This is the “Boater Bits” companion piece to the part one, The Adventure Begins, where we set the stage of our time in La Rochelle, France, picking up our Fountaine Pajot, Saba 50, Sea Odyssey. Boater Bits are informational pieces you’ll see throughout the website. In this boater bit, we will give you our account of picking up Sea Odyssey along with some tips, trix, and takeaways that we think might be helpful to anyone picking up a boat in La Rochelle, France.
Getting fat in France
I really wanted to title this article Getting Fat in France, but I felt it didn’t reflect the article well enough. Did we get fat in France? Yes… Of course we did!! Wine, cheese and bread all day, every day, yep, that’ll do it. But that’s not what I meant entirely. It was a pun. I really meant we were getting fat in the head. Information overload! We felt by the end our heads were going to explode.
Let me explain…
We love France… well, I love France, Matt likes France. The thing is, it just got hard. You go in with great enthusiasm and you just get worn down. So many important things were getting thrown at you that it just got exhausting trying to keep up. These were not your typical conversations of weather. These were priceless bits of information about your new expensive-ass boat. Its systems, its body, its sails, its electronics, maintenance do’s and don’ts, on and on and on and on, an endless stream of one important sentence after the other… now put all that in broken English and charades and there you go. Wow!
To sum it up, it was like getting a new boat and all the directions were in French while you are in French class, 24/7. And you thought asking to go to the bathroom was rough! Forget about it.
Finding answers to questions, wait… forget that for a sec… Finding questions to get the answers! You don’t even know what you are looking at to pose a proper question. It’s only when you turn the switch do you ask yourself, ok, hmm, is this right?
Matt has said since, it’s not like buying a car. You don’t pick up the keys and go. So don’t expect this, don’t expect anything in fact. If you don’t have expectations, you don’t get disappointed. Like the expectation that everyone loves your new ‘fragile baby’ as much as you. They don’t. Most don’t even care or appreciate the expense justifies a little pandering, and the fact that you do care, is a great nuisance of time and effort.
A short list
Here are a few, lol, things to remember. We were told several times as we researched, a lot like you are doing right now, but barely even remembered. Now we pass the baton on to you. You won’t grasp the magnitude of what we’re about to say, but maybe you’ll remember. Stay as long as you can to get squared away. If you are planning on going through warranty later on down the river, it ain’t easy and requires time in another foreign place.
- Move on while work is being finished or move on when work is finished or just leave. Just leave does not seem like a good idea, tho some do. That was not an option for us. There are pros and cons to moving onboard. It was nice being able to look into the walls while the work was being done and picking up what you can. However, you trade the ability to insist damage and marks you see was not by your hands and you really don’t get that thorough clean they promise. Either way, we would recommend you stay as long as you need.
- Before you move on, take pictures or video of all the surfaces, floors, countertops, decks, walls, and doors for issues (in different times of day for light and in glare) looking for marks, cracks, and discoloration.
- Touch and test everything single thing in/on your boat. Not just all the doors, drawers, lights, and shades. We mean:
- Does your AIS work? Correct information?
- VHF work with MMSI number installed?
- Solar panels charging?
- Check bilges for water, find source. Keep log.
- Spray windows with water, leaking?
- Get your dinghy, boat docs and literature, and export docs.
- Test your dinghy several times and engineer a way to secure it without chafe.
- Make sure you have all keys and remotes with spares. Do they work?
- Make sure you have all your fenders, winch handles, blocks, and dock lines, etc, that come with FP and sail packages.
- Electric outlets, all there? Working?
- Water heater working?
- Gas leaks? Actively test. We had three separate leaks, all that would have collected in the bilge had we not manually turned the gas off at the tank.
- Seacock leaks? Actively test.
- Check safety equipment if you purchased it.
- Spare kits: engines, outboard, generator, watermaker, etc.
- Do’s and don’ts for cleaning surfaces.
- Sail. Chafe guards? Tie off shackles. Garmin options accurately reading?
- Run everything, listen for vibrations, watch for fluids, strange smells, and noises.
- Lay your outdoor cushions out, line up the tabs.
- Put on your texteline and canvas, check fasteners.
- If you haven’t checked your radio by now, why the hell not?
- Listen: Go back and do it again. Every single thing. You didn’t understand the depth of what you were looking at the first time. Trust me, do it again. Chances are you understand more than the first time you looked at it. It’s a huge can of worms but it has be done and you have to do it. You might be surprised to hear, things do not get set up correctly sometimes. You saw it there, the light came on and you assumed all is good, but it might not be correct. Here to tell ya, it seemed like everything didn’t work before it did. It would just be a little thing… but an important little thing.
- Order extra: wall hook fixtures, wood banding all colors, plastic screws covers, stickers to covers screw heads all colors, extra air conditioning baskets, etc. A lot easier to do this while you are there.
- Order a full set of spares for the water maker, generator, both motors, and outboard to include all fluids, lubricants, cleaners, filters, belts, etc. etc. maybe even some parts and pieces like o-rings, fuel line etc. etc.
- Phone apps – have ready
- Google translate – the camera and conversation were most helpful
- Unit conversions for inches to meters, fahrenheit to celsius, and gallons to liters
- Notes – bullet list for a running list of on-the-go “oh yeah, we need to ask about (blank)” or “remind me we need (blank) size for the (blank)” with ability to cross off or out as completed. Found app was better than paper.
- Some stores: A list of the stores we hit regularly.
- Carrefour – multiple grocery stores of the same name but different size.
- All these stores are basically in the same shopping area. After you drop off the rental, lol, take the number 4 bus. Last stop is at the Hyper U and you can walk from there. Many, many stores to choose from. These were our go-to’s.
- Decathlon – I would say Decathlon is a lot like a Dick’s SportingGoods. The quality is moderately good, A-. They carry a lot of their own brand. For an American, we find places that carry their own brand might be of a lesser quality, unless designer.
- Darty – expensive appliance store. We did get this awesome small toaster oven/toaster (Tfal) there that we use practically every day.
- Hyper U – a Walmart
- Leroy Merlin – a Home Depot/Lowes
- Conforama – a Home Depot/Lowes, a bit farther to walk but same area
- Sub La Rochelle – dive shop. Great guy, excellent English.
- Sofomarin – plumbing spot
- Navigatlantique – chandlery. Great people, excellent English, and very patient, lol
- Laverie du Must – laundry, walking distance from Port des Mimines
- E.leclerc – very nice grocery store, good fish market, looks hella weird from the outside
- Bakery/Boulangerie – from Port des Mimines, head to the beach, you’ll see it
- There is a Yamaha, Yanmar, Volvo, and Highfield dealer there for service in Uchimata’s/Pochon’s neck of the woods.
- Transportation – a quick guide for getting around from the Port Mimines website. The electric ferry was something we found kind of late. Leaves Port des Mimines to get to the chain district in 20 minutes. Pickup times vary with season.
- Stock up on vinegar N 14º, which means 14% vinegar. France’s water is loaded with minerals that creates mineral deposits. Everyplace else has about 8%. Stuff is dynamite!! For fun: Fill a pitcher to the top with ice. Now fill with water. Watch your pitcher become a snow globe right before your eyes. Get the vinegar. They even have different scents: lavender, lemon, thyme, etc. Matt and I were scratching our heads for the longest time on why in the world would there be scented vinegar when we first saw it. Turns out, it is the preferred cleanser. Keep good ventilation when you clean the bathrooms. We’ll spray it on the walls, sinks, and shower door; move it all around; wait 10 or more minutes; scrub some; and rinse. All gone. It’s the only product that has worked for mineral deposits.
- There is a different hose system in Europe. Europe sells their hoses with open cut hose ends. No fitting at all. Everything works within a snap-on fitting system. You can purchase separately the different snap-on fittings depending on use. Super convenient system. Caused us a bit of time trying to retrofit our imperial hoses to a European water pump. We wound up storing those and just bought new ones.
- Butane – propane might be difficult to find. Also, our LP gas detectors don’t work for butane, some do.
- Just a reminder, wire gauge is measured in mils not the standard awg.
- Tip, get a tape measure that has inches and centimeters on the same tape.
- DVDs are formatted for specific regions, EU, UK, Australia, etc. You’ll find the region code near the small globe icon on the back of the DVD case. DVD code should match the code on the DVD player. Oh, Netflix works if you have WiFi. Not that you’ll be chillin’ with a movie, lol.
- We had all our belongings and supplies shipped to France. We would not change that for anything. For us, one of the best decisions for sure. We used Interconex but have heard since their portal to ship cargo from door to port has closed. We were very lucky because door to door would have been cost prohibitive. If you have any leads on a company shipping cargo door to port, please leave a comment below for the next folks. We’ve have been asked so many times who we used. Apparently there aren’t very many companies providing this service. It is possible to air ship by Fedex, DHL, or UPS, but you’ll pay up to $4/lb or $8.80 a kilo lol. Plus there will be duty to receive the item that can be very costly.
- Finsulate – We will be doing an ongoing post on Finsulate. As of now, we are not recommending it due to false advertising; although not completely regretting it. It is an eco-safe alternative, true, but it does require regular and sometimes extensive maintenance. Time will tell.
- Last piece of advise. Don’t schedule your favorite visitor to visit until you get there and can evaluate the situation. Once you get a better picture of what is ahead of you, you can make a better plan. This means a more meaningful time together, which is truly what you are after anyway. Wait. Absolutely saying, it is not a time for visitors. Nothing will stress you out more than all of this, on top of needing to be in Spain in 3 weeks to pick up so and so or having your visitor wait around until you are able to go. Workers coming on and off the boat. Countless store trips. Test sails. It will be all very boring to your visitor and a lot of pressure on yourself to hurry.
- Unless you want to learn everything underway, unadvisable, wait.
It’s ok for me
One thing you will learn, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Please understand nobody was rude or unfriendly. Just speaking factly here. We found ourselves stranded in France without representation trying desperately to manage two major players that can simply just say “pfft, not me” to you, or, love this one, “it’s ok for me.” Now “it’s ok for me” could mean two things. There is no problem or they don’t see a problem. They don’t see a problem is the problem. Even though we are unsatisfied with the work, too bad, it’s ok for them. Perfection is ridiculous. And there you go, problem solved.
You call your dealer however many time zones away and they do their best from however many time zones away. It all takes a lot of time and management at that distance. So you are left there basically praying for many tiny miracles to be answered every day. As if the language barrier wasn’t enough, but having to deal with managing FP and Uchimata was just beyond overwhelming. Had we had representation, we wouldn’t have had to ask every little question directly to Uchimata, who didn’t have the time, then later patience, for us. Had there been someone assigned to us, a lot could have been solved right then, relieving Uchimata of being pulled aside and to help schedule repairs.
It could have been better
When we first left France, we were upset. That’s why we haven’t written this sooner. Nobody wants to hear bad news and, sure as shit, we don’t want to give it. To be honest, everyone involved were all really likable guys. Every one of them would have been cool to throw a few beers back with. And to be fair, there were many contributing factors from all sides that made this handover especially tiresome, including our own errors.
I’m not sure why we had to manage everything we did. Not even sure why there were that many things to manage in the first place. The training wheels are off and everyday we grow and learn how to do better. We find ourselves re-doing and adding things all the time.
The warranty, although it’s there, is problematic. This might be the nature of the beast, dealing with a globally moving vessel. Not sure. The jury is still out but it ain’t awesome. More on this later…
We do feel we came out ahead by staying as long as we did and dealing with it, but at the time… it was all just completely overwhelming.
At the end of the day, we feel it all could have been prevented with better communication and commitment to quality.
If you are looking for more helpful information,
check out our Boater Bits arsenal ~
just click the Boater Bits tag.
Feel free to ask a question or make a suggestion.
If there is anything we can help you with, we will try.
Thanks for sharing all of this. We are getting our Astrea this fall and are in the planning stage of booking an apartment, flights, deliveries from Montreal. One thing we have on our side is we are French Canadians. So the language barrier will be not as harsh… 🙂 Bu we are new sailors and this is our first boat. So on top of learning all the boat’s specifications, we have to learn to sail…. lol !
Plenty of hours of pure joy or sadness to come. But you know what ? Between this and staying home watching the news every night, I’m choosing to go all in and do something crazy… La Rochelle, watch out, some crazy Canadians are just about to come crash your party… !
Thanks for sharing all that info. It is precious! Hope you are still enjoying Sea Odyssey! Cheers!
Loving all this energy!! You are right, get outta town and go do something crazy cool!!! I see many wonderful sails and memories in your future. And thanks, happy to help.
Any update on the Finsulate on your side ?
Hey Jeremy, great idea! Look for an update very soon!
Thanks for being candid. what you have written about is exactly what we’re concerned about. Forewarned is a good thing, and we have our dealer there with us.
Ultimately what would be helpful for most folks collecting would be to have access to a solid, unbiased surveyor. We will try to find one, though i’m told that in a town where the boat-builder is the mayor not many local surveyors are likely to be truly independent.
Yeah, it was difficult time. Sounds like you are already a thousand steps ahead just having representation there. I don’t know if a surveyor would have saved us. All of our issues were part of a normal process in a “shakedown.” It is just we didn’t know where to look or what to do about this large growing list of problems. Then getting so many items resolved through a language barrier and scheduling new work with an overbooked after market guy who made promises and mistakes didn’t help. Anyway, all the best luck. Drop a line and let us know how you made out. Catch up with us on Facebook, sv Sea Odyssey, if you don’t already. Don’t think I’ve seen you. We are very active there.
Having gone through this, in hindsight would you have been better picking it up at the dealer in the US?
Ya know, sometimes we think that, cause Ken, commissioning guy for our dealer, is wonderful. We would have been in good hands. But, that would have meant being on the wrong side of the world to start. I understand now there is representation from our dealer there. At the time, there weren’t many people choosing to pick up in France, so the procedures weren’t nailed down to handle this scenario appropriately yet. If I knew there was no representation, I would still pick up in France because of location. We’d just have to know it would be a stressful time and be ready. Good question Kirk! People would want to know, also. Thank you!
So true. You are right that those reading it will not get the full force of what they are up against until they are there facing the beast. I warned you and it went over you head. It is good you put it in writing for others. Maybe it will sink a little better.
Stop, you did an amazing job in preparing us, so grateful!! This is a small attempt to pay it forward in honor of people like yourself and others who take the time to help others. See you soon! <3
OSS – Overseas Shipping does door to door – including customs clearing from The Hague . Ours is currently in transit so can’t confirm outcome . Sent from Australia to Uchimata address .
Thanks for sharing! I hope you visit back to your comment because I’d love to know how it worked out and if you found it overly expensive. Damn near every day at that time and even now, we comment to each other how great it was to have been able to ship everything. Being able to take our time to research the products thoroughly in English was everything. Look us up on Facebook and keep in touch! All the best winds…