FRANCE, SEPTEMBER 2010, 47:52.80N, 4:07.00W
Consie's cousin Willem and his wife Eileen came to Sneem, bringing us a cruising guide and a bunch of tulips for my birthday, from Feyona, a luxury on board. They had lunch aboard and drove us into Sneem village to get provisions. We had spent a few quiet nights in a bay near Sneem and as the weather looked good, we left Sneem and rounded Fastnet rock in glorious sunshine, with dolphins all round us, stopped the night in Schull and had fish and chips. Rounding Fastnet marked Restless circling Ireland, and we motored into Baltimore, where Restless had arrived after the Atlantic crossing in 2007. We watched a rescue operation in the harbour, with a Coastguard boat and a helicopter lifting a man on a stretcher. We walked around Baltimore, saw the 1215 castle, then went back to the boat and motored across to Sherkin island nearby for the night, as we were planning to set off from Ireland in the morning for France.
Sunday 29 August at 0615 Keir got the anchor up, and we set off under reefed main and genoa and soon reached away from the Irish coast leaving the fading flash of Fastnet Rock light behind us in a pink sunrise. Storming along in strong northwesterly, surfing down waves, we watched a huge Round Britain racing yacht reaching across our stern some three miles away us at speed. At 2 pm we goosewinged, NW wind and we were going southeast, it reminded us of the Bermuda trip but the waves were smaller, doing 8kts in 18 kts of breeze, big rollers, we surfed at up to 10.3 kts. Dolphins were surfing beside us in their hundreds. Consie missed the photo of a lifetime with 7 dolphins surfing down a wave by our stern. We gybed at 2100 hours, with dolphins around us again, we had chicken stew for dinner, red sunset at 2200. At 0020 the wind changed from NW to NNW and then to East, so seas were lumpy, winds strong and it was hard work through the rest of the night, very cold, some rain and spray, due to the confused sea.
Monday, Big sunrise, a very big slow long westerly swell, probably the remains of the hurricane in the mid-Atlantic, 0800 till 1000 it became slow and dreary, then Consie on helm and we trimmed sails, she did 6 kts. Mid-day, as we crossed south of the Isles of Scilly, we passed a big trawler Mickey Rowney, at 1400 flukey winds, increasing. We calculated that we could not make Brest in daylight, so decided to make landfall further south, at Benodet, South Brittany/ north Biscay, passing outside the dreaded Razin de Sein and the Saints. 1600 hours we were approaching TSZ (Traffic Separation Zone), but passed just south of the designated lanes. It was interesting to see the shipping traffic, rounding the southern buoy like a cyclone, it is obviously a waypoint for big ships and they were all converging on this point. We had to calculate when and where to cross directly over the 4.8miles in each direction, north and south lanes, with 4.8 miles in between. This we did starting at 1700 (Monday), charging along with wind up, horrid because the wind changed from E to SE, and increased by another 5kts, now 25 kts in the direction we were going, we crossed through by 2100. We gave way to one ship that called us up and the Philippino captain said he would change course to give us a wider berth. We were glad to have another hot chicken stew dinner.
We then had a fast bouncy very close reach to our waypoint off the end of the Saints, which we passed at 0100. From there we had 43 miles straight to weather to our next waypoint. It all went wrong about 0340 when the wind increased to 30 kts. We reduced sail, put the engine on to get moving in the cauldron of strong winds against very strong tides, the wind went east and we wanted to go east, waves like himalayas, a full moon. Roland and Keir on 90 minute shifts, sleeping in oilskins on cabin floor, to be immediately available. Very very uncomfortable. Even Roland can't remember poor Restless being corkscrewed around in such seas for the strength of wind. It was just impossible to get any forward motion, and every twentieth wave jumped into the cockpit.
Tuesday, 31 August 0530 nice sunrise, sun came up, seabirds flying around, lots of dolphins around, fishing boat came across and a small Atlas container ship, it was good to be able to recognize things again, but the bad conditions remained. 0700 25kts winds, engine on, a lot of green waves over the deck, the tide was against us and the huge waves were like a washing machine, we could not get north because of the strong winds and waves, and we went an extra 50 miles to get back to our target landfall,
We worked our way northeast to Biscay bay, and finally came up the Odet river to tie up at the Benodet marina at 1830, with the help of 2 Irish sailors. We had sailed 348 n. miles in 60 hours, and went ashore to have a cold shower, as the Capitaine with his store of jetons had gone off duty for the day. So quick dinner and bed, very tired. Glad to be in France.
We went to the supermarket in Benodet the next day and the supermarkets are fantastic! and so much cheaper than anywhere we have been in the last 4 years, with so much variety (whisky is cheaper than in Scotland). I bought rabbit pate and snails, we always try to eat the local food. We did our laundry and washed the salt crystals off the boat, I think they were right up the mast. We went to a nearby restaurant for dinner, and the seafood platter was 3 storeys high, with oysters, crab, scallops, mussels, langoustines. Consie had the biggest ice cream we have ever seen, in a beautiful blown glass vase! Benodet is up the Odet river, in the Bay of Biscay. We heard there would be a big firework festival in the bay on Saturday, so we decided to go further up the river and stay for the fireworks. The next day we went to the fuel dock and emptied out our wallets, and filled up with water. Then we went under the bridge and up to the connection with another river, Anse de Combrit, extremely narrow and shallow, and we anchored in a pool. We could see lots of large carp around us, but they did not take the hook. We had not been anchored long before a black rib with Douane (customs) all over it appeared with 4 black-clad men, one with a gun in his hand. The leader, the youngest, took our passports and registration certificate, and phoned in the details, and also wrote everything down, asked questions, where we had come from and where we are going.
3 September: We took the dinghy with our big outboard up the river 1 hour to Quimper, a lovely old city with twin-spired cathedral from the 1400s. We found cobbled streets, crooked little houses with half timber walls, and a covered market (everything closes here between noon and 2pm for lunch and a snooze). We ate a slice of quiche and went to buy a French sim-card. Roland was getting anxious as we had no idea how far the river dried up at low tide, and we had tied up to an ancient wall, but we were fine, and motored an hour back, past some beautiful but unloved chateaus to have dinner on board: Escargots followed by French lamb and ratatouille.
4 September, We had stayed for the fireworks festival in Benodet, which started at 1800 with a Bretagne Rap concert and fireworks at 2230. We walked around town in the morning of a gorgeous sunny day, then went back to the boat for lunch, and returned in the evening to listen to the rap-concert and to watch the spectacular fireworks, which were set off from a barge in the middle of the river.
The next day, Sunday, we went ashore to the town on the other side of the river, Sainte-Marine, and walked out to the Atlantic ocean beaches; we saw men in wetsuits diving for crayfish or scallops. Sainte-Marine is a very cute old town, famous for being the washerwomen's town, where the ships used to call in for laundry in the olden days! Every town seems to find some raison-d'etre, don't they? Here the washerwomen wore lace hats 2 feet high, and how they bent over their washing is a mystery, but the postcards and cartoons show women in tall hats. We had a long phonecall from Oliver, proudly announcing that he is a grandfather again (Matt and Adrienne’s new son, Oscar Adrian), and they are planning to visit us soon, after stopping with Ruth and Peter in Paris. The next day it rained most of the day, so we got out charts and did some planning. We have approximately 800 miles to go to get to Lisbon where we plan to leave the boat in a little under 2 months, so hopefully our pace of travel will allow us to explore interesting places as we go.
Tuesday 7 September we set off early down the Odet river with the tide, and followed the markers past the Iles de Glenan, and Isle de Groix to the Blavet river, which has several large marinas, a submarine base, castles and ruins, and military bases and the special marina/maritime museum of Eric Taberly. We motored right up to Lorient, to tie up at the friendly marina for the night, with 5.8metres under our keel. By nightfall the depth had dropped to 1.6 metres with the marina walls towering above us, and the gurgling of the water as it disappeared down the river. We were out of season, so marina charges were lower, and included free power, water, showers and wifi. So we took advantage of the free power and watched a DVD, "the Bucket List", given to us by Olivia and James. We were in the heart of the city, so walked around town. The harbourmaster told us that they had put up a sign in May, welcoming people into the marina, but as you left the sign read "Good riddance!" He has now changed it, as someone pointed out that the sentiment had lost something in translation!
Tomorrow we plan to go down the river and around to Quiberon Bay before entering the Gulf of Morbihan for a few days. This area is well known for its attractive islands and anchorages, although getting in requires care and attention as the tides will be over 8knots as it is springs. We hope to be in La Rochelle in 2 weeks to meet Oliver and Jane who are coming to join us for a few days before we set off for Spain and later on to Portugal.