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2006 - 2
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The 2006 Journey Begins.

From La Rochelle via St Dennis and Royan to Arcachon. Thats the first stage of the 2006 plan.

It had proved quite difficult to leave La Rochelle; for one thing it had been our home for 6 months so the harbour rot was deep rooted, and secondly, Dufour had only completed fitting the additional alternator the day before and so it was largely untested.

 Read on to see how we achieved it.

Saint Dennis D' Oleron (22nd April, 13 miles from La Rochelle)

We decided our first trip would be a 10 mile passage to the Ile D' Oleron.  Morgan, the Heavenly Twins catamaran had a similar passage planned and so did Mirabell II, the Westerly Corsair, that's if the recent gear box troubles were sorted.

The passage to St Dennis.  Jill and David on Morgan had been rafted along side us overnight and they set off at 1100 motoring out into a beautiful blue sky and light winds, we followed 15 mins later. 

In the bay the wind was a mere whisper showing 2 to 3 knots on the gauge but sailing into it lifted the wind to nearly 4 knots, err wow!  At times we managed 0.8 knots and soon found ourselves racing (huh?) a Bavaria 42 and Beneteau 40 something. It was slow, really slow but we, err yes, slowly overtook them. These Dufour 40's, common as muck they might be but slick as heck. 

We took 4 hours to sail the 13 miles and all of it was brilliant. We tied up behind Morgan and opted for the "buy 2 get one free" deal for the princely sum of 36 Euros for the 3 nights.

Oleron had re-awakened for business since our stop here last October and all of the shops, cafes and bars were busy. Naturally we avoided them all and went for a cycle on the network of super cycle-ways. Boyardville was only 25 Km away and so a good coffee stop before we retuned home through the forest with all of its trees having  gained  splendid  bright  new green leaves.  Its a beautiful island and a real retirement possibility.

Whilst we were cycling Mirabell II arrived, her gear box flushed and now brim full of new Volvo oil at 25 Euros per litre.  Richard and Elaine were also well pleased to be free of La Rochelle.

Royan (25th April, 52 miles from St Dennis)

We all planned early starts to Royan, the start time being a function of how late one dared to leave St Dennis before the tide dried the entrance.  Another complication was the need to take the flood tide 20 miles up the Gironde river to Royan.  Trying to go against it is pretty much impossible and also the forecasted on-shore winds could whip up treacherous seas.

The passage to Royan.  By 0600 we were all at sea, Mirabell II clearly in the lead due to a 30 min head start, but the lead was short lived. The gearbox gasped a final gasp and ceased to drive the propeller. They decided to return to LR and plan anew.

Morgan and ourselves battled through the bouncy sea at the N of Oleron and then turned S to run before the wind for 30 miles.  Forgetting the fog, as we have,  it was a wonderful return to off-shore sailing. By 0900 the sun shone and it was warm enough to shed a few layers and bask like lizards in spring sunshine. Mid morning we were circled by a tired looking pigeon but he didn't have the confidence to land, unlike the goldcrest who tested perches of nylon, fibre glass, stainless steel and finally terylene rope before accepting it as a resting place for next 5 minutes. Its nice to be useful.

As we approached the Gironde estuary the wind rose to a good F4, so turning East across it meant we stormed into the estuary along the initial series of buoys. Then all of a sudden, ahead was solid white water and 2m breaking seas,  both of us had worried looks on our faces. Fortunately the chart showed we steered South of this mess into safe water, but 400m off to our port side the breakers continued  to tumble over one another.  With this lot behind us a we sailed in calm waters along the coast for a further 10 miles to Royan.  

Royan Cathedral - Photo by David Potter

Royan is a lot like Eastbourne, although I believe it is in fact twinned with Gosport.  Most of Royan was destroyed during WW2, so the majority of the town is very modern, including a spectacular concrete church which, sadly, is suffering rotting of the steel reinforcing within the concrete. But I guess for the next 20 years it will continue to look quite stunning.

Royan Cathedral - Photo by David Potter

There are lots of good beaches and open promenades with views across the Gironde estuary and out to sea.   Great market, although not sure about the guy who tried to sell us a very cute live Vietnamese pot bellied pig, the vendor was insistent but Janet explained in  her best French that we were on  a sailing holiday. Sea  and beach angling, seems very popular here as does surfing, one of the bays had at least 50 surfers enjoying the big waves.  In one bay we saw lots of flotsam including whole trees washed up above the tide line, obvious evidence of how big the  westerly waves must be in the Winter.  Like it says in the pilot book not a place to approach in a strong westerly.  Tonight we are going to eat out in one of the many beach cafes, judging by the choice it will be a hard decision as to which one.

Flamingoes at Royan Zoo

Not a sight you expect to see in every town but just as we were cycling along we looked over a wall to see this. It seems Royan has a zoo.

Arcachon (30th April, 70 miles from Royan)

From Royan 2 options are available for yachts heading South.  First is to head direct to the ports near the French/Spanish border, some 160 miles away, or secondly to head for the intermediate port of Arcachon which is about 70 miles. Complicating both is a French missile testing range extending 50 miles off shore and starting 30 South of Royan and going almost to the Spanish border.  Its big but I guess missiles need space to be tested.  We chose the latter option as the firing range is not used on Sundays so allowing us to sail down the coast. Of course Arcachon has its own problems, it is dangerous to enter in strong-ish on shore winds and can only be entered in daylight due to the complication of the buoys. So, Arcachon it is, the easy option, only 70 miles.

The passage to Arcachon.  We left Royan at 0600, about an hour after Morgan, and an hour before local HW.  With this start time we had to push tide to leave the Gironde estuary but at least the southern route was simpler and less hazardous than the one we entered by two days ago, and the timing was to allow us 12 hours to get to Arcachon and so take the last of the flood tide into the estuary. 

Janet took us out of the flood lit marina and out into the gloomy morning light of the estuary. Up went the sails, and would you believe it, the wind was a perfect F3 and its direction meant we could just make the course. Even with good boat speeds it was over 2 hours before we rounded the Point du Grave and turned South along the sandy shores of the Medoc peninsular NW of Bordeaux.

For the next 50 miles the wind repeatedly rose and fell meaning we had to motor sometimes to maintain our average speed but it was always behind us so ideal for entering Arcachon.

We were surprised by the complete confusion of waves beyond the  Arcachon buoyed channel and so stayed dead centre along the 5 mile entrance channels.  And another puzzle was a small sandy island which turned out to be 5 miles away and Europe's highest sand dune at 350 ft asl.

Arcachon moorings

Once inside and away from the breaking waves of the entrance channel we picked up one of the 500 vacant mooring buoy and settled in (as you can see).  Our evening meal, a splendid curry,  had been prepared in Royan as we knew we would be too late to start cooking.  Morgan arrived an hour later, just as the tide was turning.

Arcachon is an upmarket holiday town, stylish and very expensive with a very good market.  The marina  was closed the day we arrived, as the fishermen were protesting about the high fuel prices so  we picked up a buoy off the harbour.  Fuel by the way was 1.25 a litre.  The following day we were asked to pay 51E per night for a berth in the marina,  and they still wanted 1.5 E for a shower token as well, not surprisingly, we chose to stay only one night.

We had a great cycle ride to the Pyla sand dune we had seen during our sail here, and had a very challenging walk to the top where the views were superb.  Ascending it was real pilgrims progress; 2 steps forwards, one step back. After descending the dune we spent ages emptying our shoes.

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