Sunday, 22 September 2013

Friday the 13th and Saint Nazaire

Friday the 13th.

As we were getting ready to leave and the weather broadcast announced that it was Friday 13th we both chuckled and carried on getting ready to go. We were partially blocked in by another yacht, but they were getting ready to go so we decided to wait, waved them off then followed them down the river on the rising tide. A single hander intent on getting his sail up was pinballing around the narrow channel but we managed to keep out of his way, cleared the channel and got into the bay.


The pot buoys were as bad as ever in this particular bit of water and we made a zigzag course between them and all the fishing boats. We were setting off on an awkward distance through the grey drizzly murk and we had to keep the speed up in order to enter the marina at a sensible time. The wind was coming from completely the wrong direction – the small segment that boats are unable to sail in so it was motors on and a long monotonous journey ahead. In places the motion was quite rough causing the occasional problem, a jumper got sucked into the engine air inlet and after a loud crash from below we found an interesting cocktail of rum, raw egg, ginger, cucumber and tomatoes on the floor, the rum bottle had bounced and remained intact, the eggs had not.


There was a bit of excitement as we got to the shipping lane and wound our way through various ships trying to work out which ones were at anchor and which were just getting up speed, we got through them and came to a plateau where gannets, petrels and shearwaters in huge groups were plummeting into the water.


The marina was finally in sight and we cheerfully radioed looking forward to getting in and having something to eat. The answer came back ‘I have no space, I have a race this weekend’ surely there was some mistake, we tried again repeating that we had phoned yesterday and been told there would be no problem but ‘no, I am full, there is a race’. This was not good news. It as now 6 o’clock at night, we had about 3 hours daylight, a deteriorating weather forecast for the next day and nowhere to go. We had to consider our options and given the tide and time there were not that many.


We decided on Saint Nazaire which we had previously discounted as a tricky entry, it was up a busy river then through a lock. The timing was not too bad for the river but the lock timing was very off, we contacted the harbour who welcomed us and then the lock keeper to check that we would be OK to wait outside the lock for an hour, the message came back that they would do a special opening for us, gratefully we thanked them and headed up the river.


By the time we were getting close to the lock it was dark, the gates were open and we headed towards it, surprised that it was much smaller than the pilot books said, no wonder they had carefully checked our size over the radio. Somehow we managed to hook the bow roller over one of the wires which run down the side of the lock for securing your ropes to at the same time as the opposite engine cut out. This meant that we were pushed forward sideways and spun in the lock banging the back corner on one side of the lock as the opposite front was being fended off from the other to the accompaniment of the lock keepers laughing. Once the ropes were on we could see it was just a bad scrape, another scar for the poor boat.


The lock equalised, the gate opened and off we went through into the basin hoping for an easy space. We were all heartened by the sight of an empty pontoon and almost cheerfully drifted towards it, ropes at the ready. Playing the torch over the pontoon it became clear that there were electricity posts, water taps, rescue ladders, but not a single cleat, French staple, hook or anything else to attach to, no wonder it was empty! Spotting space on the far wall we headed across the basin and tied ourselves on to an interesting selection of bollards and rings outside a ship repair place, we were all safe and the boat was still floating. Friday the 13th? It was just a normal day.
Square fishing nets on the mole
Saint Nazaire - an interesting week
Saint Nazaire was a very different kind of stop. We were moored up against the quay wall in a basin dominated by colossal submarine pens, an eerie relic of the German occupation in WWII. With no actual yacht facilities it is a case of pick a bit of wall, find something to tie to and we’ll let you know if we need you to move. We had to leave our phone number on display in the boat window and with the harbour controller just in case. Having been expecting to go to a marina we had not filled all of our water containers so had to be a bit careful with water but otherwise with our solar panels, big water tanks and some good dry shampoo we can be self sufficient for a while.
Lots of graffiti in the town but not in a bad way
The port is a busy commercial area building large ships such as gas transporters and luxury cruise ships (including the Queen Mary II which we met in the Solent amongst others), fuselages for the A380 aircraft, seaplanes (in the past, not currently) and various specialised bits for aircraft such as historically, Concorde. We spent a morning in a submarine, visited a museum about the port and spent another afternoon in an evocative, interactive museum dedicated to cruise liners which you enter via a gangplank and exit via lifeboat. The shopping centre was also an pleasantly productive, if unusual, afternoon for us. There is also lots of work underway to integrate the submarine pens and the dock area with the town, the centre was moved inland after the war, with 85% of the town flattened they had a lot of rebuilding to do.
Beautiful garden along the sea front
The boys enjoyed watching the bridges swinging and locks opening, there were also lots of lighthouses, heavy industrial machinery and working boats to admire. The square fishing nets typical of this area ranged along the moles waiting to catch eels and fish and although we didn’t see all 20 of the beaches the town claims, the ones we saw were beautiful and the deckhands enjoyed playing on the giant wooden playground on the seafront.
Tin Tin boarding a transatlantic liner at Saint Nazaire
It was an interesting week but having seen lots and with the weather in our favour it was time to head off up the coast to a marina to refill the water, do some washing and a bit of maintenance on the engines and perhaps most importantly to have a proper shower.
The inside of the submarine pens - very eerie

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