Setting off, France and Portugal

Taking delivery of the boat in France

Beer of the moment : Kronenbourg 1664


Tuesday 24th June 2003

Finally we are off !  We’ll leaving England at any rate….

Packing the house and putting everything into storage had been a nightmare. Thank goodness Bill and Joyce were there to help. The week before had been full of trips to the storage facility, giving stuff to charity, heavy lifting, selling items we had no room for anymore and cleaning. We managed to secure a garage for the Renault Sport Spider with only days to go, I couldn't part with it. House contracts still not exchanged ! 

We caught the Portsmouth to Cherbourg ferry, for a fast uneventful crossing. The day had been madly busy and we were lucky to get to our sailing on time as we were late setting off. The transit van was filled to the brim with stuff. All very stressful !!

Sometimes being honest gets you caught up in stupid bureaucracy. We were nearly made to empty the very full Transit van because I admitted to customs that we had “explosives” (ie flares) on board. Of course there would be no end of flares on the ferry anyway. Having successfully pleaded our case with the ferry captain, they then asked if we had any knifes in the van.

"No" I said, with a straight face. 

The drive to La Rochelle took longer than expected so we slept in a lay by on the way down – or tried to sleep :(

It was an interesting trip, through lovely French countryside and with quaint villages and houses.

Wednesday 25th June

Arrived in La Rochelle and got our first look at the boat. It took a while to find it because it was in the “Basin of Grand Yachts” behind the museum. The Minimes marina turned out to be full. 

She looked great alongside the first of the new Fountaine Pajot  Eleuthera 60ft cats, which was being readied for its official launch.

We had a busy day unloading the transit and getting everything on board. It was very hot which made it hard work to unload all of our stuff. 

The Avon 3.1m dinghy was easily the heaviest and most difficult item. Carl, the UK FP dealer, helped with it – it might be the most useful thing he has done to date !!

I also had to check the boat for faults, as there is a handover sign-off process. Not a nice task.

Carl offered us dinner so we went to the Savoyard “ski lodge” in town for a Raclette. Great chunk of blue cheese melted over coals with potatoes and meat. Beautiful. Nice wine as well.  

Thursday 26th June

4am start so I can get the van back up to Cherbourg for the midday ferry. I was absolutely shattered, given the house packing the week before, the drive down and unloading everything yesterday. The boat looked like a tip with boxes shoved everywhere. 

Chris & Ben, our UK based electrical engineers arrived at lunch time. 

The men made a start on the shore power. Chris was anxious about going up the mast, given its about 20m high, to fit one of the aerials and managed to secure the services of a Fountaine Pajot contractor who agreed to do the work that evening. 4 hours later he came down the mast having had a nightmare getting the cables down. Cost 100 Euro’s so a real bargain. Chris was relieved. Bev took them out for a Pizza and discovered Piri Piri sauce on pizza. 

Bev found it odd to be on the boat with two strange men on her own.

Meanwhile I was really late getting to my hotel near Stansted airport. I had called to collect an SSB aerial in Portsmouth that we had been too late to collect on our way to the ferry. My plan was to drop the van off in Maidenhead then get the train across London and on to Stansted for the flight back to La Rochelle. Unfortunately when I reached Paddington tube station they told me I couldn't get on the tube carrying a 3 metre long piece of plastic aerial!

There was nothing else for it, I had to walk across London to Liverpool Street station carrying the aerial. Its about 5 miles.

Arriving at the station and wise to the busy bodies, I positioned myself at the far end of the platform and jumped on the train as soon as the doors opened. It was still an awkward fit. At Stansted I had to stick it out of the window of the cab to get to the hotel.

I arrived too late at the hotel for dinner so made do with beer and crisps. 


Friday 27th June 

I arrived at lunchtime carrying SSB aerial. The airline were fine about taking it.  The boat was in disarray, Chris and Ben had taken apart every conceivable panel and were drilling holes all over the place. Weather very warm. All very stressful on a new boat.

Bev spotted more scratches and dents for Fountaine Pajot to fix as part of the handover. 

Spent time searching chandleries for things that we needed.  Navatlantique, a sort of backstreet Aladdin's cave have promised to get everything we need and to not charge the TVA (VAT) We’ll see !


Monday 30th June

Need to beach the boat in order to drill the holes for the watermaker, ssb radio ground and forward sonar. Also Fountain Pajot need to repair some damage I spotted under the bridge. Early start but the lock gate opened on time and the Fountaine Pajot skipper made a good job of getting the boat on the ramp at the marina.

Bagpuss on ramp 

I made the mistake of loaning our new Avon dinghy to a French skipper who was careening his boat. He knocked two big gauges out of the bottom landing on the concrete ramp.

Other bad news is that there are still no spaces at in the Marina so we will need to raft alongside a FP Tahiti 75 cat on the fuel dock until we leave.


Wednesday 2nd July

Ben spending a lot of time on SMS (and giggling to himself) and hours every night on the phone to his girlfriend. Must be costing him a fortune – young love !


Thursday 3rd July

Went out for an instrument calibration and sea trial with Chris & Ben. Chris doesn’t like sailing but luckily it was a calm day. Everything seems to work. Chris managed to fit most equipment apart from a few items like the Iridium and Gas detector so Allan Dornan will need to do them later.

Chris and Ben 

Chris and Ben worked hard and did a great job.

We were glad to have organised UK engineers to fit out our boat, aside from the language issues we noticed other owners were having problems getting work done and quality was reported as variable. Fountaine Pajot were late getting their new 60ft boat ready for launch so had commandeered many of the french tradesmen who should have been finishing other customers boats. 

Its their last day so after lunch they head up to Roscoff for the ferry back. It will be nice to have the boat to ourselves for a while.


Saturday 5th July 

Picked up Gerard Verdino, Daukus and their son Marco at the airport. We had hired a car to go to Bordeaux to visit the consulate and get some papers signed for the boat registration. Turns out Daukus can do it as she is a solicitor. So we took them to Gerard’s sisters house a few hours south of La Rochelle.

She made us very welcome and prepared a fantastic meal with some great local Rose wine. She is living in, and running a guest house, a beautiful converted farm house with a pool and lots of barns. She is also working part time as an estate agent and is helping UK people find homes in the area. It’s seems like an idyllic lifestyle.

Wine of the Moment: – Muscadet, about 3-4 euros a bottle

Beer of the Moment: - Kronenbourg


Tuesday 8th July 

Gerard caught the train up from his sisters home near Bordeaux. 

Signed off the boat today after an uneventful trial sail. A few niggling problems remain but will have to be fixed later. 

I went to settle bill with Navatlantique – guess what ? We have to pay the VAT after all – might not have bought as much stuff if they had been straight with us at the start. They also weren’t able to get many of the things they promised, but a bit of last minute rushing around secured some of what we needed.

We set sail for Finisterre just after 13:00. Gerard dropped his mobile phone over the side and its lost with all his email and a lot of important contacts – what is it they say about backing things up! 

Hardly any wind so motor is on. At some point I noticed huge battery amps being consumed, despite the motors being on. Electrical fault ? Turned out that the 12V/240V inverter was on and so was the hot water immersion heater ! Trying to heat 40 litres of water using battery power. These are the things you find out on a new boat, need to find a simple way to isolate the 240V immersion heater.


Wednesday 9th July

Still no wind. Spent the night dancing round fishing boats – they are everywhere and have right of way ! Bevs sea sickness tablets  have stopped her throwing up but after valiantly cooking spaghetti bolognaise it all gets a bit much and she spends rest of evening lying down feeling unwell. A major stuff up is that Gerard had brought his charts with him, having done the same trip, but I hadn't checked them before we set off. Unfortunately he brought the wrong ones. All we had to go on for this part of the journey was a road atlas and a very large scale general map on my laptop Maxsea software. I won't make that mistake again.


Thursday 10th July

No wind and a long gentle swell. The Lighthouses on the North Spanish coast are visible now and comforting. Spotted a couple of different schools of whales and lots of dolphins have come to visit.


Friday 11th July

Oh my God ! Finesterre lives up to its reputation. About 30-35 kts of wind and pretty big breaking seas. We did a few hours of hand steering as the autopilot doesn’t always react quickly enough to the waves. We surfed down one wave at 16.5kts – much too fast for my liking. Have reefed the boat to max on mainsail and jib and things seemed to be more manageable.

All a bit tired so make for first decent looking port – Portosin.


Saturday 12th July

Portosin seems a nice quite Spanish village. Small harbour and the town is untouched by overseas tourism. Some sort of live concert being held in the town until the early hours but slept quite well.

Gerard keen to press on, but we are not so confident that leaving in the fog at night is such a great idea. 

We can’t see very much at all at sea. Radar is a lifesaver, not too many scary moments, in the end all a great learning opportunity.


Sunday 13th July

Arrive in Bayona at 00:45. We could hardly see anything then the castle and lights loomed on the sea front. Then amazingly. a huge fireworks display started – one of the best we’ve seen and we had a front row seat plus a great guide into the marina.

Bayona Castle

Little man came out in a dinghy to help us in – we like this place already.

Gerard's communication device jinx returns and he lost our new Icom VHF handheld radio over the side – its supposed to be waterproof – we’ll see.


Monday 14th July

Ate some fish at the Marina restaurant, well you’ve got to start sometime. Maybe a while before we have any more mind you.

Gerard has to get back to the UK for business. Torturous journey involving a bus to Vigo, an overnight train to Madrid then flight to London. We are going to stay on a while and catch some rest.

We are very thankful for Gerard’s fantastic help and mentoring on the trip. We’ve both learnt a lot and would have really struggled without him. He also makes a great sandwich :)

Decided to let Bev have a go at cutting my hair. Last time I chanced letting a girlfriend cut my hair I had to head for the barbers next day, wearing a hat, to get it straightened out. Fortunately this time everything was fine.


Tuesday 15th & Wednesday 16th

Bayona is a beautiful town and a bit touristy. The marina club is in the grounds of the castle, it’s a great setting. Spotted a beautiful Jaguar SS100 in the car park.


We made a trip up to Vigo on the bus. Gerard had visited previously with Dave Farimond. Not as nice as Bayona and glad we didn’t take the boat there, the yacht harbour is tiny and full. We did manage to get some big wire cutters for the rigging from a chandler, so another job done.

Seems like there is a big festival in Bayona, bands and fireworks every night. We are too tired to join in though and just enjoy the spectacle from the comfort of the boat.

We visited a replica of the Pinta, one of Columbus's ships which made its first landfall in Bayona after the “discovery” of America. It’s a lot smaller than I imagined.

We paid a diver 80 euro to recover the Icom VHF. He said that only the tip of the antenna was sticking out of the mud 6m down. Sure enough its full of water and completely toast – waterproof – pah ! 


Thursday 17th July

Refuelled and left Bayona bound for Povoa de Varzim. Bit sore when she holds 300 litres of diesel. It’s a short trip and we arrive after 10 hours. There are literally thousands of lobster pots everywhere and any one could wrap its line around the prop and give us a real headache. 

Bev's convinced we saw a shark beside the boat, but it was only little.


Friday 18th July

Povoa is a nice little Portuguese resort town. Marina is nice and tidy with good showers. We can see the main feature of the town – the Casino from our berth. People get really dressed up for a night out there, so we probably won’t be visiting !

A large fleet of racing yachts arrive in the  Marina while we are there but there is still plenty of space, they look like a “serious” bunch with lots of shoreside support and hangers on.

I took the opportunity to change the engine oil and filters. Makes a bit of a mess but will know better next time.

We had a Chinese meal at a restaurant in a square next to the Casino. Best we can describe it as “bland”. Allan also bought a rechargeable 9 million candle power torch in a cheap tacky stuff shop. Seems too good to be true….


Saturday 19th July

Left Povoa for Nazaire, an overnight sail. Fishing boats and lobster pots everywhere. I often dream of having a cannon on the front of the boat so he could blow them out of the water rather than keep on altering course to avoid them.


Sunday 20th July

Arrive lunchtime. It’s a lovely little harbour but a bit outside the town. Captain Hadley – the salty harbour master makes us most welcome and finds us a good berth in the crowded marina. We were lucky, later boats had to raft up alongside fishing boats.

Some Portuguese were on a fishing boat next to our berth. Very friendly. They invite us to try some of the sardines they caught and are bbqing on the back of the boat. Its served on a sort of stale brown bread dipped in oil. I thought it was great but Bev told me afterwards she could still taste it days later. They also poured us a few glasses of local wine, quite quaffable, we later found out it was less than 50cents a litre. 

The reason they were in the harbour was that the paying guest fishermen had all got seasick and asked to go back to the harbour – amazingly most of them went back out again in the afternoon.


Monday 21st July

Nazare has much to commend it. Beautiful long clean beaches and a funicular railway up to citadel on the hillside. The water is a little cold for swimming though and there are huge breakers on the beach. Irish fellow we met in the Marina had been there for several months paying just 200 euro a month, he said he preferred in to the Algarve which he found too hot.

Mainly Portuguese holiday makers here and every restaurant is a fish restaurant. Eventually managed to find a café which sold burgers, they were pretty unappealing but noticed the other clientele, Americans, were scoffing them like they hadn’t seen food for a week.

We took the bus to Batalha (Battle Abbey) to see the church built to commemorate a famous victory over the Spanish. Its also were Prince Henry the Navigator is buried.


Tuesday 22nd July

Early start for our trip to Cascais. All goes well until the final stretch when the wind get up and we have too much sail up. It’s a real struggle to get the sail down and a reminder to “reef when you first think about it”.

The marina is large and fairly empty. It looks like a classy place though. We make a real hash of tying up and I hear Bev swearing more than I have in all the time I’ve known her. We are both exhausted.


Wednesday 23rd – Thursday 24th

Cascais is a beautiful if somewhat glitzy place. We resolve to stay a couple of days. Bev has been here before, staying in an exclusive 5 star hotel at a conference. We don’t check in there, of course, but even better I find an Irish Bar that sells Guinness and Murphys on tap.

There is a pretty good train service to  Lisbon so we pay a visit to check out the Chandleries and see the sights.

Lisbon is nice little city, but not as old as we were expecting. Apparently most of it was devastated in a big earthquake in 1755. We make the torturous trip in the midday heat up the hill to the castle, but although the views are magnificent there is nothing to see in the castle – still it was free to get in.


Friday 25th

We need to press on to Lagos to make sure we are there for a visit by Callum, James and Bev’s parents. It’s a shame we don’t have much time because we would both have liked to hang out longer in Cascais.


Saturday 26th July

Everything going smoothly until we rounded Cabo St Vincente. Like its bigger brother Finesterre, St Vincente has a reputation for higher winds and big waves. We were well prepared this time and although it took a while to get into clearer water we were in no danger. Arrived in Lagos in the early afternoon. Unlike anywhere we’ve been before you need to call the marina to get them to open a footbridge so you can get into the berths. First impressions good – it should be for 95 euros a night.


Sunday 27th  

I hired a car to pick up everyone at Faro airport. It was a good hour and a half drive with my foot to the floor of the "sub-micro-car" they gave me. Bill whacked his head on the car boot, Bev thought it would need stitches but we settled on paper stitches from the medical kit.

We paid yet more money to the marina for a pool pass so we can use the facilities at the marina spa – turns out to be a good move as the beach is a little walk and you need to pay 10 euro each for a sunbed there.