Sailing Southern Brittany

Part 2 of Andy Bowerman’s blog

The French holiday season is in full swing now, with a lot of people taking an ‘in-France getaway’ after the C19 lockdowns were lifted. For us, this means a lot of French tricolours in the ports and at sea, with a scattering of Dutch, German and the odd English boat. In general, the French are kind and courteous towards us, with a small minority making it quite clear us Anglais are all regarded as traitors to the European Project. The more pragmatic take the view that as we are here, we must be ‘Remainers’ – simple?

As per the photo, the marinas are getting busy but we have no problems being allocated a berth to go shopping and explore. Otaria is on the bottom right of the photo, with a mercifully short walk to the shore – Port du Crouesty is HUGE and it’s a long walk to the nearest of many bars and restaurants! The cheerful young capitainierres – boat shepherds – in their ribs sometimes put you in the wrong empty berth – so if a returning French boat finds you in his ‘space’ it sparks apoplectic gallic rage! We have been moved a few times, but all quite cheerful except for the space holders who send their ladies to the bow to catawaul their displeasure at full volume in French – that switches off when they see our red ensign emerge, presuming they don’t know how to hurl insults in English!!

Quiberon Bay and the Morbihan are a really delightful sailing and touring area, being very popular with boats everywhere and lots of ferries going to and fro. Ferry and rib wash can be a nuisance, and made for an uncomfortable afternoon in Port Blanc, until they all stopped rushing around in the evening. Despite dredging operations in Vannes port, we managed to get a berth by being very early and had a chance to do some shopping and soak up some of the atmosphere. Navigation in the Morbihan is not difficult, as long as you do a good tidal calculation and get things right – otherwise you will find yourself going backwards (quickly!). It took me a while to work out that locally published tide tables are sometimes in UTC, UTC+1 or UTC+2 (which is French Local Time). The locals cheerfully give you websites to refer to, forgetting that you need good wifi – which can be an issue nearly everywhere here.

The picture below puzzled us, but it seems that a local artist knew exactly where to park his rig in Vannes port and it has become a local icon.

My small mind was cheered in the early hours of one morning, locking out of the River Vilaine at Arzal. I was directed to chain 19 and took this to be a divine sign that my mental age had recently been reassessed from 18, where it has languished for the last 30 or 40 years. The lock at Arzal can get very busy and with the bridge up, hold the traffic up for up to an hour, while all the yachts hustle and bustle about, trying not to scratch their pristine gel coat. Once unplugged, they all head out to sea or up the River Vilaine to find a parking slot.

Being brave, we stayed at La Trinité for a couple of nights, despite there being a race finishing – with 90 odd racers looking to berth, party and clean up their boats. That proved a bit of a mistake, as racers, being very competitive, tend also to be antisocial and think nothing of playing loud music at 0230, when the visitor side of a long N pontoon is trying to sleep. N pontoon was nice and wide as a wave breaking concrete structure, so pleasantly calm on the visitor side. However, the racing brigade spread themselves out in a magnificent fashion and we were treated to an exhibition of their boats’ contents:

There were one or two British racing boats, but I don’t think they did very well as most rafted on the outside, presumably at the rear of the fleet and a bit surly when a ‘Bonjour’ was replaced with ‘Good morning’. It was amusing to watch the better-heeled racers depart for home, with hangovers, trophies and attitude, leaving the boats to be moved by delivery crews, who were much more friendly and considerate. The tide in La Trinité can run through the moorings with gusto, so if you ever go there – take care – it nearly caught me out!

All in all, this part of France is delightful and great for boaty people like me. Chatting to other Brits reveals a shared anxiety as to what next year will bring, in terms of getting to and from, bureaucracy and most important – the exchange rate! With HM Govt behaving erratically over foreign travel, we just have to take it on the chin and put up with the petulant edicts coming out of Westminster. In mid-September I will look to leave the boat here in the River Vilaine, or possibly further west near Concarneau. Next week, a friend from the sailing club and I will explore the boat wintering options to the west, which is a great excuse to go explore the offshore islands and ports in that end of Brittany.

Plan M (or is it N by now?) is to bring the boat back to UK and forget about living in France on a semi-permanent basis. Too much uncertainty with Brexit, Covid19 and the poor exchange rate (the beer datum stands at 3.5:6 in favour of UK!). No idea where to yet, but the plan is to sail her back over summer 2021, with an Alderney to Weymouth Channel crossing. Fortunately, now I am not working, I can wait for the right weather windows and fair winds, so none of that bouncing around stuff for me nowadays.

The good news is that Otaria improves on a daily basis and is moving from essential repairs to cosmetics, varnishing and deep cleaning. The beer fridge is working really well, so no drama to report.

Andy Bowerman on Otaria, Southern Brittany

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