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A Brit on a boat in Brittany during lockdown!

This story starts in the Langstone Sailing Club bar in mid 2007 on the lines of “I bet you wouldn’t take that silly little boat of yours, with its outboard and porta-potty to the Med, via the Rhone?”. So to cut a long story short, Louvet (21’ Challenger Horizon) set off for Calais in late 2007 and made it to Port Napoleon in early 2009, having explored all the picturesque canals in central France on the way.

This is little Louvet on the canal heading south from Calais in 2008 – the outboard never failed and even charged the fridge, so cold beers aplenty

Having tired of emptying the porta-potty, but thoroughly enjoyed the French Inland Waterways experience, a larger boat beckoned. Louvet went to race in her class with a mad Dutchman on the inland lake at Sete and in steps her replacement ‘Otaria’, a Seal 28’, purchased from the LSC president and his wife, with the boat based in Martigues, Southern France.

So what, says the PYC member? Recall the 2014 Mediterranean summer cruise in Quartette, with a trip down the Rhone, a mast lost in Port Napoleon (sorry Andy!), a tour of Corsica, Sardinia and the Balerics, then up the Canal du Midi to Biscay, Brittany and home. Well, not exactly a dummy run for Otaria, but not far from it and a small matter of some 12-13 years, one divorce, one bankruptcy, a new engine, total rewire and lots of tlc. Believe me, the Quartette cruise was a doddle by comparison.

So Otaria has made it to the River Vilaine in Southern Brittany, with the aim of coming home next year, in Quartettes 2014 footsteps. As the more astute will have noticed, this year is a pandemic year, with both the British and French governments doing their best to put an end to my cunning plan. Basically, Plan A was to stop work in April and go live on Otaria all summer, taking her west to the Brest area. Despite everything (members of the PYC management team will attest to my indifference to rules and suchlike) I made it to the boat in late May, to a successful launch in Port Foleux on the Vilaine River.

Well, we found the rudder after all!
Afloat, but in river mode – the boom carried an igloo like tent, with inflatable end hoops, that made the cockpit quite cosy.
A yacht always looks better with its mast up and sails on – the 14 fenders are a legacy from the Canal du Midi, which really needed about 30 odd!

The pandemic did slow down the highly necessary mast and replacement rigging, which turned Otaria from a dumpy river boat into a proper sailing boat again. Thankfully, the French are much more pragmatic about social distancing and with a gallic shrug, get on with life – sensibly, but carefully. I spent quite a while with Lin and Minnie (a tiny Yorkie) on the Vilaine river, which was a pleasant experience – if somewhat repetitive. At least we got to know the cafe staff quite well!

Now we are at sea again, but I am sailing on my own for a bit, as potential crew have been reluctant to break the Ukgov guidelines and 14 day quarantine, which as I write is understood to be scrapped. Otaria is not a good solo boat, as she has roll round the boom mainsail and no autohelm. Bungies on the tiller do help, but don’t stop that huge circle through the wind, even with no wind at all! I once sailed Spellbinder (remember her?) from  Weymouth to Gosport on my own, which was much easier and inherently safer. But I was younger and more agile then – and as RCS at the time, nobody on MC/SC had a hissing fit as they would nowadays. Southern Brittany is a sailors delight and in nice weather, there are endless hidden away anchorages to explore and enjoy. The marinas are quite busy but the friendly staff can usually find you a place for a night or two. As it rains in Brittany sometimes, a short walk to the bar is often a priority!

Port Blanc in the Morbihan – an offshore pontoon, but with electric and water, plus a free rib ride to the shore

For the record, I joined PYC at the same time as I bought Louvet in 1996 and worked my way up from incompetent crew to YM offshore, mostly on Spellbinder and the two Enchantress’s, to chalk up about 18,000 miles with the club. Owning my own boat allowed local sailing in Chichester and Langstone harbours – and then the European adventure!

I will follow this up with a more detailed log of the experiences, disasters and successes, as we progress west. This will start with the Quiberon Bay and Morbihan, where I am now (early July).

Andy Bowerman,

on Otaria, Port Blanc, Morbihan, Southern Brittany

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