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 !


Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

Wow - that sounds like a very comprehensive shakedown! Crazy what happens to the dinghies. Glad you were able to rescue it.

Sailing Mareda said...

Thanks, Ellen. It's even crazier that we KNEW that could happen and weren't careful enough to avoid it. Next time...

Keith & Nicki Davie/Dunbar said...

Amazing! Up here in Maine, USA, the idea of REGULARLY drying out just seems fantastical! It could be done with our 10 foot (3.5 meter) tides, but boats made to stand on their own when dry (bilge keelers) are very rare - and imported from Europe! Our own Sionna has a full keel, and with support can easily be dried out on a tidal grid, but she won't stand on her own.

Lucy said...

Incredible! In Florida, the tides are around 3 ft - so it is amazing to see all these boats dried out. What fun! -Lucy

Sailing Mareda said...

Hi Lucy and Keith&Nicki, Yes, this is great fun ! Around Brittany and northern France, having a lifting keel opens up so many possibilities for mooring spots. I'm not sure it will be so useful in the Med where the tides are about 0.50 cm, but maybe we'll be able to snuggle up closer to the beaches.

S.V. CAMBRIA said...

When we started this adventure 15 years ago, I thought I'd be happy with white sand beaches every day. The Inside Passage proved me wrong and has made me crave solitude and wilderness. It looks like your blog is about to change all of that yet again!

Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

Sailing Mareda said...

Hi Cambria crew - I'm not sure what our Med adventure will bring, but it probably won't be solitude, or at least not very often. I am hoping for some lovely beaches but we probably won't have many of those until we reach the Algarve portion of Portugal. One of the things we loved about the north coast of Spain on our last trip there was meeting all the other cruisers who were heading the same direction as us, port after port. We met some incredible people out there and it's so nice to pull into an unknown port and be hailed by a friendly face and helping hands.