Yacht Pipit


Frustrated of La Rochelle... 17th June 2011

We arrived in La Rochelle with the plan to spend perhaps a week exploring and preparing for our Biscay crossing. Most of the first week here, and in fact for the last several weeks, we've had settled weather with abundant amounts of glorious sunshine. The winds have often been northerly, usually quite fresh, but this has been great as we've been making our way down the French Biscay coast and would be ideal for our passage across Biscay to Bilbao. It got so hot for a couple of days, we've even had the bimini and bimini extension up which works a treat helping keep the cockpit and whole boat a bit cooler!

Then, of course, when we were ready to make what will be our longest passage yet, and our first overnight on Pipit, the weather changed. Low pressure systems prevail, interspersed with only one or two day small high pressure systems - possibly long enough to make the trip safely, but not long enough for us to be comfortable setting off on our first ocean passage. Although the weather in La Rochelle has often been warm & sunny, we have had some days with cooler temperatures, some rain, strong winds and thunderstorms. One day, it was blowing a steady 20-22 knots, gusting to just over 24 knots from the west, so we're glad we didn't take what initially looked like a good weather window to begin our Biscay crossing the previous day, as the winds in the Bay were stronger still and we'd have been beating into them, together with an increasing Atlantic swell.

Whilst waiting for a suitable forecast, more shoreside excursions and jobs around the boat have been on the agenda. One of the jobs was to mark our HypoHoist MOB recovery system and add a length of line for attaching to the main halyard, so it could be deployed without having to think about it:

We walked around the city following a route described in a booklet provided by the Tourist Office. There are some impressive historic buildings, particularly the town hall which is currently undergoing some restoration.

An albino peacock, seen in an animal park (not mentioned in the walk guide) in one of the green spaces in La Rochelle.

The gothically embellished town hall.

Henry IV's house, now a[n? take your pick!] hotel.

In La Rochelle, 'Yelo' seems to be the new 'green', with several environmentally friendly forms of transport available under the 'Yelo' brand. You can hire bicycles quite cheaply at numerous points throughout the city, the ferry which runs from Les Minimes to the Vieux Port is solar-electric and there are a number of electric car hire points.

Solar-electric ferry.

Port des Minimes is an enormous marina with some 4,000 berths and work has begun on extending it further still, adding another 1000 berths. It is not, like most big marinas, particularly pretty, but it's not without interest and entertainment:

Work has started on another basin - interesting how many grown men stop to watch a digger in action...

We may not be at the Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival this weekend, but we had a taste of similar entertainment...

The marina staff seemed quite skilled at moving pontoons about - perhaps as a result of practice last year?

135 hp of Honda to help put it all back together again.

We'd prefer to stay here rather than try to get a berth in the more scenic surrounds of the Vieux Port right in the city, which would be too goldfish bowl like for our preference. We've also been tempted to move somewhere else altogether for a change of scene, but Les Minimes offers all-tide access for when we do eventually leave, and we have WiFi here to keep an eye on the weather, so have stayed put.

We had another day out and went to the city of Rochefort. Ann showed Andy something called a train which, to his surprise, had other people on it - can you imagine? You know, nice people who smell and have lots of dogs on chains and of course sat on the floor in "Andy's" carriage vestibule. He was suitably impressed with this thing called public transport and looks forward to using it more often... [Andy did actually commute from Chippenham to Paddington daily for five years - going first-class avoided the dogs on chains, and he was able to have a rub down with a free Telegraph every morning...]

Rochefort was established by Louis XIV as a naval dockyard and has some interesting historic sites and buildings, including the rope walk and the 'bateaux-porte' dry dock. As tight-wad liveaboards, we baulked at the entrance fee and decided not to see the Hermione, the replica frigate being built. Think we'll look on the internet for a virtual tour... Further down the Charente River, there is also the transporter bridge, quite a walk but well worth seeing.

The Corderie Royale, where ropes were made.

The bateaux-porte dry dock. Interesting, but can't help thinking lock gates would be easier...

The transporter bridge, like the one in Middlesbrough - didn't see Oz & co though...

Tim, Karen & Boline of Saradan arrived in La Rochelle and stayed for a few days before moving down to Rochefort to wait out the constant stream of low pressure systems in the hope that our elusive summer high pressure will return so that we can head across Biscay. Hopefully, we'll be sharing anchorages, tapas and cervezas in the rias soon!

Since setting off from the Vilaine, we have enjoyed several great meals cooked on our Cobb barbecue. It reminded us that some of growing number of Cobb converts, or those who are thinking of acquiring one, might be interested in our experience with some of the 'accessories' we use, some supplied by Cobb, others not. This may make us sound like a roving Cobb sales team, but we genuinely endorse the product, without recompense! :-) We've decided this warrants, along with other food and drink related subjects, its own page called Nosh Nibbles & Nightcaps.

We've now been in La Rochelle for 3 weeks and despite having some fair weather days, the forecasts are never giving stable conditions for long enough to get us comfortably across Biscay without the constant worry of the next low possibly steaming in earlier than forecast. We're now thinking that we may cross (when the next high pressure system makes a visit and the wind is in the right direction) to Gijon instead of Bilbao. We had originally chosen Bilbao as it is the shortest crossing that avoids the Landes missile firing range and the shallow waters and potentially dangerous entrances of the ports further in the corner of the Bay. If we do sail for Gijon, we would probably leave La Rochelle at midday-ish one day, spending two nights at sea, but that would give us a longer window of time to make landfall again during the day. If we can get a settled forecast with reasonable winds (NW-NE) and calm seas (there's a glimmer of hope for this for next Tues/Wed/Thurs), then we could re-gain some of the time we have lost waiting here in La Rochelle, and perhaps be exploring our first ria within a fortnight.

As we write this, the rain has arrived ahead of the predicted F6/F7. This has been forecast for a few days and this morning, we watched the barometer drop drastically, so set additional lines and stopped the wind generator. Don't you just love this summer weather?