You know how it’s nice to look good in front of an audience? Yes, well. Sometimes I curse having a blog to write. It’s all very well sharing our joys and triumphs, our pictures of deserted sandy beaches and sunkissed anchorages. Give me a successful crossing or a safely negotiated bit of pilotage or notorious strait or sea area and I’ll rush to write it up and share the news. The downside is that when it comes to less well accomplished feats of navigation, to embarrassing situations or downright disasters, there is little choice but to tell it like it is. So here goes….
It is safe to say that Planet excelled herself today. We came back from wandering around Saint Goustan and Auray to be on Planet when she took the ground as the tide went out. We have legs for her, which we can bolt on as supports when she dries out, but these are in our garage, as there is no tide in the Med and we didn’t really fancy traipsing around with two massive lumps of timber on deck for two years. But it’s all good. We’ve dried her out a few times at home without legs, alongside very similar looking quays to this one. The trick being to make sure Planet leans against the wall or quay as she dries out, so that she sits safely supported until the tide comes back in again. Planet has got a hefty wide keel so this poses no problem. Usually. Unfortunately, things seem to have a habit of going wrong when we have people to visit, and today was no exception. There is nothing worse than wanting to show how nice your boat is and to end up saying ‘it’s never normally like this’….. So we dried out. She took the ground beautifully, we put a bit of weight on the staysail halyard and she leant against the wall as the water trickled away. The only problem was that as the tide went out it emerged that there was a bit more of a slope on the bottom than anticipated and Planet ended up looking like this…
Brilliant. Thanks Planet. The first people to come to see you in France and you make it virtually impossible for them to come on board. Probably better to have our aperitif in a bar on the shore then, not in the cockpit as planned. Never mind. Planet was fine like this, just at a bit of a jaunty angle making it slightly uncomfortable to sit on. So we left her to go for a meal and decided we’d move her the other way round once she floated again tonight. That way we could get a good night’s sleep.
It was so lovely to see Kit and Jill who were very kind and understanding. We had the best evening in their company, and we had a fantastic meal in a restaurant on the quay opposite from where we could watch Planet float again and regain her dignity as the tide came in. Briefly.
We said goodnight and warped Planet round with no problem. We adjusted the lines and sat down to wait for her to take the ground again, hopefully at a bit less of a slope. Planet touched the bottom as we realised that there wasn’t a ring or a bollard to take the staysail halyard to on the quay now that we were the other way round, so we took it to the only thing that was possible; a substantial looking granite bench on the quay. It looked fine. I think you can guess what’s coming next. It was by now about two in the morning so we decided to take it in turns to sleep for an hour until we were completely dried out just to keep an eye on the lines. I dozed off and Si stayed in the hatch by the cockpit reading his book and checking the lines as we came down. All good. Then suddenly there was a loud bang and Planet went over on her ear. It was horrible. We both leapt into action trying to work out what had gone wrong. We’ve since worked out she must have sunk into a particularly soft patch of mud which was enough to put sudden tension on the halyard line. Si must have checked it only moments before. Luckily though, being soft mud meant Planet fell over into a nice cushion and sat very solidly on her side. The only problem was the bench. Or rather, the only problem was that as she fell over Planet decided she couldn’t bear to be parted from the bench. So she took it with her. Our conversation went something like this. ‘What the hell’s happened?’ ‘We’ve fallen over.’ ‘Well why? Where’s the line to the wall?’ ‘It’s on the bench’ ‘Well where’s the bench?’ I will not quickly forget the horrendous feeling of looking over Planet’s bow and seeing a municipal bloody bench hanging there. Our first thought was obviously for Planet’s well being. Si checked inside down below and found no signs of damage, no hole. I looked as far as I could at her hull from the outside and could see no more than scratched paint. This was quickly followed by rapid mental calculations and horror that the tide times meant we would not be able to float again until about midday today. Which meant tourists, cameras and an entire morning of explaining why St Goustan was one bench short of a picnic. Oh god, this has to be some kind of horrible dream. No no. Definitely happening. Great. I went ashore to take extra lines from Si who stayed on Planet. Once ashore I realised two things. One, that I was wearing my pyjamas. Two, that I couldn’t get back on Planet, given the thick mud that I had waded through and the ridiculous angle that she was at. So I sat on the other bench and waited while Si tried to get some sleep by lying on the uppermost side deck. It was all a bit rubbish. I was just closing my eyes to try to doze when I heard the click of a camera. Sunrise was here and so was the paper lady. Brilliant. She turned out to be lovely and made me feel a bit better, and she was followed by a dog walker. He also wanted to know the story and to take pictures of our pickle. It was all very quiet and I began to wonder if Sunday meant no tourists when a car pulled up on the quay behind me. A man got out, wandered up and down the quay, then got back in again. Then a van turned up, then another, then another. People pulled out tables and gazebos and started to set up stalls. Apparently there was going to be an all day craft market. Oh brilliant. I began to realise what a long morning it was going to be.
Up until now I had been hoping I could get away with my attire on the basis that I had slightly strange fashion sense, but at this stage I realised I was a) cold and b) embarrassed about my pyjamas, so I woke Si and he very kindly threw me some trousers to put over the top of my PJs and a blanket to wrap round my feet. I had been rather hoping that there would be no pictorial evidence of today’s escapades, at least none to have to put on the blog. But no. Who should appear but Mr Dog Walker again, having printed out his best snaps as ‘un petit souvenir de Saint Goustan‘. I’m not sure I was as grateful for them at the time as I perhaps should have been but I at least mustered a weak smile and a thank you. Thanks (or not) to him, the evidence is here for you all to see. I have annotated it.
After a short while I became immune to the stories and started to entertain myself by watching people’s reactions as they approached the quay. Happily le petit train turistique turned up and ejected a load of day trippers onto the road by the old bridge. The average person’s reaction went something like this. Mais regarde. Il est magnifique le bateau! Yes, yes nice boat. Mais il est tombé. Oh la la! Sacré bleu! Several people actually said all of these things. Then a look of puzzlement glazed their eyes. Mais c’est quoi ca? C’est un banc, n’est-ce pas? Yes, a bench. You are quite right. It is definitely a bench. I checked. C’est vrai. Tu as raison. C’est un banc! Mais pourquoi? Their eyes moved towards the quay then back to Planet. Quay. Planet. Quay. Planet. Other bench. Place where ‘our’ bench was. Not at all cemented down to the quay. At all in any way. Non. Bien sur. Quay. Planet Bonk bonk bonk.
Finally the nice lady who ran the café nearest the banc came over and offered me a coffee and her commiserations and concerns. I love her; I was becoming delirious without caffeine. I explained that I had neither shoes nor money and that the situation with Planet was pas grave and that la question du banc and the fact that it was not at all where it should be was the issue as far as I was concerned. She muttered something insurgent about the council and it being their problem and about time too and handed me a delicious black coffee. The boys drinking their morning coffees together were most helpful. One suggested we should cut the bench loose, blame it on drunken vandals and claim on our insurance for damage to our boat. The world began to look much brighter. (We didn’t do the fraud bit by the way though).
Finally the tide turned and the water began to lap around Planet once again. I woke Si and expressed my concern that she might drown rather than float again, which he quite correctly informed me was twaddle, despite the assurances to the contrary from at least twenty people who came past and commented. Some of the tourists were English and said helpful things like Oh dear oh dear and I don’t think you meant to do that did you? while smiling. Then there was a trend of people assuming that we didn’t realise the tide would go out and that we had accidentally put her aground. Then others who told us that we should stop mooring our boat alongside quays, or even more helpfully that we should get legs. The best thing I found was to agree, smile and take a bow.
Finally we were upright again, and by now passers by began to fail to notice the bench until they looked closer, thus the comedic effect of surprise registering on their face all the greater. Kit and Jill arrived to discover that morning coffees in the cockpit were out as well and were brilliant in helping us to recover the bench, a process which as Si rightly points out deserves a paragraph all to itself.
I had assumed we’d have to let the bench go, and then pay for the cost of craning it out of the harbour. The lovely girl from the harbour office had turned up by now and had spoken to the police about it as she had to. She was amazing and so kind and helpful in a situation where she could have made our lives very difficult. The police planned to come down later and I had reluctantly begun to imagine being stuck in St Goustan while we waited for the situation to be resolved. But then two of the boys from the café tried to lift the other bench, to see how heavy it was, and decided that with two or three strong helpers, we might be able to pull it up onto the quay. We had a couple of lines around the bench already, so as the tide came in and the water nearly covered it, Simon and I got on Planet and sweated up on the staysail halyard to lift it upwards. Kit pulled it in and up towards the quay with another line and we started to make some progress. We weren’t prepared to do more than give it a try and see how well we might be able to lift it, but passers by began to get involved and one guy appropriately dressed* in black lycra shorts and trainers took hold of a third line. Then the quay turned into a tug of war, and everyone joined in. It was awesome to behold. The bench sprang from the water like some kind of mundane not that attractive but functional Venus and within minutes was sitting back in its original spot on the quay. What is more, within minutes two unsuspecting tourists were sitting on it in its original spot on the quay. It was still wet. But the proof was in the pudding and the police came down, saw the great things that had been achieved and said Lo. See the wonders that have come to pass. If the bench is on the quay where it should be in one piece that’s fine by us. Guvnor. Planet went and picked up a mooring in the pool and everyone lived happily after. But to this day, in St Goustan, when the tide goes out there is a little Planet shaped hole in the mud. Thank you. Good night.