A river runs through it.

A river runs through it…..not always visible though.

Pont Aven and the Aven River.

WABI’’’ real time : at anchor Anse de Pen Hir, Crozon peninsular, Brittany.

We are back in western Brittany, on our way towards Brest to drop the mate off as near to the railway station as we can get in a couple of days time.  We’ve made the return passage through the Raz De Seine which was pretty benign this time aside from a short chop kicked up by a north easterly wind….north-east being exactly where we were trying to get to of course.   The most distant point we reached this year was on the south Brittany coast just inland of Port Manech and the twin rivers Belon and Aven.  That’s about it for south Brittany this year unless I get a sudden rush of enthusiasm for the Raz again after dropping Jax off….not impossible but unlikely because the tides are making again and I don’t particularly want to deal with the Raz on a spring tide.

It’s also, in real time here, about that time that the French schools all break up and the main school holidays start.  What that means is that suddenly there will be a lot more boats and people on the water and places like the lovely Glenans become massively popular and marina visitors berths go into full rafted up mode.  Even this weekend just gone the small port of Camaret marinas were well packed and I have to add that some of the motor boaters were well irritating : booze, noise ‘music’…chavs on water basically.  Now is the time I have to be not where everyone else is and that really means avoiding marinas as much as possible : just a quick in and out mid-morning for water and food shopping and then cruising and anchoring in the thin muddy bits.  I might well go and explore some of the smaller islands such as the tiny Isle De Seine at the end of the Raz or if the wind goes into the west maybe slip around to the north Brittany coast and hang out in some of the rivers there until the holiday madness is over.

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The main part of this post did originally start out as the companion post to the Glenans post because our trip up the Aven river to Pont Aven was bracketed by our 2 visits out to the islands and they were both very different trips.  The three trips : Glenans-Aven-Glenans were so different that they each seemed to call for a separate post, the 2 Glenans trips because the conditions we had were so different and the trip up the Aven because it’s a totally different kind of experience….I think you will quickly work out which place we preferred.

Pont Aven and the Aven river then.

We’ve been to Pont Aven once before during a camping/road trip a couple of years back : I know that because I have used a couple of photographs of the harbour in the village in the blog before now and we went for a walk along the last navigable section of the river.  I remember a couple of things from that trip : first, thinking that it might be a neat place to take a boat to and secondly that it’s a very famous but very over-done tourist destination and extremely busy at the weekend and at most times during the summer.

For those readers that don’t know the Pont Aven story it’s basically a very ‘pretty’ village where one famous artist (Paul Gauguin) settled and did much of his major work from. A lot of the attraction seems to come from the small river , it is pretty, that runs through the village and the water-mills.  Nowadays it’s ram-packed with ‘art’ galleries….they may even have a ‘Snerd’ or 2 ! (see note)

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As a pilotage note we sailed to Port Manech from the Glenans having exited the archipelago the via the recommended route just to the west of Isle de Penfret.  From the tip of Isle de Penfret we then set a waypoint just to the west of Ile Verte and when we got there ran quite close inshore to check out one of Peter Cumberlidge’s anchorages just inside Isle de Raguenes , it looked do-able in the conditions we had but I thought that Port Manech just around the corner would give better shelter.  A nice surprise as we cleared the last small headland before Port Manech was that one of the few boats on a visitor mooring was ‘Joititude’…..I was surprised because I thought Oliver, Marie and the kids had already left for their Biscay passage.

Just off Port Manech are the entrances to the 2 rivers : the Aven, which we visited and the Belon which we didn’t.   Both are navigable although both have shallow river bars at their respective entrances.

Joititude.

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We didn’t stay long at Port Manech, just long enough for a break and then motored into the Aven river across the shallow bar with the tide already ebbing but the least we had was 6 feet.  As we went past one of the trots a lady on one boat shouted out a warning about depth (profonde….I think was the word) and I think she was concerned about us going aground further up…which we did of course.

Both sides of the river are taken up almost straight away with trot moorings , I guess because of the river flow and tides and that there are lots of boats to accommodate. At the narrowest point just upstream of Kerdruc the moorings either side are so close that it’s difficult to turn even a small boat round and I had to do a more-than 3 point turn to get around after we temporarily grounded.

I had hoped to get right up into the very shallow/drying section of the river above Kerdruc and Rosbas, where it’s possible to land either side.   We did stop at a useful pontoon on the Kerdruc side where there is water on the pontoon but once we left there we were stopped within a few hundred yards by a mud bar and had to wait for the flood to set in.  As with many French rivers there are quite a few obstructions in the shallow sections of the river….either side of where the moorings are and in the shallow/drying section and many of these relate to the shellfish industry.

Kerdruc/Rosbras

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It did seem possible to land either side of the river via the pontoon on the Kerdruc side or via the slip on the Rosbras side as seen above.  I had a quick look to see what was there on the Kerdruc side : definitely a bar/restaurant on that side .

Further upriver and it really gets very shallow, ok so we were going up very early on the tide and I was probably drawing a shallow groove with the centreboard but the river channel really wanders about in a series of meanders in a wide and flat section before seemingly disappearing completely to the north and west…..it doesn’t in fact, rather it goes into a much narrower section that twists and turns between rocky and wooded banks before suddenly popping out again into the tiny port of Pont Aven itself.

The quay at Pont Aven.

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There is a quay, alongside which is a deepwater channel : deep enough certainly to take something with 5 or 6 feet of draft up there and there is quite a lot of space on the quay ‘as long as everyone behaves’…..the problem being ladders or lack of same.   Initially we landed against the small embarkation slip seen in the photograph , stayed there for a while that evening and then moved out into the river and laid alongside a very abandoned catamaran which was moored over nice soft squishy mud and I reckoned would have about the same draft….in fact I hardly noticed as we touched down, not so much as a creak on the lines.  Of note, there are quite a few multihulls moored in the river including a very odd looking proa and what looks like an ex trimaran with one float cut off .

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Now……I wasn’t going to add this bit but here goes : make of it what you will.

I said above that the quay is ok ‘as long as everyone behaves’ and at first it seemed as though everyone that was alongside was doing so even when we went back alongside the  quay again the next morning with a plan of drying out alongside the quay and spending the day ashore : it’s a nice place to go for a walk down the river for example.  When I am on my own I am happy to spend a lot of time aboard but when the mate is here we try to get some time ashore as well.

We got alongside the quay neatly and centred-up next to one of the ladders and then started the long process of easing the lines down so that we would both stay alongside the quay and stay near enough to the ladder to get up and down to the boat.  Some time after we’d tied up the local harbourmaster turned up and I asked him if there was any problem with us where we were….as best I could given my limited French.  He didn’t seem to have a problem with us being there, just wanted a bit of cash for the mooring fees.    The first and minor problems were that I hadn’t noticed a couple of things : first that it would be such a long tidal drop until we settled and that there is a sill at the base of the wall which I had to hold the boat away from for maybe the last hour. When I did finally settle the boat on the boat it was very near low water and within the hour the tide was flooding again.

The real problem was that everyone didn’t behave : some time, not long before we were due to settle a French motor boat first motored past us going up-quay and then came back down clearly talking and pointing at us.   The same boat then came alongside the quay and the driver started gesticulating at us to move back so that he could lay alongside the ladder and it clearly wasn’t a case of them explaining or trying to explain what they wanted to do, rather it was quite clear from their attitude that it was ‘get out of our way or else’…..this escalated pretty fast.  From our deck neither of us could have climbed the wall, I doubt whether I would have been able to do that even as a climber so I tried to express that I was staying put because we needed the ladder access.  What started out as an argument turned ugly very quickly with shouting, fist waving and them grabbing our lines.

It’s difficult now to describe the chain of events that unfolded and very quickly except that the 2 guys on the motor boat got very pushy and aggressive very quickly, at one point one of them told a bystander to just let my lines go which he did…I definitely ran up the ladder at that point and thought “2 can play at that game” and did the same to his lines !.   Round about then the other French guy on the motor boat grabbed our stern line and literally started ramming the stern of their boat onto my rudder which I lift to land….quite happily trying to ram us out of the way and knowingly trying to damage our boat.

I was to say a little bit ‘dischuffed‘ at that kind of behaviour ….I will not be bullied by aggressive arseholes like that and was fully prepared at that point to jump down onto the  cabin of the motor boat and have at it with the owner and his mate….I really was quite ready for a scrap with them. I remember thinking that ‘this is going to end in violence’ and then just as quickly , as a certain screen-queen said “I chose violence”….after all a punch I the face is still a punch in the face !    By then a small crowd had gathered and there was a lot of talking and pointing at us….I kind of assume there was a bit of us vs them quickly developing especially when the non-boatie bystander started throwing my lines off in support of his countrymen.

The day was saved by a very calm, sensible and trilingual Dutch boat owner from just down the quay who saw the whole thing unfold.  From my side I think he obviously had some ability to take charge and I think told the 2 French guys to shut up, stop being stupid and listen.  Where it ended up was them not trying just to push me out of the way and push us off the quay and instead us letting them use the ladder for  10 minutes or so to unload their stuff and then tie up alongside the quay although not by the ladder.  We are pretty sure that this wasn’t their intention when they came at us initially and what they clearly wanted was just to have what they saw as their ‘rightful’ place on the quay…and I also suspect that they are the kind of boat owners who will always go aggressive as soon as they don’t get what they want.  For my part, while I’m pretty competent at dealing with aggressive people in my previous life I really thought that this one was going to end in a fight and I was surprisingly ok with that thought.

It did rather spoil the day though I might add.

Rather later I went and had a chat with the Dutch boat owner and thanked him for his help, at his request iv’e not mentioned him by name.

What we did do, or didn’t do rather, was stay there overnight again as it was both our instincts that the French motor-boaters might come back just out of sheer spite….years and years of dealing with aggressive people in the NHS have given us both that kind of instinct and insight into those kind of people.  I know that I tend to get a bit into the antipathy that can exist between some sailors and some motor-boaters and of course all Jet-skiers but  generally it’s the case here that most MOBO drivers are competent and courteous , often much more so than in the UK.   Many boats in daily use here are small motor/fishing boats and my experience with them is that they handle their boats well, often right up to the rocks and reefs and what they are doing is fishing or crabbing for the table which is certainly something I can respect.

The opposite end : some of the younger motor boat drivers….the ‘sport-boat’ and RIB drivers can be total bell-ends especially when they have been drinking but then that’s just the same as young guys and expensive toys impressing their girlfriends and mates everywhere.

So we didn’t stay around in Pont Aven or stay in the river, instead we ran back downriver to port Manech on the tide and then headed back to the Glenans on a useful brisk easterly.        Iv’e been to Pont Aven before and taken a few photographs : it’s pretty to be sure with the steam running down through the village but the whole place seems over-manicured for the mass of tourists that the place depends on, for me there are far too many people…period….and I don’t have too much time for the way that the village hangs it’s reputation and appeal for art that isn’t actually there….there being no ‘great’ works of art there.  None of Paul Gauguin’s paintings are to be found here, they all being in private collections or major galleries elsewhere.

It’s basically a pretty tourist destination with bars and restaurants that do a good trade….oh and here’s another thing : at one point when I was sat in the boat that morning when the tide was still high a tourist, woman I have to add, leaned almost off the quay and took a photograph directly into the boat’s cabin and me working on the computer.  Now, that to me is the same as me leaning over her fence and taking a photograph directly into her house….rude I thought so my answer to that was the clear and simple communication method of middle finger firmly elevated…..she looked a bit shocked for some reason !

*Julian Snerd BDS….retired dentist and apparently the worlds worst artist : think ‘Vogon poetry’ on canvas.

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3 Comments

  1. Steve, very sorry to hear about your run-in with those kind of people but all’s well that ends well thanks to the Dutch peace corps. A real case of, “Et si vous me foutiez la paix?” as they say in France.

    Pont Aven reminds me of the White Bridge in Lynmouth — there’s an actual art gallery there too that even has real art in it although you need a lot of spare change to buy any of it 😉

    All the best for the rest of your trip and an escape from the madding crowd.

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    1. I would say now that it was the low point of the voyage and not just because of the MOBO drivers : the village just seemed to be over-manicured and very over full of tourists and i don’t particularly like the degree of intrusiveness of them. The Pont Aven low point was actually followed by the high point which was our time out at the Glenans which is truly glorious….and we had a cracking downwind sail to get there. I’m home now and working on my first book project although more of that later in the last 2 posts from the voyage next week.

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