July 2010 : Ploumanac'h to Concarneau

Greetings from Aremiti in Concarneau, and Julia and Chris in Bristol.

The Brittany coast has continued as rocky as ever - in more ways than one! We should have been in La Rochelle by now - but more of that later.

July started well - first day of the month was spent in Ploumanac'h, further marvelling at the gigantic granite boulders. An overheard remark by an English girl that she felt as though she had stepped into a painting by Salvador Dali couldn't describe it better! The following day we moved on in drizzly, murky, windless weather another 23 miles, crossing the rock-strewn Bay of Morlaix to an anchorage off the Ile de Batz, directly south of Roscoff. The weather had returned to its normal fabulousness the next day, as we set off through the channel between the mainland and Ile de Batz, with a big tide and lots of swell stupendously smashing itself against the surrounding rocks. Sadly it was another windless day for the passage to L'Aber Wrac'h - another rock-strewn but well-marked entrance with its multitude of buoys and beacons - cardinals and channel markers, overlooked by the mighty lighthouse of La Vierge. We moored to a buoy - happily self-sufficient power-wise with our splendid solar panels.

Next day after breakfast in the Cafe de Port, we set off on the next leg, turning south to Camaret, via the Chenal du Four - the mass departure inspiring confidence that we had done our calculations for this tidal gate correctly. This channel is described in the 'Fearsome Passages' guide - but with the tide right and in completely benign conditions it was hardly perceptible. In Camaret we again chose a buoy rather than the marina - much better view of the town and goings on. We especially love to watch the French kids on their sailing courses - tiny tots sitting on their tiny dinghies being towed out in a line by a dinghy - mother duck and ducklings - very sweet. The French take their sailing education very seriously - there certainly seems far more of it going on there than in the UK. We spent a couple of days in Camaret - a few jobs - mending a tiny hole in the dinghy (maybe from its harsh experience in Sark?), retail therapy in a very cheap chandlery, a supermarket stock up, washing and cleaning - all the chores of the cruising life.

We left Camaret - again with a small fleet all timed to go through the Raz du Sein - another 'fearsome passage' - at the right tidal time. However, we had plans to go off piste with a visit to the tiny Ile du Sein. The whole male population of this island (128) left to join the Free French during WW2, and today provide members of lifeboat crews all around Brittany - it seemed worth a visit. However, we found it difficult to find a spot deep enough to anchor comfortably and before we had gone ashore the wind shifted slightly to blow straight into the harbour sending in swell. The anchor started snatching and so with great reluctance and disappointment we felt it was time to go as, had conditions deteriorated further, it would have been hard to escape at low water. This meant pressing on south through the Raz de Sein at mid-tide - not at all the advised timing. However, the tide though strong was with us and there was no problem. Indeed, we passed a couple of yachts struggling against the tide in the opposite direction - very strange timing.

The following day, after a night in a very rolly anchorage, we sailed (yes - more wind!) around to the small commercial fishing port of Le Guilvinec. Entering the harbour we were confronted by a mass of fishing boat activity - lots of noisy maintenance work, 3 or 4 boats up on the hard - a tremendously colourful and picturesque sight. We chugged through the harbour keeping well out of the way - as advised by the guide - to find the extremely ramshackle visitors' pontoon tucked well away from the fishing activity. The pilot book had advised that this harbour is not to be entered between 4-6pm. Walking into town later we found out why. By 4.30 fishing boats could be seen heading towards the channel from all directions and were streaming into the harbour. As each came through the narrow harbour entrance, it would head straight for the adjacent fish market quay (where a large crowd had gathered on the roof terrace) and quickly hover bows to, to offload the crates containing their catch on to waiting trolleys, before speeding off to make room for those behind - utterly fascinating. Sadly none of the langoustines we had seen being offloaded seemed to find their way to local restaurants - probably whisked straight off to more upmarket destinations. Next morning we set off early for Concarneau - 22 miles away - during which we experienced no wind, then thick fog and finally a nice breeze to get us in for lunch. We moored up on the 'wave break' with views into the town, out into the channel and of the great ramparts of the walled city. It was lucky we liked it there, because Aremiti has been there ever since - 3 weeks so far.

After our 'revving' problem in Alderney, the engine had been purring away perfectly for the next 150 or so miles - and due to the lack of wind, we had done a fair bit of motoring. Latterly, we had experienced occasional and brief periods of unusual vibration and incipient engine revving. This had become an underlying anxiety rather than causing any actual problem. We decided to sort it out once and for all in Concarneau - the most substantial town we had visited for some time. It is hard to grasp how things then went from bad to worse to dire. Concarneau It turned out that the problem in Alderney had been a warning of something more serious. Without going into detail, it was established - at considerable cost - that a required part was not available in France. Our injection pump is now back in the UK with a firm which specialises in our engine type. It was a frustrating time - we will not dwell on the difficulties and expense of our experience with the three engineering firms which became involved, operating an opaque system in which the concept of customer care does not exist.

However, Concarneau is a nice town and we enjoyed being there in the warm French sunshine, shopping in the markets and generally becoming part of the population. Our cloud had a wonderful silver lining in the form of our friends Ron and Linda on Pure Magic - a combination which could not be more aptly named. We had already planned to rendezvous with Pure Magic and to sail in company with them for part of our route south. On hearing of our predicament, they headed up to Concarneau and took us onboard for 6 days cruising the offshore islands and into the Morbihan - the route we had planned to take - for which we are more grateful than we can possibly say.

It was great to get going again, although sad to leave Aremiti. We just hope she didn't realise we had left on another boat! We headed first for Port Tudy on the Ile de Groix. This has a tiny harbour giving us our first experience of the extremely close quarters mooring arrangements typical of this area, with at least half a dozen yachts moored to each of the 4 huge buoys, filling the harbour with a jumble of boats and ropes. Next we headed south for Sauzon on the north coast of Belle Ile - a picturesque and truly gorgeous little port situated in a deep inlet. Here the same close-quarters mooring as on Ile de Groix created a wonderfully jolly and laid-back atmosphere, characteristically French and somewhat different to the stiffer and more serious atmosphere that can sometimes typify British yachting. The next morning we extricated ourselves from the mooring chaos, heading for the island of Houat where we anchored off a wide sandy bay. In the sparkling sunshine and heat we could easily have been in the Caribbean with the turquoise sea and white beach. After lunch we dinghied ashore to check out the little town - our favourite so far with its artlessly charming white walled houses with pale blue woodwork surrounded by hydrangeas, hollyhocks, allium and roses in tasteful and tranquil pastel shades. Its clean wide 'streets' and complete absence of vehicles somehow reminded us of some of the villages we had visited in more exotic locations. From there we headed - along with hundreds of other yachts - just like a Sunday evening in the Solent - for Crouesty on the mainland, enjoying our most exhilarating sail for some time - a very satisfying beam reach in 20 knots. Crouesty is a vast basin containing several marinas, shops and supermarkets - soulless, but perfectly serving its purpose as a pit stop with all possible amenities.

On the following day, we headed into the Morbihan - a beautiful shallow sea of islands, yellow beaches and pine trees - and extraordinarily strong tidal currents and counter-currents. Morbihan We spent two days mooching around this beautiful playground, able to venture further off the beaten track in Pure Magic than would have been possible in Aremiti with her deeper keel. We spent the night on a mooring off Arradon dining on particularly delectable 'Penisten' moules - a huge golden moon above and the beautiful surroundings in what Ron described as Ectachrome colours - perfect. Our final day of cruising involved an ambitious route through some especially shallow channels - and turned out to be even more adventurous than planned. Arriving for lunch to anchor off Ile d'Arz, Linda realised that the engine was not engaging. Ron immediately diagnosed a broken throttle cable - a repeat of a problem a few years ago. He and Chris then spent an enjoyable (so it appeared to Linda and Julia) half hour fixing up a Heath Robinson arrangement whereby the helmsman could call on the 'engineer' to supply more or less speed by pulling on ropes at the foot of the companionway. While waiting for the tide, Chris and I explored ashore - another delectable little village. We then set off under sail and all went well until engine power was needed to move us quickly out of a shallow and getting shallower spot against a very strong tidal current, and the engine refused to go into gear. However, this was rectified and disaster averted. We're not sure whether this episode demonstrates that engine problems are likely to arise during any cruise of several months, or that Chris and I are the kiss of death to any boat engine. In our defence we should say that we met a couple in Concarneau who, having set out a few weeks earlier for a 3 year cruise to the Mediterranean and back, now needed a complete new engine - and that was nothing to do with us!

We finally made our way up into Vannes - involving a lock and opening bridge. While on the waiting pontoon, Ron phoned a supplier to order the new cable, demonstrating his French version of the phonetic alphabet - 'B for baguette, F for France...'! This did the trick - the new cable was obtained the following morning and fitted by mid-afternoon.

We have run out of space to describe the great charms of medieval Vannes - in especially mellow mood in the Jazz Festival which had just started. After a full day there, we took the train to La Rochelle and are now back in Bristol for various family events. We'll be back on Aremiti in 10 days time - hopefully to fix the engine and resume our voyage.