Monday June 24… Morlaix

We’ve heard good things about Morlaix and so we slip away from Roscoff (loaded with fresh croissants delivered direct to the harbour) for the 10 mile jaunt up the river to the old tobacco town. The river dries almost completely ant low tide and we need to get there in time to lock through into the harbour which is right in the centre of town.

We pass an old fort which was put there to ward off the good folk of Bristol, who apparently had a good thing going themselves in the tobacco industry and were a trifle jealous and raided the town on several occasions in the early 16th century. On one occasion, the Bristolians were found in some woods, sleeping off their pillaging and plundering by the returning men of Morlaix. According to one source, the Bristolians arranged for several return matches, none of which went well for the visitors.

The route up river is well marked and very pretty, even in the grey skies of mid June….

By mid-day we are hanging around outside the lock and soon find ourselves greeted by the cheerful lock-keeper, who once we are through, jumps in his dinghy…

and shows us our berth for the next night or so.

We trundle off in the familiar drizzle to suss out the station for Yee Tak who is due to leave us tomorrow and to look around the town itself. The town is dominated by the fantastic railway viaduct and this is a clue….

to a very steep climb up to the station! This has been completely rebuilt for the new TGVs and is a fantastic example of what can be done with a state owned railway if the political will (and pride?) is there. We have remarked several times on this trip, how the French towns seem to take an enormous pride in their public spaces.

…and once again there are multiple childrens clothes and toy shops which appear to be irresistible to grandmothers…

We wander off round the old town with its amazing original gables and even take a stroll along the walkway halfway up the viaduct…

It is a Monday and most of Morlaix and its restaurants are shut, so our farewell dinner for Yee Tak turns out to be a hotel slightly up market from a premier inn…not quite what we had in mind.

POSTSCRIPT

The weather decides to take a turn for the east and worst in a fairly major way for the rest of the week. Meteo France even suggests gales locally before the temperature heads into the late 30s…and thunderstorms. Our sailing window ends anyway on Sunday and any destinations to the east would entail some uncomfortable beating or motoring into some very lumpy seas and near gales. We decide to leave the boat in Morlaix (snug, safe and cheap(er than Roscoff) and will return mid July to continue east…and home?

PPS. The views from the train as we go over the viaduct are amazing…

Sunday June 23 2019…L’Aber Wrac’h to Roscoff

We decide to give L’Aber Wrac’h a miss and try our luck in Roscoff. While it is a major ferry terminal, it is also a very attractive little town and we decide to make the most of the weather before the winds settle in to strongish (F6 or 7) easterlies from Wednesday onwards.

We resist the temptation to cough very loudly at 6.30am…or to sound the foghorn, and instead slip quietly away into a still but drizzly morning. More motoring! A cormorant is doing its very best to change the north marker into an easterly…an avian wrecker?

We plot a course though the very narrow easterly channel out of the river, seemingly within touching distance of the rocks which seem to be strewn liberally around in a very haphazard fashion.

Once out, we set off for the Ile de Batz and initially plan to take the longer but less rock strewn northerly route round the island. We re-read the pilot book and given the favourable wind with tide once more and excellent visibility, we plot a course through the southerly channel between the island and the mainland.  This require serious buoy counting and we list them all out in advance. We wonder idly, whether Iran will retaliate for the recent US cyber attack by taking out our GPS…although probably not directed at us personally!

The rain is steady as we start the various dog-legs through the channel. The markers are very clear however and we hop from one to the other, again within spitting distance of some very spikey rocky stuff. The only company we have are some fishing boats and the small vedettes which ply between Roscoff and the Island.  The route saves us about 3 miles and the possibility of a deck-full of water in the overfalls to the north. By noon we are moored in the modern, faceless, but otherwise excellent (in terms of facilities) marina in Roscoff…and by 1.30 we are sitting down to Sunday lunch by the old harbour. At 4 we left, telling ourselves that we really should go for a walk. A slow trundle out to the edge of the channel to Ile de Batz confirms that with low water now imminent, there really was no room for error on our way in.

The town is charming with the old harbour and even some petanque…

Saturday June 22 2019… Audierne and the big races

Audierne turns out to be delightful with a brilliant Saturday market. we are even serenaded in a very traditional French style as we walk ashore.

We half expected it to be full of the same stalls as in Concarneau, but while there are some similar, none appeared to be the same and Audierne was very much its own character.

One of the highlights was another of the stalls selling a range of hot food…pommes de terre au gratin, ratatouille, veggies, roast meats and lasagne. We decide that since we are likely to be late into L’Aber Wrac’h we will buy some dinner for later and then all we have to do is heat it in the oven.

We have all been enchanted by Audierne and will surely return sometime…

Our plan today is to head for L’Aber Wrac’h via the two big tide gates of Raz du Seine and Chenal du Four. It is slightly less easy than going south as due to vagaries of tides, there is slightly less north going time available in the Chenal than in the Raz. We need to be fairly precise about our timings as we don’t want to end up with a night-time entrance to L’Aber Wrac’h.  The other complication means that we will be leaving Audierne at low water. This is not to be recommended as the channel is very shallow in places and prone to silting according to the pilot books. We ease our way out of the berth and slide past the moored fishing boats as close as we dare.

We can see breaking water ahead near the entrance and can feel Heydays nudge the bottom…we hold our breath, but she shakes herself free and we are through and out into clear open water.

With a full main and a couple of rolls in the genoa, Heydays is nicely balanced for the SE breeze off the land and we head out past beaches and small villages towards the Pointe du Seine and our first rendezvous with some fast water.

Bang on schedule we make the turn for the Raz and once more it does not live up to its reputation (thankfully) and with wind and tide in harmony, we don’t even experience the swirls and eddies that we would expect on a routine passage through Hurst Narrows.

We head out across the bay towards the next headland and the Chenal du Four with a steadily easing wind now dead astern. Reluctantly we make the decision to run the engine to maintain our boat speed and a daylight entrance to L’Aber Wrac’h. The purists and Joshua Slocum himself will be turning in their graves…what’s the rush why not just put into a convenient anchorage and wait for another favourable tide and wind…sadly the modern world is not quite like that and some commitments back home later in the month suggest that we need to be well on our way towards St Malo for ferries etc. Anyway, we are lugging this chunk of iron around the high seas, so it may as well earn its keep…a bit defensive I know but…

Lunch, coffees and the last of the sweeties come and go and then we are starting to feel the strength of the tidal stream once more. We pick off buoys one by one and once again, the combination of wind and tide together mean that we don’t even get our slippers wet.

The oven goes on and by the time we are round the final headland and heading broadly east, we each have platefuls of steaming nosh bought earlier in Audierne. OK, foil trays are not exactly fine dining but this is brilliant.

We reach the entrance to L’Aber Wrac’h right on schedule and motor up river in the evening light…to find a jam packed marina with boats rafted up over 3 deep. This is not quite what we had in mind, as the sound of a disco and very loud voices pierces the evening across the water. We avoid the revellers rafted up and try to find a local’s berth which we hope they won’t be using this late at night. We finally squeeze in (fitting where it touches as they used to say) to a berth slightly too short for us and with our stern provocatively sticking out from the row of little fishing and day sailers. Still, we are in and will happily move if anyone wants their berth…we’ll be away early in the morning anyway.

We ask some passing sailor types what the codes for the toilets and showers are and what is going on with all the boats. Apparently it is the 60th anniversary race from Helston River to L’Aber Wrac’h…and then she says “if you have facilities on board, use them…the toilets are …” she waves her hand in front of her nose. We decide that there is nothing ashore we want and settle down with some booze of our own, wondering when the music will stop. By 11.30 it is still going and we decide that with an early start we may as well try to sleep. They finally turn off the music around 1am. On our way down, we had a nice time in L’Aber Wrac’h and were looking forward to the return visit with Chris and Yee Tak…perhaps another time.

Friday June 21 2019… Concarneau to Audierne

The Friday morning market in Concarneau is wonderful in the sunshine as only French markets can be…

…and we round it off with a late breakfast outside, listening to a decent busker …

We slip the lines around mid-day and push out of the harbour and into the afternoon sunshine…and a wind dead on the nose. With a bit more in it we could have tacked out and round the headland, but we want to be in Audierne before darkness arrives. The pilot warns about approaches after dark and a very narrow and silting river. We don’t fancy a night on a sandbank in the river, so use some diesel to push on.

A huge number of fishing boats (we count 18 at one point) are returning and don’t seem to want to make many concessions to collision avoidance regs as they rush to get their catch to market.

Once round the headland, the wind frees and we have a wonderful early evening sail on the longest day. A small pod of dolphins breaks the surface …

…and soon they are playing in our bow wave and criss-crossing around under the boat. We watch mesmerised and delighted until they either tire of our company or decide to find their fish supper elsewhere.

We are still buzzing as we close the coast andsome fantastic sandy beaches…

We approach the river entrance and have all eight eyes peeled as we make our way up to the little town of Audierne. We expected to find it heaving with Friday night sailors out for the weekend, but instead it is quiet and peaceful, with just the occasional splash as the terns dive bomb into shoals of tiny fish which seem to be panicking very close to the surface.

Tomorrow we plan to pass once more through the Raz du Seine and the Chenal du Four, but the earliest we can leave is around mid-day again and there is a ‘grande marche’ in Audierne tomorrow morning. For now, we are content to sip our rum as the sun goes down on a wonderful little harbour…

Thursday June 20 2019…Concarneau (part 2)

We were up around midnight last night just to have a look at the little area where we are allowed to dry out. The grumpy older man in the capitainerie earlier, was at pains to point out that we are not allowed to do any cleaning…just to look. His younger assistant was much more helpful, pointing us to the best spot and probably wondering when his boss is due to retire. The area we have been shown seems to shelve quite steeply so we plan to try to hold Heydays at a jaunty angle to the harbour wall to give us the best chance of getting at the prop ‘just to have a look’.

By 8.30am we are playing around with lines and are the subject of many conversations and even some helpful advice from the dockside, including the inevitable ‘not sure why you are there, it is much better on the other side’. This latter bit of advice came once we were well and truly aground.

We settled in to do some general polishing while the tide retreated and ended up feeling quite smug with the way our old boat scrubs up.

As it turns out, the prop is not bad at all, but we look very hard at it and miraculously it develops a deep shine and a nice new coat of grease. We pay attention to the paddle wheels for the logs and they turn out to be the root cause all along. Perhaps we needn’t have dried out after all…

With the tide returning, Heydays once again returns to her natural element and we shoot round to fill up with diesel before Chris arrives on the bus from Quimper, having flown from Southampton to Rennes and then trained to Quimper. John has a shave and shower in her honour…

Wednesday June 19… Concarneau (part 1)

The forecast for the day is showers and light winds, but dead on the nose (of course).  We wake up to rain and having arranged with the boat moored outside us to leave at 9, we climb into wet weather gear…just as it stops and we start to steam gently inside layers of oilies.

Madame on the boat next door is handling mooring warps in one hand whilst carefully guarding her cigarette in the other…monsieur seems relatively laid back and we are soon clear and heading out of the little harbour. Ile du Groix has been one of the highlights of this cruise (among the many so far) and we are sorry to leave it behind.

A couple of other yachts are leaving around the same time and we are all just motoring north into a strangely lit sky….

…and a light zephyr which is not even strong enough to make beating a worth while activity.

This one of those short passages where not a lot happens, save for a few boats passing slowly in the other direction…

…and some gannets circling and then diving spectacularly into the sea, only to bob up a few seconds later with a beak full of fish. We are similarly spectacular in failing to get anything approaching a photograph!

We doze in turns and the drizzle comes and goes as we start to close the coast once more. A hardy fisher person of indeterminate gender is sitting on what appears to be little more than a kayak. We wonder idly what would happen if a larger than usual fish took the bait…

The approach is rocky as is everywhere along this coast, but the beacons and buoys are reassuringly big and soon we are tucked up and having lunch. We have come to Concarneau to find somewhere to dry out and clean the propeller (we have lost a bit of power to what seems to us to be higher levels of marine fouling in these waters)…and also to pick up Chris who is flying out tomorrow to join us.

The harbour is busy and seems like yet another mecca for sailing schools and children getting to grips with the world of sailing and an assortment of interesting boats apart from the bits of plastic which most of us float about on.

We have a wander around the town to pick up bits of shopping and are forced into a small bar to have a couple of Ricards and a Mojito…just to get out of the rain. Once the shower has passed we are further delayed by a little Vietnamese snack van which is part of the small organic market on the waterfront.

We dine on risotto packed full of fresh organic herbs from the market…

…and this is what a real chart table should look like.

Monday and Tuesday 17 and 18 June 2019… Vannes to Ile du Groix

After a short break at home to attend to grandchildren, elderly mothers and assorted ne’er do wells  (friends), we fly back from Southampton to Nantes. Even that is not without some late drama courtesy of SW Railway trying to get rid of guards on our trains…or gaurds as GWR would have it….

We leave a slightly drizzly UK and arrive in a sunny Vannes. This is why we sailed south surely. We are forced into a small bar in Nantes to wait for our train and then soak up the last of the evening sun back on Heydays. It is great to be back on board and in the evening sun Vannes takes on a completely different atmosphere compared to the drizzle in which we left. We eat above the capitainerie and it turns out to be one of the highlights…great nosh and a relaxing evening idly watching young people flirting and enjoying a Monday evening in the sun. Despite revelry going on ‘til late we sleep the sleep of the devils….

We need to be away by 8.30 to catch the last of the eb out of the Gulf du Morbihan. By 7.45 we have dashed into town and bought some bread, croissants etc and done some shopping…we nearly ran out of rum!!! We finally slip away at 8.40 and will remember Vannes with great fondness. The late summer sun of the evening before has given way to a threat of heavy showers…we have our waterproofs at the ready. By 9 we are well clear of the canal and the sills and are threading our way between the islands and rocks which are a constant feature of the Golfe.  

With main and a small genny (just so we can count buoys) we are doing around 7 kts over the ground, but at least this is in the right direction…we’ve learnt our lesson.

At 9.40 the squall strikes. We have gradually put on more and more wet weather layers as the sky became darker and darker, but in the space of 60 seconds the wind turns from a benign 12kts over the quarter to a screaming 30+ kts dead ahead. We furl the genny and haul down the main in a torrent of near gale force winds and lashing rain as the spring ebb takes us through the narrows north of Ile des  Moines at nearly 11kts over the ground, despite being dead into a near gale and with just a bare minimum of engine to give us steerage. And then we are through! The sky clears for a while and we are left sweltering in full weather gear in a gentle breeze from the quarter. With sails up once more we are swept as if on a conveyor out of the Golfe and wave a sad farewell to what must be one of the great cruising grounds of Europe.

There are more sailing boats out than one would expect for a Tuesday morning in mid June, but perhaps that is the whole point! Work/life balance …as the French may say.

We thread our way through the line of rocks off Quiberon peninsular  and round up for Ile du Groix once more. We are looking forward to another stay there on our way to meet Chris who will join us in Concarneau on Thursday. James shakes out the last reef in the main (we don’t have lines led aft) and wonders why he is hanging onto a tall metal object pointing skywards as an ominous clap of thunder echoes off the land behind us. Why is Yee Tak checking insurance policies…just askin’!

In less than an hour, we are close hauled making for the island and gradually losing layers of clothing until finally we are in shorts and T shirts and slapping on the sun cream… This bit of Tuesday is so completely unlike the start, we wonder if we were in a time warp.

Ile du Groix tempts us with sunlit beaches…

and we find ourselves jostling for space in the small harbour once more. After a few fruitless sorties down narrow lines of boats we finally tie up….and relax. This time we wait for a more appropriate amount of time between getting properly moored and breaking out the gin.

This is a great place to hang out and clearly some dark and forbidding French marines (or whatever their equivalent is) think the same…they pretend to be on serious manoeuvres, but we know why they are really here!