Voltair’s Voyages, 2011

First part - Foleux to Santander

You can download our track and view it using Google Earth. To download the file, right-click on the link FoltoSan in your browser and select "save link as". This should start a dialogue to allow you to save a file called “FoltoSan.kml” to whichever location on your computer you choose.  Now start Google Earth on your computer and then do "File: open", find the file you just downloaded and click on it. Our track should then appear on the map and the program will zoom into it. You can then see exactly where we went, and also look at various photos loaded up by other people around the route.

Voltair had spent the winter afloat on the northern side of the Vilaine river at Foleux, a few miles further upstream than La Roche Bernard, in a pleasant small marina. Ed, an old GP-sailing friend from Chelmarsh turned out to be living no more than 10 miles away, and he had been popping down from time to time, reconnecting the electricity to the boat (which the management promptly disconnected again after 6 hours) and generally keeping an eye on things.

Vaughan and JK drove over in April with supplies for the “fitting out” and spent a week doing maintenance on the engine, moving the yacht to the other side of the river (where Foleux becomes Folleux) and having her hauled out for a few weeks so as to do the underwater painting.

Robin, Vaughan, David and Clive then flew out in May, completed the jobs and launched her. They then set off to the south and got as far as La Rochelle by 10th May. Terry, Jenny and JK then replaced Clive and David and we carried on towards Spain.

Our first day after La Rochelle was rather memorable! We left the harbour somewhat after the optimal time for going inside the Isle d'Oleron (so Robin told us afterwards), and found ourselves going like a train through swirling brown waters with not very much to spare under our keel.

By 12:30 we had passed Rochefort, where the River Charente debouches, and were by the orange blob on the green track, navigating around some tricky sandbanks at 7 knots! Then came another test in the form of a bridge with many rather low-looking arches.... which one were we supposed to go through? Not a clue!

We chose one with no markings at all, and didn't come to grief with either our mast or our keel, and soon afterwards found ourselves in more peaceful and deeper water to the south of the island, with a stiff northwesterly breeze filling our sails.
Click to enlarge chart
This was but a brief respite, however, since we now were approaching the exit from the channel into the Atlantic, called Le Pertuis de Maumusson. This was across a bar, with a nice "note" on the chart, saying the soundings were continously changing, the sandbanks moving storm by storm, and that when a westerly was blowing the exit was dangerous. Well, we couldn't see anything but breaking waves out there, we were still on a racing ebb tide (9 knots over the ground by now) which is usually the worst possible time to go over a bar.
So we turned around to gather our thoughts (rather than charging onwards regardless) and considered our best course through the surf, hoping to find a green buoy that we could leave to port, or a red and white safe water mark that would tell us we were "out". We furled the jib, secured all the loose bits in the cabin, zipped down the hood, turned once again to the west and began, sheets of spray (and green water too) coming aboard as we met every wave with our starboard bow.

It's a good job we hadn't googled the "Pertuis de Maumusson" - the strait/sluice of Maumusson - since there is a whole page of really bad news at http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pertuis_de_Maumusson. It speaks of huge waves, violent currents, a haunted city drowned by the sea (careful you don't hit the bell-tower at low tide), even a prayer "Save us from the Siren's song, the tail of the whale and the Hole of Maumusson". Maybe that would have persuaded Robin, our skipper, to go around the island rather than inside it!

Needless to say, we didn't have any other boats for company as we smashed through the surf. I was on the helm, with my heart in my mouth, and my eyes flicking between the echo sounder to the next wave - at least I had the wheel to hang onto as we bashed westwards at 7 knots - 3 knots from the tide and 4 knots from our engine. After what seemed like hours, but was actually about 15 minutes, we spotted a distant buoy, and this turned out to be the safe water mark. After that, we were soon out into water deeper than 5 metres, and we were able to breathe more easily and bear away for the Gironde.

The following day was as different again. We left early from Royan - as early as 5:30am if my tracklog is to be believed. The wind had eased and veered to the northeast, and we had a lovely lazy broad reach down the coast past Bordeaux. Tired of playing with three sails only, and with Jenny on the helm, the four men tried a fourth sail! Not a tremendous success, perhaps, but it helped to pass the time.

By 5pm we were off Cap Ferret and considering whether to turn left and spend a night at Arcachon, the only port of refuge on this coast. However, the wind had backed around to the northwest again, and the bar at the entrance was breaking in an unpleasant manner! So we carried on past, with binoculars trained on the paragliders having a nice time flying the giant Dune de Pyla just by the entrance. It was to be a night at sea, so we started watches and settled down to a routine of two people on, three off, with one person changing every hour. Terry and Jenny had a tough watch when a thunderstorm came through around 2am, but by dawn we were pretty much at Bayonne, just north of Biarritz, 24 hours after leaving Royan.

We had a lazy morning and caught up with some sleep. Then we had a thoroughly touristy afternoon, did a bit of sculpture near the bus stop at Bayonne, and took a bus into Biarritz to see the sights. The beautiful sandy beaches, the surfers, the minute harbour, the fashion shops, the magnificent hotels.... all too much to write about here... but whatever you do, you must visit the Miremont for fantastic patisserie ..... best have a look at our short movie on YouTube (which I have now completed but is still in the process of loading to the server. When this completes it will be at http://youtu.be/uVl7pGjD4wE You don't have to copy that lot, just click the link .

I think there should be a small prize for the winner of the "Imitate the angel of Bayonne" competition. - So I'll be presenting Vaughan with a small rusty replica next time we go sailing.

There's lots more to come, but that's it for now!

John K