Dry sail­ing from Brit­tany

Re­lo­cat­ing the boat from usu­ally cold, rainy Eng­land to a dry-sail­ing ma­rina in Brit­tany was an in­spired move, says Peter Chen­nell

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

Can a UK cou­ple re­ally en­joy their boat kept ashore in another coun­try?

At the end of the cold, wet, and windy 2008 sea­son, I turned to my wife and said: “That’s it, we’re ei­ther go­ing to sell the boat or move it some­where nicer.”

Our Hall­berg-Rassy 34 Ju­niper was lo­cated in Ply­mouth, where we’d moved it af­ter 20 years of sail­ing in and around Poole. I’d de­vel­oped the opin­ion that, while Poole is a won­der­ful place to sail to, it is not such a good place for the week­ender to sail from. We live quite near to Poole, but the 120-mile jour­ney to Ply­mouth had been worth it for the ac­ces­si­bil­ity and choice of overnight des­ti­na­tions, and in­deed the to­tally dif­fer­ent scenery.

On too many oc­ca­sions, how­ever, we would drive down on the Fri­day night, and have a mis­er­able week­end, or sim­ply give up and re­turn on the Sat­ur­day.

Boat­ing is an en­joy­able pas­time, but some­times it pays to take an ob­jec­tive look at the way we do it, so I set about look­ing at the al­ter­na­tives: n Mov­ing the boat abroad If we did this would we be pre­pared to ex­change go­ing down to the boat ev­ery week­end with­out fail in the sum­mer for a smaller num­ber of longer pe­ri­ods aboard? And were we pre­pared to ac­cept the travel, and of course the other fi­nan­cial con­sid­er­a­tions? n Sell­ing the boat If we sold the boat then cer­tainly we’d have a cap­i­tal sum and the an­nual cost of our present boat­ing could be spent char­ter­ing.

We dismissed the no­tion of sell­ing the boat (the very idea!) and agreed that we’d give an over­seas lo­ca­tion a try. What we were look­ing for was cheaper, or sim­i­larly priced boat­ing, and much bet­ter weather.

Search for a base

Af­ter some con­sid­er­able re­search look­ing at the ease, fre­quency, du­ra­tion, vul­ner­a­bil­ity, and cost of travel op­tions, we

ended up in la Rochelle. There was a fre­quent di­rect flight from Southamp­ton to la Rochelle dur­ing the sum­mer and get­ting from the air­port was cheap by taxi and just as easy, and a lot cheaper, by pub­lic trans­port.

The ma­jor­ity of 2009 was spent based there, and al­though we ab­so­lutely loved la Rochelle as a town we were less en­chanted with the sail­ing: the area is flat, a bit fea­ture­less, and shal­low – so much so that quite a few of the very at­trac­tive har­bours in the area were un­avail­able to us at cer­tain times in the tidal cy­cle. It was also very, very, hot in­deed, and al­though we both en­joyed the weather it was sim­ply too hot. We didn’t go to the boat dur­ing July and Au­gust be­cause the French school hol­i­days mean a very crowded, costly en­vi­ron­ment and the heat would have been un­bear­able for us.

So to­wards the end of the sea­son we made the pas­sage north­wards, de­ter­min­ing to leave the boat for the win­ter wher­ever we ended up, and have a fresh think. Just as well we did: only a few months later la Rochelle suf­fered the amaz­ing storms that dev­as­tated its mari­nas.

For some years we’d been in­ex­orably work­ing our way up the ten-year wait­ing lists of all the mari­nas south of Brest, an­tic­i­pat­ing my re­tire­ment. And it was just as we were con­tem­plat­ing where to berth for the win­ter that an in­vi­ta­tion to a new lo­ca­tion in St Philib­ert, near la Trinité, ar­rived on our door­mat.

Brit­tany alone reck­ons it is short of about 7,000 berths, and in­creas­ingly ‘dry sail­ing’ is be­ing of­fered. For those who only visit their boats a few times a year, this seems like the univer­sal panacea. The boat stays safely and se­curely in a cra­dle ashore all the time. When you want to go afloat you let the port know, and the boat is in the wa­ter wait­ing for you. You get a cou­ple of free nights on the vis­i­tor pon­toon, and at the end of the pe­riod afloat the boat is lifted out, and back into its cra­dle. Of course it is not much good if you use the boat ev­ery week­end, but the ad­van­tage is that it frees up afloat berths for those who do.

I was told that these dry-berths could be as much as a kilo­me­tre from the launch site, with cheaper land prices giv­ing a more at­trac­tive of­fer.

Other ad­van­tages are fewer wor­ries about elec­trol­y­sis and pos­si­bly no need for an­tifoul­ing as a short pe­riod of growth will come off with the pres­sure washer, al­ways part of the lift-out.

There are said to be a few such places al­ready in the Mediter­ranean, mostly for small power boats, as in the UK. They are rarer for keel­boats, though sev­eral are planned. Closer to home, apart from St Philib­ert, there is another at Corde­mais on the Loire, and one at la Roche Bernard on the Vi­laine River.

We found our­selves in the Vi­laine, a place I’d al­ways wanted to visit, at the

‘Dry-sail­ing seems like the univer­sal panacea’

end of the sea­son and over-win­tered there in the ma­rina at Foleux. One op­er­a­tion, la Cale de Nep­tune, of­fered dry sail­ing us­ing a crane to haul out and re­launch. How­ever, across the river in Foleux, Multi-Nau­tique used a clever com­bi­na­tion of trac­tor and hy­drauli­cally ar­tic­u­lated trailer to launch and re­cover. One man did the whole op­er­a­tion in about 15 min­utes.

The charm­ing own­ers, who speak per­fect English, had but one place left. We took it.

Best sail­ing de­ci­sion

I can truth­fully say this was one of our best sail­ing de­ci­sions ever. The weather in Brit­tany is mostly warm and sunny – a cou­ple of times when the UK was be­ing sav­aged by yet another low pres­sure sys­tem we ex­pe­ri­enced a few over­cast and slightly blowy days, but the rest of the time it was per­fect. When the high pres­sure es­tab­lishes it­self the af­ter­noon breeze kicks in, pro­vid­ing glo­ri­ous beam reaches in big gen­tle swells up and down the coast­line, and calm, still, warm evenings.

We avoided July and Au­gust, but in the ex­tended sea­son of April to Oc­to­ber ex­pe­ri­enced such an ab­sence of crowd­ing that we found it hard to be­lieve. Imag­ine the Port du Crouesty, at the mouth of the Golfe du Mor­bi­han, which has an en­tire 100-berth basin ded­i­cated to vis­i­tors (this place is big), with only 20 boats in it. This in June.

The trav­el­ling was easy. While I was still work­ing we took the overnight ferry to St Malo, and were on the boat, hav­ing done the vict­ualling, by late morn­ing. Our choice was ei­ther to stay there and ease our­selves into a boat­ing frame of mind, or crack on to another port (a good se­lec­tion within a few hours' sail­ing) and do our 'eas­ing in' as the sun went down. The re­turn had us leav­ing the boat mid-morn­ing, and driv­ing to Caen, with a hy­per­mar­ket shop on the way. It re­quired a de­gree of plan­ning to en­sure op­ti­mal use of my leave, max­i­mum time in France, less time wasted trav­el­ling – hence the overnight ferry.

Once re­tired, our sail­ing changed sub­tly. We spent three weeks to a month on board, not hur­ry­ing any­where. The Poole to Cher­bourg ferry al­lowed us to be on board early evening, and we would gen­tly set­tle in.

The Vi­laine river is gor­geous. It is wide and deep with very lit­tle flow as it has been canalised, and you can an­chor any­where, most sen­si­bly out of the mid­dle, as there are a few boats, in­clud­ing a large dredger, that pass up and down. Apart from week­ends the traf­fic is vir­tu­ally non ex­is­tent.

To get to sea you have to pass through the lock at Arzal, an hour down­stream. Some peo­ple get quite ner­vous about it, as it is quite large, and there can be a bit of jostling at week­ends. But for us it be­came rou­tine, and we nor­mally went through at a quiet time. There were oc­ca­sions, at the time of a huge char­ity rally for peo­ple with spe­cial needs, where it was pos­i­tively party-like. Boats were crammed in with lots of good hu­mour.

Once at sea, there are choices north or south. There are large mari­nas with all sorts of fa­cil­i­ties, and scores of an­chor­ages. The Golfe du Mor­bi­han, and Vannes at its head are a fab­u­lous place to visit; south­wards takes you past the mouth of the Loire; north­wards to Lori­ent, Con­car­neau and Brest. And of course there are many is­lands, rang­ing from the heav­ily pop­u­lated to the bare Glé­nans.

And we had such fun, there are quite a few British boats out there, and we met a lot of new friends. We also had fun be­ing in France, and were in­vited to join in lo­cal com­mu­nity events.

What it cost

Fi­nan­cially we were pleased with the re­sult. Our di­rect boat­ing costs were some £3,500 cheaper than in the UK, and even when the real travel costs (ferry, food, and

mileage) are taken into con­sid­er­a­tion, our sea­sons were still about £1,000 less costly. A whole year’s dry sail­ing in­cluded five launches a year, the free vis­i­tor nights, elec­tric­ity etc. In the UK you have to pay for win­ter stor­age on top of the an­nual berthing charge, and there are ex­tras like cra­dle hire, lift in/out and elec­tric­ity to add on top of the ac­tual foot­print. Costly.

Of course the Euro rate plays its part, and our costs var­ied by a few per­cent, de­pend­ing on the rel­a­tive strengths of the two cur­ren­cies.

Another mas­sive cost sav­ing is an of­fer from the com­pany that runs nearly all the mari­nas in the area, now called Com­pag­nie des Ports du Mor­bi­han. For a few hun­dred Eu­ros, de­pend­ing on the size of your boat, you can buy a sub­scrip­tion (they call it a ‘passe­port’) to all the mari­nas in their own­er­ship, and some as­so­ciates, around 20 in to­tal. For this you get two con­sec­u­tive nights free wher­ever you go, and you only have to be away for a day to re­turn and re­peat the cy­cle! Al­ter­na­tively if you have a moor­ing in one of their ports the deal ex­tends to quite a few more ports.

We like to an­chor when we can, but this of­fer is be­guil­ing, and we found our­selves go­ing from ma­rina to ma­rina, sim­ply to avail our­selves of all the things mari­nas of­fer – show­ers, restau­rants, mar­kets, and all the things you don’t re­ally need. And bars.

It is hard to com­pare like for like with UK boat­ing, be­cause we never recorded the ex­penses, so the price com­par­isons are as best I could es­ti­mate, but the sav­ings far out­weigh the dis­ad­van­tages. We ac­tu­ally spent more time on board than we did in the UK, and the real cost per ‘boat-night’ was about 30% less.

I’m sure it could be cheaper still – vis­it­ing ports, even fa­mil­iar ones, en­tails vis­its to bars and restau­rants, and once re­tired we found our­selves eat­ing more fre­quently on board. We were in ‘liv­ing on the boat’ mode, rather than ‘hol­i­day’ mode.

Sell up or move else­where?

We had an out­stand­ing pe­riod of sail­ing un­til we sold the boat two years ago. Nat­u­rally, sum­mer heat­waves such as this one in 2018 can have amaz­ing ef­fects on sailors’ mem­o­ries, but our move in 2009 was pred­i­cated by the weather we ex­pe­ri­enced in the UK, and I be­lieve the weather could well change the na­ture of boat­ing in the UK. My wife and I had come to ex­pect, and ac­cept, the two-week sum­mer cruise ru­ined by rot­ten weather but, as cli­mate change bites, slowly peo­ple are go­ing to be say­ing ‘enough is enough’ and move away from sail­ing. Many will leave al­to­gether, oth­ers will take up power­boat­ing as it’s eas­ier to aban­don a cruise and scam­per home if a de­pres­sion is on the hori­zon.

Of course, I’ve been known to be wrong, but the rel­a­tive sales of sail­ing and motor boats – the lat­ter out­pac­ing the for­mer by some­thing like 5 to 1 – seem to at­test to this.

Yet this trend is not so pro­nounced in France, and cer­tainly not in Brit­tany. And re­mem­ber, my way isn’t the only way. We know many peo­ple who keep their boats much fur­ther afield, in Greece par­tic­u­larly. Some have even bought boats in Florida.

So if you’re think­ing of sell­ing your boat it may be worth a minute to ask your­self whether you’d be bet­ter off, and have more sail­ing fun, if you sim­ply moved it.

‘We spent more time aboard and the cost was about 30% less’

A trac­tor and hy­draulic trailer – a sim­ple and ef­fec­tive launch­ing sys­tem

the ter­mi­nal build­ing la rochelle Air­port – there’s easy ac­cess to the ma­rina, but palm trees say some­thing about the hot weather. bE­LoW the big Vi­laine river lock at Arzal

Party at­mos­phere at Arzal lock when a mas­sive char­ity event was be­ing held just up­stream

A river­side com­mu­nity event in Foleux

Drift­ing down the Vi­laine, just west of la Roche Bernard

Arzal lock runs all day and tends to be very friendly and help­ful

Trail­ing and launch­ing is a one­man op­er­a­tion that takes lit­tle more than 20 min­utes

Peter Chen­nell’s Ju­niper un­der sail

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