Saturday, July 15, 2006

Brest is best

We're in Brest and have finally managed to get internet access, so below is a long list of all the recent blog entries we should have published!

On Friday we went to Oceanopolis, an enormous aquarium and sea display right next to the marina in Brest. We feared that on 14 July it might be packed, and we dragged the boys out of bed before 9.30am (shock!) to get there before 10.30, but in fact it was quite quiet. We spent nearly five hours looking at the huge displays of fish, penguins, seals, seaweed and seals.

Apart from Oceanopolis, Brest doesn't have a huge amount to offer. It's very windy at sea, which is why we've decided to stay on for three nights. We're very sheltered here. Islands protect the outer bay, then a narrow inlet leads to an inland lake, the Rade de Brest, and the marina is tucked into a sheltered corner of the Rade, but it's still gusting up to 18 knots. Lots of fun for the hundreds of windsurfers and dinghy sailors who come here, but not all that many yachts have been out today. The wind has blown away my beautiful and expensive Turtle doormat which I foolishly hung on the rail for a few minutes. I am kicking myself, hard.


Wednesday 12 July
Moorings and anchorages

We spent a very peaceful night anchored in the river at Morlaix. There was a bit of swell initially which died down as the tide dropped. As ever at anchor I didn't sleep too well, so I was awake to check all was well when the tide tuned at 2am. It was stunningly beautiful - a full moon shining on the wide river, three or four lighthouses and half-a-dozen buoys flashing, tendrils of mist creeping out from the land, and absolute peace except for the occasional seagull.

From Morlaix we headed to L'Aber Wrac'h, a rocky inlet just before we round the corner to Brest. At L'Aber we're on a mooring (a buoy in the middle of the river) because there aren't many pontoon berths, and they were all full. This is also a lovely spot - it's been a hot day with very light breezes and the river looks blue and full of moored boats. Guy complained extremely vociferously when we arrived about not being on a pontoon, but being on a mooring gives him a chance to show off his rowing and outboard handling skills (he's the best in the family). He'll probably remember this as a great place and it's great not to be in marinas all the time.

Tomorrow we head around the dreaded Chenal de Four to Brest. We were planning to skip Brest altogether, much to the chagrin of the boys who wanted to be able to make dreadful Brest jokes, but although it's a modern city with the marina 2 miles out of the centre, it does have very good shelter and there are strong north-easterlies forecast for three days from Friday onwards. Possibly a good place to spend the 14 Juillet when everything will be closed.

Tuesday 11 July
Morlaix

Morlaix is up another river - the last in northern Brittany. The river here is totally tidal, so it's only navigable for two or three hours before and after high water. We managed to go aground just outside the town lock, when we met about 20 yachts coming out on the first lock opening yesterday evening, all hogging the middle of the river. Fortunately the tide was still rising and we got off again without much problem. The river is lovely, very French with chateaux and busy D-roads either side. I can't help feeling that this is what it would be like if we were going through the French canals to the Med instead of round the outside. I would be quite happy and Sam would be very bored.

Morlaix is also very pleasant - it feels a long way from the sea. It has an enormous rail viaduct running over the middle of the town, with below it a mixture of solid stone and medieval timber-framed houses either side of a deep gorge. The river must once have run through the middle of the town but the French have covered it with a couple of car parks and a roundabout.
From Treguier we made a fairly short hop to the marina at Trebeurden to sit out some strong winds. Trebeurden is a reasonably pleasant seaside town with some nice walks along the granite coast, but the main excitements while we were there were that France lost to Italy, and a Maltese yacht went aground just on or outside the sill which holds the water in the marina. This happened a year or two ago at Carteret, when they couldn't raise the sill and all the water ran out of the marina, damaging loads of boats (single-keeled yachts tend to fall over when there's no water to hold them up, and motor boats destroy their propellers on the ground). Fortunately the sill held at Trebeurden and we could all feel very sorry for the Maltese guys (while thanking our lucky stars it wasn't us).

From Trebeurden we ventured out rather hesitantly expecting unpleasant seas after the previous day's wind, but in fact although the weather was grey and cool conditions were quite pleasant. We spent three hours in the fishing harbour at Primel-Tregastel waiting for the tide to rise in the Morlaix river. I spend a lot of time worrying about tides here - not just the rise and fall (which can be eight metres at springs) but also the tidal streams along the coast. It would be nice to think that things will be better in Spain, but it appears that although there are no tidal stream atlases and very little information on tidal rise and fall in northern Spain, they still do have four or five metres tidal range. It's just a secret.

People have been asking us how we are all getting on together. The answer is pretty well, on the whole.

The bad side: Sam gets bad-tempered sometimes when something hurts or he's frustrated. I get nervous about weather, navigating through rocks, tides, and generally sailing anywhere which might be bumpy - and this makes me very irritable. Guy is a teenager and gets bad-tempered at regular intervals, but during his lucid periods is the nicest he's been for a long time. He has a fantastic capability to sleep for 12 or 14 hours and is then cross with himself when he wakes up because he thinks he's missed out. Ben likes to feel guilty about things and sulks if he's asked to do things a different way. He is also the only person on the boat who has to continue non-boat-related work (schoolwork) and this sometimes makes him grumpy.

The good side: Sam is endlessly patient, is a rock when I'm nervous, and assures me that we don't have to go anywhere if I don't want to. Ben is affectionate and loving, sings to himself when happy and comes up with endless creative plans for harpoon guns and catapults. Guy entertains us all with magic tricks, is indispensable for his strength and agility in locks and marinas, and fills the boat with bits of hair as he fiddles with his sort-of dreadlocks. I do the planning, navigation and cooking, and occasionally get around to updating the blog!

Friday 7 July
Up another river

We're in Treguier, which is about 10km from Lezardrieux by road but 25 miles by sea. It's a bit like going from Ipswich to Woodbridge in Suffolk - down one river and up another, with a need for a reasonable depth of tide over the bits in between, which means that you can never get it right all the way unless you anchor somewhere. In this case the wrong bit was round the outside of the notorious Les Heaux lighthouse, where we spent an unhappy hour or so failing to make headway against tide and a strengthening westerly breeze. By the time we got into Treguier Sam was tired and very cross, so we decided to stay here an extra night to recover. I think he had a few moments of wanting seriously to go home.

Rather surprisingly I quite enjoyed the crashing through the waves (perhaps because at that point the sun was shining and the sea deep blue) and at one point we encountered a bit of genuine Atlantic swell which Kalessin rode like a dream. Under those circumstances electronic instruments are a bit of a curse, because they show you quite clearly that although you may be making a respectable 4 or 5 knots through the water, you are pointing so far from your waypoint and being pushed back so hard by the tide that it will take you 4 hours and 43 minutes to cover 2 miles, despite using engine and sails. Fortunately something always changes - you change your waypoint, the tide turns, or you find an alternative route into your destination - but while they last those periods are sailing at their most depressing.

The river here is really beautiful - wooded slopes coming down to a deep, narrow channel, plus lots of home-from-home mud at low water - and the town is also lovely. It has a famous cathedral with a pierced spire and timber-framed houses in little alleys. It also has, just across the river, a famous chandlery, Co-Per, which sells all the solid bits you need to construct a boat, more fishing gear than I have ever seen in one place including 24 different kinds of catapult elastic (see below), and a whole floor of clothes. The other chandlery, right in the marina, has a fantastic display of old machinery including Seagull outboards and sewing machines for putting leather reinforcements on canvas sails, but sells only a huge array of clothes, and Camping Gaz (which is handy as our first cylinder ran out this morning). It doesn't seem to be possible to buy books or charts anywhere.

Ben and Guy have both been making catapults extensively using their deadly Opinel knives and other handy tools. Ben's wood comes from Robin Swift's hedge in Guernsey, his elastic from a fishing shop in Calais, and his leather sling is a shoe lining from the supermarché in Lezardrieux. Guy's wood comes from the trees across the river here, his elastic from Co-Per, and he needs a new bit of leather as the old one broke.

We have just returned from an excellent lunch at Le Hangar, which is the restaurant at the port. It looks very bleak from the outside, but inside the roofspace is filled with amazing hanging boats and other bits and pieces, there's an impressive open fire in a fireplace five feet above the floor (it's a grey drizzly day so this is very cheering), and the seafood was delicious. Sam had mussels (he always does), Guy had grilled mackerel which even he couldn't finish, I had an enormous crab and Ben had prawns and chips. We must be growing up, because I don't think we've ever all had seafood at the same time before.

Wednesday 5 July
Great Brittany

From St Peter Port we headed over to Sark (six miles) and spent a short night at anchor there in La Grande Greve Bay. Sark rises almost vertically from the sea and is somewhat grim and forbidding when seen from a yacht at anchor. All the roads and paths run along the upper ridges and are pleasant and airy, and must have superb views in good visibility. We rowed ashore and climbed around 350 steps to the top, and then went back again. Later in the evening the boys rowed ashore and found some extraordinarily beautiful crystals of orange quartz in a cave.

As ever at anchor I didn't really sleep too well - this is something I must get better at! The surf on the rocks sounds much closer at night, the anchor chain grumbles quietly to itself as you swing with wind and tide, and in Sark the cries of thousands of seabird continued after dark.
We left Sark around 2am to get the best tides down to northern Brittany. On consideration we could have left a bit later, but it was very good for us to do some night sailing, although a bit heart-in-mouth picking our way around the rocks we couldn't see. In these conditions a chart plotter is absolutely wonderful, because you can see exactly where you are all the time. It started to get faintly light by 3am, and by 4, when Ben came up to do an hour on watch, the stars were fading. We saw a great sunrise and reached the entry to the Trieux river by about 10am. Most of the time there was no wind at all, although for a while we saw a light south-westerly.

Lezardrieux is about eight miles up this peaceful river and is wonderfully quiet and sheltered. It's also full of English boats. Next to us is a big Westerly which comes from the same marina as us on the River Orwell. After careful deliberation we have decided to stay here for a second night, so that we can explore a bit more, stock up at the decent supermarket, and Ben can go to the hardware shop. From here we need to get to Brest somewhere around 17 July so we have time to make short hops to the many little inlets and anchorages along the northern coast of Brittany. It's very different from the kind of cruising we have done up to now and although we need careful planning for tides, there are lots of different options.

We've discovered a tiny beach just downriver and last night went down there for a paddle and to play with the Frisbee (our second - we managed to leave the first one on Herm). After about three passes Ben chucked the Frisbee in the sea and was forced to swim in in his underpants to rescue it. Then of course Guy had to go in too, and it was wonderful to see them swimming like seals in the warm evening light.

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