To Marans, a little port near La Rochelle, on Thursday afternoon to spend the night on a yacht with Arnaud and Véronique. This is not quite so glamorous as it sounds as the yacht in question is currently in a port a sec - basically a muddy work yard - while Arnaud restores it to its former glory. [it is a 1959 'Woodnutt,' and one of the last wooden hulled boats to be made on the Isle of Wight].
As I climb the slippery ladder in the rain – not easy in high heeled boots- I remember that on my last visit The Otter of Bembridge, was looking very sorry for herself, to the extent that it had a loir [dormouse] living behind the wood panels and mushrooms growing in the joints. Since then, the mahogany woodwork has been restored and the banquettes reupholstered in plush red corduroy. Arnaud did this himself using a 'sanger.' I look at him blankly, until I realise he means a Singer [as in sewing machine.] The yacht also has posh new mahogany doors between cabins and new panoramic windows in the rear cabin. The nearest bathroom however, is 2 kilometres away in the capitainerie [harbour master's office] and involves climbing back down the slippery ladder, crossing the potholed work yard and remembering the code to unlock the padlock on the gates, followed by a fifteen minute walk to the capitainerie, - where you must once again remember a code to gain admittance.
But there is camaraderie between the weatherbeaten boat owners in the yard. Arnaud dines most nights with his neighbour Sebastian, a Parisian who is renovating a rusty old barge next to him. This evening we eat prawn curry by candlight [Véronique can rustle up a three course meal anywhere], while the rain pours down outside. It feels quite surreal, dining on a yacht in a dry dock, but wonderful. The following morning, I wave good-bye to The Otter of Bembridge and drive down to Bordeaux.