Sailing down to France, October 2021

Coralie, my French crew, joined me in Westport in the afteroon of Saturday 2nd October, and we left straight away to spend the night at anchor in the lee of Dorinish island rather than alongside the floating pontoon in Westport, where it can get choppy. The newly installed hard top over the companionway proved a great addition, making the boat much drier, but I discovered to my dismay that the newly installed wind generator wasn’t charging at all!
We left early the following morning with the wind blowing a good force 5 gusting 6 from the West. We still managed to tack out around Dorinish bank and past Inishgort lighthouse under working jib and 2 reefs in the main.  Coralie’s baptism of fire wasn’t over yet, though, as we faced a long beat out of Clew Bay, with the wind getting up to a force 7, forcing me to take the reef in the working jib. By evening, it had eased a bit, and we were at anchor in Inishboffin.
The forecast for the following day was for light winds turning Nortwesterlies in the evening, and getting up to a force 6. This suited us fine, as it meant a fast sail, broad reaching in strong wind along the west coasts. Our initial plan was to sail down to Baltimore, wait the next southerly episode out, and then sail across to France. I had planned to leave Inishboffin late afternoon in order to make landfall on the Blaskets by daylight. We spent most of the day in Inishboffin harbour in glorious weather, and left in the late afternoon  under engine. The wind started picking up as we motored through High island sound, and we were soon sailing in the freshening northwesterly the forecast had promised us. By nightfall, I had taken the second reef, and we were broad reaching at 7 knots in a building swell. I opted to stay well outside the Blaskets, as going through the Blasket sound would have meant getting dangerously close to the Dingle peninsula, a very inhospitable lee shore in this weather. Pass the Blaskets, I boomed out the genoa, and we continued at 7kn, now dead down wind to the Skelligs.

Apsara aux Skelligs, October 2021
Apsara downwind in the swell, heading toward the Skelligs

As we were passing the Skelligs, I started thinking that stopping in Baltimore wasn’t such a smart idea after all. We were both reasonably rested and the Northwesterly, which was forecasted to ease and slowly back to the South West, would allow us to make good progress toward France. From the forecast, it looked like other than for a few hours the next morning when the wind would get up to force 6, the condition would be quite good until at least the Traffic Separation Scheme at Ouessant. My weather routing app showed Southerasterly, dead in the nose, for arrival, but it was going to be light, so it was no worry. Having consulted with Coralie, we decided to press on and head straight for Brest, a non-stop 450 miles leg from Inishboffin.
We passed Mizen way offshore in very pleasant conditions: the wind had eased a bit and I had shaken the reefs, the sun was shinning, and we were still doing 7 knots with the electric pilot at the helm. There was still a bit of swell, but that too had eased significantly. By night fall, we had gybed the genoa and were sailing happily on the starboard tack, heading for the SouthWest corner of the Ouessant TSS, over 200 miles away.
The wind gradually backed, and after 36 hours on the starboard tack, now closed hauled in a southerly which was slowly backing to the Southeast, we were just clearing the southwest corner of the TSS, theoretically a forbidden zone. As the wind kept backing, I realised that we were slowly pushed toward the no-go zone by both the wind and, now, the rising tide. We could no longer head for Brest against the wind and tide.
Another change of plan was called for, and in the case was self-evident. The wind and the tides were taking us north of Ouessant and towards the entrance of the English Channel, where the delightful harbour of L’Aberwrach looked like a very suitable destination, being easy to enter at night in these conditions.
The wind died by nightfall on the 7th, and we had to motor the last 15 miles, arriving in l’Aberwrach in the middle of the night with the end of the rising tide.

l’Aberwrach, being the last decent harbour before the narrow tidal passages of the Fromveur and the Four (which must be passed with a dropping tide), is a favorite port o call for boats travelling from the North sea or the English channel toward Southern Brittany or Spain.  As the weather was beautiful, I ended up staying there for a week and meeting a few interesting crew!

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