Wild racing and great music in Douarnenez

I don’t have any photographs of our racing at the Douarnenez Temps Fete at the end of July because we were too busy avoiding collisions to take any. The organisers set a short course between just two buoys so several dozen heavy working boats charged up and down, bowsprit to bowsprit, for an hour; splendid for the holidaymakers on the stands overlooking the bay but wild on the water.

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La Canalaise storming along. Imagine several dozen working boats of every size charging head on at each other; that was our race

The stress was not helped by the pre-race briefing having been entirely in French and a lot of the skippers speaking only English, so not everybody was clear about the start line or the course. However, we survived unscathed and went for a splendid sail across the bay afterwards, followed by our best meal of the festival; steak tartare with aubergine slices fried in honey, and Lebanese soft cheese with tomatoes, strawberries and black wheat at Le Balto Ivre. A fruity but not sweet organic wine, too; Les Varennes from Les Roches Seches. I know photos of food are a trope but this was special.


The music at the festival was amazing, too. Unlike traditional regattas in Britain, which seem put on mainly for the enjoyment of the sailors taking part, the Douarnenez Temps Fete pulled in tens of thousands of people of all ages with music on two stages and food in restaurants and marquees along the harbourside as well as the forest of traditional boats. My favourites were Nøkken, a collaboration between Danish folk singers and a French band, and Thomas de Pourquery‘s ecstatic jazz.

Thomas de Pourquery in full flight

There should have been a luggers’ race on the Saturday of the festival week; but on Friday evening, the sunny weather broke and a storm blew in from the Atlantic. We woke to wet sleeping bags and a crew briefing that racing had been cancelled.

Our passage across the Channel from Plymouth was straightforward with heatwave sunshine and a gentle breeze. Guiding Star’s new AIS system helped to identify commercial ships which might pass close; the only two which came anywhere near close altered course well away from us. Next morning, we hove to off the Ile de Vierge lighthouse to wait for the tide through the Chenal du Four, and watched dolphins feasting on a school of mackerel. We spent the night in Camaret to avoid arriving in Douarnenez in the middle of the night.

Our passage back was less easy because we had to broad reach all the way in an uncertain southwesterly wind, and although the weather was fine, the storm had left an Atlantic swell which made most of us seasick.

The most exciting half hour came as we sailed out of L’Aber-Wrac’h due north through the narrow Chenal de la Malouine, where the rocks either side of the channel look close enough to touch and the fast-flowing tide churned up the shallow water. Photos from an iPhone with a wide-angle lens can’t show the tension.

Celia helming through the Chenal de la Malouine; La Malouine is the rock over her starboard shoulder. It means ‘the woman from St Malo’; an old local grudge?

The Cruising Association website says of the western Channel crossing from west country ports to the tip of Brittany: “This adventure is for robust crews who know their collision regulations, have strong stomachs, can navigate in strong tidal streams and can pilot into rock encumbered harbours and calculate tidal heights correctly.” They got that right.

Thank you to Celia, Emma and Iga for being the perfect crew; competent, collaborative and calm! We had a wonderful two weeks.


Some more photos of the trip:



South West Gaffers Rally

Most of our trips begin, and end, in the Clovelly Bay Inn in Turnchapel. Guiding Star’s berth in Plymouth Yacht Haven would be two minutes away if we could walk on water, or even just organise a dinghy, but it’s only 15 minutes the long way round on the South west Coast Path. The Greek lamb in pitta bread and the seafood chowder are wonderful; not slimming but richly tasty.

The South West Gaffers first Festival of Sail in Plymouth gave us a day of light wind racing in the Sound and then a day sail up the Tamar to Saltash Sailing Club for pasties.

I found the racing frustrating because I couldn’t get Guiding Star moving in the light airs. We were the biggest boat in the fleet and the start line across the restricted width of Cattewater gave us little space to put sails up, so we crossed the start with the topsail still on the deck.

Out on the Sound, several smaller boats passed us on the beat to the windward buoy, despite all I’d learned in the Falmouth Classics about not pinching in very gentle wind. We made up ground reaching and running but then I failed to spot two boats on starboard tack as they started their second lap, and had to wear round 360 degrees to avoid them. Thomas, Ian and I had a happy, hot day, though.

Guiding Star racing in front of Plymouth Hoe. That mizzen’s not working properly, and we haven’t got the topsail up yet. Photo by Jane Bryan

Local photographer Jane Bryan took some splendid photographs which reveal part of our problem; the mizzen was creased and losing power because the strop holding up the yard was a few centimetres too far aft.

At Saltash the next day, Guiding Star was too big to come alongside the Saltash Sailing Club pontoon so we anchored in the Tamar and were kindly given a lift ashore. The wind freshened from the day before, especially once we passed Devonport dockyard, so we rocketed up and down the river.

Many thanks to Judy Hales on Theta for this photo of us entering the Narrows, where Mount Edgecombe blocks the southwest breeze and the tide turning the corner chops up the water. The mizzen’s working better today