The Voyage of Ophelie Westerly Fulmar 2013-2014
Mervyn and Jane Maggs
When does a voyage begin? Is it the moment you drop your mooring or cast off your lines in your home port? Or is it a set period of time that has been pencilled in on a calendar with a start and end date? For arguments sake our voyage on Ophelie started in 2013 and I believe has not stopped yet.
To explain further, Jane and I decided that we would like to sail our Westerly Fulmar, at the start of June 2013, from Marconi Sailing Club on the River Blackwater to Brittany. We would then leave it there for the winter after exploring some of the coastline. Ah a North Easterly wind was blowing beautifully at the start of the season, whilst we were gazing at our collapsed engine mounts and blown head gasket. Much sucking of teeth and drinking of tea was had and by mid July the engine was purring, but the wind had turned to the South West and was a little brisk for our sensitive nature.
So regardless we set off crossing the Thames estuary and continued beating our way, with numerous stops down the South coast. As I said we are a gentile couple who enjoy flattish seas, visiting and enjoying the many (15) ports we visited. This meant most of this part of our voyage was in South West 3-4 and 4-5 winds and we stayed in port when anything higher was forecast. At some point in our travels it dawned on us that visiting Brittany could be an over ambitious undertaking if we were to make the most of our time exploring it’s coastline.
We arrived in Falmouth in August, so in a change of plan, we linked up with a friend in Cornwall and organised a lift out in Gweek, on the Helford River, for the winter, while waiting for the next sailing season. A further part of our reasoning was to cut travel costs to France and enjoy being in Cornwall. The yard at Gweek reminded us so much of our times laying up in Maldon, Essex – copious amounts of mud and lots of interesting wooden boats being restored and beautiful surroundings, so a very good decision.
The following year, 2014, we were ready to pick up on our travels and by mid June we headed out to France and the port of L’Aber Wrac’h, starting at 2pm from Falmouth and arriving at 9.30am the following morning. A good crossing, but a ratty sea after the previous few days of inclement weather. We arrived at the Libenter buoy, then ticked of all of the relevant buoys, coming in through what can look startling with it’s backdrop of very pointy rocks, but who should worry? Sailing schools were using this as their playground and rocks just need to be understood my marine therapist says!
Having recuperated from the voyage and eaten our fill of mussels, as well as going into the very sociable YCA (Abers Yacht Club), we set off again to enter the well documented Chenal Du Four, a light North Easterly wind was blowing and braced for any eventuality we passed through this gateway without any serious pilotage mishap, but a minor disagreement on buoyage! An offshore breeze and a neap tide were so much in our favour as we continued our way to Camaret-sur-Mer. The navigation was relatively simple with slacker tides and a less formidable seascape. A night was spent in Camaret-sur-Mer where we were invited to join members of the Cruising Association, who were intent on enjoying themselves, and without hesitation accepted their generous hospitality. The weather and tides were still in our favour so we set out early the next morning to our next nemesis the Raz de Seine. Following the local boats and cutting the corner through the Chenal du Toulinguet, we had timed the start of our run through this renowned gateway to within the specified 15-minute window given by the pilot book. Engine ticking over, remembering all the dire warnings of how treacherous this passage can be, at the critical point, a splash was heard from the bow and as if just to say hello a pod dolphins played around the bow of the boat in the clear blue water that is so much a part of this Southern Brittany. We now had a clear passage to Sainte Evette and picked up a mooring. On arrival we were greeted by the harbour master in his launch, who offered to deliver bread the next morning and a trip ashore if we required it, so much appreciated.
A short hop around the ‘corner’ we entered Audierne the next day on the tide. What a delight, the entrance channel was easily followed and we spent a few days appreciating this relaxed small town with a chandlery, patisserie, ice cream parlour and supermarket all within close walking distance, bliss. After a couple of nights, it was time to leave, so we consulted the captain of the marina for the earliest departure time. After looking at his computer we were told one hour after low water with our 4ft draft, much earlier than the pilot book stated. A lesson learnt to talk to the harbour master for advice.
Our next destination was Loctudy, which meant a longish haul around Penmarc’h. As the wind was light we endeavoured to synchronise the tides to give us a lift around what is a formidable headland.
We had no trouble arriving in the late afternoon, regardless of the cautionary notes on fishing fleets returning. We stayed several days to meet up with friends who were also sailing in these parts. Whilst in Loctudy we took advantage of the local fish market, where you can buy langoustines fresh from landing in the dock, A further treat is to catch the ferry on the outside breakwater of the Marina to Ile Tudy, 5€ gets you there and back to the island that provides pleasant walks good beaches and excellent food.
Our next destination was intended to be Bénodet – a short hop, but regretfully we were informed that it was closed to visiting yachts due to a series of races that were being held over the week. The lesson learnt was to check in advance via notice boards etc. when these events are occurring. It’s not uncommon to be turned away from marinas for club outings, celebrations and racing, especially early in the season.
From here we decided Concarneau was our next port of call, where we shared the marina space with the La Ville Close, an imposing granite fort with an extensive ancient town within. At weekends in the marina, there is much activity for the Glénans charter group, as Concarneau is a very good starting point to visit the Îles des Glénan. Something we were able to do on the way back, when there was less swell.
Our next port of call was to be Lorient or rather in our case Port-Louis, more later on our return, as our idea now was to push on further and make the most of the favourable wind. Next call the Bay of Quiberon staying at Port Haliguen, where a creaking back needed to be rested for a while, spring tides were coming on and the desire to visit the Golfe du Morbihan had to be sated. No problem the French train services came to the rescue costing 10€ for a day return, we visited Auray a beautiful medieval town in the Golfe du Morbihan. With a mind to a future visit we noted where to moor, the reality of going under the bridge (no chance!) and shallows, as well as wandering the ancient lanes and churches in this lovely market town.
My back started to mend, so it was a short hop to the next port of call, La Trinité-sur-Mer . In my view it holds the essence of the French enthusiasm for sailing. This is expressed by there being no gates, no restrictions and plenty of information on the resident fleet of high tech sailing racing machines in this training base. A constant stream of people visit the staging’s all day and night enjoying the sight of exotic sailing machines and their crews, plus a bit of fishing to add to the atmosphere. In addition having information boards about France’s sailing heroes helps visitors appreciate their accomplishments.
I also spotted in one of the photos on display a box of Kellogg’s cornflakes at Eric Taberlay’s navigation desk. Where did he put them all and the milk? Maybe that’s why he had to be so fast, before he ran out!
What is also common to this coast is a strong presence of people enjoying themselves. This can realise its self in the sound of burbling voices having conversations whilst strolling and enjoying the surroundings, through to the yachts men and women who take to the water with enthusiasm and skill, returning as birds of the sea that spend much time on the wing and land in a less controlled fashion.
La Trinité is also within a cycle ride of Carnac, with not many hills and cycle tracks to keep you safe. On borrowed bikes we started from the marina and spent a day seeing the mysterious and thought provoking Neolithic standing stones that still hold a mystery as to their purpose.
How long would our luck run with the weather? With a desire to visit the other ports and locations that we missed on our way down, a decision was made to move on and head back to Port-Louis so we could visit the Citadel museum which is very close to the marina. Well worth the visit with a very interesting display of French maritime history. Port-Louis is also a good staging point to visit Lorient using the water bus, in order to see the Keroman submarine pens at the Cité de la Voile Éric Tabarly.
On Sundays there is an English-speaking tour guide, who gave a fascinating insight to France during WWII. Finally visiting the Cité de la Voile on the same expedition, which infuses the present along side the recent past with activities that engage both young and old.
Sainte-Marine on the river Odet was on the itinerary where it is tucked comfortably in a quiet corner on the opposite side of the river to Bénodet. Before stopping there for a couple of nights, we set off under the bridge to sample some of the delights of the upper River Odet. We anchored in this secluded steeply wooded river, with the occasional flash of a kingfisher, the occasional boat and canoes with children who projected their voices and hooted to break the uncustomary silence that pervades.
Moving on to a softer and flatter landscape, we visited Port La Foret and enjoyed taking walks, relaxing and stocking up on gaz from the well stocked chandlery here. Now it was back to Concarneau so that we could plan when to set off to the Îles des Glénan – swell is low, wind is light, sun is out, no possible reason not to go.
The Islands are about 8 Nm offshore and are where the famous Glénans sailing school operates, whose teaching builds resilience and confidence in its pupils whilst working out of what could be a very formidable location.
Having piloted ourselves into the Ile de Penfret’s La Chambre anchorage we picked up a mooring buoy for the night. Of course you can anchor in many locations, the ground is hard and interspersed with weed so care has to be taken, but many boats do. Reassuringly you can see the anchor in the crystal clear water. Settled in we enjoyed swimming, walking ashore and watching every one playing. That night we gazed at the stars, the Milky Way and the planets tracking across a cloudless sky.
Time to move and back to Loctudy and Ste Evette, before picking up a mooring at Camaret, where we enjoyed the peace for a few days. Then we set off for Brest, staying in the Marina du Château tucked in a corner beneath the castle, adjacent to the Military Port, where it was made clear that you should not stray on to their patch. We entered the outer harbour by the western entrance, although we noticed the Eastern entrance being used by yachts as well.
The marina is large but, close to the town and the museum, plus some very good restaurants, which are only a short walk away and cover all tastes. For us it was a plateau de fruits de mer, a bankrupting indulgence making us very satisfied and others envious.
Our journey continued to L’Aber Wrac’h after waiting a few days for a favourable weather forecast.
Having arrived in L’Aber Wrac’h we awaited for the tail end of Hurricane Bertha to pass through, which generated dramatic sunsets. Making the most of our time, we visited the coastline by road with a Breton friend, Christian, who lives close by. Our perambulations took us to ports you should only visit in a car, as the coast is rugged, but beautiful. Any way 5 days went by and finally the wind on both sides of the channel was North West 4-5 but with no 6 in it. Time to go, as a worse forecast was in the offing. So feeling like Brendan on his voyage we set off for England and tried to make land at the nearest port. Our aim was Falmouth, but with the wind direction made it to Plymouth, which was a lot closer to Falmouth than Dartmouth. The crossing was not pleasant, but as predicted the shores of Cornwall and Devon were calmer with a North West wind. Finally, a beautiful sail was had on this last leg into Plymouth Sound. We called the Mayflower Marina ahead and were given a berth, as well as a welcome helping hand to tie up. We quickly tied up and put our heads down for a well earned rest. Our courtesy flags refused to come down, perhaps a final pull from Brittany! The marina’s location provides some excellent walks and beautiful views from local parkland and to crown it all I managed a very good hair cut in Plymouth.
Knowing that the Fowey Royal Regatta was about to start, we set sail again and were allocated a mooring buoy in the harbour. Busy is not the word for it, so we were very lucky to find a space to stay. Although it looked like there were no bounds to how many boats could be moored to one buoy. Settling in to enjoy all of the festivities, racing of Fowey class boats, as well as Falmouth working boats thundering through the harbour, fireworks, music and the Red Arrows aerobatic team and more. The regatta is put on by the local people for the people of Fowey and it’s all done with so much good will and enthusiasm, giving a warm welcome to all that visit the port.
Moving on and closer to the end of our voyage and grand finale we sailed to Falmouth, to await the arrival of the Tall Ships. Yet again the party started , this time on a larger scale, the sun came out at the right time and a buzz of excitement was tangible. We tried to contribute to the atmosphere by hoisting our meagre bunting of assorted but colourful flags. Falmouth was heaving with people, but the privilege of owning a boat is that you can easily withdraw from the hurly burly and still stay central to it all. On our penultimate day to laying up the boat, we followed the flotilla of Tall Ships on their parade of sail, where every kind of vessel that could, took to the water (and some that shouldn’t) in celebration of this glorious event.
That evening we moved over to the Helford River, dropped the anchor and awaited the morning tide so we could be lifted out of the water at Gweek in readiness for next years voyage.