BREST TO LA ROCHELLE
By Alan Roberts
22 June to 6 July 2002
Onboard: Philip Mann (Skipper), Bruce Rawlings (Mate), David Barrett, Chris Dugdale, Alan Roberts, Pat Wallis
Unfortunately the ill health of Mrs Joanna Roe prevented Mike Roe from joining us as skipper. Happily Philip Mann was able to take up as his replacement at short notice.
Buzz Airlines from Stansted quickly and efficiently delivered us to Brest where we stayed for one night before embarking on Marabu. The crew before us had a delayed start, caused by engine problems and inclement weather conditions. This allowed us to meet and introduce ourselves in a leisurely way and indulge in numerous coffees and snacks in the marina.
Marabu arrived in the early afternoon on Saturday. The change over of crews was completed efficiently, but not before the previous Mate had to be winched to the top of the main mast to disentangle a halyard!
The forecast for the next few days was for much better sailing weather. We set off for Camaret while the Skipper gave us the usual important briefing. Everyone was given a delegated task to undertake. As usual, I made good cups of tea and soup! It was decided to eat out in local French restaurants when possible and no one objected to this decision.
With mostly blue skies and a good sailing wind we often made progress at 5 to 6 knots. As navigational officer Pat Wallis was efficient in giving us bearings to follow and our Mate, Bruce Rawlings, kept us on our toes trimming the sails. Being a perfectionist, I was chastened several times with the words, “I told you yesterday!” We all knew when David Barrett was moving on deck as the boat would list slightly to port or starboard. As an Ocean Yachtmaster we valued his vast experience and cheerful disposition that kept us in stitches.
Although the coast of France is fairly low-lying from out at sea, we went on to visit Audierne, Concarneau, Île de Groix, Belle Île, Pornishet, and Île de Yeu during the first twelve days. There was time to appreciate many interesting buildings and sample the delicious plate of moules. With the cruising chute up Marabu was a sight to behold in bold red and white. Our skipper, Philip, being an accomplished watercolour artist, was in his element sketching and painting at most of these ports of call.
At les Sables D’Onne (where Ellen MacArthur returned from the Vendée Globe race in second place) the weather pattern changed and we faced rain and drizzle. The steering had been playing up and we had to reach La Rochelle for repairs. It soon became obvious that the emergency tiller would have to be used and in a Force 6 to 7 wind we took half hour stints that proved very hard work indeed.
It is a credit to the crew that we managed to get to La Rochelle without further mishap. Marine engineers were called out and within 30 hours new steering pulley wheels were manufactured and fitted. We were given permission to moor in the inner harbour and the Skipper took a difficult decision that our proposed 36-hour sail in worsening conditions to Bilbao in Spain would have to be abandoned. One crew member, Chris Dugdale, decided he had had enough, and ‘buzzed off’ home. The five of us left enjoyed our last few days in this delightful town with its wonderful ramparts and restaurants. I shall definitely return there one day.
The last task was to clean and tidy Marabu and climb aboard the multi-purpose vehicle that was hired to drive us to Bilbao in Spain. From here we were able to catch our original return flights back to Stansted.
All in all, a most enjoyable cruise that further enhanced my ‘learning curve’ for offshore sailing. Yes, even if you are deaf, as I am, you can enjoy the freedom and conviviality that sailing affords.
Sketches and captions by Philip Mann