Altwasser sailing diary

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Vannes to La Rochelle
July 1st – July 8th 2003. 160 nautical miles.

Tuesday 1st July. Vannes to Morbihan.
After seeing Ben and Ruth off at Vannes station, we retraced the previous week’s route into the Golfe du Morbihan and found a buoy sheltered from the strong breeze.

Wednesday 2nd July. Morbihan to Pointe de St Gildas.
Exiting the Morbihan at spring tides required careful timing with 9 knot peak currents. We had seen one large yacht under sail in a fresh breeze try to pass through a narrow channel against 7 knots of tide and stand still. This 40 foot yacht under full canvass, sails set perfectly in 25 knots of wind, crew trimming the sails for maximum speed was staionary, hull speed through the water exactly balanced by an opposing tidal water speed over the ground. We left at slack tide and with 15- 20 knots on the beam averaged 7 knots to Pointe de St Gildas. The harbour here is inadequate in spring tides, with the harbour wall engulfed at high water. We tried for a compromise between being too far out to gain protection from the swell and too close in to avoid bumping the bottom at low water. The wind veered to the North in the night and we swung round towards the shore, bumped the sand at low water and bounced on the swell. We learn from our errors.

Thursday 3rd July. Pointe de St Gildas to Pornic.

Pornic offered a large, deep, well protected modern marina. The city is built on cliffs overlooking the old drying port, with a large church guarding the hill top, a medieval castle protecting the entrance to the port and to mark the emergence of Pornic as holiday resort, large, late 19th century “holiday” homes, competing with each other for size and the best view of the bay. The best position, however, is held by the hospital. If you have to be sick away from home, come here! We enjoyed a 15 km walk along the cliffs and found fishing platforms erected 30 feet above the rocky shoreline, with large nets, some 2 metres across suspended from cranes. This shoreline also has several Neolithic tombs.

Friday 4th July. Pornic to Ile de Yeu.

More good winds took us further south, passing 100 yachts racing north as we passed the Ile de Noirmoutier. We anchored on the north side of Ile de Yeu on the first night, spent a second night in the Marina at Port Joinville, together with the same 100 racing yachts on their return trip and our third night was in a well sheltered bay on the south of the island. Whilst comparisons with Geurnsey were inevitable, Ile de Yeu is distinguished by the uniform high standard of whitewashed walls and buildings and brightly painted doors and shutters and profusion of flowers and well tended gardens. Having my credit card swallowed by a Distributeur de Billet on Sunday, required an early Monday morning walk across the island to retrieve it, passing the magnificent Church at St Sauveur. This little problem solved, we then drifted onto a local mooring buoy after raising the anchor and fouled the propeller, stalling the engine. Hence my 12 km walk was followed by a short swim and dive to disentangle the buoy from the propeller. My back told me it was good not to have an even bigger anchor to haul up and we continue to learn from our mistakes.

Monday 7th July. Ile de Yeu to Bourgenay.
As the sea temperature reached 20 degrees, we saw many jellyfish, some up to a metre in diameter. Sailing passed Les Sables d’Olonne, start and finish for the Vendee Globe and port of origin for Bingo, we lost the wind and with a mere 2 knots let out the fishing line. We caught a mackerel but later lost all the hooks. A 9pm arrival in Bourgenay and 8am departure meant that we saw little more than the attractive, lighthouse-shaped, Capitainerie, but enjoyed a chat with a French couple who shared the benefit of local knowledge and gave a critical appraisal of the French ports in south Biscay helping us to decide to sail direct from La Rochelle to Santander.

Tuesday 8th July. Bourgenay to La Rochelle.

Another hot day with light winds, we sailed via the Pertuis Breton along the north shores of Ile de Re and under the arched road bridge connecting the mainland. La Rochelle, another walled city with locked and drying inner harbours benefits from Mimes marina, built in the main estuary 30 years ago and which now has berths for 3000 yachts and a water taxi to the centre. The plan is to stay three nights and if the high pressure remains stable over Biscay, bringing light winds and no swell, to sail 200 miles direct to Santander. Meanwhile top the tanks, fill the fridge, see the city sights and Bamos a la playa!
South Brittany, Au revoir .
In two weeks we have visited ten percent of the ports and anchorages detailed in our almanacs, pilot books and charts, cherry picking South Brittany and gaining a first glimpse that this part of France has enough variety to interest even the most inquisitive cruiser for at least a whole season. Paul Vidal de la Blache, founder of Human Geography, wrote 150 years ago: Against the diversities which assail her, France sets her force d’assimilation. We will return to assimilate further.