Safe harbour

Thu 21 Jun 2012 19:02
48:16.70n 04:35.22n

Wow! How can I tell you? 

Well, first of all, night before last, dropping down from Cornwall trying to head to Spain. The winds were North West, Lochmarin was loving being out of sight of land and, given her head, she wanted to go charging off South Eastwards at 6 or 7 knots, where as we kept pulling her back to the south, and west of south when we could, with the wind behind her, making a miserly 2.8, 2.9 and (yay!) maybe 3 knots. We spent hours through the night watches steering by hand to get her as close to the West as we could, creeping up and then backing off in time to avoid a gybe. 

For the non-sailors, let me explain a little. We had the winds behind us, which you might think is great as surely they just push us down, right? The sailors reading this are shaking their heads. You see, it all works better if the wind is coming across sideways. That way the wind slides past the sails like it does over an aeroplane's wings. The shape of the curved sails is just like a wing's shape. The air that has to flow up over the curved top side of a wing has to go further, and ends up speeding up, moving faster than the air beneath the wing. Because it's flowing faster it exerts less pressure on the wing (the pressure is all the little air molecules bumping into the wing, right? If it's moving past faster it's not hanging around bumping into the wing. Does that help?)  So as air flows past a wing, you have more pressure on the wing from underneath than above, hence it will go up!  If it's a sail, the same thing works, the more air flows past it, there's less pressure on the front of the sail than on the back, so the sail (and the boat it's tied to) goes forwards. Sorry, I know I'm no longer a science teacher, but it's interesting!

Also, the other annoying thing about having the wind right behind you is that a small change in the wind direction will mean it's coming from the other side of the boat, and the sails can keep swapping over which side they're on (called gybing).

So, you can imagine that it was a tad disappointing, having gained those hard won miles towards the West,  to decide that we were going to turn around and go to the South East instead, however, Lochmarin was happier and we were able to use Sadie, then Otto when the winds became light, instead of hand steering.

Niether of us have been in this part of Brittany towards Brest before, and it's an interesting entrance (zoom in on the position map - have a look!), lots of strong tides racing in and out of the estuary, loads of rocky outcrops and fishing beds to avoid. We were due to arrive about 2 in the morning, and it was new moon, so no moonlight to help us in. We knew there was a marina from the pilot books, and some visitors mooring buoys, but it also said that there was no anchoring in the area and that the ground was bad for anchoring anyway. So we were sailing in pitch black into a rocky unknown place where we had to find a pontoon or mooring buoy in the pitch black. It was brilliant fun!

Firstly, remember, this all happens at about fast walking pace, we weren't going to race in anywhere. Secondly, as happens the world over, the helpful people of Brittany have put in no end of lighthouses, marker buoys, cardinal buoys etc to show you where it's safe and where it's not, and of course, we have a chart showing all those lights. But it's tricky, you have to translate the chart into the landscape that you can't actually see around you, just a collection of little lights of different colours, flashing at different rates so you can tell which one is which. I's like a treasure hunt with clues all around you, and codes to translate. Is that light a boat at anchor, a leading light to guide you in, or just someone's front room on shore? As you move along, taking bearings and comparing them to the chart, you gradually work out what's what, and use the answers to work out the next clue: Right, so if that's the South cardinal (white, flashing 6 short then a long...), that one's just port of it and is a double flash every 6 seconds so it must be... unless, it's that other one also double every 6 second further in?

And it's such a good feeling as you get each one confirmed ("right, if we're where we think we are we'll be passing into the green arc of that light about... now..." and sure enough, the white light turns green), and even better when you turn into the harbour. But then there was the mooring to figure out, we couldn't really see into the marina but managed to make out first the white hulls of boats on moorings, then the mooring buoys themselves (helpfully white), and got ourselves attached without too much bother before tumbling exhausted into bed about 3am.

But I couldn't sleep at first. I'd been keeping myself awake for so many hours and there was so much going through my head and was the mooring buoy strong enough and... and zonk I was gone.

And we woke up to such a pretty little French town, there's an old fortified tower with a wall around the courtyard and a moat and all, and a beautiful stone church filled with model boats instead of incense swingers and anchors alongside the crosses. As you walk down the mole towards the town we passed these huge beautiful fishing boats, in early retirement I like to think.

We wandered along all the little shops, stopping for moules frites, of course, and dropping by the boulangerie to buy baguette and tarte framboise... and my French is holding up! 

We're curled up back aboard now, feeling her move around us as the gusts pass through and listening to the rain on the hatches, cosy and safe.