Cruis­ing log

Yachting Monthly - - INSIDE THIS MONTH -

Read­ers share their ex­pe­ri­ences of a first Chan­nel cross­ing with friends, teach­ing in-laws to sail in the BVI, and a happy boat swap

Brit­tany is a fab­u­lous cruis­ing des­ti­na­tion, but there are lessons to learn along the way for Terysa Van­der­loo and her crew.

Sit­ting in a pub in Dart­mouth, the four of us ex­cit­edly dis­cussed our im­mi­nent de­par­ture for France over beer and burg­ers.

Our friends Matt and Kait­lyn had trav­eled down from Lon­don for a week on board, but had lit­tle sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Nick and I tried not to show it, but we were slightly ner­vous about the pas­sage across the English Chan­nel. We as­sured Matt and Kait­lyn that if they were sea­sick or weren’t en­joy­ing it, we would make land­fall in Brest in­stead of Con­car­neau fur­ther south, as in­tended. The truth was that Nick and I weren’t cer­tain that tak­ing two novices on a 48-hour pas­sage was a good idea, and qui­etly agreed that we might cur­tail the jour­ney ei­ther way.

We set off, mak­ing the er­ror of leav­ing in the late af­ter­noon in or­der to get the night sail out of the way. We had failed to take into ac­count, how­ever, when we would cross the ship­ping lanes. Nick took the first watch, and then stayed up un­til 0500 at which point we fi­nally left the ship­ping lanes be­hind us. The sea state had been un­com­fort­able and Matt and Kait­lyn had felt sea­sick, teach­ing Nick and me a sec­ond les­son: al­ways give out an­ti­sea­sick­ness tablets.

Even­tu­ally, as dawn broke the sea flat­tened, the wind dropped off and ev­ery­one ex­cept me went to bed for some much needed sleep. I had the plea­sure of watch­ing the beau­ti­ful sun­rise in­stead.

That day was far more pleas­ant than the pre­vi­ous night. We mo­tor-sailed across flat seas un­der a warm, blue sky and ev­ery­one was in far bet­ter spir­its. We de­cided to con­tinue for Con­car­neau in North Bis­cay, which meant that we were able to sail around the out­side of the Chenal du Four and the Raz de Sein, mak­ing nav­i­ga­tion con­sid­er­ably eas­ier.

No-one was look­ing for­ward to an­other night sail, but the winds stayed light and the sky was un­ob­structed by cloud. Kait­lyn and I took the first watch to­gether and, blan­kets over our legs and pil­lows be­hind our backs, set­tled down in the cock­pit to quiet con­ver­sa­tion and a mag­nif­i­cent view of the milky way in a mas­sive arc above us. The boys re­lieved us at 0200 and a few hours later we ar­rived into Con­car­neau as the sun was ris­ing.

‘The milky way stretched over­head in a mas­sive arc’

We ra­dioed the har­bour but got no re­ply, so tied up on the vis­i­tors’ pon­toon. Nick took care of the for­mal­i­ties as the rest of us cleaned up and sorted out the lines and fend­ers. We were all pretty shat­tered that day, but food is the ul­ti­mate mo­ti­va­tor and the delectable cui­sine of South Brit­tany beck­oned. The old town was ac­tu­ally a for­ti­fied is­land in the mid­dle of the har­bour, con­nected to the prom­e­nade by a foot­bridge. We wan­dered the nar­row cob­bled streets and then set­tled down in a charm­ing lit­tle res­tau­rant to cel­e­brate our suc­cess­ful pas­sage in true French style: with wine, mus­sels and the in­ter­nal or­gans of some un­known an­i­mal, which I en­thu­si­as­ti­cally munched on think­ing it was ham. Nick didn’t en­lighten me un­til we were lick­ing our ice­cream cones on the way back to the boat later that evening.

We de­cided to stop for a night in Ile de Groix but were feel­ing so re­laxed and lazy that we didn’t even bother go­ing ashore. In­stead, we an­chored off a beau­ti­ful beach amongst dozens of other yachts and en­joyed an af­ter­noon of read­ing, sleep­ing and beer drink­ing. The fol­low­ing day we con­tin­ued south to Belle-Île.

We reached Sau­zon, on the north-east­ern tip of the is­land, by lunchtime. Af­ter a night on the buoy in the outer har­bour we con­tin­ued into the in­ner har­bour and then up the dry­ing creek. We lifted our keel, put out bow and stern an­chors and dried out on the sandy bot­tom, giv­ing Nick an op­por­tu­nity to scrub the hull.

We also took ad­van­tage of the spec­tac­u­lar coastal hikes Belle-Île has to of­fer and rented bikes to ex­plore in­land. Belle-Île is aptly named: the views were breath­tak­ing and the small wa­ter­side vil­lage of Sau­zon is charm­ing and full of bus­tle. When the boat was afloat we all jumped into the clear, frigid wa­ter and had an in­vig­o­rat­ing swim.

Our time with Matt and Kait­lyn was al­most up and we had to get to La Rochelle for their flight home. Af­ter an overnight stop in Ile d’Yeu, we con­tin­ued south. The weather re­mained fair and dol­phins came to play, duck­ing and leap­ing inches from the bow. We had 15 knots from astern and so launched the Para­sailor, which is easy to man­age be­tween just the two of us.

La Rochelle has a huge 3000-berth ma­rina, Port des Min­imes, about one mile from the town it­self and per­fect for some peace and quiet and to be next to the beach. As we en­tered the ma­rina, the wind was blow­ing 20 knots, gust­ing 30, and just as Nick was steer­ing into the berth the bow thruster cut out. We’re high-sided and have dou­ble rud­ders so have no prop­wash. The wind pushed our stern away from the pon­toon and we slewed side­ways, our bow line looped around a cleat but no other lines at­tached. An­other les­son learned: hand your mid­ships line to ma­rina staff, no mat­ter how much they point to the bow line!

With a sick­en­ing scrape we col­lided with the fin­ger pon­toon op­po­site and its un­fend­ered steel edge dug into our hull. Nick was grim­faced, as Matt and Kait­lyn tried to fend off. I pulled our bow line back on board and Nick re­versed out of the berth. Un­will­ing to at­tempt to turn around be­cause we still didn’t have use of our bow thruster, we chose an­other free fin­ger pon­toon and tried again. This time we tied up with­out in­ci­dent and Nick spent the fol­low­ing day re­pair­ing the hole, which had gone through the gel­coat to the fi­bre­glass.

La Rochelle is pos­si­bly my favourite city in France. The mar­ket is one of the best in the re­gion and has a won­der­ful, lively at­mos­phere. There’s a maze of pedes­tri­anised lanes full of shops, bars and restau­rants, where the food was the best we’d had in the whole week.

With sup­plies and crew on board, we were ready to set off

Kait­lyn and Nick, our novice crew, set­tled into life on board

Ile de Groix was beau­ti­ful, and we lazed on the boat all day

With a shal­low draught we could go up the creek at Sau­zon on Belle-Île to ex­plore and swim

It’s a short walk along the shore from Les Min­imes Ma­rina into La Rochelle

Our lift­ing keel makes it easy to dry out in an­chor­ages

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