Aber-dabber, doo-dah.

WABI’’’ real time : L’Aulne river.  Brittany.

In this blog post I should be telling you all about, and showing you lots of nice new photographs of my cruise down the Chenal de Four and taking in the 3 ‘Aber’s’ : that is L.Aber-Wrach where I arrived, Aber Benoidt and then Aber Ildut . I know I should be drafting the blog because Iv’e got all the notes for each blog in the back of my logbook and at this stage in the journey I was writing that up most nights.  My problem is that I don’t seem to have any of the photographs I think I took in Aber Benoit and Aber Ildut. 

Maddeningly I can even remember mostly the kind of shots I took , especially in Aber Ildut : I even had one from there in mind as the title photograph for this post…..except that it isn’t in the photo file.    In Aber Ildut I distinctly remember motoring in through the narrow and twisty entrance and taking several shots of the moored fishing boats and the new-ish mini marina there, then I remember landing at a small pontoon at the east end of the harbour where it seems to run out and taking pictures of the little narrows that lead through into a small, shallow bay….I even anchored there. 

Now, I’m pretty sure that I had the camera pointed in the right direction, didn’t have the lens cap on and distinctly heard the sound that the camera makes when it takes a shot : it’s just that none of those pictures appear in the downloaded files and I have been right through the 460 odd new photographs several times.


So anyway…..

L.Aber-Wrach was my arrival and entry point into western Brittany and therefore France, it also represents the next decision point because from that north-western corner I had to make the next decision about which way to go next : essentially south down the Chenal de Four or east along the Northern coast towards Roscoff.  Jax kept me updated on the weather forecasts after storm Harriet blew through and it could have gone either way as the wind was going every which way. 

There are a couple of small anchorages on the northern coast in between the Isle Vierge light and the Isle de Batz that I really wanted to go and take a look at and if I went that way I could then easily picked Jax  up in Roscoff when she came out to join me.  A slightly greater incidence of easterly and northerly winds made ‘south’ more appealing and that was my initial plan….to at least get as far as Quiberon bay and the Morbihan this year.

I enjoyed my rest in L.Aber Wrach, mainly at the Port de Paluden which is the head of navigation, i got some jobs done, did the shopping and even had a wash !.  I didn’t exactly need one as I had one last year……however.      In L.Aber Wrach I also messed about with my beaching technique because I knew that coming up would be several places where I would want to run WABI’’’ ashore on a falling tide and be able to haul her off easily with my new kedge set-up.  In at least one place that I know fairly well I would have to lay out a kedge astern while running in towards a beach on an exact line and then at the last moment get the board, rudder and engine up while the Liberty’s bilge keels grounded.

On the mud, Paluden quay.


 Just to say here that I have swapped the anchoring gear around so that I always anchor with me best (and heaviest) anchor, the longer of my 2 lengths of chain and my heaviest warp. The reason for the changeover here is that I am now much more reliant on my anchors because I am lying at anchor for most of the time when I’m not sailing.  I am also using the kedge (second anchor) frequently. 

I haven’t got the new heavier semi-static kernmantel line out here yet : it’s arrived at home but Jax had too much to carry to bring it out.  I do have the long length of ’static’ caving/climbing rope (60 metres) which is 10.5mm diameter and that plus the 10 metre chain comprises my kedge rode.   That complete kedge set-up usually lives below in the first of my under-bunk storage bins but is very quickly accessible for beaching and kedging.  In a future post I will cover my current anchoring and kedging set-up in more detail as I have just about perfected the stern deployment and retrieval method and, in Aber-Wrach done more work on the bowsprit anchoring gear.

Beaching/kedging then.

My technique is to have the long warp all flaked out on the cockpit seat and the chain flaked down into a bucket with the kedge sitting in the top of that, at the approximate right distance I deploy the kedge off the stern quarter roller, quickly drop the chain out and then let the warp run out through one hand as I steer towards the landing point. Watching the depth (if it’s not trolling me that day) I lift the board at about 5 feet depth quickly followed by the rudder.  The last thing is to give the engine a burst of power and then kill it so that I can run steadily onto the ‘beach’ or mud landing. 

At Paluden quay I was able to practice the technique a couple of times because I had the length of the quay as a rough guide to the length of my rode….at that point I was using my old warp extended with a mooring line.  I swapped to the new warp quite quickly because I discovered that I want the anchor well back from the landing point and positioned like that it gives me a very good hauling off line. After my last ‘for real’ beaching in the Anse de Bethaume I walked back along the line of the rode at dead low water and checked out how much warp I had to deploy and it was near to 150 feet total.  I don’t have the new rode marked off in lengths yet and that’s on the job list.


Aber Benoit and Aber Ildut.

For the main part of this post I was thinking about the best way to talk about the 3 ‘Aber’s’ of this coast which are pretty unique places in that they aren’t really ‘like’ anywhere else that I have been into and a lot of that difference is due to the coastline of western Brittany.  Some people liken Brittany to parts of Devon , Cornwall and Wales because there is a Celtic link here and there are similar place and word names to Cornwall and Wales.  A lot of Brittany does have a bold and rocky coast just like Cornwall and the 3 Aber’s might be compared to some parts of the west-country rivers….right now for example I am far inland on the Aulne and sections of that were a lot like my own home river, the Tamar, although Chateaulin is nothing at all like Calstock and Gunnislake at the head of navigation there.

Each part of Brittany is very different : the northern coast is more ‘like’ Cornwall for example, soon I will be in very different Southern Brittany once I pass my next hurdle which is the mighty Raz de Seine…..this part, the Western part is the most different and the most challenging when compared to anywhere else that I know of.  Western Brittany doesn’t just stop at a distinct , discrete coastline and drop straight into deep water , rather the coastline continues out underwater in a complex maze of islands, submerged and semi-submerged, rocks, reefs, shoals and complex channels.  Out to the west is a fringe of offshore islands, Ushant being the most well known to the north , between those and the mainland is the fiercely tidal and rocky Chenal de Four and it’s each of the Aber’s is a kind of finger of deep water poking inland and then joining a tidal river inland.   None of the Aber’s have an entrance that can just be driven straight into, like Falmouth say and each one needs some careful navigation and pilotage in and out.  The north end of the Chenal de Four is also notorious for fog, last time I was here I had to come back through the Raz de seine in zero visibility and I knew that there were other boats about but never saw them, passed several of the just submerged outlying rocks without seeing them on my passage into Cabaret that day.   The greatest challenge here isn’t so much the rocks and shoals because most of them are well marked or at least the easy channels through them are well marked, the greater problem on spring tides is that the flow is almost always across the entrances.  


The day I left Aber-Wrach I stopped out in the main channel just near the well known ‘Petit pot de beurre’ mark and did the sailing equivalent of a mountain-walking map orientation session….just tried to pick out each of the areas of reef, rock and breaking sea and work out which was which.  I did take some pictures of the lighthouse on the Isle de Vierge which marks the far north-western tip except that one is also one of the missing pictures.  Even on a tide heading towards neaps I could see and feel the strong cross flow affecting my navigational transits….during the short passage around to Aber Benoit I used the tiller pilot all the time, setting the course between my main navigational markers was simple as I’d laid them off on the chart in full yachtmaster mode

But even once set I then had to correct the course each time to keep myself on line….mainly using transits.

Because of the tide times I’d left Aber Wrach very early that morning so my first job in Aber Benoit was to quickly tie up to an unused mooring and make breakfast, I’d hardly been there long enough to get the kettle on when matey in an RIB rocked up and politely charged me 17 euro’s for the pleasure of staying there.  Had I been quicker and had better language skills I should have explained that I would be leaving ‘dreckly’ and heading upriver.  I did think about spending the day on the mooring just doing jobs but I was so annoyed that finished my breakfast and immediately left on the flooding tide.  As I said earlier each of the Abers is deep at the entrance but each of them joins a tidal river that then goes a decent way inland.  I didn’t particularly like Aber Benoit, certainly compared to the other 2 until I had left the main harbour behind and was motoring up the shallow tidal river inland.


I don’t have great large scale charts of each river as I’m mainly working from the Imray small craft series ( C 36 in this case) and the only other guide I have on board (now) is Peter Cumberlidge’s book, ‘Secret Brittany Anhorages‘, while a very good book for deep draft  boats : it was very relevant to cruising with the Frances, it doesn’t cover many of the shallow areas that I can get into and anchor in with the Liberty.

You will realise that a channel crossing isn’t an easy option in the little liberty as it really isn’t an an offshore capable boat, it’s fine for the coastal passages and then really comes into it’s own when I am poking about in these shallow bays and rivers.  In Aber Benoit I was able to push all the way up the river to the first road bridge and by then I was skimming mud with the board.  I did spend a lazy day at anchor in a little bay I found off the channel.  In Aber Ildut, which I like a lot more, I went right up the harbour until it seems to pinch off at an old quay.  There the river/harbour comes to a tiny narrows and I cautiously poked through that into a little bay where I could just about stay afloat throughout the tides as long as I had the boards up.


I did think about beaching WABI”’ on the mud and shingle shore in Aber-ildut and then having an explore ashore, except that iv’e been there before with the Frances and I didn’t need water or food having topped up in L.Aber-wrach. What I really wanted to do was to  clear the Chenal de Four completely and get around into the more open bays of Anse de Berthaume to the north and Camaret to the south….both sides of the entrance to Brest essentially.

With the wind going into the north and north-west the anchorage at Anse de Bethaume would be good shelter and I know of a tiny run of sand between the reefs that fringe the beach there to land WABI”’ on and go for a walk.  I had just enough tide left that next morning to run south past Le Conquet harbour and the Pointe de Ste. Mathieu which represents the southern end of the Chenal de Four.  There, the coastline completely changes from the total rock and shoal garden of western Brittany into more open bays although it is still a complex area.

On the beach, Anse de Berthaume




  1. Lovely stuff Steve and those photographs that managed to survive are great. Perhaps there’s a hidden compartment in your camera that sucks up the odd photograph just like socks in a tumble drier? Perhaps not eh!


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