Brest, 12th June 2011

Well, after all the work getting the boat ready, we managed to go out for a test sail with John Lambe, Anne and her Dad. We had good wind and were able to push the boat a bit. Everything worked except for an issue with the AIS (Automatic Identification System) which displays details of all large vessels nearby. After a call to the manufacturer I was able to reset the chartplotter to get everything working. What a relief to find all ok.

Then it was a matter of finalising work and getting the boat filled with food and of course crew !! One good piece of news was that the forecast showed favorable winds for the week ahead to take us down the Irish Sea and across to the Scillies. We left on saturday morning with winds astern which had us gybing in the windshifts. We rolled a bit which helped everyone get their sealegs. We planned to go to Wicklow with a longer second day to Kilmore Quay in South Wexford. But the wind was stronger than expected so we ended up going on to Arklow where we tied up after 7 hours on the water. We tied up in the fishing harbour which has silted up quite a bit since we were in last so we had only a foot or two under us at times as we made our manoeuver. A rake of grub followed and then off to the pub to catch the second half of the Ireland Macedonia game. More importantly, John Lambe brought his Ipad so we could download the latest Grib weather data. Sadly it showed more unfavorable winds from 2 days out. On checking in the morning, it became clear that we would not be leaving from Kilmore Quay the following day as planned.

We left Arklow with little winds and seas much calmed down after the blow the previous day. Half way there we had light winds and were able to sail past Rosslare. On rounding Carnsore Point we had better winds so Anne was able to demonstrate her leaning cooking skills as the boat was well heeled over. We were rafted up as usual in Kilmore Quay but hearing reports confirming the blow on the way. We just ignored it for now and got on with the great feast Anne had prepared. As it turned out, we ended up spending 4 nights in Kilmore. It gave me the chance to check out lots of things. I found that there was a small leak from the cooling water pump on the engine which was a shock. But after a nights rest, James reminded me of Radweld which I put in to seal it up and we were back in business. The lads scrubbed the boat while I pottered doing mechanical bits inside. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, and preparing for the off on the morrow. We got what food we could and then awaited Aidan, James' friend who was going to join us for the off the following day. Sadly though, time waiting in Kilmore meant that we would not now have time for a few days in the Scillies. We would now have to sail past straight to Brest. Ah well, I will just have to do it on the way back......

Departure day dawned sunny with the expected reduction in the winds. We left at 10am sailing close hauled in a light breeze between the Saltee Islands. After a couple of hours we were approached by the Irish Naval patrol vessel Orla and interrogated by radio, something I had not heard of bafore. They just wanted to log our details and not much more. The wind gradually rose a little and became reasonably stable. Soon we were horsing along at 7+ knots. There was a swell left over from the strong winds of the previous few days which loft some on board feeling a bit off. I for one found it uncomfortable. Certainly, snoozing in those conditions was difficult. Heading further offshore we reduced sail to keep the boat as comfortable as possible. It didn't slow us down much but we were now leaning a little less. By nightfall the seas eased a little and it was just a matter of watching out for shipping as we approached the traffic separation schemes around the Scillies. There were a few squalls of rain which came through at times which increased the wind for a few minutes which we had to be aware of and let the sails out for. We found little traffic, just the occasional group of trawlers. By dawn the seas were better and people felt a bit more rested.

By now I was focused on timing my arrival to the French coast. There are islands and rocks for the last 5 hours into Brest as well as strong tidal currents. You need to arrive at the start of the tide running south so after consulting tide times we were planning to arrive just after midnight. Since we had made such speed getting to the Scillies we considered anchoring at the islands for an hour or two to rest but the winds got lighter and we decided to continue. The original forcast spoke of a minor depression crossing through the English Channel before we crossed. As a result we had a little cloud and rain in front of us which never really bothered us. When that finally cleared half way across the wind shifted more behind us and increased to force 5. If we goosewinged (sailed directly in front of the wind with a sail on each side of the mast) it was quite rolly and a bit freaky as the headsail occasionally lost the wind and refilled with a loud crack. I remember something I had read somewhere about using a pole attached to the headsail to force it to stay open so we decided to try it. It was a bit fiddly to set up but once we did, we found ourselves less rolly though the 2-3 metre seas caused by the increased wind kept us focused. Approaching nightfall I noticed the batteries were getting low so I decided to motor the last 8 hours or so. Also I felt that it would reduce the roll even more to allow people to be more rested as we approached the tricky channel through the rocks and islands. At 2 am we were in the channel having identified the different markers by their flashing light sequence. The tide was going with us and we found more shelter from the swell allowing us to relax a bit. We approached the narrow entrance to Brest in the early dawn light and by 6am Irish time we were tied up and got our head down to sleep for a few hours.

It had been a tougher passage than the last time I did it 2 years ago. More uncomfortable seas at the start and the end made resting difficult and you were certainly less relaxed. On a positive note, we were much faster, completing the trip in 44 hours instead of 47. I for one was really glad how the boat handled it. It was hard to imagine that a month before the boat was out of the water with no mast or floorboards, a real construction site !! But all the work paid off and the only damage suffered was a blown bulb in a navigation light. After a few hours rest we went for a stroll in the sun around Brest and celebrated our safe arrival with coffee and a patisserie. As the lads visited the Chateau I replaced the bulb and tidied up a bit. We all headed out for dinner and a few pints that evening and soon it was all over as the crew left to fly home. Thanks for being on board for this trip. Thanks especially to the mad Kiwi Aidan, who had not done much sailing. It was a real baptisim of fire for him.