When Things Go Pear-Shaped

Chapter 8-  July 9, 2005

Sam Writing

La Rochelle Bridge


When we started out, we knew there would be bad times as well as good.  Our trip from Les Sables d’Olonne to La Rochelle started out well with brisk 20kt winds pushing us along from behind.  However, as we chose to take the approach between Ile de Re island and the mainland under a big bridge these winds got progressively funneled into stronger and stronger gusts until at one point they were blowing over 35kts.  Of course, per Murphy’s law, this was also the time they shifted and back-filled our genoa.  Fortunately, we didn’t have our main up for fear of this very thing.  A crash jibe can take place when the wind which has been pushing the boat along from one side, switches and begins to push the boat along from the other side.  When this happens, if the mainsail is up, the boom crashes from one side of the boat to the other under full force and can actually rip the mast, sail and all the lines off the boat pulling them into the sea.  If that’s not bad enough the mast can then begin to bash against the boat and, if not immediately cut away, punch a hole in the boat and sink it.  Crash jibes are every sailor’s nightmare.

Under the bridge.  The pirate flag means, "child on board,"  which allows families to connect.

La Rochelle

Before we were able to get our genoa (the big sail at the front of the boat) back on its proper side and filled properly the 35kt winds managed to put both a tear and a hole in it.  Both were small, but in the case of sails, a stitch in time literally saves about 90 or 900.  So, getting them repaired is at the top of our “to do” list.  Anyway, upon arriving in La Rochelle, we were looking forward to getting a nice berth in one of their 3,000 slips.  The guidebook describes Port Minimes in La Rochelle as being one of the largest marinas in the world with plenty of space for visitors.  As this is our final destination in France before making the 36 hour hop to Spain, we are planning to stay a while, rest up and get some maintenance items taken care of.


We were therefore a little surprised when we sailed between the red and green towers into the marina that everything looked full and we would have to dock at the visitors quay and go in to speak to the harbormaster before getting a slip.  As the winds were blowing us directly onto the quay and literally howling through our rigging this was an extra unwanted step in the usual procedure.  We were further dismayed to find out after speaking to the harbormaster that all 3,000 slips were indeed full and we would have to pull alongside and “raft” to a motor-yacht for our entire stay.  After exiting the visitors quay against the wind and rafting in the continued force 7 winds (force 8 is an official gale) without incident we were happy just to be done with what had been a fairly tiring, but exhilarating day of sailing.


Taking the ferry to Vieux Port (Old Town).

Hanging around Vieux Port. 

Indian food for dinner.

We went through our usual ritual of tidying up Debryn Ruth after the voyage before striking off to scope out the town before nightfall (about 10:30pm given our latitude and closeness to June 21 - the summer solstice).  Deb and Kai went ahead while I shut down the computers and put away the charts and pilot guides.  As I was finishing this I heard what can only be described as shrieking.  At first I couldn’t place it and thought the neighbors must be having a fight.  After a short moment I realized it was Deb. (Having not heard her shriek like this before please understand the brief delay.)  Jumping up the companionway I just caught a glimpse of her jumping off the neighbor’s yacht into the harbor.  At the same time Kai’s head just became visible surfacing from under the water.  Deb grabbed Kai and swam him over to me where I lifted him out and onto our boat.


It turned out that Kai had slipped while walking around the front of our neighbor’s boat.  (It is very poor boat etiquette to walk past the companionway when rafted to another boat even though this is the shortest route across.)  Being a motor-yacht not intended for the open ocean this boat had neither a toerail around the side of the deck or a lower lifeline.  Therefore, when Kai had slipped, he went right under the high guard rail and his little fingers only just managed to catch the side of the boat.  But, without a toerail he had no purchase and Deb watched him lose hold and disappear into the water.  Thus the shrieking… 


After a few tears and a shower for the two swimmers we finally did make it to dinner.  The day had been less than ideal in several respects.  However, at least for Kaizen, it hadn’t been anything a scoop of chocolate ice cream couldn’t put right.

Vieux Port, Debryn and Kaizen.

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