These are the voyages of the sailing vessel Pétillant. Her original eight-month mission: to sail from Baltimore to France via Florida and the Bahamas, to successfully navigate the shoals of the French douane, to boldly go where few Maine Coon cats have gone before was completed in 2008. Now she is berthed in Port Medoc and sails costal Spain, France, and the UK during the summer months.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Islands, Roscoff Unfinished, and Refits in Lezardrieux

The Adventure Begins
Well, it has been a while since I posted something, but we have made significant progress. The boat was hauled, painted, buffed, and all made ready for sea. We Shanghaied two Maine Coon cats from their innocence on Sunday April 29, and installed them (and us) on board, trying to find places to stow all the stuff that we need (or thought we needed) for the trip.

Our dinner at Andre’s 

 On Tuesday, May 1, we left Port Medoc at 0545, at the tail end of the ebb tide, in order to be able to get to La Rochelle by the time that the gate into La Chalutier opened at 1:00 PM. We had a great ride out, hitting over 9 kts SOG, with an Irish freighter crowding us from astern. The new AIS works great, at least as far as seeing other shipping, and we knew who the other ship was, its heading and speed, and where it was going. Hopefully, they saw our AIS signal as well, and were comfortable with our intentions. In any case, no one interfered with anyone else, and we got out of the Gironde with only the minor discomfort associated with the Banc de Mauvaise, at the outer reaches of the Gironde entrance channel. It is ALWAYS lumpy, no matter what the weather, the state of the tide, or the winds. Sigh.

Sunny Holiday in La Rochelle 
We motored out of the Gironde, but once we headed north we put up the sails, and it was a glorious run up to La Rochelle. SOG never below 6.5 kts, boat speed consistently above 6, usually in the 7s, and occasionally in the 8s. The sun came out, and it was a great start. We arrived after the lock had opened, and after the first bridge opening, so we had to mill about smartly for about 20 minutes to wait for the Capitain of the Port to open it again. We had made the faux pas of arriving at lunch time, and suffered thereby. The tourists (it was the May Day holiday) were out in force, taking lots of photos of the enormous, photogenic red cat on the sailboat that was bobbing about. Once the bridge opened, we entered, got ourselves situated in a nice slip, visited the Capitainerie, and then went off to see La Rochelle. We started the trip with one member slightly injured (foot sprain) during the final preparations at home, so we were not walking as much as we would have. However, it was nice to head over to the Vieux Port and make a reservation for dinner at Andre’s, and then hobble back. The town was filled with people, and all sort of manifestations and animations, and we had a nice visit. Dinner was quite good –


We could not leave La Rochelle on May 2 till around noon, because of the lock, but it let us have a leisurely morning getting ready. We checked out one of the canvas places for fabric waterproofing that is highly recommended, and only available in La Rochelle, but it seems that the owner was off in Rochefort that day, so we will have to continue to deal with the bimini leaks for now. The winds stayed in the S-SW, at about 5-10 kts, and we headed NW at a nice pace in flat seas. Under the bridge to Ile de Re, then further west, until the wind died, and then we motored up into Sables-d’Olonnes(SdO), which we had never visited before.

Our marina has an agreement with a network of marinas in the west part of France, whereby you can get free berthing for up to 2 nights in each of the partners, if you declare your intentions of heading out of your marina before noon on any particular day. We had told our marina that we were leaving for the summer, and they gave us a temporary card for the network, and we thought that we were set. Unfortunately, our marina did not make the declaration for us, so we had to pay for the night in the marina in SdO. But it was worth it. And the marina made the necessary declaration so we were fully enabled for future marinas. The town was only 2 blocks away, and the next morning we found some of the best vienoisserie we have ever had in France, along with a fabulous fromagerie. Café and croissants sitting in a sunny square – ahhhhh…. And then it was time to leave, so we decided to visit an island.

Ile d’Yeu 

Northwest of Sables-d’Olonnes is the island of Ile d’Yeu, with the town of Joinville. It is a fishing town, known for its smoked fish and tuna. Unfortunately, the tuna season has not yet started, but we found some really great smoked tuna and other fish. The trip was great – we put up the sails just outside of SdO, and headed NW at about 5 kts. The marina was nice, we were able to walk around some, but not too much, and we decided to chill for the evening.


With one nice island under our belts, we decided to keep trying them out. The next interesting one, and one that provided a good staging opportunity, was Hoedic, which is one of the main islands in the baie de Quiberon. The trip north was good, and we even had an amusing bird event.  Calypso was on the coaming in the cockpit, minding her own business when a small bird flew right up to her and whacked into the transparent side curtain!  Talk about birds flying right into a cat's mouth!

Now where did that bird go?
This could not be ignored, and she spent the next hour searching for the bird, which wisely decided to land on the deck right next to the dodger, where she could not see it. The bird spent probably 2 hours hitching a ride with us.

Like a cork in a bottle
Hoedic is a very small island, with only a few full-time residents, but in the season, the population booms. They have also just installed a line of floating finger piers to complement the circular mooring bouys where people have been tying up in “star” rafts. The bouys go aground at low tide springs, but there does still seem to be enough water for the boats to stay afloat, depending on their draft. We did not think that we would fit into a slip, but the “responsible person in charge” of the harbor told us that the slip was designed for a 49 ft boat, so in we went, like a champagne cork in a Bordeaux bottle. Fenders on both sides, spring lines holding us in place, and we were tied up for the night. The town was quite charming, with a good boulangerie and several cafes. Not much else to do, though, except to watch a local sheep dog keep track of his flock. It was fun.

Vannes, golfe du Morbihan 

From Hoedic, we needed to head north into the golfe du Morbihan, and into the far NE corner of the golfe, to the city of Vannes, where our friend Geoffrey was to meet us. Morbihan is an inland sea, about 8x13 miles, dotted with islands and crammed with boats. It also has some tidal currents that can only be described as “exciting”. The guide books all advise one to enter Morbihan for the first time at high water neaps, so as to have a minimal current and reasonable water level. Of course, we did not quite follow this plan.

We left Hoedic around noon, planning to arrive at the entrance about 1 hour before high water springs, but the winds (those damn winds) decided to be absolutely perfect for sailing fast. And the seas were flat. So we really flew up from Hoedic and arrived at the entrance to the golfe at about 2.5 hrs before high water springs… The currents outside were quite tame, so we decided to go for it, under sail… And we did. Those damn winds went from good and steady outside the golfe to flukey inside, so our speed thru the water dropped down from 6 to 2.0-0.5 kts. However, our SOG went thru the roof, hitting 13 kts(!) at one point. The surface of the water looked like a Class 1 rapids in several places, covered with ripples and boils and whirlpools. The depths were never less than 10 meters, even in the boils and rapids. It was tricky to navigate among the islands while being swept along by the current, with very little control at some points. All in all, no fear, but lots of fun.

We managed to stay under sail until we almost made it to the entrance canal to Vannes, but decided that it was tempting fate too much to try the canal under sail. So, we headed up and rolled up the sails just as a pack of kids learning to sail Lasers descended on us. One girl was particularly daring in steering right past our stern, but she was laughing and having a lot of fun. The trip up to Vannes was pretty straightforward – once you have motored in one ditch, you can motor in any ditch, until the guy ahead of us decided to do a “Crazy Ivan” turn just as the entrance bridge came into sight. There was much confusion, but it turned out that he did not want to wait at the bridge for it to open. In the end, we got into Vannes OK, and tied up in front of the Capitainerie, in the middle of town, the night before the French presidential runoff elections.

Next day we discovered a great patisserie/boulangerie and also a very friendly neighborhood café, so we considered Vannes to be a success. Geoffrey arrived on the train at about 1PM, and rxc went off to welcome him to Vannes and help him with him bags. We all repaired to a great fish restaurant for dinner. On May 7, now that the socialists had won the presidency, France went back to work. At least, as much as they do on a Monday between Sunday and a May holiday. Which means that the great boulangerie was not open, nor were any of the other markets that were close to the boat, so we found some acceptable vienoisserie and enjoyed our favorite café, and then headed back down the canal into the golfe du Morbihan.


From Vannes, we were faced with a conundrum. We wanted to keep heading north, but we had a new crew-person, and we also wanted to see some more of the golf du Morbihan. It looks much like the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, with lots of meandering passages among islands with houses. For those familiar with the Chesapeake, a good comparison would be the Wye River area, but a bit larger, with more streams. To semi-satisfy all of thesegoals, we decided to wander around Morbihan for the day, and then head up to the NW of the golfe, to a town named Auray. The currents in Morbihan were not quite as fierce as the first day, and they were in our favor.

 Auray is at the head of a long stream with shallow depths, but it was quite pretty and a good trip. The stream is lined with acquaculture (both fish and shellfish) and small boat moorings. We did not get to the town itself, but took a mooring about 1.5 miles south and spent the evening and the night in a quiet cove. Quite satisfying.

Port-Haliguen and Quiberon 

After Auray, we decided we needed a new goal, and chocolate was it. One of our favorite chocolatiers (Henri leRoux(HR)) is located Quiberon, and there is a nice marina just outside Quiberon NW of the gofe du Morbihan, so once we unmoored and headed south, we were focused. Once again, we had a favorable current, and it was a short distance to Port-Haliguen. We did some sailing, but the winds decided to stay in the SW, which was not very favorable for our goal, so eventually we had to motor. But we got in, at lunchtime (comme d’habitude), tied up, and eventually checked in with the Capitainerie.

An initial reconnaissance trip revealed that there were good possibilities in Quiberon, but because it was a holiday (May 8, Victory over Some Large Unpleasant Unnamed Country to the East), nothing was open. On May 9, however, the forces of chocolate were out in strength, marching into town for a satisfying breakfast in a café overlooking the beach before heading to HR, which opened at 10. We outdid ourselves in picking out tasty morsels, and then stocked up on other provisions at the local Carrefour. It was a good hike back to the boat, but worthwhile.

Ile de Groix – Port Tudy 

Now that the chocolate stores had been replenished, it was time for another island. This time it was the Ile de Groix, just south of the French port of Lorient. To get there from Port-Haliguen we had to first head SE, and then WSW to pass through the Passage de la Teignouse, which is a bit rocky. The wind was not too bad, and we made the passage quickly and safely, and then bore up towards Lorient, listening intently for announcements concerning the Zone de Tir that we were passing thru. Luckily, the Force de Frappe was not out training that day, so we did not get shot at.

We did have a scare, though, when an official-looking (gray) patrol craft came straight at us from astern. We were convinced that we would be “controlled”, but at the last minute the vessel veered away and passed us in the direction of Lorient. We think that the flag (Old Glory) may have initially attracted him, but then he saw us on AIS, and queried some database that informed him that we were legal and had paid all of the applicable taxes, so he just kept going. He really looked like he had us in his sights, for a while.

Just as we arrived in the marina in Port Tudy, the clouds opened up, and the rain came down in buckets. The weather forecast was for more of the same for another 24 hours, with adverse winds and seas, so we decided to stay and wait it out. We made a reservation at a local hotel/restaurant, put on the foulies, and trekked up the hill to a quite satisfying meal. One of us had an appetizer of European abalone, which we had never seen before. Evidently there is an aquaculture farm for this abalone on Ile de Groix, and the product is exported to Japan. Very tasty. There were about a half dozen other boats waiting with us in Port Tudy, and one of them turned out to be one of the boats that was in the Malts Rally last year. They were headed south to the warmth this year, but we had a good exchange of stories.

Iles de Glenan 

After Groix, it was on to the next archipelago of islands, the Iles de Glenan. This group of islands is about 12 miles off the coast, and is very popular among French sailors. It is beautiful, wild, and mostly uninhabited. The famous Glenans Sailing school has bases on about 6 of the islands, training people to sail everything from windsurfers to cruising boats. Luckily for us, it is not a holiday, and the sail from Groix was pleasant and uneventful, and even though we entered Glenans at close to low tide, it was also neaps, so we had enough water to make it into the central area where there are a number of mooring balls.

Last year this was the first place we stopped in the trip north, anchoring just south of the mooring field, which was full. We were the first of about 10 visitors, but there were a LOT of empty moorings, which was good.

Audierne – the Rock 

Last year we left Glenan directly for the Rax du Sein. This year we decided to do it differently, and headed for Audierne, which is about 10 miles E of the Raz. We were not sure of our strategy, but we did not want to have to travel as far, or as long, as last year. So we decided to stage in Audierne. This is a decent-sized town that is up a very small creek/channel. At low water it is dry on one side, with rocks and a wall on the other side. We had the guides, good charts, and three people on board. All prepared, with good weather and neap tides. So what could happen? In a word, children…

The sail from Glenans was great. Close hauled, flat seas (belle mer), 6 kts, blue skies, white puffy clouds. We found the entrance all right, and a fishing boat and a sea-rescue boat preceded us into the channel, just before low tide. Plenty of water in the channel as we entered. Unfortunately, just before the first turn there were a gaggle of children in kayaks being shepherded by two adults. They stayed close to a large rock until just before we passed them, when they decided to head upstream. This distracted the helmsperson, who was trying to follow the leading marks, watch the chartplotter, and listen to the reports from the two lookouts while avoiding the gaggle of kids who were starting to fan out. In the end, avoiding running over a child in a kayak became more of a priority than watching where we were in the channel, and we drifted…


It sounded just like hitting a granite boulder with an iron hammer. Which is quite what happened. Our iron keel met a solid piece of Brittany. The minders of the children frantically motioned us to head to starboard, which we did, and we found deep water without hitting any more rocks or going aground. The kayaks seem to have then disappeared, and we proceeded up stream to the small, bursting-at-the-seams marina where we rafted outboard of another boat on the outside hammerhead. We repaired to a local bar to replenish our nerves and recover from hitting our first rock.

Recovering from the Rock
Luckily, no damage appears to have been suffered -no internal leaks and no signs of keel rotation. One of us will likely don the wetsuit and the scuba gear sometime soon to see the damage in person. And, alas, it appears that the town market was that morning (Saturday), so we were faced with a diminishing fresh food supply on a Sat night… Luckily, we found a good bakery, and one for Sun AM, so all was not lost. Unfortunately, we were still faced with the decision about how to head north….

Ile d’Ouessant – the Raz du Sein… 

To round Finisterre in France on a boat, one has several options. If one is large enough(e.g., the QM2), one is obliged to use the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) offshore. Slightly smaller vessels can use the Inshore Traffic Zone(ITZ) between the TSS and the offshore islands. These routes are long, not very pleasant for pleasure vessels, and pleasure vessels are actually forbidden(!) from even being in the TSS. So, sailing yachts and motor yachts usually use a third route: the Chenal du Four (from the north) to enter the mouth of the Rade de Brest, and then exit via the Raz du Sein in the south.

These two passages are legendary with sailors, and the guide books are filled with words and advice about strategies for dealing with them, because they are narrow, filled with rocks, have very large tidal currents, and are therefore likely to have very unpleasant seas when the currents and the winds are opposed. Last year we tried to do the Raz and the Chenal du Four the right way, but our timing was off, and it was quite unpleasant. Think of the worst sort of square waves you have ever experienced in the Chesapeake Bay and make them a LOT bigger. With an adverse wind. And rocks EVERYWHERE.

We really didn’t want to do the Raz again. This year, Geoffrey, our guest who lives in Brittany (and is Brit, to boot), suggested that we might want to head all the way west outside of the ile de Sein, and then north to the ile d’Ouessant, where we could stay for a night, and then start to head back NE. This was tempting. We had come south offshore of Ouessant last year, on the way back from Ireland, and it was quite civilized. (Flat winds and seas, so we motored). Unfortunately, it was also a LONG way from Audierne, and the weather out in the Channel Approaches can be nasty, so we decided to hold off on a decision till the morning we left Audierne, after we had heard the 7AM weather.

(aside for US readers) Marine weather broadcasts in Europe are very different from the NOAA weather broadcasts in the US. They are done periodically, usually about 4-6 times/day, depending on the country. The broadcasts are prefaced by an announcement on channel 16, and then the weather is done on another channel, which changes depending on the zone that you are in. And the same weather forecast may be done several times in a 30 minute period in the same zone, but from different transmitters, to make sure that everyone receives coverage. And, they are usually not done in English unless you are in England…

So, we got up at 6:50 for our 7:03 weather broadcast, and found that the forecast was for NE winds force 3-4, and belle mer mer belle(flat seas). We looked at the tide tables, and there was going to be a high tide neaps in Brest around noon. The current diagrams said that the current thru the Raz would be north-going starting a few hours before high tide Brest. So we decided to head out to the Raz, take a look at the sea-state when we got there, and if it was bad we would continue out to the ITZ. If it was good, we might continue.

The Raz is Soooo Boring
To make a long story short, it was beautiful. The NE winds were perfect to give us steady 6.5 kts thru the water, the seas were flat, and we had a current push of about 1 kt most of the way thru the Raz and then NW to Ouessant. Geoffrey had not been thru the Raz before, and all of our horror stories are now thoroughly discounted.

Oh, and one more thing. There is yet one more passage around Finistere. It is called the Passe du Trouz Yar, and it is inshore of the Raz du Sein, thereby allowing a savings of about 3 miles from passage thru the Raz. About 50 meters wide, same problems with current and wind and tides, with two large rocks on each side. Only for those with nerves of iron, but one of us has expressed some interest in this adventure for the next time…


Once thru the Raz we headed for the Ile d’Ouessant, which is as far our into the approaches to la Manche as possible. No trees grow on this island, and the people raise sheep and grow veggies. They also cater to a substantial tourist crowd in season, and are renowned for the mutton stew. Unfortunately, we arrived on Sunday night, and all of the good mutton stew restaurants are closed Sun night and Monday (this is France). So we took a mooring (one among many empty ones) and enjoyed the scenery. Another great sailing day.


The weather situation appeared to be on the verge of deteriorating while we spent the evening in Ouessant, but it appeared that we could make some good easting the next day before we got socked. So the next morning (May 14) we again woke early to hear the weather, and decided to leave early and see how far we could go. It turned out we could go quite far before we got socked, but we did overreach a bit, and indeed got socked. Once again, the current was quite favorable, turning from S to NE just as we left Lampaul harbor on Ouessant. It gave us a tremendous push that more than made up for the pitiful winds that perversely stayed in the WSW, despite the forecast of Meteo France that it would move to the NW. And, it stayed with us for most of the day. Our initial possibility for a landing was AberWrach. We early realized that wherever we stopeed for the night, we would stay for at least two nights, to wait for the weather to blow thru, and the facilities in AberWrach appeared to be a bit primitive. The shopping is about 1 mile away from the marina/moorings, and there is not much there. In contrast, there was a brand-new marina listed in our network of marina partners, in Roscoff.

 Roscoff is one of the major ferry towns for this part of Brittany, with ships going to Plymouth, Ireland, and (I think) even to Spain. Last year, jlm and the two kitties went to Plymouth with Geoffrey’s wife from this ferry port. It was quite a bit farther along the coast than AberWrach, but the conditions as we passed AberWrach at 11:00 AM were ideal for continuing, so we kept going. The damn wind stayed WSW during this whole day, and the jib was particularly unhappy sailing downwind, so we eventually resorted to jibing along the path to keep it full and our speed up.

This worked well, until we were about 8 miles out of the west entrance to the channel between Roscoff and the Ile de Batz, when the swells really started to swell. So, down came the jib, and we sailed with just the main till we were about 2 miles from the channel, where we rolled in the main and started to motor. The motoring turned into motor-surfing as the swells continued to break, and some consideration of the openness of the channel to the swell caused a reconsideration of an entry.

This meant that we then changed course and headed NE out around the top of Ile de Batz.  And the wind and swell continued to mount, so that by the time we eventually turned back SE into the entry to Roscoff, we were seeing winds to about 20kts true, and swells of about 1-2 meters, along a lee shore.  Fun, but a bit unsettling.

In any event, it was not dangerous, only unpleasant, and we had anticipations of a new first-class marina ahead, with all the joys of a busy port town.  There was no ferry in sight, and the commercial port looked clear.  The only suspicious aspect were the number of large construction cranes visible on the other side of the large seawall that had been built to protect the marina.

All to ourselves!
The photo in our guide book had shown an entry in both the north and south of the marina.  Reed's showed only a south entry.  So, we went with the "photo". Lo-and-behold, it was correct.  Only one minor problem - the marina was still under construction!

Yes, as we rounded the breakwater we were greeted by a sea of empty pontoons with finger piers attached to substantial pilings.  And there were already 2 boats in 2 of those slips.  But there were NO buildings on shore, and not even any way to leave the pontoons to get ashore.  So, we were stuck there, with no way out, and the winds rising.

We stayed in the Roscoff marina for 2 nights.  The first morning after our arrival we were awakened by a construction manager pounding on our hull to tell us that we had to move to another slip because they had not quite tightened down all the bolts on the pontoon we were tied up to.  No problem - we roused the whole crew and quickly shifted berths.

There was a lot of discussion about using the dinghy to see if there was a place to land, and a call to the harbormaster, but nothing definitive could be discovered, so we stayed put.  It was an enforced rest day, and probably a good thing.


The second morning in Roscoff was glorious and bright, so we headed out with sails flying, and  continued east.  The plan had been to go into Ploumanac'h for one night, then Treguier, and finally into Lezardieux.  Unfortunately, Meteo France had bad news.

The Birds!
I think I mentioned earlier in this (long) posting that the weather reports are only broadcast every 3-4 hours here in France.  Well, about 10AM that morning, we started to hear "special marine weather statements" that began to be repeated almost continuously.  They announced that the next day Brittany and nearby coasts would be getting pounded by force 6-7 winds.  This was not a good thing if we planned to head into Ploumanac'h, because that harbour is quite small, with only a pond of water deep enough to float us.  So, we decided to bypass Ploumanac'h and head directly to Treguier.     We only made one detour, out to the Sept Iles, just off the Plomanac'h.  This is one of the first bird sanctuaries in France, and one island in particular is covered with gannetts, so that it looks like one half of the island is covered with snow. Well worthwhile.

Bypassing Ploumanac'h was a wise decision...

Treguier is a substantial town wayyyyy up the Riviere Jaudy.  It has a vraie cathedral and is known as the patron town of St-Yves, who was a lawyer-turned-priest who did good things for the poor.  On May 19 there is a feast in the town to forgive the poor, and the lawyers(!) as well. We arrived in Treguier on the eve of this feast for St-Yves.

The town was filled with amusement park rides for the festival, but we managed to secure a table in a local temple of gastronomy and had a decent but overpriced-and-pretentious-and-overlong meal.  Janet (Geoffrey's spouse) joined us, and we made plans for refitting, with their extraordinarily helpful support.

Oh, and rxc turned 62, so he is now a double dipper...

Geoffrey went home the first night in Treguier, but returned the next day with the family car to treat us to a land tour of this part of Brittany.  We went back to see what we had missed in Ploumanac'h, and walked up the coastline to look back over the Sept Iles.  The wind was blowing from the east at force 6 where we were, and the water was filled with whitecaps.  Amazingly, there were a few sailboats out.  One heading west probably made it to the Raz du Sein by dark...  We all agreed that we were glad we had bypassed Ploumanac'h.

After seeing the sights, we headed back to Geoffrey and Janet's, and enjoyed lunch.  Late afternoon was spent in a Carrefour doing major replenishment, and then we got ready for the final trip around the peninsula.


Geoffrey and Janet live in a stone house almost underneath a lighthouse on the Riviere Trieux, which leads from the Ile du Brehat up past the town of Lezardrieux. It is a small charming town with a relatively large marina.  It is quite well protected from bad weather, but the tides run about 9-12 meters(!), and the currents are correspondingly fast.  Treguier is similarly situated.  We decided to leave Treguier on the 18th, early in the AM, close to slack high tide, to make it less "exciting" to get away from the marina, and arrive in Lezardrieux around low tide.  The wind was not an issue, but it did rain a bit.  We got a good push down the river, and then we cut across a shortcut where a normal, rational, responsible person would NEVER EVEN THINK ABOUT GOING, if they looked at it on a chart.  But with the high tides that we had, we never saw less than about 5 meters of water. And then we lost the push heading up the Trieux.  Luckily we had both the wind and current almost dead on the bow  as we nosed into our slip in Lezardrieux, and settled in for a refit/resupply.

Looking at the weather and tide/currents around here, we think we will leave for the Channel Islands on Tues morning (5/22),  stay overnight in St. Peter Port, and then head directly to Cherbourg, where we plan to stay for a few days.  We have really gotten to like to stay in one place for a few days, and a big city will be a treat.

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