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We lived aboard our boat in Minimes Marina for three weeks!
While most of our time was busy with the outfitting projects Uchimata was working on, we were getting settled into life in a marina.
I have been running errands during the day. Wednesday I went to a bicycle shop. We purchased two Schwinn Folding Bike which were included in our shipment from Houston. Upon assembling, we realized we didn’t get any necessary accessories, such as a tire pump, spare tires, locks, and lights. We had seen a bike shop called Cyclable over by the quay in La Rochelle, so I walked there. The gentleman who helped me spoke very good English, and I showed him a picture of our bikes and he helped me pick out what we needed. Yesterday, now that our bikes had good air in their tires, I biked to the City Centre to buy more cellular time for our phone and some groceries.
We have internet here on our boat. Minimes offers paid internet…. 1 euro for 1 day, 6 euros for a week, or 18 euros for a month. The speed can be pretty slow, but you can find the connection in a lot of places in La Rochelle (such as on the quay by the bike shop). You can only connect one device at a time, so it’s good that David’s phone has data, and we can move the internet between my phone, either iPads or laptops. The connection is definitely much better on a laptop, and we have had no problem streaming Netflix. On my cell phone, I can’t even get a signal in the cabin.
For energy, as our boat is on American power, we are not plugged into shore power. This means that we have to keep a close eye on our batteries. We also do not have solar panels (that is a Florida project). Every evening, after the work crew leaves, we run our generator for about an hour. This tops up our batteries and allows us to run the heater in the central air system. However, once we turn the heat off….whoosh! It’s cold again. Having limited power also means that we don’t leave our inverter on. The inverter is what converts the 12V battery power to our regular 110V outlets. So while we run the generator we also turn the inverter on and plug everything in to charge. Typically I would use my iPad and Kindle app, but it has become obvious that using my iPad is not a good choice. The iPad takes almost 4 times as long to come to a full charge as my iPhone, which essentially means in the hour or so that we have the inverter on, my iPhone will get up to full, but my iPad only to 25%. I need to switch to using my Kindle to read, as the iPad is the least efficient device.
Of course though, as soon as I switch to reading on my Kindle, someone who shall remain nameless breaks my Kindle. It’s ok. He made it up to me buy ordering me a brand spanking new Kindle Paperwhite (to replace my 1st generation Kindle) which will arrive on Monday. Don’t worry – he’s still loved.
Running our generator also gives us hot water. The hot water tank retains heat so well that we will still get hot water 24 hours after running the generator. We do have to ration it though, as it is a small tank. It’s just enough for 2 quick rinse-off showers (no hair washing) and washing dishes.
While we run the generator, I cook dinner. Our system here runs on Butane (butgaz), which will be switched to Propane once we are in the states. There is a knob in our cabinets to get the butane to flow to the stove or oven, and then an electric start to light the stove. In our shipment was our new Magma 10 Piece Cookware Set, which has been very handy and takes up very little space. So far I have made simple things like pasta with jarred bolognaise sauce, or turkey piccata.
There are showers up at the Capitainerie. For 1 euro per 7 minutes, you get hot water. The shower stalls are small and there’s only a small section to store stuff and keep it dry while you shower. I have been quick enough to get all my showering done in 1 euro. As it is so cold and windy outside, I only do the full shower on the relatively warmer days in the afternoon, so I don’t have a completely miserable walk from the Capitainerie to our boat with wet hair. David showers at the Capitainerie every morning, but his hair is dry after a few passes with the towel!
I also did laundry on Wednesday. There is a small laundry mat in the strip center here, and it’s 4 euros for the wash cycle, 50 cents for detergent, and 50 cents per 5 minutes on the dryer. The dryers at high heat are very hot!! I did 15 minutes for synthetics and 20 minutes for cotton and that was too much time.
We beached the boat in Minimes! It was pretty cool. We got up at 3:30 am to motor Starry Horizons the short trip to the ramp. We puttered very slowly over, and as soon as we felt her hit the ramp, we put her in gentle forward gear and sat there until the tide dropped enough that we felt comfortable. We turned the engines off and waited. I went to nap and David stayed up and hung out on deck. Eventually, the water had receded enough that we dropped our swim ladder down, and it was a big step up to reach the bottom rung from the ground.
There are not many people on the docks with us. The Aussies we met earlier are on a Lipari named Seabbattical MMXV, and are waiting for a weather window, although they have also had work being done every day. There are other liveaboards on other boats, but no one else on the FP boats.
The Capitainerie is very helpful. There is a drinking water fountain, plus a vending machine of snacks, and a hot beverage vending machine, which is actually a pretty good deal for a decent cup of hot cocoa at 50 cents. The staff is friendly and speaks a decent amount of English. There is a computer to use, weather reports, a message board, and restrooms. They also sell some toiletries and gift type things. The Capitainerie also can provide you with small dock carts…you just leave your passport and they give you the key to the cart lock.
And lastly, we have been enjoying our boat! We get to watch the sailing school go by, with 30′ monohulls, windsurfers, lasers, and Hobies. It is probably 100 boats in all that come and go from the launch right in front of us. Last night, while it was cold out, we bundled up and enjoyed the sunset from the top lounge deck (the only place where our cushions are still out because of the work being done).
Provisioning all of our food is a big project for me which I have been excited about. I love food! It was one of the things I was curious about before we arrived; how would provisioning for weeks at a time go in a foreign country?
When David’s parents were in town with us they took us to Hyper U and Carrefour de Angoulins, which are big grocery stores, attached to what is almost a mall. It’s not like a Costco or Sam’s Club; it’s not in bulk. Instead, it’s a wide variety of products available in one place, which is not that common in the city. While we were there, we picked up some items to “test run” for provisioning. It also carries department store type items – clothes, bedding, electronics, etc.
From Minimes, the Carrefour de Angoulins is a 25-minute bike ride away.
Closer, about a 10-minute bike ride away, is the Carrefour Market. This is much more like an American grocery store. This is where I did most of the shopping once we moved onto the boat unless I just needed a few small things.
There is also a Carrefour City, just a few minute’s bike ride away. This is the smallest of the Carrefours.
Specialty stores are available, like boulangeries (bread), patisseries (pastries), and chocolateries (guess).
Finally, there is a village market every day, 365 days a year. It is a bigger market on Wednesdays and Saturdays when it spills out to line all the nearby streets. Everyone was friendly, and I managed to do quite a bit of shopping without knowing too much French, even bumping into some people that had lived in the States for a bit.
I could not for the life of me find someplace online that would tell me exactly where it was, so I’ve made a little map for you so you don’t have to wander around until you find it!
Milk is available here 4 ways, most of which are difficult to find in the US.
– Raw – milk that has not been pasteurized. Typically this milk is only good for a few days.
– Pasteurized milk – this is what we commonly see in America. Pasteurized milk lasts 2 weeks or so.
– UHT milk – This is the most common milk in Europe. UHT milk lasts, unopened, six to nine months.
– Powdered milk – Nonperishable and lightweight.
Most cruisers choose the UHT route, due to saving space in their fridge and energy from chilling pasteurized milk. FYI – a lot of milks in the US are UHT milk. They are just packaged a bit differently for our comfort. For example, that is why Horizons Organic Chocolate Milks don’t need to be refrigerated – they are based on UHT milk.
As for the powdered milk, we bought some to try out, and so far have used it to make our own hot cocoa mix. Powdered milk may become more useful if we are leaving directly from the states for an extended period of time and UHT milk is not available. We bought a skim, semi-skim (demi-ecreme) and whole milk UHT to taste test. Chill & shake before drinking and voila! David has delicious milk for his cereal.
While at Hyper U, we also purchased some canned items to test out. I may be fooled, but it seems like there are a lot more canned items available at these stores than in the states. As we will be (very soon hopefully) out at sea for a minimum of 3 weeks, we want to make sure we have a variety of foods to keep us happy and healthy.
Eggs in Europe are unrefrigerated and unwashed. A very handy resource tells me that eggs in this condition will last at least a month, maybe even more with regular turning and coating in vaseline. That’s good – I eat a lot of eggs!
While I think I have seen bacon at some stores, it is more common to see lardons, which are just thick bacon that has been cut. I cook them in the skillet and then scramble eggs in them.
I ask to ask about many things, and one of them was peanut butter. I found it in the ethnic foods section of the Carrefour Market, right next to the marmite.
Yeast was another I needed help finding. There is a great post here about yeasts (if you have Google Chrome as your browser it will translate the page for you).
Baking powder is sold in small packets, bundles of 5 or 6. I did not find baking soda.
Meats are pretty interesting. Seafood is not available at Carrefour City, so you have to go to a bigger Carrefour or to the daily market. Duck (canard) is very common, as is rabbit (lapin) and veal (veau). Turkey (dinde) is available a lot as well, but usually scalloped slices of breast instead of the whole turkey.
Shopping in a foreign country is pretty quickly becoming a fun activity for me. It’s a nice challenge to find the foods you want, and then buy some local items and use them as well.
Now that we have crossed the Atlantic, here are a few things I would buy more of in La Rochelle:
– Duck. Duck. And More Duck. There is canned duck confit available in La Rochelle, which is a tender and amazingly easy meat to serve. I would have bought a bunch more cans of that, it was so good! I also would have bought more duck breasts. They come vacuumed sealed and available in ALL grocery stores in La Rochelle. Duck breast is much cheaper and easier to find than in the states.
– Canned vegetables. For our Atlantic crossing, we provisioned in Las Palmas, and the selection was very slim. In La Rochelle, there is a wide variety of canned vegetables that we could not get in Las Palms. In Las Palmas, we really only bought pickled beets, asparagus, and green beans. In La Rochelle, we had a ton of veggies, including stuff we had never heard of before. In particular, we liked the canned Ratatouille.
– Butter with salt crystals. This was more of a fun one. Pierre and Sylvie gave us a block of it and I wish we had gotten more, it was so good! Of course, that area of France is known for its sea salt. Having that butter on bread hot out of the oven was delicious!