4 Month Review
So, some random thoughts and rambling about France from Ann...
The people are very friendly, helpful and patient with my very poor French. It's sometimes frustrating to remember and use what little French I learned during a one-night-per week night course over 15 years ago that lasted just 6 months to try to make sense to the French, but I'm learning a little more from a couple of books we bought, which means I can generally get by without too much sign language, and I've so far managed to avoid coming back to the boat with tripe sausages or other similarly undesirable produce!
Shopping and provisioning takes, as we suspected, quite a bit of time and can be a bit challenging and stressful, wondering if we have enough of everything to last until we're at our next port of call and wondering what we'll find there. If we manage to be in a town to co-incide with their market day, that takes care of the fruit & veg, plus things like salamis and sometimes meat and fish for a few days. If there is a supermarket in the town, it can often be a small one, so choices for stocking up on non-perishables can be limited. We sometimes find a huge supermarket just out of town, but trudging the stores back to the boat can be an arm stretcher (and that's just the wine and beer), even with my handy trolley! I do love the markets though - the fruit & veg is all very fresh and hasn't been refrigerated so keeps very well aboard. The fish shops and markets are also fabulous, with more varieties of fish, crustaceans and shellfish than you can imagine.
The marinas vary quite considerably in quality of facilites in terms of showers, launderettes, etc, although most charge extra for showers, but electricity and obviously water are included in the berthing fees. There is a variety of complex systems for the showers, operated with jetons (tokens) or coinage. At an average price of 2 euros each per day though, we can save a considerable amount of money by using the mains electricity (included in berthing charges) to run our immersion heater and use the shower aboard instead. Some marinas don't have washing machines but those that do often have a complicated set of instructions, sometimes, but not always translated into English. Suffice to say, when we find a marina with washing machines, we usually have quite a mountain of laundry, so it takes at least half a day to wash and dry! We can usually make laundry day correspond with a day Andy can work remotely, thanks to modern technology. He says he doesn't mind continuing to work an average of one day per week...I suspect he'd do or say anything to avoid having to set foot in a public launderette!
Mooring cleats seem to be rare on the pontoons here (although since reaching further south, there are more). The finger pontoons are usually quite narrow and extremely short, with some fairways of a reasonable width and others not so. The finger pontoons often have no cleats at all - you might get two on the main pontoon, but none either in the middle of or at the end of the finger. The end of the fingers have a sort of hoop through which you have to tie your lines, but it's difficult to get a line through one quickly, which you need to do when there are just two of you on the boat! Andy has to stay at the helm obviously, whilst I have to perform what seems a bizzare ritualistic dance to leap down to the pontoon, hope its lack of width doesn't make it wobble enough to springboard me into the 'ogin, get a bow line onto a cleat on the main pontoon, dash back to the end of the pontoon to get the stern line, pass that quickly through the silly hoop thing, then get a spring on to stop us going too far forward, which also has to be led through the silly hoop thing. The stern line ends of being more of a spring due to the shortness of the pontoon. Having said that, as we have moved further south, the cleat shortage seems to be less of a problem....hope that continues!
Conversely to the lack of cleats, there is a proliferation, of all things, of Irish shops (in Northern Brittany - haven't seen any further south yet). It seems very odd to wander through the quaint streets of a traditional Breton village and there, as unexpectedly and unlikely as a four-leaf clover or your jolly little fat green man, pops up a shop (I think they are part of the same chain) specializing in Irish products. There are, as you'd expect, specialty Breton product shops, which is all right and proper, but Irish shops? Hopefully, I can learn enough French one day to ask why, but then I still wouldn't understand.
Back to learning French...some newly acquired words, and your lesson for today...I had seen a sign in Paimpol, and then again in Lezardrieux, advertising 'Don du Sang' in Lezardrieux on Thursday afternoon. The poster didn't seem to mention fete, festival, music or dance, but there were happy smiling people on the poster pointing toward you, seemingly inviting you to something special. As it transpired, we had a phone call that morning from friends Martin and Judith from Chipping Sodbury, who were in Brittany, only about an hour away, so arranged to come to see us. Just as they arrived, the rain showers that had threatened all morning blustered in, so we retreated to the nearest restaurant for a cheap, but not terribly inspiring lunch (we should have wandered further to one of the creperies or cobbled together a buffet aboard Pipit, sorry Martin & Judith!). By the time we'd finished lunch, it had dried up a bit, so we wandered to the town and tracked down the 'Don du Sang' which seemed to be taking place in a room near a sports ground. It was all very quiet, no music or merriment evident...intriguing...what could it be? Then Judith suddenly remembered enough French to translate 'sang' to blood, and Don du sang as blood donation. Reading the poster again, it was then apparent that the other words mentioned something about donating blood as it may save your life and that's what the happy smiling people were inviting you to do. Pictures of vampires or needles would have made it clearer...but then again, I probably would have thought it was a Boris Karloff fan club convention or a drug rehabilitation meeting...perhaps retirement has turned my brain to mush...or is it the strain of interpreting the complex array of washing machine instructions?
The weather hasn't been as settled or consistently warm as I had expected, but then even now, we're only a couple of hundred miles south of Cornwall. We have had some really lovely days though, both sailing and walking, although I think I have only sailed without my thermals a few times, and only in shorts and t-shirt once!
Although we still take what seems a lot of time over our passage plans, our trepidation about navigating the rock-strewn coasts with strong tides has eased and we know that the time we take doing the passage plan, reading the Pilot Guide and Almanac means that although on the paper chart, it often looks a bit scary, the reality is quite a straightforward affair.
So...all in all, I wouldn't wish for a better lifestyle and am enjoying it thoroughly, despite some of the challenges it presents. I think we have both learned an enormous amount about ourselves and each other. We have learned a lot and gained confidence in our abilities to cope with everything in our cruising life, and are looking forward to continuing both the adventure and learning!