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2005 - 4
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Part 4, France's North Biscay coast.


Cameret (26th May, 44 miles)

Luckily L'aber Vrac'h had little to offer so we had an early night in readiness for the early start to round Ouessant (Ushant) and pass down the Chenal du Four. The Chenal, as we began to call it, can be an awesome stretch of water unless a few safeguards are taken and respect maintained for its 10 mile duration.

Fundamental is that good visibility allows monitoring of the transits as they dictate the seriously complex route which needs following, and with ground speeds possibly in excess of 10 knots, GPS is of little help as the chart cannot be updated fast enough. Next, in order to avoid big seas in the narrows at the Southern end of the Chenal, the following obvious things are to be avoided:
spring tides, these cause massive currents and sweep the boat along possibly outside of the channels;
wind against tide, this is the biggest single cause of waves in open water and when waves in the Chenal meet underwater obstructions the heap up alarmingly and so toss boats about mercilessly making difficult navigation into a nightmare;
timing of the tides, to ensure that at the point where the waves are worst the tide is not exacerbating them;
swell, when sailing the Atlantic coast, swell is to be avoided, because when the swell enters the shallows of the Chenal the waves break and can potentially roll the unwary. Weather forecasts always include a swell height.

How we did it then.

The passage to Cameret. We motored out of the anchorage in light winds and once at sea we saw the wind would be against us, and against the spring tide down the Chenal, not at all as forecast. Within 2 hours, as we approached the North end of the Chenal and the Le Four lighthouse, the visibility dropped to less than 1/2 mile and we never did see this prominent feature except as a ghostly shape in the gloom but we certainly heard its fog horn. About this time we questioned whether we were doing the right thing; we had a very big spring tide, we had a 2m swell, we had very poor visibility in the fog but in the present deep water at the North end of the Chenal we were quite happy with conditions. Naive or what? Going back to L'aber Vrac'h would have been even more daunting in bad vis.

Half an hour later it was clear the tide had turned and was pushing us South towards the tricky bits but by now we were committed so onwards we went, still as a trio, and just within each others visibility. We charged between the buoys Rouget and Grande Vinotiere at 10.6 knots and collectively breathed sighs of relief as we then thought it was all over, but no. It was at this point that the shelter from the islands to the West ceased, and so in came the SW swell meeting the tremendously fast South going current creating a real maelstrom which, luckily, was to last for only about 10 mins. Our own motion through the water was pretty violent but we could really only judge it by watching the other boats. At one point Hitrapia, a well designed and fitted out blue water cruiser, reared up at 45 degrees, showing more than half of her underside, she then fell sideways into a huge hole such that we totally lost sight of the boat for a couple of seconds. It was scary to watch as we might have been seconds away from something similar ourselves.

Eventually the conditions moderated to simply being horrible and, as we turned East away from the waves and sailed up the Brest estuary, we once again started to enjoy the day. The fog kept vis., down to about a 1/4 of a mile but the wind gave us an effortless reach for about an hour to Cameret and a hero's reception as we moored.

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Perhaps the reception was because we were in Biscay proper. Here you see one of the reception committee of dolphins taking time out to help us moor.

Cost: �8/day for 2 days and one free, no showers, water or electricity as we were on a buoy.

Benodet (29th May,  55 miles)

With the Chenal du Four behind us we next had to pass through the Raz du Seine, a much more serious piece of water and one much photographed from helicopters at times when a SW gale meet the ebb tide. It looks awesome and is deadly if good conditions do not prevail at the time of passing. A bay, midway down the Raz, is called Bay of Souls as its where the bodies from shipwrecks get washed ashore. It's shown as a good anchorage, no thanks.

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The passage to Benodet. Another early start in order to get to the Raz at slack water.  We allowed 3 hours for the 17 miles and had to motor all of it as the wind was only a F2. Although sailors complain when the wind is light, today it was a bonus because the Raz was like a millpond as we passed through it. We still saw 5 knots of current pushing us South and so over 10 knots in total but there was hardly a ripple on the water.

Once through we were extremely lucky to find the wind slowly swing to the NE and rise to just about a F3 giving us wind on our beam, our fastest point of sailing, so allowing the final 5 hours of the passage to be without engine. Although the wind was light our good boat speed meant we were too fast to catch mackerel but we were an attractive proposition for the dolphins.

We had an awesome display of synchronised swimming by at least ten dolphin who swam, dived and jumped alongside us for at least 15 minutes. The speed at which they move is exhilarating to watch. They pass right under the bows of the boat often crossing one another as they do so. Magic! Trying to photograph them is very difficult as you can imagine. Here, though, we have mum and baby in shot.

We had a peaceful evening on a buoy just off the town quay, but the others didn't like the lack of swinging room on the buoys so Hitrapia went along side and Tomboy went upstream and found an empty private mooring. .

Cost: free, no showers, water or electricity.

Concarneau (30th May, 11 miles)

Having done 100 miles in the last two passages today was a real contrast, only 11 miles. We are also solo sailing as Tomboy and Hitrapia are opting for a day up the river.

The passage to Concarneau. With sensible tides, today we left at 0930, a real lie in. We sailed most of the passage in light NW winds arriving at Concarneau round about HW. During the passage the Navtex receiver, a unit which receives weather and safety at sea information, has stopped working so we can now only get weather info from the harbour masters, not good.

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I spent a day checking the Navtex for water or dampness but could find none. It just seems deaf to broadcasts on 518 KHz. McMurdo have said they will replace the unit for the latest type for £100.  We think we'll go for this deal.

Interesting town and one of the principal fishing ports in France. The old walled Ville-close (citadel), is a must to visit, now given over to tourism, but, if you can see through that, its great. We took advantage of a very good 12 euro mid-day menu at one of the many restaurants in the citadel. Exceptional value. In the photo (of a post-card) the marina is just visible at the extreme right.

Cost: �22.00/day, free showers, water and electricity.

May's figures
Distance logged. 286
Hours at Sea. 51
Engine Hours. 28
Average passage distance. 37
------------------------ ---
Average distance per week. 62
Total distance this year. 54
Total cycled this year. (Km) 440

May's Figures

Our targeted goal was 80 miles per week assuming we went to Gibraltar but, as we might now only go as far as the Portuguese Algarve this year, I suspect we are now well on target.

The cycling miles, now reported as Kilometres,  continue to rise as we explore new areas.



Island of Belle Ile

La Palais (2nd June,  55 miles)

In order to get one of the mooring buoys inside the harbour of La Palais on Belle Ile we planned an early start. Apparently they fill up quite early after lunch so our aim was to arrive as soon after mid day as winds allowed.

The passage to La Palais. We set of at 0630 into yet another day with a glass smooth sea. This meant we motored the whole 55 miles and beat the hoards onto the buoys.

The harbour master wanted all three of us to moor between the same two buoys, we managed, but it took lots of pushing with his dinghy to get us into the position he wanted. Later in the day as the harbour filled it was clear he had been economising on space as dozens of yachts arrived. One worrying time was when a 15m boat tried to occupy a 10m space in front of us. The harbour master was keen but the skipper had more sense. He would have bashed into our bows with every wave entering the harbour. Silly man.

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The port is a little on the tired side even though ferries bring loads of French visitors hourly and all of the cafes were full so the visitors were certainly spending money. Probably a great place to cycle, or walk the coast path, but alas we must press on tomorrow. The photo looks down into the harbour and we are behind the black boat, snug behind the wall. In the foreground is the anchorage.

Cost: �12/day, no water or electricity as we were on a buoy.

Island of Ile d'Yeu

Port Joinville (3rd June, 48 miles)

The passage to Joinville. The log reads:

  • 0630 hoisting the main just outside of harbour in NW F3,
  • 0715 goose winged and going well,
  • 1045 still managing 5knots wind now light,
  • 1145 wind gone westerly and increased,  just forwards of the beam, sailing at 7 knots, one reef in genoa,
  • 1330 2 reefs in genoa and one in the main, still flying, hope there is enough water if we arrive early,
  • 1500 short steep waves in the shallow water keep breaking on our stern quarter, its quite wet now,
  • 1550 tied up next to our sister ship, John Reeds 3rd Endurance 38. Both crews quite excited to check over one another's boat.

Lovely island, great cycle tracks, if you don't mind the holes, all the way round the island. Pleasant marina, brilliant warm showers. Good supermarket in the town. Thoroughly nice place. All the houses are white with red roof tiles and painted

red roofs and white walls

We had a great time cycling round the island, the weather was warm and sunny and by the second day I think we had covered all of the island. Our favourite place was the Port de la Meule a picturesque little harbour little more than a crevice in the surrounding rocks, with a simple little white church perched on the hill above it.  Far too small a mooring place for Mithril, but great as a lunch time picnic stop on our cycle ride. Our Brompton folding bikes are certainly earning their keep.  Its now time to say goodbye to Tomboy they are leaving today.  We have thoroughly enjoyed their company and because they had vast experience of the Brittany area our passage planning has been much easier.  Many thanks David and Avril.

Cost: �19.90/day, free showers, water and electricity.

France mainland

Observations and Trivia

  • When you eat them every day French baguettes are boring, luckily Mono Prix, the super market chain, does a 6 cereal loaf and its great.
  • French dogs shit every where but most frequently on the path ways.
  • The French learn to sail from being about 6 years old, so they are super at it. Berthing, however, is a lost art amongst them. They skillfully arrive at a berth, having weaved through all manner of hazards, the lady will leap off and only then will either party think about fenders and mooring lines. It progressively goes pear shaped from that point. The most amusing example of this caviler attitude is . . . .

    The French owner of a 47 ft Beneteau sloop, berthed starboard too, asked an Italian visitor to help him turn his boat round. With much arm waving the Italian said yes, presumably hoping to get his hands on the throttle of the Beneteau. As the boat motored forward the Italians wish came true, Frenchy said he was not good with power boats and so could the Italian take the helm.  We watched the boat power through a 180 at about 6 knots and head back to the berth, this time port side too. The Italian, we must assume, was expecting Frenchy to swap the fenders and lines over to port, but no, Frenchy dived below and waited for the impact, which was very loud when it happened. He then reappeared on deck to be blasted by the emotional abuse that only an Italian can deliver. And worse, Frenchy said,
      "Yes reverse is tricky, sometimes its not there."

Port Olona at Les Sables d'Olonne (7th June, 33 miles)

The couple of days on the Ile d'Yeu had been smashing so it was quite sad to leave the island. Tomboy left the day before so Hitrapia and us were in chase mode.

The passage to Port Olona. We set off at about 0930, a couple of hours before LW, and I can say there wasn't much depth, even out at sea the water was little more than 6m deep all the way to the mainland, 10 miles away. We had a NE F4-5 wind and it was great for the passage except for the fact our speed was too high; we would get to Port Olona too early to enter. We reefed and reefed until we had 3 reefs in each sail but at least we had slowed acceptably. Traveling slowly gave us the opportunity to catch a few mackerel, 5 in fact over about 10 mins of fishing. We also put up the bimini (sun shade over the cockpit) to see how it behaved at sea and found it to be really good. So now we can escape the suns heat when we are on passage.

We arrived at the destination about 30 mins ahead of Hitrapia and we were allocated berths inside the huge (1100 berths) marina.

The Vend�e Globe starts from here.

The marina is on the La Chaume side of the river and has everything you could want with regard to your boat, but no food shop not even a baguette. There are shops in La Chaume but you need a bike to visit the supermarket, especially if you intend to be carrying anything heavy. Le Sable is on the other side and is a large typical seaside. Lovely beach, lots of bars, restaurants and a huge promenade. Lots of high rise holiday apartments, but if you  walk a few streets in there are some more interesting buildings.

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We visited the tourist info office and found out there was a brilliant cycle way which passed through woods and through the area  which used to be salt pans. It is now a huge nature reserve so on our third day here, we cycled for 42Km. It was very enjoyable and we saw lots of bird life, dragonflies and some very noisy bright green frogs.

Wow, fame at last. A French guy just asked, "now that you are not going to Gibraltar were will you over winter?" Quite surprised I asked how he knew about Gibraltar and our changed plans. "Seen your web site", he said.

Cost: �19.90/day, free showers, water and electricity.

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