Saturday, 15 September 2012

Beginnings..

Camaret sur Mer had a tired, end-of-season feel to it.  The summer visitors had left, and the marina was only half-full.  The postcards on display on the seafront showed an impossibly blue bay with dazzling beaches - and perhaps it really had looked like that a few weeks back? - but the sand seemed more grey than yellow.  I went up on deck to have another look at the weather.  We'd looked at every forecast going, and the outlook was good, a nice big high pressure system sitting over Biscay, but there was a hint that the wind would go round to the south if we didn't get moving soon.  A strong breeze was raising whitecaps in the anchorage outside, but it was steady from the north east: just where we wanted it.  We looked at each other.  It was time to go.

Traditional boat, Camaret.
    
It had been a relief just to escape the Channel a few days previously.  Our first step was an easy hop to Beaulieu, just round the corner from our berth in Southampton, followed by a sunny leg to Weymouth.

Heading down Channel

I never wanted to go to Weymouth.  Once there, it's a choice between the inshore passage round Portland Bill, demanding fair weather and tides, or wasting miles heading a long way offshore.  But the wind was from the south west, so a long haul across Lyme Bay didn't seem like the best option.  Weymouth had only recently re-opened to visiting boats after the Olympics, and still had a bit of a carnival air.  We watched the fireworks over the bay, got in some stores (the exciting last-minute addition of a new spare toilet pump among the most notable), and settled in to life on board as we waited for the forecasts to improve.  We swapped our sleeping bags for lightweight duvets, and got rid of the saloon table (useful on occasion, in the way always).  Natalie's parents came to visit, bringing forgotten post and late-delivered first aid supplies.  The sun came out, and the wind finally dropped.  It was still in the south west, but light enough to motor.  Perhaps we could get as far as Falmouth in one leg?

Portland Bill, inshore.
I've been inshore round Portland several times, but it still retains some alarming qualities.  This time, with the wind onshore at force 3-4, all we could see ahead was a wall of breaking waves seeming to stretch right to the Bill itself.  Was there an inshore passage there at all?  Closing in to within what felt like a stone's throw of the cliffs, we avoided all but a couple of larger waves - and we were through.  It was a murky and grey morning, and we settled in for a few hours motoring in the general direction of Start Point.  That evening fog banks closed in around us , reducing visibility to almost nothing.  Limbo's new AIS system alerted us to a fast-moving motorboat passing within half a mile or so, but never sighted.  Deciding that conditions were far from encouraging for a longer leg, we decided to stop at Dartmouth.  We saw nothing of the coast until the East Blackstone rock loomed out of the mist to starboard.  The castles and steeply-wooded hills of the entrance were clear enough as we approached.  We tied up to the mid-river pontoon and had a drink.

Dartmouth emerges from the mist.

We never thought we'd stay in Dartmouth for almost two weeks.  Had we done so, we might have relaxed a bit more..but instead I fretted over the forecasts and our lack of progress.  The end of August was approaching, and I really wanted to get south before a terrible summer turned, perhaps, into an even worse autumn.  The plan was to get to Falmouth, and from there to head across channel or possibly straight across Biscay, the idea being that Falmouth is sufficiently far west to keep outside the shipping lanes and tides of Ushant.  Alternatively, we could cross to France from where we were.  Either plan was no good in strong winds from the west but, day-after-day, that's exactly what we got.  We retreated up river to the lovely moorings off Dittisham  where the sun came out.  We checked the weather on our laptop at the pub up the hill, and enjoyed a meal at the inimitable Ferry Boat Inn on the quay.  One day, the forecast spoke of north-westerlies, giving us a better slant for France.  Hopefully, we headed out.  Eight hours later we returned, having decided that there was no future in beating into a lumpy westerly force 5 to 6 for a hundred miles or so.  To make matters worse, the fish and chip shops had all closed by the time we got in.
Moored off Dittisham
One unexpected bonus of being delayed was the opportunity to go to a wedding in Plymouth; Natalie's friends Clare and John had hoped we'd be there, but we always thought we'd be gone by then..friends of theirs very kindly put us up and we enjoyed a couple of days of civilisation, including getting all our washing done. We returned to the boat by ferry from Totnes, on a cold day with the rain lashing down.


Dartmouth Regatta

Dartmouth Regatta arrived, and the harbour buzzed to the sound of air displays, Limbo rocking on her mooring from the wash of rowing races.  The forecast promised some north in the wind again; it was still far from perfect, but we could wait forever..it felt like we already had.  We headed out of the harbour on a sunny morning, to find the wind was first non-existent, then filling from the South..the next day dawned grey and calm as we looked for Libenter West Cardinal buoy, which marks L'Aber Wrac'h's rock-strewn entrance.

Exhausted after just over twenty-four hours of varied and rather uncomfortable conditions, we were delighted to be in.  I made bacon and eggs and we went to sleep.

L'Aber Wrac'h
L'Aber Wrac'h is a real cross-roads, a natural staging post whether heading home after a summer cruising South Brittany, or cruising southward.  The boats there were more obviously serious cruisers rather than weekenders, and we met the first of our fellow south-going voyagers.  I began to relax a bit more - we were on our way!

We stayed for three days or so.   L'Aber Wrac'h is a small, peaceful place with a quiet marina (that is, when the windsurfing club on the quay had stopped playing 'Crazy' for the tenth time in a row..).  We toyed with the idea of heading through the Raz du Sein to Audierne, but the tides dictated a pre-dawn departure; something neither of us relishes.  Instead, it made sense to get the Chenal du Four out of the way by doing a shorter leg to Camaret, west of Brest.

There was a big swell from the west as we left  L'Aber Wrac'h, but it disappeared once we were heading south towards the Chenal.  Unfortunately the calm but misty conditions we left with rapidly turned to wet, cold fog.  Again we could see virtually nothing.  Turning round would have been by far the worst option, so we continued.  Navigationally speaking the chartplotter made things easy (although I hate relying on it to that extent), but I was nervous of running into a stray fishing boat.  We emerged into the sunshine around Point Mathieu, having- until then - completely failed to see either the famous island of Ushant or the various beacons and lighthouses that mark the passage.
Chenal du Four - lovely weather for it..
From there it was an easy motor into Camaret (Limbo's 18 hp Volvo was certainly earning its keep).

Now it was just a question of picking our weather for what felt like the first real hurdle of our trip: Biscay..

Cameret marina, dusk.




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