At 20:00 on Friday 25th September, we set sail from Roscoff for probably the last time on this leg of our adventure.
We had procrastinated for many hours, days, running in to weeks almost on how we could get to Camaret from Roscoff, but preferably for us, arriving in daylight, having taken in to account the tidal gate of the Chenal du Four and without stopping at L’ Aberwrach. As with most complex issues, there is usually an easy solution starring you in the face. In this case it was a night sail. We could leave Roscoff in the fading light, thus negotiating the rocky Ile De Batz before it went completely dark and then a fairly straightforward sail through the night, arriving at the Chenal du Four in time for the tide to turn and take us through in to the Iroise. Then, if all went to plan, we should arrive in Camaret before lunch the following day, but with the benefit of making parking easy for us at a new location in daylight.
We had said our goodbyes to all our new acquaintances earlier in the day, not wishing to be too specific about the exact time of departure, just in case we got to Ile de Batz and changed our minds. We cast off and slowly slipped away as quietly as we had arrived 5 months earlier. The only difference this time was our new friends the “Winkle Pickers” saw us depart and managed to snatch a couple of photos of us leaving, which was great.
There was a tinge of sadness as we pulled out of Roscoff Marina and in to the Bai de Morlaix for the last time. We had slipped in one cold April morning, before the staff had begun work for the season.
We had stayed there through the busiest part of the season for this new Marina and had got to know all the staff really well. It is quite fair to say that the place was faultless for us. It is protected, clean, well managed and the staff are extremely helpful and attentive, so it wasn’t without some reservation, we were leaving this behind now and once again heading in to the unknown.
It was quite fitting to watch the sun set one last time over Ile de Batz as we chugged out in to the English Channel and turned West towards the Atlantic.
The wind was light and the sea appeared calm, but unfortunately, appearances are often deceiving were the sea is concerned. As we emerged from the shelter Ile de Batz, we suddenly encountered a large amount of swell that we hadn’t expected and we both immediately felt quite nauseous. A quick look at our notes revealed the current should soon turn in our favour, so we took the decision to crash on regardless, hoping things would get better and also further improve once we turned South. That was our revised plan!
At this point I should mention as well as planning the route, checking the weather, choosing the departure time, organising food and checking our course, Amanda keeps the hourly log en-route, because she is far better than me at multi-tasking!. However on this occasion the log for this 15 hour trip would eventually read “20:02 Engine on, depart Roscoff”…………………… Things didn’t improve as much as we had hoped and unfortunately, the last time things were this bad was on the leg from Skomer Island to Padstow in April!
A very bland log depicting a voyage we had been planning for weeks!
I did manage to get below and plot our position a couple of times on the chart, but I didn’t hang around too long! Amanda restricted excursions below to essential Tea trips.
Just to add to the excitement, we did have a bit of a close shave around 01:00. I had noticed a dot on the Radar for the last two hours, and now, not only was the dot getting bigger, I could see very dim navigation lights and realised it wasn’t us catching someone up, it was a very slow moving boat heading straight for us. We had already passed several other boats through the evening without incident, but this was causing us some concern. Unfortunately, this vessel was well and truly fixed dead ahead of us, so we decided to change course and check again in five minutes. I was disappointed to find the boat was still coming way too close to us, so decided to alter course again but this time, by a more substantial amount as I could now see the vessel was some kind of old fishing boat and may not have seen us. Then to our amazement we saw the fishing boat was actually towing a much larger boat which didn’t have any lights on at all. We realised that the reason we had seen the Radar ‘Ping’ for so long was probably because of the size of the boat being towed.
Anyway, disaster averted. A scary moment for us, highlighting the need to keep a good watch at all times.
After that, it became a fairly uneventful night sail spent Lighthouse spotting and checking to see if my crew were still conscious.
12 hours after departure, almost to the minute, we were through the Chenal du Four and rounding Pointe St Mathieu as the sun began to rise on Saturday morning and we turned in to the Bai de Brest on the last leg of the sail to Camaret.
As we approached Camaret, we found a berth really easily and once the boat was secure, we set off to give the dogs a well earned leg stretch. It is worth mentioning at this point, because we had sailed through the night, the dogs had stayed below but had been very content, only popping their heads up if one of us came below, which was rare on this sail (remember the log!)
So we had achieved our goal. We had left in the remaining day light avoiding the rocks, sailed offshore far enough to avoid too many navigational hazards. (apart from dodging the odd ship)
We had negotiated the Chenal du Four at the correct time for the tidal gate to be in our favour and arrived at our destination in daylight, early enough to get a space in the Marina and explore our new surroundings. Fantastic.
Also, Amanda was now fit as a fiddle and raring to go.
Whilst we had been parked up in Roscoff, we were situated near the beginning of a pontoon which moored 120 boats, most of which were visitors and most of the visitors turned out to be British. Because of the location of Roscoff, the Brits, Germans, Scandinavians and those from the Benelux region have begun using it as a stopping off point, toing and froing to the Med and beyond. All of them have a story to tell and because of our position on the pontoon, most of them felt the need to tell us where we should and shouldn’t visit. As the first transients began to arrive in May, it was quite interesting listening to the lists of fantastic places to visit, but after a couple of weeks we began to suffer from information overload. It appeared we needed to stop at every Port and marina from Roscoff to Timbuktu (not forgetting the endless list of fabulous anchorages to be had!)We began making a list of places mentioned and one place kept cropping up, Camaret. So that is why we made this our first port of call and thought we would stop a night or two before heading off through the ‘RAZ’ .
The beaches around this part of Brittany are completely different to those we had encountered in North Brittany. They are more reminiscent of Wales, but a lot more off lying Rocks!
As we stood and watched a yacht negotiating the rocks, we didn’t realise that it would be us in a few days, only we would be doing it in the dark!
Camaret is a lovely harbour turned Marina opposite Brest. On one side of the Marina is the town and the other, Headland with lovely walks that look out over the Bai de Brest and towards the formidable Raz de Sein, our next challenge! It is the place where we decided to find out who “Vauban” was, as his name appeared to be linked to streets, ports and fortifications. It turned out, thanks to good old Wikipedia he was “the foremost Military Engineer of his age, famed for his skill in both designing fortifications and breaking through them.”
The peninsula in which Camaret is nestled is called the Crozon peninsula and at the tip are some very formidable fortifications, Pointe du Toulinguet, entry to which is protected by a portcullis and moat (as well as a stern warning on a notice board, that it is a Military establishment and you are not welcome!) I managed to snatch a couple of photos before noticing the CCTV cameras !
Vauban had noted the strategic importance of this position and decided to improve what had already been created by those before him. Which, according to the notice board, stretched back to Prehistoric times. (it may be worth checking that though as my understanding of the French lingo does not stretch as far as the word “Prehistoric”!) Nevertheless, very impressive and then eagerly commandeered by the Nazis when they arrived and ‘annexed’ this part of France. (as we were later to find out on our walks) It also stood up incredibly well to numerous sorties by the RAF, aiming for a huge gun mounted on the top of the headland 100 yds away from here, which would have been capable of throwing VERY large ordnance at any Allied ships passing by on the way to North Africa. I guessed the length of the barrel to be at least 50 feet!
Camaret also has several claims to fame (according to the signs), holiday resort, Stopping off point for Raz de Sein, German strong hold and “Prehistoric” man. So maybe my French isn’t quite as bad as I thought, just need to work on my English now.
Amanda had seen a sign for the “Neolithic Arrangements” So at this point on our walk, we wondered if this was some reference to Vaubans Fortifications. But then we turned around and looked across the bay and saw what I thought was Camarets answer to Stonehenge.
There is a scuppered fishing fleet in Camaret, which reminded us of a similar sight on the marshes of Fleetwood and upon speaking to the harbour master here in Camaret, similar reasons for demise are blamed on EU quotas.
The cynical side of me will say that Fleetwood and the rest of the UK should probably have pushed a bit harder for subsidies to replace the loss of jobs in the fishing industry. Every port we have visited so far in France is eager to boast how they have managed to fund their beautiful new marina with help from the EU! Hmmm, moving on.
The superb beaches and walks reminded us so much of Wales it was eerie.
The dogs loved it and decided they wanted to stay here rather than get back on that rocking house thing with water all around it and no garden!
People we had met in Roscoff who came to Camaret earlier in the year told us they had needed to raft up against other boats, due to lack of space. Not ideal when you have two vicious attack dogs on board. Great that we had all the room we needed when we arrived though.
We probably chose the best time of the year to leave Roscoff. The French Summer was over. Everyone had gone back to work or school, the holiday resorts were winding down and the Marinas are relatively quiet. Although, as we travelled further south, we were to find that it can still be busy, even after the end of the season! So for us, we got to see Camaret at a time when we could enjoy it.
In the end we stayed a week and only left because an American family with two VERY young children put us to shame by setting off for Southern Portugal while we were planning a twelve hour sail down the coast! Then to compound this, an English couple we had first met in Roscoff earlier in the year turned up one morning to re-fuel and re-stock on their way to the Canary Islands for the winter. It had taken them 34 hours to sail over from Plymouth. They were very matter of fact about the trip and told us we should follow them, as the weather was good for the next 10 days. For a brief moment we toyed with the idea and got out our charts and began checking the Biscay forecast. But in the end, we decided it was too far with the dogs and opted for plan A (revision # ) But it did get us thinking!
So our next challenge was to negotiate the infamous “Raz de Sein” which is basically a 2 mile gap in the rocks were the tidal flow to and from Biscay tries to fit through! You can go around the outside of the rocks in to the Bay of Biscay proper, but this is about a 40 mile detour and no guarantee it will be any easier, because there is still considerable current, mixed in with the full force of the Atlantic. In fact, if you draw a line straight across the Atlantic, your next landfall is Newfoundland! We decided to opt for the short cut.
We had acquired a number of books which had the passage plan through the Raz. We had interrogated the internet, but the worst thing I did was to watch YouTube videos of people getting it wrong. I had also read an article that told the story of the Hotel de Raz, situated precariously on Pointe de Raz, were in the 1800’s people would sit and watch boats getting wrecked as they tried to negotiate the treacherous waters. At one point, I wondered if it was actually worth it, but then reminded myself that people were passing to and fro every day, day and night. So the decision was made.
The Raz de Sein as viewed from the headland at Camaret. (greatly zoomed in, many low lying rocks and Ile de Sein to the right, out of the shot)
Our task was to aim for the lighthouse, but turn left just before it and thread our way through the rocks, at the point the tide was turning from coming in, to going out. We also had to negotiate it in the dark! What could possibly go wrong?
Well, in the end, nothing really. If anything, slightly anticlimactic with a slight twist. We needed to leave Camaret by 04:00 in order to get to the Raz for slack water at 07:00. There was a 15knt wind off the land which sped us toward the Raz and got us there bang on Seven. We were astonished to see a large French Navy vessel coming in the opposite direction, but there seemed to be plenty of room for both of us. As predicted, the water was very flat but as we made or final turn to exit the Raz, we could see some breaking waves about half a mile ahead of us. Hmmm! There wasn’t really any turning back by this point. We were travelling at 13knts in to the wind, due to the current now whisking us through the Raz, but the final shallow part before open see was looking very angry. It didn’t take long before we were in the midst of some very strange water. The waves were bigger than we would have liked, but they were stationary so the boat would slow down going up the face of the wave and then accelerate quickly down the back. It was slightly alarming at first and I got a few glances from Amanda, who thought I was enjoying it a bit too much, but we were quickly (very quickly) through the worst of it and in to the open sea again.
The sun was now up and the sea had calmed down. Life was good again and we had probably the best sail so far, on our way to Benodet. We had planned to make 5knts throughout the voyage and so far had been bang on target, but by nine o’clock we were 3 miles ahead of schedule and by ten o’clock, this had risen to 7 miles ahead. Fantastic!
We eventually made Benodet two and a half hours in front of schedule, arriving mid-afternoon in glorious sunshine.
Raz De Sein done!