Snow, Snow, Snow, Knees

With a short break in Cyprus, it was back in the air again, this time to Geneva, with some rather long luggage in the form of Dee’s skis.12733443_10205123030548300_6453184930903532345_nLanding at Geneva, we hopped in a 4WD and headed towards Megeve. We’d found a hotel, walking distance from the ski lift and it turned out to be a good choice. Megeve has 4 different ski fields, and Dee managed to ski all four whilst I re-acquainted myself with the art of (un)controlled falling down a snow-covered mountainside. The Megeve town was postcard perfect, complete with cutesy churches, Xmas trees and bars selling mulled wine.

12705268_10205132013772875_90867133093280462_nAfter 4 days skiing, it was time to take a day off and head to Chamonix, another of those cutesy (but expensive) famous ski towns. We managed to find Dee’s favourite restaurant from years ago and enjoyed a nice Valentines Day lunch overlooking the river.

Our next stop was La Plagne, where we had some of our best skiing. La Plagne is linked to Les Arcs by a huge gondola, which carries over 100 skiers at a time. By this stage I was starting to enjoy skiing Red runs and was feeling comfortable zipping down the mountain. That was right up to when I was half way down a really nice red run that went for miles, when I hit a section with some really gnarly moguls.

Somehow I’d managed to skip the Moguls 101 class and I came to grief on a turn. My skis stayed on and I thought I was going to break a leg. In the end I (only) managed to tear my calf muscle quite badly. I managed to get over to a blue run and slowly skied down on half a leg – until I made it to the bar where I stayed for the rest of the afternoon until Dee was able to ski back to our hotel and drive around to where I was – a good couple of hours later.

12768282_10205196198777460_4131995590614826276_o Next day I could hardly walk, so I confined myself to the small village whilst Dee skied. Then it was time for another rest day anyway, so we headed off once more to Alp D’Huez, spending most of the day driving there. It was an interesting drive up to the resort, looking at signs with all the winners of the Tour De France that had to ride up the 20 something switchbacks to the top. As my friend Spike did last year in a moment of madness. Alp D’Huez was where I got back on the bike (skis) and tried a few easy green runs to see how I went. I struggled at first but then managed to do some blues by the end of the day. Dee meanwhile had skied all over the mountain and declared it DONE, so we checked out the next day and headed for Italy. On the way we went through a very, very, very long tunnel – over 20kms. I was excited to roll up in Piedmonte and enthusiastically checked out the wine lists and bottle shops as soon as I got there – there being the cute village of Sous Deux. There were a few good wine bars that got checked out that night if I can remember rightly.

Next morning it was off to find the snow. We got to the bottom of the lifts to see a thin covering of snow. Not good. As we went up the lifts we could see more ice than snow. The first run was more like ice skating than snow skiing. Our aim was to get across to Sestriere, which we accomplished using a series of ski lifts (both up and down) and not much actual skiing.   Once in Sestriere, I found the lifts closed because of wind – I’d like to say high winds, but not really.

Eventually I got to an open lift and had a good few hours skiing on okay snow. Then it was time to find my way back to Sous Deux. This involved going up the gondola and skiing down a goat track. Turned out to be a very icy goat track. It was now snowing with no visibility, and the goat track was a layer of ice-covered by a thin layer of snow. Deadly! Well, deadly to a novice skier with a bad calf. I managed to lose control at speed and crashed, falling on both knees. I remember thinking this snow is really hard as my knees banged into the ice. Ouch. Luckily I hadn’t gone that far so I was able to walk (slowly) up the goat track to the top of the gondola, which took me back to Sestriere. From here, I took a bus back to Sous Deux, my ski trip over courtesy of not one but two non-functioning knees.

12524109_10205201782317045_2132246238112554488_n Dee was still going strong so we went off to look for better snow. We found it in Cervinia, on the other side of the Matterhorn from Zermatt in Switzerland. Dee had fun skiing across to Zermatt, whilst I checked out the Trauma Centre for a couple of matching knee X-rays and some expensive knee braces.

After Dee had her fill skiing, she graciously put her skis away and we went touring. 12525555_10205227844368580_3590290695748579708_oWe headed back to Piedmont to try to find some open wineries, but it wasn’t tourist season and they were all closed. We had a nice drive out of Italy, along a the beautiful Aosta valley, stopping at Roman ruins, historic towns and castles to Courmayeur, where we had a look see but did not stop and ski. Then it was through the Mt Blanc tunnel and off to Annecy for the night.

12809564_10205227838448432_613566304810586831_nAnnecy is really beautiful, set on the Lake that bears its name, it is sometimes called theVenice of the Alps with its two canals and the river Thiou flowing through the old city. We hit upon a student show at the old gaol that is in the middle of the river that night, which was rather fortunate as the gaol wasn’t normally open to the public.

12814816_10205227904170075_7364091598878815212_n Next day we headed to Lyon for our last few days of the trip. What a brilliant French city. We had a great time, wandering the various neighbourhoods of Lyon, visiting great churches, historic old town, great museums and squares and monuments.   The Lumiere museum was a highlight – Lyon was where the Lumiere brothers did their stuff. We even found time to go and see a Joe Jackson concert – a blast from the past.

Skiing and touring over, we drove back to Geneva and headed back to Cyprus.

 

Royan and Bordeaux

 

We made an early start the next morning for Royan at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary. It was a crappy start with 35 knot winds (gusting to 40+). By early afternoon we had rounded the top of Ile D’Oleron and conditions started to ease.

Whilst motoring along, we noticed that the engines did not appear to be supplying any current to the batteries. Either a BMS problem or a smart charger problem or both???

Royan is about 14nm down the Gironde River, and the entrance to the Gironde has a reputation of being nasty in the wrong conditions. Although there was a bit of a large swell running, it was fine for us. Shame the current wasn’t in our favour though – we had 3 knots of current against us as we gave the two 75HP yanmars a good workout. We arrived late in the afternoon but the Capitainerie office was closed so we tied up on the reception jetty for the night and found a nice little restaurant for dinner – something to do with someone turning 52 (evidently). The local mussels were fantastic (and huge).

We checked the next morning and found if you stay two nights you get the third night free. We ended up staying 6 and paid for 4. Ooroo 1 had stayed in La Rochelle waiting for a new sail to arrive but they followed us into Royan the following day.

Royan is a cute little French holiday town with good facilities. Whilst walking around the chandlery shops looking for a better set of electronic charts (Lagoon only supply silver Navionics charts – another trick for young players) for the chart plotter we found another Robin Marine. Bonus we thought; we could get them to fix the smart regulator and BMS. We also needed to fix one of our underwater lights which never worked since La Mischief hit the water. We’d tried to put La Mischief up on the hard in Les Sables but a rather large privilege catamaran had taken the spot where we could dry her out with the tides – and then we ran out of time before Easter. It turned out that Royan had a much better place to put La Mischief on its keels and with Robin Marine there we could also get them to do it.

Double bonus when the guy running Robin Marine could speak reasonably good English. David turned out to be a really nice helpful guy and even offered us his car if we needed it. He arranged to come down the next morning with an electrician to have a look. They spent hours on the phone to their Les Sables D’Olonnes office to try and resolve the problems. Eventually they had to get someone to drive down to Royan to fix it properly (rewiring the shunts and reconfiguring the BMS). According to Allan, the moral of the story is – “don’t believe everything someone tells you – especially if he is a pretty-boy Frenchman named Pierre”.

Royan also marked the end of Cas French adventure. Back home to the kids and family. We hired a rental car and drove down to Bordeaux so that Cas could catch a high-speed train direct to Charles De Galle airport. We left Allan and Joan to themselves for a couple of days on La Mischief, which they used to good effect helping the French economy.

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Cas and I had a great drive along the back roads towards Bordeaux. We stopped off in a picturesque French village called Conac and called into a bar for a coffee. It turned out to be run by a Scottish couple and the clientele were all Scottish or pommie. Interesting to get their take on living in France.

Then we called into Blaye on the recommendation of Allan and Joan – what a pretty place with its extensive fort along the Gironde. The Gironde is massive – navigable by big ships all the way to Bordeaux.

Then onto Bordeaux, where we got a hotel right next to the railway station. It wasn’t the nicest part of town, but we caught a groovy tram into the old town and visited one or three bars. We hooked up with some Uni students and played the worst game of pool ever, before visiting another bar with them. We got back to the hotel somewhere between 1 and 2 (I think).

Next morning we had to drag ourselves out of bed at 6am to get Cas on a train. That was hard. Goodbyes said, I went back and got a bit of sleep and some breakfast before heading back to Royan.

Had Google Maps telling me the way, when the road branched in two with a red traffic light in the middle. I stopped and waited for it to change. I must have been there about 15 seconds when I felt a bump from behind.

The bump was supplied by a Mazda 626 driven by a nice French girl called Fannie (Allan had fun with that one). We went round the corner and she helped me fill in all the forms (they have a standard accident form in France) and off I went rather timidly back to Royan.

After using the car to do some shopping, we returned it the next day and I was releaved to hear the Avis lady say that the accident wasn’t my fault as she ran into me. You never know in different countries what the regulations are. It’s a first for me – being in a road accident in an overseas location.

That afternoon we parked La Mischief on a flat concrete pad next to a high wall and waited for the tide to go out. A few hours later, David could get to the light to replace it, which he did successfully. Four underwater lights now work.

High tide was then at 2pm. We got liftoff at 12.50 and waited to high tide when there was about 40cm of water under the keel to move back to our berth. We’d taken the opportunity to calibrate the depth instruments, so now we know exactly how much ware there is under the keel.

With our jobs all done, we had a good sleep and left Royan on the tide heading for Spain.

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La Rochelle

La Rochelle was always going to be a highlight – and it didn’t disappoint.DSC_0489 DSC_0485 DSC_0469

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But we had to get there first.

We pulled away from our home of the last week, on a cold, dark morning. We made our way out to sea, together in convoy with Ooroo, and into a brisk 30kt SW. It was a bumpy ride down the coast, with the two girls buried under rugs and donnas, trying to keep the seasickness at bay.

Meanwhile, Allan and I were busy putting in reefs and trying to learn all the systems and electronics. La Mischief was treating the rough weather as a walk in the park, much better than her crew.

We finally managed to round the top of Ile De Re and the seas started to calm a little. The girls at this stage had retired to their respective cabins and we had to wake them as we approached La Rochelle.

Brendan was on board Ooroo so he was able to direct us into the Port des Minimes marina, which is at the mouth of the entrance. Here we waited for a couple of hours until the tide came in and we were able to progress into the centre of La Rochelle.

What an amazing entrance as we passed by the twin forts that guard the entrance to the old port. We were heading next door to the ‘bassin à flot’ behind a set of lock gates that open 2 hours either side of high tide.

The port captain directed us to a pontoon, with very little manoeuvring space either side. We carefully crept past a row of boats with some nasty looking anchors poking out at us. Ooroo went in first and successfully tied up, with us slipping in behind them. Thank goodness I was now getting used to driving and parking La Mischief, which is considerably bigger and heavier than Camelot (but now I’m used to it, its a lot easier to manoeuvre).

We were now tied up in one of the most beautiful port settings in the world, surrounded by stunning old buildings.

At this point Brendan said his goodbyes and we were now on our own. Two Aussie boat crews that knew about 20 French words between them. All the VHF radio traffic is in French. Every now and then we would hear a “Securite” call on the radio and we would not know what they were saying – maybe it was something like “beware of dumb Australian yachties in the area”.

Once checked in and marina fees paid, it was time to explore. We wandered around to the old port and into the old city behind. It was full of narrow streets with elegant shops, coffee bars and a traditional market.

We could only book in for a single night because there was a boat show happening later on so we had to the next high tide when we would need to leave. We had a wonderful morning wandering around the shops, stopping for lunch and coffees. Cas and I managed to each buy hats as well as a few other bits and pieces.

Back at La Mischief, it was time to leave and as there was no space to swing around, we needed to back out past 6 or 7 boats, with their anchors threatening to punish any mistakes. We made it out okay but Ooroo, being a bit wider picked up a scratch on its new fibreglass.

Back to the marina at the Port des Minimes we went and paid for a berth. It turned out that the berths we paid for were on a set of visitors jetties that were full. This marina has 3,500 berths and is known for this sort of thing – the staff are pretty useless – so in the end we just found our own spots. In the meantime, we watched a power boat take out a 240v power cabinet and knock it off its footing and into the water. They courageously (or stupidly) picked it out of the water with a boathook.

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Similar to the Russians we saw in Sables D’Olonne, who were there to pick up a Lagoon 450 and decided to start drinking at 10am for a few hours before leaving for the Med and taking out the corner of the floating pontoon on the way out.

Anyway back to La Rochelle, where we had a good nights sleep before leaving for Ile D’Aix the next day.

Ile d’Aix

Oops, something has happened to this entry…it’s somehow gone missing. So I will rewrite it and put it back. Sorry for the lack of order but this was way back in France.

Well, enough of marinas. Time to see a French Atlantic island. Ile d’Aix seemed like a likely candidate – 8nm away with an interesting fort sticking out of the open sea out the back of the island.

It was quite calm as we turned south west towards our destination.

We decided to visit Fort Boyard on the way. This fort was built between the islands of Aix and Oberon to protect the harbours of rochefort and aix. It was built in the 1850’s and is now the site of a somewhat famous French tv show.

It was quite eerie with fog all around and little breeze as we glided past it. Very unusual to find a fort out in the middle of nowhere.

Sightseeing over, we headed for aix, where we dropped anchor and then managed to move onto a public mooring.

We negotiated the tide and pulled the dingy a long way up the beach. We all decided we needed rubber boots to avoid getting our toes cold in the freezing water after watching what the locals do, so the local store now has three less pairs for sale.

Then it off to explore the island by foot. We were soon out into the countryside with ponies and big draught houses in stone paddocks. The island was splatters with little villages and fortifications dating back to the 1800’s.

It was the last piece of French soil that Napoleon set foot on before being shipped out to the south Atlantic, never to see France again. So of course, there was the obligatory Napoleon pub.

After a couple of hours walking, we desperately needed to check out one of the local establishments. Which we did.

Then back to the boat for a rather rocky nights sleep. We had tide against wind and the mooring ball kept disappearing between the hulls, making it reasonably uncomfortable.

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