Terror-Struck Topsy-Turvy Report

cartoon: 'haul, jib, tack'

Exciting Sailing Weekend In Brittany

by Linda Thalman

Paris:- Monday, 15. June 1998:- The prospect last Friday: a weekend in Brittany sailing... ah, sea, sand, sun and a bit of relaxation. Little did I know we'd go faster in the harbor than in the Atlantic!

Never mind that I got 'roped' into participating in the annual regatta of a large international organization because they needed any extra bodies to have a full complements of six 'sailors' on each of the nine rented sailing boats.

The reality: Paris: Saturday, the Montparnasse Train Station at 7:45 on the dot. The doors close on the TGV to Lorient and off we speed westwards though only at the normal 300 hundred kilometres an hour for the first 150 kms; then it was onto 'old' tracks and down to a more sedate speed.

A damaged rail about 20 kms from our destination left us high and dry for one hour and 45 minutes, waiting for the repairs. So much for 'average' speed.

But First Some Tips About the TGV

Tip One: True Story department: be sure to have your portable phone with you when your train decides to take a coffee break for over an hour.

It means you can call your best friend and get her to turn on the television and report the half-timephoto: pool tiles score of the France-South Africa match and announce it to a cheering crowd of 100 people in your section of your train.

Tip Two: Any trip further than 100 kms that has more than a 30-minute delay entitles you to a reimbursement of an unnamed amount.

This is what a 'safe' sea bottom looks like: tiled and one metre deep.

So about 800 people dutifully collected their pre-stamped envelopes in Lorient as we emerged exactly 90 seconds before the end of the 'Football Game of the Last Decade' and we were able to hear the cheers from the Bar Terminus. Good news: France crushes opponents by three to nothing.

This was not to be only one of the half-dozen matches I missed while basking in the Brittany sun.

Tip Three: Reserve your train tickets as far in advance as possible. Why? Because if your reservation was made before another ticket holder for the very same seat, you get an upgrade to First Class! Another totally true story - which happened right across the aisle from my second-class seat number 44 in wagon 19.

Tip Four: Do your very best to get to your train at least 15 minutes before 'takeoff.' Being in wagon 19 out of 20, it was one heck of a long and rapid hike along the quai.

Now, you might say, just hop on and walk all the way down the train to your seat. Nope! The first ten cars of the train only were going to Rennes and there was an engine or two in between the cars ten and 11. You had to get to at least car 11 - about six kilometers along the quai - to be safe.

Arriving 105 Minutes Late, Some More Tips:

When we arrived in Lorient we were whisked by bus to Lamour Plage and the 'port de plaisance' there. Unfortunately we didn't have time to see anything in Lorient but the port.

Tip Five: Daytrippers to Lorient would certainly enjoy a bike ride around the Ile de Groix at the perfectly reasonable price of 68 francs per day for a super mountain bike - to peddle around a basically flat plateau. Remember the required 1000 franc deposit.

Do take the ferry from Lorient to the island rather than swimming, wind surfing or sailing the five-odd kilometres. On the Ile de Groix, Port Tudy, is a quaint port village with hotels, bars, restaurants, bike and nautical shops.

Tip Six: Be sure to order the 'moules' - mussels- at the Hotel de la Marine on the Ile de Groix. Outstanding!

Experienced sailor that I am - a good dozen times on ferries, deep sea fishing in the Pacific ocean about 30 years ago and paddling around pools, lakes, streams and warm tropical seas - meantphoto: the crew I was really ready for a regatta in the Atlantic on a 9.8-metre boat - ship? - floating piece of plastic?

These kind-looking people answered the author's every question, very politely - when they had time.

I certainly was able to ask good technical questions, like: 'When do we start?' 'When do we finish?' 'What in the world are these 29 different colored cords for?' 'Starboard is on the left or right of the boat?' 'What did you just say?'

This brings me to Tip Seven: You can greatly improve your French vocabulary when sailing by picking up an understanding of such valuable phrases as: 'Let it - don't ask me which cord - One of Them! - out now!' 'Tack, now!' 'Jibbing, now!' and 'Buoy straight ahead! now!'

Also added were very valuable nautical conversational bits such as: "We've got a nice white rope wrapped around both propeller blades" and even more useful was: "We've run aground" and "Yes, that was a boat we sideswiped just before hitting the pontoon."

Another piece of good news: besides actually seeing the sun on Sunday, our team - 'crew' - in boat-speak - came in among the top ten. Fifth out of nine teams. Hey, not bad.

Our skipper - yep, it is 'skipper' in French, too - bravely led us to near victory! Our crew hailed from Ireland, France, England, Scotland and the U.S.A. At least we all spoke English, except for official boat-speak, and we did not have to know how to say 'Man Overboard' or 'Our boat has just capsized' in French.

In case you need them, there are a few perfectly correct expressions in French that just might come in handy for your next cruise on a Bateau Mouche on the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, such as 'Nous coulons, now!' or 'Le bateau est en train de sinké' and 'Secours, je ne sais pas nager!' This last can also be used in swimming pools.

Now, to the actual regatta: Saturday afternoon our boat went up and down, left and right - starboard and port for the purists - and I don't know where else, because I was hiding on the steps conveniently placed in the middle of the boat leading to the galley. Sunday was a full day of joy, tacking and jibbing and porting and starboarding around the lovely island of Groix.

Somehow we finally made it back to the harbor in Lorient to bask in the glory of coming in fifth. Even though the wind was still blowing 30 kilometers an hour in the harbor - we were finally calmly moored - I thought it was 'parked' - and devouring paté, smoked salmon, sardines, baguette and a bottle of 110-franc red wine - the guys in charge of the shopping were top-notch!

This is when we heard a high-pierced scream that translated approximately as: "Sweetie, I think we are going to ram this boat!" And bingo! Madame et Monsieur Dupont and their sailing machine knocked our 'Imagine' - the name of our cute little sloop - for a loop.

Well, this event promptly made us forget crewmember Emmaline who was being totally drowned by a wave as she hung on to the edge of the boat for dear life - the cords that mysteriously kept getting stuck - the boom that flimmed and flammed from port to starboard before the skipper said they should - the motor that didn't seem to work in reverse and the pontoon we stormed intophoto: the sea somewhere while leaving the quaint harbor on the Ile de Groix with only 457 people watching.

While this water is about the same color, you can tell it is the deep sea because of the big rock sticking out of it.

It made us also forget the hour or so that three brave guys spent in 15 degree water untying the rope around our motor blades, and nearly all the rest of the joys of sailing.

Finally, about our return TGV trip to Paris, I'll give you Tip Eight: Be sure and get to the food-bar car early, even if you are not hungry or thirsty. They tend to run totally out of liquid refreshment very quickly when there are happy - but totally scared out of their wits - sailors returning from two-day regattas in Brittany.

This exclusive report is from Linda Thalman, who is eternally grateful to be back on dry land and, and in all seriousness, was saddened to learn that Eric Tabarly had died at sea.

Editor's Note: The promised photos meant to accompany this first-hand report seem to have been soaked to death in brine, so readers are invited to imagine some of the scenes of fear and terror, as experienced by our brave reporter, and add a bit of salt to them.

Photo and text: Linda Thalman©1998
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contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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