10 July 2018 | Roscoff, Brittany, FRANCE
Across the inlet from us here in Roscoff is a long pontoon which includes the fuel pumps. But it's also, apparently the only tie-up long enough for boats of more than 50 feet, and it's an easy place to stop for boats in trouble. So in the last 24 hours we saw one German-flagged boat towing another, and depositing the disabled boat on that dock. Another boat on the dock had a problem with its drop-keel (like a centerboard, but for a large boat). He had inadvertently gone aground in a falling tide, until he was high and dry on a mudflat, sitting on the stub keel in which the drop keel is stored when not deployed. Apparently pebbles and who-knows-what-else had jammed into the opening, and he was no longer able to deploy the drop-keel. We watched as he dove several times trying to unjam the mechanism. Ultimately, he was not successful, and has decided to continue to sail with just the stub keel. He's on his way to Martinique! Good luck with any course other than down-wind!
This morning a historic boat from Cameret came into the long pontoon, discharging tourists, loading up more tourists, and taking on bagged supplies, including numerous bags of rice and no produce or meat (that I could see). Good luck to those tourists. Once loaded up, they departed again, ½ hour after arriving.
Yesterday a Russian sailboat came in, about 65 feet long, all grey with matching grey fenders, and proudly flying the flag of the motherland. Obviously fitted out to the hilt for some Russian oligarch.
We had seen another big fancy Russian boat (80 foot power boat) in Plymouth. We were in Plymouth more than a week, and 7 or 8 guys were working on the boat, nonstop, including Saturday and Sunday. There was some construction and repair going on, but mostly it was cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Craig got the story from one of the workers: This was for an oligarch's wife or girlfriend. The oligarch has a 125 foot boat, but she doesn't like it, so he bought her this one for her own. This was a brand new, out-of-the-factory Princess. And yet it "needed" so many upgrades. (Just an example: fenders with custom covers with the embroidered boat's name...) Toward the end of our stay, they spiffed up the boat with table settings and monstrous bouquets of flowers. Apparently that was for an inspection visit by the oligarch and his girlfriend/wife. Then, the word was, they were going to send the boat to Rotterdam, whereupon it would be transported by land to Moscow, where I guess it will be moored in a river and used for tea parties in the summer.
We've been doing boat chores while in Roscoff. The things you have to do periodically: cleaning out the refrigerator, laundry, inventorying the food on board, repairing mechanical items, etc. Special projects this time included shampooing the boat's carpets (the flooding from an exploded hose in Plymouth had left really obnoxious stains on the carpet), and construction of storage bags for our two new Brompton bikes.
The inventory of canned goods revealed a stash of fly paper (from Hawaii 2011) which had decided to drip its gooey sticky stuff onto the floor of the compartment. Think molasses, but 10 times more viscous. (Not poison, just leg irons for flies). I tried to spatula it up, but it just made long strings of the stuff. We tried a succession of soaps, cleaners and solvents, and did finally find one that worked. Had to use the solvent on the spatula too, and all those places where the strings landed...
Our time in France has been interesting - No wind to speak of, except the day we arrived in St. Malo. St. Malo was an unfamiliar port for us, with most of the radio chatter in French. We knew we had to go through a lock, but had been unable to make contact with the marina inside, where they either would or would not have space for us. We were there (we thought) more than an hour before the first lock opening. While circling around, trying to figure out where to tie up for the wait, we were hailed by a French boat whose skipper spoke English. Adrien, we later found out, had worked in Portland, Oregon for 18 months as a software engineer, so spoke English fluently. He told us that it was not, in fact 6:15 pm as we thought, but 7:15 and the lock would open in 15 minutes. (The French would NEVER want to be on the same time zone as the English...) (Good thing we were - we thought - more than an hour early.) He also advised us about what the line requirements and procedure inside the locks would be, and that we should be prepared to tie up on the port (left) side of the lock.
Once through the lock and inside the marina we tried again to gain communication with the harbormaster to find a place to tie up. No answer. (Adrien later told us they don't want to speak English, nor, I assume French, with someone who is not completely fluent). We tied up to the sea wall where we saw several bigger boats. At that point Adrien came walking along the wall and told us we were in an (unmarked) place designated for Coast Guard boats. Instead we should move ahead into the marina, where there was space along the sea wall as it curved out of sight.
We did that, and it turned out to have been a good choice. We were just steps from the old walled city, with amenities of every sort, and interesting sights to see. Adrien gave us a tour, using the walk on top of the wall. He had such interesting bits of history to tell us. We knew from our guidebook that the city had been heavily bombed by the Allies at the end of the Second World War, and that the present walled city is mostly a reconstruction. Adrien told us that before the bombing, the Germans were holed up in tunnels below an area which the French call "La Cité", which is remote from and existed before the walled city. La Cité was much less densely populated, fewer buildings, and didn't look like an urban center. So the word went out to the Allies from the local French: "Bomb La Cité." An English translator rendered that as "Bomb the city" and not surprisingly, the bombers targeted the very dense walled city.
The French have done a great job of recreating the walled city with its narrow streets, although it does look mostly new (or at least only 60-70 years old). We walked around and saw the view of the beaches and the fortified islands just offshore. We passed many restaurants and fortifications. We stepped inside the Cathedral and admired the mostly-abstract stained-glass windows which have been inserted into the old openings. We saw the dog kennel where hungry bulldogs were historically kept: they were released at 11 pm every evening when the church bells rang the hour, and woe be unto any person who was still about. The dogs were lured back into the kennel at daybreak by a promise of their only meal of the day. You can see the dogs on the seal which appears on every manhole cover throughout the Walled City.
We ate that night in a crepe restaurant which Adrian recommended. It turns out the savory crepes are called "gallettes" and are made of buckwheat. The sweet crepes are actually called "crepes". A lovely way to eat!
That was our last dinner with our son David, who left us the next day to return home to hot-hot-hot southern California. (He was a GREAT visitor/crew on the boat and we enjoyed so much spending the time with him in the Channel Islands and St. Malo). We escorted him to the train station walking our new bikes, and then had a fun ride back to the boat.
That afternoon we rode to the immigration office at the ferry terminal. As advised we had had our Q flag (quarantine) up since our arrival. We were told that if customs/immigration wanted come inspect us they would. They never did, so we finally took it down and went to see them. We needed to get stamps in our passports to prove our entry date for Schengen (visa) purposes.
The bikes have been wonderful for errands like that, and we look forward to many interesting explorations.
We left St. Malo and moved west to a resort town called St. Quay Portrieux. This lovely old town has constructed a well enclosed tidal basin where 1000 boats can tie up. The vast majority are tiny recreational fishing boats (less than 6 meters - 19 feet - in length - there must be a law giving some kind of tax break to such boats). Because it's tidal, and the tidal range is at least 10 meters, the climb up the long ramps is sometimes exceedingly steep.
In St. Quay, we met Gill and Richard, an English couple who quickly became our good friends. We talked about life, retirement, sailing, children, grandchildren, Brexit and Trump. (The nature of cruising is that you meet all these wonderful people, spend a day or two with them, and then you move on or they move on, with words expressed about possible future get-togethers, but sadly it rarely can happen.) Gill and Richard took us on a walk along the coast to the next cove to the north (see photo at the top of this post), and a bar/restaurant where wonderful, delicious mussels in a variety of sauces were being served. This is the dish of the season, and they do it well.
From St. Quay we sailed (actually, motored, there was no wind) to Roscoff, where we are now. Here we will wait for Jamie and Eleanor, who will crew for us as we cross the Bay of Biscay. Roscoff is another Brittany resort, connected by ferry with Plymouth. Gill told us in St. Quay that all of these Brittany resorts were historically used by the upper class British grandparents and the children, while the wealthy parents went to vacation on the Riviera. Gill said that while there are some very nice places here, they are somewhat disfavored (compared to the Riviera) because the weather is "the same as England.". Accordingly, vacation properties here are quite reasonably priced. And apparently moorage costs less than in England. Craig was talking with someone who said there are English boats moored here year-round because of the favorable prices. All that may come tumbling down when Brexit takes full effect.
If this weather is "the same as England" then they must be having very good weather now! We're enjoying the heat, the cool evenings, and the quick drying that my freshly-washed carpets are getting.
We hope you are enjoying yourselves as much as we are!
Best wishes to all.
Craig & Barbara Johnston