Dartmouth to Paris May 2015 Sarah’s first rambles

20150501_183341Dartmouth to Paris May 1st to May 18th



17th May 2015

Tucked up a creek at Poissy in a boat live aboard community. Very tranquil and welcoming. Ran while David cycled to explore the town and admired another beautiful church and remains of an Abbey.

Miles run 3.8! not great training yet – did 5 m in honfleur and 6m in Rouen. But it’s great exploring with David on the bike.


Came up the river from Vernon where we cycled to Giverny to visit Monet’s house and garden. Despite the queues – although arriving 2pm in the afternoon was probably a good move – and loads of people inside – the gardens are brilliantly restricted so the paths you can walk on whilst crowded ensure you look across the flower borders and pathways with unspoilt views. The stunning colour combinations are exciting and vibrant. Eveything bursting with life. No sign of gardeners – so unlike a NT garden where you can see works in progress often and volunteers beavering away – this is probably unionised work force! Sketched a lily pond view. Sat and soaked it up. Spent some time in the shop reading up about Monet’s life. The village has been taken over by art galleries and cafes. But nevertheless pretty French village with lots of house sideways on to the road.


Walked over the bridge in to Vernon after supper. Some quaint timbered back alleys.

We are moored in Vernonet thanks to Vincent the president of the yacht club. The pilot says 1.5m (as is our draught) but we had attempted to go in towards the little pontoons and hit zero so reversed out rapidly, we were attempting to moor alongside some dubious massive constructions when this lovely man appeared and warned us the peniche (barges) would be along later… and that we could get in to the yacht club. We said no but he encouraged us back saying it gets deeper once you are through the shallows. Whilst he careered over the bridge on his motorbike we motored back across the river and starting gingerly to go towards the pontoons. Sure enough it did get deeper – but not before the depth gauge had read zero for some time…we were moved up the pontoon right under the beautiful old windmill; and next to the old fort. So perfect; even our own lily pond – well they looked like rhubarb but still…


Dartmouth 1st May seems a long time ago. The last packing at Wendy and Pete’s – after 9 weeks of their generous hospitality – amazing how much you can pack  into one room – we had already taken a car load to the office to put in the office loft for the summer – how can there be another car load? Too late to meet Louisa off the train from London but Jamie had walked to temple meads so he met her and they set off into town. We joined them at Queens Square and avoided them trekking up the hill to 5 Great George Street for Louisa and I to visit the site of our new flat. Yikes, it looks very small! But am sure will grow once the scaffolding is down and the plastering is done. Very exciting to see it all appearing. Brunch at Boston Tea Party to start relaxing and celebrate David’s birthday, and off to Dartmouth to the boat.

Pouring rain so Louisa and I volunteered to do the food shop whilst Jamie and David met the bimini maker on board. Yes, I love very gendered roles on the boat. Who wouldn’t opt for cheese scones and tea at Sainsbury’s followed by an amble round whilst we choose provisions for the weekend and the start of our trip to France. And thanks Louisa but I don’t think we will eat 4 tins of baked beans – perhaps you will when you join us in Italy?!


Up the dart to tie to a buoy in Dittisham as the weather is so changeable. Birthday dinner for David and rather too many presents – particularly the pirate outfit and the johnny depp look alike hat and wig! Although he does look rather good in it!

Lovely to be afloat; rocked to sleep by the changes of the tide and the wind.


The kids had never been to Sharpham vineyard so despite low tide we motored up to the Tuckenhay anchorage and then dinghy up to sharpham. Even in a dinghy it’s a long way to get across the mud. David’s boots are used in a ferry system to get the kids ashore. Mad or what? Just a typical weekend on the Dart!

Delicious cheeses and wine at sharpham. Who needs France? This is idyllic – well a few degress warmer and a bit less rain perhaps?


Back to Dittisham to anchor behind the village but high wind forecasts and complaints of this is too remote (ie we can’t get to the pub) we resorted to going back to the buoys at Dittisham and enjoying a pint n the fairy boat inn. (as it was affectionately known under previous ownership).


Kids (adults but always one’s kids!) both volunteered for the walk to Dartmouth the next morning and were as enthusiastic about the views, beauty and hills as me!

In time for brunch at Alf’s

And then the kids set off back to Bristol for Louisa to get a train back to London – but first they had to drop me in Exeter as I had discovered I had failed to pack my running shoes. So a very speedy shop followed by train to Totnes just in time for last ferry back to Dartmouth in torrential rain.

Very windy wet night but the anchor appeared to hold firm however the next morning it was so windy the harbour master asked us to move off the anchorage on to a pontoon which was more relaxing!


Tuesday 5th and 6th May on the pontoon dodging heavy showers and watching the squalls of wind race up the Dart. Not conducive to doing anything. All that bad weather and we still didn’t get to finish unpacking! D busy with engine repairs. Sarah busy worrying about what the hell we have let ourselves in for!


Thursday 8th May election day sees us 4.30am up and out of the harbour at 5.20. There is a 36 hour window in the endless gales which we want to grab if we can. We leave in beautiful conditions. It feels very nostalgic to be leaving Dartmouth after 20 years of sailing here as the children have grown up.


It’s nor far out before the waves get big and it all looks a bit hairy to me. However a tot of brandy which Pippa has learnt was good for sea sickness followed by the appearance of a solitary dolphin who played alongside the boat diving in and off the bow and through the waves, disappearing and then charging past us again for over an hour. Joined by two more for a short while before they all left. But it had down the trick and distracted me from waves which were by then beginning to reduce in size as forecast. 7 knots motor sailing.


AIS made the busy shipping channels easier to handle; and we soon spotted Guernsey and Alderney. Then we hit the tide and our speed reduced until we were only doing 3 knots. Painfully slow last four hours in to Cherbourg. Engine overheated. Worrying moment whilst David checked everything before deciding it must be an electrical fault which meant the panel was misreading. Found a wire that had rusted up – bit of repair and all well again! Glad we weren’t in the shipping lane!

So tired we tied up on a floating pontoon and went to bed.at 22.00


Up 6am for last 12 hours to Honfleur. Not sure being on a pontoon in a harbour counts as having been there?


Light winds; good progress; tides kinder to us! Spotted two dolphins and enjoyed watching gannets particularly as we think we won’t get them in the med – lovely to see them dive.

Arrived 19.06 just as they were shutting the lock gates so we had to hang around for an hour before getting in on the 8pm lock. Looks very pretty but too tired for anything other than a short walk round the old square. Restaurants and bars heaving and pavements full of tables.


Saturday 9th ran with David on the bike to look for a diesel 20li can and to fill it up as Honfleur, despite the pilot, does not yet have fuel for boats! Successful but by the time we are back from 5m round trip it is 1pm and the fish market and other markets have shut! Beautiful town which would be lovely to spend longer in but keen to get to Rouen as the horror stories of the tides in the Seine and the commercial traffic creating large wash are off putting!


Sunday 10th May

Set off for the 7.30am lock. Enter behind French yacht we have been chatting to with 3 young children on a 27th – brought back lovely memories of our tiny ones on Saith Seren.


Lock gates stuck behind us – eventually all mended and off at 10,30.

Tide against us for a couple more hours and then it turned and we had two to 3 knots with us. Turned against us about an hour before we arrived so couldn’t have been better really!


Found Gervais basin; plenty of room.

Monday 11th May

Booked a demisting for Wednesday 13th at 3pm. Off in to town on the bikes along the river. All very commercial. Dreadful steak in Rouen but loved the old quarter, more timbered houses and stunning cathedral. Two folding bikes are perfect!


Tuesday 12th May.

Getting the boat ready for the de-masting. All more to do on a boat than you think! But I invite neighbours fro Freedom over for drinks in the evening and decide to spend the day tidying and cleaning – very satisfying – and makes me love the boat even more! Very jolly kir royale on deck. Feels like summer!


Wednesday 13th

Terrible d&v for 12 hours puts me out of helping David so there is still far too much to do after the smooth de-masting goes well with the charming team in the boat yard next door to the marina. Very laid back!

So Stay an extra day to tie up all the loose ends – and I mean literally – all the shrouds and ropes need fixing to the mast and the mast fixing to the supports which in turn are fixed to the deck. It has to be very secure as we will still encounter




Friday 15th May

The diesel pump is mended and we get diesel! Yes!!!  The other places listed apparently haven’t sold diesel in years! Both pilots we have – one English and one French are dated 2010 but we are finding both worse than inaccurate. The rivers and I suspect the canals are not geared towards long distance travellers – so it may be many bike rides with the 20li container to fill up the 100li tank!


But the pump out for the holding tank – ahh the attachment is different in France and doesn’t fit – looks almost identical. Why oh why in this great age of technology can countries not agree on some universal systems?


But David will later track an adapter down to a chandlers in Paris who he e mails so maybe we will get sorted there! Until then when in Rome do as the Romans do!


After an industrial start the river is quickly beautiful again. A rich tapestry of greens; amazing bird song and we hug the bank to avoid the occasional peniche – but more so so that we can hear the birds singng to us as we go past.


Glimpses of kingfishers; and one bird of prey which scooped fast over the water chasing the smaller birds. I look in the book thinking I’ve never seen a kestrel do that! The only bird that seems possible is a Merlin. Is that possible here? They do migrate over France so I suppose it is but we only have a bird book courtesy of Geoff for the med!


We quickly discover that mooring on the seine is not easy. Quai’s are either aimed at the commercial peniche – and tend to be high posts which are uninviting anyway. The few large ‘quai’ are ready for the cruisers that come down the seine every few days with 120 plus passengers. I guess you get more money from tourists on those than you would ever get from allowing a little yacht on passage to tie up but it would be nice!! We find we can’t stop at les andelys so carry on and spot a rickety pontoon with a cruiser on it. They kindly allow us to tie up – thank you chartwell – and give friendly advice as they are old hands at the Seine.


Beautiful walk through the fields towards the setting sun and a view of the castle at les Andelys. So French; so many wild flowers – and David picks a bunch one of each for the boat. Accompanied by swallows again this tie gathering for the night and swooping over the fields before diving into the hedgerows.


Saturday 16th May

Up at 6am to try to get to Vernon so as to make good time for Monet’s garden. It’s still too cold for these early mornings! But the river is serene at this time of day so has it’s compensations. A lock to ourselves and we feel we are getting the knack of the ropes fore and aft which we have to lasso over the next bollard up as you rise up and then appear on a level with the fields again. I love that gently rising up, when it goes well!!


And so to Vernon which I described earlier.


Last day to Paris Monday 18th May.

Left out boating community in Poissy at 9.10am sleeping peacefully and motored back out of the channel – enough water; passed the ancient port – which looks more like a series of bridge supports. Very striking.


Up the river and the last of the rich green, fresh smells and birdsong before an increasingly residential and industrial landscape. And it smells less good! Increasing number of house boats are fascinating – some you can see are making ends do and others at the opposite extreme creating luxurious pads.


Second lock of the day and big gusts of wind. We lose our mid ships warp and swing out in to the lock banging the end of the mast in to the wall of the lock. Kind French man comes and helps fend us off. We have to accept defeat and allow the wind to turn us right round so we are facing the wrong way in the dock. Never mind when the lock gates open we use the wind to turn the boat 360 again and tootle out – I say we – of course I mean David who is much more experienced at boat handling than me!


Port van Gogh at the end of the afternoon is an optimistic name – it is actually a couple of pontoons with house boats and rather shallow. But we pop ourselves alongside a nice house boat with the help of le capitaine who has to use rather a lot of muscle as we are fighting both the current and a strong wind! Toilet facilities not the standard Rouen has led us to enjoy! But shower is hot and at least separate from the toilet so it doesn’t smell.


Off out to dinner at Soleine and William’s having left it too late to cycle in to Neuilly to visit Christianne.


Thoughts so far?

This is a great boat to live on. Especially with the forepeak as a spare cupboard! Comfortable; spacious; attractive. Wonderful to be afloat. There is something about being rocked gently by the tides and wind which is dreamy. And being able to see water in every view seems to have a very cathartic impact on well-being. I feel so delighted we are doing this – and excited by four months of live aboard rhythms.

There is no choice but to slow down as everything from taking the rubbish to finding food, diesel, water and showers all become part of life’s rituals rather than things we don’t even really notice doing when at home. I think it is rather nice to have one’s life so completely re-prioritised.


I can’t believe how many hours I can sit and watch a river go by; it’s pretty zen like and definitely not boring; watching for kingfishers; watching the swallows swoop and dive elegant but late risers – you never seem to see them before about 10.30! lots of black headed bulls; and very very few other gulls that we are plagued by in England and not many pigeons and don’t think I’ve seen a magpie! Hurrah!

And such deep deep sleep. Feeling increasingly refreshed. And very well!







One Response to “Dartmouth to Paris May 2015 Sarah’s first rambles”

  1. Linda CasboltJune 3, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

    Greetings from the first guest crew member on Shearwater’s journey. I took over that fore peak cupboard for 12 days for motoring up the Marne. What an experience it was, starting with an engine fire 10 minutes into my travels, and the prospect of a 5 day wait for a spare part, in a marina in a Paris suburb, under a motorway bridge and next to a very loud bar. Um, not a great birthday, but Sarah and I had a beautiful sunny walk and lunch in Paris and I was getting used to the idea, when we returned to the boat to find el Capitaine David had performed some of his fixing magic and we were able to depart the next day. The Marne was a dreamy, wide, slow moving river, and the days passed quickly doing little but fairly unsuccessful bird watching and drink tea (far too cold for wine in the open). It was mesmerising, I decided I could spend the rest of my life on this Three People on a boat adventure. All was to change when we reached the Canal between Champagne and Burgundy, the world of locks every 2k was upon us. This meant 10 mins of motoring and 20 mins of lock work. The locks were about 3m deep and required first mate Sarah to perform heroic athletic feats to lasso bollards from the depth of the lock, often standing on the guard rail to do it. And then there was the moving of the fenders from side to side at the last minute as we finally saw which side the lock mechanism was. Very hard work, but fun and satisfying as we got better at it. I performed a very ancillary role, and used to get off and walk for a couple of hours on the tow path, as my speed was about the same as the boat. It was a marvellous adventure, and I cannot say enough about how cheerful and hospitable Sarah and David were to me the whole time, I was very sad to leave yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about that tunnel you’ve been going through all day today…

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