In homage to our friends

Saturday 29 – Sunday 30 June

Leading marks at entrance to
Odet River

After a lazy morning, we freed the anchor from its muddy bed, and took a calm, muggy ride back downriver back to sea.  There we found a pleasant Southwesterly breeze and were able to fly the gennaker, without engine.  As the wind veered and increased we were soon bowling along at 7+ knots, but by teatime larger waves were creating surfing conditions, and we changed down to staysail.  The stronger wind proved short-lived, and we changed up to genoa, the wind veered some more but continued to ease and we ended the day as we’d begun, with the gennaker – all in the space of five hours.

Approaching the entrance to the River Bélon, home port of one of our Saltimbanque friends from last year in the Baltic Sea, a large yellow helicopter was buzzing anxiously around the headland, and it soon became clear there had been a serious incident on the cliffs: someone must have fallen or slipped, and was strapped to a stretcher, awaiting airlift to hospital – we saw the casualty, with a crewman, being winched up into the chopper.  One can only hope for a positive outcome: a timely reminder of the ever-present dangers of even good weather on the coast.

Needing all our concentration to navigate the shallow and impermanent sandbanks on the way to the port, we found a flotilla already tied up on the main moorings after the first bend.  A very helpful harbourmaster met us in his dory, and helped us place lines to large fore-and-aft mooring buoys.  Unfortunately, these were joined by a length of rope, which the river’s current pushed us onto such that it caught across the top of our starboard rudder.  You can guess how that evening’s entertainment panned out [thanks for the warning, girls ?].

Observing the locals’ techniques for mooring in the Baltic last year, Skipper had sourced a large carabiner-type clip, to which he’d secured one of our mooring lines and given it gratefully to the afore-mentioned harbour master, low to the water in his dory and able to reach over to clip it to the mooring buoy.  On the Sunday morning, it fell to Mate to reach the release bar of this clip, from our bow a good two or three metres above the buoy, by means of the boat hook, press the bar to undo it, and with the other hand pull the mooring rope back onboard.  Fortunately, we were the only vessel on this particular pair of buoys, but in front of us was a raft of four, all of whose crew seemed to be an avid audience at the moment of our departure.  A resounding cheer went up when Mate succeeded, much to her surprise, at the first attempt.

Any glory was short-lived however, as she was immediately called back, armed with boat hook, to release the rope once again from under the hull where it lay across the top of the rudder, in order that Skipper could engage the engine and gingerly sound our way back down the channel to sea.  The grand finale of the morning was a hail from the coast path, and a delightful wave and beaming smile from ‘la mamou de Saltimbanque’, who had come to see us.

Kitesurfers in Baie de Locmalo

After all the excitement, we managed to hoist the mainsail without stowing the bimini, added the genoa and enjoyed a glorious passage, with a variety of combinations of sails in the varying winds, 17 Miles down to the Baie de Locmalo, on the outskirts of Lorient.

Around the Odet

Wednesday 26 – Friday 28 June

Sunset at Fort Cigogne

We enjoyed the evening’s entertainment of weaving through the famous sailing school’s dinghy fleet, before settling to anchor in crystal clear water behind Fort Cigogne, for a calm and peaceful night at anchor.  The following morning we wove our way through the Western lumps of hard stuff to pick up the recommended exit Northwest towards Loctudy.  On such hallowed ground it was a perfect sailing day: NE F4, first reef in the main, and staysail, for a beautiful close reach in warm sunshine.  It was almost all over too soon, once we’d cleared our rudders of a huge harvest of weed, allowing us to steer much lighter.  Spotting our friend on Windfall from Plymouth as we passed the marina, we tucked in behind Ile Tudy, where it was hot enough to swim around the boat before enjoying another calm and tranquil evening.

We left the boat to venture ashore by dinghy into the marina, where we trekked through the noonday heat to the local Carrefour supermarket, whereafter we felt need of the refreshment of lunch at a pavement seafood restaurant.

On Friday morning, which began in thick mist, we wove through the tightly packed moorings to berth alongside the visitor’s pontoon to take on water, for which we were charged a not unreasonable €3: it’s as well nobody ever asks how much we need, as 550 litres could be a lot more expensive.

Chateau Keraudren

We motored past the marinas either side of the river at Benodet, and made our way under the 30-metre high bridge to enjoy a river cruise between densely wooded banks, past attractive chateaux and groups of youngsters rock-jumping to cool down – or show off.  While there was still room to turn safely, we retraced our path to a side branch of the river, to find a secluded anchorage with only kingfishers and silence for company.

Bénodet beckons

Tuesday 25 June

Sailing plans and schedules rarely being in harmony, it was decided to forgo the potential temptations of Douarnenez, in the opposite corner of the bay, and instead make our way directly to the Southern section of this coast’s fierce tidal race, the Raz de Sein.  Once again we found ourselves joining a flotilla, with some familiar names popping up on AIS, including Loose Goose, that we’d seen around Brest and before, and our sister ship, Midnight Sky, once again.

The log records the weather as “warm and sunny – T-shirt and shorts!!!” – at last.  The reality of such lovely conditions is that there is often barely enough wind to sail, but we did turn the engine off for a while, set the full mainsail with both genoa and staysail up front, and BobbyCool was put to work to steer us by the wind, while trusty Jeanny took a nap.  Yes, at last we were putting the new, expensive and bulky-on-the -back-step WindPilot through its paces.  It’s actually very easy to set up – even Mate understood the physics – and as long as the sails are set correctly and the boat is well balanced, it is very reliable at holding a course set relative to the wind.  Of course, the on-watch crew must still monitor wind shifts, to ensure the correct course is maintained.

As with the Chenal du Four, the fearsome reputation of the Raz de Sein turned out to be something of an anti-climax, and before we knew it, we were crossing the Baie d’Audierne – dipping our toes into the equally nervously anticipated Bay of Biscay, or in French Le Golfe de Gascogne.  The day was clear and sunny, with a lazy, long gentle Atlantic swell, but not enough wind, so in went the foresails, and driving was handed back to Trevver and Jeanny: the Es team – engine and electronics.

Meanwhile the crew was entertained by two separate dolphin visits, three before lunch and two afterwards, playing in the bow wave.  Guarded by the mighty Eckmühl Lighthouse, we rounded the Pointe de Penmarc’h in the early afternoon, in the company of a large pod of dolphins and their attendant gulls and gannets feeding off the spoils.  For a while we flew the genoa again, but the wind soon dropped.  At 1630 we crossed the track of the local fishing fleet returning with the day’s catch to Guilvinec, a small but busy landing port; we managed to stay out of their way.  In French ports it is common for the day’s catch to be sold in evening markets, and eaten that night for maximum freshness.  Shellfish is usually purchased still alive: from the sea to the table in the shortest possible time.

The sky was filling with high cirrus cloud, signalling the leading edge of the next weather front coming in.  As the forecast was good, we decided to head straight for the French Caribbean, namely the archipelago of the Iles de Glénans.

Caving in Morgat

Monday 24 June

Having topped up our water stocks again at Port Vauban marina in Camaret, and waved hello to an Allures 44, Midnight Sky, flying a British ensign in the bay, we set off to complete our mini-tour of the spectacular Crozon Peninsula, first following the coast that we walked along yesterday.  It was interesting to see from sea level the vantage point Mate had unwittingly stood atop!  Crossing the Anse (Bay) de Pen-Hat, that faces due West and the full force of the mighty Atlantic ocean, it was easy to appreciate, even on a relatively windless day, why this beach is often crowded with surfers.

We could almost reach out and touch

Les Tas de Pois is a line of rocks jutting out from the next headland South, very reminiscent of the Needles off the Western point of the Isle of Wight.  In the right conditions, the challenge is to pass between them, but you have to choose your passage in good time, to ensure you line up for it squarely – and Skipper has time to close his eyes – not easy while taking photos to evidence the experience.  The light swell rolled us inexorably towards the gap between numbers two and three: La Fourche and Le Dentelé, but we slid through smoothly and the difference in sea conditions on the other side was quite remarkable – surprisingly calm.

Beg-Ar-Gador lighthouse
guarding her caves

Down to round the Southernmost point, the chart indicated we would pass through a veritable herd of goats, but the only one we were aware of was the Cap de la Chèvre, as always adorned with a multitude of fishing pot marks.  Today we had our first brief sighting of dolphins this season.  By mid-afternoon we were anchored off the beach just outside Morgat harbour.  The pilot recommended a dinghy ride into a local cave, and we were not disappointed in bobbing gently inside, admiring the multicoloured stone of the walls around us.  It wasn’t Mate’s easiest experience, claustrophobic as she is, and it’s tricky not to run the outboard onto just-submerged rocks in the approach, but we managed to stay safe, and even avoided a couple of snorkellers nearby.


Saturday 22 – Sunday 23 June

Once clear of the bends of the river, as it meanders gently back to the sea, we were able to set the genoa in a light wind with the occasional more enthusiastic gust.  After lunch we furled the genoa and motored the last mile into the popular anchorage just off the town.  It feels very like Tobermory on Mull in the Inner Hebrides of Western Scotland.

We enjoyed a calm and comfortable night, but the following morning was very wet.  Needing to take advantage of Sunday morning opening at the local supermarket, we donned full wet weather gear, climbed into the dinghy, and made our way across to the small marina of Port du Notic, only for local small boats but closest to town for visiting tenders.  With l’arrêt safely tied to the end of the pontoon under the bridge, we strolled along the stalls of tempting crafts and gifts, impressed by the high quality of the items on offer, and the cheerfulness of the artisans in spite of the rain.

By the time we’d stocked up on provisions, and a couple of tasty treats from specialist food producers in the market on the way back, the weather was improving.  Having stowed the shopping – thank goodness for a capacious fridge – and made lunch, we went back onshore and enjoyed a lovely walk along the coast path out towards the Pointe du Toulinguet.  Much evidence of WWII fortifications remains along these cliffs, but one is pleasantly distracted by the carpets of wild flowers, including honeysuckle, and heather already in bloom.  Sadly there was a little swell coming into the bay overnight, which gave us a rolly, unrestful sleep.

Brest is best…?

Thursday 20 – Friday 21 June

In a leisurely fashion, we pottered back downstream and into the Marina du Chateau, close to the centre of Brest.  It was hot and sunny, and we made only a brief foray into the city, where Mate obtained a set of booklets from the helpful Tourist Information Office, that set out a collection of shortish walks, each highlighting a different aspect of the city’s history and architecture.  Thus was an easy afternoon passed of armchair exploring.

After a morning spent washing the boat and filling our water tanks, we crossed to the Southeast corner of the Rade, into the River Aulne and to an anchorage just above the Pont de Térénez.  This is one of Brittany’s pretty rivers, flanked by deeply wooded banks and pastoral scenery, but there was again no wind to sail and grey clouds obscured the sun and its warmth – so much for it being the Midsummer Solstice.  Once the anchor was well bedded in and the engine quietened, the peacefulness was profound.

Through the Chenal du Four

Tuesday 18 – Wednesday 19 June

… into the Rade de Brest

After much discussion the evening before, the general consensus seemed to be that an early start was in order, and so we found ourselves in convoy heading for the Chenal du Four early the following morning.  Conditions started light, so full main and genoa were soon set, but a prolonged squall encouraged Mate to call for a reef in the mainsail and change down to the staysail.  Unfortunately, it proved to be only a squall, and by the time the sail changes were complete, and Skipper was exhausted, and still shy of breakfast, the wind had settled into a comfortable Nor’easterly F3-4.  Once he’d reverted to full main and genoa, Mate allowed him down to the galley for sustenance.  As we were the only member of the fleet to choose not to ride out the squall, by now we were well behind everybody else.

By 1000 we had changed sails again and our lovely red gennaker was flying proudly, and we slipped calmly through the notorious Chenal du Four with wind and tide in our favour.  However, not long afterwards the wind dropped right away and the iron sail was called into service.  Off Pointe Saint Matthieu at the Northern corner of the Goulet de Brest, we managed to ghost along in an Easterly F2-3 while the crew ate lunch, but then finding ourselves in the path of a French Navy vessel, it was decided to give up on the sailing and motor the rest of today’s passage to our chosen anchorage.

Frustrated by the lack of good sailing, we found a pleasant spot to spend the night, East of the city of Brest in the River Elorn.  Wednesday was designated a rest day, and we lay quietly to anchor in the attractive upper reaches of the navigable river.

L’Aber Wrac’h

Monday 17 June

It was decided to rejoin the land of the living this morning, and we made our way gently the mile downstream to tie up on the outside of the visitors’ pontoon at this iconic Breton port, at the Northwestern tip of France.  Already there was our sister ship, Wireless, so we enjoyed the opportunity of some social time with her crew, and admired her newness.  Our friends from Trébeurden, on Nicknack, came in as well, and her skipper came over for a brief chat about plans once they were comfortably berthed inside.

Mate applied herself to a mountain of laundry, and was happily distracted by a conversation with a Japanese skipper, who has sailed his elegant large yacht, in stages over the last few years, across the Pacific, through the Panama canal, across the Atlantic and is now enjoying Europe and heading for the Mediterranean this Summer.  He told her he needs to “get on with it” as he is already 75…

Skipper took his bike on a provisioning trip under the guidance of Wireless’s crew, around 6 miles uphill on the way there, downhill fully loaded back home.  We enjoyed a lovely example of the sunsets for which this spot is famous.

Port du Paluden

Saturday 15 – Sunday 16 June

Well, we didn’t get ashore last night, but enjoyed the live music set from what turned out to be a festival weekend; pity about the racket that followed a mellow folky sound, until after 0300…

After a morning of blustery showers, we did venture ashore in the dinghy for a brief stroll around the bend of the river upstream of our mooring, but found nothing of note to report.  Inevitably, it being a festival weekend, last night’s music was less tuneful and persisted until around 0530 Sunday morning, so nerves onboard were maybe just a little frayed.  A quiet day was needed, as the crew were hardly feeling refreshed.

Roscoff to l’Aber Wrac’h

Friday 14 June

After a night of almost no sleep in an anchorage less sheltered than we would wish, the dratted alarms still shrilled at the ridiculous hour of 0430 to ensure we caught most of the West-bound tide that follows high water in these parts.  The theory was that we’d leave at first light, the better to play ‘Spot the Pot’ and avoid collecting too many shellfish for breakfast en route. Due to a very overcast sky, however, daybreak didn’t really arrive until 0530, by which time Mate had pretended a normal routine including an anti-seasickness tablet and a light breakfast.  Along with wearing every layer for Winter sailing, and catching a sneaky nap when needed, she succeeded in achieving an almost unprecedented ‘clean’ passage.

We picked up the notoriously tricky Canal de l’Ile de Batz, another triumph for a detailed chart plotter, and were soon out in the far Western reaches of the English Channel – although still not as far West as Newlyn, on the North shore.  The wind, of course, was on the nose, but the mainsail was optimistically set for a close reach.

Quickly proving that the genoa created more heel than Mate was happy with, it was no sooner out than replaced by the staysail, and Mate entertained (distracted?) herself by sailing as close to the wind as possible to achieve the best course towards our destination.  This involves sailing by numbers: holding me 40˚ off the wind when it is 10-14 knots, today from around 210˚, and when it increases and backs to around 190˚, making the most of the opportunity to luff nearer to our desired course, with the added benefit of spilling some of the wind when it gusts – it topped out today at about 25 knots, a low F6 – the yachtsman’s gale.

In due course, Skipper relieved Mate at the helm, and took the opportunity to baptise BobbyCool (merci, mes amies), our newest crew member, the WindPilot.  He sits on the back step, right in the middle of the bathing platform/dinghy boarding deck, but will earn his keep many times over steering by wind angles, meaning less drain on our batteries by thirsty Jeanny, our electronic autopilot.  Even knowing the theory, Skipper was delighted at the ease with which the system is set up and then holds the set course.  Good seamanship is still essential, as the sails need to be set correctly to achieve the right balance so the WindPilot steers accurately, and an alert watch must be kept, as always, to deal with wind shifts, to be ready to increase or decrease sail area, and to avoid close encounters with scenery and other vessels.

Having made the inevitable tack back in towards shore, we found ourselves leading a fleet in the same direction, including sister ship Wireless, that we’d met in St Malo last week.  While they seem to have tucked into the marina at l’Aber Wrac’h, we opted for dumbbell moorings at the top of the navigable river at Port du Paluden, and enjoyed a long siesta after lunch.  A peaceful evening may be less likely, however, as a collection of marquees on shore at the dinghy landing pontoon, and tantalising aromas of barbecue, suggest some kind of party – an evening stroll ashore may be in order…