Category Archives: Interesting things

French Hurricane 1999

Exactly ten years ago…..

We knew a storm was in the offing. We were living aboard ‘Bolero’ a Moody 376 sailing yacht, in the marina at Les Sables d’Olonne on the west coast of France

But our minds were full of two other things as we approached the “New Millenium”.
One was the much advertised ‘Millenium Bug’ which was possibly going to return all clocks to zero, and render unusable all the navigation instruments on which we had come to rely…… The other was the ‘Mare Noire’ (Black sea). A few days earlier, the oil tanker ‘Erika’ had sunk of the west coast of France, spewing oil into the sea and onto the coastline. We had volunteered for duty searching the rocky shore for oil-damaged birds, equipped with huge gauntlets and cardboard animal carriers, and our trusty Brompton bikes.

Now, as the wind began to strengthen, as a precaution, we doubled up all the shorelines on the boat. The wind was getting up and there was an air of worried anticipation everywhere.

We took a walk to the end of the pier…or as far as we could get …..mountainous seas were breaking over the famous wall, from alongside which the sailors in the Vendee Globe Solo Circumnavigation Races, leave and return.

The impending storm took over as the prime the topic of conversation…. but our coffee break in a favourite bar was spoiled by an electricity cut….. We returned to the boat for an early meal…. ‘In case it gets too difficult to cook later on’

At seven pm, as we were finishing the washing up, there was a crash and the boat heeled hard to port.

Donning wet gear, we dashed on deck to find that we, and several hundred other boats were being flattened by the strongest wind that we had ever experiended, either at sea or in port. The port rails were in danger of being trapped under the pontoon… the likely consequence being holing the hull and then sinking.

For two hours, I was on the deck and Dave on the pontoon, both trying to get fenders in place to protect the hull. My shouts of ‘Mind your hands’…. became … ‘mind your arms’… then ‘mind your legs’ … as the wind and waves got bigger and stronger.

Then at nine pm, came another even louder crack. Looking up, I saw that all the boats on the opposite side of the pontoon (none of them occupied) were drifting away towards to sea, along with their sturdy pontoons.

Dashing below, I called the ‘Capitanerie’ on the radio, to report this latest calamity. (It had not ocurred to us to call for help for ourselves and our own boat)

Within minutes the heaving pontoon was swarming with strong young men. They tried in vain to rescue the drifting boats and gave up, and turned their attention to us and our predicament. What a relief!

Extra long lines and chains were brought to secure our boat and the pontoon to the shore. But then as bits of masts and radars started flying around, M. Jean Archambaud, the Port Captain, declared the marina a ‘No Go Area’ and we were taken ashore by strong hands, leaving our beloved home to the mercy of the storm.

Only two boats were occupied that night… the couple on the other one quickly left to stay with friends and we were offered a bed aboard the lifeboat alongside the sea wall. We politely refused as we thought it likely that it might be called out… but we were given bedding from it and put into ‘the clubhouse’ for safety. (Indeed, there was a ‘shout’ at midnight and the lifeboat was out all night)

Our refuge was a glass walled octagonal building. We spent eight cold wet terrifying hours in it, watching chimneys, trees, TV aerials etc etc, flying by…. then at daybreak, with the wind now down to just a gale force eight…. we dared to creep outside and go to see how ‘Bolero’ had fared.

Amazingly, she was afloat, with only one broken stanchion to show for her night of horror. We had really feared to worst, and had expected to see mooring lines leading down to her watery grave!

Elsewhere was total devastation

Dozens of large yachts and their accompanying pontoons had been washed away… mostly landing in untidy heaps on the other side of the marina, where the Vendee Globe yachts line up so proudly every four years before their circumnavigations.

Most of the boats lined up on the hardstanding were flattened, telephone lines were all down. Trees were uprooted. Chimneys and roofs were gone. Boats were sunk. Cars were overturned.

Once the storm had abated, we became aware of just how fortunate we had been. The strongest wind of the storm had been recorded just south of us at Oleron. At nearby La Rochelle, pontoons and boats were washed ashore where they demolished the marina headquarters, with great loss of life.

In the aftermath, we were the fortunate ones. On land, there were no telephones, electricity or water supplies for days… but we were self sufficient. We had solar power, a wind generator, a diesel generator, full water tanks and a boat full of food. And a mobile phone charged from an inverter.

We were happy to try to repay our saviours from the storm, as they endeavoured to sort out their broken marina, by providing cups of coffee and snacks all day.

By December 28th, the folk were getting their acts together, fallen trees were sawn up and roads were cleared. People were on the move again. We had many visits from local people, offering accommodation, washing facilities, drying rooms, meals, etc etc.

The best invite of all was from former neighbours in the marina the previous summer…. they asked us to join them for their fabulous millenium meal…. Twenty people at table for a feast that lasted 48 hours!

Ten years on… and it all seems like yesterday!

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The rain in Spain.

I have to admit it…. we are in the throes of another wet and windy summer here in Wales. People coming here on holiday have complained about the wetness… understandably. But why do we always put ourselves down?

When I lived in Switzerland, it was not unheard of for the first snows of the winter to leave people caught out and stranded with total chaos for a day or two…just like here….. but there it was accepted as normal…

When I lived in Spain and Portugal, Autumn downpours regularly caused enormous floods (no adequate drainage) and long power cuts….. everybody accepted it.

As we start yet another drizzly weekend in August, I was amused to read the following in ‘The Costa Blanca News’, an English Language local paper about the rain in Spain this week, and the accompanying chaos:

“BENIDORM town centre was brought to a standstill on Monday as a combination of bad weather and an influx of thousands of vehicles saturated the town’s access roads.

The unexpected rain meant many people from other parts of the province opted for a day out in Benidorm leading to a massive overload of vehicles coming into the town.

This led to parking problems in just about every part of the town, forcing many drivers to drive around in circles looking for a space.

Ongoing work on pedestrianising some town centre streets has taken away hundreds of parking places and all of the underground car parks showed they were full for most of the day.

In Dénia continuing roadworks and breakdowns in the water supply network saw thousands of motorists caught in traffic chaos also on Monday.

A combination of road closures, excavation work, rain and hordes of families looking for a parking place was more than enough to totally disrupt traffic flow and heat tempers to boiling point.”

Ah well! Time to get the wellies out again and take the dog for a nice long muddy walk along the estuary, I think! At least the gardens and the countryside benefit from the wetness.

Re-celebrating the four minute mile

Left to right, Chataway, Banister, Brasher

Left to right, Chataway, Banister, Brasher

It is fifty five years since the young medical undergraduate, Roger Bannister became the first person in the world officially to break the magical barrier of the four minute mile.  As a child of a home which did not yet have the luxury of a TV set, I heard the news on the radio, and later watched the exciting event on the Pathe Newsreel at the local cinema.

A couple of years later when I was a pupil at Colwyn Bay Grammar School in North Wales, we had the honour of a visit from one of Roger Bannister’s pacemakers, Chris Chattaway.  It was a hot summer’s day, and Chris gave us a sort of ‘masterclass’ in athletics.  At one point, he asked me to be the timekeeper for a track race and handed me his own personal wristwatch to perform the task.

I idly turned the watch over and was thrilled to see the inscription on the back.  It was the very watch presented to him by Roger Bannister himself as a ‘Thank-you’ for the assistance in breaking that barrier!

Another of the pacemakers on that day was of course, Chris Brasher who later founded the London marathon…  which both my son & daughter in law have successfully completed. And, if I am not mistaken, I believe that my son actually ran in a half marathon alongside Chris Chattaway, and managed a reasonably similar time…. though of course, the one was quite a few years older that the other by then!

Once the barrier had been broken, more and more people were to break the four minute barrier, and I myself was present in the crowd at White City when it happenned in the early sixties.

©1996 – 2009 American Academy of Achievement. All Rights Reserve

Rescue dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a day when all the rest of news is sad or bad, it is great to hear some good news for once.

 

This Newfoundland is being trained to rescue people from the sea in Swansea.

The picture came from the Daily Mail and you can read more about this Super-Dog here

 

 

Formula One returning to the Beeb

Hooray! I have to say that I for one am delighted that Formula One is to return to the BBC after twelve years of missed moves during lengthy adverts.

I have long advocated that ITV needed to insert a window into the adverts so that people could continue to watch the racing that they had tuned in to see, as is done on Spanish TV.

But this new announcement is even better.

All I hope now is that the Beeb has the sense and fortune to include Martin Brundle in its production team…. he was the one worthy asset ‘owned’ by ITV.

I am perfectly happy for my TV licence fee to be used to allow me to watch what I want to see without interruption by long and often boring adverts. Meanwhile for this season, I shall have to do as I always do, and go and make a cuppa during the intervals

Happy St Valentine's Day

Today is St Valentine’s day.

I am indebted to kitmarlowescot2 … via Stonehead for these pictures of a delightful Gloucester Old Spot piglet born this week with appropriate markings for the occasion

Happy St Valentine’s Day…. give someone you love a hug…… and be kind to everybody you meet… little things like just letting somebody out in traffic, for example, can be contagious and spread like ripples on a pond.