Early morning sail then through the overfalls.

Sun 24 Jun 2012 13:05
48:02.00N 05:09.00W

It's 4am, that's French time, my body clock says it's 3am, and the bunk is warm and soft and sleep is heavy on me. But it's time to get up... tide waits for no man or woman, however sleepy she is. It's c-c-c-cold....quickly grabbing my merino wool top and leggings I crawl back under the covers to put them on in the warm. Then it's on with the all-in-one fleece lined wind proof - my 'womble suit' as it's affectionately known. I am so looking forwards to the day our wool and 'wombles' can be squashed into vacuum bags and shoved in deep storage because it's too warm for them!

Rubbing the gritty sleep out of my eyes I pull my oilskin coat on top and it's up the companionway onto the deck. And it's beautiful: it's perfectly quiet, the black sky has stars scattered over it, and there's no light but the faint glow from the town. Engine on, mooring lines slipped, sail covers off, lazy jacks clear, and up with the mizzen. We don't talk, there's no need to, except for: "All clear?", "yes, clear".

Within 20 minutes, gradually, the hills to the East appear as a dark line against the dark sky. A few minutes later there's a touch of colour on the cliffs to the west. And now, as we retrace our steps out of the harbour that we came into in the dark a few nights before, we can see the headlands, see the rocks the marker buoys enabled us to avoid in the dark. Half hour passes and, sipping scalding tea from my thermos cup, I look up: half the sky is still full of stars while half is blue sky, with clouds appearing in sharp relief dark grey against the orange pink of the Eastern sky. Colour is returning to the world, but the sea is still inky black with a silver coating.

Now, as we round the headland, up with the jibs, and finally the main, off with the engine and we're sailing. The sea sings it's soft swish, swish, swish as we cut though each wave, all else is still and peaceful. More than an hour later, I look back and I'm surprised to see the sun is just rising, nearly two hours after the light started to fill the sky.

We needed to make sure the tide would be in our favour as they are pretty fierce around the Pointe de Raz, especially at springs (which is when the moon is full or new, because the sun, earth and moon are in line so the gravitational forces are stronger, making tides more extreme). There is a gap, the Raz de Sein, but it's only safe at slack tide, which is only a half hour time slot, and the tides can be as much as 5 or 6 knots going through quite a narrow rocky channel, so we decided to go the long way round.

As we approached we saw, heading down from the North, another sailing boat, and immediately Phil started trimming the sails here and there, speeding her up as much as he could, watching the chart closely to decide where to tack, and when we did tack, and she did not, the muttered "He's overstood the mark" confirmed my suspicions - he'd gone into racing mode! There wasn't a mark, of course, just the West cardinal marker buoy, but two sail boats both going the same way soon becomes a race for most sailors.

And I think I know why she may have stayed out further West. As we rounded the headland the race (where two currents meet) was fabulous. There were brilliant overfalls, with big waves going every which way. It was such fun to helm through. At first one gets knocked all over and it's hard to keep the course, but you soon get to feel the flow of the waves, turning to meet them and then slipping back on course as you slide down the other side, anticipating which direction each one will send you, and letting the next knock you back on course. I stood with my feet apart to keep my balance, and bent my knees and felt her flowing under me, up....and down, port... then starboard. Hard to explain what it's like: like riding a horse, letting her move under you, like riding a motorbike off road, standing on the pegs, letting it move up and down the dips beneath you, like a roller coaster, but one you can steer..

It's not scary, like a storm might be, because we're in a big strong boat, and she rides the waves so well, and because you know it's only for half an hour or so and you'll be out the other side. It's exciting and a real whole body pleasure :-)

We beat the other boat, by the way!

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