August 2010 : Concarneau to Ile de Yeu



Greetings from Port Joinville on the Ile de Yeu.

We only managed just under 160 miles of sailing this month, due to rather restricted availability of time. We arrived back in Concarneau from the UK on 9th August, but sadly our ailing injector pump was not waiting for us as we had hoped. To cut a long story short, after various delays too tedious to describe, we didn't get away from Concarneau for another two weeks. All rather frustrating - especially as during this period a stable north-westerly airflow developed over the Bay of Biscay which would have been perfect for our crossing. We had decided not to continue down to La Rochelle as originally planned, but to head for north west Spain direct from Concarneau. However, on the plus side, Concarneau swung into festival mode over these two weeks. The 'Grande Poissonade' was a weekend of Celtic music and fish eating - a lovely event with stalls selling moules, sardines, tuna, frites and crepes, to eat at long tables set out under awnings while listening to the music. This was the warm up to the big one a week later - the 'Festival Filets Bleus' - same sort of thing but on a much larger scale. We attended the main concert headlined by 'Tri Yann' - a zany 8 piece band of aging Celtic rockers, dressed in bizarre outfits interspersing fantastic Celtic rock numbers with semi-political rants. The audience was large and enthusiastic, and of all ages and types. The Bretons seem, more than other Celtic nations we have been to, not only proud of their own Celtic heritage but also very aware of their connection with the other Celtic countries.

We left Concarneau with some fond memories - and a pleasingly purring engine! By this time of course, the fantastic Biscay crossing weather had given way to interminable grey south-westerlies. We decided we might as well head southwards down the French coast while waiting, ever checking the forecast, for potential departure to Spain.

The winds for this part of our cruise were mainly from the south west - not bad for our south easterly track. We started in grey weather with poor visibility, but thoroughly enjoyed some tranquil sailing which quickly put our earlier problems behind us. Our first port of call was Port Louis - 30 miles away - opposite the great industrial looking port of Lorient. Port Louis, in complete contrast is a sleepy and charming 18th century town dominated by its great Vauban citadel. The next day we continued into the bay of Quiberon. We were heading for Piriac in the south of the bay, with a fall back plan of anchoring for the night off the island of Hoedic if we seemed likely to miss the tidal gate for entry into Piriac. As it transpired, we had extremely light winds, and even with full sail, cruising chute and mizzen, we couldn't make enough speed to get to Piriac in time. Undismayed we anchored off Hoedic early in the evening with a light offshore breeze forecast to continue overnight, looking forward to a trip ashore the following morning. However, Chris had one of his uneasy feelingsā€¦. Sure enough by 1am a strong onshore wind was blowing us into the shore. We had not dragged our anchor, but were now in rather shallow water and so decided to hightail it out. It was a relief to be able to rely on our engine to power us out straight into the strong winds and steep chop and on our chart plotter to avoid a nearby unlit rock. Once out into safe water, the problem then was to decide where to go. As every possibility seemed to involve unmarked rocky entrances, we decided we'd have to stay out for the night. We hove to for a couple of hours - very successfully under a tiny scrap of genoa and the mizzen - drifting very gently southwards. It was actually quite pleasant with clear skies and a full moon. We then set off in the direction of Piriac - 19 miles away - as slowly as we possibly could, in F5 winds on the beam we would have loved had they arrived the previous afternoon. The plan to arrive off Piriac at daybreak which coincided as luck would have it with high water, worked a treat and we drifted gently on to a convenient pontoon for a few hours sleep.

After a lazy day in Piriac in scorching sunshine, we left at 7am the following day in grey drizzle - the time dictated by the fact that the flapgate on the tidal cill had seized up in the closed position, thus drastically shortening the time we would have sufficient depth of water to clear it. Having successfully achieved that, we found ourselves out into a day which developed into the nastiest of this year's cruise - with heavy rain and winds of F5-6 precisely on the nose. Our destination of L'Herbaudiere on the island of Noirmoutier was only about 28 miles away, but once the wind starting gusting regularly to over 30 knots and with tide against us, we decided not to bother, and diverted to the marina at Pornichet - a useful if somewhat godforsaken bolt hole. We realised that while continuing to focus on finding a weather window for the Biscay crossing, we hadn't really been taking enough notice of local forecasts - that day had been pretty much as predicted! However, it doesn't always pay to listen to forecasts. With much the same forecast the following day, we motored in very light winds across the shipping channel into St Nazaire in the mouth of the Loire most of the 16 miles to L'Herbaudiere.

We instantly loved L'Herbaudiere - the only all tide port at the north of the island of Noirmoutier. The port - the focus of the little town - is divided into commercial fishing port on one side and 'port de plaisance' on the other - so lots of interest - a proper little place. With its whitewashed houses and red roofs it was very obvious that we were no longer in Brittany and the whole place had a far more southern feel. While there, we had to rethink our Biscay strategy. Although we had a rendezvous planned with friends in north west Spain, we were beginning to have to admit that the weather had generally become very unsettled - and that this was not very surprising towards the end of August going into September. We decided that a gentle cruise down towards Rochefort could be a pleasant alternative - our only real regret being missing our rendezvous.

Meanwhile, we explored Noirmoutier on foot and by bus over a few days - at our our new ultra-relaxed cruising pace - a flat island of saltpans - big business here, windmills and pretty whitewashed houses - all single storey with woodwork in various tasteful shades of blue. Towards the south of the island is the 'gois' - the tidal causeway to the mainland, where the locals in their hundreds come to gather shellfish from the vast acreage of exposed sand and rock. We were also rather fascinated by the 'refuges' - platforms for people trapped by a rising tide to scramble to - leaving their cars presumably to float away!

From L'Herbaudiere, we sailed the 23 miles to Port Joinville on the Ile de Yeu, in light north-easterlies, at a very relaxed pace. The chart we used was the one, still marked up, which we used last time we were in these waters with friends 12 years ago in our previous boat. Happy memories - but much nicer weather, as we recall bashing hard into the wind in driving rain! We have spent two or three days here, exploring ashore by bus and foot. These islands are a different world to the mainland - almost like exploring a third world country - though perhaps not so much a different world as a different era in its simplicity and tranquillity (apart from the hoards of visiting cyclists!).

Obviously we won't get to Seville this year, as originally planned. However, we still haven't entirely given up on the Biscay crossing...