Douarnenez over, and I really was free, with nowhere particular to be. I continued to sail in convoy with Aiden and Ellie, and we headed south, stopping in Morgat (not actually south), through the Raz du Sein, Audierne, Benodet (where we sailed right to the top of the river, picked mussels and cooked them over a bonfire on the beach. But don’t try to fight the tide there!), the Iles de Glenans (like mini Scillies but not as good), Ile de Groix (busy harbour, but a great patisserie), Belle Ile (tres belle, not surprisingly, although the council tried to set the whole island ablaze with some badly planned fireworks while we were there).
An exciting sail to Ile Huat, across a very nasty cross tide and some steep seas and strong winds. Surfing down a wave approaching the harbour, a lot of lee helm, and I heard a spine tingling crack from where the tiller enters the rudder stock. The harbour was not quite a lee shore, but there WAS a lee shore pretty close, and so with all my orifices clenched, I hove to and took the main down to three reefs to balance the boat better. On closer inspection stopping in the harbour under sail was untenable with the wind so strong and building. Actually entering it was fine, and I did, but there were no vertical walls and only fore and aft rafted moorings, beam on to the wind, and so no way of stopping unless I dropped the main outside, in which case I’m not sure I could have beaten efficiently back into the harbour – so I did a couple of laps, screaming along at 6kn even with three reefs now, and parted again, getting a few concerned looks along the way. The boat was balanced well now though, and the tiller held out while I surfed round to a bay in the lee of the small island. I took it out after I dropped the hook, and found one of the three laminations (ash and mahogany) cracked through. It was not so much rotten as just old and getting soft. It had been taking strain in the same place for 67 years though, so I guess it was fair enough. I splinted it with a steel strap as a short term repair until I could find some timber for an entire new tiller. Ile Huat was gorgeous, one of the most picturesque islands I’ve visited, but I was eager I get on towards Normutier where a friend of mine lives, and Aiden and Ellie had headed off towards some other part of France for a wedding, so I set off the next morning, after a pleasant jog to the islands patisserie. Another good sail, with more fresh wind on the quarter, and I made good time to Normutier. A week there, in the small drying town harbour, being well looked after by a good friend and working on Lorema.
I bought a good piece of oak and made a new tiller, replaced all my standing rigging with wire I had bought with me from falmouth, and various other bits and pieces, all the while being scrutinised by the many passers by.
Another friend came to visit, and having been ‘neaped’ in the harbour for a couple of days, we managed to squelch through the mud and had a cracking night sail to ile d’yeu, arriving at 2am with quite a breeze and sailing straight into the rather cramped marina with full sail up. I sculled out early morning and we found a quieter anchorage for the day. And then quickly onwards, to St.Gilles Croix de Vie where I was to meet my mother, who happened to be driving down the french coast at the time, for supper! The next day my friend and I found out that, by some strange chance, there was a sculling race in the harbour that day, as part of the Fete de Mer. So I sailed in from the anchorage, raced the French, and we got involved in the festivities!
My friend has to leave the next day, and I was getting ready to sail down to La Rochelle, where there was better anchorages off Ile de Re where I could wait for good weather to cross biscay. An hour before I left an English friend called me to tell me he was just an hour away from St.Gilles on his bicycle! I told him to get pedalling. A last glass of pastice with the locals while I waited for him, and then he arrive and we quickly dismantled his bicycle and squeezed it into the forepeak in order to catch the tide. Unfortunately Johnny was sick (it was quite lumpy to be fair) and spent the entire trip prone, but I had a very enjoyable sail and we arrived at St Martin de Re at 3am – another exciting and somehow awe-inspiring night arrival. A few days in St Martin, preparations and a good forecast on the horizon. And finally, north easterlies! – or supposedly, but as I tacked out of the bay formed by Ile de Re and the mainland, against westerly wind and an east setting tide, i thought I might not make it out! Stuck in La Rochelle forever! But on and on and eventually out of the narrows, and as I continued west, the wind veered nor-west and then north, and I was away, across the bay on a broad reach, La Coruña here I come!