Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Sailing Life: An Alien Culture

“There are 3 types of men: the living, the dead, and those who go to sea.”   

I was reminded of this saying by Somerset Maugham (I think...) after reading a post on the Women Who Sail forum about how curious is it that even after having completed some nautical feat like sailing your boat half-way around the world, non-sailing friends will rarely ask anything about it.  It’s as if you simply disappeared for some time, then re-appeared, with nothing significant happening in between, or at least nothing worth talking about.

Shell art at the Sables d'Olonne.
Not to over-intellectualize the situation, we can all agree that there a few activities more boring than hearing about other people’s vacations.  It’s no different when the perceived holiday is a semi-permanent lifestyle (which, it must be emphasized, is only occasionally punctuated by holiday-like activities…)  I’ve been in the middle of describing some fantastic sailing adventure to a friend when suddenly she’ll cut me short to tell me about something cute her cat did the other day.  Is it because she really isn’t interested or is it just that the lifestyle is so foreign that she doesn’t even know where to begin asking questions?  Is it jealousy?  Does she think we’re insane and that she shouldn’t encourage us?

Way back in graduate school (oh, let’s see now… 25 years ago? Yikes !), the shoe was on the other foot.  I met a woman who had sailed with her husband from California to China in the 1980s.  Sailing to China is quite a feat even today, but in the 1980s?  Nixon’s visit to China was only in 1972 !  And they made this voyage well before the era of GPS, satellite phones, or wide-spread internet.  For their adventure, they were made fellows of the Explorer’s Club.  WOW !! 

But did I ask a single question about their trip?  I think I said something along the lines of “wow,” but I can’t be sure.  I remember just drawing a blank and feeling a little bit embarrassed, like when the teacher calls on you and you’ve been daydreaming.  Even as an oceanographer, I had no idea what sailing a small boat across the Pacific meant, or what sailing to a country with no foreign policy or facilities for dealing with visiting sail boats might entail.  Truth be told, I probably also had some sarcastic thoughts banging around in my head like, “surely there are cheaper, faster, more comfortable ways to get to China…”.  

How I would love to speak to that woman now !  I’d ask what kind of boat they had and how it was equipped, what navigational instruments they had (just paper charts, a compass and a sextant ?!) what route they took, how they prepared and provisioned, how long it took, what adventures they had along the way, what the weather and sea conditions were, how and where they entered the country, and then ask all the same questions about the return trip, and on and on and on…

Looking back on it, these are questions that only another sailor can ask.  Unless you have some idea of what a long sailing voyage is like, you can’t imagine what’s involved.  Because we are so saturated by this lifestyle and are surrounded by other sailors who speak the same language, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that not everyone shares our passion or has even a basic understanding of what live-aboard cruising is like.

I’m making a list of questions I get asked by non-sailing friends when they come to visit us on Mareda and will make a “cruising 101” post out of them.  Some of the questions make me laugh, some frustrate me, and others point out just how strange our little world must seem.

As for us, we’re currently hanging out in the Sables d’Olonnes, the starting and ending point for the Vendee Globe solo around-the-world race. (I wrote a post about Les Sables the last time we were here with lots of photos of local shell art).  We’re in the period of the highest tidal coefficients of the year, which creates strong currents and makes an entry into the Gironde river to Bordeaux inadvisable.  We’ll head down to Oleron island tomorrow and wait the currents to weaken before heading down to Medoc at the entrance to the river.  After the weekend, we’ll begin a 50 mile trek down the river to the center of Bordeaux…just in time for the Foire aux Vins ! (Wine Fair !). 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Morbihan Gulf

We're pinned down at Yeu Island with screeching winds and big seas, but we have good internet for once.  Here are some photos from the Morbihan Gulf to go with the post "Continuing Education", where I realized we have few photos of our home waters.  This is only a small selection of the beautiful scenes in the gulf.  I hope we can explore a bit more in late fall / early winter before the season is over.

Conleau.  This is a 10 minute bike ride from home
Sinagots, traditional sailing vessels of the gulf, anchored off Port Anna.
The Maison Rose, or pink house.  This is marked on nautical charts as "pink house" and the owners are obligated to keep it pink.
Chapel at Boedic Island.
Arradon.  When the evening news runs a story on Wealth Tax, this is the scene they show...
More modest neighbors.
Arradon point.
St Joseph chapel.
Port Blanc, across from Ile aux Moines.
Gregan cardinal buoy and The Pyramid navigational aid at the mouth of the gulf.
Navalo point.  When we see this scene from offshore, we know we're home.

Friday, 18 September 2015

A Year of Reading the Med

I don’t know many live-aboard sailors who are not avid readers.  There is a lot of down-time in the sailing life, from days pinned down by bad weather to simply looking for some meaningful way to spend the hours between dinner and bedtime.  (Or, as many of our early-rising crew members have found, the hours between the time THEY wake up and the time WE wake up, somewhere around the crack of 9 if we have our way...)

From our friends over at The Cynical Sailor and His Salty Sidekick, we were recently introduced to the “Around the World in 80 Books” challenge.  The idea is to read 80 books from different countries, from A to Z.  This all started with UK writer Ann  Morgan and her “A Year of Reading the World” project.   As I am already a fan of armchair travelling, I love the idea and have accepted the challenge (with important modifications). 

I first tallied up my country list based on things I’ve already read.  This exercise pointed out some interesting facts and conundrums for me.  While I’ve covered 29 countries (and every letter except O, Q, W, Y, and Z… there is no X country), I realized that I am woefully ignorant of Spanish and South American literature (excluding Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coelho, whom I assume everyone has read anyway, right?).  I also prefer historical fiction that gives a strong sense of place and time, but many of these books are written by outsiders; for example, an English author who writes about Malta, rather than reading something written by a Maltese author.  And then there are the books written by an author from a particular country that have nothing at all to do with the country itself.  Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery isn’t about Italy (the author’s origin) and Prague only plays a minor role in the story.  It’s a fabulous book, but hard to classify in the framework of this game.

Once you start scratching the surface of this challenge and imposing some guidelines on yourself to follow the spirit of the exercise, the task becomes quite daunting.  One of the official guidelines is that you must finish a book you start.  I’m throwing this one straight into the trash heap.  Life’s too short and there are too many great things to read to adhere to this rule.  And besides, it would be too bad to feel like you’ve dismissed the literary merit of a whole country because you didn’t like one book. 

But I’m imposing some other rules, lest you think I’m taking the easy road.  If I read a book about a country written by an outsider, I will also try to read a book written by a native of the country (bravely keeping in mind the aforementioned safety valve of chucking it in the bin if I don’t like it).  While the books don’t have to be historical fiction, it should evoke the place and lifestyle that influence the story.  I’m also not wedded to fiction as there are some fantastic travelogues out there.  Where possible (which is to say, where interesting to me) I will try to read “modern classics” or something on someone’s list of “things you should read if you think you’re well-read”.                  

And lastly, because the world is a big place, I am starting my assault on the Mediterranean countries.  We’ll be sailing down to the Med next year and will spend the next 3? 4? 5? years there.  What better way to inform, plan, dream ?

Depending on who’s doing the counting, there are 23 countries and/or autonomous provinces in the Med (proceeding clockwise):  Gibraltar, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco.  I’m also including a general Med category to include the classic “The Middle Sea” by John Julius Norwich and “The Pillars of Hercules” by Paul Theroux.  Here is my DRAFT list of possible reads, with a CRY FOR SUGGESTIONS from you, dear readers. 

Gibraltar  A Vision of Battlements – Anthony Burgess

Spain  2666 – Roberto Bolano; The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon;  A Heart So White or The Infatuations – Javier Marias;  HELP !!  Missing Mediterranean setting / ocean theme.  Balearic islands?

France  Bonjour Tristesse – Françoise Sagan ; Granite Island: A Portrait of Corsica – Dorothy Carrington ; Patrick Modiano (Prix Nobel 2014) – Rue des boutiques obscures (set in Rome) … good excuse to read the latest Nobel winner from my adopted home country…

Monaco  Loser takes all – Graham Greene

Italy  Ocean Sea - Alessandro Baricco;  If on a winter’s night a traveller… -  Italo Calvino

Malta  Ironfire – David Ball  HELP !  Need Maltese Writer or Travelogue !

Slovenia  Cette nuit je l’ai vu - Drago Jancar  (Prix Medici)

Croatia  The Ministry of Pain - Dubravka Ugresic;  Our man in Iraq – Robert Perisic

Bosnia Herzegovina  The Lazarus Project – Aleksandar Hemon

Montenegro  The Coming – Andrej Nikolaidis

Albania  Chronicle in Stone  or  Broken April – Ismail Kadare

Greece   Birds without Wings and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres (Covers Greece and Turkey);  Zorba the Greek – Nikos Kazantzakis (set in Greece and Crete); Eleni – Nicolas Gage

Turkey  The Time Regulation Institute – Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar;  Istanbul - Orhan Pamuk

Cyprus  Gregory and other award-winning stories – Panos Ioannides

Syria   Damascus Nights – Rafik Schami

Lebanon  An Unnecessary Woman – Rabih Alameddine

Israel  From Beirut to Jerusalem – Thomas Friedman;  A Pigeon and a Boy – Meir Shalev

Palestine  Mornings in Jenin – Susan Abulhawa; I Shall Not Hate – Izzeldin Abuelaish

Egypt  The Map of Love – Ahdaf Soueif (Booker Prize Finalist); Cairo Trilogy – Naguib Mahfouz (Nobel Prize); Beer in the Snooker Club – Waguih Ghali

Libya  In the Country of Men – Hisham Matar

Tunisia  L’Immoraliste – Andre Gide; Return to Dar Al-Basha – Nasr;  Les Trois Graces – Attia

Algeria  Ce que le jour doit a la nuit – Khadra ;  The Rabbi’s Cat – Sfar (GREAT movie !)

Morocco  Au Pays – Tahar Ben Jalloun ; The Spider’s House and The Sheltering Sky -  Paul Bowles; La Nuit Sacrée / L’enfant de sable - Tahar Ben Jalloun

Mediterranean  The Middle Sea – John Julius Norwich;  The Pillars of Hercules – Paul Theroux

Happy reading, and send in those suggestions !

Update 1 here.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Continuing Education

Every day of sailing is the same: learn, learn, learn.  We thought we knew our home waters of the Morbihan Gulf well, but this week, we’ve learned quite a few lessons about the gulf, about Mareda, and about ourselves.  Some of those lessons have been painful.

We took advantage of blustery weather and impending repairs in Vannes to spend some time getting reacquainted with the gulf.  The gulf is listed as one of the 50 most beautiful bays in the world and is said to have a different island for every day of the year.  (I believe the official total, however, is around 80.)  A lifting keel opens up numerous possibilities in the gulf and we set out to explore areas we haven’t visited in over 10 years.  We hid behind Irus Island for a night when the winds were blowing strongly from the south and took a lovely day sail around Arz Island with a stop at Ilur island, which everyone says is a paradise and which we found to be only so-so. 

Our recent escapades in the gulf.  Red marks from left going clockwise are Ile aux Moines, Ile Irus, Les Logodens, and Ile Ilur.
And then we did what we’ve already done numerous times: stopped for the night along the floating docks at Ile aux Moines.  But this time, we pulled in during mid-tide when currents are at their strongest.  To get to the docks, you first have to weave your way through a maze of a mooring buoy field, where the currents push you sideways as if you were on a conveyor belt running perpendicular to where your nose is pointed.  This conveyor belt also runs at strange angles to the docks.   

Promotional photo of Ile aux Moines, where you can see the mooring field and 2 small floating docks and the bottom left of the field.
With 20 knots of wind blowing, we lined up to the dock head-to the wind and current…or so we thought.  As soon as Patrick reduced the throttle, the current took hold of us and slammed us into the corner of the dock.  Clearly, this is something that happens regularly, since the wood protecting the corners of the dock have been splintered to bits, exposing a sharp metal corner.  Once so engaged, it’s almost impossible to pull away from the dock.  Neighboring boaters nervously popped out of their boats to see what was happening and rushed over to help us with our lines.  We slid and scraped our way alongside the dock and tied up as quickly as we could, thanking our new neighbors for the help and trying to downplay our embarrassment.  One old sailor tried to ease the tension and told us, “You know, a successful docking manoeuvre is a tragedy for the spectators !”     

Once everyone had gone back to their boats, we took a deep breath and stepped off the boat to survey the damage:  one big deep wound in the gel coat exposing the fiberglass, a long shallow scrape running about 60 centimeters, and 2 very bruised egos.  Say what you will, it’s much more embarrassing to screw up in a flashy new boat than with a modest-looking old one.

Two days later, with the winds still howling, we decided to leave the dock to get closer to Vannes for an early morning arrival.  We thought we could find a free mooring buoy behind the Logoden islands that would be reasonably sheltered.  Leaving the Ile aux Moines docks, we had strong currents pinning us to the dock again.  We tried our best to get the nose to pivot away from the dock by putting the motor in reverse and pulling against the stern spring line, but that was only marginally successful.  Patrick had to gun the throttle as quickly as possible once the nose was away from the dock, but we still had a hard time turning away.  The owner of the big fancy motor yacht in front of us turned pale as we brushed past his boat at 3 knots with only about 50 centimeters to spare.  Our bruised egos take another sharp punch.

When we arrived at the mooring buoy behind the Logoden islands, we turned into the wind (18 knots) and current (2.5 knots), motored up to the buoy and successfully passed our line through the metal ring on top of the buoy after 2 attempts.  But as we cut the throttle and pulled the line through the hook and back onto the deck, the current and wind pushed us back rapidly.  With all of Patrick’s force and a ½ turn already around the cleat, he was straining to try to keep it from being ripped out of his hands.  I ran forward to help him, got my hand on the lines and pulled as well. 

Mistake !  I SHOULD HAVE put the motor in gear and advanced towards the buoy to take the strain off. 

Four hands grabbed onto the small length of line that remained.  When our grunting and cursing drowned out the sound of the howling wind, I told Patrick to just let it go… it was useless.

I dashed back to the helm, but not fast enough.  The currents had turned us sideways and I was close to broad-siding another boat.  My reaction (again, not the right one) was to kick the fenders overboard to protect the hull.  Patrick (correctly) took the helm and pushed the motor into high gear (I hate doing that) to get us out of the buoy field, with only centimeters to spare.  We quickly agreed that we weren’t going to try to pick up the buoy again, since the currents and wind were clearly too stiff for us to spend anything resembling a calm night there anyway.

As the adrenaline died down and we headed towards Vannes, we both noticed we had pain around our wrists.  I had a bloody gash and swelling on mine where my hand was caught between the line and the navigational light on the balcony.  Thankfully I was wearing sail gloves or it would have been worse.  Patrick had a few mysterious red friction burns around his wrist…and NO WATCH.  Apparently it got snagged in the line and went overboard in the struggle.

We motored on to the waiting dock for the port of Vannes and tied up, defeated.  The waiting dock is a great option for early entry to the port (which is barred by a bridge with only a few openings per day around high tide).  But it’s also not free for a night stay, which just added salt to our wounds.

And now, we’re settled into Vannes for the next few days waiting for the steering wheel pinion system to be replaced (and to carry out a rapid gel coat repair…)  The part ordered by the shipyard wasn’t the correct one, and so we are staying in port courtesy of Jeanneau, with the promise that the correct part will arrive in 2 days.  This suits us just fine as it is still blowing a gale out there and we would have been faced with at least 2 more days of trying to hide behind various islands, coping with strong winds and currents everywhere we turn.  The lessons learned were good ones, but I’m in no hurry to try to prove to myself that we won’t make the same mistakes again. 

I've also learned another thing about the gulf in writing this blog post: despite having sailed here for more than 10 years and lived here for 6, I have very few photos of the gulf !  Must remedy that...

Monday, 14 September 2015

No Place Like Home Waters

I’ve said it before, but it deserves repeating: destiny is a fickle thing.  The shipyard had to order a part for our steering system, and rather than wait to fix it in November after we come back from the southern leg of our cruise, we decided to sail around our local waters until it arrived.  During this last week of sailing, we have finally found the beautiful islands and nice weather we’ve been looking for all summer, right in our own backyard. 

Here is our last week in pictures, from Houat Island and Belle Isle in the Quiberon Bay, Southern Brittany.

Mooring at Beg Salus, Houat.

Wildflowers on Belle Isle

The beautiful Grand Plage Houat

Belle Isle locals

Feels like Kentucky !

Nice spot for an afternoon, Houat.

Low tide, Houat.

The needles near Port Coton, Belle Isle

Drying harbour, Sauzon, Belle Isle

Ster Ouen, Belle Isle

Ster Wraz, Belle Isle.

In case you can't really determine if you are walking along cliffs on Houat...
Erosion on Houat after 50+ knots of wind for severeal days.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Three Months Out

An important part of any new boat purchase is the quality of the warranty.  Jeanneau is famous for its 2-year all-inclusive warranty, and we fully intend to take advantage of it.  This year’s cruise is all about shaking lose anything that is likely to fail while we’re still relatively close to home.  

A recap of "firsts": our first drying out (Batz Island).
We’re convinced that Jeanneau’s actuaries have done their homework and have estimated that most boat owners sail 1 month per year, meaning a 2-year warranty covers anything that falls apart after roughly 2 months of actual sailing. At 3 months of sailing, we’ve got quite a nice list of repairs for them.  Most of these were listed in our “One Month Out” report, and include:  

Genoa difficult to furl “by hand” without a winch
Genoa sheet rail / traveller developed a thumb-sized pit in the metal rail
Mainsail ripped along battens in 2 spots
Mainsheet downhaul rubbed a hole in the dodger
Swim platform latch broke
Spinnaker pole end fittings are broken / stuck
Wifi antenna brackets rusted
Starboard steering wheel pinion misaligned (makes “clunk” noises in two places)  

We’re happy to announce that ALL of the above have been covered by Jeanneau and almost everything has been repaired in 4 days.  The Genoa problem hasn’t really gone away although we’ve re-configured the path of the furler line, which takes care of the problem in all but the strongest wind conditions.  The wheel pinion is on order, however, and we’re not sure when it will arrive.  We will float around our local waters until early next week when they will be able to tell us if it’s a question of days or weeks.  Overall, we’re extremely impressed with the warranty and the service at our local dealer (Chantier Naval Le Pennec, Vannes, France).

So now the proverbial bar has been raised and we’re ready to head back out for another 2 months to try even harder to shake more things lose !  Woo Hoo !

Our first time using the Gennaker.
The first 3 months, by the numbers:

954 : nautical miles traveled
92 : days living on the boat
90 : hours motoring
75: (this one at the request of Patrick): approximate value in Euros of things lost overboard by Maria (instrument cover, electrical adapter, Leatherman)
41 : days sailing
34 : different ports and anchorages visited (35% anchorages)
12 : ports or anchorages new to us
10 : psychological meltdowns over crappy weather
8 : repairs needed (see above)
7 : hours flying the Gennaker
6 : friends crewing
5 : mackerel caught and consumed
5 : books read
3 :  kilos (6.5 pounds) lost by Maria  (see mackerel references)
2  : countries visited
1 : medical emergency  (Patrick developed an ugly and rapidly-growing mole on the back of his calf that needed surgery a.s.a.p.  The pathologists still aren’t sure if it was a carcinoma or not.  I stayed with the boat for 2-3 days on 2 separate occasions while he traveled back home to have this taken care of.)

1 : family emergency  (My mom had cardiac complications after knee-replacement surgery.  We rerouted to a port with transportation options in case I needed to fly out rapidly.  We sat and waited and worried for a week, but everything was happily resolved.)

Our first time visiting Sark in the Channel Islands

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Brittany Ports and Anchorages 2015

When planning a cruise around Brittany, it’s imperative to have a good and up-to-date cruising guide. (An excellent internet resource for complimentary port information is JimB Sail (http://www.jimbsail.info/).   Things are tricky here, with some of the highest tides and strongest currents in Europe, and many ports and anchorages are nestled in a rocky, drying shoreline. 

Sunset over Houat Island to end mark the end of our 2015 cruise around Brittany.
Even with a good guide, I always have a few lingering doubts about how some ports function, so I decided to make a few notes about our 2015 experiences. This is by no means a complete list of ports or anchorages in the area but only the ones we visited this year. These are loosely organized from south to north from Vannes in the Morbihan Gulf up to the Channel Islands. 

Vannes – I have a love / hate relationship with Vannes.  It’s one of the few ports in the center of a charming medieval town and has excellent new port facilities.  After traveling up the Morbihan gulf and passing under the Kerino bridge (with limited openings) and through the ever-changing maze of buoys that route ship traffic around a tunnel construction area, you enter a narrow channel (2 meters deep but only if you stay in the center) that takes you into the main port area.  Visitors are usually directed to one of three pontoons near the port office.  The space is wide but actual dock space is limited and you can be sure to be rafted up.  If you have a shallow draft, you may be given a catway slip in the inner harbour north of the foot bridge, but for boats > 10 meters it’s very tight for manoeuvres.  Because the port is in the center of town, it can be noisy, especially on weekends when the surrounding bars and cafes overflow onto the port area.  The port area is also “the place to be” for local teens.  The visitors’ docks are not protected and anyone can “visit”.  Acts of vandalism are, sadly, not rare.  We’ve had bottles of beer chucked at the boat (while we were aboard) and had night visitors that tied small trash bags all over the rigging.  We were lucky that these were more annoying than damaging, but it’s still unacceptable and has never happened to us in any other port. This is the price you pay for being in a lively down town area with excellent shops and markets.     

Morbihan Gulf / Iles aux Moines – two floating pontoons for visitors with electricity and a water taxi service to / from island.  Excellent facilities (although showers always a tad chilly).  With the lifting keel we were able to use the interior pontoon, less crowded and more protected from wash and chop of passing ferries.

Haliguen – We used the visitor’s pontoon in the east basin.  Much less crowded with nice shower facilities close by, although a bit of a hike to the harbour master’s office if needed.  Port area a bit dead but the town of Quiberon is only a 15-20 minute walk away (or easy bike ride).  Nice coastal walks. 

Houat / Treach Salus Beach – This is one of our favourite spots in the Quiberon bay.  It’s always crowded in summer but there is almost always room for everyone.  (I counted 40 boats anchoring overnight while we were there).  The best protection from the westerly swell is on the northeast corner behind the Beg Salus rock, but you’ll need a shallow draft to take advantage of this.

Port Louis – excellent new facilities and charming town with good market streets.  Important to stay in the marked channel at entrance to port because of shallow mud banks on either side.

Lorient / Centre Ville – we avoided the center ville for a long time, choosing instead one of the 3 larger marinas in the bay (Port Louis, Locmiquelic, or Kernevel).  This time, we had a crew member to drop off in town and decided to give the Center Ville port a try.  Visitors are normally placed on the pontoons at the entrance of the port but catway slips are sometimes available if you ask for stays longer than one day.  The facilities are the best in Brittany, in the same league as Jersey or Guernsey.  The showers are huge, you can adjust the temperature of the water, and each stall has its own mirror and sink area.  The laundry facilities are new and reasonably priced, and (drumroll, please) there is a SAUNA.  They loan bikes, free of charge.  The town, while not particularly appealing, has a small pedestrian downtown shopping area that is quite nice. 

Groix Island / Port Tudy – crowded and narrow, but always worth the visit. 

Groix Island / St Nicolas – To be avoided on beautiful weekends (too crowded).  Gorgeous creek with high cliffs.  Enough space for 3 or 4 largish sailboats to anchor overnight.  Rocky and narrow, so choose anchorage and chain length accordingly.

Groix Island / Plage des Grands Sables – Beautiful anchorage for calm weather.  Good holding off one of the few convex beaches in Europe.

Glenan Archipelago / La Pie anchorage – The zone north of St Nicolas and Bananec islands and south of the isolated danger buoy “the Pie” is a lovely anchorage in southerly winds.  The eastern part of the bay is organized with closely-spaced mooring buoys (fee) but the western part between Brunec and St Nicolas is free for anchoring.  Good holding (but have seen people slip here if they don’t dig in their anchor with a little reverse throttle) and reasonably well protected from westerly swell.

St Marine – beware of strong tides running perpendicular to the marina even in low tidal coefficients !  Best to arrive at slack tide. Visitors on mooring buoys or pontoons, often rafted up.  Otherwise a beautiful spot.

St. Evette – a typical stop to wait for favourable currents to pass the Raz de Sein, so always crowded.  Visitor’s moorings available (although not clearly marked).  Otherwise anchor, but watch out for swell that wraps around the seawall.

Audierne – a good alternative to St Evrette if you’ve got the time and, preferably, a lifting keel to wade gently into the narrow drying channel.  The channel is reasonably well marked but you are encouraged to only enter or leave between 2 hours before / after high tide.  They don’t have much space for visiting boats > 10 meters (3 or 4 spots at best).  Best to call ahead.  The facilities are excellent and the town is small but pleasant.   

Camaret – Usually a necessary stop in between tides when sailing through the Raz de Sein and Chenal du Four.  The visitor’s berths are set up in a series of U-shaped pontoons and its always tricky to get into / out of, but there is always someone around to give a helping hand.  The Notic marina closer to town has about 10 slips and a drying pontoon that can fit about 5 boats (boats are almost always rafted up here).  Wherever you go in Camaret (Notic or Camaret marina) the shower facilities are THE WORST in Brittany.  A beautiful coastal trail (part of GR34) and nice beach.  Some good food shops and a large supermarket nearby.  

Brest / Port du Chateau – a good alternative to Camaret if you’ve got time to make the extra 7 miles down the bay.  The Port du Chateau is well placed in the center of town.  The visitor’s slips and pontoon are on the far right as you enter.  The town can’t be called charming but the main pedestrian streets and shops are nice and they have one of the best bookstores in Brittany (with a large English language section, too). 

Aber Wrac’h – This is another port that is often a necessary stop either coming across the Channel or waiting for the tide to go around the Chenal du Four around the tip of Brittany heading south.  Hint:  when you arrive, tell the port officer firmly that you would like a catway berth (also helps to tell them you’ll be staying for several days…you can always change your mind later). Otherwise you’ll be rafted up on the pontoons.  As this is a major hub, there are always very early / very late departures / arrivals, making rafting up a real headache.  The facilities are good and there are some good restaurants around the port area, but otherwise dead.  Often foggy.

Ile Batz – This was our first attempt at a full dry-out.  It was fun although not particularly practical for going ashore (sand / mud mix, not easy to walk in…). This is one of the few ports that still allows boats to anchor freely in the drying harbour, which means you need to choose your spot carefully to avoid hitting all the small fishing boats on moorings near the zone. You can go very close to the beach / ramp area, as the sand is hard and flat up to the beach zone.  Very foggy.

Roscoff / Bloscon  – A huge marina with fancy new facilities.  Can be entered in all tides but watch out for currents in the port itself.  There is a free shuttle that runs from the marina to the town (worth a visit).  The navette also makes a stop at the Casino.  This didn’t interest us until we learned that this did not refer to the actual Casino around the corner, but instead to a huge supermarket named Casino.  

Morlaix – difficult to reach but worth the trip.  At the southern end of the Morlaix bay, the channel into the Morlaix river is well marked.  You need at least 4 meters of tide before entering.  At half-tide, we squeezed through with the keel lifted up to 1.5 meters.  Don’t stray from the channel or you risk getting stuck in mud / clay that is very difficult to get out of.  To enter the port of Morlaix you have to pass through a lock.  Lock hours are 1 ½ hours before high tide, at high tide, and at 1 hour after high tide.  If you arrive before the lock is open, tie up to the stone wall on the right.  In the lock, there is no “traffic controller” even in high season and it’s chaotic trying to self-organize many different-sized boats into the lock.  Coming out of the lock, a port officer in a zodiac will indicate a slip or pontoon for you.  A new dock was added recently and there seems to be lots of space for visitors.  The shower / sanitary facilities are quite poor, but the town is absolutely lovely and well worth the effort.  In the Morlaix bay, we also anchored north of Ile Sterec waiting for the tide to rise before entering the channel.  It’s a nice anchorage but seems pretty exposed for all but calm weather.   

Trebeurden – Fixed sill at 2.10 meters drying.  Beautiful modern marina in a lovely setting with pink granite boulders, nice coastal hikes and large beach area.

Tregastel – a poor cousin to Ploumanac’h but easier to enter and leave.  7 visitor’s moorings, clearly identified and well spaced.  Nothing much to see in the town but a beautiful jumble of pink granite boulders and beautiful small beaches around.  Somewhat exposed to northerly winds.  12 Euros.

Ploumanac’h – voted most beautiful village of France 2015.  The entrance channel is narrow, rocky, and drying but well marked … breathtaking in several respects !  There is a visitor’s waiting buoy around channel marker 8.   We had intended to dry out in the harbour but it is no longer permitted.  All visitors must use the first line of mooring buoys (line A) and tie up bow and stern.  Best to judge the wind / current direction to choose your angle of attack since it’s quite narrow.  Although they say they can only accept boats less than 12m, the mooring balls are so widely spaced that they were impractical for use for our 11.34m boat.  You can tie up to the smaller intermediate floaters if needed.  Also best to tie up to the leeward side of the mooring line so that you aren’t pushed onto / over the line and buoys. Departure is much easier when you drift away from the line.  Needless to say, gorgeous area.  We didn’t try the facilities but they seem quite poor.  We noticed a lovely flat sandy spot with a few boats dried out just to the west of the channel.  Unfortunately we were in a low tidal coefficient and without a better chart of the area, I wasn’t sure we’d have enough water to get in / get out again.  35 Euros / night with no facilities, water, or electricity.  A bit steep, but still worth a visit.

Port Blanc – A welcomed deep-water mooring area accessible at any tide (rare in this area).  It is exposed to northerly winds, though.  There are 7 visitor’s buoys, clearly marked and widely spaced running parallel to the main channel.  The site is lovely.  But don’t be fooled: it’s not free.  A guy in a zodiac will come knock on your boat around 8:30 am to ask for 11 Euros.  Fair enough.

Treguier – River with strong currents at the marina.  Arrive at slack tide if possible.  Call as you arrive to be assigned a slip.  If no slips are available for docking nose-to-current, the port officers may ask you to wait on a pontoon until the current slacks or changes direction.  Beautiful cathedral and nice old town area. 

Lezardrieux – nice spot on the river, crappy port facilities, a few good food shops up the hill in town. 

Brehat – Even though we have a lifting keel and could, in theory, go into The Chamber mooring area, this zone is completely marked off with mooring buoys now and anchoring is forbidden.  The site is always full.  We learned that we could push further on into the zone and dry out just south of Ile Lavrec, but it’s not very practical for going ashore.  The easiest, no-stress option is to anchor off Plage Guerzido.  There are two yellow poles on either side of the entrance that mark the limit of the mooring zone (yellow floating balls in high season to mark swim area).  You can moor anywhere south of this zone.  We rowed ashore to the small beach on the west side of Guerzido and followed a small path that leads into town (about 15 minute walk).  Beautiful site, still free, and worth the visit.

Paimpol – an extremely narrow but well-marked channel with water depth that dries out 4 meters where you line up to enter the channel.  The lock operates from 2 ½ hours before and 2 ½ hours after high tide, more-or-less on demand (call ahead to know if the lock is open in the in-going direction).  There is a visitor’s dock with catway slips but that fills up fast.  The 2015 guide said that boats > 10m should go to basin No1 but we saw no evidence of this happening and were directed to a pontoon along the far wall of basin No 2.  The old town is lively and charming.

St Quay – Another one of the rare marinas with access at all tides.  Good facilities, lots of restaurants and ship chandlers in the port area, a very small town center about 15-20 minutes by foot and some nice coastal hiking trails.  Good beaches if you’ve got the weather for it.

Fort de La Latte -  Small cove, good-weather stop only.  Anchor at the foot of an imposing fort (open for visits).

St Cast – Entrance at all tides, excellent new facilities, very chic, coastal resort town.

St Malo / Les Sablons – Sill at 2 meters.  Large port with most disappointing facilities and services – you have to go to the local café for internet, buying a loaf of bread requires advanced planning and a long hike into town, and there are very few options for food shopping in the area.  Lovely town area in St Servan, nice coastal walks, reasonably close to old town of St Malo. 

The Sound / Chausey – very busy and crowded.  It seems that there are fewer and fewer visitor’s buoys and it’s good to have a lifting keel.  We settled on the sand/mud with the keel up at 1.10 meters. The zone is organized into two parallel mooring lines where you tie up fore and aft.  Do yourself a favour (especially if you’ve got the keel up and are less manoeuvrable) :  grab the forward buoy facing the wind / current as if it’s the only buoy you are going to use.  Once you’ve got it, put the dinghy in the water and take your stern line out to the aft buoy.  (You’ll be using the dinghy to get to shore anyway.)  If you try to be fancy and pick up the back buoy first and then advance to the forward buoy, you’ll just make a huge mess of things.  There are bizarre currents in the sound that make such manoeuvres nearly impossible.  After hours of watching others tie up, the “forward-buoy-first” trick seems to be the only one that works without creating a spectacle.  The mooring is free and the island is beautiful (but crowded).  The Beauchamp pass running north / south along the archipelago is absolutely gorgeous at low tide.

St Helier / Jersey –  Sill that opens at 3 hours before and after high tide giving you 1.8 meters of clearance.  Nice waiting pontoons although crowded.  Visitor’s pontoons are large but expect to be rafted up at some point during your stay.  Very chic facilities.  The marina is in the heart of the town.  Food and fish markets daily at the halls, 10 minutes’ walk. 

St Aubin / Jersey – This is a lovely anchorage, nice broad flat sand, good protection near / behind St Aubin’s Fort if you can dry out and a short dinghy ride into the charming town of St Aubin.  We arrived too late to squeeze into an area for drying out but still had a good night moored out.

Sark – We spent two nights at anchor.  Derrible bay is gorgeous with good holding but not practical for going ashore.  Dixcart bay to the west is less attractive (but still very nice) with a beach area and coastal trail going into town.  People seemed surprised when we told them we had spent 2 nights at anchor in the area.  We were alone in Derrible and only had one or two companions in Dixcart.  Apparently this area is known for uncomfortable swell, but we weren’t particularly bothered. 

St Peter / Guernsey – Fixed sill at 4.2 meters drying.  There is a waiting pontoon at the entrance. Even if you’ve calculated that you have enough water to enter the harbour with your new lifting keel, you are supposed to wait to be escorted in and assigned a place.  We just barged right on in against some bewildering red lights and were met by a port officer in a zodiac telling us that everyone on the waiting pontoon was cursing us…but he let us slip through anyway and we got a good spot.  (Not recommending this technique, though).  Exiting is more straightforward.  The lights turn green where there is a 2 meters clearance above the sill.  We happily headed out with the keel down and heard a big metallic BONK as we crossed over the sill.  Just a little reminder that our draft is 2.25 meters, not 2 !  (The great thing about the lifting keel is that it just swings back and up when it encounters difficulties, so no harm done.)