Saturday, 20 July 2013

Fjords and Rivers

This week has been a new experience in sailing in and around the Breton fjords (Abers) and the rivers that cut into the northern Breton coast.  The area is stunning, both in terms of beauty and capacity to stun... thousands of rocks just below the surface that play hide and seek with 30 foot tides and currents more powerful than our little 18 hp motor.

The Breton Fjord of Aber Wrac'h
Aber Wrac'h is the largest of the Breton fjords.  It's a paradise for small craft of all sorts (paddle boards, wind surfers, small catamarans) and, once nestled comfortably in the port after dodging the rocks, it's not so bad for us, either. 

Although Aber Wrac'h is a regular point of passage for sailboats in this area, I never expected to bump into my former post-doctoral research advisor from Paris in the marina showers !  We hadn't seen each other for over 4 years and almost didn't recognize each other.

Hood and Merlivat, 2013 (referenced like our scientific papers written together.)
The next stop was Roscoff.  With the recent weeks of exceptionally warm weather (yea !), the north wind brings fog.  Visibility was reduced to less than 200m.  I know this because the pass between the Ile de Batz and Roscoff is marked with many large channel buoys to help guide boats through this narrow passage and we barely saw any of them until we were right upon them.  When we entered the channel, visibility was good but a fog bank rolled in with startling rapidity and we were navigating virtually with MaxSea and the GPS plotter.  I was scanning the horizon with binoculars trying to see 15 meter channel markers that were 200 meters in front of us.  None of us had ever visited the new marina in Roscoff and even after tying up to the dock, we still hadn't seen it.  But the fog cleared later and we took a walk out to the coast to see the passage we hadn't seen while sailing through it.  This is, I hope, an experience not to be repeated.

Following friends through fog and rocks...

The passage between Batz Island and Roscoff seen at low tide.
The next stop was the bay of Morlaix and navigating down the river to the medieval town.  The river navigation was a bit harrowing as well, since the whole river area dries at low tide.  With 7 meters of tide, we had only 2 meters of clearance in some areas. 

Scenes from Morlaix Bay

Scenes from Morlaix Bay.

Motor-sailing in the river to Morlaix.

The town was charming and the local supermarket is managed by a retired merchant mariner who delivers groceries free of charge to boats in the marina.  We took full advantage of this kind service and loaded up for a few days.

The port is behind a loch that keeps the water levels constant.  On leaving Morlaix, we were following our large friend (Moody 38) through the river and noticed that he was stopped dead in the water with his motor churning up lots of water.  We slammed into reverse ourselves (although in retrospect we should have continued full throttle and gone around him).  He had been stuck in the mud but thanks to his 50 hp he managed to get out.  We were not so lucky.  Our little 18 hp motor coughed and putt-putted its best, but we were stuck.  We tried all the regular tricks...rocking the boat back and forth, etc., with no success.  Another boat (smaller than us) tried to help us and gave up, fearing that they would get stuck too.  Our friends went to a larger area further down the river, turned around, and came back to pull us out.  Quite a morning.  We lost about 40 minutes doing all this, which put is in a tight situation for reaching our next destination of Trebeurden before the tide got too low, so we decided to tuck back into Roscoff, where, as I have formerly noted, they have excellent internet connections.

Going through the Morlaix lochs.

Morlaix lochs.

Every day it's the same old thing:  learn, learn, learn.  Most recent lessons:  1.  It's important to have 2 computers on board, just in case.  And we don't.  Our computer had a little temper tantrum yesterday and left us a bit blind.  Our GPS tracer can be called on in a pinch, but it's much less precise and doesn't provide information about tides and currents.  Of course I can calculate all that by hand, but it takes much longer.  2.  As with many things in life, it's easier to get into something than out of it.  On several occassions we thought about ducking into a river port, but they are oriented in such a way that it would have been very difficult to get out the next day with winds and currents in the nose.

Today the winds are Beaufort 5-6 with gusts and possible thunderstorms later, so we're hanging out in Roscoff doing odd jobs on the boat, cleaning, and preparing for a big hop tomorrow to Guernesey in the Channel Islands.  It will be a very long day - we plan to leave at sunrise around 6:30 and hope to arrive before 9 pm.