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 (   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 cafĂ© 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.)


Astrolabe Sailing said...

Wow such great detail. Sounds lovely.