Across the Bay of Biscay to Spain

Once in the Gironde we quickly discovered there’s no a lot of good harbours between there and the Basque country at the bottom of France. And to complicate things, there’s a firing range that extends 45nm out to sea. We also discovered another one further out that the guide books and web sites don’t mention – but it wasn’t in use as there was a ton of fishing boats out there.

With this information to hand, we decided it was time to do our first overnighter and head for Spain. Bilboa seemed to be the logical choice – it was more or less straight down, whereas San Sebastian required us to cut in again.

So Bilbao it was.

We set off at 1pm so that we crossed the bar at high tide and then turned south. Allan and I split the watches between us. We started with 2 hour watches and then pushed them out a bit at night.

 

Crossing From France to Spain
Crossing From France to Spain

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The wind was annoyingly on the nose but we just got enough angle and didn’t have to do too much tacking, sailing a lot of the way. The swell wasn’t big – maybe 1.5m but it was confused and not as nice as a bigger regular swell that we are used to off the west coast of Australia.

The wind dropped away in the wee hours of the morning but picked up to 30kt as the sun came up and we approached the Spanish coast. We passed a few fishing boats on the way in to Bilbao. The entrance is a little tricky as there is a breakwater that is underwater (but shown on the charts).

Once past the breakwater it’s about 5nm in to the port city of Getxo, where we dropped anchor. We tried calling up a couple of marinas but being a Sunday, nobody there spoke English so we thought we would have a good nights sleep and check into Spain with clear heads on Monday morning.

 

 

 

 

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.

Commissioning

TIME FOR SOME SERIOUS BLOGGING……

After arriving on Thursday, we had a couple of busy days shopping for everything – kitchen stuff, tools, safety gear, everything – you name it. we had a comprehensive list from Camelot and we spent two days driving around in our hire car discovering where to buy stuff.

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Leanne and mike from Ooroo 1 were invaluable, as they had been there from a couple of weeks already and had sussed out most of the shopping – especially the cheap (but good) champagne – €4 a bottle – how goods that).

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We picked up Allan and Joan from the train station on Saturday and caught up with Brendan from Vicsail on Sunday morning. Then we were into it. Unpacking everything… Commissioning stuff … Checking stuff – it was full on. We managed to find places for all our shopping and the bits that we unpacked on La Mischief.

The new Lagoons have their mast and rigging installed on the hard stand and then are put on a commissioning jetty where they are finished off. There were 8 new Lagoons on the jetty when we arrived. Commissioning has been an interesting process with all the different players and contractual arrangements. La Mischief was purchased from Vicsail (the Lagoon agent in Sydney) who orders the boat from Lagoon in France. Lagoon have a limited number of options available that can be done during manufacture but they refuse to deviate from their standard assembly line process so any extras you want, have to be done separately. Lagoon contract the commissioning work to a company called Sailing Atlantic Services (SAS) who we also used to commission some of our after market items. For the electrical / electronics after market items, we used a company call Robin Marine. Vicsail contracts with both SAS and Robin Marine for the extras that are not part of Lagoons scope of work.

As well as getting lots of help from Brendan Hunt, the MD of Vicsail, who came over from Sydney to help us through the process, we also dealt with Olivier from Lagoon who was their Customer Relations Manager – a suave Frenchman, who was obsessed with Rugby, and was very charming. Jean-Christophe was our go to man from SAS – he was brilliant, as he worked quite hard to make sure everything was finished off before we left for Easter. Jean-Christophe has a bit of a reputation for being a bit abrupt, but he’s like a lot of techos I know – really good technically but not necessarily a smooth talker. Allan and I really liked working with Jean- Christophe – he called a spade a spade. Pierre from Robin Marine was their go to man – a really nice guy and didn’t all the girls just love him. Joan threatened to run away with him if Allan wore his new beanie to a restaurant.

By Monday lunchtime, we were casting off the dock lines and heading out for our first sea trials. Really light winds – 5 to 7 if you were lucky. Nice gentle conditions to try out our brand new geneker, as well as the main and genoa.

We finished by dropping our 25kg Rocna anchor and testing our 100m of 10mm chain. I think that will secure us at anchor.

All the time, SAS and Robin Marine were finishing off their commissioning and after market items. Allan and Joan were such a huge help with everything. Al was really enjoying the process of understanding and commissioning a new boat.

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Robin Marine needed the boat for two days whilst they fitted the smart alternators. Meanwhile someone had forgotten to fit our new outside (beer) fridge so SAS leapt into action to get this very essential item installed. How can you possibly go sailing with warm beer???

Whilst Robin Marine were busy with the smart chargers, Allan and I took the opportunity tovisit the Lagoon factory (the girls went shopping of course). Brendan, Allan and I drove about 50km inland to find one of the eight or so Benneteau factories amongst an area known for good workers. Some of the Lagoon models are built here and transported to the coast at Les Sables DÓlonnes where they are commissioned. We followed Olivier (from Lagoon), who was auditioning for a drive in the Le Mans 24 hour race, so we had our work cut out in our Renault Scenic keeping up with him. The factory was very impressive, good processes that turned out a very well built, consistent boat. The factory seems to be full of women, the boss is a woman and they explained they use a lot of women in the factory because they are more careful with their work(wo)manship. We started at the beginning where the boats start off as a huge layered patchwork quilt before infusion. Allan said that the quality control process is as good as that used in the oil and gas industry. As we wandered through the factory, we heard Madame Rue was also visiting and we were luckyenough to meet her in person. She owns 60% of the Benneteau Group that owns the Lagoon brand. She is the granddaughter of the original Monsieur Benneteau and is treated like royalty in these parts. We left the factory thinking that these boats are great value for money for the amount of and quality of workmanship and componentry that goes into them.

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WHEEL HOUSE

Because of the complexities of multiple parties, the people involved and language barriers, finishing La Mischief off kept us very busy. We had test sails to do, fit the Aussie BBQ, commission equipment and shop for spares and tools. Allan thought it was a hoot, shopping for tools on my credit card. Even better for Allan was knowing that Joan’s shopping bill wasn’t going on his credit card either (Well except for a few things).

In between we found time to have a look around Sables D’Olonne and check out a few restaurants and bars, with our partners in crime from Ooroo.

All in all it was a great effort all round and by Thursday we were nearly ready. We had new linen, kitchen appliances, cutlery and were stocked up with food.

Ready for our first leg to La Rochelle.

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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Les Sables D’Olonne – Here we Are!

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With three marvellous days in Paris under our belts, we braved the motorways of France and drove our hire car to Les Sables D’Olonne, 5 hours away. Our hire car was a Renault Scenic, not too bad despite having the steering wheel on the wrong side – the manual was also a bit of a challenge with everything round the other way.

It was a lovely drive through the French countryside to the coast. We quickly checked into our room and saw a message from Leanne that La Mischief had just been put in the water. Missed its launch by an hour or so – bummer.

But it was great to see her in the flesh. We hopped on board and had a quick look round as there were workers crawling all over it. Then we went and had a drink or three on Ooroo 1 – Mike and Leanne’s new Lagoon 450. How weird is that – two couples from Perth getting new Lagoon’s parked up in France, one behind the other.

First Pictures of La Mischief

La Mischief is now out of the factory and into the yard at Sailing Atlantic Services (SAS). Here they offload the boat from truck at launch site and do the following

Mast preparation
Launching
Mast stepping
Complete setting-up of the boat and her equipment
– Installation of pulpits, pushpits, stanchions and life lines
– Electrical connections
– Sails and rigging
– Installation of anchor kit and mooring kit (if supplied)
– Engine start up / check
Filling of water tanks and fuel tanks (200l)
Complete cleaning of boat

Here are the first photos….

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A New Adventure Commences

Having successfully sailed from Fremantle to Sydney, Camelot’s Excellent Adventure has drawn to a close and its time for a new adventure, bigger, longer, and a bit more daunting.

La Mischief’s Excellent European Adventure steps out of Australia into international waters with different languages, customs and procedures to deal with.

Now finally off my trainer wheels, its time to get the boat of my dreams, fitted out with the benefit of 4 years of experience and lessons learned.