Goats, peas, and man-pants.

Raz.

WABI’’’ real time : At anchor Audierne outer harbour.  Early this morning I left the anchorage at Morgat, sailed down the lee of the Crozon peninsular and then made for the Raz de Seine, my next major landmark and turning point.  I would love to show you photographs of the Raz, as it was today, in ‘brisk’ mode, unfortunately I was a bit too busy with the steering and hanging on to the boat.  The tiller-pilot definitely couldn’t cope with the conditions today which were tougher than I anticipated. Right now I’m tucked up in the far north-western corner of the harbour at Audierne just near the beach, on the hook, and WABI’’’ is still dancing about in the gusty unstable wind.  Today, with one reef in both sails sometimes I had too much sail and sometimes not enough as the wind speed and direction went up, down in and out as though it really couldn’t decide what to do.  As the boat swings and I se the reef near the entrance it’s breaking well….surf-y kind of day.   Given that the wind today was moderate and a bit plus gusts’ there was a lot more wave action than I would expect but then it’s been blowing a brisk nor-wester for days and that seems to have kicked a sea up.  My timing for the Raz was I think pretty spot-on this time : I think I got there at high water slack at a dead deep….god only knows what it would have been like if there had been a spring flood running through there !.

With my own boats this was only my 3rd time through the Raz de Seine and this one makes it an unbroken record of difficult but different passages so far.  I have definitely been through there at least twice before because we raced through there on the way down to La Trinite and must have cruised back through there as well.  Oddly I don’t remember either time although I keep remembering 2 things about the delivery trip home : one being that we must have sailed and motored through a very difficult narrow channel at some point …at the crux of that we could clearly see rocks and weed just below the keel in the clear water,   The other thing I remember was tying up alongside the main wall in Roscoff at very low tide : it must have been an exceptionally low spring because I had to climb up a very long ladder with the end of one warp in my teeth and the other one tied around my belt and when I ’topped out’ I was about level with the upper spreaders on quite a big rig. 

Of my own passages through the Raz I got the first one a bit wrong in that I was a bit early on the tide and just had a very strong cross-tidal vector to deal with, on the way back through a few weeks later I passed into dense fog just west of Audierne and had to do the whole passage up to Camaret on the GPS…..didn’t see the lighthouses or the headland at all….in fact didn’t see anything until about 50 metres from my arrival waypoint….a small group of rocks off the Pointe de Toulinguet.   Today’s passage makes it 3 out of 3 for difficulty.

Anyway, here we are in mostly one piece, if a little tired and salty. A few things got thrown around the cabin, the kettle went flyabout and my phone’s screen got a crack from landing in the charcoal bucket….glad that stayed where it is.   Getting around the Raz though means that I am now officially in southern Brittany and the whole feel of the area changes again.  Once around the Raz, the cliffs drop away and it’s a much lower and less rugged coast.  I will most likely have a relaxed day at anchor tomorrow or maybe go up the channel to the town…..there being a nice cafe I know right on the harbour front.   After that it’s south and east around the next major headland towards Benodet.    Today it’s very bright and breeze-y…..but with strong gusts even well inside the shelter of land and mole. According to the forecast today is the last day of an extended spell of northerlies…tomorrow it should be going around to the west and south which would have made the passage to the Raz an upwind one rather than what I actually had which was a close and ‘lively’ reach.

Just thinking about this cruise : hopefully and perhaps ‘year one’ of my own long term cruising.  My plan for this one always was to try and get to south Brittany with WABI’’’, that I felt was a decent enough challenge with a small boat because of the natural obstacles of a channel crossing, the Chanel de Four and of course the Raz.  While lots of English cruising boats visit Normandy and northern Brittany as far south as the bay of Douarnenez very few seem to pass the Raz de Seine and get to south Brittany.  I liked it the first time we came here with ‘Robbery’.  It really felt like my first time ‘going foreign’ even though I then had a few years offshore racing experience with many visits to Ireland.  I was trying to think why south Brittany looks and feels so different to even western and northern Brittany.  Last night there was a gentle surf on the long white/gold beach and I could hear the chirp of crickets. Iv’e already seen the odd lizard running around.  To me this area is a transition zone between cold and grey northern waters and the Mediterranean even though there’s still lots of coast and sea between the two places. Southern Brittany can be wet, cold and stormy at times but in the summer it can be like parts of the med that I have seen : Majorca for example.  

In terms of sailing though it’s still a challenging place to sail….during my next passage I’m going to have to ‘waypoint and eyeball’ my way around a complex set of rocks and reefs of the next headland.  I’m going to try now to go into as many of the small  harbours and rivers as I can in between here and say the Vilaine where the coast really turns south.  Iv’e got quite a bit of planning to do because I pick Jackie up again, possibly in Benodet and shortly after that I have to find somewhere to leave WABI’’’ safely for a couple of weeks and travel back to the UK.  I have one idea and it definitely isn’t my original idea which was to run back through the Raz and go back to Port Launay….that’s likely to be my wintering plan.

This evening at anchor I did my usual thing which is to get the binoculars out and have a look at my neighbours : nice surprise in that one of them is a favourite small boat , a Bolger ‘Chebacco’ canoe-yawl and in bright yellow.  I know that some of you don’t like a yellow boat but I do so there !.  Right now there’s a bit of activity round the boat as the local sea-swimmers seem to be using WABI’’’ as their marker buoy.

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So : Goats, peas and manpants.

A few days ago I left the Rade de Brest on a sloppy breeze from the WNW, it should have been NW which would have given me a nice beat down the ‘Gulet’ and then a reach past Camaret to Pointe de Toulinguet , after that it would be a nice broad reach down the outside of the Crozon peninsular. It’s funny now, working with my new laptop as it always tries to auto-correct my spelling .  The problem is that it doesn’t seem to have a French names dictionary on board so ‘Brest’ often comes out as ‘breast’, ‘Rade’ can be anything from Race, Ride etc and is quite random.  When I first drafted this post I found that I’d cruised down the ‘gules de breast’ and passed ‘Cabaret’ .  Luckily the computer’s ‘Mac-words’ programme  usually gives up on the longer bays, points and rivers. 

When I was halfway down the Gulet de Brest I looked astern to see a big square-topped mains’l coming up quickly astern.  At first I thought it was something like an open 60 but as it got closer it didn’t seem big enough.  My size perception of boats has changed massively since the days when I drove Maxi-yachts, now WABI’’’ seems ’normal’ and a ’small’ 35 foot cruising boat seems to be a big boat again.  I think ’square-top’ was actually an open 40 judging scale from the people on board and it maybe didn’t have the complexity of a modern ’60’, it did have the big rig and squared off mains’l, the wide transom and twin rudders, the twin daggerboards and so on.  It, or more precisely also had the ‘look’ and the attitude.  Where generally out here nearly all boaters , sail and motor, will give a cheery wave as they pass the 40 gave nothing away. The driver was standing up to windward in his corporate uniform , sharp sunglasses , tiller extension in hand and posing like a posy thing. The crew , at least another 4 or 5 on board hardly even gave a glance as they rolled over my wind.  Now, I might have been impressed if the ’40’ was being driven solo or 2 up because that’s what they were designed for but with a full crew no….I thought in the moment that maybe the driver needed those extra crew, for sure there is the jib to tack and the runners and boards to manage but maybe one was just there to tack the drivers ego !

I used to like this kind of thing…..now I think it looks like a cross between an advertising hoarding and last years training shoe !

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Anyway, from my navigational work, coming out of the Gulet de Brest and passing Cabaret (oh really computer ?) I could see that there should be a navigable and marked  channel just west of the rocks off the pointe de Toulinguet and just before the larger rocks of the same name.  Taking that small channel saves a longer passage all the way around the outside of other groups of rocks and then naturally leads towards the passage through or around another group of rocks, small islands really, called the ‘Petit tas de pois’ : little cup of peas….which just corrected to ‘little cup of poison’ ….hey-ho.  

I don’t know why it was that day but I was feeling less than confident about navigating my way through the rocky channels even though they are plenty big enough and plenty deep, maybe it was because there seemed to be quite a few waves breaking on the rocks and it was all quite energetic.  The thing about Brittany sailing is that it seems to be quite normal to be sailing around mostly well marked rocks….but there are lots of them.  I was doing the whole ‘shall I or shan’t I’ thing when a big British registered motor cruiser came rumbling up the inside of me un-noticed and ran the now obvious channel.  I followed him through and it was a clear line once the visual angle opened up.  What I hadn’t thought to do was to sail through one of the gaps in the Petit tas de Pois’ which he also did.  I saw him pass through the gap between the outer pair and that looked ok on the chart…looking back I then saw another cruising boat come through one of the narrower gaps.  Ok..so maybe they know the channels or maybe it was man-pants Saturday !

The tas de pois.

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With WABI’’’ I tend to get a lot closer inshore than I used to with the Frances , I did think about checking out some of the anchorages that Peter Cumberlidge mentions in his book but there did still seem to be an underlying westerly swell which would have been rolling into those bays so I cracked on down towards the ‘goats’…that’s the Chèvre in Cap de la Chevre by the way. Cumberlidge says to take a wide curve around the end of the Cap de la Chèvre keeping about a mile off, I went in a lot closer this time but had to make sure I missed all of the breaking rocks and reefs off the tip of the cape.

Again, thinking about the last time I was here I sailed up the lee side of the peninsular fairly well offshore but this time I wanted to take a really good look at the potential anchorages because most of them would have been viable in the NW wind.  I passed a couple of them and then as I was sailing past a rocky headland : Pte de Sainte Hernot, I saw a couple of masts behind the headland and it looked absolutely lovely in there.  The anchorage ‘Anse de Sainte Hernot is protected from the north and west and quite well from the south-west so I anchored close in and stayed there 2 nights before putting into Morgat.

Anse de Ste Hernot, Crozon peninsular.

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In this post I just want to mention my ‘numbers’ problem as it’s now caught me out twice on the same trip.   I have a good set of charts for all of this section of the French coast, in fact I think I have got each chart from near Paimpol in north-eastern Brittany right around to the Morbihan and the Vilaine which is in the next region of France anyway.  I tend to do a lot of my navigation by eyeball an laying off courses on the charts.  With this boat though I don’t have a chart table at all and the best I can do is to open out a chart on the bunk cushion and read off positions that way.  I do use my GPS/VHF occasionally and mainly on the longer passages to make sure I stay on track and that’s especially true of the cross channel passage. Obviously to set the GPS waypoints I have to lay-off their position on the chart and then enter them into the waypoint directory. 

The thing is that iv’e now done that wrong at least twice and today when I was preparing my passage plan for the next stage I noticed that I’d done it again.  I know that during the cross channel passage I initially set my arrival waypoint from the ‘normal’ scale of the appropriate chart.  That arrival point was very important to get right as it marks a shoal and the entrance to L.Aber-Wrach.  During the passage itself I decided to check my navigation while I was trying to do the tidal predictions for my arrival.  That time I checked the waypoint position using the larger scale plan of L.Aber-Wrach and I reset the positions….or so I thought.  Very late that night, cold, tired and sick, I couldn’t work out why I wasn’t seeing the very high lighthouse on Ile Vierge as , according to the GPS position, I should have been well within range.  After another session of dry heaves I checked my working all over again and pulled out my channel waypoint directory and checked the waypoint against that….it should have been obvious by then that I’d entered the numbers wrong but navigation tasks when seasick are one of the hardest I find.  

Yesterday for the passage from Morgat to the Raz I just set one waypoint off a rock just to the north east of the final approach to the Raz de Seine.  Now, the sail was brisk, blustery and dynamic and I had to spend most of the time steering so I had very few chances to check mt course and track with the GPS and the movement was far too quick to eyeball ahead with my binoculars.  As I got closer to my waypoint I was convinced that I must have been set to leeward, quite possible, so I had to beat up to and around that mark as it’s just to windward of a crucial rock.  After that I was very busy indeed in the washing machine conditions of the Raz…seemed to be on a fast rinse and spin cycle…so I didn’t get a chance to check the GPS waypoint .  In fact I didn’t get a chance to check my work until I got into Audierne as ‘Dolf’ the tiller-pilot can’t cope with fast dynamic downwind conditions so I had to hand-steer that as well.  That evening I checked and what I’d done is enter position 3 minutes of arc wrong by entering a 6 instead of a 9….enough to put me downwind of the mark.

On the beach……Morgat.

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Th next stage of the passage along the coast here includes a very complex corner off the Pointe de Penmarch which includes the ports Guilvinec, Lesconil and the Eckmuhl lighthouse : and lots of drying rocks so I definitely need to have 3 waypoints for that corner which I have just done, and checked and will sneak up on the GPS when it’s asleep and check them again…..

2 Comments

  1. Hi Steve
    Your writing a great series, I like the real time entry, adds some ‘now’ to the series.

    The area looks superb cruising, and shoal draft is the only way to go.

    Like

  2. You’ve been having fun amongst the rocks Steve — wonderful “nitty gritty” stuff! As for not so mellow yellow, we all have our peccadilloes, or whatever the equivalent is in French, though I doubt either is in your spell checker’s “breast” dictionary 😉 Great stuff — thanks.

    Like

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