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2005 - 3
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Part 3: France and the North Brittany Coast.

France

Saint Malo (6th May, 35.5 miles)

We filled up with duty free diesel and tied up in the outer harbour to await LW and a favorable tide. With a couple of hours on our hands we made a last trip into St Helier for final on-passage groceries and a coffee in the morning sun.

The passage to St Malo. We motored out of St Helier down the prominent transit and hoisted full main ready for sea.  The wind was about a F4 from the NE so pretty much behind us and pushed us on nicely to the Plateau des Minquiers  which we needed to go around.  These 100's of islands cover an area about 10 miles square but are not inhabited as they submerge at HW. To be honest they have a lunar landscape look about them.  We rounded the islands and turned SE to St Malo, this put the wind on our side and so we were really flying along but over the next hour the wind rose slowly to a F6.  The sea quickly built up until our ride was quite rolly and at 7.5 knots was a little uncomfortable.  We reefed and reefed until we had 3 reefs in the main and a scrap of genoa and we were still doing over 6 knots but now in some comfort. The 2 knots of current helping our passage speed but probably causing the bad sea as it was against the wind.

We arrived at the St Malo fairway buoy and tried to find the transit, but looking towards the town it was impossible to find anything remotely useful so on we blundered looking for reds and greens. Trouble was we were looking for small cans and cones but we were confronted by 10 metre high lighthouses. The sea didn't help either as it boiled around every rock near to the approach channel and the wind, still blowing at F6, tried to push us onto these rocks. Eventually we got our heads around it and so sailed past the lighthouses and buoys to arrive at St Malo near HW. With help from some locals we tied up on the visitors pontoons.

We changed our watches to French time and it became 2000 hours and dinner was therefore late but very welcome nevertheless.

The following day, Wednesday, we decided to hike into the old town of St Malo which we read was pretty but quite a distance away. However, as we could actually see it from the marina berth we felt it couldn't be far. Sure enough, 25 mins later we entered the walled city of St Malo, and it was wonderful.

all these are from a post card I photo'd. In St Malo I had no batteries in the camera you see.

Perhaps from these pictures you can see it is an old walled town and it has buildings dating from the 1600's, although most look 400 years younger. The walls are massive, you could drive a coach and horses along the tops whilst looking into down into the city, and the streets are so clean, maybe because the season is still early yet. All of the houses are 5 floors high and built of the same granite as the rock on which the city stands.

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Beyond the locks into the inner harbour.

Blue sky, blue sea but blooming cold outside of the walls where the wind was quite strong and biting. Inside was another world, narrow streets, tall buildings, block paving and architecture 400 years old, oh yes, and no wind. Wonderful.

Saint Quay Portrieux (12th May, 35.5 miles)

The forecast for Thurs was for strong winds but Friday and Saturday were to have gales so we either sailed today or stayed for a few days. We decided to sail before the gales arrived. Our intended destination was Lezardrieux but, being on a complicated and rocky lee shore, we decided on an easier one and so headed to St Quay Portrieux.

The passage to St Quay Portrieux. We motored out of St Malo and followed the now familiar channel out to sea. The wind was F6 from the East and, as our course would be to the West, we decided on a genoa only day. Once at sea we settled in to a rolly passage, then, after about an hour and the wind having eased to a F5, Jersey radio announced F8 gale imminent. Luckily we were 40 miles to the South of Jersey and so we missed it. We sailed along choosing to reef down and keep the speed just short of 6 knots but with the 2 knots of tide we were soon at our destination and looking for a cardinal buoy. Once again it was on a huge tower and once again we were temporarily confused as we had looked for a buoy and not a tower, but we were soon sorted and inside the marina where we wrestled against a 20 knot cross wind before we were tied up comfortably. I can say that the Brunton propeller really worked for us today as we needed a 10 point turn to get in to the berth and  power in reverse was essential.

St-Quay-Portrieux is an old town dating from the 5th century when a Welsh hermit landed here.  It was traditionally a fishing port and still has a very large drying harbour but since 1990 it has a 1000 berth marina having 24 hour access.

On Friday the 13th (cor just realised, glad we didn't sail today) the gales failed to arrive but it was a cold overcast day, and actually foggy at sea, so we went for a walk along the coast and topped up on fruit & veg' at the Spar shop. We invited a couple from Chichester aboard for tea.

We have also tried to plan our next few days, and oh what a dilemma. If we leave with the tide going our way, that's at local HW, then we arrive at most places towards LW, meaning we cannot get in until the next HW, and that is in the middle of the night.  No thank you, its bad enough when we can see. More thought needed.

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Binic (14th May, 10 miles)

The walk to Binic.  We walked part of the coastal path, number GR34, which runs from Calais to La Rochelle. We left at midday having had coffee with Tony and Margo during the morning, they were from Chichester and in France on holiday. Our first sign post showed 3 hours to Binic, hmmmm, perhaps we had the distance wrong, after all we were using a nautical chart. We agreed to walk for about 90 mins and then consider turning back.

The path was along the very edge of the land, sometimes looking 75 metres down on to the beach and at other times at beach level, so much up and down made for quite hard walking.  Route finding was easy though, as we never more than 50 metres from one of these red and white GR marker.  An hour into the walk brought on the rain showers, just as forecasted, but we still arriving in Binic after a brisk 80 minute hike.

Binic has an old drying outer harbour and a new inner harbour behind lock gates, this extends right into the town center. We sat in the town, had lunch and watched a steady procession of vintage cars arrive and park up.  Naturally we walked around the cars and found about 200 of them engaged in the round Breton rally. Later having coffee we sat in a road side bar and watched them depart, again in a steady procession, but this time in high spirits (pun intended). A huge variety of horns blared farewell as they passed.

The day was much warmer as we walked back and visibility allowed us to look out to the islands we had hurriedly passed when we sailed in.  All quite daunting really.

Treguier (15th May, 40 miles)

We had read that this river estuary and town was not to be missed, they often appear in the yachting magazines as desirably places to visit.

The passage to Treguier. We motored out of St Quay in almost zero wind and picked our way out to sea then headed North.  I had a plan to take the short-cut through the rocks and the Chenel du Brehat, he he. Out at sea the wind arrived and so we shut down the engine and sailed slowly but aided by the 2 knot current we made good progress. Being near high water most of the rocks were covered and the sea was still flat, even so I was suddenly called from the chart table by Janet shouting "come and look at this hole".  I said not to be silly (maybe those were not quite my actual words) but went on deck and was shocked to see a whirl pool about 20 metres diameter and about a metre deep. A huge rock about 100 metres square sat about 10 metres below the surface and funneled the water into this amazing sight. Glad we didn't sail into it.

We sailed on and the wind rose until we were really bowling along, right to the fairway buoy at the entrance to the estuary. Motoring down the estuary, dead to wind, saw us picking off the buoys one by one until an array of large dirty rock constructions confused us.  Most should have been painted green meaning we should keep them to our right and one red one to be kept on the left.  But they were all dirty stone coloured and without distinguishing top marks. Janet didn't like me passing between two we thought to be green, but we had the water depth so why not. The rest of the buoyage was equally confusing but we managed. 

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We anchored at about 1900 hours, 200 metres from the town and 25 metres from a beautiful rocky hillside beneath a chateau, just in time for dinner.

We had a quiet-ish night with only one other yacht at anchor with us.  When we'd anchored we'd realised the sea bed was rock and so, obviously,  the anchor would not dig in to it.  We therefore let out loads of anchor chain so that if the anchor failed we would drift very slowly and the noise of the chain dragging would alert us.  At about 0400 the chain noise started but after about 5 minutes it quietened down, so back to sleep we went.  After breakfast, at about HW, we went down to the town of Treguier and tied up on the outer pontoon.  We plugged in to the electricity to charge the batteries and heat the water then we went into town.  The town was very quiet as it was the morning after the big nights celebration to the local patron saint of fishing and all the shops were closed except one boulangerie. We bought bread and a few buns and returned to Mithril. So that was Treg'.  We returned to the anchorage, as there was no point in paying for a pontoon in a ghost town, we did a few chores and planned to leave on the following morning tide.

Treburden (18th May, 45 miles)

The morning forecast was for NE F4 winds and so perfect for our passage west to Treburden.

The passage to Treburden. We traveled up most of the river in virtually zero wind but as the sea appeared in the distance the wind started to rise.  The river had been very sheltered and so gave us a false sense of the true conditions but now we quickly experienced F4 and F5 winds, then we started seeing F7 gusts but Mithril blasted along under, err yes, too much sail. We took the main down and so once again we had a down wind passage solely under headsail. In the afternoon the wind dropped a little but the sea by then was pretty horrible and it was really cold.  We had endless cups of hot tea but we spent little time looking at the passing coast line, and that was a pity as we now learn it was really pretty. It was called the Cote du Granit Rose, meaning the coast of pink granite. 

We had a few traumas in the latter stage, as usual, but the most intriguing was as we entered an area of water shown on the chart as "Fish Exploitation Area".  The water was about 50m deep but the shallow water alarm kept beeping its warning and showing us the water was about 5m deep. Maybe you can imagine our discussion; I sat below looking at the depth gauge showing 50m whilst Janet shouted down to me that we were in seriously shallow water. Anyway, once we left the area the alarm stopped. I guess we'll never know.

We tied up in a beautiful new marina along side 2 other British boats. Later we found it would cost us 18€ per night with an additional 2€ for each shower so taking some of the gloss from the beauty.

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The 2 boats were Hitrapia with Wayne and Angie on board, and Tomboy with David and Avril. Tomboy was out of Poole and away for the summer whilst Hitrapia was heading off on a world cruise and will maybe winter on the Algarve.

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Treburden was a wonderful town, thankfully so as we were to spend 8 days waiting for weather which would allow us 2 good days to travel west and round the NW corner of France.

Picture is taken from the GR34 overlooking the marina.

The area offered super walking, naturally along the GR34 coastal path, and also inland through some wonderful villages whose houses we fell in love with. They had wonderful and intricately tiled roofs with pink granite walls and huge well stocked gardens. The estate agents windows showed them to be about half the cost of something in England. We were, and maybe still are, very tempted to buy.

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Other days saw us cycling around or walking out as a six-some, and one night celebrating my birthday in a local restaurant. We also cycled to the nearby town of Lannion and were surprised to see a canoe slalom course on the river in the town centre.

L'aber Vrac'h (25th May, 44 miles)

L'aber Vrac'h is another small town up a river estuary but in this case it is also the jumping off point for all yachts hoping to round the infamous NW corner of France and pass down the notorious Chenal du Four. We needed a 2 day weather window to allow us to sail to L'aber Vrac'h on the first day, and down the Chenal on the second.

The passage to L'aber Vrac'h. With full committee approval the convoy set out at first light, roughly 0545, and motored in little or no wind for about 40 miles then we turned into the estuary, and for once, traveled in via sensible buoyage. A long and boring passage, totally under engine.

The highlights of the journey were seeing 2 porpoises frolicking in the 3m Atlantic swell and scores of gannets in a feeding frenzy.

We were all a little tired so retired to bed early, and also we had another 0545 start planned for the following day.

May's figures (to date)
Distance logged. 220
Hours at Sea. 38
Engine Hours. 21
Av'ge passage distance. 37
Av'ge weekly dist. 57
Total distance this year 480
Total cycled this year. 243

Our targeted goal is 80 miles per week and it seems we are down on that number, but we have had time on the hard and we are still fussy about sailing during the cold blustery days we have had of late.  We look forwards to the warmer weather.

We still use the engine a lot but mainly its to quickly get somewhere warm.

Our cycling miles rose considerably when we were on Jersey as it was a super place to explore, and so bike friendly albeit hilly.

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