The spring in Brittany turned out to be long. Because of the blooming flowers and warm days we had experienced in February we had expected to be on our way much earlier, but it seems the phenomenon called the “second winter” is not entirely unknown beyond Scandinavia. April came and went before we felt ready to leave.
It’s not a simple thing to make a sailboat seaworthy again after a long winter slumber. We had lived in our comfortable floating home for five months, and it took several days to clear all the accumulated stuff and put things in their places, so they wouldn’t smash on the floor, as soon as the boat started moving with the waves. Some of the sails and lines that had been removed for the winter were put back to their places, and I was hauled up the mast for a rigging check. All the safety and navigation equipment, foul weather gear and other items necessary for passage making had to be located and checked as well. Then there was some engine maintenance, such as changing the oil, checking belts, filters and strainers. We rented a car for one day to help with provisioning and hauling heavy stuff, such as drinking water, food and propane bottles.
Finally we were ready to leave on the evening of May 1st! The harbour gate opened, and we motored through, while people waved at us and Jorma was blowing the fog horn to celebrate the special occasion! On our own dock, the crew of NW Infinity and NW Discovery were waving us good bye – we hope to see them again somewhere much further south! Outside the breakwater, we met s/y Gama, the boat of our French friends Didier and Catherine, whom we had gotten to know during the winter. We hope to see them again, too – maybe in the Mediterranean! It was a calm, sunny evening. We stopped at Port d’Armor (Saint-Quai-Portrieux) to fill up our diesel tanks and some jerry cans. Now let the journey begin!
But what the heck! Headwinds, again! The weather forecast had promised winds on our beam, but here we were out at sea, finding nothing but headwinds again. Once the sun went down, the wind picked up, and soon we were greeted by high and choppy seas. Then… the third team player, adverse current came. We had a permanent déjà-vu: this was exactly like our North Sea passages last October and November! Our progress was so slow, miserable and cold, I can’t even bring myself to write about it. After 30 hours of what felt like a ride in a spin dryer, our newly rediscovered sailing muscles aching so badly, we decided to head towards Roscoff, on the northern coast of Brittany. We made it to the marina Port de Bloscon around midnight, and after a late dinner of oven heated lasagne we were so ready for the bunk!
The following day was very windy, and the wind direction still seemed to be the same. So, we decided to stay in Roscoff for another day and night. We folded out our bicycles and wheeled ourselves downtown, about a mile from the marina. It’s an old holiday resort, pretty in its faded charm, with an old and lively looking harbour for fishing boats and small craft. There’s a small light house, guest houses, restaurants and cafés, and naturally a very handsome church. You can see glimpses of sea everywhere, and there are pretty little sandy beaches tucked in the nooks of the rocky granite coastline. Less than a mile from the mainland to the north there’s the island of Batz, with a calm but rocky channel in between. A ferry runs regularly to this island that is popular with summer guests and tourists, and there seems to be a nice village complete with a church and a lighthouse.
On the Sunday, May 5th we departed Roscoff and headed west. It was very calm, the sun was shining, and we felt warm! A couple of hours into our journey we saw strange whitecaps rising all around us, and it took a while to realise we were greeted by a pod of dolphins! Since our journey began almost a year ago, there’s nothing we’ve been looking forward to as eagerly as seeing turquoise water and dolphins – and now, all of a sudden, we had them both right there! They were small dolphins, four or five feet long, and there were maybe ten of them. It was clearly just a short welcoming visit, because they didn’t stay for long – or maybe we just weren’t that interesting, because we had our motor running. One of them lingered a little longer with us after the others had gone, and showed us some pretty nice and fast jumps in front of the bow of our boat. They are too fast to be caught on camera!
For most of the day we had the current with us. That was great, because I had been a little anxious about our timing with the Chenal du Four, the channel that runs between the mainland Brittany and the island of Ouessant. There’s no use trying to sail against the current, and in rough conditions it can be a dangerous place for a sailboat, particularly in a wind-against-current situation. Fortunately, the weather was very benign and we barely noticed a thing, other than that our boat was making grand speed records of 9.5 knots passing the village of Le Conquet and the Pointe Saint-Mathieu. The latter is a windy cape where the ruins of a medieval abbey, and a much younger lighthouse and semaphore, a signal tower, have stood some of the harshest weather in Europe.
The sun set as we rounded the cape of Saint-Mathieu, and at about 11 pm we arrived in the marina of Camaret-sur-Mer. We tied our boat alongside a long pier as soon as we were inside – we don’t like to venture deeper into tight spaces at night. Our boat is a slow beast to turn, particularly with the windvane rudder attached. The next morning, as we had expected, we were asked to move, and for a very exciting reason! A couple of Imoca raceboats, that are to participate on the Bermudes 1000 race, came to stay at the marina. The race starts on Thursday the 9th of May, from Douarnenez not far from Camaret. There’s one participant from Finland, Ari Huusela. Naturally, we had to go check out these high tech ocean raceboats – the read one is skippered by Samantha Davies from Great Britain, and the blue one by Manuel Cousin from France.
The Bermudes 1000 start had to be postponed by a day, because there’s a storm coming from the southwest over the bay of Biscay. While I write this, our boat is rocking and pulling her lines, and we have all of our fenders stashed between the boat and the dock. The marina is well protected from the waves and most of the wind, but the masts and rigs are howling and clanking in the gusts. It’s cold and grey, but we have the heater going, and it’s safe and comfortable. We don’t know how long we’ll have to wait for a good weather window to cross the Biscay – at the moment it’s blowing 42 knots sustained, and the waves are 8 metres high. We are going to need a forecast of many, many days of nice weather before we can go out and play in the bay of Biscay!
However, Camaret-sur-Mer is a good place to wait for the right moment. The little town looks friendly albeit a little shabby. There’s a handsome defense tower called Tour Vauban just next to the marina. It was named after marquis Vauban, a French military architect, finished in 1696, and used to defend the navy that was stationed in this protected natural harbour.
On the same peninsula, there’s also the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Rocamadour. This stone church was mostly built in the 17th century, and has a lot of mementos, such as boat models and paintings, left there by fishermen and other seafaring folks. Next to the church, a group of old fishing vessels have found their final destination. Derelict as they are, there’s still some beauty and majesty left in them.
The next leg of our journey will probably – hopefully – take us across the bay of Biscay. We don’t know yet when that will be, but at least we are now a hundred miles closer to the Spanish coast than we were in Binic. The hibernation is over, and we are on our way!