Sabbatical Cruise 2006

By Tim Reeder - Parker 275 Speedwell


A few years ago my firm introduced a scheme to keep new entrants who we pay very poorly. If you save a few days leave each year for four years, you can take it all together with interest at the end. Little did they realise it would appeal just as much to people who had been there for ever – like me. So to cut a long story short with the generous help of Margaret’s employers we ended up with 9 weeks booked off this summer. Needless to say we opted for a long sail and set off after much preparation, bicycle buying and last minute rushings around on Monday the 17th July in the middle of the July heatwave.

We had arranged to go in company with Mike, Helen & Guy Slade in Nosey Parker for the first 2 weeks so, as we couldn’t get away together, we spent the first day on a massive leg from Hayling Island to Bembridge. The weather was glorious and we spent all day in Priory Bay jumping in to keep cool. We met up with the Slades at the Brading Haven YC.

Bright and early on the 18th we set off for Alderney. I thought we may be getting a harbinger of problems ahead when we slowed dramatically under engine within two hundred yards of exiting Bembridge. It was the first encounter with particularly nasty spindly seaweed that wrapped itself around the prop. So at 0530 I went over board and unwrapped it fairly easily. It was amazingly non freezing for that time of day – one of the benefits of global warming maybe. Anyhow it turned out as the only difficulty that day – the wind blew from the east and the weather was glorious. We both put up Spinnakers and managed to zip along together for about 2 hours – many reciprocal photos being taken. We arrived in Alderney at about 2000 and anchored for a well earned kip.

The next day was the first trial of our folding Dahon bikes. They proved very effective and we went to see how practical Longy Bay would be to get away from the rolling sensations that accompany easterlies in Bray. It looked quite good – worth noting for Parkers and Seals.

After that it was off to Jersey down the Swinge, which with the glorious weather was flat as a pancake. We had a good sail but were engulfed in a nasty fog patch west of Jersey. We lost contact with Nosey Parker, but as we could hear quite a lot of horn blasts we knew they were not far way – we assumed the signal that they were going astern may have resulted from a miss reading of the almanac!

The weather in Jersey was fantastic but we had to press on the 21st to St Malo. We decided adventurously to go through the Minquiers, which probably wasn’t too adventurous given the height of the tide. However part of the fleet decided to part from the planned course and adventurously sailed all over the rocks! We ended up motoring into St Malo with the sun going down after once more I had been over the side to tackle the seaweed again. After I managed to go aground in the entrance to the old harbour we spent the night anchored off Dinard.

We spent a couple of days in the old marina at St Malo and found some very good French jazz / folk bands, which set us up with good CDs for the whole holiday.

The next port of call was St Quay Portrieux after a very pleasant sunny motor sail. This time Guy went overboard to tackle the weed on Nosey Parker, and his impression of the sea temperature! St Quay has a massive all tide marina and is well sheltered.

We needed to get west to get us going on our trip around Brittany so the next day we were off again to Perros Guirec. Again there was a lot of motor sailing and both I and Mike went over the sterns again to tackle the blasted weed. We were with a very impressive tide as we shot past the Isle de Brehat and the entrance to Treguier. We picked up the waiting moorings at Perros Guirec and I jumped in to get out of the heat. We had a very pleasant couple of days in Perros and went to Lannion on the bus to buy a French mobile phone and get more supplies. We had a brilliant last supper with Nosey Parker complete with yet another good French jazz duo. The next day we parted company with us off to the west and Nosey P heading back to Blighty via Guernsey.

We tried to sail on our leg to Roscoff but again there wasn’t much wind – most of it being from the west. It was another glorious day and the highlight arrived as we approached Roscoff – a school of about 20 dolphins played and swam around us for about half an hour something which will stick in the memory. We picked up a mooring buoy opposite Roscoff which was very pleasant in the settled conditions.

The 28th saw us off early again through the narrow channel south of the Isle de Batz. This looked a great place to explore but we need to keep going west while the conditions were favourable. Again the light wind was against and we continued to motor sail. We got to l’Aber’wrach just as the wind was piping up and managed to get a berth on the YC pontoon. The wind stayed piped up for the next day and we used the bicycles to good effect again.

The French weather forecasts I find very useful and more detailed than ours and by this time my schoolboy French was coping with them. So a window in the 4 to 5 westerlies was picked for Sunday morning. We set off in light conditions again motor sailing but this time we had 3 metre swells coming in from the Atlantic, which made life not difficult but different. Once we were in the lee of Ouessant the swell died away and we had a very gentle sail down the Chenal du Four – all our preparations - lifejackets etc - turned out over the top for this trip, which turned out to be a passage that was a sheep in wolves’ clothing.

The wind blew a bit from the west as we stayed in Camaret for a couple of days. We used the bicycles a lot – had lots of nice food and were visited by a dolphin in the marina and a large British Sea Cadets three master. Refreshed by our stay in this well known launching off point we set off feeling slightly nervous for the Raz du Sein at 0530 on 2nd August.

It decided to rain straight away as we went through the narrow passage de Toulinguet. I was very grateful at this point for the straight forward instructions on the very useful pull out chartlets I have collect from Yachting Monthly. I know it says do not use for navigation, but I do – they cut out a lot of the non essential information or crap and make it seem a lot easier! At this point I should say the we were eternally indebted to John and Angela Brealey who had lent their charts to us. I used these all the time for passage making. The same also applies to Mike Slade who has lent us his Stanford charts of north Brittany – they had seen us into the Chenal de Four. Anyhow to return to the narrative we continued motor sailing on into the murk and a south westerly with the prospect of the Raz at the end. I was doing much calculating to try and ensure we arrived at slack water in this notorious tidal gate. After much vacillating between slowing down and speeding up we hit the Raz spot on time and the lighthouse loomed out of the mist. The sea wasn’t too bad but the atmosphere of the place is captured in the picture of Margaret! You are no sooner at the Raz as you are out of it and we had a pleasant reach to Audierne where we spent another couple of days.

One of the highlights of the trip was arriving in the Odet river. We had for once a good sail around the Point de Pen March and went past all the marinas and anchored in an idyllic spot a couple of miles up river. By this time we were well into the swing of our sabbatical and the pace of life was very pleasant. We went further up the river and after clonking a rock even with our keel half up we anchored short of Quimper and went into the town via the dinghy. After a pleasant lunch we set off back. The trip up and down the Odet was fabulous and I would thoroughly recommend it.

We then went offshore to spend a night in the Isle de Glenans. We had some near misses with rocks – no simple YM guide for this spot! The islands though were beautiful as was the weather. The 7th August saw us sailing out of the Glenans and having a pleasant down wind sail to the river Aven. Again we motored up through wonderful scenary to Pont Aven where we went alongside the quay. We went off for a meal only to get back and realise that the dinghy could not get back to the boat – the tide was too far out and it was too dangerous to scramble down the wall. We eventually crept back on board well after midnight, For future reference have a rope ladder!

Isle de Glenans
Isle de Glenans

After a visit to the equally pleasing Belon River we sailed down to Port Louis outside Lorient where we could see the U boat pens still very prominent. Port Louis is an old fortified port and well worth visiting. The wind kept us there for a couple of days before we set off again towards the Morbihan.

Our trip down around the Quiberon peninsular was the windiest we had with the wind on the starboard quarter. I was enjoying myself until we fell off a wave and shipped water over the dodgers. After falling onto a winch I was glad to make Port Haliguen round the peninsular with the wind beginning to really howl.

Tim walking the walls Port Louis
Tim walking the walls Port Louis
Isle d’Houat
Isle d’Houat

After nipping across Quiberon Bay and staying in Margaret’s favourite Port Crouesty we then sailed over to Isle d’Houat and joined about 300 french yachts anchored in the large sandy bay on the south of the island. The weather was gain hot and sunny and we had a relaxing tome walking around the island. On the way back to the Morbihan we came across a large procession of boats organised for the Feast of Assumption. This was one of many examples of keeping traditions in France. Something alas we don’t seem too good at.

With westerlies forecast to be strong we roared back with a nice force 4 into the Morbihan. This is an inland sea of many square kilometres. It empties and fills via quite a narrow entrance and is the only place I know where you sail downhill into or out of it. Going against the tide is not on the menu. We had been before with our Skipper 17 – via road trailer – and knew what to expect. The great thing about the Morbihan is the large number of sheltered bays. The not so great thing is that they are now full of moorings with little room to anchor. We eventually got the hang of the French habit of using them and not worrying too much about who owns them. We had a great time sheltered from the wind in the Morbihan and visited Vannes which is really old and picturesque but perhaps a bit too full of tourists.

Mast lowering
Mast lowering

We now had to move on to allow enough time to sort out mast lowering and all the intricacies of coming back via the Brittany canals. So we setoff from Crouesty and sailed into the river Villaine. We had to wait for several hours for the lock through the tidal barrage to open, but then had the pleasure of bumping into Blue Moon a Parker 325. We had a pleasant drink with Nigel & Gillian Readman who had come down the cal from St Malo and gave us may tips.

The next day we eventually found a very helpful company at Poleux just up the river who took the mast down once we had taken off all the gear etc. It all went very smoothly and my pre prepared A frame worked OK.

Canal stop
Canal stop

After a bit of a downpour over night we set off up the river. We were bowled over by the scenery and the fact that we had to pay nothing! We came across people doing weird fishing techniques using large nets and winches off the back of punts as well as lots of wild life. After visiting Redon the central hub of the canal system we stayed overnight at a typical canalside stop with a pontoon and a café – very idyllic.

The next couple of days saw us motoring gently up the canal through locks which are all manned and are all free. They were well tended with beautiful flower gardens. The staff were very friendly and phoned through to make sure the next lock on the system was open. There was hardly any traffic and the whole system seemed to be a rare example of the French state operating a vast piece of infrastructure mainly for the British ie yachtsmen - and charging us nothing for it. A welcome dividend on our investment in the EC! The wildlife was varied and interesting; we saw a couple of pairs of hawks which might have been Marsh Harriers.

Speedwell 'en canal'
Speedwell 'en canal'

As we got further up the Villaine the river became shallower and although we had the keel half up we clonked something pretty hard coming into Rennes. Rennes is not a good spot to stop – there being no marina so we carried on through and stopped at St Gregoire – a cuple of locks into the Canal de Isle de Rance – the system that takes you back from Rennes to St Malo.

On Sunday the 27th we carried on and stopped for lunch at Betton where there was a wonderful market. We parked right in the middle of it and after much buying of bargains moved off just as an intrepid 85 year old Brit arrived in a dutch barge which filled most of the canal – he was single handing going south. His propeller shot a large proportion of the canal water onto the market stalls as he reversed! After that we climbed up to the summit of the system at 65 metres, and spent a very quiet night moored up miles from anywhere.

It was then on to the Hede flight of 11 locks, which started a rapid descent back towards the Channel. We stopped off at St Domineuc where we had a brilliant meal in the nearby Auberge du Port. The meals on the canal were generally better in quality and value than those on the coast which is saying something.

Speedwell with the right flags up at Dinan!
Speedwell with the
right flags up at Dinan!

Finally after a grand total of about 50 locks we arrived in Dinan. This is a charming medieval walled city and appears from the old harbour like a strange mix between Caernarvon, Padstow and Henley. The first two are suggested by the old buildings and castle walls and yachts, while the last is by numerous river sculls and fours rowing past. We were recommended the services of the Capitaine du Port for remattage or putting the mast up. This was achieved with a small hand operated crane and the experienced instruction from the guardian du Port, who has been doing this for years. We had an extended stay in Dinan as the weather was fairly windy and we were enjoying the company of a couple from Salcombe.

At last after enjoying an Old Gaffers event or rather a cider drinkers’ event!, we left to go down the Rance. We had paid the princely sum of 59 euros for five nights stay, our washing being put through the machine by the Guardian du Port, and the remasting thrown in – that’s what you call value. I recommend Dinan as an excellent place to stay.

We had lovely weather as we progressed down the Rance a very picturesque river / estuary. We stopped off at Plouer sur Rance marina and then went through the tidal barrage lock back to Dinard.

Speedwell beached at Gorey
Speedwell beached at Gorey

The following morning we were a bit alarmed about the mist forecast, but decided to give it a go. All was well and we had fantastic visibility on our mtor sail across glassy seas to Gorey. We were lucky enough to find another school of Dolphins off the south east of Jersey. I’ve found them there before – it seems to be a popular dolphin spot. At Gorey we had learnt from Ken Surplice and Peter Lowry that you could get on the beach in the harbour at high tide. We promptly did this and Margaret jumped off the front to get the shopping while I jumped off the back to arrange the kedge etc. A very convenient anchorage – right by the pub.

Another early start and fantastic sunrise saw us off back to Dielette. We miss timed the approach a bit and had to motor really flat out to beat the tide round Flamanville. I then realised we had arrived near low water springs, but we approached very gingerly with all nearly up 40minutes to go to low water, and got in through a minimum of 0.8 metres.

The wind kept us in Dielette for a couple of days. Good use of the bicycles meant that we visited the old semaphore station restaurant on the cliffs at Flamanville and discovered the Chateau there.

We decided not to go over with a 4 to 5 and waited till the Sunday when not much wind was forecast. We set off at 0530 on top of the biggest tide of the century. I wanted to go past Cap de la Hague at near slack. I got this right – it was flat when we arrived – something I have never seen before. By the time we had got level with the Cap the swell had built to over a metre and I am sure it was pretty lively later. As it was we touched twelve knots over the ground. To get back in the light we headed for Yarmouth and made it in glorious conditions as the sun went down. A fitting end to a glorious trip.