Monday, 24 September 2012

Westerly Nomad, Westerly Centaur

Westerly Nomad, Westerly Centaur

New Recipe Page for September - see 'A view from the galley'

So, this weekend we took an expedition to the remote and obscure regions of Normandy to see a guy called Michael, an Englishman who has settled here and who has a Westerly Nomad for sale.

I have been attracted to the Westerly range of Sailing boats for some time but was disappointed recently when I inspected a Westerly Centaur, the most famous of the Westerly range. Let me not be misunderstood here, she was a lovely boat and I can easily appreciate why they sold in such huge numbers in the 1970s and 1980’s – a solid more seaworthy boat you could not hope to encounter – but for me, she was just too large. There is a balance I guess between comfort which frequently comes with size, and easy handling and maintenance which comes with a lack of size. At 26ft the Centaur was just on the wrong side of the equation. With a Centaur, I felt I would need use of a crane every time I wanted to lower the mast (and I do want to lower the mast easily to make use of the canal). I loved the centaur but she was not for me.

Then I heard about the Westerly 22ft, the first boat that the designer Commander Raynor put in production. A strange quirky looking vessel that wouldn’t appeal to many people today, but Susan fell in love with her unusual shape and the heaviness of her build. I liked the Gunter rig and the fact that she had Atlantic crossing under her belt.

But then I heard about the Nomad – varying reports – Michael, another Michael, who often comments on these scribblings told me he’d had one and wouldn’t purchase another – Michael however, likes speed. Another web site is actually dedicated to them and there is a Yahoo group specifically for Nomad owners. They delight in the vessel and wax lyrical about her accommodation, her heavy build and safety record. Elsewhere on the net, someone commented that she was ‘built like a tank – but sails ----- like a tank!’

So, what to make of a Nomad? Well, they have an international following and there are several examples in the USA as well as UK, but in France, she is a rare boat indeed.

But by pure chance I heard of the Englishman trying to sell one in Normandy, a two hour drive from my home in Plouer Sur Rance Brittany. If nothing else, a trip to see her would make for a pleasant day out. So, armed with a good map and a couple of sailing friends (whose role it was to take a dispassionate view and point out the downsides), we set off from Plouer for a somewhat obscure farm in Normandy.

At Avranche just across the border we stopped for lunch at the Restaurant de la Post and the four of us enjoyed a three course lunch with wine and coffee for about 60 euros total (£50ish ?). Normandy is famous for chicken in cream, and apple deserts with wafter thin pastry. Guess what – we had chicken in cream, and apple deserts with wafter thin pastry, a pleasant change from the Sausage pancakes of Brittany.

After lunch we climbed through heavily wooded deep cut valleys until we reached Michael’s place 1,200 above sea level and at least 80 miles from the sea. Strange location for a boat and her skipper. Michael, explained that he’d bought this place after falling in love with it on a holiday. Only when he took the plunge and moved in had he realised the altitude.

So, here was the boat – pretty much as I had expected, sitting on a large road trailer and looking pretty sad. Having crawled all over her however, it became clear that she was sound albeit cosmetically sad. Two things impressed me:

  1. the cabin accommodation is enormous, there are no side decks and the cabin is stretched almost all the way to the bow.

  1. She has a charcoal burning stove inside her – immediate fantasy pictures of late autumn living aboard and cruising the canal in real comfort.

As for Susan, well she was cold – dressed for a lunch in a restaurant rather than clambering about an old wet boat in such an exposed location – but guess what – she loved her. It’s that quirky whaleback shape and turned up nose that did it. So, this Nomad is a serious contender. 


So what did you think of her Jack?      'Rough'!

 Any thoughts anyone .....before I jump?


Thursday, 20 September 2012

On the Canal

On the Canal

I took a reluctant trip to IKEA recently ( looking at new kitchen for this French cottage of mine) and took the opportunity to walk along the Isle et Villaine canal for a while. Two interesting low cost DIY attempts to get afloat here. One obviously more practical than the other – although if your ambition is simply to cruise a canal, I suppose a caravan on a raft shouldn’t be sniffed at. 

Equally interesting, the water was perfectly clear, so clear in fact that you could see the bottom. Now the reason for my interest is that four years ago when I brought my little Channel Island 22 through here, the water was green and murky. So what has happened? Well after a few enquiries, it seems that someone has emptied the contents of a home aquarium in the water. The aquarium contained a plant that home fish keepers use the keep the water clear. Problem here is that this weed seems to thrive and multiply when it is cut up by boat propellers. Not only that but the cuttings form a kind of mat which resembles a sort of green chopped strand GRP matting. Excellent stuff for blocking engine filters.
So the water looks unusually fine and clear yet boat after boat engine is overheating as they come through the Canal. I had dinner with a couple of Jersey shipmates the other day as they came out of the canal on route home. They described the journey as a nightmare. Heaven knows what the authorities will do to restore the situation – hope they sort it by next year though because that’s when I hope to make the trip to the Atlantic via this waterway. Might have to paddle!


Monday, 17 September 2012

Flat Bottomed Boats

Flat Bottomed Boats

New Quiz for September - Check out Quiz Page

Since the Fete des Doris (Doris = French, Dory = English) took place on the estuary here, I have been giving considerable thought to flat bottomed boats of all types, mainly because they may offer a real ‘low cost cruising’ option. Like many, I had assumed that flat bottomed boats would be unseaworthy in some way – and yet the history of the Dory suggests this simply isn’t true, they were used in open seas and seemed to gain stability as weight of caught fish increased.

Further research suggests it was the dory which opened up North America. There is an excellent Book written by John Gardiner ‘The Dory Book’. I simply haven’t been able to put it down.

Now add a dory design to a sailing rig and you have a potentially safe shallow draft low cost cruiser. These photos, taken at the fete, give an idea of what I mean. Obviously with a sailing rig you need something to bite the water and produce forward movement rather than sideways slippage - but Dories were not the only flat bottomed boats around, and I came across an old Dutch sailing barge moored up on the river the other day. She had ‘leeboards’, retractable keels attached to the sides of the boat, each of which could be raised and lowered to provide the necessary ‘bite’ depending which tack you were on.

I’m not a boat builder but the construction of a Dory seems simple enough (although this one seems more complicated than most). There is another book (mentioned on my essential reading page), The A-Z of Cheaper Boating, which suggests that flat bottomed cruising dories have been built in the past and sailed long distances very successfully, it’s food for thought for any impoverished enterprising would be sailor.

If you'd like ro understand more about dory's this book Dory Book  is the definitive work on the subject


Monday, 10 September 2012

Out in La Passagere

Out in La Passagere

I mentioned before that a good friend of mine has bought an old open two masted lugger, previously used as a ferry, to renovate and use as a pleasure boat for tourists who want to get a taste of the sea (or the estuary) on a traditional vessel. The boat is called La Passegere and his name is Allain. Well, by the time the purchase was completed and the vessel had been brought up to his exacting standards, the tourist season was  all but over. Still she’ll be ready for next season and there is still a chance that one or two late season tourists might take the bait. Allain is offering morning, afternoon or evening cruises to suit requirements and the tourist group can be as small as three and as large as six. Guests on board can help work the boat or simply enjoy the ride. The evening cruises are known as appero-cruises, in that aperitifs and wine are included in the experience.

Anyway, by way of turning a threat (lack of bookings) into an opportunity (a bit of marketing) Allain decided to use downtime to encourage the local mayor and regional representatives to support his new business venture by inviting them for a sail last weekend. So, with the local dignitaries on board Allain explained the concept of the venture while Jean Luc and I acted as crew. Who had most fun, Jean Luc and I or the passengers? Probably Jean Luc and I.

We began the voyage in bright sunshine with the outgoing tide and a light north westerly wind and reached five or six miles down the estuary to a village on the left bank, Langrolay. From there we tacked back across the estuary to Port St Hubert where we anchored for coffee and took stock of the morning. There had been significant rain during the pervious night and so the air was remarkably clear and polished, also, being a Sunday, there were lots of other boats to see and quite a bit of fishing activity along the shoreline. One or two guys were actually involved using a traditional net which seems to be spread across a giant pair of wooden scissors which fit around the waist. The trick seems to be to walk along the shoreline with the net in the water to scoop up prawns and shrimps.

Towards mid-day, the wine bottle was opened and we moored up by the village of Mondriec (an ancient settlement reputed to have been a place of druids). This is a particularly beautiful village which looks out across the water to a beautiful old chateau ‘La Chene Vert’ (the green oak).  Le Chene Vert is still inhabited and it often provokes a somewhat philosophical discussion between Susan and me as to who is the most fortunate, the obviously rich owner of the castle with his view of the boats, but with all the responsibility that such a building must place or him, or the freer spirited sailors, with less responsibility and probably less money who get to look at his castle for free? I think I know where my inclinations lie.

Mondreic also has one more claim to fame. There is a seal that has lived alone in these waters for the past five years. He’s well fed and healthy and he seems to genuinely enjoy human contact. He can be quite elusive, but when the mood takes him, he’ll pop out of the water and put on a display for passing boaters. True to form, and right on schedule, he put on such a display for La Passagere, her crew and guests as we left the port and headed for Plouer Sur Rance our home port. Sometimes sailing just doesn’t get any better.

OK, so I've finlly managed to hook up with my new internet provider and haver broadband again. Wuthin the next few days I'll be updating Susan's view from the galley and the quizz page. Also, I'll be reporting on why the offer of a Westerly Nomad is drawing my attention AND, I'll be listing reviews of a few books I've been reading - so after a lull - watch out of a lot more activity in this corner of webspace.