It was time for Alan to go back to UK for a week or ten days and so I thought it would be an opportunity for me to get in some practice on Musetta with an expert as my tutor and a good friend too! Very fortunately for me Lara was going to be free in that time period and so it was arranged!Alan and I first met Lara through another friend in Salcombe a long time ago when we had just bought our first boat, Imshii. Even then, which is twelve years ago we soon realised that here was an amazing girl who already had a wealth of sailing experience, she reminded us of a certain Dame Ellen McArthur who many of you will know at the age of only 28 she became the fastest person to sail solo around the world in 2005.
Currently, Lara is an RYA yacht master, a yacht master instructor, examiner and inspector so I couldn’t have wished for a better qualified person to work with me. I was very much looking forward to our week together
10th September – Passage to Les Sables d’Olonne!
Alan left at the crack of dawn to drive to the ferry at St Malo and so Lara and I had a bit of time to prepare ourselves for our week or practical sailing and theory too. We decided that we would sail first to Les Sables d’Olonne!!
We left the pontoon at 11.00 am and motored out of the port, again encountering the lumpy seas off the entrance! We soon had the sails up, the main and the No.2 Genoa and Musetta was happy to skip along at 6kts with the wind from behind, WNW and force 4/5. As a squall approached we took 2 reefs in the main and furled the genoa to the 2nd dot which made the ride much easier and Musetta increased her speed to a maximum of 9.7knots but generally we were making 7+kts!! Exciting!
Because of our speed we arrived at Les Sables d’Olonne too early to get in and so we anchored off the beach and had our lunch. It was a bit rolly but not a problem for us! We didn’t have to wait too long before we were able to head on up to Quai Garnier, the marina opposite the fishing port, and moored alongside the long visitor pontoon B.
11th September – a Harbour Day
Lara and I had a day to explore this port which is of course most famous in recent times for the epic Vendee Globe yacht race which runs every four years. There are reminders of the race everywhere in the town and port area and as Alan and I had been here back in November last year and January this year to see it all, it was quite a thrill to sail into such a famous port!
Banque Populaire leaving the port last November, she came back the winner!!
We, rather I, wanted to see the famous shell mosaic frescoes of L’Île Penotte which I had been told about by various cruising friends during the summer! We found then easily and they were incredible, totally surprising and so beautiful. The artist is called Danielle Aubin-Arnaud who she grew up in Les Sables d’Olonne and so has the sea coursing through her veins. Her work is simply stunning! I can’t wait for Alan to see it too.
The intracacy and detail was amazing!
After lunch we really did get down to work!! I was VERY rusty but it was familiar and at least I didn’t think that Lara was talking a foreign language! It was all coming back to me and so we completed several exercises until we decided to get out again and this time across the harbour to the Chaume district to have a wander through the lanes with their little cottages where the fishermen used to live long before the port was developed as it is today.
The Château Saint-Clair was an ancient fort built close to the harbour wall obviously to defend the town. The most recognisable part today is La Tour Arundel on top of which is the Chaume lighthouse. It was built in the 14th century by the Princes of Talmont and it is all that is left of the Château St.Clair. At 33m high it made an ideal lighthouse.
Here are some shots of l’Église Sant-Nicolas de La Chaume. It was beautiful inside with lovely stained glass windows, an unusual organ behind the altar and a boat suspended from the roof! Outside, the square was very typically french with a pétanque pitch under the trees and a mural depicting the narrow lanes with fishermen’s cottages.
l’Église Sant-Nicolas de La Chaume
We had an early start the next day and so needed to have supper and get our heads down! After a beer in a harbour side café we caught the shuttle ferry back to Quai Garner and Musetta.
Tuesday 12th September – St- Martin de Ré
We got up at 5am and prepared Musetta ready to set off. We had some breakfast and left the pontoon at 06.15am, it was still very dark!! The wind was quite light and again from behind and so having prepared the mainsail we decided that it wouldn’t be of any use and so we put out the No.2 Genoa for a while before the wind eased and we then put up the No 1. genoa! Progress was good and we were able to see a beautiful sunrise over to the east.
The wind picked up as did the swell and we had a rolly trip down to Île de Ré, we even had a rain squall which forced us to put up the cocoon in the cockpit – a marvellous addition to Musetta’s kit to keep us dry when on passage?! At least we weren’t getting wet now! However, the rain cleared and we were soon furling the Genoa and turning on to the transit into St-Martin de Ré. It is an interesting entry to the port and very important to heed the directions, however, we did it perfectly and were all secure by 11.25am, rafted out by one!
It does rain on us sometimes!
Île de Ré is described as the pearl of the Atlantic we were captivated by it’s beautiy. The port was absolutely charming, full of character with lots of shops and restaurants, as usual, and picturesque little streets winding through the town.
The restaurants in the port and the colourful streets
Lara and I walked around it all and the fortifications of Vauban which characterise St-Martin de Ré were constructed in the 17th century to obviously protect the island from potential invaders and in 2008 they were granted the recognition of a Unesco World Heritage Site. They have an amazing design and this aerial view shows the fortifications, the town of St-Martin de Ré and the port too.
Within the fortifications of Vauban is one of the big tourist attractions of the island, the Poitou donkeys owned by Régis Léau. Poitou donkeys have a thick and matted coat which looks very much like dreadlocks and this appears to extend right down to their hooves. Régis Léau breeds and rears the donkeys and is a popular figure on the island, especially with the visiting children to whom he gives donkey rides. Régis Léau is also a producer of donkey milk which is used in soap-making! The Poitou donkey is now the mascot of Île de Ré
The Poitou Donkeys
Cycling seems to be the most popular means of transport on the island or there are buses available too. We took one to the port of La Flotte, another beautiful location. We loved it, although it wouldn’t be possible for us to go there in Musetta, it’s a drying harbour! For my part I think I preferred La Flotte to St-Martin de Ré, if that were possible! It was cosier somehow?! We discovered that there is a fantastic coastal path and so we walked back to Musetta, taking about an hour to do it, much better than the bus!.
La Flotte, so picturesque!
The weather foiled our plans to set off for another destination and we were boat bound for one of our days in port. This gave us the opportunity to do some more theory work which after all was one of the reasons that Lara came to join me!
We didn’t have time to see all of the island but I have discovered that apart from tourism which forms a major part of the economy, there is a thriving natural economy too with the working of the vineyards and the potato fields and the harvesting of salt marshes and farming oysters in the oyster beds. Another visit is definitely required!!
St-Martin de Ré at night, the beautiful interior of L’Église St-Martin de Ré and the wonderful indoor market’s fish counter!
Farewell to the lovely port of St-Marten de Ré
15th September – Return to Les Sables d’Olonne
With a reasonable forecast we left St-Martin de Ré at 11.30 am, this was the earliest possible departure which would give us enough depth of water to get out of the harbour. We put up the sails, the mainsail, the staysail and the No.2 genoa and as the wind picked up we had an amazing sail back up to Les Sables d’Olonne. We were sailing upwind which meant tacking but as the wind increased, we reefed the mainsail and felt we had Musetta perfectly balanced! It was superb and we covered the 44 nautical mile trip in 7 hours and 40 minutes, and were safely moored up by 7.15pm!
16th September – All good things come to an end!
Time to say goodbye and a big thank you to Lara who worked incredibly hard on the boat. We had a great time despite the weather being somewhat unkind (35knots winds!) and I gained some valuable experience and knowledge.
17th – 21st September – Home alone!
After Lara had gone I had a few days to wait for Alan to return from UK and so there was time for a little more exploration of Les Sables d’Olonne!
I discovered that this beautiful seaside town boasts the narrowest street in Europe measuring only 43cm in width!! It is called Rue de L’Enfer, the road to Hell which I presume comes from the fact that it is dark and, not exactly dingy, but almost!! The photos show that apart from the fact that it is the narrowest street in Europe, I couldn’t even get my bike down it, it is really quite unremarkable in it’s unremarkableness!!
La Grande Plage – Les Sables d’Olonne
After I had found La Rue de L’Enfer I continued cycling and found myself drawn to the sea front. We are now on Spring tides which means that they rise very high and drop very low! What a sight it was today, and as the tide was out I was able to ride my bike along the edge of the water, the sand was dry and hard! What a beautiful beach, completely south facing and so flat too, wonderful!
La Grande Plage
21st September – La Forêt Fouesnant
I hired a car and I drove up to Port la Forêt to collect Alan. We will stay overnight in the Hôtel du Port and then drive back in the morning, leaving Alan’s car at Fouesnant ready for our return here with Musetta at the beginning of October.
What a treat to find that since our last visit to the Hotel du Port in May, the top floor of the hotel had been renovated and we were shown to one of the new rooms. This the view from our room! La Forêt Fouesnant, as ever pretty as a picture!
There will be more sailing in the meantime! On our return to Les Sables d’Olonne we will decide to which of all the beautiful destinations available we will go! What a life?!