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Part 5, La Rochelle Area.

La Rochelle (11th June, 38 miles)

Its amazing what a small world it is.  Last night we met a couple we have not seen or sailed with for about 10 years. They now sail a brand new Beneteau 47, Labasheeda, and keep it in France. They too are going to Spain so we hope to meet them again in the near future.

The passage to La Rochelle. We left the berth with quite a group watching, a couple being the crew of the brand new Ovni along side us who could see we were still connected to the electricity supply on the pontoon. Anyway the second attempt went well.

1000 We left the entrance channel in company with Labasheeda in a NE F4, a good wind for our course but maybe a little strong as our speed was a touch too high. We could not get into La Rochelle until half tide and it was only 35 miles to be done in 8 hours.

Winds light and variable for the next 5 hours, strengthening as we shaped up onto the leading line for the harbour. Still early so we sailed with main only, causing confusion to 50 or so homeward bound Sunday sailors.  We were on starboard so held our course but they all believed we were motoring, being under main only, so they stood on. Gave way to cruise liner and managed to berth unscathed at 1815.

Once tied up we spoke to Hitrapia on the VHF radio to see where they were. Quite close it seemed so we said we'd see them later.  Then we heard a yacht named Solana calling us. It was Clive and Barbara, fellow members of the Shotley Point Yacht Club. We hadn't seen them for a couple of years and we didn't know they were in La Rochelle so we walked into town to see them, Clive thoughtfully providing a bottle of Champagne to welcome us; splendid fellow.

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We are in Port des Minimes, a huge marina, in fact one of the largest in the world. It holds around 3,500 boats and plans exist to enlarge it by 50%, although I suspect the expansion is coupled to the 2012 Olympics bid. This shot shows one of more than 50 similar pontoons. It is a long way from the town but an interesting walk as you pass through the boat yards, yacht sales and chandlers on the way.  Town should prove to be interesting.

We are going to be here for two weeks. One week to do a few boat jobs and chill out. For the second week our son Graham and his partner Claire are joining us, they have got a very good priced Ryan air flight from Stansted to La Rochelle, so we shall enjoy being tourists for a week. We are probably going to move into the Marina Maritime nearer the town for their visit.

British Tornado

The Tornado world championship is being held here at the moment. These two man catamarans really fly, they do about 25kts with only one hull in the water and with both crew hanging from the trapeze. They go out to their races passing Mithril's stern by inches, and all the while the race organisers are trying to slow them down. Obviously adrenalin is running high before the start, and you should see them on the way back in, 64 boats arriving within minutes and all trying to drop their sails and kites during the last 50 metres. An amazing sight.

May's figures
Distance logged. 239
Hours at Sea. 46
Engine Hours. 21
Average passage. 40
Average weekly dist'. 75
Total distance this year. 718
Total cycled 2005 (Km) 550

Our weekly mileage requirement has now been recalculated and is 75 miles per week. Hmmm.

That's probably it for the short passages so our average passage should now start to lengthen.

718 miles sounds like a nice distance concidering we've had a 3 week holiday, but this year its taken us 3 months.

When walking into La Rochelle our normal route takes us past the Dufour sales pontoons and every day we check out the second hand boats, but this particular day was different, we asked to see aboard some of them. The first a Beneteau 44, too tired we said, second a new Dufour 385, too small we said, but Chris the cunning sales guy asked us onto a new 40 foot demo boat. Not for us we said, too racy and anyway, we have Mithril to sell first. No problem it seemed, he would sell her for us or buy her from us. Interested then, we went into the details and discovered a cancelled order looking for a customer so we became that customer and now expect to take delivery some time during the latter half of July.

Problem now is thinking of a name for her, and it also looks like Spain is cancelled for his year, so problem 2 is finding an affordable winter berth here in France.

Surprised at our changing from Mithril? So are we really. Anyway, lets have a stroll into town now that Graham and Claire have arrived.

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La Rochelle is a pretty impressive town/city from the outset. Arriving at the town one first sees these really massive city defensive towers. To the left is the Chain Tower constructed about 1400 and the old defensive chain is on show in front of the tower. To the right is St Nicholas Tower a real stately keep and a maze of rooms, steps and corridors within. Both are open to the public. Passing between them one enters the tidal Vieux Port which is almost totally surrounded by bars, restaurants and cafes. 

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Here Janet and Graham head for a third tower which is actually the archway into the inner town. Here the streets are original and seem to have suffered little from the war years. The stone is a soft limestone and in many places has wonderful carved figures and relief's.  300 metres to the North is a forth tower which has a wonderfully ornate stone spire, but you'll have to take my word for that.

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Most of the town streets have walkways down each side of the street, seemingly hidden behind a wonderful variety of arches.

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And beneath the arches is the original architecture and wonderfully cool walkways, spoiled only by the modern shops now dominating the city. Luckily quite a few cafes and bars exist here and make "shopping" a extremely pleasant activity.

With Graham and Claire having returned home we recommence discussions with Chris at Dufour and discover a strange French system whereby if we lease-purchase the boat we save over 50% of the VAT. Naturally we go for it and have so far discovered the only drawbacks to be that we must carry a French flag and a load of safety equipment, like 6 life jackets and 6 safety harnesses when we sail as a twosome.

As the days go by we have second thoughts, third thoughts, etc, etc. Is it big enough, can we find space for all our essentials. We visit the sales office daily and, as you'd expect, get only positive vibes, we will fit after all its 2 feet longer than Mithril.

Tuesday arrived, time for our factory visit and our first sight of D40-266. The factory was really modern and had 2 final assembly flow lines.  One line turned out D34's, two per day, and the other line D40's and D455's. (have you spotted the code? they are in feet) at a combined rate of about one per day.  Janet and I are both sceptics and not easily impressed by production facilities  as we have spent a large percentage of our working lives with production facilities but Dufour was hard to fault and the D40 was very impressive  as a boat in its component form, and when its completed.  Outside was D40-266 and although we had been through every nook and cranny on another boat we did it all again on ours. Note that, "ours".

We have changed a few things, we've added an inner forestay, spinnaker gear, a galley sea water pump, a bimini and we have decided to fit our own electronics and navigation gear.  We will refit "Redgrave" our wind steering, probably making her the only D40 with one.  Core roll-on the end of July.

Bourgenay (11th July, 25 miles)

With nothing to do now but wait we decided to venture out to sea for a few days. We fancied Bourgenay as it was closed due to dredging when we passed it last month.

The passage to Bourgenay. We set off in a light westerly breeze just managing to make the course out into the bay, then it was time to bear away to the north, under the 30m high bridge across to the Ile de R� and then behind the island de R�. We anchored by woodlands for lunch but we were quickly covered in flying insects so we up-anchored and sailed off shore for a few hours, really to await water deep enough for us to enter Bourgenay.  Once tied up we were straight off to the free showers to refresh ourselves after the sweaty day and the itchy flies.

The town and harbour were built completely from scratch 20 years ago.  The harbour takes 550 vessel and strangely needs dredging most months in the season. Above the harbour is a holiday complex cloned from the TV series The Prisoner.  All the chalets were there, the small knee high signs, the Mini Mokes were modern electric golf carts but still having the canvas roof.  All a bit spooky and, even though we repeatedly looked back over our shoulders, the large ball failed to appear.

After breakfast we went looking for the local town of Talmont which we found after an 11 km ride. Its a lovely town, it has the most seaward bridge across the river to Bourgenay and a wonderful old church which we visited.  Walking around a series of small exhibitions within the church I notices a spot light shining down on me, and as I moved a new one would light me up. I had mixed feelings, this hadn't happened in 2000 years and certainly had me thinking.  Eventually I found the motion sensors and so lost all feelings of imminent grandeur.

We had our evening meal ashore, we ate in a harbour side bar an extremely good value set menu, for which France is famous.

Cost: �24.00/day, free water, electricity and showers.

Saint-Martin de R� (14th July, 20 miles)

The passage to St Martin. There was no destination in mind as we set off south, hard on the wind again, but when it became clear we would pass inside of the island Janet said lets go to St Martin. Sadly this meant putting on the motor so we could arrive before the lock gates closed.  Once tied up, third out in a raft, we were told it was really quiet but tomorrow would be different, it being Saturday.  Sure enough as the gates open the next morning the hoards arrived.

click for full view of town

As you can see the harbour is a moat partially around a central town and the practice is to send new arrivals to the far end were they raft up in rows nine across, wall to wall, row after row. Our area just inside the locks was 4 rows of 8 and it had an amazing atmosphere; sometimes tense sometimes euphoric, depending on who was drinking and whether the wind was causing the rafts to sway, as few boats had land lines out and those that did had them so slack as to be worthless.

Following the last attack and siege by the English in 1627, the whole town of St Martin was surrounded by an immense fortification comprising 14 km of walls, 5 bastions positioned so that the whole of the wall can be protected by scores of cannons.  A 10m deep trench around the walls slows down attackers on foot.  At the NE corner where the wall meets the sea is a huge citadel built by Vauban (he did Concarneau as well) completing the fortifications.

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On the Sunday we cycled 50 km along the cycle paths on the island passing, to the N of St Martin, huge systems of salt pans which are once again operational, no doubt due to the modern re-discovery and unhealthy demand for sea salt. Bit of a smelly place though, perhaps you can imagine sea water evaporating and leaving behind, well, rotting vegetation, small dead fish and sea animals etc, yes very smelly. Up side was the number of birds we saw; Buzzards, Avocets, Egrets as well as all the usual varieties of sea gulls. A super day out in the country.

At about 2100 we noticed the area around the harbour had taken on a carnival like atmosphere.  All of the restaurants and bars were pretty full, in addition to these was a row of craft stalls and street entertainers stages, the whole place was solid with people. We had coffee and ice creams, bought a few Christmas presents and generally chilled out.

Cost: �25.70/day, free water, electricity and showers.

La Rochelle (17th July, 11 miles)

The passage back to La Rochelle.  A leisurely start as the gates didn't open until 1115, but then it was chaos as 10 boats tried to leave at once. Luckily the harbormaster restored calm and we soon found ourselves at sea.  The brisk wind saw us with a reef in each sail blasting for the bridge.  Once under it the wind died and the convoy motored into La Minimes.  We tied up on the professional pontoon in readiness for the session tomorrow.

Today 18th July we have been sailing with a yacht surveyor and a features editor from a national French sailing magazine called Voile Magazine. It seemed that each month one of its articles relates to a second hand boat and Augusts edition will feature Mithril. It will be a first British boat and a first British owned boat to be featured. The day started with a 1 hour interview regarding our sailing background; qualifications, boats, areas sailed, why we bought Mithril and we we are changing. Then almost 2 hours about Mithril herself, this being spent 50:50 with Bernard the journalists, who was clicking away on his camera, and Claude the surveyor peering into every nook. And just before lunch a haul out onto the hard where, surprise surprise, we discover that although Mithril is specified at 8 tons dry weight, today she weighed 10.8 ton; and worst, the crane was only rated at 10.0 ton.

After lunch we took Claude for a sail whilst Bernard stayed in the RIB taking some action photos, and Chris, wearing an evil grin, was driving the RIB. Mid afternoon Bernard joined us aboard Mithril for more photos, 150 shots in all. It was a super days sail with the wind westerly F3 and the sun shining. We sailed every point of sail with shots from all angles. Then back to base for more interviews, last minute questions and an engine survey.

Cost: �18.90/day, free water and electricity, showers �2 each but 2 can share.

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