School finished at noon on friday 29th June and after that it was all go. I had to finish the shopping and get all that stowed before going to collect Derrick at the airport. On returning, Ronnie and Glenis were onboard and Anne arrived shortly afterward. Anne would not be joining us for the upcoming crossing but only as far as our last stop in Ireland. Southeasterly winds were forecast going Easterly and easing. We motored out at high water and caught the tide south at Howth Head and soon we were sailing nicely in calming seas. Thick fog came in which is very unusual for Dublin, especially with wind so we had a chance to get used to the AIS system on the new chartplotter installed in the cockpit to identify the commercial ships entering and leaving Dublin Bay. As well we had the Radar on down below to find buoys etc. But on we sailed and the only thing we saw was Tenacious, the sail training Tall Ship peering out through the mist shortly before arriving into Wicklow. A feed and a couple of pints in the local Sailing Club helped us sleep and get used to being back on cruise mode again.
Saturday morning was spent in Wicklow jail and wandering around town before heading south in light winds on slightly lumpy seas for Rosslare. The sun was out and we were all getting our sea legs and thinking of the long passage ahead of us. All but Anne that is who was remembering why not to read on passage, but a "gud kup of tae" soon sorted her out. A late arrival in Rosslare was followed with dinner and a stroll around the port as we were locked in until 6am, the port being a customs contolled zone. We didn't sleep too well that night as a roll set in during the early hours of the morning. But by 8am Anne sadly jumped ship and we were off with a good forecast for the following three days.
This was to be a long trip, passing close to the Scilly islands off Lands End, and hopefully continuing all the way to France. The last time I set out on such a long passage, I was nervous and constantly thinking of the ports of refuge I could turn to. Since then I have sailed many miles and done plenty of offshore passages so I was very relaxed this time and could focus on keeping the boat comfortably sailing. Intially we had light easterly winds which backed northeast allowing us to sail with our new cruising chute for the first 4 hours. The seas were slight so we rested and some (the skipper) caught up on their sleep. The engine came on for a couple of hours around midday, but later the wind came back which was to stay with us until the early hours of monday morning. But shortly after passing the Scillies we had wind on the beam as we headed across the English Channel for France. At this stage we had to decide where in France we would make landfall, the key factor being the timing of the tidal currents around Ouessant, an island 20 miles off the west French coast. As we got to halfway, it looked likely that the currents would oppose us if we tried to head south so the plan was to sail behind the island towards Brest. This meant that we had to navigate the strong tides of the notorious Chenal de Four in the dark. I was not too worried, having been down the Chenal before and knew how well marked it is. But as we sailed on doing 5-6 knots we took turns to have a bit of a rest as we knew that we would need to be alert in the early hours. As it turned out, the wind eased and we had to motor the last 30 miles. Then it was a matter of ticking off the lights as we approached them and comparing them to the chart to verify our position between the rocky islets. By 5 am we were through and with dawn we motored to Camaret where we tied up at 6am Irish time, 46 hours after leaving Rosslare. The only problem on the whole trip was the skipper banging the nose of the boat in the gusty conditions as we came in to tie up. Then it was to bed for all.
Click here to see Glenis' report of the passage.
Camaret is a lovely seaside town where I had stocked up on wine in the past. After resting we cleaned the boat a bit and restowed the sails before going for a stroll in the sunshine. I kept thinking that Anne wouldn't like this heat (27 deg) as she wilts in anything above 22. But it was great to have strong sun after such a long winter at home. In hindsight, I considered how lucky we were as Gerry Jordan had left a week before us to head south on his round Ireland trip. He had to fight strongish headwinds most of the way. A couple of pints of Breton cider overlooking the harbour confirmed that we were oficially on holiday and dinner that evening of fish paella went down well with the tired crew. At this stage some bright spark suggested that the following day we could head for Bilbao. We all thought this might be a great plan. This is what happens when you have a good passage, you assume it will continue...... Anyway, the following morning we were still keen so we looked at the weather. Luckily the forecast made our decision for us. The distance is 300 miles, about 2 days non stop. But on the second of those days force 6-7 was expected. Having sailed that coast before, I knew how powerful the seas were and how uncomfortable it would be so we decided to stick to the oiginal plan and do the southern Brittany coast instead.
So leaving in the afternoon to catch the tide, we slowly sailed out of Camaret only to lose the wind soon afterwards. So we motored on glassy seas through the Raz de Sein, an area of strong currents as the tide is compressed between the mainland and a long line of reefs and rocky islands to the southwest of Brest. Indeed we got over 4 knots of tide pushing us as we went through. From there we motored around to Audierne, anchoring off the beach by 5pm. I celebrated being in Southern Brittany by going for a swim which didn't last too long as I am of course a warm blooded fish!! Dinner followed and then a stroll up the town which was very quiet but pleasant.
It got rolly by dawn so we were up early and anxious to be off and sailing in light Easterly winds. This meant that we had to make a long tack around the headland of the Pointe de Penmarch. We had another couple of boats trying to follow our course but they found it difficult to sail as close to the wind. One tacked way out but lost a lot of ground and another just motored. I must admit that in other times I would have done the same. But with Harry the Hydrovane doing all the work of steering, I think we all enjoyed the lovely seas and arrived into Benodet by 530pm.
Benodet is a famous sailing centre, home of the single hander, Eric Tabarly who, after winning some epic races, died when crossing the Bristol Channel when he was swept overboard by his boom at night. He had always refused to wear a harness which is why his crew never found him. Anyway, the river on both sides is full of mooring buoys and two large marinas. The town did not have the charm I expected but it was a nice quiet spot. When the forecast gave us headwinds for the following day, we decided to spend an extra night there to do some shopping, cleaning (what's that?), etc. After chilling out a bit we left with light winds astern to go to the Glenan Islands 12 miles offshore. They are low lying with shallow channels between them. We anchored off Isle Penfret and went ashore to explore a little. But after a short walk we were off again for Isle de Groix down wind. Winds were light at first but building slowly to 18 knots. The cruising chute came into its own but as we approached Port Tudy on the island we were close to the limit as the light sail could have blown out if the wind had been much stronger. But we got it down with a bit of effort and once again felt glad that we had the chute as it enabled us to sail so well in lighter winds, though with the snuffer sock, it is still easy to take down in stronger winds.
Port Tudy was busy as we approached and we had to take up fore and aft mooring buoys, sharing with a couple of others. Our neighbours informed us that it was a festival weekend with stalls, music and a sailing races. Certainly, when we dinghied ashore, it was full of buzz. But the wind increased and some rain came in, so like good Irish people (some crew are only apprentice Irish people!!), we headed for the pub overlooking the harbour for a couple of pints of Guiness. Surprisingly, the beer was good and we gave it a good quality control report. The next morning, the forecast was bad with force 6 and 7 mentioned for the next couple of days so we were to be stuck here for a while. What else was there to do except, be tourists and chill. Derrick and I went to do the shopping and found the town of Groix busy and well worth a second visit.
The next morning the racing was cancelled due to the strong winds and the channel between the Island and Lorient became a maelstrom for a while until the tide turned. But it was still blowing hard so we stayed put and went for a long stroll around the island. Later the seas and winds eased a bit so some of the racing boats headed back so we moved SD into the small marina berths where we did not have to row ashore all the time. The following morning it rained hard until past lunchtime and the forecast still sounded awful but it cleared after lunch a bit and with the crew saying the seas looked ok, we set out for the 22 mile passage to Belle Isle, arriving at 730 pm after an uncomfortable passage in rough seas. There was a strong wind warning out and we again tied up to bouys in a small swell in the harbour of Le Palais. We were the last to get free buoys so when a French crew came in we invited them to tie up alongside us which put a lot of strain on the moorings and made some of our neighbours nervous. After dinner we had a restless night, fearful that the forecast strong winds might push us towards another boat. But we were secure, though tired the following morning, when the rain came back again in strong showers. The forecast did not look good for the following 2 days so we opted to move the boat into the inner harbour behind a lock gate where we would be restricted in only being able to go out at close to high water but since we couldn't sail anyway, we thought it would be better to be safely tied up (and in easy reach of a pub!!). So at 430 pm most of the boats on the buoys chose to go in when the lock opened. Talk about a free for all in 20 knots of wind! But we got in evantually and tied up glad to be out of he constant motion and strong wind. So now we relax for a bit before the winds ease and we continue on to La Rochelle and the fast crew change.