June 2010 : London to Ploumanac'h, Brittany



The plan for this year's summer cruise is to make our way, quite gently, southwards from London to Seville, between early June and the end of September. Since we have travelled much of this route on other occasions, we plan to include a mix of return visits to favourite places, and some new and unknown places and challenges. This month we have progressed from the extremes of the sandy shoals of the Thames estuary to the spectacular hard rocks of Brittany - all in very benign weather.

Aremiti spent 8 months in London, following our 2009 voyage. During that time we visited for a few days every month, enjoying the benefits of having a London 'pad', socialising with London friends and family, as well as the inevitable boat jobs. After a few days of last minute jobs and preparations, we left London - with an uncompleted jobs list - in the first week of June. Good trip down the Thames with the tide in warm sunshine - usual combination of sadness and anticipation on leaving. Our first night was spent anchored just into the Medway in spectacularly ugly Stangate Creek at Sheerness. The following day dawned - and remained - windless and extremely murky, for the 36 miles round to Ramsgate. The initially rather featureless coastline, poor visibility and need for precise navigation across the shallow shoals of the Thames estuary provided an ideal test of our autopilot's automatic 'tracking' mode. While we still kept a close eye on depth and scanned for channel markers, it was spookily gratifying to have the boat taking herself unerringly between buoys and setting off on new courses! Amusing, but not sure we'll use this feature very often! The highlight of the passage was a request from the RNLI out on a fast RIB, to practice leaping on and off yachts. We were approached and boarded three times with the last man throwing himself into the water to be rescued by his mates.

From Ramsgate it was a short hop of 16 miles to Dover - making sure to avoid the notorious Goodwin Sands, and making the turn from east to south coast - a rather rounded 'corner' so not as clear cut as our changes of direction last year, rounding the UK. White cliffs were gradually becoming a feature of the coastline and the sight of Dover - a completely artificial harbour - beneath the white cliffs was quite stirring. Entry and passage through Dover harbour was not as daunting as we had expected, despite the steady stream of cross channel ferries entering and departing. With a forecast of strong headwinds, we stayed in port the next day to become tourists. We were very glad to have explored Dover Castle; with the coastline of France very clearly in view, its strategic importance over the centuries was clearly apparent. Particularly fascinating to see where Julia's mother worked as a 'Wren' during World War II.

Just as we left Dover, a thick fog descended and we were glad of radar and AIS as we passed Folkestone, though in the event nothing crossed our track. The fog cleared after a couple of hours as we rounded Dungeness - looking like a giant radiator. We anchored for a few hours off Hastings, but the rolling gradually became untenable, so we hightailed it into Eastbourne marina 11 miles away.

So far we had done very little sailing, but the 22 mile passage to Brighton was brilliant. A very decent northerly breeze created the perfect combination of a beam reach in flat seas and we made a very fast passage, passing the iconic coastline of Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters - brilliant white cliffs - a coastline far more spectacular than we had somehow expected in the 'cushy' south east!

After about a week in Brighton, during which time we returned to Bristol for Julia's parents joint 90th birthday party, and also met friends and made inroads into the uncompleted jobs list. This included fitting solar panels which have proved a huge success ever since. We then enjoyed another great day's sail - 54 miles along the south coast, passing Worthing, Bognor and Selsey Bill, then Chichester, through the Solent and into the Beaulieau River for the night. Here we celebrated the completion of our personal circumnavigation of the UK - having crossed the track of our passage from the Hamble to Bristol in our previous boat Perdika 12 years ago!

The following day we rendezvoused with the Bristol Sailing Association crew out training for the Round the Island Race the following day. After a glass or two of wine - very civilised - they left for more practising and we left for Alum Bay - tacking through a rather unpleasant squall which blew up out of nowhere with wind and rain from just the wrong direction. After a slightly rolly night, we were up early, watching for the race leaders to appear. At the sight of the first giant spinnaker just before 6am, we bolted out of Alum Bay and out through the Needles. Always a spectacular sight, but particularly so, as we watched the approach of the wall of spinnakers to round the Isle of Wight. Our last sight of England for a bit - and for who knows how long for Aremiti?

It was a very easy channel crossing - mainly sailing but the middle third motoring without wind - but a gorgeous sunny day. Shipping turned up on cue - first half a dozen westbound heading for their shipping lane at the separation zone, then another half dozen eastbound. Our timing into Braye Harbour, Alderney was perfect and we were feeling very pleased with ourselves after the 66 mile passage. However, once into the harbour and making our choice of mooring buoy, disaster struck - or nearly struck. The engine suddenly started revving uncontrollably and would not slow down or stop. Luckily we had just turned back down the harbour outside the fleet of moored yachts. Chris managed to stop the engine by ramming it into reverse, but then it would not start again. We instinctively turned back up towards some vacant buoys at the back of the harbour and with what momentum we had left, we managed to drift ourselves on to a buoy. No time to have worked out Plan B! This problem kept us in Alderney for 5 days and was really a blessing in disguise. Passage to Sark The problem itself was not as serious as we had first thought - a sticky governor in the injection pump was gradually freed up. These extra days provided some much needed slowing down and rest after the stresses of finishing work and getting away. Our pace since Alderney has been extremely restful - aided enormously by the fabulous weather - while not brilliant for sailing, excellent for holiday mode.

From Alderney we sailed, extremely slowly with cruising chute (and good tide) to Sark, where we anchored at Havre Gosselin. Lovely anchorage, but rather peculiar arrangements for landing the dinghy - which had to be manhandled up 34 large concrete steps. Funny little place Sark - definitely worth a visit.

We made a stealth entry into France, spending the first two nights anchored in the Treguier river, just below the town under a ch√Ęteau - wonderfully tranquil and scenic. We had planned on staying only the first night, but we woke enveloped in fog the next morning and although it cleared up quickly enough for us to have gone into the marina at a reasonable state of the tide, we easily persuaded ourselves to chill for another day. Treguier - Julia's first ever destination by yacht, and a couple of visits since - was as always a delight of laid-back medieval streets. We spent a couple of days there before moving westwards, to anchor off Sept Iles for several hours - including a walk up to the lighthouse and, incongruously, a routine engine oil change - waiting for the right state of tide to get into Ploumanac'h. This involves a short channel through an astonishing jumble of gigantic pink granite boulders seemingly thrown higgledy piggledy into a pretty bay, at the end of which a cill creates a pool for boats at all states of the tide. Here we ended the month.

So far so good - after 404 miles.

Look forward to hearing from you,

Julia and Chris