To the granite, Rose

Like greyhounds in the slips, Robin and Voltair greeted us on sunday evening at Chichester Yacht Harbour. Voltair was clearly eager for a spot of French Leave, and was even pointing in the right direction, while Robin was looking very smart and was slightly late for a date in East Grinstead. Only three of us were going aboard, Terry L, Vaughan J and JK, so the pile of food, bags and diving equipment was soon secured, and Robin, having pointed out the ample supply of lemons, limes and cabbages was released to his assignation (with his mum).

On testing the navigation lights, we found the green one on the bow responded well to a bang with the flat of the hand, but we were unable to issue the same treatment to the steaming light above the crosstrees. For a cross-channel passage, we really needed this to work, so JK was to be winched up the mast to fix it. Vaughan decided to let the electric winch lend a hand, but barely had it taken the strain when there was noise from the motor, but no drive to the winch. The list of "things to be fixed" was growing! Arriving at the steaming light, armed with voltmeter and screwdriver, JK found the fitting to be broken, but the correct number of volts to be present. A temporary repair was made using a spare bulb from the cockpit light and the "mending list" continued to grow.

With the yacht ready for sea, the new crew now jumped back into their cars, since the first thing to do was to park Terry's car near the ferry at Portsmouth, as he would be returning from Caen in only 48 hours. I must explain the passage I had planned: high water, which was necessary to get out of Chichester, was not until after midnight, but then we planned to take Voltair directly south to Honfleur, which the pilot told us was "a delightful medieval town with the guest quay right in the town centre". It sounded good to me, was somewhere we had never explored, was near the Bayeux tapestry, which might prove interesting for a diversion, and was about 4 sailing days from Cherbourg, whence Vaughan was due to return to Portsmouth and where Mary and Peter H were due to join the crew on Friday.

So, having parked Terry's car at the extortionately expensive multi-storey near the docks, we ambled back towards Chichester, finding, en-route, an excellent Indian restaurant in Emsworth, which we failed to pass without pausing for an hour.

"It's very straightforward to get out of here", Robin had told us, referring to the marina in particular and Chichester harbour generally. "All you do when you get out of the lock, is to look for the first couple of greens, hang a left, and then keep all the greens to port. Oh, and you will find there's quite a lot of moored boats in the channel." There certainly were! It was a pitch black, moonless night as we gingerly motored westwards along the winding channel against the slackening tide and a very light northwesterly breeze. Rows and rows of unlit boats slipped by on either side in a seemingly interminable procession. Gary Garmin was doing a splendid job of guiding us out along Robin's inward track, but we had no detailed charts of the harbour, so it was a bit tricky to know which side of the row of Robin's dotted line was the safe side. Eventually we got to East Head (at least, that's where we thought we were - no land was visible on our left at all), had 10 metres of water under the keel, we put up the mainsail and began to think we had it cracked. We could see Hayling Island sailing club, and the flashing green light opposite it. We could also see loads of red and green reflections in the windscreen that we eventually realised were things like the little flashing green light on the VHF radio, and rays of red from the cabin and instruments. I'm only telling you this so you realise what a surprise it was when, only a cricket pitch south of Robin's track, we juddered to a halt on the Winner sandbank! "Oh no! Not again!", I hear you cry. "That makes four times aground in only the last half dozen postcards! Don't these comedians know how to navigate?"

Not attempting to answer that question, the more important one was whether these comedians knew how to get off sandbanks! Fortunately, with the tide still making, and the gentlest of swells from the south, we were able to swing the head of the boat to the north and, a foot or two at a time, we were able to hop the keel back towards the channel and the two other green flashing buoys that had previously been hiding behind the mast.

Pause for sighs of relief as we found deeper water again!

And thus, around 2am, we departed the UK for points south. There not being enuff puff for real sailing, Perkins was assisting, and by dawn we were clear of the Isle of Wight, and thought it was time to re-read the details about Honfleur. Forewarned is forearmed, after all, and advance planning, preferably before the voyage begins, is the usual rule. The harbour in the town is entered through a lock and a lifting bridge, with the lock operating hourly, 24-7. Except (we now read in the up-to-date edition of Reeds kept on board Voltair), during the early season of 2010 when it is undergoing major reconstruction and you can only get in at high water.

With an ETA of 7pm (just in time for dinner ashore), this was a bit of a B, because 7pm was LOW water! Should we hang about outside the harbour for 6 hours? Perish the thought. Should we go to Ouistreham? No pretty town moorings there! Where did Voltair think was good? We could almost bring the wind onto the beam if we headed southwest, but that would take us to Cherbourg, (been there, got the shirt). Is it Cherbourg? Is it a pair of chimneys? No, it's Barfleur lighthouse and we were lost!But we went anyway. So much for advance planning! Approaching Cherbourg from the east, some of you who were veterans of a certain trip on Aegeia back in the early 90's may recognise these features on the shore, which had greatly exercised us back then, when we were in poor visibility and had only an on-the-blink Decca set as a nav-aid.

Terry had an appointment with a ferry in Ouistreham (Caen's port) for tuesday evening, so we decided to have a day by car along the Normandy beaches, popping in for a quick visit to the Bayeux tapestry, dropping Terry at the ferry, and returning to Cherbourg in the evening. This day went very well, the little Polo diesel with all bells and whistles returned 65 mpg, and we travelled 280km in the day, rather more than Voltair usually does in a week. Pictures and notes are at Normandy Beaches.

With Thursday and most of Wednesday in hand, Vaughan and JK had pretty much decided on an overnight trip to the fleshpots of Alderney or possibly Omonville-la-Rogue, which sounded interesting and not so far. But unfortunately the 'Soupe au Poissons', consumed by V.J. the evening before, turned out to be a 'potage de poisons', laying him low like a felled giant redwood in the bow cabin (and the heads). So we stayed.

Fortunately, not too Wild as we passed his bowsThe weather was lovely. There was nothing for it but to start mending things. Then a little light scraping and painting of handrails. We inflated the new dinghy (christened Hermi-two, having lost Hermione forever off the coast of Flanders), and explored the ferry terminal from the seaward side. Nearly got arrested for trespassing in a 'zone strictement interdit'. Bought Calvados and cider, but no scallops were to be had.

Peter and Mary arrived on Friday morning, by which time Vaughan was feeling a lot better. We decided on a french lunch, and adopted the Sykes restaurant selection procedure, ending up with a table in a sunny pavement cafe having a harbour view, with a delicious-sounding menu at a reasonable price. Too good to be true? Oui! Most of the dishes we selected were "off". We said goodbye to VJ in the late afternoon, and set sail for Alderney on the evening tide. A most beautiful sunset was our reward, and we anchored for the night a cable away from the Lord Nelson, which was also paying a visit.Just arriving at Alderney

Waking on Saturday to a brisk North-easter, blowing straight into the anchorage, we moved over to a visitor's buoy near the breakwater and set about spending a tide onshore, prior to another evening sail, this time down the Swinge to Guernsey. Slightly tricky landing at present, because they have taken away the dinghy pontoon near the slip, so if there are waves coming down the harbour one tends to get wet feet. Click to see a closer viewSecuring a trio of bicycles for a modest fee of 5 each for the day, we gave the chains and gears a bit of oil, since they hadn't seen any since last year, and soon were heading for the west end of the island, taking a wrong turn almost immediately and having to walk up a long hill. (Well, the older legs had to walk). It was a beautiful view from the cliffs. Fog had formed either side of the island, but there was a corridor of clear air the width of the island directly down-wind of it. Spectacular views of the gannet colonies and spring flowers remain in my memory.

Click on the view of the gannet colony for a closer shot of the birds.
Click to see a closer viewThen to St Ann's, the capital, for beer and sandwiches. Mary ordered a cider, and got a pint bottle of 8% by vol cider - maybe a bit heavy at lunchtime! We helped her finish it. Then on around to the east end and the large beach which faces south with the causeway to a fort. Still foggy at this end, so continued around the head with beautiful purple flowers around our wheels and improving views over the Alderney race.

Click on the picture of the flower and see the bee's eye view in a new window.

Back at Braye we made up a cream tea with scones, tea and jam from one cafe, and clotted cream from the shop opposite, and then, having padlocked the bikes together and posted the keys, we departed the island under mainsail, cutting the motor once we were well down the Swinge.

This got a bit boring halfway to Guernsey, with just 6 knots of apparent wind on the quarter and Mary, whose sailing CV included the Fastnet and several Channel races, getting a poor idea of Voltair's sailing performance, so we thought we would try to liven things up a bit by hoisting the cruising spinnaker as well. It didn't set well on the strop, because the mainsail was stealing it's wind, and I was too lazy (and nervous?) to put the pole up, so we hauled the main in close and started to do a bit better. Well, OK, this is actually on my front lawnThen came a gust up to 12 and then 15 knots apparent, the yacht broached towards the wind, Peter applied huge quantities of opposite helm to no avail, the spinnaker and mainsail loaded up and heeled us over, oranges and a melon fell from the shelf (yes, you can tell how much we were heeled, but not so much that the eggs and bread fell too!) and the spinnaker split down both edge seams. A large pile of damp blue nylon was brought aboard, and Mary promised herself to stick to Sigma 38's in future!

Mary, Peter and Castle Cornet. Click to see the bigger pictureGuernsey, the next day, suffered from a similar fog as we had seen the day before, so we decided against navigating around Herm in the tricky bits, and had a lazy day on the island instead. Well, actually it was quite energetic as we climbed the hill above the town trying to find the rather nice Italianate tower we had noticed on arrival. We failed to find this, but did find a jazz band playing in the park, which was equally diverting.

We set sail for an overnight passage to Perros Guirec as the evening drew on, and by the time dawn's rosy fingers had brushed the eastern sky, we were asleep on our anchor just off the shallow bit in the bay near Perros. Peter and JK elected to dinghy ashore for vital supplies, but found the going a bit muddy and shallow, and ended up carrying Hermi-two about half a mile towards the HW line. Perhaps Mary had made the right decision in staying aboard! Revived by a pastis, it seemed to be lunchtime. A simple "moules mariniere" was "off", for some reason, so we had no option but to eat the brochette of scallops with a bottle of Muscadet, (guilty feelings about Mary, left to scrape the varnish!), but failed to buy scallops to take back with us.

Click to see the bigger picture

On the way back, practicing our slalom, Peter took the Gold Medal. Burned knees were a small price to pay!

Click to see the later picture

We then set off to find an anchorage for the night, since we didn't want to get stuck in Perros until the following tide came in. The answer was found in a small inlet around the north side of PG, just west of Ploumanach, leading to a lovely pool of 3m depth, and the beach at Clocheton/Tregastel. Just after we had moored up to one of the visitor moorings, a traditional boat sailed in behind us, looking splendid with her topsail set. Click the picture to see her three hours later.

The pink granite boulders along this part of the coast were really stupendous, not only for their large size, but also for the fantastic shapes the weather has carved them into. We did an hour's walk along this breathtaking coastline, around the "almost isle" Renote, finding more and more subjects for our cameras to capture.

Click to see the bigger picture Click to see the bigger picture

Trebeurden marina the next evening was functional but unexciting, and then we were heading for Roscoff and the challenge of putting a passenger on a ferry, from the sea! There is a new marina being built at Roscoff with a planned capacity for 600 yachts, but right now, it is a big mess! We called up and asked permission to land at the fish quay, and were told we could, if we were quick, and moved off in time for a trawler to come in and pick up ice. We all shinned up a 30-foot high weed-covered ladder to the dock area, (hello, top of mast!), only to discover that it was impossible to get to the passenger terminal without walking 500m out onto the road down one side of a wire fence, and then 500m back on the other side of it. Fortunately we were in good time to say goodbye, and also just in time to avoid the ice-seeking trawler.

Peter and I then moved to a visitors buoy south of the Ile de Batz, directly opposite Roscoff's old harbour, where we planned to spend the night, miss a rising tide, and then catch the ebb west towards L'Aberwrach the next morning. We decided to dinghy in to explore Roscoff buy some supplies, and possibly have a meal. We were a bit late, its true, but eventually we found a baguette shop, a wine shop and a cheese shop that were all still open. Click to see the later pictureSo that was tomorrow's lunch sorted - now how about an aperitif in the sunset, overlooking the harbour and Voltair bobbing away on the other side of the channel? Well, we found the best restaurant in town, naturally, recommended by Michelin and several others.....
..... and then had a picnic on their balcony! Several other diners approached the doors, looking rather puzzled at us cutting up saucisson with a Swiss army knife and glugging the red wine out of the bottle. We didn't offer them any!

We did wonder if we could qualify for Arts Council funding as an Installation of "Modern Art" entitled "Picnic Michelin **" or some such title. After all, "Slept-in-bed" cost us a few Million, how about 50,000 for "Meal at closed Restaurant"?

Back on our buoy, a litre of 13% vin rouge and an hour or so later, Peter noticed, through the cabin window, a motor-boat drifting past towards the rocky channel to our west, with someone calling "Au secours!" - just like they do in the movies! So, weighing up the balance of probabilities - would we be able to take the drifting boat in tow, avoid the rocks ourselves and still make it back to the buoy - we slipped the mooring and got ready to "have a go".

Fortunately the tide wasn't running very fast and we soon got downstream of him and then alongside. We proffered a rope end, which was accepted with alacrity, and soon we had the combo of Voltair and motor launch back on the same Visitor Buoy we had started on. His steering gear had become disconnected, but a bit of spannering from the Voltair tool-kit was enough to fix it back together quite quickly. The relieved skipper of the motorboat turned out to be a Bank Manager who had an after-hours job as Pot-checker for a syndicate of pot-owners and -layers. We gave him a Calva to calm his nerves and bade him farewell.

Of course, the question is, if we had known he was a bank manager before rescuing him, would we have bothered? Probably, but there might have been a "facility fee" involved!

Click to see the larger pictureIt was an easy run from there to L'Aberwrac'h the next day, and as the sea was slight, having passed the "Island Virgin" lighthouse, we dared to take the adventurous way in, running due south between the "Girl from St Malo" (large rocky bits to port, check her out in the photo) and "The Dangly Bits" (drying rocky lumps to starboard), meanwhile keeping the "Little pot of butter" lined up with the "Little Isle of the Cross". I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere! Make it up as you go along (which is what we usually do on Voltair). Click here for the chart.

The harbour had changed a lot since we were there in Aegeia back in 1994 - a fine new marina stood where the harbourmaster's office had been, from where Jim and I had watched in rising panic as smoke and steam belched from Aegeia's companionway 100m away across the water. A total loss? No, Vaughan had opened the top of the pressure cooker a bit early!

These are the scallops, the oysters are inside PeterWe had time for a fine (and somewhat expensive) seafood dinner that night (photo of Peter eating oyster was censored), before catching the bus to Brest on a beautiful sunny morning, taking the navette to the airport, and Flybe carrying us at 5000 feet almost exactly back along the route we had just travelled at sea level.

So, from the team aboard some if not all the time, ..... Terry, Vaughan, Mary, Peter and JK

Good Sailing!

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