Sugar 'n' Spice – Weblog 8

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River Vilaine, Loire Atlantic, France


47º 34’74 N

2º 14’13 W

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Ile de Yeu, Charente Maritime, France

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Monday 20th June. A 6 am start, barely light, nav lights on, sailing out over the sunken breakwater that provides some shelter to Bilbao’s large commercial harbour.

[The only port up the French coast from the Spanish border as far as the Gironde suitable for our draft is Arcachon & the forecasts are predicting high & continuing swell, making it unsafe to enter. There are also French firing ranges to avoid, so we plan to cut across this corner of Biscay to France & not go right to the corner with the border.]

Fairly soon the wind died so the engine went on as it is a longish passage & we wish to maintain a good average speed. Around 10 am the wind filled in & we could sail again. Predictably the boat had not paid attention to the required average speed & set off with the apparent intention of arriving ahead of schedule (we would then have to wait for the tide to rise to get into port). There was not much to be seen. Late afternoon the wind gradually backed & finally came on the nose, Doug allowed himself a short spell fishing (no result, but very slow) before the engine went on at our slow economical cruising revs. By 7 pm the wind had backed enough that we could lay the course on the opposite (port) tack. It increased so we put in 1 reef & it backed still more until about midnight (21st June) it started to ease again, the reef came out & finally in the early hours the engine went on to charge the batteries.

There were lights of distant fishing boats, not apparent in daytime, & the stars were very bright. Early morning we were playing dodgems with quite a large group of fishing boats, with attendant scavenging birds when something close dived. Then there were several dolphins jumping & diving around us for a few minutes until we crossed the wake of the next fishing boat & they decided that was far more interesting (food) & headed in pursuit.

Mid morning as we closed the French coast & bore away round the top of Ile d’Oleron we were sailing again & finally dropped anchor off St Denis, Ile d’Oleron at 1 pm. 178.5 nm & 5 hrs ahead of our ‘plan’! Yeah! Said the boat!

We put our heads down, waited for the tide, & early evening moved into the marina, rafted to another British boat as a large racing fleet was expected in. We were able to move alongside next morning after the racers left.

22nd & 23rd June we spent on Oleron doing some cycle rides to get further afield. Tuesday’s was to the lighthouse (Chassiron) at the northern tip, with sweeping views of the islands & mainland to north & east.



Then following part of the wild sandy western coast, until we turned inland through some pretty villages to the salt flats of the east & back to St Denis, around 20 M. 

Wednesday we headed south to St Pierre, the main town, so a large church & market, & a 13C ‘Lanterne des Morts’, or monument to the dead, built during the British occupation! Our return trip was a lovely ride across the Marais, or salt marshes, which were crowded with birds (herons, egrets, stilts etc) to Boyardville, & finally through the Forest of Saumonards & up the east coast to St Denis & the boat. About 30 M.



We asked Julie & Geoff, off Tuna Moon, the Jeaneau we had rafted to, for drinks. Small world as although from Dartmouth themselves they know Peter Smith, EASS.

Friday 24th June. A relaxed start for a short sail past Fort Boyard (you cannot land unless you are in the game show).



And on to the tiny island of Ile d’Aix, where we picked up a mooring buoy. 9.4 nm.

Then a thoroughly lazy afternoon watching the comings & goings on this pretty little island which we visited some years ago with Doug’s previous boat.

Saturday 25th June. A 7.30 am start from the mooring, with a mix of motoring & sailing we headed north past La Rochelle then between the mainland & Ile de Re. Once through the bridge joining the two we hoisted the kite, but the wind soon dropped completely so the engine went on. Gradually the wind veered more westerly & increased & around midday we started a light airs beat up the coast. There were a lot more boats about, of all shapes & sizes, & we had a very pleasant sail to les Sables d’Olonne. The long narrow entrance channel was very busy, we think it is the first place in France we have seen the motorboaters observe the 4 kt speed limit.



Presumably there have been some fines imposed! Arriving about tea time we tied alongside at Quai Garnier, 43.2 nm.

This marina is close to the town’s busy resturant area, but nevertheless was a quiet location. After a supermarket ‘dash’ we strolled around the town, found supper, & walked out by the entrance channel & beach where several bands were trying to outdo each other.

Sunday 26th June. A 9 am departure from Les Sables, with the entrance channel busy again. With the forecast east F5 blowing we just unfurled the genny, but by mid morning the wind was dropping & backing so we hoisted the main & poled out the genny. Around midday the wind died & we motored for a short while until it filled in again & we poled out the genny again. Early afternoon we arrived at Port Joinville, Ile de Yeu, & tied alongside. 28.2 nm.

It was very hot so we set up the bikes & cycled a couple of miles to the nearest beach for a very refreshing swim.

Next morning (27th June) thunder was forecast for the evening, but it was already overcast with occasional large splots of rain. Our plans to cycle round the island did not seem such a good idea. Then Doug helped a chap (singlehanded) berth just before a longer flurry of rain & was presented with a gift – 2 mackerel & a garfish. I left him gutting & cleaning these while I dodged the ‘splots’ taking & again later collecting washing from the launderette. We decided the latest flurry was a ‘clearing shower’ & set off on the bikes to cycle first across the middle of the island to Port La Meule, very narrow with a castle standing guard, then on round the south of the island with its little bays & back up the east coast with its sandy beaches, backed by pine forest.



About 20 km. We stopped for a swim at one, it did not rain & I could have left the washing out.

No rain/thunder materialised. The washing dried.

The fish were excellent. The garfish had the characteristic blue bones when cooked, & the flesh was lovely – white & firm.


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