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MITCH TO THE MED AND BACK PART 2 - BRITTANY AND BISCAY, 2018



In early May 2018 we returned to Lezardrieux, staying in a gite while we worked on the boat in the yard.


We fitted the reset injector pump, carefully ensuring that the timing was correct, installed boxes in the cockpit to increase storage, and refitted the propeller.


The yard launched Mitch, and we just about made it over the sill of the harbour as the tide dropped. We set out downriver, and I pushed the throttle forward. Mitch leapt ahead impressively, and was soon up to 16 knots - success!


We checked out of our gite and took Mitch downstream, anchoring in our usual spot near the Ile de Bois at the mouth of the river. The night in the cockpit tent was rather cold, but we were up early, heading out of the Trieux river and westwards along the coast into a rather unpleasant headwind. Sally was again affected by seasickness, initially precipitated by the nasty chop we had encountered at the mouth of the Trieux, when the contents of the shelves in the fo’c’stle had noisily maximised their entropy (that is, fallen down), always rather a demoralising event at the start of a trip.

We went inside the Sept Iles, steadily jogging along at seven or eight knots, and by one o’clock were approaching Roscoff. We are not fans of marinas, and the thought of going into the one at Roscoff was unappealing, so, alone in the wheelhouse, I unilaterally decided to go up the river towards Morlaix, hoping we would find a quiet anchorage. I was surprised at the poverty of the few posts marking the channel to Morlaix, but continued until it became very narrow and shallow.


I could not understand why we had not reached Morlaix, until Sally, who had revived and joined me inside, pointed out that I had gone up the wrong river, and we were actually in the Penze, to the west of Morlaix. This was a serious navigational error, committed despite what I thought was careful work by eye and with the latest Raymarine chartplotter, but it turned out to be a fortunate one, as we picked up a mooring in a quiet, well sheltered spot. I think I had committed the error of making the world match the chart, rather than observing the world and reconciling it with the chart. I recalled the advice of on 1930s yachtsman who, half seriously suggested that when arriving in a Breton port, one should visit the local railway station to ascertain beyond doubt that your snug harbour was the one you thought it was.

The ensuing night, 11th May 2018, was the coldest we have spent on the boat. We wore all of our clothes, and from time to time lit the cooker, but cockpit tents do have their limitations. In the morning, somewhat chastened, we navigated down the channel to Roscoff marina, and went by bus, train and taxi back to Lezardriux where we had left the car. This was our first experience of travel by the SNCF, and the journey between Guingamp and Paimpol was a true delight, the railway following the meandering Trieux river through beautiful, unspoiled countryside. It was also our first experience of the French “last mile” experience. We have found the French railway system to be efficient, reasonably priced and often fast, but trying to find a taxi for the last part of the journey is “fatiguing and not rewarding”, and we have sometimes given up and walked quite long distances to the boat.


After another cold night on the boat, we returned to England by ferry, in the usual state of sensory overload, but pleased that we had started our progress around the coast of Brittany.


On 24th May 2018 we were back for more, arriving back in Roscoff by ferry. Roscoff is an interesting place, formerly a base for smugglers, and more recently of the “Onion Johnnies” who used to ride their bicycles around southern England, selling onions. Roscoff even has an annual Onion Festival. The founding of Brittany Ferries is an extraordinary story. In the 1970s, the Bretons, led by pig farmer Alexis Gourvennec, successfully lobbied the French government to build a deep water port at Roscoff (or Rosco in Breton), with the ambition that their produce could be exported to England. No ferry company could be persuaded to run between Roscoff and Plymouth, so a consortium of farmers formed BAI Bretagne Angleterre Irlande SA and introduced the first Brittany Ferry, a converted Israeli tank carrier of about 1500 tons, onto the route.


Our car didn’t accumulate much mileage in Brittany, as the ferry terminal is only a few hundred yards from the marina. We put fuel and water in the boat, and went back to spend the night, a slightly warmer one, in the Penze river.


On the morning of 25th May we departed the Penze, ran with the tide inside of the Ile de Batz, and had an enjoyable trip along the coast to L’Aber Wrac'h, the Libenter reef giving us our first experience of what we came to call “cotton wool”, Atlantic surf breaking on the unforgiving rocks of the Breton coast. We went up the river as far as Paluden, picked up a fore and aft mooring, or corps mort, and went for a walk past a small shipyard which was working on several traditional craft.



We prepared carefully for the next part of the trip, through the Chenal du Four and the Raz de Sein, as the tides run strongly and the Atlantic swell is ever present.



We left early the next morning, groping our way down the river in the dark, but gave it up in the estuary entrance as fog reduced the visibility to almost nothing. We picked up a mooring off the marina, and had a very sound sleep until wakened by the arrival of a marina official’s boat alongside, collecting money, who looked at our accommodation and remarked “ah le camping”. Our second departure attempt was more successful, and we entered the Chenal du Four, or The Trade as it was known by the English seamen in former times. In hazy sunshine, with a strong tide under us, we ran through the Chenal, passing Pointe St Mathieu at about three in the afternoon. We slowed down to idle to arrive at the Raz de Sein at slack water, and had a trouble free passage through that ill-omened straight.

Turning the corner, Mitch enjoyed surfing down the swell, and we made a fast passage to Saint Evette, near the entrance to Audierne, where we picked up a mooring, benefiting from Mitch’s small size and shallow draft to mix it up with the Merry Fishers.


A peaceful night ensued, but our sleep was cut short when the boat was thrown almost onto its beam ends, seemingly by some cataclysmic event, which turned out to be the wash of the first ferry departing for the Ile de Sein. We dropped the mooring, and went westwards, rounding Point de Penmarch with its incongruously named Phare de Eckmuhl in the rain. The weather had cleared by the time we entered Benodet. We made our way up the Odet river, under the Pont de Cornouaille, and anchored in the peaceful Anse de Penvelet.

We spent two nights in this serene backwater, threading our way back down the Odet to the sea on the morning of the 30th May 2018, picking up a mooring in La Chambre, the main roadstead of the Iles Glenan, which lie about ten miles south of Benodet. It was slightly grey when we arrived, but soon afterwards the sun emerged, revealing an astonishing landscape, or seascape, of grey granite, white sand and bright blue sky.



We left the Glenans in the afternoon and went into the huge marina at La Foret-Fouesnant, where we made what was probably the biggest mistake of our trip so far. Buoyed by splendid adventure of the last week, we booked a taxi at the marina office for early next morning, set to with a will to clean ship, in the process, throwing away our remaining stock of food. Such was our folly. It was Monday, and we were in Brittany. Eagerly anticipating a restaurant meal, we toured the attractive looking but firmly closed eating places of the marina, and then, with rising apprehension and sinking morale, set out to the town, where we longingly inspected appetising menus displayed on locked doors. Dejectedly, we made our way back to the boat, and did our best with a tin of mushy peas and fried cakes made of flour and water. After a cold and, on the whole, rather miserable night, we went by taxi to what turned out to be an ominously quiet Quimper station, where we were informed that a strike meant that no TGV trains were running. We caught a commuter bus to Brest, and then a train and another bus to Roscoff and the ferry.


On 24th we arrived back on the boat after a rapid air and train journey, followed by a long and slightly desperate wait for a taxi at Quimper station. We were underway the following morning, and spent the night at the now warmer, but more crowded Glenans, where we had interesting interactions with aggressively begging seagulls who seem to have lost all fear of humankind in their protected environment.



We were on passage by ten o’clock on the 25th June, in glorious weather, and passed inside the Ile de Groix, just of the Lorient. The Ile de Groix was once captured by the English, who departed some time later after failing to interest the French in ransoming it. We were determined to catch the tide “just so” at our destination, Etel, which is protected by a shifting sand bar. Despite the evil repute of this encumbrance, in former times Etel was the home port of a significant fleet of tunnymen, who were guided over the bar by a shore based semaphore station. The semaphore station now advises mariners by VHF, and, assured by the operator that we should have no trouble over the bar, we entered the estuary against an extraordinarily strong spring ebb tide. Once across the bar we proceed as far as the bridge, amazed at the beauty of the scene with the bright blue clear water and the yellow sand. We turned round, made fast to a pontoon on the outside of the marina, and spent the day on the beach.



Mitch’s crew, sleeping in the cockpit tent, is much less insulated from the outside world than the people of vessels with more conventional accommodation, cocooned below deck. We certainly felt connected at low tide, when the youth of Etel took advantage of the low spring tide to clamber around the internal structure of the concrete marina wall to collect, well, it was unclear what they were collecting, but it involved torches and loud conversations a few inches away from our berths.


Departing Etel, I remembered that I had not cleaned the fuel filters, and my attempt to do so with the engine running resulted in the engine ceasing to run. After the air had been removed from the fuel system we proceeded, in rather unpleasant weather, anchoring in a rather crowded roadstead at Ile Houat. After the anchor had settled down, we went for a delightful walk ashore, and then weighed and ran through the Teignose passage, having an easier time of it than Hawke’s squadron which, in a rising gale in November 1759, chased the French fleet into Quiberon Bay, heavily defeating it and putting paid to French plans to invade England. For the first time, Mitch entered the Morbihan, Breton for Little Sea, and made his way through this delightful landlocked bay, up the Auray river, bringing up in a shallow anchorage off the port of Bono. The Auray river was wonderful in the warm sunshine, and we took the dinghy up the river to Auray, past an abandoned chateau until the outboard overheated and we had to return.

We left the Morbihan in the morning of 29th June 2018, anxious to be away as we had booked a mooring at Foleux, on the Vilaine, and were concerned that the marina staff might not be there on Saturday afternoon. The Vilaine was formerly a tidal estuary, but the construction of a barrage at Arzal, a few miles away from the sea, turned the estuary into what amounts to a huge boating lake, with constant water levels as far inland as the town of Redon. It is best to draw a veil over our first passage through a lock, but the Vilaine was beautiful, and we arrived at the very rural port of Foleux to find it fully manned. After a blank refusal to acknowledge that we had booked a mooring, I happened to mention that it had been done by my French colleague at Siemens, Guilliame. “Ah, Guillaime” was the response - he had obviously made a good impression, there was no further difficulty, and Mitch was secured to a “corps mort” in the river.


We decided that Foleux would be a good place for a winter layup, and booked into the boatyard there. We took a very slow train to La Rochelle, and, finding the airport very crowded, went for a walk past the new (to me at any rate) Ile de Re bridge at La Pallice. Burdened by our luggage, we took our airport trolly with us.


The last trip in 2018 was in September. Arriving by car, it took us some time to locate Mitch in the gathering darkness. The following night was spent alongside the bank a few miles down the Vilaine, our first experience of tying up to a tree. On 10th September we successfully negotiated the Arzal lock, before running aground quite hard in the entrance to the Viliane estuary. We anchored for a couple of hours until the tide had risen, and went against the swiftly flowing ebb into the Morbihan, picking up a mooring at Bono, where we went for a walk which included a graveyard of fishing boats, each with a plaque explaining its history. We left on 12th September, experiencing the fierce currents in the Morbihan, and anchoring briefly at Ile Jumet before entering Penerf, where we managed pick up a mooring and get the boat broadside to the fierce ebb, trapping Sally’s leg between the rope and the boat. We spent the next night on a buoy outside the Arzal lock, which was closed for maintenance, and then took the boat up the Vilaine to Redon, stopping for crepes at a riverside café.

At Redon we met our son Martin, who had arrived by train from Brussels. We went back down the Vilaine to Foleux, and checked into a truly astonishing gite, owned by the head gardener of the city of Nantes, the living room of which had a truly magnificent display of plants.

We spent the next few days gently cruising on the Vilaine, commuting between the gite and the boat by walking through the woods.On 16th September we left Mitch at the crane berth in Foleux, and returned home by ferry from St Malo, enjoying our final cruise of the 2018 season as the Bretagne cruied along the Cotentin Peninsular in beautiful weather.


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