Storm bound in Concarneau

We knew that ‘an unseasonable’ low was going to strike this week, and with the forecasters bringing its arrival ever earlier, we were looking for a place to hunker down.  Pete was all for finding an anchorage on the Odette river, but I didn’t want to be stuck in a remote place for a few days.  Pete said that the best place would be to stay here.  I thought that Ste Marine (where we’d stayed on the way down) might be OK, but Pete pointed out it was in a south facing river mouth, which is where the storms would roll in from.

So, this is to be our port from where we will shelter bad weather.  Every trip has had one (last year Dublin and Milford Haven, the year before the Yealm), so this would be ours.  Concarneau is no bad place to be, as there’s enough to do for a few days, and a kind of camaraderie in port.

We visited a chateau on the edge of Concarneau – an interesting history, but not that well exhibited.  It was a guided tour, and whilst Diana, our guide, had excellent English and gave full account, having to listen in French and English made the tour longer than it needed to be – for not that much on display – and everyone seemed to be restless towards the end.  The chateau was badly damaged in the great storm of 1987, after a tussle on ownership between descendants and the Brittany local government, and ultimately bought by a private owner, whose taken it upon himself to restore the chateau piece by piece.  There is still some way to go, with the first floor largely in ruins.

On a very wet Tuesday we had lunch out – a buckwheat galette and a mug of cider – and then visited the Musee de Peche.  Museum all about fishing.  As dull as you might imagine, if you’re me.  Pete found it vaguely interesting, but it was another example of an old collection of stuff just laid out in display.  So very far removed from the interactive experience at the Cite de la Voile.  There was a video, in French, of a fishing boat.  But even that was deathly dull!  The highlight was that you could go on a decommissioned fishing trawler, which was OK.  In all of this, for one of the main industries for Concarneau, it failed to give any indication of what life is like for those that work the boats, or the markets.  I wouldn’t recommend this museum at all.

When we returned back from the museum to the boat, there was a different boat behind us.  A lady came to ask if we had a piece of hose that she could borrow (in perfect English) – her husband was under the boat, trying to free the propeller and needed to breathe.  Pete was about to cut the hose, when he emerged having freed enough of it.  They had had a horrendous time.  The boat is about the same size as Whinchat, different layout, but has 13 on board!  Gulp!  They’d been at anchor, at the Isle de Seine, when the anchor had failed, and they were being blown onto a rocky shore.  With moments to spare, and having crashed into another boat on the way (the railings are very badly bent), they started the engine to drive forwards, only to trap the outhaul for the genoa in the propeller – this rope had trailed in the water.  So, they had limped their way to Concarneau, with the skipper being the only experienced sailor.  Eleven of the ‘crew’ were seasick.  They were in a very sorry state when they arrived, having been towed in by the port guys.  They have to get the charter boat back on Friday evening, and face a horrible passage in rough seas to make that deadline.

We’ve chatted a lot with them over the last days, and she brought some wonderful coffee for us to try – in exchange for us lending them our gas lighter as a makeshift cigarette lighter.

They told us that the port guys were telling everyone to double up their lines because of the storm that was coming.  The skipper said that he’d never been weathered in 20 years of August sailing, and certainly had never seen the port guys giving advice on mooring.  We made what changes we could, and went for a beer.

We were finishing eating when a boat came to raft alongside us.  Just what we didn’t want in the face of a gale coming!  I shot up on deck, and saw it was a sailing school.  Deep joy!  Elizabeth (from the boat behind), came to see if she could help translate, and was mortified that they hadn’t asked if it was OK.  Pete asked them to run lines ashore, and I asked them to move back so the spreaders weren’t going to collide.  They seemed to have little idea of the forecast – until the next morning when they came back from somewhere with extra fenders and lines.

When the gale force winds arrived, around noon on Wednesday, we thought we were in a good place.  We actually took off for a long walk (another story from that in a moment), but on the return back to the boat, the colour seemed to drain from Pete.  The direction of the winds wasn’t quite as forecast, and with a southwesterly flow, it was bringing the sea rolling towards the harbour.  There is a big sea wall, which protects most of the harbour, but we are along a very bouncy breakwater, which was moving up and down with the rolling sea.  This was putting a massive load on the mooring lines, as they were continually snatching and grabbing.  Pete was very concerned for the load on the cleats, and the lines.  One of our lines had worn through against the breakwater, so we tried to relay it, creating another area of ‘rub’, so this mooring line is trashed.  We had the stern line in too tight (given the movement of the breakwater), so this has strained the stern cleat, and it was in danger of being ripped off, so Pete loaded the line onto the winch…. Which then groaned and groaned.  I kept on asking if we needed more lines out, knowing that we have a very long line buried in the port lazerette.  We had to double up on this rope that was failing, and also Pete re-rigged the stern with the white rope.  He says it’s better, more flexible, so that it was stretching.  This had stopped all the snatching.  The fenders were taking a real pounding, and we tried to move them a bit, without much success.  They are doing their job, but squeaking all the time.

We sat there, looking at each other, willing the wind to drop.  It was blowing Force 7-8, and with the whistling and howling through the masts, it sounded horrendous.  We really needed the sea to stop, which either needed a wind shift or a wind drop.

I guess it was a valuable lesson.  I learned that ‘safe’ doesn’t always mean to be in port.  Not a safety risk for us, but for the boat.  Poor Whinchat.  She’s been put under such great stress – even the rails where we hang the fenders.  The cleats, the rails, these are the things that we rely on to keep us safe, so when they are compromised, we have to take care.  I’m not sure that Pete will trust that cleat until we can have it serviced in Falmouth.  We have a winch that we can use, but it’s not quite as quick when mooring.

We witnessed a drama on our walk.  A small boat, 30ft, on the rocks as its mooring chain had snapped.  We were on scene just as it happened, and a jogger wanted to use our phone to call her boyfriend to call the authorities.  She couldn’t get through.  She ran back to get help, and as we came around the corner, the owners were there.  We watched as they were on board trying to stop the boat being smashed on the rock.  He had a pole and was using it to pole off against a rock.  I wasn’t convinced that it was a safe thing to do, but he probably saved a lot of damage.  You could hear the keel grinding on the rocks, and it sounded so mournful.  The lady had called the fire brigade, who took an age to come, or seemed to.  Another guy had gone to help with the poling off, using an oar.  The fire brigade’s launch arrived soon after, and with a line, they towed the boat off the rocks.  Poor Galaxie IV is in for some work before she can sail again.  Having seen it end well, we carried on.

Last night (Wednesday night), we had a reservation for dinner, which I didn’t know if we should keep.  Would it be better to stay on board with the winds blowing so?  Pete thought it would be good for us to have a change of scene, so we held the reservation.  We had a lovely meal, in a funny restaurant.  A bit like the Fishing Museum, it needed a re-vamp, including the cracked plates that food was served on.  Was it a bad omen?  The meal we both enjoyed, but a couple of hours later, I was expelling the contents from my body.  Oh, I was so ill.  It was just awful.  All I wanted to be was at home, with a fully flushing loo, and not a hand pumped system.  The noise of the wind, the fenders squeaking, oh man, it was all horrible.

So, today (Thursday), the wind has dropped, as forecast, and the sea is no longer tanking in alongside us.  Even if I were feeling OK, we wouldn’t have gone today.  The forecast is for rough seas – and we don’t willingly do that!

The sailing school boat left a couple of hours ago, in theory for the islands that Pete so much hoped to visit, but they have just appeared back in port.  Pete says they are doing boat handling – mooring alongside the outside of the pontoon under sail.  It must be very horrible out there if they’ve turned back.  Definitely not for me on most days, and absolutely not today.