Island time.

WABI”’ real time : at anchor Isle de Penfret, Les Glenans, south Brittany.

Well I finally got here !, to the amazing Glenans archipelago that is : it’s one of those places that iv’e always wanted to get to having had their sailing manual aboard just about every boat that I have owned or worked on.  Before I first went past the Glenans group many years ago aboard ‘Robbery’ I always had it in my mind as being a bleak ‘hardcore’ sort of place…..I was wrong…it’s beautiful but wild enough and completely un-manicured compared to where we had just come from on our second trip out there.

In terms of the blog and this years cruise this post and this place might represent the most distant point reached, as I complete and edit the post we are on our way back towards the Raz de Seine and our drop-off point to get the mate back to the UK. While it did work to get Jax out to Benodet to join me there it did take multiple trains, buses and of course one ferry to do so.  Brittany Ferries, while normally running an excellent service are in the habit of changing their sailing times with minimal notice and if they did that it would be a lot harder to get Jax back to Roscoff for an earlier sailing.

It was made more difficult by one ferry breaking down and staying broken for a lot longer than expected….that one thing affected everything else and it meant extra time travelling and extra expenses with hotels needed at either end of the ferry journey.  After that….one train, the one we had booked actually went on strike…which was nice of them so that meant another short bus journey or 2 instead. In the end it took Jackie about 8 hours just to get from Roscoff to Benodet.  We did start to plan her return journey from further east, maybe somewhere near Vannes at the head of the Morbihan but the weather was promising brisk easterlies so we started to run back to the west via the Glenans again.

When I do the day 100 round-up post I am going to talk about some of the problems and necasary costs of running a cruise like this and transport is one of those problems.

This post is also one of a pair that were going to go together and was then also one of a set that I intended to throw together to represent how a cruise in small boats, even cruising dinghy’s might be done on this coast : to a large extent that idea was inspired by the original spirit of the Glenans school.  The other posts were to be one about the ‘Aven’ river up to Pont Aven as a complete contrast and then the posts covering the area from Loctdudy , through Benodet and Port Manech with the Glenans forming the outside, offshore corner of a micro-cruisers ‘triangle’.  I happen to think that this little area would make a superb cruising ground for small boats trailed out from the UK and that might be a really neat way of seeing the area compared with camping ashore….where I am writing from right now just as an example is about half a mile from a nice basic campsite that we have used during a road trip here.


For visitors here who aren’t that familiar with the whole sailing and cruising life then the basics is that the ‘Glenans’ is a small group of offshore islands, rocks and reefs 10 miles out from either Benodet or Concarneau in south Brittany.  None of the islands are large and the whole archipelago is very shallow at low water.  When we went for our explore around Le Chambre and Ile Cigogne we were motoring and sailing in around 5-6 feet but in very clear water over mainly sand and weed.  The Glenans are served by a ‘vedette’ service out of Benodet so you could just ‘jump on the bus’ to get there although sailing there is a lot more fun of course.

There is a small harbour on Isle de Ste Nicholas , where we went for a walk and definitely one restaurant/bar that was open.  There does seem to be a group of holiday homes there too.  Of note…although we landed on the sand spit between that island and the Isle de Bannanec the latter island has signs saying ‘no public entry’ as it seems to be specifically an island holiday base for children.  While we were there a large group of teenagers were playing around on a fleet of catamarans so it might be one of the Glenans sailing school bases as they have 3 or 4 in the archipelago.

The Glenans islands are well known among sailors as being the main base for the sailing school of the same name although they have expanded their operation a lot nowadays. In the same area we regularly saw the Glenans school boats in Concarneau, Benodet and Loctudy.    For the past 3 weeks or so I think we have seen a Glenans teaching boat in just about every port we have been to, in fact as I write 2 have just come into port here at Loctudy.   The actual original sailing school was started just after the second world war, originally with the intention of helping re-integrate young French resistance fighters. Since that time the Glenans school has apparently had more than 200,000 students through their centres.

Glenans ‘Baikal’ in Loctudy.


A few years back they were well known , the school boats that is, for turning up in ports on the UK coast in very small cruising boats….usually engineless after tough channel crossings. Nowadays they seem to have everything from beach cats and dinghy’s, dayboats and a whole fleet of much more modern cruising yachts.  On the way back to the mainland after our second trip we were repeatedly passed by one of their teaching boats : it looked as though the day’s lesson was setting and trimming the asymmetric kite.

I offered this guy a race….


When we first came past here in the deep draft ‘Robbery’ I seem to remember asking the skipper ‘JC’ whether we could go through the islands….I also remember his sharp and quick answer as being an emphatic ‘no’ but then he’d not long previously pranged Robbery on a rock just outside the Menai straits so he was less than keen in getting up close and personal with a whole load of submerged Brittany reefs.

At first glance it does look to be a complex and difficult area to enter and navigate, I found though that once we had, quite literally ‘got our bearings’ it was easy to work around in there….mind you I have less that 4 feet draft with the board down and a mere 18 inches with everything up !.  There are several recognised anchorages, many of which are now loaded with moorings and of great interest to me , several places where it looks possible to beach and get out for a walk.   Something we noted on the sunny Saturday we spent there was that most of the boats moored or anchored were clearly offshore sized yachts but, there were many small motor boats and notably RIB’s that had made the run across from the mainland.  Although completely feasible I’m not sure about the idea of being offshore in a small motor boat, completely reliant on the one engine and no foul weather gear or warm clothes aboard.

During our voyage we’ve actually been in and out of the Glenans twice already and I may well go back there for a third time once I have dropped Jax off back in western Brittany.  It is definitely the case that the whole group becomes a total honey-pot on a busy and sunny Saturday….which we saw one day but then much quieter during the week : I really don’t think it would be a good place to be in the peak period of summer holidays.  There are, as I have mentioned several areas originally marked as anchorages but which are mainly taken up with lots of moorings, there again with our minimal draft we were able to get well inside most of the moorings and park almost up against the beaches.

The sand-spit connecting isle de Bannanec and isle de Ste Nicholas just before high water.


Anchorages and moorings.

When I first looked at the chart and the large scale plan of the islands I thought I could see several places that were likely to be good anchorages so I also read through what Peter Cumberlidge wrote in his book “Secret Anchorages of Brittany”.  Using his book as a guide we aimed for the anchorage just to the north of Isle de Ste Nicholas which is sheltered from the east and west by reefs, especially at low tide and from the south by a sand spit which just covers for a while on a spring tide. Unlike his guide to entering the group I found it more useful to enter on the northern side right next to a mark called ‘La Pie’ rather than entering just to the west of Isle de Penfret.

When we first arrived (first time around) at nearly low water it was odd seeing the masts of yachts moored and anchored in the more well known area ‘Le Chambre’ over the sand spit from our anchorage.  The sand spit joins 2 of the islands : Isle de Bannanec and Isle de Ste Nicholas….I note that in the plan that Peter Cumberlidge uses this area is shown incorrectly as a deep water channel between the 2 islands….it isn’t at all but makes for great shelter either to the north or south, depending on which anchorage is chosen.   At almost low water we did our usual thing….run up the beach and go for a walk ourselves.

The sand spit between Isle de Bannanec and Isle de Ste Nicholas.


What did happen later in the day is that we went  exploring with WABI”’ : essentially motoring around the end of ‘our’ sheltering reef, first into the more well known anchorage of ‘Le Chambre’ and then around Ile Cigogne to have a look at the potential anchorage off Ile du Loch.  Although we initially went back to our original anchorage and picked up a spare mooring the wind picked up and came in slightly north of west which made that anchorage very uncomfortable at high water so we had to move to ‘Le Chambre’ overnight… does seem essential to pick your overnight spot with an eye to what the wind will do and where will be exposed.

In complete contrast to the slightly grey and dull first day there we went back out to the Glenans again on the way back from Port Manech for a second stay.  What started off as a slow downwind ghosting trip turned into a rock-n-roll sleigh ride in a fresh easterly wind.  According to my best guess neither of the 2 anchorages we used the first time would have been any good at all so we rounded the northern end of Isle De Penfret, close aboard and came to just off the first area of beach on the east side of that island.

Peter Cumberlidge doesn’t mention that first anchorage at all and only shows the shoreline there as being entirely rocky….he does show an anchorage at the southern end of the island though. We found a perfect anchorage for us with the main lighthouse just bearing north-west and I did see an almost perfect small bay just inside the northern tip of the island where there is a small ships mooring for the ferry’s.

We got in early as we had left Port Manech before sunrise, when we got to the anchorage there were maybe half a dozen boats there : by lunchtime there were at least 30 yachts anchored there and a dozen small motor boats and RIB’s pulled up on the beach. Late afternoon and quite a few of the small motor boats seemed to be heading back to the mainland (10 miles) which surprised me.   It was all very friendly and good natured with crews from the anchored boats coming and going and the various small motor boats dropping their crews off on the beach.  While I may have criticised other motor-boaters in the companion post all of the ones I saw out in the Glenans were careful and courteous with no ‘hooning’ through the moored yachts.  I thought that most of the moored yachts would stay overnight but in fact most of them up-anchored and cleared out that evening.


We seriously thought about staying in the Glenans for a couple of days but I had my mind very much on the likely return trip through the Raz De Seine and I really wanted to be there at a neap tide in easier conditions : that meant we could only really spend the one night there before heading west again.  Some time we both want to go back there as it’s the kind of place we really like : un-manicured and wild enough.  The problem, according to most sources is that just about everyone wants to be there during the school holidays which, as I write, are just about to start here.


I happen to think that the Glenans would make a superb destination for a micro-cruiser, trailer-sailer or even a good cruising dinghy : a Wayfarer for example as it would be easily possible to trail a boat via Roscoff and launch the boat in Benodet or Concarneau say.  It would require being quite independent though…..Arwen…you listening ?






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