La Vilaine to Lorient

Lorient: 26th June

I spent five days in the end in the Vilaine river in the pleasant company of Tony and Jean Swainston. The place is certainly very relaxing and I found it hard to get myself motivated to move. But I settled on a monday departure and stuck to my decision even though the forecast showed likely headwinds and little sun. I had been anchored for 5 days and found that my batteries didn't look all that healthy after all that time. It was a small concern, but I decided that I would try to stay in a marina the next night or two where I could investigate further.

Heading downstream I was again getting funny looks for being alone on a big boat, none more so than when I went into the lock at Arzal to leave the river for the sea. The French were most accomodating and did their best to help me. There was another Rival 41 in the lock with an English couple but they were most aloof and downright irritated that I might want to pull alongside. So I rafted to a lovely retired French couple in a lovely old 12 metre Amel ketch. We got chatting and I found that they were going west also, which decided me on Port Croesty near the entrance to the Golfe De Morbihan. The day was grey and there was a short choppy sea on the nose as I crossed the shallow water at the entrance to the Vilaine, but I got sailing soon enough, tacking into a westerly force 4. The boat was going great guns, but it was all a bit of a shock for the skipper after so long spent just chilling. 40 miles later I pulled into Croesty marina to find it quite full. Again people quickly got over their incredulity at seeing me alone reverse past their boats and jumped to help by taking my lines. It had been a tiring day, the longest sail since La Rochelle, and all this without the chance to snooze as I sailed!! But shortly after the French couple arrived in and soon we were downing an aperitif and engaging in doing boat talk .....

The next day I started into a list of jobs. With poor weather forecast I decided to stay awhile and do some carpentry, sort out the batteries, wash my laundry, and start the slow process of buying wine to bring home. I am buying it in batches of 10 which I stow away all over the boat. It is amazing just how much I can fit all over the place. An evening stroll around the headland provided some much needed exercise and the chance for some great snaps.

The following day I was pottering again down below and looked up to see a stars and stripes sail past: Billy Graham, the eccentric Californian I sailed with last summer. I gave a yell and so started a few days with hime and his crew who were preparing to head down to La Coruna again. Naturally they were in good form, aside from Peter who needed a doctor bad for a serious stomach problem. After translating for him, the diagnosis and drugs were found and he started to come alive. We both left the same day to head to Ile Houat, 9 miles away to anchor for the night and say our goodbyes. The island is really beautiful, with a sleepy hamlet and few cars. A great dinner followed, with the requisite wine and an introduction for the crew to Orujo. I hope it got them in the Galician frame of mind.

That night the wind turned around and at 3 30am we had 15 knots blowing straight into the anchorage, creating an uncomfortable chop. I considered upping anchor right away, but I thought it foolish to move in the dark as the south side of the island which would be more protected, had a lot of rocks. Soon there were lights on a number of the other boats but all anchors seemed to be holding so I stayed put on anchor watch. At dawn I could see enough to head round the point to the southern anchorage, where I was finally able to catch up on my sleep. Billy and crew stayed put which meant that we missed having breakfast together but we did agree that we might cruise Scotland in company next summer.

After a few hours snooze I sailed in light winds to Belle Ile, 8 miles away. The seas had calmed down a lot and the winds eased dramatically. I was still very tired after my experience but never felt that SD was at risk. I was well anchored and none of the other boats dragged anchor. A couple I met later in Belle Ile said they were in Sauzon, a harbour open to that wind direction. They had 2 metre seas rolling into the harbour. Worse still, they were tied alongside other boats and all were tied front and back to mooring buoys in the harbour. It meant that you had boats surging all over the place and the real chance of boats damaging other boats. The couple showed me a mooring line that had completely shredded from the constant rubbing strain. Luckily everyone was awake looking after their boats so no serious damage was reported.

Anyway, drama over, I arrived into Le Palais which is a fortress town, designed by the famous engineer Vauban who Louis XIV made do most of the forts all over France. It has a lot of character but does get busy at the weekends. The town is dominated by the Citadel, looking over the harbour, but on wandering around you find that there are signs of defences on all the approaches to the town. The Citadel now houses a museum and many of the original milatary buildings are open to view. The history of the place is interesting as it was held by the English for 2 years after a long siege, then Nova Scotian families were brought in during the 18th century and brought the potato with them. Finally there were signs of the German presence during the second world war where reinforced concrete structures such as pillboxes were added to existing defences in a similar way to what I have seen in places such as Jersey and Guernsey in the Channel Islands.

I stayed two nights, as has become the custom this years trip, and decided to go for a wander around the island on the next day. A french crew beside me suggested, instead of renting a bike, I should hike the coastal path. This is what I did, following the coast for 6 kms, encountering lots of hidden coves and houses with spectacular views along the way. Luckily it wasn't too hot and the hiking was just right for getting the heart pumping. I don't think that sailing keeps you very fit, but you certainly aren't being a couch potato. I enjoy the opportunity of getting off the boat and strech my legs, and examine what the land has to offer.

Sunday dawned cloudy but with a little breeze. After my land based exercise the previous day, I felt like pushing on. The forecast was for light winds at first increasing to an ideal force 3-4, but more or less from the northwest which was where I wanted to go. I was aiming for Ile de Groix, 20 miles away. Outside the harbour I found nice winds on a moderate sea and soon we were bouncing along at 5 knots at 45 dergrees to the wind. I must say that she is sailing better than ever. I think that by tightening up the forestay last year Suckin' diesel can now sail closer to the wind than before. The inner staysail really helped maintain our heading and stabilising the boat. A couple of tacks saw us passing alongside the Presq'ile de Quiberon but gradually the wind shifted to the west and increased to a soild 4. Now we were creaming it, with 20 knots over the deck and a single reef, Suckin' Diesel was doing 7 knots in seas calmed by the shelter of Ile de Groix. On that course I would have to go almost to the entrance to Lorient before tacking to the island. So I decided to change plan and head into Lorient instead. I had been advised that Lorient is just a big city so mooring in town isn't great if you like peace and quiet. But Port Louis, just inside the harbour entrance is just such a haven. I managed to get tied up with the help of the ever generous nearby crews. Luckily I did, because 2 hours later the wind was up to a solid force 5 and blowing off the pontoons so mooring would have been difficult, even with help.

Monday I borrowed a bike from the port and went to see nearby Loqmiquelic, the twin town to Castletownbere, a place close to the heart of Suckin' Diesel and her skipper. The place does have a similar relaxed smalltown feel and the port has lots of charm.

The next few days forecasts were for headwinds so I decided to head upriver to Lorient. I hadn't been in a city for a while and needed to get my website uploaded anyway. I suppose I had also probably seen all that Port Louis had to offer. Before I left, I went for a wander around the Citadel and made the mistaken assumption that it was also a Vauban design, though he did complement the designer. It is immense and laid out in a star design, completely controlling all access to Lorient. From there you could also see the submarine pens built by the Nazis to house the Atlantic U boat fleet. The city basin is in the centre of town, a city that was extensively destroyed during the second world war, but it was not rebuilt with the style of St Malo for example. It seems busy enough, full of all the typical shops and pretty girls but I am sure that one night should be enough for me before I decide to head off west, weather depending.