Gladlee of Guernsey
June 1992 – July 1992
29th – 30th June 1992
After restocking the larder and taking on water (courtesy of Port de Penhoul marina) we set off for the Îles Glénan, 12 miles or so offshore. It was quite foggy at first, so we saw little on the way except the lighthouse on the Île aux Moutons, sailing by this time in a moderate SW. The Île de Penfret and the rest of Les Glénan appeared on cue shortly before 14.00, and in rather grey, showery conditions we had a look into La Chambre, the main anchorage, before deciding that we might get better all round shelter in the bay on the E-side of St. Nicholas – we anchored there, with only a couple of boats for company, just after 15.00. Les Glénan sit on a plateau and surround a shallow lagoon, they have coral beaches, abundant birdlife and better-than-average weather – hence their fame as home to a major sailing school and sub-aqua centre. For our first 24 hours there, though, it rained steadily, relenting only on the second evening, when we got ashore for a walk round St. Nicholas and a couple of beers at the bar. After expecting one of the highlights of the trip it looked like a wasted detour.
1st – 3rd July 1992 - The next morning brought clear skies and sunshine, though, and with them brilliant white sand and a sea of tropical blue. We took a ride round St. Nicholas in the dinghy, spotting starfish amid enormous underwater jungles of weed, which occasionally tangled round the outboard’s propeller and brought us to a halt. Having seen the Glénan at their best, though, we decided not to linger, and in mid-afternoon we set off for the mouth of the Aven, realising as we did so that we were leaving a clear sky behind and heading into a bank of heavy rain cloud. Julie gallantly stuck to the wheel through the inevitable shower, and by the time Nigel emerged again we were off Port Manec’h at the entrance to the Aven. The anchorage there looked thoroughly uncomfortable, so following the pilotage instructions in the Guide Fenwick as best we could (no chart) we headed up towards Pont Aven. After one brief fright, when Julie missed the channel and went gently aground, we negotiated our way up the rocky narrows (like a salmon stream, which it is!) of the last stretch before Pont Aven and emerged at the town quay. The advice in the Cruising Association Handbook was to get on the furthest stretch of quay nearest the footbridge, so after a remarkably deft piece of manoeuvring on Julie’s part (turning “Gladlee” in her own length in a very narrow bit of river) we duly slotted in to the one remaining space available.
Pont Aven proved a delightful picturesque place. In spite of the inevitable tourists and traffic, drawn to its scenery and reputation as a centre for artists (there seemed to be more art galleries in the town than every other sort of shop put together!) We passed the time of day with several people on the quayside and started to feel like part of the scenery – indeed the local council seems to regard yachts as just that, and charges nothing for the use of their facilities (including the electricity and water point to which we moved when another British yacht vacated it the following day). There were ducks and swans on the river, and in the evening the spectacular sight of salmon leaping their way upstream. Some nice walks too, up the river and through the woods known as the “Bois d’Amour” – altogether a thoroughly agreeable town, in which we could easily have lingered for a day or two longer. But with an eye on the clock, as usual, and a reasonable tide and weather forecast, we decided on an early start down the river after our second night’s stay. No alarms on the return trip (spotted ‘Pacifico’ at anchor, a friendly Hallberg Rassy we met at Pontrieux) emerging from the river at around 08.30 we found a damp, dull morning with poor visibility, but with a SW wind freshening just forward of the beam we had every prospect of a fast run as far as Belle Île. Though it stayed grey and threatened rain the wind held at the top end of F4, and we sped past the Île de Groix, eventually arriving off Sauzon on Belle Île at 1400 hrs, having logged 34 miles in just over 5½ hours. We picked up fore-and-aft buoys in the outer harbour just as it started to rain – later, at half tide, we moved to the recommended “best berth” inside the inner breakwater, surprisingly deserted in spite of the number of yachts in port.
3rd – 6th July 1992 - Sauzon provided us with a couple of relaxing days, eating and sleeping and walking – we had thought of cycling along to Le Palais, but a brisk wind put us off the idea. With no more than basic shops and a few small restaurants the port is not overrun with tourists, and visiting yachts either stayed in the outer harbour or dried out well inland. Fishermen came and went, but nobody disturbed us at all – Nigel eventually enquired about paying and was asked for FF10! We had a good FF80 menu at the Hotel du Phare (including ½ dozen oysters apiece, which reawakened Julie’s new-found taste for them) and a spectacular walk along the cliffs, following the overgrown remains of a ‘Sentier Littoral’. Nigel started on a series of port reports for the CA, Julie on her typing course.
We decided to move along to Le Palais on the Sunday, not least to do a serious food shop before moving across to the Morbihan. A very different atmosphere here : we arrived as the inner wet dock opened and went for it, finding a crowd of yachts moored two or three deep against the wall, opposite the imposing outer ramparts of Vauban’s fortress. We found a perfectly comfortable spot alongside a friendly young crew who had chartered their boat from Le Crouesty, then acquired a trio of merry fellows in a launch outside us who invited us for a drink before they’d even tied up, unfortunately they had clearly had one or two on the way, and after one had fallen in the water and we had finished our already delayed dinner, they made off for theirs ( a second ducking narrowly avoided on the way across the inside boat!) In the morning our young neighbours got themselves off very efficiently, and three rather subdued men in a boat also left, so we had the berth to ourselves until evening lock.
Le Palais certainly seemed to merit its reputation as a rather chaotic port, with yachts crammed in any old how, and ferries bombing in and out of harbour with little apparent concern for anything in their way. But it had an attractive bustle about it and some excellent fresh food on offer – after a morning shopping expedition we walked up to the citadel to see a good museum and to enjoy great views of the town and port. Endlessly entertaining to watch all the comings and goings from a safe distance, and we could also see across to Quiberon and the Teignouse lighthouse, which we should pass next day. After fresh grilled sardines for dinner we treated ourselves to a drink in the bar across the road – Ricards, and ‘Aswad’ on the video.
7th – 12th July 1992 - Next day we moved out in the direction of the Golfe de Morbihan – next to no wind, so after a brief attempt to run on the genoa we settled for 3½ hours’ motoring to the big marina at Le Crouesty, where we planned to stop for a few hours until slack tide. After several days of patchy weather it was sunny and hot as we came into Le Crouesty, where a large motor cruiser from Lymington (in company with an even larger wood-decked motor yacht) very courteously squeezed up a bit to allow us just to fit in to a space on the 10m+ visitors’ pontoon. Having filled the water tank, had lunch and a quick stroll round the marina shops, we didn’t want to outstay our (free) welcome, so went and found an anchorage round the corner for the remaining hour and a half – in case we had any doubts about the tide in the entrance to the Morbihan it was quite instructive to see the speed of boats coming out on the last of the ebb (and conversely being set backwards trying to sail in!)
Once into the Morbihan, shortly after 1900 hours on a lovely sunny evening, first impressions were no encouraging – certainly very scenic, with wooded islands of various sizes dotted about (and the occasional small village on shore) but there seemed to be thousands of yachts anchored wherever we looked. Most of these turned out to be on permanent moorings, though, and surprisingly few seemed to move over the next few days, so we had little trouble finding room for ourselves. Our first night’s stop was three miles into the Gulf off a small sailing club, where we anchored near some moorings and watched a lovely sunset entirely undisturbed. Next morning over to a small island where Nigel had an interesting time holding the boat in a maelstrom of cross-currents while Julie inspected the bird-life; then on to the narrows at the north end of the Île aux Moines, where we took advantage of a couple of hours’ free pontoon moorings to stroll round the village and have a beer at the restaurant overlooking the next stretch of water to the NE – as with all Breton villages we visited, very pretty, with lots of wild flowers as well as carefully-tended gardens and window-boxes. The idea then was to find our evening anchorage in time for a late lunch but it was a further hour (and almost 1500 hours) before we selected our spot, in the wide bay off the landing stage on the E side of the Île d’Arz. Starting to cloud over, and an evening breeze started up , but we managed enough shelter behind the windscreen to eat a roast chicken dinner on deck.
We spent the next morning walking round part of the island – again a very attractive village, and unspoilt lanes and hedges – before sailing off the anchor after lunch and heading for the entrance to the channel leading up to Vannes. Quite a brisk F4 by the time we got there an hour later, and we sailed some way up on genoa alone (but with the engine ticking over in case of need – a narrow and rather busy bit of water!) We had to wait only ten minutes or so before the bridge opened to let us into the short canalised approach to Vannes, where we were delighted to renew our acquaintance with the owner of "Pacifico", just finishing a cup of tea before heading off across Biscay on his way south. We took "Pacifico"’s place outside a large Dutch built sloop, ‘Canzone’, soon making the acquaintance of her very genial owner, Ken Oakerbee. Ken was expecting a crew on the following day, but having been on his own for some time was happy to accept an invitation to share a couple of bottles of wine over dinner. – an experienced Mediterranean sailor, he gave us a lot of useful tips and the current ‘Yacht Scene Gibraltar’ (we swapped our chart of the Îles Glénan). A very pleasant evening indeed.
Vannes was in the middle of a festival to celebrate (or re-enact) the arrival of Charles I of England’s Queen Henrietta Maria in the city after she had fled the revolution – we missed the costumed procession, but there was plenty of street entertainment going on in the picturesque mediaeval city centre. Ken, equipped with a hire car, took us out for an early supermarket shop before setting off to pick up his crew from St. Malo – we spent the early afternoon visiting a museum in a restored mediaeval market hall and catching some of the parades and street shows outside (the rain just about held off). By the time we left, though, there was drizzle about, and by the time we had made our way down to the E. end of the Gulf (the Navalo river) at almost 17.30, the clouds were building heavily and the wind was gusting F5 from the SW. We picked up a buoy as far in to the river as we could, but there was still quite a chop on the ebb tide as we settled down for the night in rather bleak surroundings – a relatively featureless landscape, a few yachts on moorings, disappointingly little wildlife.
Next day was grey and windy : though the weather did start to break a little in the evening, it was too breezy for our planned barbecue, so we improvised on the grill below decks – the day was spent on what became known as ‘homework’ (typing) and ‘jobs’ (such as Julie’s set of mosquito nets for the hatches). There was still a brisk wind from the WNW the following morning, into which we motored back towards the entrance to the Gulf, with only a sideways glance at the SE corner, which we’d hoped to explore the day before. The weather had made it difficult for the Morbihan to live up to expectations, and although ahead of schedule we thought we might as well press on.
Outside the Morbihan it was blowing a steady F5 with the odd squall, so we put a couple of reefs in for the 20-odd mile reach down to La Turballe and made steady 6 knots with half the genoa out : 3 miles off we gybed in and went on under main alone, approaching the entrance from the west as a French yacht did likewise from SE. The other boat made as if to barge in ahead of us, and a certain amount of shouting and gesturing ensued – in the end he gave way, and we got into the harbour to face twin problems of getting the sail down and finding a place to moor, the visitors’ area being already pretty full, and with very little room for manoeuvring. We managed it in the end (though Nigel’s 180º turn in a 25-knot crosswind almost ended in disaster) and found ourselves rafting alongside the yacht we’d just beaten in – he’d reversed neatly into a space while we were getting ourselves sorted out and helped us secure our lines, a process which laid to rest the myth that French yachtsmen refuse to employ springs. We were lucky even to get a berth rafted three out (a boat came outside us later) – the main visitors’ pontoon had rafts seven or eight deep!
13th – 15th July 1992 - The wind had moderated a bit by the time we left at 09.00, but there was an unpleasant “crachin” which gave only vague glimpses of the shore as we motored dead into wind to get round Pointe du Croisie. Once we set course southward, though, the drizzle became intermittent and there was the odd brighter spell - 7½ hours of quite pleasant sailing with the rare treat of a wind on the beam. We made a good landfall on the Île d’Yeu at 1640 hours, and an hour later we took the sails down off the anchorage to the west of Port Joinville. This looked to be reasonably sheltered but subject to swell, so we headed for port instead. As expected this was packed, but we secured a perfectly comfortable berth outside a fishing-boat in the locked basin (though FF90 for the privilege seemed a bit steep!) Later we went ashore to mingle with the crowds celebrating the eve of Bastille Day – an unspoiled fishing village waterfront and decidedly ‘local’ atmosphere, with the town band parading up and down (headed by a group of rather nervous young baton-twirlers), a small fun-fair and, rather incongruously, a South American folk group. Later there were noisy but not very well co-ordinated fireworks, but everything thankfully went quiet by midnight.
To get out of the lock in the morning involved a start no later than 07.30, but the boat outside us left earlier, and the inevitable commotion woke us up soon after 06.30. We thought we might as well get going and in what amounted to a flat calm we motored the 25-odd miles down to Les Sables d’Olonne, then a further 1½ hours along the shore to the marina at Bourgenay, which to our great delight proved to have lots of room – even a finger berth for the night! The weather brightened up, too, and we set off on our bikes after lunch in pleasant sunshine to find local shops, then for lovely ride through a country-side of corn and maize fields, fat white cattle grazing, wild hedgerows and the occasional farmhouse that might have featured in a Cézanne landscape. We eventually fetched up in the local town of St. Hilaire-de-Talmont, with a romantic ruined castle; but with a cycle race about to start we didn’t linger, took a very speculative direction out of town and by a stroke of lucky navigation ended up on a road back towards Bourgenay. A lovely evening sun on the white buildings of the marina village left us feeling for the first time that we really were in southern Europe.
Food shopped the following morning (oysters and rabbit, for a change!) and refuelled – brilliant sunshine in a clear sky for the first time in a week. We set off SE at midday with no wind at all, but the sea breeze picked up as we approached the Île de Ré three hours later, and we ran into La Flotte on the genoa. Took a look into the small inner harbour and decided that we wouldn’t fit on to the only vacant pontoon (not available anyway, as we subsequently discovered), so we headed for the mooring buoys off the beach west of the breakwater, where we found the swell just too much for comfort. So we headed into the harbour again and tied up to the E. wall, while Nigel went in search of the harbourmaster. The latter, when found proved to be an ex-trawlerman with fond memories of Cornwall and the west coast of Ireland, and an obvious appetite for alcohol – he assured us that we could stay put and that he would “arrange things” with the fisherman who usually berthed there. When the fisherman in question eventually appeared he made it quite clear, in friendly but firm fashion, that he didn’t want us in his spot – he did, however, suggest that we rafted outside a sport fishing boat on the west jetty, and it was there that we eventually fetched up for (most of) our stay. Our first evening was enlivened by the arrival of a trio of boats from La Rochelle sailing school, the leader of which (a rather cocky young gent) was apparently unaware that his flotilla would dry out later – a little later we were quietly amused (since it did us no damage) when his boat, rafted outside us, toppled over at 45º angle, condemning his crew of first-timers to a thoroughly uncomfortable night.
16th – 18th July 1992 - The port area, with its waterside cafés and restaurants, felt even more Mediterranean than Bourgenay, and the joint was jumping until quite late – several fishing boats left very early, and by the time we staggered up and our neighbours had departed (clipping one of the stanchions without apology), a French TV crew was starting to set up a variety show which was to be broadcast later in the day, live from the quayside. Nigel went off to the market and bought oysters (local speciality, FF13 the dozen), sole and langoustines for dinner, while Julie cooked brunch – afterwards we cycled along to the picturesque fortress port of St. Martin for a beer, then back to La Flotte, where we “dressed overall” with our signal flags for the TV show. At the last minute we were asked to move across the harbour to clear a camera angle, but we were back in our original spot after what looked and sounded like a rather dull broadcast – the crowd which turned out for it didn’t seem wildly enthusiastic. Delicious dinner on deck – Julie getting expert at oyster-opening after ½ a dozen each on successive evenings.
After a couple of passages on the engine it was nice to have a gentle sail down to La Rochelle – even quite a taxing exercise in light weather reaching to make the proper span (just) of the bridge between Île de Ré and the mainland. We made our way up to La Rochelle through flocks of sailing school dinghies and past the huge marina at Les Minimes, eventually tying up in the Vieux Port under the two great mediaeval entrance towers – later we moved to the slightly less public wet dock next door. Bought fish for our first shot at a chowder and had a first stroll round the handsome arcaded streets of the old city centre.
The next day we had another wander round the shopping area in a real Saturday market-day atmosphere – crowds pushing their way through narrow streets into which shops and temporary stalls had encroached on both sides. Visited the museum tracing the history of the port in one of the towers, then wandered out past the old dockyard and an extraordinary number of bars and restaurants – on the quayside someone was enthralling an audience with a tightrope-walking cat and a pair of tame mice. A definite feeling of being at a crossroads (more so, given the number of rather scruffy/smelly “travellers” about) – for us, too, since we were at the southern limit of a realistic UK-based cruise and would now have to put some distance behind us without a great deal to look forward to on the way.