Spring sailing to Brittany May 2021​

Apsara had spent a few days in Cleggan as I was getting some electrical work done on the boat by a local electrician.   I had a crew for the first leg of the journey. Sam, a young sailor from Clifden who had helped me put the boat in the water, wanted to build miles for his coastal skipper certificate and took up the opportunity.
We left Cleggan late evening on the 11th with a southeasterly wind, and rather than beating through High island sound at dusk, opted instead to go west of it into the open sea. There was a bit of swell, and enough wind to take a reef, and we headed close-hauled on the port tack to leave Slyne head well to port. As forecasted, the wind gradually eased and backed to the east,  so much so that by daylight we were motoring,  It picked up again however, and we had a pleasant sail through the Blasket sound even getting to fly the spinnaker, before calling into Portmagee late evening on the 12th.

Sailing to France from Ireland

Sam left the boat to go to Cork by bus and I left Portmagee early on the 13th in a light northwesterly.  I was soon under spinnaker leaving The Bull well to port, before gybing and, as the wind was picking up, glided past Mizzen head under boomed out genoa and a full mainsail at 7kn, a most pleasant afternoon and a nice way to leave Ireland behind. I was glad to find out that the “spare” electric pilot (which turned out to be the main one, a ST20) was coping well with the conditions.

boomed out genoa

The next morning was spent in light winds, some of it motoring but by afternoon, the wind started to pick up (as forecasted) from the South East. I put up the working jib and took the first, then the second reef.  I had gone a little north of the direct route, but was still hoping to clear the Scillies close hauled on the starboard tack. But by 8 pm, after taking  the reef in the working jib with the wind up to a near gale, I realised that I couldn’t safely continue towards the Scillies, and tacked before taking the third reef.  The sea was short and confused, but Apsara was standing well to the beating. I had a few grateful thoughts to Yannick who added the reef in the working jib last winter (without it, I would have had to change to the storm jib). And although we were no longer making any headway towards Brittany, I knew this was only a front passing over us, and that the wind would soon veer to the West. Indeed, by night fall, I had tacked again, shaken out the third reed and was heading to pass West of Ouessant, broad reaching at 7 knots in a building swell with two reeds in the main and the windvane at the helm.  By morning the following day, I was starting to pick up French voices on the VHF, but it took me the whole day to round Ouessant, with the wind gradually easing.
As the French forecast which I had picked up on the VHF was for Westerly winds to come up to force 7 again during the night, I  decided to stop in Camaret rather than pressing on to Lorient, which would have meant another night out at sea in strong winds, this time with a lee shore. I arrived in Camaret in the middle of the night, tired, but delighted that the boat had coped perfectly with the challenging conditions we had encountered.

Cruising in Brittany

After two days stuck in Camaret by strong southwesterlies, I was glad to put to sea again, heading for Lorient. The route was through the fearsome Raz de Sein, where the tide can run up to 7knots, but the conditions were good, and after a morning beating in a kind breeze, I rounded the Western tip of Brittany (that’s the picture on the right) and had a most pleasant afternoon reaching down to the Glenans Archipelago where I have many happy sailing memories. Things have changed a bit since my last visit 30 years ago, and I was able to spend the night on a visitor mooring there.
The following morning, one last downwind leg, again under spinnaker, then boomed out genoa as the wind increased to a good force 5 at the entrance of Lorient, and Apsara was tied alongside in the heart of the city while I was having dinner with my friends.

drying out in QuiberonI left her there for a couple of days while visiting family in Paris, but when I came back the wind was still Westerly, and strong, and the best way to do any sailing was to go East. I opted for the Baie de Quiberon, an area that I know very well, having spent a summer as a cruising instructor based there.  An afternoon sail took me to a pleasant and quiet anchorage near the island of Houat. I had planned to go back to Lorient the following morning, but the wind piped up from the West again, and instead, I decided to go through the Teignouse channel and shelter in the Baie de Quiberon. I found an old stone quay to tie her up to, and dried out there for the night.
The following day was spent in the Baie de Quiberon, well sheltered from the Westerlies, which went up to a good force 7. That didn’t seem to deter too many French sailors, there were still a good few boats on the water that day.  I eventually went back to Lorient the following morning. Initially I had a hard time beating through the Teignouse in poor visibility, with a force 5 westerly and a 2-meter swell against the tide creating a very nasty seas. But Apsara behaved impeccably under reefed mainsail and the working jib, even bettering a 60 foot catamaran which had entered the Teignouse just ahead of me, and which, much to my surprise, crossed behind me as I got out of it. I guess the advantage of having a strong boat is that you can drive her hard if need be, when I would have been far more cautious, had I been sailing a big cat in this sea.
I was back in Lorient by early afternoon.

Sailing back to Ireland

Once the Westerlies eventually gave up for good, I left Lorient heading West, but the wind was so light that I only managed 10 miles at the crow flies (although that meant over 20 on the water), ending up in the delightful harbour of Doelan for the night. French COVID regulation meant that I had to be in harbour before 9.00 pm and couldn’t leave until 6.00 am. So I left as early as I legally could, heading for the Raz de Sein, hoping to be out of it by mid-afternoon before heading West out of French Territorial waters by nightfall. This proved wildly optimistic as the wind died out completely, leaving me becalmed in the  Baie de Concarneau. But it picked up again by late afternoon, and I just changed plans and headed West, leaving everything to starboard. I spend the night in light winds, rounding the tip of Brittanny, crossing well South of the Ouessant TSS (always a worry as there’s a lot of commercial traffic there) the following afternoon, then slowly making my way in light winds and bright sunshine towards Mizzen head. Most of the second day was spent goshing under cruising chute over a deep blue sea.cruising chute

Only once I started picking up Irish voices on the VHF on  the morning of day three did the wind pick up, from the South, and clouds stared to gather A cold and grey day, but with good following winds, saws me tying up in Valentia by evening, after I decided not to continue on through the Blascket sound with the tide turning against me at night fall.

I spent a day exploring Valentia harbour and headed up on the morning of the 2nd through the Blasket sound, this time beating in a northeasterly which then died North of the Blaskets, leaving me to motor all the way to Slyne head through the night. At Slyne head, the wind picked up, a gentle southeasterly which allowed me to go and play amongst the rocks of the Connemara coast before arriving on Clare Island early in the afternoon on the 3rd.

The trip in figures:

  • 1200 miles
  • 10 nights at sea, 2 at anchor, the rest in harbours
  • all sails combination tried, except the storm jib
  • 30 hours motoring.



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