La Rochelle

La Rochelle
Wednesday 12th July

With Whichat with restricted options, and a couple of meh weather days, we decided to head for La Rochelle, to see a man about a boat. In fact, it was to see a factory. Here comes the long story, and diversion, probably more interesting than an account of the factory tour!

There are different types of boats for different people and for different boating needs. I’ll say it again, we have a ‘go anywhere’ boat, but Pete doesn’t have a ‘go anywhere’ wife. We have Whinchat, a reasonably fast RIB at home, and a small clinker-built sailing dingy that Pete has built as retirement project number two. The French marinas are full of these ‘shed boats’, to coin Penny’s phrase. Little, weather-proof pootlers, for sitting on, fishing or ignoring. Pete has been rather taken with the look of a, not insubstantial, shed-type boat. A Rhea. Turns out, they’re made in La Rochelle, and so, this is where we had a ‘why not’ moment, and decided to venture to on a non-boating-boating activity. It also turns out that La Rochelle wasn’t ‘just’ a couple of hours away, but 300km! So, we packed an overnight bag!

We had a ridiculous tour around La Rochelle, which Pete was determined to do. We’d left a little bit late, it had taken 3 hours, and we were due in Rhea ‘after lunch’. At 12:30 we were stuck in the outskirts of La Rochelle, in a queue, heading for ‘the old port’. We sat in more traffic, couldn’t find a parking space, and with various roads shut in the centre, sent Doris (the sat nav) into meltdown. We ended up having lunch, a picnic lunch, in the carpark of a massive E Leclerc. Not a gastronomic highlight!

Et voila! Le Shed Boat…

The rather wonderful Florian, of Rhea, gave us a couple of hours of his time, talking about the company, the boats, finishing with a tour of the factory… all including Bessie. It was a really engaging couple of hours (I know!). The philosophy of Rhea is very similar to Rustler. They over engineer the build slightly, to give quality and robustness. They care about the small details. Much of it is hand-finished. They make 70 boats a year, on a small workforce, having suffered hugely in 2008, when the world’s markets collapsed. The original design was for a fisherman, who wanted a traditional fishing boat, but smaller. The 750 was born, and the range stems from this. As Florian says, it has the outline of a boat that a child would draw. I think this lends a certain charm and affection. Do we want one? That’s the simultaneous equation of boats, but it would certainly be more grandchildren friendly, dog friendly, more sociable space and mean that I didn’t have to wrestle with Kevin’s ridiculous cover. I came away impressed – and with more of a taste for one than I’d arrived with, albeit considering the Rhea rather attractive as boat sheds go.

The rather wonderful Florian had booked us into a Chateau that we’d driven past on the way to La Rochelle, and were we ever glad! We took the suite, with private garden and jacuzzi bath, because we could. The little terrace near the reception was a little tatty, and there were kids toys dotted around. First impressions count, and I was beginning to wonder the wiseness of our choice, based on something we’d passed at 50kmph. The lady, owner we think, was equally tatty, and we were comforted at least that shorts might be OK to wear for supper (that’s all Pete had, albeit a clean pair). The suite was divine, in a converted barn, lovely stone built, with chunky, heavy furniture, and tasteful decorations. A find. The booklet in the room was very fierce about taking photographs and putting them online, so there is an oddness to it, an eccentricity. The food was lovely, home cooked and honest. It made for a wholly enjoyable evening.

I have an on-off relationship with Facebook. I love the ‘social network’, of friends and things they are interested in… most of the time. I can’t bear the advertising, and the click-bait stuff, and the way it directs your feed. However, I am loving it on this Wednesday, as friends, former Yacht-club fellows saw that we were in the area, and had a bit of trouble (on a conversational post of another friend), and offered to help. We ended up arranging to meet in Clisson on Thursday, and then for them to come sailing on Friday. Good old Facebook.

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