the wind, we were driving into the wind, so into the seas.  Pete even managed to get my feet wet, as I had straddled the cockpit trying to winch in the front sail, the yankee.  We had Whinchat’s toe rails in the sea, meaning my foot got a bath!  Ah, that was nothing compared to the soaking we had from a heavy shower – this is becoming a habit, isn’t it? I was on the helm at the time, watching an increasingly darkening sky head our way…. We thought that we might avoid it, but, no!  I thought of our friend Kevin, who will sail naked as the conditions allow, but it is policy that if you’re going to get wet, it’s easier to dry your body than your clothes.  That’s as maybe, but I’m not that mad!  As a compromise, we both dropped the shorts and put on our Rustler jackets…  Too much information?!

We absolutely flew this morning.  At times, there was arguably too much sail up, as we both kept on getting headed by the wind..  By this, I mean, that the force of the wind pulls you up, and you have a kind of arm wrestle to get her back on course, or at least making a better VMG.  This is exciting sailing.  The wind wasn’t too strong, the seas were adding a level of challenge, since every now and then there’d be a bit of a wallop, and you’d be knocked too.  It’s almost poetry when you can hold the wind, read the waves and surge through them, and hold a course!  Time flies, it’s exhilarating, and satisfyingly tiring.  The boat speed was reading 8-10 knots, with a SOG of 7-8knots.  I think that’s as good as Whinchat is going to do, so in those terms, it was a cracking sail.  Complete carnage down below.  You think you’ve stowed things in the saloon, but it’s amazing what gets chucked about!

As we approached land, the seas started to flatten a bit, with no obvious wind shadow!  And after seeing no one on the water, suddenly yachts were appearing around us.  It was time to down sails, and get ready to berth.  We were met by a young guy in a dory, whom I exchanged my limited sailing French with.  “Suivez moi,”  he said.  We did…. Into a complete mosh pit!  Oh goodness, this could be the subject of another 2000 words, so I’ll do my best!

We were guided into a cul-de-sac of pontoons, with catways on the left as we went in.  Wind behind us, or slightly on the starboard.  The guy wanted us to go into a catway, with the wind blowing across Whinchat’s aft…  So, as you slow down to make the turn, the wind (of 20knots) now takes the stern… So we’re at an angle to the gap.  Pete is furiously trying to apply the bow thruster so that we can make it.  It is like going into a slide on ice, you have little control of anything other than to try and stop the slide… The guy in the small rib is driving on us, like a tug, but cannot shift the 13 tonnes that we are (unlike an 8 tonne Bavaria).  A couple of guys have appeared to take ropes.  Pete is swearing.  We can’t go forwards, so he goes backwards.  Only there’s a boat alongside behind us.  A couple of girls are up and waving fenders.  Everyone is up on deck, because I am now yelling.  I am trying to convey that we can’t make the gap in the wind.  I ask if we can go along side the long pontoon, and fortunately some bloke in a boat, who understands me, says we can.  I am overruling the guy in the dory, and tell Pete we will go alongside.  Pete is furiously holding on to Whinchat, who doesn’t do well in reverse in small spaces.  We are backing out the way we came in, and I am rigging the boat for alongside.  Unfortunately the starboard side, but hey…. I want the midships on the pontoon, quick, and a lovely bloke comes out to take it.  He does, so we have a line ashore, but oh goodness, the French don’t understand this technique, so he ties us off, with about 2 metres to go, more than I can leap.  I am trying to tell him to shorten it.  Pete is driving against it, and I am on the wrong side of the boat, waiting to jump off.  Pete knows that I want to get off and take control, so yells at me not to be stupid..  With about a meter to go I make a massive leapt and land heavily, pulling in the bow so that we have something to work with, muttering ‘merci’ to the bloke.  I can now shorten the midships, but both lines are not holding against the wind, but then Pete chucks the stern to me and it’s suddenly good enough.  Mad moments, which dissipate into relief in seconds when you know you’re secure.

What comes after that is soooooo sweet.  You realise quite quickly that those who come to help have probably endured the same.  There is no tutting, or cheering, when things go wrongly or rightly.  We arrived relatively early, perhaps around 14:30, and within an hour had watch about six boats moor.  None of them any better than we; in fact many worse, as we saw several contacts.  One utter T-boning, and two boats who got anchors tied up in another boat.  The boat that made it into the space we had been given, was a light boat.  It had six people on board, there were two capitanerie boats acting as tugs, and two blokes on shore sweating them across the wind.  It makes you realise that we didn’t do so badly.  The guys who have rafted against us, despite trying to come alongside us starboard-to at first, and lost the stern to the wind, have pirouetted (thanks to Pete having the bow), to be alongside us portside-to…. Anyway.  They are the only ones who have seemingly tried to secure warps to the pontoon, so they have shore lines.  We are lucky.  So many have the flimsiest bits of string, and no concept of ‘springs’, so they flap and flail.  I don’t think I’ve done my musing on mooring yet, but the French way is to hope that one line secured works, and that a couple of fenders will prevent the worst… Sometimes it works.

I only hope that we don’t hear “desole” anytime soon!