01 June 2015 | Western Brittany
words by Jayne
Strong winds were forecast so we took advantage of the good wifi in Brest Marina and caught up on blogs and admin, it's sometimes good when cruising to get a few days bad weather to stop you in your tracks and relax a little.
Brest is situated in a large natural bay where a couple of major rivers converge, one of which is called the L'Aulne. A couple of people had recommended sailing down this river to the town of Chateaulin. We couldn't find much information about this passage or of the tidal information in there, we just knew it was around 16 nautical miles of windy tidal river, we calculated that a steady sail down should take us around 4 hours. We made the decision to leave at low water just after the tide had turned so we would get the current with us upstream and soon found we were doing around 7 knots speed over ground with only a few knots of boat speed, our eta was coming down quite quickly.
All was going well with a good few meters of depth below us when we started to notice the depth gauge slow decrease to 3m... 2m...1m...0.5m! We slowed down to just the speed of the current, then a small bump and nothing - we had run aground! We were stuck there for half an hour or so until the tide rose us enough to get us going again. After another short grounding we arrived at the lock, 3 hours after entering the river. We had read that the lock keeper throws you his lines, so we slowly entered and quickly realised the lock keeper was nowhere to be seen and apart from one short moss covered rope hanging from the wall and some hoops too high to reach we had nothing to tie to. Paul, thankfully being quite tall finally managed to secure a line around a hoop and we waited, wondering what to do. Was the lock now disused? was it not even open this time of year? After around 20 minutes he finally arrived and scratched his head comically wondering how on earth we had managed to get so far down the river. We soon learned that we should have left a couple of hours after low tide as the lock only opens a couple of hours either side of high tide there. Presumably because there isn't usually enough water for people to navigate the river outside those times, I guess we were lucky that there had been a fair bit of rain lately. Once safely out of the lock we sailed under the imposing Viaduct and through the quaint town of Port Laulney, with just a boulanger, Tabac, mechanic and boats lining the waterside. With only 2 more miles to go we passed them and suddenly chug chug... the engine spluttered then stopped rght in the middle of the river, somehow we managed to drift to the side straight onto a very conveniently place pontoon. We had been having occasional 'chuggings' for a couple of weeks since someone on board had accidentally topped to Diesel tank up with water but we thought we had solved the problem. We decided to relax for the rest of the day which although hadn't been a very long day certainly felt like it. The following day Jayne and Lily cycled along the tow path to Chataulin where it was market day and left Paul to tinker with the engine. They rang Paul to ask if he needed anything from the town and the response was 'only if they have a diver!' After failing to resolve the engine problem he had decided to set to work replacing the furling line for the genoa sail, in doing so accidentally dropped half of it into the river 3 meters deep. This was turning out to be an eventful couple of days, we were now a sailing boat with no engine and only 1 sail. Lily and Jayne returned from town to a very wet Paul who had tried very hard to dive down into the murky cold water but to no avail. The following day was spent trying to locate a marine engineer and diver but being so far from the sea this was proving difficult. Paul finally persuaded the mechanic in Port Launay to come and have a look, being a car mechanic he wasn't hopeful. After a couple of hours tinkering they found a blocked pipe which needed some high pressure to unblock, the mechanic returned from his workshop an hour later with the pipe and a tiny inline filter in his hand. We fitted them and the engine started up a treat, now onto finding that diver. We tried contacting the local swimming pool who had a diving team and even the lock keeper no one could help, we rang a chandler in Brest who was most unhelpful. In the end we had to leave it behind and after an eventful few days headed back down the river.
We anchored in a lovely sheltered bay overnight and onto Camaret the following day, a bustling town with many cafes, bars and shops selling local Breton gifts. It is a busy harbour and a popular place for people to stop after crossing or having crossed the Bay of Biscay. We wandered around a car boot sale which was lining the main street along the harbour then spotted a couple of men we had met moored near to us. They had just crossed Biscay the previous day and were enjoying a few well earned pints of beer. A couple of hours later Lily and Jayne decided to leave Paul to enjoy some 'man time' after all he spends the majority of the time surrounded by women. He came back slightly sozzled but it was good to see him relaxed.
Whilst there we managed to order the part for the furling drum from a very helpful Chandler in Lorient, which although was a few days away it was good to know we had one on order. It would just mean motor sailing for a while, and with our engine working perfectly wasn't too bad.
After an enjoyable couple of days in Camaret we headed through the Raz d Sein, a stretch of water with similar conditions to the Alderney Race which was had experienced a few weeks before. The conditions were perfect for us and we had a great passage through before heading to Concarneau, a very popular tourist destination.
We had hoped to visit the Glenan Iles whilst in the area but with the exposed location and forecast of stronger winds we decided to head further south to Ile de Groix. We moored in the outer harbour to two mooring buoys, one to the bow and the other the stern, it was pretty tricky as the harbour master insisted on helping us and made the whole process very confusing. Soon after a couple of French women arrived on a well kitted out steel yacht and moored along side us. They kindly gave us some local knowledge and lent us some useful books on the nature reserves of Brittany. We really enjoyed Ile de Groix and the weather was fabulous whilst we were there. Le Griox being only 6 miles from Lorient we decided to pop there the following morning to collect the part for the furler, we fitted it quickly and headed back to Le Groix. We took our bikes ashore in the dinghy and had a great afternoon cycling to the north of the island where there are some fairly high cliffs with nesting gulls, the heathland habitat was home to Skylarks, Pipits and Linnet and we found dozens of Lizards sunning themselves on exposed rocks also we could also hear a Cuckoo in a nearby pine woodland. We headed back to the tourist Information office and Paul found some information about the SW of the island having a geological site of interest so we headed there by bike the following day. The site has mica schist rocks which reflect the sun like jewels, there are also blue and rarer green schist which add to the experience. The whole area is worth a visit even if geology doesn't interest you, the landscape is very spectacular. Around to the South of the island are some great beaches of which the most westerly are covered in an unusual red sand we spent a while relaxing and Paul and Lily played with a discarded Frisbee found on the beach. After a full day exploring we headed back to port for ice cream and planned for our following day sailing to La Trinité sur la Mer. La Trinite sur Mer, like many large harbours in France, is a base for some of the worlds fastest racing boats and it quickly became apparent that a big race was starting to get underway. The area outside the marina was full of classic sailing boats undertaking a championship race, boats from all over the world were taking part, a helicopter circled over head and we soon found ourselves wondering how to get through it all. A rib came over and guided us around. The marina there is huge, and on the first pontoon was moored the worlds biggest sailing multihull 40m x 20m and it was drawing lots of attention. Our main reason for this location was the nearby town of Carnac, home to thousands of Neolithic standing stones, around 6000 years old. We cycled into Carnac and enjoyed wandering around the enormous market where we bought some strawberries and cake for lunch then popped to the boulangerie for bread and headed for the stones. It was a lovely sunny day and we picnicked on tables by a woodland and cycled the many miles admiring the rows and rows of stones. After a full day exploring we headed into the Morbihan inland sea, a large inland sea with a archipelago of islands, mostly owned by the rich and famous, the largest two islands are accessible to the public and very popular with French holiday makers and tourists. We planned to enter the relatively narrow channel with the tide with us and the pilot guide had warned it can be difficult at spring tides, typically it was the day before the spring and we saw some very fast currents entering. The entrance resembled a washing machine, with currents, eddies and tidal rips all over the place. We headed to an area to the north but it was full of local boats and within the tidal stream so we tried to turn back towards the way we came, it was near on impossible the current was literally pushing us sideways so we had to negotiate our way on a much further route east, even Paul who tends to be fairly relaxed looked pretty stunned by it all. Eventually we found a fab anchorage out of the currents and beside the largest island within the inland sea Ile de Moines and close to a sandy beach. The following morning we packed a picnic and took the dinghy ashore, we picked up a map from the harbour and found there to be many colour coded walks around the island.