This video in two parts show a few aspects of an adventure with a few members of the Dinghy Cruising Association, mostly living in France, and two of whom being Frenchmen and former military men. One had been seriously wounded in a military operation and took many years of surgery and psychological therapy to recover. It was a privilege to spend time with him and even enter into spiritual subjects.
We arrived at the Port of Les Minimes at La Rochelle on Sunday 5th September, and we recovered our boats yesterday (Friday 10th). Given the strong spring tide currents and the pessimistic weather forecasts, the plan was simple. We would sail as best as possible on Monday and Tuesday, two very hot days with little wind. Thunderstorms were forecast on Wednesday, but they remained on the mainland. The only rainfall we actually got was early on Friday morning, and my home-made boat tent performed much better than I feared.
Monday 6th. We put to sea in the early morning to take advantage of the ebb tide, and the destination was Le Douhet on the north coast of the Ile d’Oléran. We found a big harbourmaster’s office in a large 1930’s building. There were a few buildings including a place to get a beer and something to eat.
Tuesday 7th. It was a very hot day, but I had my trusty Australian style hat. We sailed north under the bridge between La Rochelle and the Ile de Ré towards La Flotte. This is a beautiful town in the Charentais style. Again, we ate together and the company was enjoyable. None of us could sufficiently stress the importance of drinking at least two litres of water per day. Dehydration and heat stroke are pernicious!
Wednesday 8th. We were spared the threatened rain and thunderstorms. We sailed to Ars en Ré where we arrived when there was enough depth over the sandbars where we beached and waited. We were guided into the lagoon by a north cardinal buoy and a series of three starboard channel buoys and one port channel marker. We had a head wind, so had to take the sails down and motor in. One of the French had problems with his engine when he reached the channel to the port. He called us on the VHF and I went and towed him in.
Thursday 9th. The plane was to cross to the mainland and visit Tranche sur Mer in the Vendée. However, the wind started to freshen and threatened to be vicious – which it was even when we changed our plan and visited Saint Martin de Ré. This was one of the places from where prisoners condemned to the penal colony of French Guyana were shipped. It would seem that the famous Papillon (the real-life person) was among them. Most of the barrack buildings where the guards lived have been converted into hotels, shops and restaurants. It was an interesting visit as we left our boats in the port. The passage back to Ars was very hard. I had to reef my sail lest my mast would break, already bending under the strain. The following sea made hard work on the rudder. After the cardinal buoy, we had to close-haul and tacking was impossible without getting into irons. I motored in. A man has to know his limits as Clint Eastwood said in his films. The meal at the restaurant was most welcome!
On Friday we returned to La Rochelle and our cars and trailers. We sailed on a following wind but against the current. The chop was vicious and made the helm very hard. We sailed and surfed, and we just had to stick it out and persevere, just go on like Columbus to the West Indes. It was a little calmer after the bridge, as the wind was quite vicious as we approached the port. I finally got there behind the others with bigger boats than mine, and doused the sails so that I could motor to the slipway. I recovered the boat on the slipway and said goodbye to the others. I decided to drive all the way home just for the softness of my bed. Even today, I still have the sensation of my “sea legs”. Yes, I think I was taken to the limit by sailing such a small boat on the Atlantic Ocean. It was all within the limit, but just. I wouldn’t exchange the experience for very much!