Thursday, 26 May 2016

Cruise Departure Betting Pool

We’re starting a betting pool to see which of the following will block our departure the longest:

The replacement of the Iroko exterior handrail that has a crack in it.  We called the ship broker about this problem over 2 months ago.  It takes time for this exotic wood to be delivered from South America.  The piece arrived last week.  We discovered today that it’s the wrong piece. 

Patrick’s pension papers.  Every year, he has to prove that he’s alive to keep receiving payments.  They send a form that he has to fill out, sign and mail back. They can’t manage to figure out how to send the form by email, so we have to sit at home and wait for it to show up in the mail box.  They said it would arrive around the end of May or the beginning of June.  Still hasn’t arrived.

The new folding bikes.  We decided to splurge and buy some new folding bikes.  We found a great deal with a small company in the south of France and ordered the bikes 3 weeks ago.  Today, after 2 weeks of absence, the owner emails us to say that one of the bikes is missing a tire, but that he’s placed an order for it and will get the bikes delivered as soon as possible. 

Gas strikes.  France is in social turmoil again and the gas refineries are on strike.  They’ve been on strike for the last week, and the government has just approved the use of strategic reserves to try to meet demands.  In the meantime, only 1 gas station in 5 has gas, and there are 1-hour waiting lines at the stations and rationing once you get to the pump. Deliveries are grinding to a halt (apply to #3 above for odds adjustment). It is absolutely positively forbidden to fill up jerry cans. No way are we crossing Biscay without reserves. The government hasn’t shown any signs of backing down and the protesters say they will continue the blockades.

Weather.  It looked like we had a great weather window developing for later next week, but today’s check has scrapped that idea.  The first two days of the crossing would be great, but the last 24-36 hours show 20-25 knots winds straight in the nose. No thanks.

The pool is officially open for bets !  What will it be ?

One result of our delays is that we’ll lose a crew member whose dates are limited.  Another crew member informed us yesterday that he has to have emergency knee surgery.  It looks like we’ll do the crossing “alone together”.  This doesn’t bother either of us too much since we have already done 3 days / 2 nights, hand-steering around the clock on our old boat.  With a more comfortable boat and a reliable auto-pilot, we’ll be fine.  With good weather, it may even be enjoyable. 
The first load...
The good news is that Mareda is now only a 5-minute bike-ride (no gas) from home and it looks like I’ll have ample time to stock, arrange, and clean everything to my heart’s desire.  Being philosophical about the situation, a week or two of delay at the start of a 5-year trip is peanuts.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Update 5: A Year of Reading the Med

This month’s review consists of only one novel.  We’ve been busy getting the boat ready and actually sailing, and the novel in question was a whopper.

BOSNIA: Bosnian Chronicle by Ivo Andric.  ***1/2

Andric was awarded the 1961 Nobel prize for literature largely based on his Bosnian Trilogy works, of which the Bosnian Chronicle is the cornerstone.  It is a true masterpiece.  That said, the Mona Lisa is also a true masterpiece, and yet, I wouldn’t want it hanging in my living room.  This is how it is with Bosnian Chronicle for me.  The novel follows the travails of a French consul posted to a lost backwoods town in Bosnia during the Napoleonic wars, and the tense cohabitation with representatives of the Austrian empire, the ruling Turkish viziers, the local Serbs and their Russian orthodox supporters, and the hapless and resentful Bosnians themselves.  I truly appreciate the artistry, the craft, the precision, the depth, the local color, the character descriptions, the historical scope, the humor, the drama.  When you begin reading it, it is clear beyond doubt that you are witnessing brilliance.  But I didn’t love it.  I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters. I didn’t, in fact, realize who the main character was until well over half way into the novel. There is very little dialogue in the novel.  It is written in a storytelling fashion where we learn in-depth what each character is thinking, all about their past, about their thoughts on the future, their secret hopes and desires, and anything else the author thinks would make the character come alive.  Did I mention the novel is looooooooong?  An example:  a child dies a tragic death.  After the scene, the author uses the following chapter to examine the personal history of each of the 6 doctors that attempted to treat the child. No, this won’t change the outcome.  No, you don’t need this information to follow the rest of the story. Yes, okay, it may be interesting in that each of the doctors comes from one of the different communities living in the village and has a different perspective on what should have been done to save the child. But by this time in the novel, you suspect that this slog through their histories will take you nowhere and you are right.  

This was a critical turning point in the novel for me where I started shamelessly skimming pages.  Normally, I would have given up, but since I have been finding the literature of the Former-Yugoslavia particularly impenetrable, I forced myself to persevere.  

But at the same time, it *is* a masterpiece and the writing was far better than anything I’ve read in a very long time, even if I enjoyed other lesser novels more.  The irony is that the advice you would give to such an author to punch it up a bit – more dialogue, less description, cut out the scenes with no action – would destroy the work and turn it into a cheap pulp historical fiction novel like so many modern best-sellers.  Like fine art, there are novels that deserve to be appreciated for their mastery and craft rather than for their decorative appeal, and this is one of them.  Bosnian Chronicle is a novel to be savored slowly with a nice glass of scotch.  (Better buy a nice bottle, you’ll be at it for waaaaay more than one sitting…). 

And with this 5th update and our impending departure, I will be taking a break from “reading the Med”  in order to sail it for awhile.  I need to re-immerse myself in books that really enthrall me (cheap and trashy though they may be by comparison) for the long route ahead.   

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Deep breathing and Green Tea Time

I had a mild anxiety attack a few days ago.  I did something I really shouldn’t have.  I looked at the calendar.  In two weeks, we’ll be “on hold” waiting for a weather window to cross the 360 miles of the Bay of Biscay from Brittany to La Coruna, Spain.  Two weeks?!  But we’ve only had ONE shakedown cruise!  And with everything else we have to take care of, we’ve only got one more 2-day test cruise planned before Mareda goes to the boatyard for a few cosmetic touch-ups.  This means we’ll head across one of the roughest patches of water in the Atlantic without having ever left the confines of our own bay this season. 

Last week's beaching in Sauzon.  Not very useful for a Biscay crossing, but fun.
Okay… deep breathing and green tea time.  (And if you haven’t already done so, you can check out Little Cunning Plan’s A to Z blog challenge from sailing psycho-analyst Melissa, focusing on anxiety from a sailing perspective.)  Reality check:  We sailed Mareda almost 1500 nautical miles last year in some rough areas and came through it all with only good memories.  We’ve already done 2 Biscay crossings in an older and smaller boat, just the two of us, with no reliable auto-pilot and hand-steering around the clock. This time, we’ll have 1 or 2 crew members along for the ride and the boat is fully loaded with new electronics and a strong auto-pilot.  Our previous crossings were only 2 days / 1 night. This time we’ll have 3-4 days and at least 3 nights, but again, we’ve got good experienced crew this time, too.

Two thoughts now keep me from sliding back into a new anxiety attack:  1) No one can force us to go if we’re really not ready.  How simple was that???   And 2) as strange as it sounds, I’m trying to appreciate these anxious moments.  How often do you choose to do something outside your comfort zone?  I was thinking about our possible post-sailing projects: biking across Europe or cruising the canals of Europe. While they are interesting and worthy goals, they don’t send my heart racing. There’s just not much adventure or “unknown” involved.  Maybe this Biscay crossing is the last time in my life I’ll choose to do something that scares me a little bit.  That’s worth savoring, as odd as it may sound.      

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Shakedown 2016: Intentional Grounding

Unlike in American football, intentional grounding in Brittany boating is a good thing.  In fact, it is a very good thing that saved us a lot of headaches this week.  Shakedown 2016 got off to a bad start.  We chose to leave the river by the lock on Thursday at high tide…as did more than 50 other boaters.  This was a long holiday weekend in France and the weather was beautiful.  Boats were crammed into every conceivable patch of water in the lock and there was much crunching and cursing heard from our safe distance outside the lock.  The lock keeper finally signaled that it wasn’t possible to fit us all in, so we returned to our slip to come up with a Plan B. 

There was another lock 2 hours later, but with the falling tide we would not have had enough water to make it out of the river.  We opted for the lock the following morning at 8 a.m. and calculated that we could a) make it out of the river with enough water under the keel and b) sail 38 miles to Sauzon, a drying harbour on Belle Ile, with enough water to enter the drying harbour while it was still wet. 

Sauzon Harbour, Belle Ile en Mer, Brittany, France.
Sauzon harbour entrance from the inside at low tide.

Sauzon up river.
Staying the night in Arzal was not such a bad thing, and I remembered my own advice from last year: make sure your first night on the boat is in your home port because you WILL forget things.  Patrick hopped in the car and dashed off to retrieve a few essentials we had inadvertently left behind. Freshly armed with all we needed, now including the tv remote and the salad spinner, we were ready for adventure!

Friday:  8 a.m. lock passage, few boats, no problems.  No wind but strong current in the river, making 7 knots with only 1500 rpms on the motor.  Hoisted the mainsail for the first time since rigging it.  All well.  Exited river, tested vhf radio at its longest distance (about 25 miles): loud and clear. After 2 hours, wind picked up to 20 knots with gusts on a beam reach.  Put a reef in the sail and rolled the genoa 1/4th.  Reef points along leech down to the boom were a little bit too far forward, leaving a small pocket in the sail.  Note: move those back asap. Light rain, swell 1-2 meters on the beam.  Pull out rain clothes, cool weather gearRigged boom brake. Things tossed around inside boat.  Museum putty things back into place.  Lunchtime: cooking at an angle, clamps in place.  Tested new “Mareda” embossed thermos mugs for hot soup.  (Thanks Mel!)  Boat is too damn fast!  Ahead of schedule and not enough water in the drying harbour to enter.  Practice tacking and jibing for 30 minutes while the tide rises.  Hailed port office on the vhf: clear to enter.  Lifted keel and entered drying harbour.  Tied up to fore and aft mooring buoys next to friends from Vannes: “Welcome to Paradise!”  Club atmosphere among lifting keel boaters; sundowners with friends as the sun and tide set.  Touchdown at 9 p.m., very gentle, only slight creaking as Mareda settles on the hard sand for the night.  A quick look at the deep-draft boats in the outer harbour, rafted up 4 and 5 deep, their masts like windshield wipers sweeping back and forth… we feel snug and smug as we prepare for a quiet night.

High and dry, ready for a calm night.
Saturday:  learn that clam digging has been banned for the week all around Belle Ile because of 7 cases of hepatitis. Walk (!) over to the bar at low tide for a coffee and to obtain the wireless internet code.  Walk back to boat and test wireless antenna. (excellent signal strength). Cool rainy day, took the bus to the center of the island to our favourite all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant to console ourselves for the lack of clams.  Hitchhike back to port. (thank you, nice young man working at a local creperie for the summer…).  Work on the boat: move the reef points back, tie-wrap all shackles to avoid the pins backing out with strain and vibration, wash hull at low tide.  Whiskey, left-over paella for dinner, reading, early to bed.   

Morning coffee in the drying harbour, Sauzon.
Sundaysaved dinghy from certain violent death.  We had been warned but were surprised at how fast the tide rises here.  As the water comes back into a drying harbour, dinghies tied up behind boats ALWAYS find their way under the boat.  As the water rises, the dinghy gets trapped under the boat and will eventually explode from the pressure.  Patrick was in charge of keeping an eye on it, but the internet worked so well, he was completely absorbed.  I was taking a nap, but awoke to the lilting “plook plook plook” of water lapping against the hull.  “Pat, has the tide risen already?” “Um… yes.” “And is the dinghy okay?” “Um…I don’t see it…”.  It was stuck BUT GOOD.  The water was waist deep.  Neither of us had swimsuits on board so early in the season.  I remembered we had our shorty wetsuits and quickly pulled one on and jumped in the water. I thought I would simply slip my hand into the dinghy and let out some of the air, but it was so tightly pressed against the hull that I couldn’t get my hand in.  I gave several adrenaline-inspired tugs and it finally popped out, half-full of water.  Next time, we’ll tie it up on the dinghy davits even when the tide is out. 

No, the water wasn't THAT cold... he's just holding up his pants.
At high tide late in the afternoon, we headed out of Sauzon to try our luck with a spot in the tiny port of Hoedic Island (5 boat slips).  The wind was stiff and on a close reach; impossible to make the passage through the islands without quick-tacking among the rocks.  As we approached, the wind died down and the current was stronger than the wind, making sailing in the area a bit precarious.  The Hoedic harbour master gave us one of the local fishermen’s slips for the night.  More local sailing friends showed up and we enjoyed drinks together on Mareda. We hadn’t been to Hoedic in over a year because there is never enough space for everyone.  To our happy surprise, we noticed that they have now added a series of mooring buoys in a small area of the beach that will now be a “drying harbour” for lifting keels!  We’ll be back. 

The last ones to go.
Monday: Our lifting keel allowed us to leave Hoedic at low tide so that we could make it back into our home river with the rising tide and a lock that was not too late in the evening.  We had a fabulous 18-mile sail back to the river, with winds of 18 knots on a beam reach with a large swell that allowed us to surf at more than 8 knots.

Things we did not test:  reef points 2 and 3, and the anchor.  We’ve got around 20 more days before we start looking for a weather window for the 3-day crossing to Spain, and I’m hoping to get some good sailing days in before we go.  We’ve got some small repairs to be carried out by the boat yard and some family commitments to deal with, so the timing is starting to get tight.  Stay tuned !