Southern Brittany – a postscript

I am writing this at home in Newbury, looking out the window at a grey sky and persistent rain, about half way through my solitary confinement as I have come back from France and judged by HMGov as a threat to the nation’s health. My beloved Otaria is now safely ashore in Port a Sec (dry port) in Foleux, having done 4 months in the water and still in tip top condition. It was sad putting her to bed, but reassuring we will be back in April 2021 for the next adventure – bringing her back to the UK, via Brest, Paimpol, Guernsey, Dartmouth, Scilly Isles and (possibly) Milford Haven.

Looking back, we were very lucky to escape the UK lockdown in May, with some nervous moments at Folkestone Euroshuttle terminal, in the event a bit of an anti-climax with a nonchalant French passport officer, suitably impressed with our wedge of paperwork, waving us through in seconds and on to a nearly empty shuttle. France was a refreshing delight, with cafes and bars opening up, with precautions, such that the cafe street scene kicked off as the weather improved in June. The French seemed far more relaxed than UK about the prospect of coronavirus infection, but also demonstrated concienscious social distancing, mask wearing and ‘elbow’ greeting instead of the normal, more intimate, greeting. There was very little mention of the dreaded ‘B’ word, although a topic of nervous discussion amongst the English contingent. Sadly, with coronavirus restrictions, several fine English yachts remained mothballed and unused for the entire time we were based at Foleux, on the River Vilaine.

Once Otaria was fit for sea in early June, Quiberon Bay became a delightful cruising area, bound by the Quiberon peninsular and a string of islands to the south and west. The bay is protected from Atlantic swells and offers a large cruising area with a multitude of anchorages, ports and marinas to visit, plus the Golfe de Morbihan inland sea. A highlight for Nigel and I was making it to Auray, with careful navigation of the Riviere D’Auray and some serious head scratching about Otaria’s air draft, the meaning of HAT and MSL, given an impending 14m headroom under a motorway bridge. In the event, Nigel’s diligent research paid off and we sailed under the bridge, nervously watching the masthead aerial, but no drama to report.

If anyone does the same trip some day, Auray now has a number of deepwater pontoons to supplement the rather exciting fore and aft moorings nearer the town. The photo below shows the pontoons with the motorway bridge behind and it would be a good exercise to check Quartette’s airdraft and work out what height of tide is needed to get under the bridge – Nigel Aldridge is the expert – contact him!

I spent a few weeks sailing on my own and relearnt the lessons of extreme caution, pre-planning and preparation you need to sail solo, even in protected waters. I have got to an age when an accidental MoB would probably be the end of me, with visions of the boat sailing on without me. Without an autohelm, raising the main was out of the question, as everything has to be done at the mast. However, downwind sailing on the genoa was a pure delight, taking care to furl in on arrival at one’s destination, to get her speed down to less than scary. Trips to the heads, an odd check of the plotter and a dig in the fridge were ably assisted by bungies holding the tiller, but that only gave me a minute or two before an ominous flapping of canvas indicated impending tack or gybe – a lot easier under engine, when you can simply stop and heave to.

My ‘Passeporte Escale’ web page tells me I stayed no less than 65 nights at various ports along the coast – most free of charge and justifying the 617 euro cost for the 4 months I had it. The card offers free wifi at most marinas, but with varying performance. Importantly, it also allowed access to facilities without having to remember endlessly different entry codes. If PYC does a trip to Southern Brittany in the future a card like that might be an option, but difficult to manage with crew changeovers and the likelihood of inadvertently heading back to UK in a skipper’s wallet!

Since I joined PYC in 1996, I have always owned a small yacht and a Kestrel dinghy, as well as sailing the club yachts in ‘grown-up’ mode, as Louvet (21’) and Otaria (28’) with lifting keels were more suited to shallow and protected waters. This trip is the very first time I have sailed without any time constraints imposed by the work thing. I will cherish the many delightful meals in street restaurants and that unspoilt evening on a mooring in the Morbihan, with an excellent bottle of Fitou, fresh baton ‘traditional’ and some very smelly local cheese.

Our sailing skills have been enhanced, including mine, and in particular, close quarters boat handling for all of us. Nigel gained a lot of confidence parking the boat (with a tiller) and I can only recall one occasion he asked me to take over – in the boat scrum at Arzal lock with some 30 boats all fighting to protect their gel coat! I lost my ensign pole (snap!) in the same lock, replaced by a perfectly sized broom handle, rather than a new pole at an exorbitant French chandlery cost.

Also, a heartfelt thanks to my yacht Otaria, a 28’ Seal which performed reliably and gave us cold beer, first starts every time and as Nigel will attest, a genuine 7 knots under sail on a beam reach – only slightly helped by an Atlantic swell!

1 thought on “Southern Brittany – a postscript

  1. Andy, I suggest a tiller pilot to transform your single-handed sailing. Not too expensive, especially if you buy the old Autohelm ST4000 unit – currently <£300 on eBay with Raymarine Fluxgate Compass.

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