Life is a Camaret

WABI”’ real time.  At anchor, moored, alongside marina….(take your pick) Camaret , western Brittany.

In real time I am almost up to the day 90+ of the voyage and by the time you get to read this I should be well past day 100.     I always thought that would be a good time to write a round-up of the cruise so far at that point.   We just happen to be back in the small port of Camaret after a night anchored in the Anse de Dinan nearby and then a few hours at anchor in the Anse de Pen Hir after our long day motoring north-east from the Raz. The messing about at anchor today was due to having very poor visibility this morning coupled with a wind from the north west which made the anchorages to the east of the Crozon peninsular a good place to be until the visibility improved.

We are here because it’s the nearest small port to Brest , which is where I have to drop Jax off in a few days time and then work out what to do next : the next leg of my cruising being the one that takes me up to the 100 day mark. Yesterday morning we woke up, at anchor, in the Anse de Dinan, almost on the beach and in thick fog : I had to ‘handrail’ us out of the bay and around into the smaller Anse de Pen Hir just to the north east of the group of rocks called the ‘Petit tas de Poi’s and anchor there until the visibility improved enough to pilot the passage through the rocks and around the Pte de Toulinguet towards Camaret.

Yesterday, late afternoon, and we sailed around through one of the gaps in the Tas de Poi’s and around the Pointe de Toulinguet , eventually into the anchorage just to the south east of the port of Camaret.  Part of the reason for the ambiguous title is that what used to be the recognised anchorage outside the port is now a field of moorings so we moored there overnight and came into the port itself today to do all of our usual jobs. 

La Recouvrance, at anchor off the beach.

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As ports go Camaret is one of my favourites as it’s not too large, is still a working fishing port and has it’s Main Street overlooking the harbour.   As I write we’re just back from a beer or two and fish, n, chips on the harbour front….the boat’s chef having taken the night off duty !.  Camaret has been so well covered by guides and pilot books that there is very little I can add.   For nearly the first time we’re not the smallest boat alongside or at anchor/moored that is actually out cruising : today there was an even smaller boat of around 20 feet and from what I could see with 4 people sailing it and sleeping aboard. 

When we came past the outer marina yesterday I did think about going alongside there straight away as one of the most famous local boats was on the outer pontoon there : Pen Duick 2, and I really want to photograph that boat for the blog, unfortunately today when we eventually got to walk around there she had already left port. .Just a couple of weeks ago when I first started the notes for this blog I was going to add in some kind of commemoration of the loss of Eric Tabarly which happened in June 1998…Pen Duick 2 being, I believe his first boat design.   Pen Duick 2 is I believe usually based at the Eric Tabarly museum down in Lorient along with the other boats of the same name…with Pen Duick 2 there is even a full size mock-up of her centre section in the museum that people can climb around in.  PD2 wasn’t there last time although ‘1’ and ‘3’ were and the maxi sized PD 5 I think was out sailing : great to see them all in use still.

Pen Duick 2.

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Many visitors to my site will recognise the pictures of the wrecked fishing boats pulled up hard on the foreshore over by the mariners chapel and the Vauban fort/tower which covered the entrance to Camaret in the Napoloeonic era….coincidentally I have been reading about Vauban and his forts due to re-reading the Aubrey-Maturin series of which I have 3 on the boat.

I was thinking about fortifications on this coast because there is so much of it about spread out over several historical periods : Vauban, if I remember my military history was the prolific designer of forts in the Napoleonic era and the one here is a neat example.  During our time here we went for a walk out towards the Pte de Toulinguet and on that walk went past a whole group of oddly symmetrical holes up on the hillside and bracketing a more recent set of fortifications.   At some point the light went back on and I went “of course….bomb craters”.  I guess that the bunkers there, one looked very like a gun emplacement were once part of the German defences of the port of Brest.

The mariners chapel, Camaret.

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As I remember, reading the naval history of the second world war it was the port of Brest that the ‘Bismark’ was making for when she was first crippled by a torpedo dropped from a very obsolete biplane and then sunk by British battleships…and ultimately cruisers in the North Atlantic.    Brest was apparently very defensible as a military port in that era….lots of places to run air defence from but equally very easy to blockade during the earlier period of sailing warships.   Brest, as with Lorient, were heavily damaged by allied bombing and both are now ugly soul-less cities rebuilt almost along soviet/East German lines.  More recently than this post we have had to go into Brest itself and it just seems like an endless suburb with no real centre.

A look at the remaining bits of bunker and platform outside Camaret suggested the much more brutal cast concrete construction of the second world war….in fact just around the corner are the submarine pens built for Hitlers ‘U’ boat fleet in Brest, and I have to add, built by slave labour in appalling conditions.        I don’t think those are accessible to the public but we have been into the similar ones in Lorient where at least one is in use as a submarine museum with an excellent audio-visual display and a post war French submarine but one that was heavily based on the last of the ‘U’ boat designs.

Camaret foreshore and possibly the worlds most badly ‘painted’ boats…’painted‘ by amateur artists that is….

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For the main part of the day 100/Camaret blog though I want to do a kind of round-up of the cruise so far : what I have done so far, what I might do next and some of my thoughts about long term cruising on such a small boat…..so here goes.

Yesterday when we made port we went straight to what was once the nearest anchorage to the harbour and picked up an unoccupied mooring there.  Had the wind been more from the south I would have anchored in a small bay further to the east but we’ve had a lot of ‘odd’ direction wind during this trip.   From then on, up until we turned in we watched as a near continuous stream of yachts came into the bay, dropped their sails and mostly motored into the inner marina and presumably went alongside. After a few hours boats that motored in there started coming out again and going alongside the outer marina : I guess the inner marina was full.

The later ones in had to make do with going alongside the very outer pontoon where Pen Duick 2 was tied up.  That pontoon is the furthest from the town and I guess the usual marina services.   Only 2 other boats came to the former anchorage/moorings : one anchored in deeper water near a large gaffer and the other one fetched up near us on a mooring : by then it was late evening when  we were surprised by a load of splashing around the latecomer….most of the young crew having stripped off and were swimming near the boat.

This morning we too motored the short distance into the inner marina so that we could top up our water and then do a heavy shop at the supermarket in the town.                Fairly predictably the town marina was ram-packed with many boats rafter together on the outside, visitor,  pontoon…the one nearest the harbour front.  One advantage of being a very small boat is that I can often slip into a space that the ‘normal’ cruising boats cannot, often up with the small local motor fishing boats.   Today we decided to stay alongside for  2 nights which is unusual for us as my normal practice with marinas is to be in and out as fast as I can.

Camaret is a much more characterful port than many ‘marina’ ports though and it’s a good place to get away from the confines of a small cabin and go for a walk….hence the walk up towards Pte de Toulinguet and the old bunkers.  last night we suffered a bit with noise from one bar just a hundred yards away on the harbour front that was still pumping out ‘music’ and shrieking until 0100 this morning : a huge contrast to most of our nights at anchor.  All in all it’s been a bit of a noise and booze weekend, what with a bike rally and several small ‘sport-boat’ motor boats creating noise in the marina.

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Today almost as soon as we were awake hundreds of bikes started pouring into the town and right now there is a continuous growl and snarl of big bike engines up and down the Harbourside and out along the breakwater….I would put a conservative guess of at least 500 bikes and 3 times that many people around today.  It was all very friendly and good natured although very noisy and being where we were, essentially surrounded by noise, we had to escape the town for a while.

Yesterday though, watching that stream of boats coming in, and then today, watching most of them go out again, presumably to another marina, had me thinking that I seem to be the odd one out and engaged in a very different form of cruising than what they are doing..          It’s not just that my boat is usually the smallest boat , most often the only boat in an anchorage but that nearly every other boat just seem to be cruising between marinas and therefore towns/cities.  I very much doubt that any of the marina hopping boats I have seen ever get the experience of a quiet and dark anchorage up a river or creek somewhere or laying off a beach like out at the Glenans.   Out there ,although many boats did come and anchor near us there most of them upped and left that evening and presumably back to their marina berths.

So, I’m here with a small boat and trying to cruise as independently as possible and spend as little time (and money) as I possibly can in marinas.  I’m also trying to access, and generally succeeding in accessing, many of the smaller rivers and creeks just like ‘back home’……and do remember that was all quite new to me just a few years ago.

If I was able to carry a dinghy that marina time would be even less because I would then cruise in an ‘older’ style by fetching up in an anchorage and then rowing ashore with my water containers and to do my food shopping.  I would be able to land more often than I do and get more exercise which I think is becoming a problem.   The sad reality though is that most of the areas on my charts marked as anchorages are now packed with moorings and there is no room to anchor except for sometimes  very transiently in shallow water.     This was very noticeable in the Aven river where most of the lower section of the river is tightly packed with trot moorings.

The compromise I have to use frequently is to pick up an unoccupied mooring and hope that the owner isn’t one his way back.    In one river we cruised up, the ‘Aven‘ up to Pont Aven, the middle section of the river was so tight with moorings that it was even difficult to turn around in the strong tide….the moorings each side being that close.  In fact that experience of being in the Aven river had me thinking that the sheer volume of boats all packed nose to tail on trot moorings actually spoils the river.

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My sense of this is twofold : that there are just too many boats and too many marinas and secondly that I have come to cruising at least 40 years or more too late !.             Places that I remember as anchorages in the UK when I started crewing on race boats are now usually marinas or large and densely packed mooring fields .    There is an argument that the presence of marinas allows a greater density of boats in one place and therefore prevents the spoiling of the more natural rivers…..well that isn’t the case in the Aven just as one example where it’s nearly all taken up with moorings and the reality is that there are just too many boats now.

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I tend to read a lot of sailing literature, my early inspirations largely coming from the world of long distance ocean racing which is why people like the late Eric Tabarly are still my heroes.   There is a body of cruising literature from an early period of sailing cruising that is still good reading but is now a world that has already been, done, gone and never to return again.  I will say that it is still possible, just about and sometimes, to have similar cruising experiences to the Hiscocks, the Pardey’s and as good examples, Charles stock or the early members of the Humber Yawl club : to work up a river or along a coast, even cross an ocean under sail and fetch up in a quiet anchorage overnight often alone or with just a couple of other anchor lanterns showing.   Many of those voyages were done in very small boats…the Humber Yawl club and Charles Stock notably.      The sailing world that the Hiscocks, the Pardey’s and Maurice Griffiths knew and wrote about so well has largely disappeared under the mass of modern marinas like so many supermarket car parks.

It is possible, I know, to re-create their kind of experiences by sailing more in the off-season when most of the plastic is ashore and by sailing in the less popular places. Those are  often the muddy and shallow areas and that seems to call for as small a boat as possible. Those are the kind of places that I have tried to find, and have found, during my voyage and they are as they are only because they are usually small and muddy bays and creeks. It can be done, just about but not in your ‘standard’ industry product. The second side of my cruising that is more like the earlier cruisers is that I try to be as independent as possible and as often as I can to not be around other people and their noise.

At anchor off the beach at Lesconil….only just off the beaten track but very good.

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The kind of writing, blog and vlog that I enjoy now mostly seems to come from the small boat world : Creeksailor, Arwens wanderings , Dylan Winter of course and notably Free Range sailing on their 30 footer.   I notice that there is very little ‘modern’ cruising literature that is worth reading even in blogs like mine ! although there is of course a whole new world of sailing in vlog and video clips.

I know of and used to work with, another ‘sailor’  several years ago who also has a blog but one based around a generic plastic cruising boat of 36 feet or so and based somewhere in the Med.  I could summarise almost every entry as being “motored to island ‘A’, tied up in the marina ‘B’ and went for a ‘nice’ meal in town ‘C’…..endlessly dull , repetitive and rather depressing !.    I remember that ex colleague actually claiming that a 36 foot boat was too small to cross the Atlantic with….and via the easy route at that !.

That kind of blog, and it’s not unique, does seem to  sum up a lot of modern cruisers attitudes to ‘sailing’ ie dull, conservative, risk averse and unadventurous but just as equally ‘nice’ in a kind of low order hedonistic kind of way.  I think that it also points at something I see as a more general leisure/attitude problem in sailing in that there has been a rapid trend among boaters like that towards everything being easy, instantly accessible and very constrained into a ‘nice’ generic package.  That might seem a little harsh and dismissive , sailing doesn’t have to be hardcore (BTDT) but in my opinion a lot of the value in sailing is a kind of freedom and an escape into nature and not just fetching up in the equivalent of a car park every night.

I can see a kind of end-point developing here as I try to develop this theme : that cruising boats and cruising itself has all trended towards same-y but ever larger plastic boats and the cruising experience has end-pointed in the standard, generic marina based and completely marina dependant one.  I came into sailing quite accidentally some 40 years ago just as there was a rapid increase in leisure boating although at that time a 35 foot boat was regarded as being a ‘big boat’ : today that would hardly be considered as an adequate starter boat by some elements of the yachting press !.   If cruising has found it’s standardised end-point well so has ocean racing which was once both Corinthian and a bit ‘wild’ but  is now all professionally smart but corporate and totally dull.

I could easily write myself into a corner here and I think you all get the point anyway just from your own observations so here I need to turn it around and talk about my vision and concept of small boat cruising , perhaps even get the post back on track and actually talk about the voyage so far.

Spot the little boat….

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Years ago I distinctly remember an advertisement for a new design of small boat that popped up at around the same time as the late David Thomas designed the Liberty : that boat was the similar but smaller ‘Poacher’ cat-ketch and I have nearly bought one of those as a micro-cruiser myself.  That advert, if I remember it right, was something along the lines of “A different kind of cruising”.      Strange but true I actually remember one of the new Poachers sailing in the Menai straits being sailed by a friend and them actually saying that….a different kind of cruising.   That kind of cruising even then looked more like basic camping but afloat and very similar to what I have been trying to do on this trip…except that I have also done a channel crossing and the Raz into the bargain !.

So….my voyage and a ‘different kind of cruising’

TBC, perhaps in a different form….tease !

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1 Comment

  1. Come to the Camaret eh Steve! Some astute observations here — great read. The whole marina car park experience put me off sailing when I first dipped my toe in the water’s of the Soylent over 20 years ago. I didn’t know there was another way back then but thanks to people like you, Charles Stock and Dylan winter I now do.

    As for you being harsh and dismissive of a lot of your fellow cruisers I don’t agree — you’re just saying it as you see it. Risk-free hedonism in convenient packages is where it’s at today for the majority — if there’s the illusion of adventure and plenty of selfie-opportunities to show others on social media how you’re living “your best life” even better. You have to be a certain type of person to enjoy escaping into nature with little comfort, be it on a little boat, bicycle, canoe, kayak or Shanks’ pony.You pays your money and takes your choice. I’ll take your different kind of cruising any day of the week.

    Like

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