Thursday, September 07, 2017

Two strokes of luck

We are back on board Kalessin in Brest, and looking at the forecast we may be here for quite a lot longer. Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Our plans for this part of the trip were partly shaped by the fact that although Sam’s legs are working much better than in June, he has a horrible cough and chest infection which leave him feeling even weaker than usual. (His cough is also very loud and keeps us both awake at night). So I wanted to make the journey as easy on him as possible.

Getting ourselves here and making sure we could get back again was something of a logistical challenge. Note: if you are really bored by logistical challenges, please skip the next seven paragraphs.

To start off with, when we first planned this year’s trip, Sam wanted to be able to sail to Guernsey on the way home, so he could see his sons Tim and Nick, visit Robin, revisit old haunts and do it from our own boat. This was a key factor in the whole itinerary and meant we had to make reasonable progress from Arzal around Brittany in July so that we could leave the boat and then get as far as the Channel Islands in the first two weeks of September. We also needed somewhere with good transport connections, and of all the harbours between Concarneau and Roscoff, Brest is definitely the best option. With Steve’s help we managed to get here in July.

So here we are, but Brest is pretty much as far west as you can get in France which makes it quite a long way from anywhere. We also needed to get Sam and me, and our car, home to the UK from somewhere reasonably close to Guernsey. Extra key point: we will get a paid crew to bring Kalessin home to Suffolk from France.

My tentative plan A was to take the car on the ferry from Portsmouth to St-Malo as we have before, drive to Brest, leave the car here, sail to Guernsey, then I would go back and get the car and get a ferry home. However that doesn’t work because of the ferry timings. It isn’t possible to get a foot ferry to St-Malo, then a train to Brest, then drive back to St Malo and get a vehicle ferry to Guernsey in one day. It’s barely possible to do it in two, and it would mean leaving Sam with somebody else for up to 48 hours which didn’t seem like a good option. And it was jolly expensive. And not ideal for a delivery crew who would have to get to the island in order to bring the boat home. Hmm.

Ok, option B was to do all the car-to-Brest-via-St-Malo bit, and the sail-to-Guernsey bit, then sail Kalessin on to Cherbourg, which is not far away from Guernsey by sea, only 60 miles from the south coast of England, and has the major advantage of being in the same country as the car. However, Cherbourg is a short distance away from the UK because it is at the top of a long peninsular sticking north from France (the Cotentin peninsula). That makes it about five hours’ drive from Brest and almost seven hours by train, which, whenever I collected or delivered the car would mean leaving Sam for up to 12 hours, potentially on his own. Again, hmm.

I nearly went with option B but was scuppered by the fact that by the time I booked there were no disabled access parking spaces on the St Malo ferry. There was a disabled access cabin, but I couldn’t have got Sam out of the car in order to get into the cabin. Brittany Ferries doesn’t tell you this when you book online, but it helpfully phones the next day to tell you if you have won the parking space lottery or not.

So, Option C. I thought this was really quite creative. Take the car on the ferry to Cherbourg. Then leave the car in Cherbourg and get a one-way car hire to Brest. Then sail somewhere, but by hook or by crook, get back to Cherbourg to get the car back and get a ferry home. Then the delivery crew brings Kalessin home from Cherbourg. Two big pluses: I do the overland trip between Cherbourg and Brest once instead of three times, and I don't have to leave Sam. Several minuses: it seems daft to take a car to France and then abandon it; it's quite an expensive option; I don't get to enjoy French trains; it commits us to getting back to Cherbourg, but then we have to get the ferry from there anyway.

So that’s what we did. Overnight at the Premier Inn in Port Solent, 9am fast ferry to Cherbourg, arrive 1pm French time. An hour or so finding, sorting out and paying for the secure parking at Cherbourg ferry port (so well hidden and so secure that in fact ours was the only car in it). Walk to the Hertz car hire office just as they open at 2pm. Collect car (large Fiat Tipo, needed room for wheelchair, two big bags, two boxes of stuff, loads of small bags, Sam and me). Drive back to car, transfer over Sam and all the stuff, park our Passat, back to the Tipo. Arrive back at the boat about 7.30pm, by the time Sam and all the stuff was on board it was about 9.30pm, eat a very late dinner, fall into bed. Sam coughed a lot but we did both manage some sleep.

Then for me, up betimes (Sam went back to sleep again), off to the supermarché while we still had the hire car, to do lots of heavy shopping, bring it back, quick lunch, deep breath and off to find the Hertz depot where it is cunningly hidden, fortunately on the same side of Brest as us, leave the hire car and then walk back to the marina (it was 3km but easier than getting the bus which takes a completely different route). I walked along the edge of the port and then through a whole industrial area which is entirely full of yacht sailmakers, riggers, engineers, guardiennage and more. I even found another, huge, chandlery around the back of Oceanopolis.

For what it's worth, we went with Hertz because their prices were ok, they had reasonable (walkable) locations in both Cherbourg and Brest, and they do unlimited mileage. Europcar charges a socking premium for collecting a car from the Cherbourg port, and their other office is miles away. Enterprise had good prices but a 250km limit, then a charge per kilometer. Blimey it's complicated.

So what about these strokes of luck, cries the patient reader? Well, they were both out-of-evil-cometh-good things, really. Before we left I loaded up my Kindle with everything I wanted to read, and then left it behind. But literally three minutes away from the Port Solent Premier Inn is a mahoosive Tesco Extra, and by finding a man who found a lady who found another lady who knew what was in the stockroom I managed to find another Kindle to take with me. An expensive option but a lifesaver, and after extensive fiddling I even managed to log on to the Premier Inn wifi from the Kindle to download all my books. Yes, I could have read the books on my phone or my tablet, and we have lots of paper books on board which are mostly of the “I must get around to reading this one day” variety. But a Kindle is better and that’s what I got. When we get back I’ll have to find a family member who might really appreciate it.

And the other thing was that I couldn’t find my business debit card anywhere at home. From my bank statements I worked out that the last time I had used it was to pay for fuel for the boat in Port Haliguen – my personal debit card has hysterics and won't work on marina fuel machines, because they work by pre-charging you for €300-worth of fuel, then correcting the amount once you have filled up. After deep thought I concluded that the card was most likely to be in the pocket of my waterproof jacket where I would have shoved it for safekeeping. So when we got on board yesterday I got out my jacket, put my hand in the pocket, and there was the card. First place I tried. How often does that happen?

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