Surprise surprise. It’ll hit you between the eyes

It’s almost like the Caribbean (apparently).

28th June 2020

Camaret-Sur-Mer, France – Quimper, France via Glenen Isles, France

Some surprises are nice. Like when a little kitten leaps unexpectedly onto your lap. Some surprizes are nasty. Like when people jump out from behind doors and scare you half to death. Some surprises are expected, but all the better for it. Like Santa coming down the chimney and unloading his sacks all over the fireplace! Since our last instalment there have been surprises galore in every sense.

With the sun just peeking its head over the hills that surround Camaret and Ruffian en-route south, there was an underlying ditty being sung by Iain. The ditty involved ‘squashed tomatoes and stew’ and as if my magic Fiona had prepared surprises galore as Iain turned another year older and could now look forward to ticking a different box in the demographics of age.

In true Ruffian style the wrapping paper was reused old newspapers (which had to be carefully saved), everything was contained in a cardboard box (which had a future purpose already earmarked) and with every unwrapping there were classic Ruffian practical considerations (where do we store it, what’s the practical use). The surprises cascaded out of the box and as the unwrapping reached a crescendo there was final gift that would strike fear into all those who know the shy retiring, quiet and quite understated Iain, who has always hated being the centre of attention and abhors the thought of making a spectacle of himself. The final gift was a new tin whistle.

Tin whistles are shrill in the hands of abject amateurs, but wonderfully tuneful when wielded by a master, Iain is now on the journey from abject amateur to tuneful master. Only time will tell if brave Fiona’s ears and her almost unending patience will enable him to complete the journey.

With all the pleasant surprises over it was time from Ruffian to give her own surprise to Iain and Fiona. Motoring south through the Raz de Sien not a breath of wind disturbed the surface of the sea and we were on the conveyor belt as the tide raced through the Raz de Sein. With rocks on all sides and Ruffian going sideways we suddenly heard a shill alarm that was previously unknown. The engine overheat alarm was going off. We were in perilous danger with an engine that was alarming and wind that wasn’t playing.

The consequences of ignoring an engine overheat are severe in the extreme. Exhausts can melt, pumps can fail, gaskets can blow and pistons seize. Ignoring this was not an option. With the engine turned off we took to lateral thinking. How can control Ruffian with no wind and no engine? Brock?

Brock was going to be our ‘get out of jail card’ if we saw rocks approaching then we’d launch Brock and with his powerful outboard he could simply tow Ruffian to safety. With the safety plan in place and Ruffian gently drifting we could now focus on fixing things.

Iain dived into the engine bay armed with nothing more than an infrared thermometer and increasingly intimate knowledge of the engine. Heat exchanger 88.5C, check. Exhaust elbow 38C, check. Exhaust 29C, check. Exhaust water 41C, check. Water pump 20C, check. Everything was checking out OK. What could it be, what could it be?

Gingerly we fired up the engine, no alarm sounded and we slowly started sliding through the Raz. Relief flowed over us as we could see safety on the downtide side of the Raz. Then, beep, beep, beep. The pleasant surprise of relief had been replaced by the fearful surprise of danger.

Delving deeper and deeper into the engine, we finally came to the conclusion (with the help of the internet) that maybe, just maybe, the engine was fine and it was the alarm that was at fault. Now with boats all around us the alarm was constantly sounding and we had to stop it. There was only one thing for it. Disconnect it.

With the wires removed, the engine ticking along happily, and no alarm sounding all was well on Ruffian. Then the shrill alarm sounded again. It wasn’t the engine after all. Navionics has performed an update and the new AIS alarm sound happened to be exactly the same tone as the engine overheat!!!!!!!!!

The next surprise that greeted us were the Glenan Isles. These islands have been billed as the Caribbean of Brittany. Here the bleached white beaches are apparently kissed by turquoise blue water and the whole archipelago simply shines no matter what the weather. Although this was what we were expecting the surprise washed over us as feet sunk into soft sand as Brock nestled gently in the wavelets on uninhabited spits of land that are only uncovered at low water who were just asking to be explored.

Thinking we were all done for surprises the travels of Ruffian continued as we’d been given a top tip to head to the top of the Odet river where we could explore the centre of the ancient city of Quimper. The only challenge to this ‘top tip’ is we first had to negotiate a narrow river where the tide rips and there is a sharp bend named ‘Spanish point’.

Spanish point is named thus because when trying to invade Brittany the Spanish got this corner of the river and decided that it was simply too scary to continue. They turned their armada around, retuned to Spain with their tail between their legs and left Quimper untouched. Now Ruffian had to be braver than the Conquistadores of old.

During the engine debarkle of the previous days Iain had discovered an otherwise untouched button in the cockpit that was seeming not attached to any alarm. Now putting 2 and 2 together there was to be another surprise. The switch marked ‘horn’ was activated and then at the critical moment, at Spanish Point, to warn oncoming traffic, the button was pushed. The horn hooted the peace of the river was destroyed and the 100’s of crows at Spanish point had the surprise of their lives. Now we were all out of surprises.

Quimper is not just at the end of the river, it’s at the end of the end of the river and so is seldom visited by water. As we motored in to the city in Brock we were greeted by expressions of surprise and incredulity by the pedestrians above us and drivers of cars as they queued beside us. We felt, being the only boat of this great river, like we had been turned into a tourist attraction. Ashore, ancient gravity defying buildings whose footprints are smaller than their upper floors hung over us and the cathedral that took 600 years to build dominated every viewpoint. Streets bristled with everyday life, markets sold their daily produce and cafés served up their caffeine laced coffee. In Quimper we were not surprised that life goes on as normal we were hearted by it and we hope that’s enough surprises for a while.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

5 thoughts on “Surprise surprise. It’ll hit you between the eyes

  1. Happy Birthday Iain! So great to follow your adventures – am getting proper cabin fever so to see all these wonderful places is glorious. Hi Fiona too!

    oh, I mean
    Thanks this post is much information relevant. Articles are pretty site helpful. 😉

  2. Happy birthday Iain, you are certainly looking more like a salty sea dog in every photo! Be careful with the whistle I can imagine if you don’t get the hang of it quickly it could be stowed somewhere…..actually having cycled a few hundred miles behind you and been downwind a whistle would have at least given me a warning !

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