Day 3, Lausanne-Rolle

POV view of sailboat on Lake Geneva Switzerland

A generous downward wind sends us towards France

The port of Ouchy has one of the few marine stores selling supplies for sailors. Sunrise wakes me up and it’s already hot, and I need to try to replace the fraying halyard that hoists my main sail. The gentleman at the marine shop explains how to repair my problem, so I purchase the rope and materials. I simply have to tie the ends of the new and old rope together so that I can guide the new rope through the mast. Somewhere along the process, I manage to lose the rope in the mast. I’m fucked! The hoisting rope is gone inside the mast. The marine shop guy confirms I’m screwed, but points out another halyard I can use. It’s not ideal, but we can still raise the main sail and continue on the journey, sailing around Lake Geneva.

We cast out from Ouchy under sail easily as the wind is behind us. Minutes out of the marina, we are greeted by a full and generous wind. We decide to cross the lake to Port Ripaille in France. It’s a vacation enclave conceived in the seventies, where they’ve cut out canals and built a series of waterfront villa rentals. In short time we are midway across the lake thanks to the generous downwind. As we get closer to the other coast, the wind has gained strength as the whitecaps confirm. The skies have gone from bright blue to slate grey. We are gaining speed and are bounced around by the waves building up from the Swiss coast, and for a moment we have our first nautical scare while tacking. I lose my genoa sheet in the water, reach for it just as a wave tips the boat and almost sends me head first into the foaming water. I banged my forearm hard against the side of the boat – another boat bruise of many – and command Stephan to go on deck to the bow to lower the genoa sail. Jelena looks frightened as Stephan is struggling to bring down the slapping sail – the hoisting rope is tangled up, and the waves are throwing all of us off balance as we scramble to loosen the jumbled rope. It seemed a lot scarier than it was. Keeping calm under stress is key in sailing. No panic!

Marina in Port Ripaille France o Lake Geneva

Port Ripaille is a vacation village set along canals

We lowered the main sail, and got the motor running and cruise gently into the calm and safety of the harbor. It feels as if we’ve left nature’s chaos and drifted into a oasis of serenity. We’re in the canals, houses with vacationing onlookers watch us glide by to a central jetty crowded by yachts. It looks like there is no room for us, but we are guided by relaxing yachtsmen to squeeze between two behemoth sailboats. This is when I’m really glad to have a small boat. We’re sandwiched like a thin slice of ham between two big sliced bread rolls. One of our neighbors notices our genoa has a small tear. He’s German and offers an adhesive patch, so kind and polite German folks. We’ll fix it after we’ve had lunch.

The club house kitchen is closed – it’s already past three in the afternoon – so we’re directed to a snack bar offering burgers. Hah! Burgers in France! We walk along the paths in this vacation village. It’s similar to an all-inclusive hotel complex with pools, tennis courts and screaming kids. Just outside the gates is the snack shack. Two rectangular trailers make up a kitchen bar with shaded seating nearby. The burgers are great! I got the goat-cheese-burger, Jelena the Thai-chicken-burger and Stephane the Savoyard-Raclette-burger. They were generous and juicy, and at a third of the price than in Switzerland. Prices on this side of the lake are really much cheaper, but that’s another story.

We gobble our burgers, and manage to not be tempted for another, as we’re starved and they’re really quite tasty. Instead, we get a few snacks at the grocery store across the street for our trek back to Switzerland for the night. Since we decided to cross the lake diagonally we had to skip Vidy, St.Prex, and Morges, a few of the towns on the coast between Lausanne and Rolle.

POV of sailboat in storm on Lake Geneva

Strong winds picking up as we sail from France

With ease we patch the sail, slip out from the squeeze of the big yachts and brave back into the winds. They’ve calmed down since as I can’t see anymore white caps. Sails are up and we start crashing into the oncoming waves in the direction of Rolle. The wind gradually picks up as we cut through the small swells. The sky is decorated yellow with a thin curtain of grey rain falling from swirling designs of grey and white clouds. We snap away pictures, unaware of what this magnificence really means. This is a storm that is traveling towards the Jura mountains just ahead, and it is creating a major disturbance in the air. Out of nowhere we are slammed with gales tilting the little vessel to extremes. We retreat all to one side of the boat for balance as the wind howls and screams through the shroud cables. The is the most wind we’ve had, and it’s a formidable bitch slap. We ride it as long as we can, butchering through deep gaping waves sending violent stinging splashes. This shit is serious! What appeared as a beautiful dreamy sunset setting in the middle of the water, is turning out to be a nightmarish battle with nature’s vicious side.

POV from sailboat of passing golden storm on Lake Geneva Switzerland

We were admiring the passing storm, and did not anticipate the powerful gusts it generated which caught us by surprise!

Man sitting on deck of sailboat on Lake Geneva Switzerland

Stephane on bow after hoisting smaller intermediate sail

The gales are just too powerful pushing the sails to the water and tipping the scales in it’s favor – capsizing is not out of the question. I’m remaining calm and sense the gravity of the situation. I send Stephane to the bow to lower the genoa sail. We have too much sail. This time he’s not entangled and the genoa drops fast, relieving pressure like pain killer to a toothache. We manage with just the main sail, but even that is too much, and we reduce the size of the main sail by taking in a reef. We’re now to a minimum of sail size, and slowly move along bashed by waves, but it’s not enough. I go fetch the intermediate jib – a smaller version of the genoa sail – and have my brother hoist it. They don’t understand and think I may be taking unnecessary risks, but once the sail is up they do. We are now moving along better, cutting through the swells, rather than being pushed around by them. I’m quite happy how we’ve adapted and managed in this serious situation. We carry on like this a little while longer when suddenly the wind dies, and we’re are left bobbing around in the residual waves. Typical weather conditions for Lake Léman which big time sea sailors respect, and therefore respect us fresh water sailors who brave sailing around Lake Geneva.

Rolle Castle has a clean architectural style

Rolle Castle has a clean architectural style

We decide to break down the sails and motor the rest of the way. Rolle castle is within sight ahead and it’s getting dark. As I turn around to start the motor, I see another potential for calamity high above the French Alps. Big black clouds and a thick veil of rain. Whitecaps are forming in the distance, it’s time to get the hell to shore!

Ile de la Harpe, a man-made island from 1835

Ile de la Harpe, a man-made island from 1835

We beat the storm and watched it approach us from the harbor in Rolle. A pleasant marina with plenty of visitor buoys behind a tree covered island facing a sleek lakefront castle. We all salute each other to glasses of vodka, like victorious rough-house Russians, with the exception of words. We’re all speechless. Jelena believes she has pushed herself to her limits with this experience, she genuinely pictured the boat capsizing and us in thrashing the water. Yes, it could have happened, but we remained calm, reacted properly and went with the powerful flow of nature. Perhaps it was a test? No matter what, we managed and braved the storm, now it’s time to feed our hungry selves. Stephan knows of a reputed restaurant. We were lucky, it was still open at this time with only one food option, Filets de Perches. Perfect! Let’s feast on the lake bounty. After a copious desert, it was time to say good-bye. Stephan and Jelena took the train back to Vevey and I crawled into my comfy cabin.