Day 390 – FRANCE and CANARY ISLANDS: From La Rochelle to Tenerife

Did lots of flying and ‘normal’ traveling today. Flew from La Rochelle (France) to London (England), then from London to Tenerife (Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco, North Africa). It was six hours of flying in total, but much more waiting.

It took one hour and a half to get through immigration at Gatwick Airport in London. The lines were rather rediculous. An elderly lady standing in front of me to whom I began chatting to mentioned that she kept losing her place in the line because she had to go and sit down often. I offered to keep her place, and she wandered to the front of the line and waited for me. Good Samaratin deed of the day.

In London I had four hours between flights, so I dashed into central London to the Decathalon store to buy a life jacket. Apparently the marina in San Miguel is in a small town where getting such things is a little difficult. It was only 8 GBP for a simple off-shore life jacket, so no worries.

I made it back to the airport with 20 minutes to spare before takeoff. I was ushered through the lines of people to the front and made it onto the plane just in time.

I arrived in Tenerife at 10:30pm, and met Steve, the Reliance Yacht Management skipper for the trip from Tenerife to Tortola, British Virgin Islands. He is a down to earth guy, extremely experienced in sailing, of course, with more than 25 trans-Atlantic trips. Most of these have been delivery trips, delivering French-made catamarans. He used to be an electrical engineer before switching to sailing more than 15 years ago. The frist thing I noticed about him was his weathered face, creased at the sides of his mouth due to an ever-present easy smile.

Frist-mate is Steve’s partner Ellie. She is a diminutive woman who enjoys laughing and makes effort to make you feel welcome and comfortable on the boat. Ellie has done 11 trans-Atlantic crossings with Steve, and together their total sailing miles top 250,000.

Steve and I chatted on the way back from the airport in the hire car, and he mentioned that he prefers inexperienced crew. That way, he can teach them without having to put up with ‘arrogant sailing school prats with all the training and no experience thinking they know it all’. In any case, the Steve and Ellie are a great duo, and I am sure that we will get on well.

The catamaran we are delivering on this trip is a Lagoon 420, a new ‘hybrid’ catamaran with electric motors. The batteries that run the motors and all electrics inside the catamaran are charged by propellers when the yacht is sailing at full speed. When the yacht is moving slower than full speed, a (very inefficient) diesel generator charges them.

The yacht is, needless to say, brand new and very spacious. I have my own double berth (sleeping quaters with a double bed) with ensuite with toilet and shower. The boat holds up to 300 litres of fresh water, so hot fresh water showers will only be a once a week affair, but I can hardly complain.

My berth on the Lagoon 420 sailing catamaran (San Miguel, Tenerife, Canary Islands)

More photos tomorrow when the sun is up…

DAY 389 – FRANCE: Guess who has a crew position…

OK, so I know I said that I wouldn’t be using an airplane to get back to NZ, so I guess that this is cheating just a little, but tomorrow I depart La Rochelle to fly back to London, and then from there fly to Tenerife, Spain – flights reimbursed by Reliance Yacht Management. Why? Because I have a position on a yacht delivery! Jolly stoked, and a little freaked out at the speed at which things are happening – weather permitting we set sail on Saturday (18th August) morning.

But the lowdown is that I will be assisting with the delivery of a Lagoon 420 catamaran from Tenerife, Spain, to Tortola, British Virgin Isles. From the British Virgin Isles I’m not 100% sure how I will get to the US yet, but I am sure I will be able to island hop there some how. I will most probably apply for my six month US tourist visa in Barbados.

My flight details for tomorrow are:

  • Flying out of La Rochelle at 10:50am 16th August, arriving Gatwick at 11:10am 16th August. Flight number 5040 on EasyJet.
  • Flying out of Gatwick on British Airways Charter Flight, flight number 6996. Departs London Gatwick 18:05pm Thursday 16 August 2007, arrives Tenerife, Spain, 22:25pm Thursday 16 August 2007.

So a really big thank you to Reliance Yacht Management for hooking me up with this. They have done a great job so far.

This great news in no way shadows the great time I had with Bart and his friends here in La Rochelle. It was far too short a stay, but I really enjoyed every moment of it. A good way to finish before the hard work and learning curve begins on Saturday.

Friendly hosts in La Rochelle, France

We were all staying at Garston’s place. A small studio apartment in a building nestled in amongst whitewashed narrow streets.

Garston's apartment in La Rochelle, France

Big merci to Garston!

Garston the model in La Rochelle, France

I must say that I am gutted that I couldn’t have spent some more time in London. There were some more people that I wanted to meet up with, but this yacht thing has been a bit of a whirlwind. You never know, I might be back.

Day 388 – FRANCE: From Nantes to La Rochelle

I spent more than six hours in the Decathalon store today. Way to make you go crazy.

First I spent an hour or so tracking down the cheapest possible footwear I could find. The result was a 5 Euro pair of shoes on special, discounted from 35 Euros. They should do for on the yacht – if I ever get on one. My boots were reluctantly laid to rest due to the fact that they were hardly suitable for wearing to work.

Sadly put out of service in Nantes, France

They would have lasted much longer, and it was sad to see them go. But such is life. I just hope that I do end up managing to get a position on a yacht. All this new stuff I am buying is on the assumption that I will.

So I wandered out of the store with some sunglasses, new shoes, and some new socks, and not only is it pouring with rain, but I am also without a jacket. Back in I go and scour the store for the best deal on a waterproof jacket. I found the right one quickly enough, but delayed my departure from the store until 4pm. It was still raining cats and dogs at this stage, but I had no other choice. I really wanted to be in La Rochelle to start the search for a yacht job.

Just as I was going to leave the store, I overheard some people speaking English. I thought they were Kiwis, but they ended up being a family from the UK visiting France. Upon hearing that I was going to try to hitch a ride out of the city, they insisted that they take me to a good spot just out of the city on the motorway. Thank you guys! I got a ride from where they dropped me off in about 10 minutes.

The next ride was with Julie, Bart, and Patern. Julie and Patern are students, and Bart is working. They were heading to La Rochelle to visit friends, because from today, all of France is on holiday.

I explained that I had contacted a Couchsurfing host in La Rochelle and arranged to stay at his place from the 15th, so they offered for me to stay at their friend’s place for the night. I of course agreed.

The rest is history, and I was shown amazing hospitality and good times out on the town in La Rochelle. Very tasty wine infused with fruit flavours such as apple and grapefruit and strawberry. I have decided that France is awesome.

Day 387 – FRANCE: La Havre to Nantes

Bonjour from France! This hitchhiking business is hard work. Sure, you don’t have to carry a heavy backpack on your back, but when you are super tired and can hardly keep your eyes open, but are stuck in a truck, your only option is to fight the tiredness and try to keep awake, rather than find a tree to have a rest under. It’s not the done thing to sleep in your ‘host’ car.

But oh my goodness. My sterotypes about the French have been hung, drawn, and quatered today. France is hands down the friendliest country I have ever visited (after Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, that is). The people are keen to communicate, and lack of language skills are no barrier. Where the heck did the ‘snobby French people’ comments come from.

My frist ride was with a young guy moving apartments because of a change in study location from La Havre to Caen. The second ride was the clincher – a three hour ride from Caen to Nantes in a big truck and trailer unit. The driver spoke no English, but after a while my very limited French skills came back to me from my short time in Switzerland. We ascertained that he had once been working in an aluminium smelter, has two daughters, and has been driving trucks for a living for six years. The pay is average, but he is happy.

He dropped me off just oustide of Nantes at around 7pm. I hadn’t eaten much during the day, so I took a break to have dinner – the usual spaghetti.

I was considering trying to hitch to La Rochelle tonight, but I saw an advertisement for a Decathalon store in Nantes. Decathalon is a French outdoor and sporting goods brand that sells their own brand of outdoor gear for really cheap. Like you can get a very good quality fast drying polyester t-shirt for less than NZ$10. Consider buying a North Face t-shirt and you’d be looking at at least NZ$50.

I need to visit Decathalon to get myself some basic waterproof clothing for when/if I get a job on a yacht across the Atlantic. So I skated through Nantes, but by the time I got to the Decathalon store it was shut. I found a secluded spot under a bypass for the night.

Oh and chekc out the crazy slanted buildings I saw in Nantes. I thought my vison was going funny…

Leaning buildings in Nantes, France