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