Just before Christmas 2013, Lynn, my chief number one crew and I headed off to a small island off the Brittany coast. We were going to tackle the obviously impossible task of moving a boat up the Bay of Biscay in a tiny gap in the disastrous weather we’d been suffering for weeks. When I wrote about the trip I entitled it, ‘What price a life?’ as it made me think very seriously about the merits of going out to sea when it is rough. Well, would you believe it, here I am again to tell you about the same route, the same model of boat but much, much better weather?
One of the things I learned about this trip the last time I made it, was that accessibility to this section of the French coast line is not easy using public transport. I don’t think I’ve ever used so many coaches and trains getting back and forth from a boat. Fortunately, this time it was quite straight forward but still, more involved than just getting into a car and driving to the marina. I set off on Friday evening, on the ferry to St Malo. Staying overnight in a hotel opposite the station made it easy to stroll across the road the next morning and virtually walk straight onto the waiting train without so much as adjusting the speed of my step. Less than an hour later and I was in Rennes. The next train got me to Nantes and then a coach took me the rest of the way to Noirmoutier. Not bad really but when you consider I started travelling on Friday evening at 18:30 and it was now 16:30 the following day, it does seem like a long journey for such a short distance across the globe, especially when we keep getting told how small the world is these days.
So, Bill, the owner of the new Swift Trawler 50, was waiting to greet me when I arrived. As we walked to the boat, we discussed the plan and the weather and came to an amicable agreement that we would go ‘balls out’, given the favourable weather conditions, to get to Guernsey on the second day to collect Bill’s wife. Jane was planning to come across on the ferry from Poole and complete the last leg with us. Personally, given the distances involved, I would have preferred to have split the trip into three legs, allowing a day for each but Bill was on a mission and as long as it’s not dangerous, I’m happy to help.
The following morning, at 06:20 sharp, we left the marina on the first leg of our trip. It was supposed to be 06:00 sharp but neither of us had had much sleep – new boats don’t come with bedding and pillows and rolling clothes up to make a pillow is only slightly successful. It started off fairly flat but as we got a couple of miles off we encountered the standard swell from the SW that plagues Atlantic facing shores and what was left of the previous few days wind blowing at a slight angle across the top of the swell. This made it slightly lumpy but the semi-displacement keel on the Swift Trawler kept it comfortable. Our target was Roscoff and if we could keep up a steady 12-15 knots this was going to take us about 12 hours – long day, especially after a night of very little sleep. As it happened, we had patches of extremely smooth water and made the Raz de Sein just after 13:30.
Lighthouse & West Cardinal marker at the Raz de Sein
Skimming across the water at 18 knots and over the ground at 15 knots was a little disappointing but we’d had a good run so far and it was inevitable we’d hit some foul tide at some stage. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before we’d passed in front of Brest and made our way around the westerly tip of Finistère. We were now on the home run into Roscoff. By the time we got in, the sea was like a mill pond and what wind there had been, had subsided. At this time of year, this really should have been a clue…
A tip for any motor yachts thinking of staying over in Roscoff – the diesel pump will only dispense €300 worth of diesel in one go. We had to go through the process for refuelling eight times before we had filled the boat up!
Sat on the fuel berth after our lengthy filling up session
Roscoff seemed to be a sleepy little marina – quite clean and contemporary looking but nobody about. The restaurant stopped serving early so we had no choice but to stroll into town. In fairness, it was only the 20 minutes the restaurant owner said it was.
Over the hill and down towards the town centre is a lovely and clearly affluent street of houses, punctuated by something I’ve not seen growing in such neatly aligned rows and in such quantities before – a field of Artichokes!
Past the artichokes and a little further towards the ‘centre ville’ and the vista opens up to reveal the old port (drying) and the town tucked behind it. Here’s a couple of shots of the entrance to the old port.
The next day we woke up to pea-soup fog! Advection Fog is common at this time of year. The warm, moist winds coming across the Atlantic are chilled as they encounter the waters around northern France and the UK which are still cold from the winter. (Water takes a long time to change temperature and is at it’s coldest in the early months of the year, not warming up properly until September, October).
In busy commercial waters I would be very hesitant about setting sail in thick fog but this was a week day now and the only craft we were likely to meet were the local fishermen. We had radar, AIS and two huge plotters to view it all on – off we jolly well went. I reckon we were the only boat blowing it’s horn out there but it made us feel righteous. After an hour, we drove out of the fog and left it hanging in the air behind us. We had popped out into a sunny day of cloudless blue skies and flat calm waters; how lovely, Guernsey here we come.
Sadly, Jane couldn’t make it in the end, which was probably just as well as it got really lumpy going around the Les Casquets . The tide would have been against us going through the Alderney Race and with a slight wind over tide effect it would have been pretty rough there too, so we chose the Casquets route but honestly, it was rough enough to slow us down to 7 knots at one point and I seriously wonder if the Race might have been a better option.
Once we’d crossed the shipping lanes and made it to half way across the Channel it smoothed off enough for us to get back up to 18 knots. From there on in it was pretty uneventful and so, just after 16:30 we arrived in Poole. A successful , speedy, slightly foggy crossing and one very happy owner!
This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure. If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.