Category: Ports and Places

La Rochelle to Rochefort:- fascinating

Part1 – getting out in a hurry

Rochefort 037

Scruffy’s boat

Our next door neighbour, who we shall call Monsieur Scruffy on account of the state of himself and boat, was a genial guy with large frame and beard. Comfortable with being a Mr Scruffy he tells us he is off due to forthcoming lack of water.

Now I’m always wary of boat crews “with all the right gear”. Conversely Scruffy’s well used appearance tells me he knew a thing or two and if he thought he was running out of water then it’s worth checking out.

Filibuster tells me that there is a comfy 1.4m under the keel: my calculations tell me tide had 1.6m to fall. Scruffy was right, time to move on.

A crash brekky and off we go, headed, as is Scruffy, to Rochefort. Ancient one time strategic port of the French Navy..

The tides were on springs (when the levels reach their highest and fall to their lowest). And in particular these were big springs.In fact the second largest of the year: high tide of 6.6m and a low tide of 0.6m above datum.

Why does this matter? Well on the approaches to La Rochelle there are areas where the charted depth is just 0.5m below datum. Add the low tide level of 0.6m gives us only 1.1m of water at low tide.

We left at 1038 with, in theory, 1.9m of water above datum + minimum charted depth of 0.5m = 2.4m. Comfortably above the 2m Filibusters requires.

But it was windy, we dithered getting the boat ready, the tide went out further and by the time we reached the shallow bits it was 1105 and the tide had fallen a further 0.4m

Do the maths: 2.4m – 0.4m = 2.0m Bang on our draught.

Man fishing. High tide mark 6m above him

Richeleu port mark on the way out: Man fishing. High tide mark 6m above him


The gods looked favourably on us: we didn’t bottom out but it was close….buttock clenchingly close…..especially when the depthometer read 0.00m under keel….

Moral of the story: heed Scruffy.


And the rest of the journey was a delight.


Heed Scruffy, read your charts for marked banks, don't wander of the fairway

Heed Scruffy, study your charts carefully, don’t wander off the fairway. This shot taken from Fouras on 14th August of a not so lucky skipper

Part 2 – Fort Boyard

This part of the world included strategic ports (including La Rochelle)and Naval Installations (Rochefort) and as such required significant and hugely expensive defences to stop those pesky Brits invading.

Said pesky Brits were at the same time building significant and hugely expensive defences to stop those pesky Frenchies doing the same.

All in all a bit of an arms race and all around the coast of France are to be found massive forts (citadelles) designed to blast to pieces any invading ships.

South of La Rochelle, in a bay protected by Ile D’Oleron to the West is Fort Boyard. Started in  1804 and finished in 1859 (yess 55 years!) it was designed to protect the waters between Ile Doleron to the West and Il D’Aix to the east.

Fort Boyard

Fort Boyard, Ile D’Oleron shores 1 mile away

These 2 islands, barely 3miles apart have significant defences of their own, but canon capability of the day meant that the centre of the straight was out of range and therefore a weakness.

Cue Fort Boyard. Built at enormous cost (including building the small town of Boyardville) it took 55 years to complete. Essentially it is an island fort with nearly all of its guns facing into the straights between the islands.

taking a good look at Boyard

taking a good look at Boyard

It was never fully commissioned. In the intervening years naval gunnery range and accuracy improved so much that its initial raison d’etre became obsolete.

Recently it has been used by TV crews from over 20 nations to films the TV game quiz Crystal Maze.


Part 3 up the Charente River to Rochefort

If you like your rivers to look like white coffee, then the Charente is for you – undoubtedly the muddiest river I’ve ever come across.

Sail 14 Rochelle - Rochefort 043

river – flowing IN !

But if you like pootling up river and admiring the bankside flaura, fauna and things of interest then you won’t like the Charente.

With absolutSail 14 Rochelle - Rochefort 061e minimal sail we were sluiced up on the incoming tide at up to 7.4kn. But sail we did for all but a couple of hundred metres when the wind wouldn’t allow it.




One of the many fishing huts on stilts

Along the banks are many sheds on stilts built for the purpose of catching whatever is swimming around at high tide.


Rochefort charenteSail 14 Rochelle - Rochefort 075





The river winds, this way, then that way, then the other in an enormous loop… past the still fully operational transporter bidge


….with many leading marks to help navigate the twists and turns :leading lines D-D

leading lines D-D.

And finally to Rochefort itself, where the first impressive sights, out of many impressive sights, is the Hermione – fully restored ship of the line that will go to sea later this year

More to come from Rochefort in due course – it’s an absolute delight full of history, good food, fine markets and great ambience.



Hermione. Restored and soon to let out from dock.Naughty Sailors in the rigging

Hermione. Naughty Sailors sent up in the rigging




The holes in the sky above La Rochelle



There are holes in the sky

where the rain gets in

They’re ever so small

That’s why the rain is thin

(Spike Milligan)


Les Minimes pano

Remember this photo of a part of Les Minimes Marina from 5th August last year? Entitled “We’re in there somewhere” Well we were and we are. In about the same place.

Now the interesting thing about the photo is that it really did look like the heavens were about to open. They didn’t. At least not on us.

But this year, on August the 8th, we were not so lucky. The forecasts all had it bang on: – rain with thunderstorms and torrential frogs, complete with cats, dogs, stair rods and any other superlative you care to mention that would indicate you ought to be under cover in a marina that afternoon.

It rained:


Viewed from the rear towards the slip and capitainere


And then it rained some more…..



View from inside the cockpit cover which, being alert to the forecasts we had put up just beforehand so we could sit up on deck and be smug……


And then the sun came out 🙂


PS Between this and the last post we’ve been in Ile D’Yeu (as fantastic as ever), Les Sables D’Olonne and Bourgenary. More on these as time permits

L’Herbaudiere and Francois the Forgetful fisherman


Well here we are (or were) in L’Herbaudiere on the tip of a small island to the South of Nantes. It’s our first stop after escaping Arzal.

Note whitewashed houses and clay roof tiles signalling warm and sunny, which is exactly what it is.

Francois 007

very med. what’s not to like?

Now we don’t really like this place too much and Michele would have me spend 3 more hours travelling to avoid it, but it is bang on our route and anywhere else isn’t.

So why don’t we like it I hear you ask in unison. Is it the local facilities? Non. The services du port? Non. Then what?

It is the fact that 1) it is a bit popular (also on everyone else’s route) 2) you end up rafted out into the main fairway and 3) worst of all the local fishermen are a bit anti people enjoying holidays in yachts.

They take particular delight in fishing into the night and passing very fast and very close to rafted boats and their sleeping content. The resultant crash-bang-slap of the associated wake wakes everyone up and there is a joint low mutter of bastardo, or the French equivalent, as we all curse passing fishing boat.

Which leads me to the story of Francois the Forgetful:

Francois had being having a hard time – he had been courteous to sleeping yachtspeople by passing carefully and slowly, especially at night.

Sadly Francois’s boss was a bit anti yacht and warned him “if you don’t give them a hard time I’m going to give you a hard time and the sack. Let’s see you in action tomorrow 8am prompt”

Francois’s girl Francine was also giving him a hard time – “work harder and earn more money” she argued with him that morning.

So, eager to please both irate girl and irate boss, Francois put on his best blue top and went off to work: but the prospect of taking it out on the yachties troubled him.

Late for work following the contremps with Francine, Francois raced off in his silver Peugot, Pierre. He parked on the quay wall, but being late his regular slot of 51a was occupied, so he parked next door in 51b (more later), leapt out and off to his boat….bad move Francois…

…. about 30 seconds later an enormous crash follows as his trusty Pierre fell off the harbour wall. Francois the forgetful had forgotten to put the handbrake on….oooops

Now most of the parking spaces on the harbour wall do indeed face downward and would be subject to a roll away and splash were it not for the fact that anti-roll-away barriers are installed opposite most of the parking spaces. Except 51b….an unlucky choice on this day of all days ….

Of course all this in direct view of the aforementioned sleep deprived yachties now having a good serving of trog watching with their breakfast.

The old Irish trick? I’m sure you’ve all seen the mockup of 2 mobile cranes falling into an Irish Harbour to recover a car – I say mockup because only one fell in. This is how the French recovered Francois’s car:

Francois 001

Francois (top), Pierre (bottom). The sapeur-pompiers inspect the problem

1)      Bring in the sapeur-pompiers to investigate. Note Pierre’s in his best blue top pointing to 51b and final path of Pierre the Peugot.

Francois 003

I parked it over there in 51b, Francois explains. Note gap through which Pierre rolled.


2)      Realising this is a job requiring specialised lifting gear bring in divers and the guys from Phares and Balises (lighthouses & buoys dept)

Francois 004

crane in the water, French style

3)      Pull out the car

Francois 006

good job we was ‘ere guv, wasn’t it

4)      Take it away

Francois 009

For Sale. Peugot 205. Slight accident damage

The whole process lasted no more than 20 minutes.

Poor Francois, or whoever “the forgetful” one was.

And the moral of the story. Don’t annoy the yachties because they have ways and means of having the last laugh 🙂

PS This is a true story….well part of it is….and all names have been changed to protect the true identity of the unlucky Peugot driver.




A postcard from St Martin

It’s the 5th of September. The kids are back at school (well not my kids, who are respectively in Norwich, Spain and Ghana as I write), the weather is about to turn from one of the best summers to wet and windy. Autumn is coming.

And of course the postcard turns up, late.


your postcard: caption, please.

With a wry smile I bought this in St Martin, the most chi of the chi chi islands, that somehow has made the “trouser donkey” its chosen method of extracting even more tourist euros from tourists desperate to buy a rememinder. The stamp got hijacked for a condolences card and the post card is still with me for another year.

Caption Please

I had fully intended to embellish the postcard with an approporaite caption. After all, what rich material: donkey with trousers & big ears, local lass, possibly related, showing off to camera, caught in a field of hollyhocks. Rich material indeed methinks.

But it was never written. Perhaps you can do better? Reply to this post as a comment and a Bottle of bubbly for the best caption.

But back to St Martin, Ile de Re….

I was going to tell you about the wonderful ambience, cycling all around the island, shopping in the fresh fresh food & spice market, drinking big drinks, hiring a cat and on and on. But as I sit in my study in Broad Chalke it seems best to make this post into a photo postcard and leave you with a few pics.

Wish You were here

Wish I was there, wish you were there with us.

Filibuster is now resting for the winter. From November 18th to february 20th the Arzal Barrage is closed for repairs so only up river is a possibility during that time.

We might go across to collect the many things left on board, to stock up with French wine which is so much cheaper than in the UK. Let me know if you would like to join us. The boat has central heating and average temperatures since we left seem to be 4 or 5 degrees warmer than Salisbury and almost as much again than Pembrokeshire.

I’ll leave you with this final panorama – taken the day we left for the UK (28th August).



arzal last day pano

Arzal Marina, just after sunrise on the 28th August

And that really is it. No more posts or postcards for this season. Adieu, au revoir. Bye, until the next time 🙂

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Relief, at last…..

What sort of relief is that, I hear you ask?

And before your mind wanders off into it’s innermost interesting compartment that minds can sometime wander off into, let me tell you that the relief that I’m feeling, in particular today, is that a plan has come together and has been made real.

Now those of you that, like me, like to plan, execute and deliver said plan will know that there is indeed some kind of satisfaction that, unlike mere mortals who can’t, delivering on the plan is a superior feeling.

The plan that became essential was finding a home for the boat for the winter. It has been delivered.

Slot S108, Port Arzal-Camouel is now our home. It’s perfect: edge of marina, alongside wooded valleys reminiscent of the Upper Cleddau in Pembrokeshire  that you may be familiar with.

(we are bottom right on the last pontoon, east side, halfway up.)

It’s a bit like the relief of moving home and being in your own place again.

And the sums work out well: to keep the boat in this marina doesn’t just cost less than our previous system of West Wales, it costs a heck of a lot less: from end of season to end of season about £2100 including away stops. The Lawrenny/East Llanion/paid stops solution of last year would come to around £3600. Take out say £500 for to-ing and fro-ing Franceward and you’ve got £1000 additional fun money to spend on something other than boat parking.

Like maybe another holiday on a boat?

Not to mention the extra month not travelling to and fro Lawrenny. Or the benefit of chilling out in the sun rather than slogging up the channel (English & Bristol) I’ll let you know next year if I’m still keen on the solution.

La Roche Bernard

Up river is La Roche Bernard (LRB) – 4miles away. Unbelievably beautiful historic town with great bars and restaurants, unbelievably not overrun, La Rochelle-esque. And beyond that some really interesting places yet to be visited.

LRB 002

view from back of Filibuster of a) one of Bernie’s rocks and b) and old tub of a boat that’s prettier than mine.

Un Blag, ou un moment d’humour: 2 years ago we visited LRB: in desperate need of of a haircut we both went to a local coiffure.

(a further digression: LRB has an interesting assortment of shops, including the essential glass blower, wood turner and a complete set of boulangerie, charcuterie, possionere as well as a good bunch of restaurants, all of which exude normal French town rather than tourist destination)

But back to cutting hair, which should you ever try to do in France, beware:

My cut is simple: no 8 on top and no 4 on the side. Easy, you would have thought, what could possibly go wrong? Metrication my friend, that’s what went wrong. . Mon coiffeuresse translated my request to 8mm on top and 4mm on the side….

…Liberating….I didn’t need another cut for 2 months……

And you will be pleased to know the coiffuresse is still in business….and I need a haircut. Am I brave enough?


The final scrumtier


Solitary sort of thing, sailing. You spend all of your time avoiding things: other boats, quays, marks, running out of water, running out of beer and so on.

But sometimes, in just a few places, sailing folk congregate in vast numbers and close proximity. Usually en route from A to B and where A and B are at different levels. I’m talking about a lock, AKA boat scrum. AKA stress.

Vannes is one. St Martin another. Our final scrum this year is the Arzal Barrage. A huge marina and the flat navigable Villaine river on one side, tidal estuary on the other. Migrating yachts, including Filibuster head up river to the open lock (to find it is already full) and hang around for the next session 2 hours later.

Then it’s everyone in, like the arc – 2 by 2 attached with outer boat loosely tied to the lock wall. Every 2 hours the road bridge opens and boats move forward to fill the now vacant space under and allow more in at the back. When it’s really full (see photos) the lock gates open.

And like some enormous boat catapult, pwtang, boats get out as fast as they can, before any inferior idiot sailor does some damage, out to be free and in clear water and safe.

Back to being solitary until the next time you moor up, which is either 5 minutes or 30 minutes depending on your destination.

For us we chose the peace and quiet of a sunset cruise up river to La Roche Bernard.

Sadly, this marks the end of salty sea dog sailing. We’re now muddy river rats and Filibuster will stay in the river until next summer 🙁

St Martin, Ile D’Re

St Martin Panorama

Downtown St Martin, taken from the top of the church tower (click for hi res image)

After the hurly burly of La Rochelle we headed to St Martin-en-Re, Ile D’Re.

ST Martin 122

Looking outward to the narrow entrance. Note lifeboat on mud

Arrival and departure fun:

Access is High water +/- 3 hours- plenty of time after we left La Rochelle at dawn just 12 miles away.

St Martin was a heavily fortified town whose sea access is narrow: just about enough for one boat in either direction. Access to the marina is controlled by a lock and overhead gate.

You arrive at the right sort of time to find:

a) all the boats who are leaving on that tide do so in a long procession – so it’s dodge the outgoing stream of boats as best you can: They have nowhere to go but out and that’s where they are going.

b) after passing through the narrow entrance into the avant (outer) port you find all your new mates hanging around waiting to go in – in our case about 6 or so other boats waiting for the green light.

c) the green light comes on: boats are directed to come in one at a time, unless you are Filibuster and not knowing the process –  we decided to make it happen and went in first.

d) you are told where to raft, because raft you will as there is little space left for any other form of parking. You will be put alongside something of around the same size.

And so the place starts to fill. And from nowhere another dozen boats appear. All wanting in.

But the Harbourmaster (AKA Master of Ceremonies) has seen it all before.

One at a time: you over there, next boat over here and so on. Everything neat and tidy until there’s no more room.

In our case we ended up 3rd out on raft v2. By the time it all finished we had another 3 boats attached.

4 new arrivals, 3 existing.About the same behind, about the same in front. So all in all say 20 boats in a space about 20 boats big.


rafted by moonlight

Getting Out Fun

So, the boats on our inside have clearly been in St Martin longer than we, and in all probability will depart soon than we do. And that’s just what happens on the next session.

With so many trog watchers (this is after all a spectator sport) no one wants to get it wrong. We all talk: English/English, French/French, Franglais/Franglais. And the Brits have a pre-match huddle: after all we are superior sailors and can’t let the side down on an away game.

We all work out the who’s who: who on the outside is going, who is staying. Who on the inside needs surrounding neighbours to move to enable their exit. By the time the lock gate opens everyone has a sort of game plan, temporary shore lines are made, Electricity disconnected. Exit ways primed.

And then it starts: boats peel off and leave, boats head townward and lurk until their space is re-created, boats go sideways to enter exit ways that have just appeared. It’s solitaire on a big scale.

Those with bow thrusters use them and superior sailors don’t.

And one by one the melee expands, inner boats leave, boats on the outside move inward to fill the space. Stayers settle back and await the new arrivals.

All done with the most convivial attitude: everyone helps to make space, tug, push and manoevure in the friendliest and most helpful way possible. A nudge here, rev of engine there.

 A perfect place?

This helps: arrive on the right. We parked on the longer raft of boats at the top. The lower right harbour dries.

Can’t be far off: very high on our rate-a-marina scale for:

– nice location, near town, interesting, good ambiance, peaceful at night
– good hospitality

– good facilities and not too expensive

– great food (both at restaurants and markets)

A must see place to go to and go back again too.


Enough of boaty stuff: you all want to know about St Martin don’t you? and that will indeed be the next installment.



La Rochelle Pt 2

La Rochelle, La Rochelle, La Rochelle ?

Through the Twin Towers – probably the most outstanding entry to any port:

La Rochelle 041

But I couldn’t work out if

a)      I loved La Rochelle and wanted to stay

b)      I hated La Rochelle and wanted to get away

So I’ll give you pros and cons

You will love La Rochelle:

  • If you are hungry:
    • The old port is absolutely surrounded by restaurants of every type from Tapas (yum) to fish (yum) to everyday French (yum)
    • If you like historic well preserved old ports
      • See some of the photos, but with its white stone buildings, historic towers and old port right in the centre it’s a beautiful place that is well preserved

    • If you like nice shopping:
      • Beyond the immediate port side there are streets and streets of shops with nice clothes, accessories and chic things for your house
    • Because of the climate: during our stay mainly mid twenties by day, full sun. Warm evenings. No dew
    • If you like quick airport transfers
      • By bus €1.30 each way, about 20 minutes from the centre. €15 by taxi.

Why not la Rochelle?

Can’t work out why we are in two minds? After all who wouldn’t love the above. And there’s the problem – everyone does love La Rochelle to the point that it is absolutely overrun with tourists (include the author).


Everywhere. A non stop process of walking from A to B and back, a conveyor belt of humanity nudging, bumping, shoving, nattering and chattering.

slipping out at dawn

slipping out at dawn

Allo, bonjour, bonsoir, au revoir, a bientot, a demain and on and on. Interrupted by the roar of the traffic and the seemingly endless supply of young French motorcyclists determined to let you and everyone else know how fast their machines accelerate.

After the peace and quiet of mega marina Les Minimes we stayed in the beautiful setting of the old port to await arrival of James. He arrived. We ate. We didn’t sleep much and set off as soon as we could the next morning vowing never to come back.

But we did come back!

A week later to despatch Zoe and James back home. This time we stayed in Bassin des Chalutiers. A quieter spot (well not so quiet due to the crew of a 60ft yacht having a good time late into the night just behind us). We left for the peace and quiet of Les Minimes as soon as we could…..

The Aquarium

If you do visit La Rochelle you must reserve 2 hours to visit the Aquarium: €14 a head and worth every penny to see just about everything the sea has to offer.

No smelly set of small tanks this affair. You have full view in dozens of different tanks of all sorts of creatures from all over the world. The largest tank is probably 10m deep and you get glimpses at all levels.

Very highly recommended.

Home » La Rochelle Pt 2 » Aquarium
Jelly Fish
Jelly Fish
Shiny Fish
Shiny Fish
Ugly Fish
Ugly Fish
Don't get in the water fish
Don't get in the water fish
Lotsa Fish
Lotsa Fish
Chi Chi Star Fish
Chi Chi Star Fish
Spiny Norman
Spiny Norman

As for La Rochelle

I’d love to go back outside of the height of the tourism season. For the time being it’s just one of those places that you have to imagine without all the other tourists



La Rochelle Pt 3 – not all coming home?

Missing pt2 ? watch this space for so much to say about beautiful La Rochelle.  (and plenty more for Ile de Re yet to come)

Pt3 is  a quickie, more an observation on one thing that is especially nice here: the climate.

La rochelle 2 040

you really have got to have the right gear

It’s getting on for 9pm.Note the new nautical clock:

We’ve got about an hour of direct sunlight left.

La rochelle 2 038

warm evening, sun shining, wind scoop on neighbours boat


We’ve just eaten Noix St Jaques up in the cockpit..mmm

La rochelle 2 041

chubby hubby, or just relaxed?

I’m savouring a nice glass of Saumur White (French of course) you can see it there bottom right….


Note polo shirt: it’s warm, I would guess low to mid twenties…

We’ve missed the last boat to Wales….

It’s the 13th August. The nearest equivalent to crow flying works out at 450 miles to base. that’s a long long haul when 60 miles a day is hard work and needing a rest day in every 2: not what we want really…

So we’ve decided to not bring the boat back to Wales…..Hang around here a bit longer…sail around here a bit longer ….stay in the sun a bit longer and enjoy the warm as long as poss…

But we are heading North

So that’s it for facing South. We’re heading North tomorrow (14th Aug), eventually to Arzal-Camouel where we might leave Filibuster. About 3 or 4 days away depending on what we find (Ile d’Yeu being one place we’d like to find again – anchor up, swim in 20deg C water etc….)

And then we just need to get back to home in England and car in Wales…


Le Belle Isle – Pt 2

What do most people do on holiday?

  • eat too much
  • drink too much
  • eye up the local talent
  • hire a scooter

Well it seems that on Le Belle Isle all of the above. It’s stuffed full of bars and eateries that are just right for people watching.

And when you get bored of that then why not hark back to your youth and do something you haven’t done for years?

Yes – hire a scooter. OK I have to admit to never having ridden a scooter in my life, being an ex member of the loud, proud and oily British Motorcycle Owners Club.

Belle Isle is about 17km long and 3km wide: too much to walk but grease the palm of the local hire place (right on the quay) with about fifty squids and you have a trusty Honda 110cc scooter for the day.

Easy, rider

Easy, rider

The last time I rode a motorcycle was in 1984 – a different epoch. Perhaps my reactions were faster in those days but wobbling along with trusty wife on trusty steed was a whole new experience. 30mph has never seemed so scary….

…at one stage we even reached 50mph! But trusty wife on the back of trusty steed bottled out at this pace and requested something a bit slower. We settled on island buzzing at around 40mph…..

We buzzed to the South – the tiny beach at Locmaria overlooked by ancient manor house:

Locmaria small beach, overlooked by ancient manor house

Locmaria small beach, overlooked by ancient manor house


easy rider with a lighthouse

easy rider with a lighthouse



We buzzed to the West: Le Phare Goulpar: one of France’s premier league lighthouses


We roared to the north – don’t park your boat here:


belle isle 103

belle isle 105

Ster Wenn on a nice day



But here is supposedly safe – not far away at Ster Wenn on the NW cost. Apparently exposed to a NW swell, which was indeed running that day and the boats at anchor looked very uncomfortable.




Via Sara Bernhardt’s castle:

belle isle 106


(she got so tee’d of with hangers-on visiting her that she had a new place built for them, the roof of which happened to be a great place to take this photo)





And our last stop was beautiful Sauzon:belle isle 111

We would really like to get back to Sauzon: although just a few miles away from Le Palaise the pace of life was just so completely relaxed it could have been a different planet.

So there you have Le belle Isle

In less than a few words. it can be summed up as frenetic. It never stops, it’s noisy, it’s fun, the port is busy 24 hours a day, people buzz around on scooters and all sorts on small hire cars. It’s that kind of active holiday place.

Having completed this post after visiting Ile D’Yeu and chi chi St Martin on Ile de Re it’s worth waiting for the completed posts from those places as they are all very different kinds of islands.


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