Its an observation of mine that you can tell a lot about a sailor, even a yachtsman for goodness sakes, by the clothes he or she is or isn’t wearing : and i add ‘isn’t’ wearing for the sake of the entire bronzed and naked crew of a big cruiser racer that came past me during my retirement cruise in Brittanny. It was a warm to hot day and a lack of clothes isn’t unusual in many French sailors especially when the hook is down and the water looks good for a swim….do it myself as often as possible. In nearly the same place though, La Trinite rather than Benodet (same coast) there was this one time when i was running a 1 tonner and we had just won our first major offshore race which we were pretty happy about……anyway to continue…it was early morning and i had to walk up through the marina and go get some milk and fresh bread for the boat. I walked up the long pontoon with a mixture of cruising and racing boats either side : there was this one quite small French cruising boat , might have been an ecume de mer with a large hatch that was open and the lady owner (or crew) who was quite large in the upper-works was standing in the hatch frying something quite briskly in the galley and the fat was flying and spitting a bit !, first expression that came to mind was ‘fried nipple and bacon’ and once i had stopped grinning thought that maybe topless frying is an extreme sport in France.
Anyway , back to benodet and the retirement cruise : after passing the beautiful people i had sailed up the harbour until i ran out of wind and that point took me usefully upstream of the tall pont-aven bridge and the ebb was just starting to run so i borrowed a useful looking mooring, tied up, sorted the sails and the windvane etc and as it was by then late afternoon packed up for the day and made myself dinner. I really like southern Brittanny which has a completely different feel to the wilder and colder north and west coasts, it can feel almost mediterranean in the right conditions and in the Benodet river (the fleuve odet) there is a lot to watch just happening on the water. For those that don’t know it was the home of the late Eric Tabarly, its boat city with marina’s either side of the river and lots of moorings, while we there the 6 metre class were having a regatta but there is also a whole ‘other’ side to the river as going upstream it opens out into a much more rural France with lots of quiet anchorages : i spent several days just relaxing at anchor there.
After a few days of relaxing in the river i had to go back down to Benodet as its the easiest place to get ashore and top up with water, ice for the coolbox and fresh food : it would have been just feasible to do it in several trips with the dinghy had it just been the food shopping but because i needed quite a lot of water i decided to go onto the outside of the main town marina. That’s not difficult even solo as long as the tide isn’t running strongly as it runs at an angle across the visitors pontoon and the Frances isn’t the quickest boat to manouevre under engine with its long keel and small engine/prop but i got her alongside quite neatly. By the time i had the water containers all filled though the ebb had kicked in and there was already a strong stream acting on WABI” long keel and pushing her strongly onto the pontoon. One fender was already getting a bit squashy and i couldn’t push WABI” enough against the tide to get another one but a couple of other yachties lent a shoulder and i got more fenders in….smiles, grins and ‘merci’ all round. What it meant though was that i would be stuck there for the entire tide so i could take my time with the shopping, go and get coffee and just generally relax and boat-neb until the tide slackenned off. In harbour trim the Frances always looked very salty and seamanlike with her sails hanked on but bagged in neat canvas, there was a big lifeboat oar which was my emergency rudder and sweep and i think the windvane marks the boat out as a serious little offshore craft so it gets quite a few admiring looks from the more knowledgeable sailors.
French yachty’s always look slightly ‘neat’ and tidy (when they have clothes on) with the men often sporting at least one recognisable ‘label’ and their female partners often have that distinctly ’boutique’ look of nautical themed clothing and immaculate hair. The many Dutch sailors i have met are often easy to spot as the Dutch tend to be big and tall people, very friendly too but clothes wise bridge the gap in between the super-tidy French and the super-scruff Brits. ‘Yachting’ brits as in corporate Brits at Cowes seem to get it totally wrong with head to toe ‘label’ clothing ie Henry LLoyd this and Timberland that but still look as though none of it really fits and they are just bit actors in a bad English docu-soap series. The really self-conscious ones will be sporting a new and unused posh multi-tool : the ex owner of one boat i worked on took to wearing 3 at once ! The real professional English sailors are easy to spot though with usually an ex crew uniform top and grunge shorts but marked with strategic stains from anything from the engine to clearing out the blockage in the heads.
Its quite possible that i even look like a slightly eccentric singlehanded English sailor if that ‘look’ has a type : my clothes are uniformly scruffy usually right up to the point of actual destruction, i seem to remember that a lot of the time i was wearing a favourite old wool sweater (NOT a guernsey) with a hole in one elbow and the other sleeve only attached for about halfway at the shoulder…and a pair of ‘breech-like’ long shorts/short trousers with a rip in the back, a kind of modern version of climbers plus-2’s from the 1950’s but in polyester rather than wool. I like that length or shorts proper when i around boats of any kind because i am always stepping in and out of water and don’t mind wet feet but don’t like wet trouser cuffs and never wear socks at sea….socks at sea strike me as an abomination unless its actual southern ocean conditions with proper seaboots and full-on foulies and even then soggy socks are something that rarely survive a voyage . Footwear…..well i have some ‘proper’ deck shoes somewhere ? possibly in a dusty box under the stairs but generally wear a multi-purpose open shoe (keens) that we discovered in canoeing and perfect for sloshing around in water with.
Anyways : back to Benodet, i walked up through the marina, had an excellent coffee and pan au chocolat and then headed up to the supermarket to get the fresh food and ice. I generally like the smaller French supermarkets, prefer Carrefour over the others, and the Benodet one is good, found where the blocks of ice were, negotiated my way around swapping a camping gaz refill and then did the actual food shop. At some point a very tall dutch sailor stopped me in the aisle and asked me if i was the English owner of the little Frances 26 and i admitted that i was but asked him how he worked out that i was English (i don’t fly a national ensign)…..grinning he said that i could only be an English sailor dressed like that with quite literally ‘my arse hanging out’ ….i didn’t realise how big the rip was !. The tall dutchman grinned and then produced a pack of safety pins which he had looked for and paid for in the supermarket and then come an found me…and proceeded to help me pin my ripped trousers back together and then proudly declared that i now looked like a ‘punk’ sailor with my safety pins and wildly sticky-uppy non hairstyle !.
Peter Cash wrote : “Now that WAS fun, nice wotk again.
Me…did i mention the Germans ?
Peter Cash wrote : “Whatever you do, don’t mantion zee vaw.
Me, l am the sock guy just to be a rebel. Born and raised in East Hertfordshire, and spent a lot of time in Essex, enuf said.
Me….Zee Vaw…..ah Zat War, neine meine fruende.