After the rain and variable weather of our Round Britain trip in 2017 – 2018 we determined to go south for the sunshine in 2019, leaving Port Solent on Sunday 2 June.
After a very short “night” in Cowes, we battled into a fresh south westerly breeze at 4am towards the Needles bearing away for Cherbourg, which we reached 15 hours later. We were delayed there by storms for 3 days but eventually made it to St Peter Port, Guernsey (another 42 miles) with enough wind and not too much rain, arriving in time to take wine on board another boat we knew. However, our berth inside Victoria Marina exposed our stern to both wind and waves as soon as the tide allowed water over the sill and we spent an uncomfortable 48 hours there.
As soon as the weather cleared we set sail for France, specifically the Trieux River. The plan was to anchor between the rocks of La Corderie as recommended in our pilot book. However, even though it was a Sunday night numerous boats had the same idea so we moved a mile further upstream and found a beautiful and more importantly, peaceful anchorage in the inlet of Anse de Pommelin which we had all to ourselves.
It was a late start next morning for Trebeureden in order to have fair tide all the way. However, We made such good progress that we arrived too early to enter the Trebeureden “rock pool” so we picked up a buoy and had a meal until there was enough water to get in. Of course, this gave the wind a chance to pick up and make berthing exciting. Again storm bound in bitter cold rain we settled down with our books.
Two days later we set off for a short sail to Roscoff. It was cold wet and windy; we were beginning to think we were back in Scotland again! A highlight of arriving in the marina, (which has grown considerably since our last visit there in 2013) was the arrival of the URGO sport boats on their 3rd leg of the La Figaro Race Series. The 30 odd boats are really large racing dinghies with lids and sailed single handed.
When we arrived we found that the latest race had been to Scotland and back in just over 72 hours! Storm bound yet again we were bored enough to visit the “Onion Johnnie” Museum (Nick remembered seeing these guys selling onions in Portsmouth when he lived there as a child).
We made a false start for L’Aberwrach in a strong wind which was forecast to drop and a fair tide but were driven back by huge breaking seas rolling in from the Atlantic so we turned back and retreated upriver to Morlaix instead where we locked into the river at high water.
A wet weekend later, we headed down river again in the early morning mist and made it to L’Aberwrach after a long day with weather from all seasons, finally arriving in sunshine.
We found a number of vessels there waiting to head south and the next day, taking advantage of the only fair wind of the week we all left an international convoy promptly at 6 a.m., the Germans inevitably being first, followed by French, Belgians and Brits with a Japanese yacht leaving last.
We had fair winds all down the Chenal de Four, arriving in Douarnenez late afternoon, staying for a couple of days to visit a newly built boat museum with 5 vessels still in the water and catch up with chores. Then, setting off again, we intended to make Audierne via the Raz du Sein arriving as recommended exactly 15 minutes before slack water to avoid the enormous breaking seas and whirlpools (think Portland Race with Attitude!)
Happily, once we passed this point, the sea turned blue, the wind picked up, the dolphins came out to play and we carried an extra 30 miles, to Loctudy. A great day for sailing, made all the better by having dozens of dolphins again swimming up to and around the boat for miles. Whole dolphin families big ones and little ones played in the wake behind the boat. Next stop, Lorient, which is a busy commercial harbour to say the least benefitting from 5 marinas and we decided to go for the one in the centre of town, a mistake as it turned out. We passed the solid bleak submarine pens left from WW2.
until we at last found the marina. The only place left was rafting against a Swiss boat whose occupants warned us that the “water bus” ferries turned around opposite. When one arrived it did not tie up but just motored against the dock as people hopped off and on. As it turned around, it came within 3m of us with a great rush of water coming from the propellers.
The next day a French boat came to find a berth as the ferry was turning and the prop wash slammed the French boat across the river on to us! We got off lightly, our fenders taking most of the impact but we still ended up with a bent rubbing strake and a broken screw embedded in the hull. The Frenchman returned later, having found a berth downstream, to check on any damage to our boat and to apologise. He also called back in the evening with a bottle of local cider. We found that a Lorient was not what we had expected, very underwhelming in fact, very little to see, very little open.
After breakfast the following day we headed off to Port Heliguen, 32 miles south. Before a huge marina was built 20 years ago it was a quaint fishing village with a local market.
We were becalmed as we headed further south so instead we motored east to La Turballe, arriving as the temperature made 28 C and regretting it later in the day as it rose to 42 C! We found the heat very uncomfortable, made more so as this marina had only 2 showers! It was far too hot to sleep, so we decided to leave early next day in the relatively cool morning breeze for La Herbaudiere on the Ile de Normutier.
We had a fast sail there, only 26 miles, doing over 7 kts at times – but mostly in thick fog which made the approach through the reefs interesting having less than a quarter of a mile of visibility. La Herbaudiere was still hot and sunny (only 28-37 C) but the surrounding sea was very cold, and like the Channel Is, susceptible to fog. From our berth it was difficult to see the entrance of the harbour 300m away at times. On the second morning a boat arrived and berthed next to us. The occupants recognised us immediately as the vessel used to be at Port Solent for years before they moved to a French marina for a change (and a 75% reduction in the annual bertholder charge).
We had intended to head further south to Sables d’Orlonne and La Rochelle but were disappointed by the medium range weather forecast. So far we had headwinds all the way south and were looking forward to southerly winds to take us homeward but all the forecasts were for NE winds turning northerly. So reluctantly we decided to start our return homewards slightly early, calling into Pornichet to allow friends from Portsmouth (who now live near Nantes) to visit.
Pornichet marina is huge: we arrived on Sunday just after noon and were told that the harbour master was at lunch till 3pm! It was a lovely day and dozens of boats were coming and going – with no directions from the harbour office. They just told us and everyone else arriving to berth anywhere and the harbour master would come and talk to us after his lunch, predictably leading to utter chaos. Nick sat on deck with a cold drink and counted up to 14 vessels at a time doing formation dancing in and out of berths as people who had been out for the morning returned to find their berths occupied and we learned quite a few more French swear words to add to our vocabulary!
With the very high temperatures, it was more comfortable sailing early in the day where possible so, leaving Pornichet at 7am we headed for Port Louis, averaging over 7kts for 63 miles. This marina at the mouth of Lorient harbour was in the middle of a picturesque little town and this time the ferries stayed in their own docking area away from visitors. We wished we had discovered this in our previous visit!
Again, a nice early cool start for Benodet, another fast sail in bright sunshine making over 7 kts most of the way to the marina on the fast flowing River Odet. The temperature on arrival was 37 C but fortunately it cooled to 25 C overnight.
A couple of days later we left Benodet marina at slack water, just before the combined effect of the spring tide and current river would have left us pinned to the pontoon and anchored outside the harbour entrance to wait for the west going tide to take us 30 miles to Audierne. We motored for an hour until the wind picked up and then had a great sail there, picking up a buoy in the late afternoon sunshine and ordering fresh bread and croissants to be delivered personally to the boat by the harbour master the following morning. With the temperature a few degrees lower than Benodet it was a comfortable night and with no light pollution the stars seemed even brighter.
We slipped our mooring mid morning to sail to the Raz du Sein, once again arriving at exactly slack water before we spent a tough afternoon beating northward in a steep sea with wind over tide, eventually shooting through a narrow gap in some rocks to emerge into the relatively calm waters of the Rade de Brest. The journey of 34 miles to Brest took us just under 7 hours.
Neither of us had been to Brest before and found the town interesting, a combination of old and new buildings, new marina and old working harbour. We had time to visit the castle which was also the maritime museum, with fantastic views from the high walls. As usual the local supermarket was at the top of a long hill but we were pleasantly surprised by the free taxi service offered by the marina to take and collect us.
Leaving Brest we found a lovely bay to anchor for lunch and to wait for a fair tide to take us up the Chenal de Four but when we hoisted the mainsail using the shackle securing the head to the halyard broke, leaving the broken shackle at the top of the mast!
We used the spinnaker halyard to hoist the main as far as the first reefing point which worked well for the tough beat to windward up the narrow Chenal, passing the aptly named Plateau de la Helle to reach the rocky entrance of L’Aberildut. This is a lovely small fishing village known for seaweed as well as fishing. Gail went up the mast the retrieve the broken shackle and we replaced it with our spare, so all was well again.
We then decided to replace the gasket on the impeller which had a very small leak. This was a mistake as one of the screws dropped into the bilges never to be seen again. Fortunately, there was a small engineering works nearby and Gail persuaded a very helpful chap to machine a replacement (plus a spare) for free.
Next day off to Roscoff, no wind so a case of motoring the 40 miles, but we had lots of dolphins for company. Leaving Roscoff after a brief overnight stop (the only marina in France to charge as much as The Solent) we sailed all the way to Perros Guirec in time to arrive at high water though a very narrow gate just 4.5 metres wide (it looks a lot less from the cockpit!) with a strong current running diagonally through it. Nicknack is 3.4m wide so there was not a lot of wriggle room!
Once inside the marina all was well, the village is close by and there are some interesting walking paths around the coast to pretty beaches. You can see the 3 miles of mud and rocks where the sea was when we sailed in. Needless to say we had to leave at high water when the gate opened. We headed off again to the quiet and picturesque River Trieux where we used the same delightful anchorage we used 5 weeks before.
However, the sail there was challenging and longer than planned, as we had to push a 3kt tide around 3 sides of Jument lighthouse.
Next stop – Binic, a small fishing village with the usual timed entrance when the tide is up and the gate is open. Consequently, there are large sandy beaches which are safe for all water sports as well as swimming. We stayed for a week plan to meet some French friends from Montpelier leaving just before the neap tide closed the marina for 4 days.
The plan was to sail from Binic to Granville and thence Jersey and make our way home from there but the day we left the wind was dead on the nose again so we reverted to Plan B (Guernsey.) We motored over half way and although not a good day on the water, a large number of dolphins joined us, staying long enough for Gail to video them as the wind picked up enough to sail. We kept hearing
Jersey Coastguard giving out weather forecasts advising a coming storm so we wanted to be tucked up behind a harbour wall. As we got closer to the Guernsey coast waves of heat hit us, rather like walking behind an aeroplane after arriving in a hot country – fortunately, we just managed to tie up before the rain and strong wind started.
Leaving St Peter Port we motored over to Sark, picked up a buoy and rowed ashore for the afternoon. Sark is like stepping back in time, no roads, just tracks, no cars only tractors and horses. (The doctor’s tractor even has a blue light on it!) Few people live there year round but there are many seasonal workers and day trippers visiting by ferry and, like us, on their private vessels. The day was calm and sunny but then the wind picked up making the boat rock and roll all night.
Off again, the next day back to Guernsey, but this time to Beaucette Marina. The marina used to be a stone quarry, but now has had a seaward entrance blasted out, just wide enough? We had a lovely walk into St Sampson to restock the fridge for the next day’s sail to Cherbourg and on towards home. We bought lots of fresh tomatoes from a local farm; somehow they taste different in Guernsey!
Leaving when there was enough water to cover the sill, we headed to Cherbourg. We had one of the best sails of the holiday, until Cap Le Hague, where we had wicked turbulent seas which slowed our progress. Then all went well into the marina, which was very busy and at one point it looked like we would be on the waiting pontoon all night. Fortunately, a couple of young ladies in a rib from the capitanerie arrived to find us a vacant private berth.
Next day was the last of the holiday or should it be called the summer challenge? As always the weather forecast was for a gentle westerly wind building as the day went on! As it turned out we had F6 nearly all the way with an occasional gust reaching F7. After the stormy night before the breaking waves had built up to over 3m high and appeared to come from every angle. It was very uncomfortable sail and hard work, the upside being a fast and furious 10.5 hours back to Port Solent.
Well that’s it for this year’s summer cruise, over 1064 miles, 31 ports/harbours visited in 8 weeks. Home now to deal with post, emails, washing and the urban jungle that our garden has become.