Dolphins! And 1,000 miles since 15th May 2012
18 August 2012 | La Rochelle
Okay so we were well stocked from the little supermarket at Hendaye, water topped up and boat ready to rock! (unfortunate term as you will see by reading on). We had enjoyed a leisurely few days anchored at St Jean De Luz ( a v good anchorage) and autopilot now fixed by those very nice people at Hondarribia - thank you Javier and your brother, and a great big thank you to Derek Gilbert at Raymarine who very kindly helped us even though we were just out of warranty - the lady at Raymarine Spain had organised a replacement X30 Corepack to be sent us which was installed - alll considered as under extended warranty so we only needed to pay for the postage and the marina charges whilst waiting - thank god for that as these electronics are v expensive! Doing the sea trials was fun as we swerved about in the narrow channel on a busy day with boats everywhere - I am sure they must have thought 'these Brits are crazy!' Anyway, so having had a nice meal out - the last for a while - and the fridge stocked - and our last night (3rd night free) at Hendaye - the question was whether to leave or not?
Time for a shower to think things through as weather consulted - the weather forecast said there would be a swell still running at about 3m from the low pressure systems out in the Atlantic but it would be dropping (that's what you want to hear that it'll get better not worst). The weather would be hot and sunny, and the wind will pick up from the S - SE which would be good to blow us up towards La Rochelle / Les Sables D'Olonne or even Benodet maybe depending on how things go? The decision was made to go for it so we left the marina at about 11am (just after LW). We filled up with diesel at the very convenient fuel pontoon at Hondarriba on the way out. Once out and the sails up we saw that the wind not exactly what we wanted in terms of direction - it was from the North. Anyway it was forecast to come from the SE so headed out into Biscay - very pleasant doing about 4 to 4.5 knots and swell although large was okay as it was a gentle up and down slowly. We sailed all day and all evening comfortably, and then out came the usual measures for night sailing - making sure head torch, search light, and maglite in cockpit handy. Lanyard to clip on. Charts and Log upto-date with position etc. The wind was starting to pick up and we were now doing a good course stright for Benodet and about 5 to 5.5 knots - the plan was to see how far we can sail keeping the diesel in reserve and then see where we could get to in terms of range on the fuel tank - obviously also seeing how we were feeling and weather etc. With her autopilot, nav systems, and being a sea kindly boat Petrella is well capable of looking after us easily and in comfort. I got my head down for a nap about 1 am and we were getting quicker - we were now up to about 6 to 6.5 knots and still the wind came from the North - damn when will it shift to the south! Unfortunately, with the wind increasing so did the sea with waves starting to be more significant from the same direction as the wind (still NE) and this was starting to make things a tad unfortable with the swell coming from the West. By dawn the dogs were not v happy with the conditions – real shame as Bells had been much better when we were sailing along nicely at about 4 to 4.5 knots (she even showed off a bit swanning about the foredeck !). Now we were doing 7 to 7.5 knots in a confused sea – the nearest port of refuge (given that both Arcachon and the River Gironde would not be good places to attempt to get into with a 3 metre West swell and force 6 winds kicking up a sea from the NE) was La Rochelle aprox 80 miles and a hard beat into unfavourable sea – other options were Les Sables which was a slightly better heading wind wise but an extra 20 miles aprox, or we did another day and night at sea and went for Benodet ? The decision was La Rochelle and suffer the 10 hour beat – Benodet too far and already been to Les Sables. A pod of dolphins appeared and danced around the boat at dawn which lifted morale, pus the wind did (finally) start to veer so we could sail a better course for La Rochelle – there was a bit more East than North in it thank God ! Also, the sun coming up and the end of a hard night sail was over – I had been very relieved to see the sun come up as there had been no moon – there was some traffic about but not too bad, and the stars looked amazing with absolutely no light pollution out in Biscay ! We had put 2 reefs in the main, and with the wind shift to our favour a little, full genoa was out now – Petrella sails really well like this as I had found out in similar conditions sailing to Southern Ireland last summer. Need the power from the Genoa to get through the chop but not too much as to stress the boat ! It was going to be a long day getting to La Rochelle – we stopped a few times to let the dogs on deck to due what nature requires – we had nearly lost the Astro Turf when a huge wave came over the bow – time to slow the boat down and pull it back up (i twas safely clipped onto the windlass). Got a bit wet doing that so a change of clothing was required – still nice and warm so not an issue really sailing in shorts and T-Shirt. Finally the wind dropped as forecast and the chop went down – it had been rather uncomfortable with the combination of large Westerly Ground Swell, Chop kicked up by force 6 NE winds, and to couple that about 1 knot of tide under us as we passed the Gironde = very tired Michael. We were very pleased to see La Rochelle entrance and the conspicuous light houses – plus a great big cruise ship called ‘Opera’ bound for Southampton left as we were coming in.
The marina here at Les Minimes is VAST !! Biggest in France I understand – had read poor review in our West France Wiley companion but were greated very well by the nice chap and lady on the ‘Welcome / Reception’ pontoon and shown to a berth – good job he escorted us the berth in his little launch as we would never have found it ! We needed a chart of the marina which to be fair they had pointed out where we needed to go etc. We’re right next to the shower block (which would’ve been a bit of a trek other wise), and nice little beach, a little park (v dog friendly !) for Bells and Whistle to explore, and there are some shops v conveniently placed – including a laundrette ! (hurrah as there aren’t many of those south of here !) V impressive Electric Ferry taking tourists about from pontoon just behind us – runs on solar power and hardly makes a sound ! We paid for 2 nights and get the 3rd free so got some time to rest up and enjoy La Rochelle – a place I had really wanted to visit for some time (especially since GCSE French – would be keeping a look out for Jean Pierre – he must be about 45 now I guess lol)….