Day 8, Evian-Bouveret
I had one of the most comfortable and satisfying sleeps on the trip. Very little motion, dry and warm. As I crawl out of the cabin and onto the cockpit, I see and envelope from the port of Evian welcoming me. It says I must put €11 in the envelope and drop it of at the captain’s office. There is also a code handwritten for the bathroom and showers. Perfect timing as I was getting nature’s call. The facilities are impeccably clean and well furnished. I drop off my envelope and walk into town in search of the source of Evian water.
Evian is a lovely town, well laid out for pedestrians with lots of shops, bars and restaurants. Of course the casino is prevalent and facing the shore, but behind it is the charm of a little French resort town. Further behind and up a few steep streets, signs indicate the whereabouts of the source. Just below a park and under a small classical little edifice is a fountain where a line of Asian tourists and locals wait to fill their empty bottles with the pure Alpine refreshment. Evian water is basically tap water. The difference with this world famous water is that it comes from the glaciers above, filtered through mountains of granite to seep out as nature’s perfect life sustaining beverage. I regret I did not bring a few bottles along to stock on the boat – I have a couple of bottles left – and will regret it later. At this time I’m more in the mood for coffee. I stroll the main street which is garnished with boutiques, gift shops and of course cafés. I sit outside in the sun enjoying that first Café Au Lait and a cigarette as well as a chocolate muffin. It’s nearly the end of my journey, if all goes well I should be back in Montreux by nightfall – if I get going soon.
I visit the town a little more, snap a few shots and head to my boat. Walking along the jetty, some young fishermen show off their catch of perch to vacationing kids on boats. Near my boat, one of my neighbor’s kids walks by and says hello, the father barely grunts. No matter, it’s time to set off. I raise the main sail and plan to sail out of the port with a tiny breath of side wind. Going along at a snail’s pace, a large yacht comes up behind, and the gentleman asks if I’d like a tow out of the marina. This is more like the kind of sailing camaraderie I’m accustom to. I politely decline, as I’m enjoying the slow view of the yachts.
Out in the open water, the wind is still less than a whisper. I engage the motor and head away from shore for a morning bath. The lake water is basically one giant vessel of Evian water. It is filled by glacier fed rivers all around it and strict environmental guidelines keep it pollution free. Case in point, my two-stroke motor will no longer be accepted on the lake as of 2017 in accordance to new green laws. I personally would not be afraid to dip a glass into the center of the lake and drink it just as is. And as far as bathing, there is nothing more refreshing and satisfying on a hot mid-morning.
I stop the motor and dive in naked, far enough from the glare of people on the shore and do a couple of dolphin dives. Hop back on the boat and lather up with biodegradable soap on deck, and jump back in to rinse. All fresh and clean, I brush my teeth and sit for a moment to look at the opposing shore and dry off. I can see Lausanne in the distance and retrace our course of a few days past. Montreux is visible behind the morning haze in the far east end of he lake. I should get there easily.
It’s common to have no wind on a bright sunny morning when sailing around Lake Geneva, so I rev the motor and go along the coast. The mountains here are much more pronounced. We are in the Haut Lac – High Lake – because the mountains are so high. They tower at over 2000 meters and fall steeply into the lake. There are a few houses on the shore and above is pure green inclined forest. The next town is Meillerie. It clings on to the shore at the foot of a steep valley. It’s church steeple points sharply above the rest of the village all a golden ocher color. It resembles Italian coastal towns. I’ve stopped here before for lunch. There is a cute small marina, and a restaurant at its far end which is quite good, but once again it’s already past two in the afternoon and no kitchen. It’s better that way, as I need to keep going – plus I have a few morsels of cheese and sausage left which will have to do.
From here on, there is barely any sign of life on shore besides a few small houses and the road that connects France and Switzerland. There’s been a light but steady down wind, and it’s perfect conditions and about time I rig my spinnaker. It takes a few moments to get the starboard and port sheets set up before I hoist the sail wrapped in a nylon sock like a giant condom. The key to sending off the spinnaker is to make sure all the sheets are outside all the shrouds, in the pulleys at the stern and untangled. Then you must thread the sheet through the spinnaker and clip the port and starboard shackles to the sail. Once all these elements are ready you can pull the condom up and the spinnaker will blow up like a hot air balloon. If you got anything wrong you will quickly notice and scramble to re-thread and re-clip. Sailing under spinnaker is probably every sailor’s favorite moment. This is when you can maximize the power of the wind as it pushes and pulls the boat at the same time. It is the fastest the boat will go, and since your going in he direction of the boat, the air is still. Plus the sail is tricky, so you’re constantly adjusting to keep the sail fully blown. I enjoy about an hour of spinnaker as the wind begins to shift, and within minutes I send my genoa back up as I’m going upwind.
The next town is St. Gingolph. It’s divided in two by a river, Swiss on one side and French on the other. It’s at the bottom of a valley, and looking up I see dark grey clouds blotting out the sun. I’m not too worried at this time as it seems non-threatening for now, and hope it will change and spark a bit of air since I’m again buzzing around to the putter of the motor.
I feel a few raindrops and the sky is even darker letting a few rays beam down like heavenly lighting over St.Gingolph. Still little wind. But then it picks up, and from one minute to the other, the boat is sharply tilting. I’m cutting through the wave-less water like a sharp Ghinzu knife, escaping the large plopping raindrops rapidly. This is a blast, I’m loving it! I can see the furthest town on the lake, Le Bouveret.
Suddenly the wind dies. I almost fall backwards into the water, it’s so sudden. I turn and look behind me, and the sight is beautiful yet ominous. Black sky, and dark grey rain curtains in the distance over Evian. The water around me is like oil, glistening with not the tiniest wind ripple. I can see the wind coming behind me, as a clear line is drawn on the water. It’s coming fast and generated by the storm just behind blowing over the sharp mountain peaks.
It gets me downward, and I capture the wind’s strength with sails in scissor formation. The bow of the boat rises slightly out of the water as if I was a power boat. Gradually, yet rapidly I’m gaining more speed, I’m screaming for joy! “Thank you Wind God”.
Wind God is not such a clever or respectful name for this deity. I must come up with something better. Male or female is another question I ponder. Then the name Alfred comes to mind. Alfred! Like Alfred Hitchcock, master of suspense. It’s perfect. The wind is like Hitchcock. He keeps you waiting, plays with you and when you least expect it, he slaps you with the shower scene from Psycho to terrify you.
Terrified is exactly what happened next. Alfred was pushing me towards Le Bouveret faster and faster as rain was coming down hard now. The wind changed directions and sharply tilted the boat, Alfred was blowing this way and that. Then BANG! The shower scene! A series of powerful gusts hit me and my boat like a runaway train. I turned to the wind, locked the tiller, and jumped on top of the cabin, held on for dear life as the waves had woken up and untie the genoa halyard, bounced on to the bow to pull the down sail like the unveiling of a statue. For the moment I was safe.
The harbor was just a few hundred meters away and I was approaching fast with only the main sail. I got the motor ready and just before entering another massive gust bitch-slaps us. Down with the main sail NOW! It’s pouring rain, and I can’t feel the sting of it. Still shirtless the drops are like a thousand wind blown needles against my skin. Funny enough I don’t feel a thing. Inside the port I see the visitor’s buoys, and several are free. I choose the furthest for the port entrance as it seems more sheltered. I make my approach slowly as usual, but the wind pushes the boat like bathtub toy. I crank the throttle and make a sharp right towards the vacant spot – again, there’s a large cruiser I’ll be docked next to. I steer to the orange buoy, but the wind pushes the bow away from my target. I crank the throttle to full speed – something I’d never do inside a harbor – but instincts took over and I’m hooking a shackle to the buoy, and scramble up to the bow to keep it from drifting and crashing into the big cruiser next door. I grab hold of its rails and guide myself and my boat to the dock. Someone is there to help. Fantastic! I toss my mooring line and he hooks it to the dock. Safe!
“You should attach yourself to the further buoy so you don’t bounce into your neighbor” the man on the dock says. He’s right. Alfred is pinning my little boat against the big motor boat next to me. The guy on the dock is wondering how I’ll reach it. Easy, I’m soaked, pumped with adrenaline, so I dive in and make the switch. He was right as I tighten my line. NOW, I’m safe.
Out of breath, soaking wet and naked, I sit in the safety and comfort of my cabin. I wish I had vodka left, I’d take a good long swig now, instead I take long deep breaths off a cigarette. Alfred is making a a racket outside with a song of terror whistling loudly through the cables of the shrouds. My boat is a mess inside and out. Sails are soaked and bunched up like wet laundry. My cabin is littered with stuff that fell in the action. I’m now feeling a bit cold, and grab a towel to dry off, and dress in dry clothes. Looking outside, I’m going to have to wait this out.
Eventually the rain stopped and I make an Alfred inspection. He’s still pissed and blowing hard from the East. This wind is known locally as the Vaudaire, and it’s vicious. I can see flags and trees in the distance severely under stress from the Vaudaire. I’m almost home, nearly finish with my tour sailing around Lake Geneva, I should not take any chances. I’m staying for the night, and it’s clear I’m not going to make it back to Montreux today.