Anchored in Brittany

There’s nothing like the peace of anchoring for the night in a quiet bay far from the busyness of a marina or a harbour and watching the sun go down. July in Brittany in a heatwave was the ideal time to explore some new places and leave the restaurant food and the hot showers till another day.

But first, dolphins. A large pod found us while we were still motoring south from Falmouth waiting for enough breeze to put the sails up.

The photo at the top of the page shows our first stop after crossing the Channel from Falmouth. We’d intended to anchor in a bay on the north side of the outer approach to Brest, the Avant Goulet (‘outer throat’). But when we shot out of the bottom of the Chenal du Four, we hit a fresh breeze from the east and changed plan to beat for shelter under the cliffs by Camaret sur Mer. The Anse de Bertheaume on the chart below was our original destination.

Lois left a fishing line down overnight but caught mostly starfish. A small fish died on her hook and the starfish spent the night scrambling over its caracass.

Then to Brest to have our passports stamped. Not on a Sunday, of course, but we went ashore anyway and demolished several crabs at the Crab and Hammer. It does what it says on the sign.

It’s not much more than 30 miles from Brest to Douarnenez but we were early for the Temps Fete festival so spent a night on the north side of Douarnenez Bay in the beautiful Anse Saint Nicolas.

In Douarnenez (pop. 14,000) for the first time in four years, I found unexpected tensions. A town council for many years run by leftists has been won by right-wingers. Fly posters complain that Douarnenezians are becoming an endangered species because of holiday rentals and the ‘Sardine Walk’ trail of story-boards appears to have been crudely edited. The last story board used to tell how Douarnenez was the ‘Red Town’, one of the first places to elect a Communist council in 1921 and celebrating a history of labour activism in the sardine factories. Now there’s just a patch of fresh asphalt where the story board used to stand. Luckily, someone has posted all the storyboards to Pinterest so here’s No. 17 in three languages.

Heading north again, we finally made it to the Anse de Berthaume. It’s pretty, but protected only from the north and full of mooring buoys.

We chose Roscoff on the north coast as the most convenient port to have our passports stamped out, but the town turned out to be a delight: fabulous stone-carved mediaeval merchants’ houses, an ‘Exotic Garden’ of semi-tropical plants, top-quality crepes and a free bus that linked marina, town and supermarket. The modern marina was efficient and we had only a five-minute walk to the ferry terminal to have our passports stamped.

Manoeuvering a 16-tonne traditional boat with offset propeller out of the marina took a multi-point turn and a mile out into the Channel, we realised that all the forwards and backwards action had broken the engine throttle cable off the engine control. It was fortunate this hadn’t happened when we were nudging between expensive boats. We could still operate the engine with Peter’s foot doing the job of the cable, though, so we pressed on across the channel.

Arriving in Plymouth, we anchored in Cawsand Bay and shipwright Graham, who lives in Cawsand, rowed aboard to join in studying the problem. He suggested a long piece of string to pull the throttle lever until we could replace the cable, and with that high-tech solution we berthed smoothly at home in Plymouth Yacht Haven.

France at last!

After three years of pandemic lockdowns and uncertainty over post-Brexit passport arrangements, we finally made it to France! We sailed Guiding Star to northern Brittany, to Binic’s friendly annual festival of boats, food and music celebrating the generations of French fishermen who spent six months a year catching cod in the freezing fog off Newfoundland.

We set sail from Plymouth after breakfast, reached straight across the Channel in a steady breeze and warm sunshine, and anchored off Binic at dawn next day to wait for the nine-metre high tide we needed to cross the sandy beach and enter the harbour.

Brexit has added some friction for British sailors: we used to just sail to and fro across the Channel and nobody bothered with passports or boat documents. This time, once we locked in on the afternoon high tide, we had an hour to hunt down the customs police headquarters before they closed. We borrowed a kind friend’s car, Google-mapped our way to a small industrial estate several miles away (thanks to Chris for continual reminders to drive on the right), and made it in time. An overworked customs officer stamped our passports, for me the first French stamp since I went on a school French exchange in 1971.

We should properly have sailed to St Brieuc, six miles down the coast, because non-EU boats should only make land in northern Brittany in one of three ‘ports of entry’ widely spaced along the coast. But the festival organisers persuaded the police to let us sail direct to Binic.

To stamp out of France after the weekend of fun, we should have gone back to the customs headquarters on Monday during office hours, so missing the dawn high tide to set sail. But in an ‘exceptional procedure’, two officers in plain clothes met us in a car park in Binic on Sunday afternoon and stamped our passports in the back of a white van. I hope in another couple of years, someone will have negotiated a pragmatic deal to allow sailors cross the Channel as easily as we used to and let the customs police to get on with catching smugglers.

Our passage back took nearly twice as long as the trip over, first motoring for 12 hours through a millpond sea, then beating into a fickle northwesterly blowing from exactly where we wanted to go. But we did hoist Guiding Star’s new topsail for the first time, and it set perfectly. We had last season’s new sail, the big genoa, up as well as 2020’s new main and staysail, so this was the first time we’d had all Guiding Star’s four new sails up at the same time.

I then left the sails up for too long when the wind freshened and let the genoa drag over the side when I thought it was safely tied up on deck, but we recovered well. We berthed in Plymouth after 36 hours at sea and just made it to the pub before the kitchen closed. Many thanks to Chris, John and Martin for a terrific trip.

Idyllic Helford

I wanted to go to France for the first time since the pandemic, but after several days of email exchanges to pin down the new post-Brexit arrangements for clearing customs and immigration in Brittany, I gave up. But that brought a chance to sail to one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Helford River.

On the passage down, we dodged low cloud and fog. But then the sun came out; and later, an extraordinary orange moon rose in a cloudless night sky.

Moored in Fowey on the way back to Plymouth, we climbed Polruan Hill and watched the tide flood up the river, each boat swinging as the line of darker blue reached her.

By our home marina in Cattewater, the skilled team on the Island Trust’s schooner Johanna Lucretia manoeuvred her against the wharf in Turnchapel to work on her hull at low tide as we were walking to the pub for a celebratory meal.

The magic of Scilly

I’ve never been anywhere quite like the Isles of Scilly: smaller, lower, and more exposed to the ocean than I had ever imagined. When I was a child, snobbish newspapers used to mock the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, for spending all his summers on Scilly, as if he lacked imagination or class to travel further. How wrong they were.

St Mary’s
Looking back at the anchorage and Hugh Town
Halangy Ancient Village, where the first stone houses were built in the Iron Age

Sailing to Scilly, we were entranced by a minke whale swimming off the port side of the boat. So entranced that I was slow to get the camera out, but I did record a glimpse.

Among the cruise ships

We had to weave among cruise ships laid up because of Covid when we sailed round Torbay at the 2021 Brixham Heritage Regatta. They’re very big when you’re up close, and we did put the engine on to clear the bow of one Cunarder.

It was sheer pleasure, though, to be on the water with friends after the pandemic-hit season the year before, when all the festivals were cancelled.

One of the delights of the Heritage Regatta is the quality of the photos taken of us by Alex and Stuart. Here are three of this year’s best of Guiding Star.

Rounding the downwind mark
Discussing what to do next
Romping home

A First in Charlestown

The first Charlestown Harbour Classic Sail Festival proved that Cornwall can celebrate its maritime heritage with as much passion, energy and fun as Brittany. Festivals in harbours on the French side of the Channel attract tens of thousands of visitors and top musicians, pouring money into the local economy and exciting people about the history of fishing, trading and privateering which shaped their country. Now, the English coast at last has a chance to catch up and we were thrilled to take part on Guiding Star.

Crowds thronged the eighteenth-century harbour walls to watch fifteen boats from the 63-foot three-masted lugger Grayhound to the 26-foot open oyster dredger Alf Smythers parade through the narrow entrance and negotiate a sharp turn into the inner harbour. They packed the quayside, where movies and television series such as ‘Poldark’ have been filmed, to dance to local bands Flats and Sharps and Mad Dog Mcrea.

The food was superb. HarbourQ barbecued sardines, sweet potato and halloumi with home-made relishes and sauces, and Bristol chef Rachel Bull’s served fresh local mussels and chips and oysters from her Winkle Picker caravan.

Several boats, including Guiding Star, were open for visitors and Cathy, Thomas and I took turns to stay on board to show people around.

On Sunday, there was a spontaneous sculling competition with prizes of rum made by the skipper of Ibis, Elle, who runs the Fal River Distillery. I’ve never sculled before but I had a five-minute lesson from Spike, who restored the 65-foot Lowestoft drifter Gleaner after bringing her back from Germany in pieces in a shipping container, and is a serious sculler.

Cathy’s video shows Spike powering up the harbour to win the race with her friend Viv on lookout in the bow, and me and Viv’s partner Chris going nowhere. Viv later took over from me and through sheer determination drove us the last fifty metres up the harbour where there was still a swig of rum in the bottom of the bottle.

Spike showing how it’s done

We were up at six on Monday morning for all the boats to leave the harbour before high tide, and broad reached home to Plymouth. The light breeze gave a chance to try a mizzen staysail for the first time; it added most of a knot so we barrelled along, but the wind freshened and the weather helm started to push us towards France so it had to come down again.

The Festival was the result of a huge effort by a large number of people so thank you to all of them and to the new owner of Charlestown Harbour, Rolf Munding. This was a breakthrough moment and I hope the Festival will grow and grow.

Embraced in Brittany

What a welcome we had in Brittany! At the crew dinner on our first night in Paimpol at the Festival du Chant de Marin, Celia and I met Michel and Claire, who hadn’t been able to bring their boat because the engine had broken down. Over paella and bottles of festival red wine, raising their voices against a tide of sea shanties, rugby anthems and bagpipes, they urged us to sail along the coast after the festival to visit them in Trégastel, on Brittany’s ‘rose granite coast’.

English people sometimes make invitations like that just to be polite but this was France and we realised Michel and Claire meant it, so we made Trégastel our goal after the festival.

From Paimpol, we sailed 20 miles out of the Bay of St Malo and round the coast to the Tréguier river, where we found other friends: the crew of Le Grand Léjon, who had spent a day exploring an island in the estuary. Skipper Etienne came to meet us in their dinghy, invited us to dinner and waited without a word while we failed three times to anchor securely on the east side of the river. When we finally anchored successfully behind Le Grand Léjon on the west side, he ferried us on board for a sumptuous meal of freshly caught bass and mackerel baked with carrots, fennel, onion and white wine, washed down with wine, ginger liqueur and Odile’s mother’s home-distilled fire water. We ate, drank and sang. That’s Tina, Gilles, Etienne and Odile in the photo at the top of the page.

The next day, we beat 30 miles to windward to Trégastel past the nature reserve of Les Sept îles. I insisted on putting the mizzen up to go faster, as a result of which we missed the narrow, rocky entrance to Trégastel and careered a mile and a half further down the coast before I managed to bring all the sails down and Celia turned the boat round.

On the way there, I realised later, we had passed the tiny island of Yvinec, home of the young Bréton sailor Guirec Soudée who spent five years sailing 45,000 miles around the world alone except for a chicken called Monique. At the time, Yvinec was just another stack of rocks we needed to tack to avoid but I found out how close we’d come after I bought Guirec’s irresistible children’s book, The Hen Who Sailed Around the World.

I was anxious about arriving late because Michel had texted during the afternoon to say that he and Claire had invited friends for drinks at 7.00pm to meet us. When he collected us from our mooring in a RIB driven by a volunteer from the local Sauveteurs en Mer and we splashed onto the beach, we discovered that one of the friends was the correspondent of the local newspaper, Le Trégor, and I spent half an hour struggling to tell the story of Guiding Star in French.

Celia and I were overwhelmed by Michel and Claire’s hospitality. We found ourselves in a room full of people, drinking crisp white wine and eating fishy delicacies on crackers and Claire’s delicious savoury cake. Trégastel is a beach resort and there are plenty of holiday homes along the granite boulders of the shoreline; but these were people who had grown up here, perhaps moved away for work but had kept their connections and retired here. At the end of the evening, Gaël generously sculled us back to Guiding Star in the deepening twilight. It was a wonderful evening.

Paul struggling to take a selfie in a very small dinghy. Celia, however, succeeding
Gael sculling home after dropping us off

Top music at the Paimpol festival: for me, the Colombian band Puerto Candelaria playing joyous, passionate tunes at one in the morning on a stage on the big schooner De Gallant.

Puerto Candelaria on De Gallant
I can’t find any videos taken in Paimpol but this gives a flavour

After Paimpol and Trégastel, we sheltered from a storm moving up the Channel by sailing six miles up the Tréguier river to Tréguier itself, a small mediaeval cathedral city with the finest shellfish restaurant I’ve ever eat in, Poissonerie Moulinet.

We stayed a day longer than planned because of an engine alarm, but that meant we heard a concert by baroque chamber group Le Banquet Céleste with the sublime counter-tenor voice of Damien Guillon. Here’s a recording of them performing the Bach Psalm 51 after Pergolesi which made the climax of the concert.

After that, the least said about the crossing back to Plymouth, the better. The wind blew fresh from the northwest where we wanted to head, Celia had a rare bout of seasickness, and somehow when we weren’t looking a wave or a gust ripped off and snapped the port whisker-stay bracket. We had to take down the jib, reef the bowsprit and motor the last 60 miles.

Salt cod and sea shanties

We started getting in tune early for June’s Festival of Salt Cod (La Morue en Fête) in Binic on the north coast of Brittany. The wonderful French lugger Le Grand Léjon joined the Brixham Heritage Regatta over the May bank holiday weekend and invited us on board to sing shanties and drink kir in the sunshine.

Le Grand Léjon is a replica of a nineteenth-century cargo lugger built to carry sand: below decks, she’s cavernous and although she’s only a couple of feet longer than Guiding Star, she displaces thirty tons. Etienne, in the green shirt below, is co-founder of a sea shanty group called Fortunes de Mer which has been working for fifteen years to collect and sing songs from ports all along the Channel coast. Many of the shanties are very funny, about clueless captains, drink-sozzled sailors and fishermen dreaming of hot, salty Paimpol beans (which do actually have an appellation d’origine protégée like Camembert and Stilton).

The crew of Le Grand Léjon in Brixham in a brief moment when they weren’t singing

The racing in Brixham wasn’t our finest hour, since I mis-estimated how long it would take to reach the start line and arrived ten minutes late to see the two other boats in our class, Le Grand Léjon and I.R.I.S., already half-way across the bay. By the time we got back to the pontoon, the other crews were already breaking out the kir again.

Thomas, Paul and Celia racing with Berry Head in the background. Many thanks to Kate for the photo

We changed crews on Monday. Sadly, Thomas had to pull out of the trip to Binic because of an infection, and Kate and Celia had to go back to work. Andy and John joined the boat.

Le Grand Léjon led us across the Channel on Tuesday morning, reaching in a cracking westerly breeze on a big swell which turned all our stomachs. We slipped the town pontoon in Brixham at dawn and anchored in the River Trieux seventeen hours later, an average of nearly six knots. Early on, Le Grand Léjon left us behind, using what Etienne later called “un petit appui de moteur” (a little help from the engine) but by late afternoon we caught them up.

I felt confident entering an unfamiliar rocky anchorage at night across a fierce tide because we were following the immensely experienced Etienne in his home waters. But just when we were about to drop the anchors, all the electrics on Le Grand Léjon failed and they had to navigate the last few hundred yards by torchlight. We were saved by Navionics on my iPhone.

Binic, like many harbours in Brittany, is a mile from the sea at low tide. The gate to the harbour needs eight metres of tide to open so we had only half an hour for a dozen boats to funnel through the entrance and berth. Once inside, though, we had the perfect layout for a traditional boat festival: a long pontoon the length of the quayside, so that visitors could look down on the boats.  

Binic outer harbour at low tide

The two shores of the Channel celebrate parallel but separate histories of the sea. On the English side, people remember the Armada, Cornish smugglers, Nelson and the netting of massive shoals of pilchards and herring. On the French side, the heroes are the privateers of Saint Malo Bay who seized Spanish galleons and, later, English merchant ships, and the men who for nearly five hundred years crossed the North Atlantic to fish for cod in the fog and sub-zero cold of the Newfoundland Grand Banks.

The French call it La Grande Peche, the Great Fishery. Binic and ports along the Channel and Atlantic coasts of France lived from Newfoundland cod until the 1970s, when governments reacted to disastrous declines in fish stocks by declaring exclusive economic zones around their coasts. Britain nearly went to war with Iceland over cod; Canada shut the French out and an industry died.

The Newfoundland fishery took men away for six months of the year in brutal conditions. They crossed the Atlantic on big three-masted ships but the fishing was done by line from small boats called dories, carried stacked on deck. Two or three men would scull into the freezing fog to set lines. At the end of the day, they hauled the fish in and had to find their way back to the ship; sometimes, they never arrived. On board, the catch was gutted and salted by men and boys working long shifts, soaked in icy water and up to their elbows in fish guts and blood.

Even in the age of steel ships and diesel motors in the 1960s, the fishery was exhausting, dangerous work. At the Binic festival, retired fishermen in their seventies and eighties gave talks and a demonstration of gutting and salting. One man told how he’d fallen overboard and spent three quarters of an hour in the bitter water but had been rescued by two Portuguese fishermen. He wept when he said he’d been taken to Portugal two years ago to meet one of them who was still alive.

The Association du Grand Léjon, the non-profit group of about 120 people who maintain and sail the boat, organised the maritime side of the festival and treated us to a magnificent buffet of beignets de morue, fritters of salt cod with young nettles accompanied by potato and rutabaga mash, caremelised carrots and salad, with yet more kir before the meal and white wine during it. We sat at long tables in a community hall with shanty groups singing on a stage and everyone joining in long lines of Breton dancing after we’d eaten.

Fortunes de Mer sang Breton songs and then invited all the English crews onto the stage to join in The Leaving of Liverpool. If you have good eyesight, we’re in the bottom left of the postcard they made of the event.


On the spur of the moment, I bought a kilo of salt cod from the gutting demonstration and carried it home across the Channel and on the train to London, mostly unrefrigerated, and found a recipe for beignets de morue. They had a great taste, the texture chewier and the flavour more intense than fresh fish. Try the recipe!

Ghosts in Guernsey

We didn’t plan to go to Guernsey. We wanted to visit the Isles of Scilly to explore wildlife and enjoy the Taste of Scilly food festival in what we hoped would be settled September sunshine.

Tropical Storm Helene put paid to that. By the day before we were due to set sail, the remains of this hurricane looked likely to miss Scilly but leave five metres of swell. So we decided to go in the other direction and hop among the Channel Islands.

A fresh southwesterly breeze gave us a fast crossing from Plymouth and at one point it looked as if we’d make St Peter Port in the early hours of the morning. However, the Coastguard warned that the Platte Fougere lighthouse marking the northern approach to St Peter Port wasn’t working reliably, and I thought we’d better turn south and come round the other side of the island.

The tide had other ideas. It swept us sideways so strongly that we couldn’t make any progress southwards at all. We spent two hours sailing back along exactly the track we had come. I calculated in the end that we might as well go back to the first plan and approach St Peter Port from the north. We’d used up so much time that we would now be arriving in daylight, so the unreliable lighthouse wouldn’t matter.

It took all morning even with the engine on to push against the tide that by then was sweeping up the Little Russell channel and reach St Peter Port. We berthed in an almost empty harbour: the sailing season seemed to have ended suddenly in the Channel Islands.

Escape shaft
Escape shaft 75 feet deep in the German underground military hospital and ammunition store

Maybe the weather forecast had something to do with it. We’d missed Tropical Storm Helene but two more named storms, Bronagh and Callum, were driving in from the Atlantic. Even sheltered in the crook of Brittany, we were in for strong winds. After a short discussion, we took the harbourmaster’s offer of four nights berthing for the price of three and decided to do any island-hopping on a ferry rather than sail ourselves. As it turned out, we had to wait two more nights for the aftermath of Storm Callum to die down and even then, had a rough and windy passage back to Plymouth.

There are worse places to be stuck than Guernsey, though. The island is beautiful and soaked in a unique history which most people in Britain hardly know. I’d never understood the odd legal status of the Channel Islands: they are the last remnant of William the Conqueror’s Duchy of Normandy, loyal to the Crown but never integrated into the United Kingdom and so never part of the European Union. In the 1970s, when the UK joined the EU and we started to eat Dutch tomatoes subsidised by the Common Agricultural Policy, the tomato industry which had been a mainstay of the Guernsey economy died in a decade. But Guernsey and Jersey were able to grow a financial services industry beyond the reach of UK and EU regulation.

Dark memories of the Second World War crop up all over Guernsey. The island is within sight of France and along with the other Channel Islands, was occupied by Nazi German troops within days of the fall of France in 1940. I was unsettled walking into the Tourist Information Office to see a large photograph of German soldiers in coal-scuttle helmets marching in front of Lloyds Bank.

Hitler saw great symbolic value in occupying what he saw, slightly inaccurately, as British territory. He imagined the British would do anything to get the islands back and poured in thousands of troops to defend them and thousands of workers, many of them slaves, to build concrete fortifications. The British government, though, was realistic. It saw no chance of recovering the islands without terrible loss of life and simply ignored them until after the Allies had retaken Normandy.

The German underground military hospital and ammunition store on Guernsey remains as concrete proof of Hitler’s futile obsession. Dug out of solid rock at the cost of many deaths among slave workers, the hospital and store were always damp, so ammunition had to be covered in tarpaulins. The 800-bed hospital was used for only a few weeks, when some of the German casualties from the Allied invasion of Normandy were brought here. When it became clear that the Allies were not going to attack the Channel Islands, the wounded men were brought back into the sunlight and treated in normal hospitals.

When the weather forecast kept us in Guernsey for an extra two days, I went in search of my own local history. My aunt Marie was very proud to come from Guernsey, although she was born in Essex just after the First World War and I’m not sure how much she ever lived on the island. I recently inherited a bible from her which belonged to her grandfather, and a happy morning in the Priaulx Library identified the farmhouse where he had lived in St Peters in the Wood. The oldest part of the building dates back to 1450 and the gable is pierced as a dovecote. The main farmhouse dates from the 1860s.

Beating into a northerly Force 6 gusting to Force 7 on the way back to Plymouth made for heavy work on the tiller. With two reefs in the main but both headsails up, Guiding Star didn’t balance. We do have a storm jib but I’ve never had it out of the bag and was hesitant to experiment now: a good lesson would have been to try it out on the pontoon on one of the days we were stuck in harbour.

We left by the northern entrance to the Little Russell and the last of the east-going tide pushed us dangerously close to the rocks north of the island of Herm. When the tide turned and we headed north, the leeway pushing us west was so great I thought we’d end up in Falmouth rather than Plymouth. The disturbed sea made us all feel sick and the cabin reeked of paraffin. It was only after we arrived in Plymouth that I realised the cabin lamp had been swinging and jerking so wildly that it had been oozing enough oil to make the cabin uninhabitable.

By next morning, though, we were sailing gently under a cloudless sky within sight of Start Point, spotting dolphins. Soon, we had to put the engine on to move at all across the glassy sea.

Still several miles from land, we saw what we thought was a small bird darting round the boat. It looked too small to be a seabird and had an odd, fluttering flight. We realised it was a bat, exhausted and looking for a perch. It tried to grab the leech of the mainsail and circled the mizzen where our red ensign had wrapped itself round the top of the mast in the wind. After several attempts, the bat clung onto the flag and crawled inside its folds. We knew how it felt.


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.

DWZS3946 edit
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: