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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

St Malo - Portsmouth (24 September 2014)

We left St Malo just as the sun was rising on what was forecast to be a day of light winds. Surprisingly this was correct and we mainly motor sailed on a warm and sunny day. Navigation was not difficult; we just had to avoid a few islands and rocks. After leaving St Malo it was very quiet and we saw just two other boats.

One of these was a traditional oyster boat from Concale which was heading home, perhaps, judging from its course, from a trip to Jersey. Concale claims to be the oyster capital of Brittany but I suspect that a few other places would also claim that! Our destination was 50nm to the north of St Malo, Carteret a commune on the west side of the Cotentin peninsula.
This part of the coast features lovely gently sloping sandy beaches backed by sand dunes. Consequently the approach to the harbour and river that leads to the marina dries extensively. For a boat of our draft there is normally enough water to enter the harbour and pass over the sill which holds water in the marina for about two and a half hours each side of high water. So our departure from St Malo had to take account of that. As it happened we arrived just before HW in late afternoon and were met by the cheerful HM who showed us to a residents berth that was vacant.
In the evening could see lightening many miles away (probably 50+), but with no sound effects. That night we had light rain briefly in the night, the first since we had returned 18 days previously! Saturday brought another sunny morning in this lovely quiet spot behind the dunes and with plenty of bird life.
Having visited Cartaret before we knew that there was an excellent street market at its sister commune of Barneville (about a mile away) on Saturday mornings. We patronised many stalls buying fish (Dorade and crevettes), fresh vegetables, olives and so on. We were also reeled in by the same stall holder that we had seen on our last visit about three years earlier who sells his own farm produced Normandie Pommeau and Calvodos. He is very ready to call passers by over with a flourish of glasses quickly filled with a very generous taster! And it is excellent and good value, so bottles purchased. After lunch we decided to cycle along the coast to Port Bail an attractive ride through the countryside. As with other places in this area this is a significant year remembering the 70th anniversary of liberation in 1944. Those who read the first blog of the summer may remember that at the beginning of our cruise we saw in Cherbourg a special day with many historic American vehicles and locals dressed in 1940's uniform. After D Day it was the Americans' responsibility to advance up and secure the Cotentin peninsula whilst the British and Canadians had objectives to drive eastwards. Port Bail had a special committee overseeing their remembrance with small information points around the town. From these we learnt that much of Port Bail had been abandoned by residents during the occupation and that Port Bail had to be heavily bombed to dislodge the German army. It was said that it was the first French town to be overflown by Allied bombers on the night before D Day. Another story was of a local French hero who after D Day but before the Americans arrived climbed the Church tower and hoisted a French flag in defiance of the Nazis. As part of the remembrances the flags of France, Britain, Canada and USA have been flying on the four corners of the Church tower this year.
We had various choices for our departure on Sunday. After talking it over we opted for a departure in the afternoon as soon as the sill opened, likely to be by 1630LT. That would mean arrival at Cherbourg at around 2300LT, quite late but considered a better option than leaving at 0345! Again going with a fair tide was crucial as we needed to leave as soon as we could to get us through the Alderney Race and around Cap de la Hague. Even then we might have to fight a turning tide in the last hour. Looking at the forecast it could also be lively in the morning but perhaps F4 reducing to F3 for an afternoon departure. So we were ready to go on time but the combination of high pressure and a still fresh wind reducing the height of the tide we couldn't leave until 1650. We then had a great sail for the 25nm up to and into the Race with a F5 NE wind. Off Cap de la Hague we had the not unknown very confused seas and had to turn into a continuing strong F5 now E wind. Whileaway coped well but it was like being on a roller coaster in what was now pitch black with no moon, just the sweeping light from the lighthouse. We were glad to get round the Cap and turn ESE towards Cherbourg. But it was nearly midnight LT before we were tied up in Cherbourg, just a little way from Eos whom we had last seen in Roscoff! This had been a testing 46nm that had been covered in a relatively quickly just under 7 hours.
I had been watching the weather forecast for the following days for a week, in particular monitoring a brief quiet period on Tuesday and Wednesday as a potential window for our Channel crossing. On Monday morning, Tuesday was still looking good but winds were now definitely increasing on Wednesday. Exchanging notes with Em and Mari on Eos we agreed that we needed to be ready to go on Tuesday. So on Monday we stocked with essentials such as cheese and then visited Cave Marcel to choose the wine which about an hour later were delivered along the pontoon to Whileaway. A farewell seafood dinner at a restaurant that we often visit in Cherbourg was as good as ever. Before we sailed there, Cherbourg was known to us just as a ferry terminal through which we quickly passed. From years visiting as sailors (including periods when we have been storm bound) we now know that it has some very interesting history, attractive parks, good quality restaurants and a very high standard, welcoming and comfortable marina! 
On Tuesday Eos and Whileaway left at around 0500, again in pitch black! Eos was heading for the Needles Channel and then Yarmouth whereas we had opted for Portsmouth, a longer distance but more convenient and trying to make use of  the initial strong east bound tide. So after leaving the outer Rade we went our separate ways. It was a day when winds started at F4, reduced to 3 and then 2 before increasing to 3 again. And started off NE and gradually moved round through E, SE, S to SW. So we had a mixture of motor sailing and sailing generally under summer skies. We saw few ships before, around 1730, we passed the Nab Tower off the E coast of the Isle of Wight. At 1900 we picked up a mooring in Portsmouth Harbour having completed 87nm and relaxed for the evening.
The next morning we went the short distance into Gosport Marina.
So ended our summer cruise of 79 days covering approaching 1440 nm and on which we sailed for 48 days.
If you have read this far, hope that you have enjoyed the blog!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Lampaul, Ile d'Ouessant - St Malo (18 September 2014)

We left Ouessant on a sunny morning about an hour before LW. As a consequence many more rocks were visible as we left the sound of the main town! The strong advice in the Pilot not to take a short cut just inside the lighthouse was clearly right!

Like the UK we were geting sunny and warm weather. However we were squeezed between a High over England and a Low to the south giving easterly winds which were very unseasonal! From Ouessant we again headed straight into this pattern. We had left before the tide turned  to make best use of the Passage du Fromveur between Ouessant and Ile de Molene and that was successful although because of the mist we couldn't see Molene, only its lighthouse! Leaving at that time was also designed to counter the wind over tide problem and that worked for a few hours but then conditions swiftly worsened. We had  thought that we might get to Roscoff but after passing L'Aber Wrac'h and with conditions deteriorating we turned back into the port. The problem of the previous four days was that the winds were invariably E, ENE or NE, the direction that we are heading. As we were also having to coexist with the strong spring tides we were invariably facing rough conditions when we were trying to go with the tide but against the wind.
However a big bonus from visiting Ouessant was that we enjoyed seeing dolphins in the bay Even more satisfyingly after a couple of hours passage we had three of them began playing around the boat. They were in and out of the bow wave, twisting and turning just a metre or so in front of the boat. then one would shear off and swim parallel to Whileaway just at the surface a couple of feet away. They seemed to take turns. Magical! Their tracking of us lasted about 10 minutes and as other sailors have remarked they seem to peer up at you. Must research more about why they behave in this way.
On Thursday we left L'Aber Wrac'h well before a fair tide; but by the time the tide had turned the wind was increasing, at least top of F5 and getting into F6 (up to 24kn) so we had a very rough 30 nm. This was especially so as the waves and swell worsened as we passed shallower areas of the sea bed even when shallow in this context meant 20m! We did eventually get a little respite from the rough seas once we started to get some shelter from Ile de Batz. As it was HW we used the passage between Batz and the mainland at the end of which we let the Pont Aven bound for Plymouth pass and then headed into the new Roscoff marina. Roscoff is a very attracrive town and in the event we stayed three nights. On one day we cycled many miles through the local countryside. The countryside around there is the biggest vegetable growing area in France with two particular specialisms, pink Roscoff onions and artichokes.
On our last night we met up with Em and Marie of Eos whom we had last seen in Concarneau and are also on passage to southern England. They sail from Wales so we were able to learn more about favourite places there and in Ireland and W Scotland whilst we talked about Brittany and southern England. They also had some very amusing sailing stories to tell!
We were up at 0520 the next morning! Slipped mooring at 0600 and headed 20nm east to Ploumanac'h. Wind (even at that time of the morning) was F4 increasing to 5. First hour was rough but then as we moved further away from Roscoff and dawn broke, the swell and the waves eased to moderate. We got to Ploughmanc'h in just under 4 hours which was good all things considered.
We had a very enjoyable 3 +hour walk that afternoon
around what is known as the Rose Granite Coast. Unusual coloured stone and different shapes. Unique landcape.That night had very nice meal, excellent moules and sardines.
There is a sill in this otherwise delightful harbour so the following day we again left early, around 0630, and headed into the wind until the tide turned Again it was E5 with some very confused seas and rough cconditions (mer agitee as the French say). So we were glad to stick to my plan which was to get to Ile de Brehat where, at the shallow inlet of La Cordiere on the W side, we picked up a mooring and took a four hour break.

A very pretty stop.
Later, after navigating the narrow channel to the S of Brehat we enjoyed a very pleasant sail in a gentle F3 breeze to St Quay Portrieux where we arrived about an hour after dark. Unusually Stin Brittany St Quay has both 24 hour access and staff on duty 24 hours so we were met and assisted in by the duty HM in his dory. Very welcoming.
On Wednesday we cycled to the nearby villages of Etaples and Binic, places that we had not visited before. Still warm and sunny so plenty of people enjoying this unusual September.
A day later we again battled into what was to begin with an E4 but by noon was E3. Our destination was the attractive and historic city of St Malo. We did sail some of the way but after rounding Cap Frehel decided that we would do better to motor sail closer to the wind.
Our preferred mooring in S Malo is by the ferry port at Les Bas-Sablons. From here it is a15 minute walk to the walled city but the very attractive village of San Savan is just five minutes away. Today we have had a leisurely time in the walled city as well as walking around the headland to San Servan. It has been a day of little wind and temperatures of 24C. An unusual September. We have also learnt much about the liberation of St Malo in 1944 and aspects of the Resistance. The classic view below I
is looking N from the City walls.

Tomorrow we plan to head N to Cartaret on the W Cotentin peninsular before sailing for Cherbourg on Sunday afternoon. Last legs now!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Locmiquelic - Lampaul, Ile d'Ouessant (9 September 2014)

Our return to Locmiquelic and Whileaway went well and we were back on board by 1800 BST having left home 10.5 hours earlier. Our journey involved taxi to Warminster station; trains to Southampton Central and then Southampton Airport;  flight to Nantes; bus to SNCF station; train to Lorient;  bus to Port de Peche; and ferry to Locmiquelic!  We even had nearly 2 hours waiting for our train in Nantes, sitting in 25C in a very attractive park near the railway station as we had a sandwich lunch while waiting for our train.
We decided that we should have a relatively short passage the next day especially as that meant returning to the R Belon about 17nm north. We had called in there on our way south in May and enjoyed an excellent Plateau de Fruit de Mer at the renowned Chez Jacky. You cannot have too much of a good thing and we were not disappointed!
On Friday morning we headed for Concarneau.  We left Belon as soon as we had sufficient rise of tide to enable us to cross the bar at the mouth of the river and motored north in a light wind under a sunny sky. We moored in the marina under the ancient city walls and spent the rest of the day doing domestics such as replenishing stores from the supermarket and visiting the launderette! And exchanging notes with fellow sailors!
Sadly this is the time of year for making passage home. Our French neighbour on the pontoon was heading for Vannes in the Morbihan Gulf; whereas a Welsh couple in Eos were, like us, heading north, in their case for Chichester as they needed some repairs.
On Saturday morning we went to the market hall and purchased some excellent fresh shrimps and merlu (fish) for dinner. We then had an enjoyable very warm afternoon cycling around the old port and then the southern headlands looking at the views and discovering some really tucked away drying river estuaries. Finally we had a leisurely walk around the old city, quieter than in the busy months, but still with quite a few visitors.

On Sunday we left early,  just after 0700 BST. Our plan was to round the Pointe de Penmarc'h from where we turn NW and to then to moor overnight at Ste Evette, about 10nm S of the Raz de Sein. This would be a passage of about 35nm, perhaps just over 6 hours at our usual cruising speed. But if we could make good time and get to the Raz with the tide still with us we could press on. As it happened we had another warm sunny day, but quite misty and thus regrettably with little wind. This did though give us a flat sea. Apart from enjoying our first sight of dolphins this summer, two pods as we motored towards the Raz, there was little else to seen in hazy visibility.  We arrived at the Raz with just under an hour to spare before the tide turned. Success! Of course after the Raz we had to begin to fight a little tide but we arrived in Camaret just SW of Brest and after 63nm at 2000 local time and picked up a mooring for the night.
On Monday morning we moved into the harbour to discover, sadly, that the Harbour Master was away for two days (exceptionalle!). What a shame; free mooring! On another sunny afternoon we again cycled this time along the peninsular to the east. Many old and current military fortifications here as this peninsular guards on one side the entrance to the Rade de Brest.
For some time I have been intrigued by the Ile d'Ouessant, that windswept land on the NW coast of France looking out to America and which has many shipwrecks around it. There are two possible mooring and landing points, one exposed to the SW (and winds from S to NW) and one to the NE (and winds from NW to SE). Unusually we had a forecast of NE or E  moderate winds enabling us to visit the main settlement of Lampaul in the SW part of the island.
It was a tricky passage some 30 nm WNW of Camaret out into the Atlantic. Another warm but hazy day so plenty of time trying to discipher shapes in the mist before we clearly made out La Jument the lighthouse on the SE tip which guards many rocks. We then had to cope with a rip current and swirling waters that rush us past the entrance to a deep and wide inlet. Once we had the sails down and regained control we started to motor the 2nm up this wide bay at the jead of which are visitors mooring bouys.
We then took our dinghy ashore to discover an island that is certainly different. The houses seem to crouch into the landscape as if hiding from the wind and adverse weather. The landscape is mainly scrub with only about a third cultivated. There are some shops and restaurants and a few tourists clearly help to sustain the economy. The island is probably cut off for days at a time by adverse winter weather so you have to be happy to live here.
That evening the Mist comes down and Iit felt like a remote part of Cornwall (if there is such a place any more!). Next day it is sunny and we see a unique island in a good light!