BRIT­TANY &BE­YOND

Thomas and Jutta Kit­tel cont inue their gen­tle cruise south to the Med tak­ing in the Chan­nel Is­lands, Br it­tany and Bordeaux

Motorboat & Yachting - - CRUISING - Words and pic­tures Thomas Kit­tel

Hav­ing suc­cess­fully com­pleted the first leg of our jour­ney to the Med from Ro­s­tock to Cher­bourg, we are now en route to­wards the Chan­nel Is­lands. Al­though the weather is fine we don’t have time to stop at Alder­ney, Herm or Sark so we fo­cus on the two main is­lands of Guernsey and Jersey. There is a lot go­ing on in the small har­bour of St. Peter Port: boats of ev­ery type come and go kept in check by two har­bour mas­ters pa­trolling in dinghies. You check in on­line and the in­voice tum­bles from a mini printer dan­gling from the har­bour mas­ter’s belt. Be­cause Guernsey en­joys tax ex­empt sta­tus we take the op­por­tu­nity to fill up Azura with duty-free fuel.

The next day we take the bus to Cobo Bay on Guernsey’s west coast. A line of ragged rocks pierce the sur­face of the sea like the dor­sal fins of a sleep­ing sea mon­ster, while a group of am­a­teur divers ex­plore their craggy shapes. We climb Le Guet hill to en­joy an even bet­ter view be­fore re­fu­elling our­selves with a lunchtime snack on the ter­race of Cobo Bay Ho­tel. As the tide re­cedes it re­veals a beau­ti­ful sandy beach dot­ted with seaweed sculp­tures.

The next morn­ing, a west­erly breeze has blown in so we leave St. Peter Port early and set a course for Jersey. As we leave the lee of Guernsey, we are greeted by a swell on the beam so we rock and roll our way to St. He­lier. Ev­ery­thing that at­tracted us to Guernsey is miss­ing here; the ma­rina feels large and im­per­sonal and can only of­fer us a berth un­til to­mor­row so we only stay one night be­fore set­ting off for Granville.

I make a mis­take mea­sur­ing the scale on my pa­per chart and cal­cu­late a dis­tance of 60nm and a cruis­ing time of six hours when in re­al­ity it is only 30nm so we slow our pace to en­sure we ar­rive dur­ing the spec­i­fied tidal win­dow. The rea­son it’s on our itin­er­ary is to ful­fil our long-held am­bi­tion to pho­to­graph Azura in front of the nearby Mont St. Michel. Un­for­tu­nately, we’re in the mid­dle of neap tides and can only at­tempt our ap­proach with the help of Claude in his pi­lot boat and a for­mer scal­lop fish­er­man who knows ev­ery sand­bank in the bay. We take Azura in as close as we dare and com­mis­sion an aerial pho­tog­ra­pher to take some un­for­get­table pic­tures of us.

We say good­bye to Claude and con­tinue on to St. Malo in glo­ri­ous con­di­tions. Since the pho­tog­ra­phy ses­sion took a lit­tle longer than planned, we reach St. Malo too late to catch the last lock open­ing into the har­bour. The sec­ond ma­rina, Port des Sablons, is not de­signed for boats of our size and they try to turn us away but the har­bour­mas­ter takes pity on us and gives us the one and only berth we can fit into.

When we are safely moored I check the en­gine room and dis­cover traces of salt. Some­thing must have been spray­ing sea­wa­ter onto the hot sur­faces as it looks like it has been snow­ing salt crys­tals. I can­not im­me­di­ately iden­tify where the wa­ter is com­ing from and ini­tially sus­pect the raw wa­ter cool­ing. Only af­ter test­ing am I able to trace it to the hy­draulic steer­ing’s cool­ing sys­tem. The good news is it’s fix­able but only with a spare part from the US that we ar­range to have sent to friends in Ger­many who are due to join us in Brest. Un­til then we’ll have to find a way to stop it spray­ing onto any­thing vul­ner­a­ble.

We spend a few days wan­der­ing through St. Malo’s old town and ex­plor­ing Cap Fréhel and Fort La Latte be­fore con­tin­u­ing our cruise along the Brit­tany coast to St. Quay-por­trieux.

The fore­cast is pre­dict­ing a slow de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the weather so we skip our planned stopover in Tréguier and make di­rectly for Mor­laix. Set deep in a locked val­ley dom­i­nated by a large rail­way viaduct, it’s reached via a zigzag­ging fair­way that dries out to a trickle on the ebb tide. Ar­rive too early or too late and you’ll end up stuck in the mud. We time it right and en­joy the sanc­tu­ary of a well-pro­tected berth as well as the Bre­ton spe­cial­ity of slow-cooked meat and dumplings called Kig ha far.

When the sea calms down 48 hours later, we take ad­van­tage of the weather win­dow to slip around the western tip of Brit­tany to Brest. Shortly be­fore our ar­rival it starts rain­ing heav­ily, a bless­edly rare oc­cur­rence since our de­par­ture from Ro­s­tock. The weather is warmer and more set­tled than we ex­pected, per­haps be­cause Brest is ac­tu­ally on the same lat­i­tude as Mu­nich.

P I CTURE PER­FECT

In Port-la-fôret we fi­nally find an en­gi­neer ca­pa­ble of re­plac­ing our de­fec­tive oil cooler. The work is done quickly but they also find two small tears in a rub­ber hose. Of course they need re­plac­ing as well but an­noy­ingly a re­place­ment hose will take a fur­ther four days to ar­rive. We use the re­sult­ing break to ex­plore the fortress in Con­car­neau, the pic­turesque vil­lages of Bén­odet and Sainte-marine on the Île Tudy and the artists’ vil­lage of Pont Aven. We even have time to at­tend a con­cert in Quim­per and take a ferry trip to the Île de Groix.

Af­ter our friends say good­bye, we cruise over from the pretty Port Louis at the mouth of the Blavet to La Trinité-sur-mer and then con­tinue via Quiberon to Belle Île. The is­land is ev­ery bit as beau­ti­ful as its name sug­gests. Even the en­trance to the cap­i­tal, Le Palais, is a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence. The har­bour is built in four sec­tions along a deep wind­ing ravine that ta­pers as it goes. Fer­ries from the main­land dock in the first basin as there is enough wa­ter even at low tide, af­ter a sharp turn, you reach the sec­ond basin, which dries at low wa­ter and is there­fore only oc­cu­pied by smaller boats. Then you pass through a nar­row lock with a flood­gate and reach the third basin, where we are berthed. Here we have the per­fect view of the old town, which ex­tends up the slopes on the south­ern side of the har­bour. The op­po­site side is dom­i­nated by the for­ti­fied Ci­tadelle Vauban, which is now a mu­seum and ho­tel. Belle Île thrills us from the mo­ment we ar­rive, so we rent an open ve­hi­cle and drive around the en­tire is­land. The Mediter­ranean-look­ing Sau­zon with its charm­ing lit­tle har­bour and the north­ern tip of the is­land with its pretty light­house on the Pointe des Poulins and the for­mer es­tate of the ac­tress Sarah Bern­hardt leave a last­ing im­pres­sion on us.

We leave Belle Île early in the morn­ing be­cause the lock is only open from 06:00 to 07:30. Our next port of call is St. Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire, where the old sub­ma­rine bunkers are yet an­other re­minder of the Sec­ond World War we en­counter on our jour­ney south. How­ever, the har­bour of St. Nazaire is any­thing but at­trac­tive and we de­cide to press on to Por­nichet.

What we ex­pe­ri­ence here can only be de­scribed as French hos­pi­tal­ity at its best. Old friends Chan­tal and Jean-pierre come on board and take us on a jour­ney into their tra­di­tional hol­i­day en­vi­ron­ment. We drive along the 12km long sandy beach through La Baule, Ste. Mar­guerite and St. Marc-sur-mer and dine in the same ho­tel restau­rant, where in 1953 the fa­mous silent movie Mon­sieur Hu­lot’s Hol­i­day was shot.

We have been to France sev­eral times but never to the At­lantic coast with its nu­mer­ous is­lands off the coast, all of which have a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter. Af­ter the rocky Belle Île, the is­land of Noir­moutier, with its flat, sandy struc­ture, is more rem­i­nis­cent of Ger­many’s East Frisian is­lands. The sum­mer hus­tle and bus­tle fits the com­par­i­son well. The same ap­plies to the Île d’yeu, where we can only find space on the visi­tors’ pon­toon. Shortly af­ter our

ar­rival, the har­bour road is closed off and a fes­ti­val be­gins with mu­sic and the smell of seafood fill­ing the air. At night, a huge fire­works dis­play lights up the sky on the eve of Bastille Day.

Our aim is to be in La Rochelle for the 14 July cel­e­bra­tions, al­though we’re ner­vous of how many oth­ers will have had the same idea. As we cruise along the Île de Ré past Les Sables d’olonnes, we are not sure what to ex­pect. Sure enough as we en­ter the fair­way a vast ar­mada of boats hoves into view. We wait in the 3,000 berth ma­rina Les Min­imes for the bridge to open into the basin of Cha­lu­tiers at 7pm. When the time comes, we can hardly be­lieve our eyes: in the heart of La Rochelle we can take our pick from a num­ber of moor­ings.

LA L A L A ROCHELLE

La Rochelle will be our home for a few days. An old friend, Rainer, has ar­ranged to come and see us. I used to make mu­sic with him 40 years ago and haven’t seen him since so we spend a happy two days rem­i­nisc­ing. Our lives have gone in very dif­fer­ent direc­tions since but we are sill on the same old wave­length.

The next evening we spend with Vladimir, the owner of a trawler yacht we met last year in Portsmouth. He is also on his way to Por­tu­gal so we share routes, ports and ad­vice. Since we do not get a moor­ing on the Île de Ré, we try St-de­nis-d’oléron and get lucky. The mer­cury has now hit 35°C and all ac­tiv­i­ties stop for two days.

We leave the Île d’oléron and cruise past the Île d’aix and the fa­mous wa­ter-borne Fort Bo­yard. Our route zigzags through the shal­low Coreau d’oléron, which flows be­tween the foam­ing sand­banks of the At­lantic. The mouth of the Gironde is also framed by sand­banks, on which nu­mer­ous wrecks are marked. We steer safely around this sec­tor and are soon in Royan, a large and lively ferry and fish­ing port with a proper ma­rina.

Royan’s sil­hou­ette looks very modern. In the late 19th cen­tury it was a fash­ion­able sea­side re­sort. How­ever, this ended abruptly in Jan­uary 1945 when a Bri­tish air raid al­most com­pletely de­stroyed the Ger­man oc­cu­pied town. Nev­er­the­less, the Ger­man troops did not sur­ren­der and in mid-april, the city was at­tacked once again – this time by the US Air Force. It was fi­nally re­built in the 1950s and 1960s as a “model city”.

For us Royan is only a short stopover. The next day we go to Port Mé­doc, where our friends Yvette and Rein­hardt show us the pretty Soulac-sur-mer and the Pointe de Grave, where even to­day a bunker stands next to the old rail­way tracks lead­ing to the rot­ten for­ti­fi­ca­tions. Then we catch the flood tide up the Gironde to Bordeaux, where we are reg­is­tered at the Pon­ton d’hon­neur.

Be­fore that, how­ever, we have to pass un­der the fu­tur­is­tic Pont Cha­ban-del­mas, which only opens for com­mer­cial ship­ping. At high tide it’s go­ing to be a tight squeeze so we fold down our top mast to save an­other 1.5m and fo­cus on cop­ing with the tur­bu­lent 5-knot flood tide. Our first at­tempt at berthing fails when the tide pushes us off so we cir­cle for a while, and ad­mire the mag­nif­i­cent water­front of Bordeaux un­til the cur­rent has sub­sided.

The Port de Lune, a cres­cent-shaped arch of the Garonne lined with pres­ti­gious build­ings and a spa­cious prom­e­nade makes a won­der­ful back­drop while trams creep al­most in­audi­bly across rub­ber damp­ened, grass-edged tracks be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing into sy­camore-lined av­enues.

It’s our favourite stopover to date with nu­mer­ous out­door restau­rants and a dis­tinctly Mediter­ranean vibe, hardly sur­pris­ing when you re­alise that Bordeaux is ac­tu­ally fur­ther south than Venice or Mi­lan.

Bordeaux also rep­re­sents a turn­ing point for life aboard Azura. Af­ter a few weeks of rel­a­tive quiet, we’re about to fill up with guests, in­clud­ing my sis­ter and brother-in-law, a cousin and friends from Chicago, who ar­rive with their two daugh­ters from four dif­fer­ent direc­tions. With our nine-strong crew com­plete we are set for our next leg south to­wards the Basque Coun­try!

The ap­proach to Portsmouth Har­bour is not the ideal lo­ca­tion for a photo shoot but try telling that to a snap­per who wants an in­ter­est­ing back­drop. Not only have you got leisure craft of var­i­ous sizes stream­ing out on their merry way but also the con­stant threat of criss­cross­ing com­mer­cial craft as cross-so­lent and cross-chan­nel fer­ries ne­go­ti­ate the main fair­way and the some­what un­pre­dictable hov­er­craft of­fer­ing it­self as a per­sis­tent curve­ball for good mea­sure. Not to men­tion the odd Royal Navy ship surg­ing through the melee like a blue whale through a mass of plank­ton. It pays to be alert and at the helm of a craft ca­pa­ble of shrug­ging off the chal­leng­ing sea state that ma­te­ri­alises in the shal­lows when a stiff breeze and busy tide meet the wash of all this traf­fic.

The Sasga Menorquin 42 may be a long way from its Balearic home wa­ters, but it is far­ing well in the foam­ing seas of the So­lent. The resin-in­fused, semi-dis­place­ment hull com­fort­ably ab­sorbs and dis­penses with the con­fused wave pat­tern as the up­right fore­foot works in con­junc­tion with the at­trac­tive flared bow to main­tain a soft ride that is com­mend­ably dry.

Naval ar­chi­tect Inigo Toledo had ride com­fort and fuel ef­fi­ciency in mind when de­sign­ing the hull, which has a fine en­try and shal­lower aft sec­tions to in­crease lift at the stern. A stubby keel aids di­rec­tional sta­bil­ity and stops the boat be­com­ing way­ward within the ma­rina – all the more im­por­tant given that this par­tic­u­lar boat isn’t fit­ted with a bowthruster. No mat­ter, with a beefy pair of Volvo Penta D4 300hp diesels on straight shafts the 42 is a dream to spin about in the ma­rina and re­acts obe­di­ently to in­puts on the stubby, tac­tile throt­tles. Out at sea and perched on the op­tional fly­bridge (there is a coupé ver­sion, too) the 42 picks up gamely as I bury the throt­tles to the stops. The D4s come on boost and the boat surges up into an easy 18-knot fast cruise and a top speed of 22 knots, peel­ing through the wave tops and bat­ting larger waves aside as they at­tempt to slow its progress. The view from the fly­bridge helm bench is ter­rific, the neatly curved bul­warks com­ing to a sum­mit at the bril­liantly ex­trav­a­gant solid teak fore­peak. The same can’t be said of the driv­ing po­si­tion, which forces the helms­man to lean in to the wheel and stretch to reach the chart­plot­ter as the seat lacks fore and aft ad­just­ment. The dash is de­void of stor­age so­lu­tions, too, so there is nowhere to stow a hand­held VHF, mo­bile phone or even a mug. I have to re­sort to trap­ping the VHF un­der­neath my thigh to stop it skid­ding to the deck.

A BOAT THAT DOESN’ T CON­FORM

You won’t be buy­ing this boat if space on the top deck is of ut­most im­por­tance, it’s the com­pro­mise that must be ac­cepted for a charm­ing pro­file that in­te­grates the £37,000 fly­bridge mod­ule so seam­lessly. The dinette on the top deck is just about large enough to serve drinks and nib­bles but noth­ing more, and the nod to some sun­bathing space aft is re­ally the only so­lu­tion that would fit in the lim­ited space avail­able. If you want to stretch out in the sun­shine, the enor­mous coachroof is a far bet­ter bet.

Er­gonomics im­prove at the lower helm where the wheel and throt­tles are closer to the seat and there are a cou­ple of spots to se­curely stow loose items. There isn’t a door at the helm but a sim­ple slid­ing win­dow aids ven­ti­la­tion and al­lows the skip­per to in­struct crew.

Said crew have an easy time on deck ow­ing to the 42’s wide, deep side decks and well-pro­tected walk­ways. Con­cealed fender stor­age space is a lit­tle short, though you could lash them for­ward of the en­gines in the spa­cious en­gine­room, but fender hold­ers on the for­ward rail­ings come as stan­dard.

The ca­noe stern with the ex­tended bathing plat­form thrust­ing aft is typ­i­cal of the tra­di­tional Ilaüt fish­ing boats on which the Sasga range is based. The plat­form and cock­pit are huge on the 42, with enough space in the lat­ter for a large ta­ble and free­stand­ing chairs to sup­ple­ment the rather un­com­fort­able (op­tional) cock­pit benches. Be­cause the cock­pit is so deep and the decks so wide the pinch is felt in­side the wheel­house, es­pe­cially as hav­ing the fly­bridge lad­der in place means you can’t open the doors fully un­less you swing it out of the way. That said, the lay­out is in­tel­li­gent and ver­sa­tile too. The fam­ily run busi­ness builds be­tween ten and 15 boats a year

and con­sid­ers it­self a semi-cus­tom ship­yard so if the cus­tomer is af­ter some­thing spe­cific there is flex­i­bil­ity. The test boat is gal­ley down with two cab­ins but you could have gal­ley up with three cab­ins or two cab­ins and a study or dress­ing room.

There is an ar­ti­san feel to the 42’s in­te­rior where the lus­ciously var­nished teak of the fly­bridge over­hang and cock­pit doors wel­come you in­side. The cream leather and warm teak of the test boat doesn’t set the world on fire but the touch of an owner and some colour­ful per­sonal ef­fects will help. The fit and fin­ish is gen­er­ally very solid, and the doors es­pe­cially are beau­ti­fully chunky, but there are some anom­alies, like the fact that the TV isn’t fas­tened down and top­ples over far too eas­ily at sea.

The cab­ins are a good size and have ac­cess to their own spa­cious bath­rooms. Two cou­ples could live com­fort­ably on the 42 for a week, the only down­side be­ing a lack of full-height hang­ing space or places to stow suit­cases.

VER­DICT

It’s hard not to like the 42 de­spite some pit­falls that shouldn’t prove dif­fi­cult for the yard to rec­tify. The way it goes about its busi­ness is so hon­est and it’s re­fresh­ing to find a boat that feels so com­fort­able with its de­lib­er­ate non­con­for­mity. It makes you smile when you set eyes on it and oozes char­ac­ter and charm. It feels proper (it’s RCD Cat­e­gory A) so it’s no sur­prise that the UK dealer sees the Sasga range prov­ing pop­u­lar with for­mer sailors.

It re­mains a left­field choice, partly be­cause of its styling and partly be­cause of its price – just shy of £530,000 as tested. You could shop else­where and find a boat of the same length with a far larger fly­bridge and a more modern, spa­cious in­te­rior for less money, but the chances are it would lack the Sasga’s charm and semi-dis­place­ment char­ac­ter­is­tics. That doesn’t just mean se­cure all-weather sea­keep­ing and a slam-free ride at 20 knots, it also means com­fort­able cruis­ing at 8 knots and a 1,000 mile range.

The 42 has its com­pro­mises but they are the same fac­tors that make it such a unique propo­si­tion and, whether its swing­ing off the an­chor or dodg­ing ferry traf­fic off Portsmouth, it will do it in im­itable style. CON­TACT Edge-wa­ter Marine Tel: +44 (0)2392 388884; www.sas­gay­achts.com

Fort La Latte near St. Malo is edged by the pris­tine Bre­ton coast­line

Safely en­sconced up­river in the pro­tected town of Mor­laix Azura glides around Belle Île to the pretty port of Le Palais The har­bour at Le Palais is split into four zones

Belle Île by name... the fall­ing tide re­veals a soft sandy beach

A chateau on Île de Noir­moutier

Charm­ing it may be but the fly­bridge is on the small side for a 43ft boat

The en­gine in­stal­la­tion is ex­cel­lent with good ac­cess and space around the mo­tors The tim­ber high­lights on the ex­te­rior look won­der­ful and serve a prac­ti­cal pur­pose too

DASH­ING The dash­board is clear and un­fussy, though the flat pan­els can be tricky to read when sit­ting WIN­DOW The sim­ple slid­ing win­dow is a use­ful ad­di­tion at the helm TAKE A SEAT The er­gonomics at the lower helm are much bet­ter than on the fly­bridge

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