Departure day breaks fine and sunny. We are up early checking oil, sails, rigging…the list really only ends when you leave. Are the potholes all shut? Is the deck tidy? Do we have enough snacks? At the last-minute I have to go up the mast to get the mast-head light working. It was just a loose bulb but on the way down I notice the Gaff is broken. I made it new this year but a weakness in the wood caused the split. Some glue and timber locks do the repair trick.
Everyone is excited as we meet at the old harbour in Falmouth. As ever…one last trip to Trago’s.
At Midday we up anchor and away from Falmouth roads. The sails stay down as the predicted SW wind has already arrived. It’s light though so we appear to be in for a calm crossing. Roo is on the helm and the babies are playing in the deck house. It was a good idea to build a padded deck space for them to hang out in. We plan to motor for most of the day and sail off the wind a bit at sunset. All goes well as we approach the end of Lizard point. We start to feel some of the Atlantic swell for the first time but this is easy on the ship and us.
As evening approaches we turn off the wind and on with the engine as the sails go up. Peace at last! The old Foden FD6 supercharged two-stroke diesel males a wonderful noise but you can’t beat the wind in the sails for soothing the soul and free propulsion to boot. We sail like this for a while but our track points roughly at Belgium though so soon it’s back to the growl of the Foden and on we go. The night grows around us and we carry on with our watch system of 2 hours on the helm but overlap the previous person by an hour. This gives us 3 hours on and 3 hours off. The babies need looking after too so its three of us helming and two ladies breast-feeding. The engine is very noisy in the aft cabin and I am worried that Bryony and Bryher will find rest difficult.
The night is clear and there are many stars. South Star throws sparkling water from her bow as we plunge on into the night. The rolling is not too bad though so it’s just a case of getting through. The engine room is warm and it is making the aft cabin stuffy. We will need to improve ventilation and sound proofing in future.
As night draws on I take a bit extra on my watch and am feeling tired but happy and at one with the ship. We have come a long way together and in the dark hours of night we share the burden of looking after our precious cargo. Having the AIS (automatic identification system) on the chart plotter is really handy. We can not only see the nearby ships but also their speed, who they are and what type they are. This makes a difference when deciding what action, if any to take. There are a few fishing boats out and some big tankers. These will no doubt increase as we approach the traffic separation scheme off of the French coast. This is basically the motorway of the sea and all big shipping uses it, directing vessels up the channel and helping to make it the busiest shipping lane in the world.
Dawn breaks on my watch and Matt takes over the helm while I start fishing. Pretty soon were many o’mackerel up – the first of the summer. As I am reeling in some fish Matt has to slow the boat as the increased drag makes winding in the line too hard and makes a breakage more likely . After this he engages ahead again and off we go. A few minutes later he says the plotter is not happy and something is wrong. I check…the sun is coming up in the starboard side now and I have the pleasure in telling him he is off course by 180 degrees! I promised not to tell of course.
We carry on into morning and the wind dies away completely leaving a bright blue glassy sea. We cross the shipping channel without problem but it is a case of waiting for a gap and making a dash. There is a thin slick of oil or something worse on the water here. Shipping is dirty and this is something most people will never see. An hour or so later We pick up a pod of dolphins which stay a while and play in our bow wave. The water is so clear (now we are away from the ships) you can see them in vivid detail as they look up into your eyes. They appear as though suspended in air. After a while we stop and let South Star drift while we swim. It is bracing out here but this is an experience not to be missed. The tiredness off the night is transformed and on we go.
We see the coast of France! This is a great feeling. To have made our own way across the channel with no ferry, train or plane helping us. It certainly would have been quicker to get the ferry. 12 years compared to 8 hours but it is great to have made it this far.
We enter the moderately scary Channel Du Four. I have been reading about this route for years and am not quite sure what to expect. It’s basically a narrow shallow rocky channel through which the tides that sweep the corner of Brittany are forced. You will get a few knots of speed over the ground added to your sailing speed but you have to get the timing of the tides perfect. The difference between GMT, BST, UT, CEST is causing us a some mental strain but we get there eventually.
We pass through with no worries getting up to 8 knots over the ground. You can see that when the weather is bad this place is to be avoided. The sun sets over the Islands off shore and we turn finally into the Rade De Brest. We have made it! We make a course for Camaret, on the south side of the bay, and motor sail across the Rade.
Getting to Camaret in darkness we feel our way in. Lots of lobster pots make us weave this way and that and we finally drop the anchor.
We spend a lovely few days here. Thee is free mooring in the harbour if you are registered and on your way to Brest. Onshore we have Moules et Frites as a treat and there is dancing in the streets at a little mini festival. It’s a nice town with an artists quarter and huge sprawling harbour. There are huge old trawlers run up the beach here, salt bleached and falling apart. There are always people sculling about the harbour and lots of traditional boats heading out sailing from dawn to dusk.
We leave here after a few days and sail out into a fairly swelly bay. There is wind though and we sail across the bay and meet some tall ships heading in for the festival. The entrance to the Rade is about a mile wide and it feeds a huge inland sea. Two large rivers run inland from it and you could lose all the estuaries in Cornwall in it too.
We anchor off a small village and catch 40 mackerel at sunset from the dingy. Matt makes a fish smoker using an old wooden wine box which has become known as Bryher’s dingy. She was none too pleased to have it transformed but let it go as I promised her a proper dingy of her own as soon as she can row. Planning up some pieces of oak to make smoking shavings we will arrive at the festival in proper style. We spend a couple of days hanging out on deck and on the beach before the time comes to hit the festival. South Star – your on girl.
Hey guys. Great blog, we’re both reading it through and looking forward to hearing your ongoing tales. Enjoy France! X