2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Home and Dry

Apologies to all of you! We have been truly distracted and hopeless about blogging since we arrived back in the UK.

Our passage back across the Channel was pretty nerve-wracking. Dense fog refused to lift from sea level, although we could sometimes see the stars overhead. Thank God for radar and AIS, otherwise the route across the shipping lanes would have been truly terrifying. It was bad enough to know that vast tonnages were rumbling across our path at over 20 knots.  Tension was much reduced by having Joe and Sue on board with us for the passage to help keep watch.

As we closed the Eddystone light, 10 miles out from Plymouth, the visibility lifted and the sun broke through to light our way home. It was a lovely homecoming; Graham danced a wonderfully wacky welcome on the roof of his converted coastguard’s cottage on Penlee Point, Binna waved from the guns at the Cremyll narrows, and the Duerdens had spaghetti bolognese ready for a feast. The following day Blond John helped us to fill up the diesel tanks ready for winter storage and Joe helped us arrange a haul out at Southdown Marina. Sue cooked us supper and drove us to fetch hire cars. Then, on the high tide, we came in to the old quay at Southdown, offloaded as many of our things as we could, and watched as Tinfish was craned up onto the shore to her final resting place for this year.We loaded up the cars and the following morning we were away. Needs-must! David was expected to start back at work in Norfolk the following week.

We are all well and settling back in to life on land. In many ways the familiarity of home, family, friends and work has been an easy transition. July and August have passed in a flash. Partly because it has been a great summer to be in the UK  – we arrived back in Norfolk the day before the Olympic Flame came to Norwich and we have been riding the feel-good wave of the home Olympics and Paralympics ever since.

Now Peter is in Normandy on a school French trip. Jenny started back to school today. David has been hard at work since early July and I have also started my new role as Director of the RCC Pilotage Foundation (www.rccpf.org.uk). So life is back to ‘normal’. But our perceptions of what is normal will remain forever shifted by all the adventures and experiences we have shared over the past 15 months. Thanks for sharing them with us! It’s good to set sail, but it’s even better knowing that the constant anchor of family and friends remains strong and supportive.


The Final Push

So, here we are, in the Rade de Brest, waiting for the final push across the Channel. It looks as if it could be tomorrow. We’ll aim for Plymouth. Then life will be a whirl for a while. We’ll try to do a final blog back in UK waters, but you may well have seen us before we manage to publish it. We’ll post some more photos when we have a good connection.

We’re all feeling excited about our homecoming, but it also feels a bit strange to be finishing the adventure. The over-riding feeling for me (Jane) for the year is connections: so much shared and interlinked history, culture and language all along our route. It’s impossible to feel insular about Britain when you have discovered so many cross links. So many things which we tend to think of as British are not really just British at all: Which makes the world feel smaller and more familiar, and reminds me that there are more things that should bring together the people of the Mediterranean and Western Europe than should ever set them apart. We’ve all been working with each other, trading with each other, learning from each other for a very, very, very long time.

Elephants and Oceans in Brest

On our first evening in Brest we did our usual and just walked to see what we would find. It soon became apparent that something was afoot. Before long we were accosted by ladies bearing T-shirts and glow sticks. It turned out to be the big fest to celebrate the inauguration of the new tram system. Whether it was just more southern European scheduling, or whether the organisers were aware of the French-Spain football match that evening, festivities were not due to start until 1030pm. The wind was getting up and the rain was coming and going, but it was obvious to all of us that we were going to have to stay the evening. The French were shaping up to be terribly British about the weather! The only problem was that most of the cafes and bars were screening the big match and were packed with fans. In the end we found some space in a little wine bar where Jenny played glow stick games with a little French girl and we all warmed up a bit.

Then, on cue, rockets were fired and the red glow of flares could be seen to the west of the river bridge. A procession of three metal sculptured, full size elephants emerged through the smoky dusk and drizzle, their ears being blown backwards in the wind. They were accompanied by a marching band of Celtic pipes and drums and a slightly wind flustered flock of oversized metal birds with flapping wings. The whole procession moved up the new tram line to the Hotel de Ville where everyone gathered in the Place de La Liberte for the promised ‘Spectacular’. There was Celtic band music which merged into rock blended with opera (a spot-lit lady on the balcony). There was a spot-lit man on a wire slowly descending from the roof. He danced, other dancers appeared, the music swelled. And then, just when we thought that we were going to have a bit of a concert, it turned into a led-from-the-stage community dance along. The dance was, of course, the Tram Dance! And woe-betide anyone who hadn’t already learned it. The gathered throng weren’t really finding their feet. So there was some berating from the stage, then a process of going through “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and round 2,3,4,5,6,7,8” until some improvement occurred. Then it was back to the beginning and “All together, once more”. By which time it was mid-night and the rain was really falling. We decided, along with many others, that it was time to call it a night, just as the mayor got up to say his piece. Even before he started he must have had a view of hundreds of wet backs moving away. C’est la vie!

Yesterday it was still raining so we visited ‘Oceanopolis’ – an enormous aquarium/marine research centre on the outskirts of the city with Polar, Tropical and Temperate zones. This was a ‘Jenny Day’! There were penguins and seals, seahorses, sharks and fish in abundance. But there were also lots of varied and interesting videos, a touch tank and an exhibition on ‘The Abyss’. It all means so much more to the kids now. They comment knowingly about things like ‘The Continental Shelf’.

Island Hopping

Isle de Re, Ile d’Yeu, Belle Ile: We were planning to zig-zag up the coast a bit more, but in the end there were relatively short windows of opportunity to make smooth progress and we hopped up the direct route. Ile d’Yeu was a favourite. Waiting for strong winds to blow through we decided to make the most of it by hiring bikes and exploring the island. We stopped at Neolithic burial chambers set on headlands amidst meadows of wild flowers. Then we climbed the lighthouse, right up to the top, good exercise for sea lungs. Afterwards we paused for iron rations in a little cove on the windward shore before heading to the ruins of the castle where we ended up with a personal guided tour. The guide was impressed by the childrens’ understanding of cisterns, domed bread ovens, forges, spit roast fireplaces, fortress firing angles and more. I have to say that a French medieval bread oven looks exactly like a Pompeii bread oven. The castle is a very picturesque ruin, perched on a rocky outcrop and battered by the elements.

A complete contrast was our next port of call of Le Palais on Belle Ile. We opted to go into the harbour there because a burst of strong northerly winds were forecast overnight and it was raining. Again! It was a good decision because it allowed us to visit the Vauban fort which dominates the harbour. Vauban’s plans were for an impregnable fortress. The British breached the walls from the seaward side, occupied the island for a few years, but then swapped it back in exchange for Menorca. Which made us smile because we’d been wandering round, looking at redoubts and so on, saying “This is just like La Mola”.

After Belle Ile we had a couple of long, sunshine passage days up the coast to Ste Evette (Audierne). Then the drizzle accompanied us back up through the Raz to Camaret where it blew a near gale and rained for two more days. We had one more day of sunshine and stretched our legs up to the standing stones above the village. Then we moved up through the ‘Goulet’ to Brest (Hornblower fans take note!) to Brest itself, since when it has been raining almost non-stop. As we squelched along the pontoon in our oilskins yesterday David said “We should have gone to Greece with Soleil!” We can’t quite believe that for a second year running June is bringing gales and wet to the western end of the Channel.

La Belle France

La Rochelle has been a delightful stop-over with a sense of holiday. We arrived in the evening and came all the way into the old harbour in the middle of the old fortified town. The entrance to the harbour is through the walls, between two towers. There used to be a massive chain strung to deter privateers. Thankfully we had a warmer welcome and found a spot on the visitors’ pontoon. It was time to relax and celebrate and we had a lovely evening ashore with Becca and Suzie. The following day we explored some more, dodging rain showers, before it was time for them to fly home.

But we weren’t alone for long. Lilian and Barry, who we last saw in La Coruna nearly a year ago, live in a little village near Cognac. They drove over and picked us up and then took us home with them. It was so lovely to be in the gently rolling, verdant countryside with abundant vineyards and cuckoos calling in the distance. Lilian (Woods) is designer and builder of a rowing skiff called Bee and Peter was overjoyed to discover the original in their garage. The garage also housed a variety of bicycles. So a plan was hatched. We rode and drove the short distance from the house to the banks of the Charente with Bee on the roof. Then Bee was launched and we took turns to row or cycle about 9km downstream to a little riverside restaurant for a late lunch. Then we swapped again and made it back upstream with enough effort to feel as if we’d had some exercise. There were storks and herons on the banks, kingfishers, big raptors wheeling overhead and only one oblivious, testosterone fuelled male on a jetski to briefly spoil the peace. The kids were overjoyed to be on bikes again. Jenny was especially pleased that she hadn’t forgotten how to ride.

The next day Barry drove us all to Rochefort to see the Hermione Project. L’Hermione was the frigate that took La Fayette to Boston in 1780 to help the Americans fight for independence from the British. She has become a symbol of ‘La Liberte’. The original ship was wrecked. This project was started in 1997 and is a full-scale rebuild of the original ship in the old docks of Rochefort where the original was built. The amount of work is staggering. Everything is being done, as far as is possible, by traditional methods. So, all the rigging, sail-making, ironwork etc is as interesting as the construction of the hull itself. She’s now being floated in dock while her planks ‘take up’ and she will be launched in July. We couldn’t go on board but it was wonderful to see her and all the adjoining exhibits of workmanship.

Bilbao Birthday and Back over Biscay

The passage to Bilbao was very, very soggy. But we made it in before lunchtime, which was important because it was Jenny’s birthday! We managed a birthday brunch in the cockpit with a few presents. Later we even made birthday cakes. The following day we explored Geixo, the harbourside suburb to Bilbao, and travelled the pod of the world’s first ever (therefore oldest remaining) transporter bridge. We then caught the Metro into Bilbao itself and made a bee-line for the Guggenheim. It is a truly amazing building. The museum is closed on Mondays at this time of year so we couldn’t go in, but we circumnavigated the outside via the 2 bridges over the river. After a pause in the park adjacent to the museum, at the best kids’ net scrambles/assault course type play area we’ve ever found, we wandered on upstream along the river bank to the old town. Bilbao is nestled into a valley and the surrounding hills are largely undeveloped. There are also several parks within the city. So there seems to be a very good balance between city and green space. On our brief encounter we were charmed.

Back in the Geixo anchorage we made preparations for passage. Becca and Suzie flew in that evening and agreed to explore Bilbao another time! The next morning we topped up the diesel tanks at the fuel dock and then headed north in company with another British yacht, Alpha Helix. The winds were light all day and then eventually filled in from SW. There was virtually no swell at all, which was wonderful. Overnight we had stronger SW winds which brought rain but good progress. By mid-morning the wind was dropping out but the swell was building quite short and steep, knocking the wind out of the sails. We used the engine to keep our momentum and closed the French coast at the north end of Ile D’Oleron. Once we were past the top of the island we lost the seas and had a good run in for the last 10 or so miles towards La Rochelle. With Becca on board, even in the bigger swell, Jenny wasn’t sick, so Biscay wasn’t quite the old bogeyman she had been dreading.