The Morbihan is an area of Southern Brittany which stretches from Lorient in the north down to La Roche-Bernard in the south and inland as far as Pontivy. Wikipedia says it is named after the enclosed sea. Thats the bit I was interested in.
From a point of view of making distance to get further south for the winter, a detour in to the Morbihan makes no sense at all. It is quite a long way off course. It has a treacherous tidal entrance and navigation is more important here than most places we would or have already visited. Coupled with the fact that from a practical point of view, there is a wonderful marina just before the entrance to the Morbihan, which has every service imaginable, super friendly staff, not particularly expensive and has a great Intermarche’ Super just off site. What more could a cruising sailor want?
Well I wanted to experience the Medieval walled city of Vannes which is just about as far in to the Morbihan as you can get. Amanda just didn’t see the point. It was already getting cold during the day and it would take 2 days to get to Vannes, 2 days there and 2 days back out again. Then we would probably have to wait for a weather window at La Cruesty Marina before heading down towards La Rochelle. It was only about 130 miles to La Rochelle from La Trinite Sur-Mer, we could make it in 2 day sails! Eventually, after much negotiation I got my way and we left La Trinite for the Morbihan. Yeah!
And with a happy crew we set off for the Morbihan.
It wasn’t straight forward, as we needed to work with the tide to get through the narrow tidal gate at the entrance. Then we needed to get far enough in to the Morbihan to be sheltered for our first night. But the weather was good and we got through the gap quite easily and headed towards Port d’ Arradon, where we would pick up a buoy for the night. As it was the end of the sailing season we probably wouldn’t be charged …………..!!!!
We ended up breaking one of our first rules of sailing, due to the current being stronger than we anticipated (Note I am not taking all the blame) Progress was slow and by the time we got to Arradon it was already dark. We were more than a little surprised to see just how many yachts were moored here and it took some time to find a vacant buoy, which was located just about as far from land as it could be. No problem, we tied up and I headed for the land with the dogs, who were by now crossing everything, while Amanda made supper. The dinghy ride ashore was uneventful and the doggies were very happy to set foot on dry land. I had a wander around the port which has dominated by a lovely new marina building………which still had the lights on in the office! As I walked past, I noticed someone waving and beckoning to me. Hmm… very friendly I thought, so I walked up to the new office where to ladies greeted me and said in there best French “Carried Away”? and handed me a bill.
Apparently, we had tied up to the only remaining vacant buoy and now owed them one nights rent. If we had got there in the daylight as planned, we could have anchored nearby for free. Ah well, its only money! Having been relieved of many Euros, I headed back to the dinghy with Sam and Elly who thought it was great to meet these new French people. I began heading back to Carried Away and quickly realised, I had no idea where we had parked and there must have been 100 yachts to choose from. I went as far out as the furthest yachts and began picking my way along until I eventually managed to find CA. Phew! At least Amanda saw the funny side of it and food hadn’t been cooked to a frazzle while she waited our return! (note to self, take hand held GPS with you)
The following morning we were up bright and early to get to the shore and back before heading in to Vannes. It wasn’t too far, but we had to negotiate a timed opening of a road bridge and a lock to get to the marina. As we approached the road bridge, there is a waiting pontoon, in the middle of the river which you tie up to (moor for the purists )and wait for the bridge to open. We radioed the bridge captain and told him we were there and he happily told us he was opening in 30 minutes and we could proceed in, after 3 yachts had exited. Several other boats had now joined us, of all nationalities and I would be the leader of the pack in to a marina which I had never been to before….great!
We were duly instructed to begin our approach, with all our new friends in tow and we proceeded up what is best described as a canal with walkways on either bank and a tree lined avenue leading up to the walled city, the medieval walled city which I had been so eager to visit. As you motor along the canal there is a slight left hand kink before you reach the beginnings of the marina. As we rounded this kink we got our first proper glance of what this was all about. In the distance was a magnificent Cathedral looming over the city and we could see the outline of the ‘Place Gambetta’ which was the entrance to the walled city. After a few instructions form the marina manager, we were quickly tied up and free to explore. We had to be quick I thought, as I had only negotiated a couple of nights stay with Amanda.
The marina is literally 100yds from the city with fantastic manicured gardens, an open plaza, fabulous tree lined avenues. Wow we thought, ‘This is great!’
That evening we enjoyed Crepes at the nearby Creperie and stocked up on English tea bags at a store just inside the city walls. The whole place had a very relaxed and charming feel about it. The French really do get it right with fantastic people watching places and we quickly joined in. The following morning, we went for a run to explore the surroundings and it just got better and better. By the end of the second day we were asking Pascal the Marina manager if we could stay for a week. By the middle of the week we asked if we could stay a month. It was now late October, we would eventually and reluctantly leave Vannes In April!!!
The place was intoxicating. The culture, the architecture the people the climate, everything was perfect. It is difficult to explain how warm and inviting everyone was and how welcome they made us feel. We were moored just after a foot bridge which linked the two sides of the streets together which lined the canal. We quickly became acquainted with local people who would walk the full length of the canal from one side to another each day. When we sat in the cockpit eating dinner, we were so close to the avenues people would ‘Bon Appetite’ us as they walked past. My vocabulary is not great enough to describe Vannes so I have included photos to try and get the message across.
We made so many friends in Vannes. There is a British couple Alison and Dave who moved here several years ago and opened Britanny Sailing School https://www.brittanysailing.com What a fantastic place to come and get all your sailing qualifications. The inland sea of the Morbihan makes it perfect for gaining experience as if the weather is rough on the main sea, it is usually still protected enough to continue sailing within the Morbihan. There are lots of Islands within the Morbihan, all of which have their very own character. Some are small and car free, others are manicured perfection of island living all of which resemble film sets rather than places people call home. On certain days throughout the month, it was possible to head out of Vannes, in to the Morbihan have lunch and still get back in to the Marina on the next tide. Even though it was now winter, we would pick our days and head out, having an ‘overnighter’ anchored off one of the Islands such as Ile d’ Arz or Ile-aux-Moines
Sundays were special for us though, we would be incredibly decedent and head off in the morning for run along the tree lined avenues and through Parc du Golfe and on to Conleau. The prize for burning off a few calories was waiting for us at the gates of the walled city upon our return. Local fishmongers would park up and sell 13 fresh oysters for €4,00 and with my €1,00 change I would get 3 freshly baked Croissants. Wow, those were the days!
By the time Christmas came around, Vannes had gone up another gear and was now transformed in to fantastic picture perfect wonderland (no snow) The tree lined avenues had been meticulously, tastefully and lovingly adorned with white Christmas lights, (no gory flashing horrors here). Several authentic old Breton fishing boats had been brought up the canal and were now anchored in all their splendour. Because of its proximity, we had hired a car and drove to the French Alps to meet our 2 sons for a skiing holiday. Amandas cousin had also driven down through France to visit us and our youngest son had flown out to stay with us a couple of times on his days off. We were sailing out to the Islands when the weather suited and even sailed out of the Morbihan to Belle Isle, which was another Vauban Fortress. We really did have the best of both worlds, funny to think we nearly didn’t even come here.
Eventually though we had to think about moving on. We decided that once the sailing had finished, Vannes and the surrounding area was a possible retirement location. But for now we had to keep exploring.
The next leg of the journey was slightly different than everything so far and would test us and Carried Away , so needed some careful thought from many different view points. Do we continue south towards Spain and Portugal? do we take the coastal route? but the first thing to decide was, ‘Do we continue with the dogs or send them back to England’? this was quickly sorted by our youngest son and now wife who drove down to Vannes from London to collect Sam and Elly and take them back to their home, with a garden!
We then had about 4 choices :-
- Stay where we were and keep sailing locally
- Head back up the coast
- Follow the coastline all the way to Spain
- Take the short cut straight across the Bay of Biscay
We decided the first 2 choices were last resort so started looking at the best way to continue South!
All will be revealed in the next chapter.