Saturday, 27 October 2012

Foggy Memories

This week’s episode of the Spray Logs reminds us that Halloween will soon be upon us.  As we approached the island of Houat, the wind died and a wall of cold fog moved in from the east, blending the horizon and the water into one seamless smoke screen and reducing our world to the size of a… well, a 10 meter Dehler 34, to be precise. 

Visibility < 100 meters
We reduced speed and strained our eyes, searching for any feature that might assure us that the world beyond the bow was still there.  Trying to keep a compass heading when there is no horizon to indicate motion became difficult and we began helplessly weaving back and forth.  In the heightened tension, I fully expected to glimpse the Mary Celeste come drifting dead ahead at any minute.   

We turned to our autopilot and navigation software for comfort.  Patrick told me to duck below and get the fog horn.  This is a small plastic trumpet used to signal one’s existence to other ships in such cases, and we dutifully gave a couple of blasts every few minutes.  A rather ridiculous sound resembling that of a cheap party horn served to reduce the tension, which, truth-be-told, is probably the horn’s most useful feature. 

The fog horn.
Our navigation program told us that the island was only ½ mile ahead and yet we still had no indication of the high rocks that should be rapidly approaching.  Our plan had been to head to a mooring area on the south side of the island to shelter us from the northern winds predicted for the evening.  But that route involves wiggling one’s way through a maze of rocks and sand bars.  We juggled our options.  We could change course and head towards the port of Houat where we could grab a mooring buoy at the entrance to the port.  But the buoys aren’t marked on the navigation software or charts, and neither are other boats.  The lack of visibility would make this option more dangerous than confronting the labyrinth of rocks that were at least clearly marked on the charts.  It was also a route we’d taken many times and we knew there was a large flat beach just after the first set of obstacles where we could always drop anchor if things got too hairy.

Our track, blindfolded.

With me down below calling out course changes and Patrick manning the auto-pilot controls, we made our way slowly along, passing first Er Yoc’h, the 23 meter high rock (never saw it), sliding around the only-slightly-submerged rocks Bonen ar Rade and the isolated danger buoy Men er Houteliguet, which we managed to vaguely identify at 150 meters.  We made a wide slow swing around the Begs (Tost, Creiz, Pell), not forgetting Er Gadoerec a Vez along the way, and lined up to pull up to our mooring ground.  As we did, the wind picked up and slowly pushed the fog to the south east, giving us reasonably good visibility as we set the anchor.  By the time the motor was cut, the sun was out, birds were zooming around merrily and fish were jumping (mullet, we were later told).  All of nature seemed to be saying “trick or treat !”.  We promptly treated ourselves to a bottle of rosé.

Treat after trick.
After this harrowing beginning, the next 3 days were, literally, smooth sailing.  We tried to squeeze in to the port of Hoedic to take on water (after last week’s gaffe with the watercow) but found 4 boats waiting for 5 places already occupied.  As the weather and wind were perfect, we decided to head over to the Quiberon peninsula to the port of Haliguen, not known for anything more enticing than a large visitors’ dock with water and electricity.  After tying up, we bumped into a friend from Vannes who was there alone in his 9 meter motor yacht.  He has sailed in this area for over 30 years, and we spent a lovely evening grilling him about favourite mooring spots in the bay and gulf. 

The next day, a moderate gale was predicted for the evening so we decided to go together to our friend’s favourite mooring spot in the gulf, which he assured us was sheltered from winds from any direction.  We had passed this idyllic spot before with other people’s boats, but didn’t dare take Spray this far up into the river because of the narrow and shallow channels all around.  Having a guide lead us through and up to deep-water mooring buoys was an opportunity not to be missed.  It was, quite simply, the calmest mooring location we have ever experienced in almost 10 years of sailing in this area.  And one of the most beautiful.  The wind was, so they say, blowing about 45 km/hr (25-30 mph), but our wind turbine didn’t even budge.  The water was oily smooth and we slept in complete silence.  

Our new favorite mooring spot in the gulf.

And of course I have absolutely no intention of telling anyone where it is.  Foggy memory, indeed.