The Raz de Sein, Fog & Pirates

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Our first attempt at The Raz de Sein began at 0100 when we left Douarnanez in bright moonlight and calm conditions. As we motored eastwards, mist started to appear on the land which quickly turned to thick fog. Bert, who was half a mile ahead of us called on the radio to say that visibility had dropped to around 60 metres and he was turning round and heading back to the starting point. Jac and I did the same and we groped our way along in the murk using the radar and AIS as our eyes. As we went we saw a sailing vessel cross slowly in front of us before disappearing towards the coast. Then came our encounter with pirates! Out of the fog appeared a ghostly vessel crewed by men with eye patches, yo ho hoeing and swigging rum. I swear I saw Johnny Depp swinging from the yardarm and splicing the main brace. They chased us for a while, but with great British aplomb we out-smarted the blighters to fight another day. Seriously though, we had a very strange encounter with a motor boat who turned all his lights on, including a zillion candle power search light. He came chasing after us and we had to manoeuvre quite violently to avoid him. Eventually, thinking it might be a police or customs boat, we slowed down at which point he sheared off to give Bert the same treatment. After this interlude we carried on back to Douarnenez, initially spotting the green light on the harbour breakwater, only to have it disappear again as the fog thickened. At 0500 we moored up where we had started and compared notes with Bert and Theresa over a stiff drink before falling into bed.

Camaret to Douarnanez

We spent a lazy morning having coffee and croissants and visited the chandlers where I collected some larger scale charts than the Imrays that I had brought from the UK. I also bought some winch grease in a spray can as some of the rigging blocks were complaining. We left Camaret after lunch to make our way to Douarnanez, a relatively short hop from Camaret. Bert and Theresa had long gone so we took a short cut between a rocky island and the land to gain some distance on them. Another sunny day with light winds that again meant using the engine. We saw Kokopelli in the distance with her spinnaker up but only sailing very slowly so we made our way to our destination, arriving about half an hour before Bert and Theresa. We were well down our first glass by the time they arrived! We were using Douarnenez as a hopping off point for the Raz de Sein another piece of water, like the Canal du Four that demanded the utmost respect. This passage needed to be passed at slack water and, to benefit from the flooding tidal stream, low slack water was what we needed. Unfortunately that occurred at around 0400 and we all reluctantly agreed to leave Douarnanez at 0100 to catch the Raz at the right time.

L’Aberwrach to Camaret-Sur-Mer via the fearsome Chanel-du Four

The next leg of the journey was through the fearsome Chanel du Four, a stretch of water between the Ilse de Ouessant and the French mainland. This had to be taken at a particular state of tide so, after refuelling, we left L’Aberwrach in fine weather to make the short leg to the start of the Chanel. A call on the radio from Theresa revealed that we had made a mistake with the change in the clocks from the UK and we were going to enter the Chanel an hour early. In the event it didn’t present a problem and, apart from a sizeable swell at the northern end there wasn’t an issue. Exiting the Chanel we crossed the Goulet de Brest to moor up in the inner harbour at Camaret-Sur-Mer. Camaret is an old fishing port, now almost completely devoted to pleasure craft with the rotting hulks 0f old fishing boats sitting on the breakwater. We tried out a seafood restaurant on the waterfront and dined on plates of moules with frites.

Channel Crossing

St Mawes to L’Aberwrach.

With Jac at the helm we slipped the mooring buoy at 05.35 in the morning and headed south across the English Channel. The helmsman was initially stroppy but a bacon sandwich restored her good humour and we settled down to the long day ahead. The light wind was in a favourable direction for once, but the engine was still in use most of the time. We noted our position in the log every hour but, other than that, there was little to do except dodge the succession of big ships passing up and down the Channel. This is a bit like trying to hopscotch across the M25 but we were lucky. We only had to alter course once to avoid a tanker and threaded our way through an opening between nine big ships heading east without any delays. The French coast came into sight at 19.00 and we finally moored up in L’Aberwrach, and rafted onto Kokopelli a 21.50.

Kokopelli mid-channel
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Kokopelli mid-channel

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Dartmouth to St Mawes

Having met with Bert, Theresa and Kokopelli, the plan was to cross the Channel as soon as possible, but 26 June dawned with low cloud, drizzle and poor visibility. After a short confabulation, we decided that the best course would be to sail further west towards Lands’ End when the crossing would be shorter and the weather the following day hopefully improved. We left Dartmouth in convoy with Kokopelli and managed a bit of motor sailing but, again, we were travelling straight into wind so the sails came down and we motored the rest of the 67 mile trip, keeping a sharp lookout for the numerous lobster pots, (or oyster nets as Jac calls them). A series of fronts were passing through so we oscillated between soaking wet and bright sunshine to arrive at St Mawes and a lovely evening. Jac brought us beautifully to a mooring buoy and we finished the day with a chilli and rice meal to be joined later by Bert and Theresa in their tender to discuss the channel crossing plan the following day.

Weymouth to Dartmouth

Morning posed the problem of how to extricate ourselves from the inside of the raft! Number 2 wanted to leave at 7am, number 3 wanted to stay for another day and numbers 4 and 5 were undecided! We decided to leave with number 2 (an elderly couple of sailors whose deck was festooned with pot plants – mint for the Pimms they explained!) We left rafters 3, 4 and 5 to jiggle themselves back into position while I spun us out from captivity (praise be to bow thrusters!!) Fine sunny weather all the way to Dartmouth with light winds and all motor sailing. The highlight of the trip was our encounters with a pod of dolphins which stayed with us for a few minutes before heading out to sea. We reached Dartmouth at 14.30 and filled up with diesel on the refuelling barge before heading for the town jetty. I completely misjudged the tide which resulted in us being set at 90 degrees to the mooring as the stern of the boat was pulled round by the current. While trying to sort out the mess, the bow warp got sucked into the bow thruster which resulted in later problems. Just before we met with Theresa and Bert, Jac slipped on the companionway steps falling badly, hurting her back and knocking her head. As a result, Bert, Theresa, Ali and Pete went out for a meal while I stayed to play Florence Nightingale to Jac.

25 Jun 15

In the morning we said goodbye to Pete and Ali who were making their way back to Levington to collect their car. Jac’s back was still hurting so we spent the day in Dartmouth shopping, doing the laundry and looking for a new hosepipe. (The flexi hose I bought at the Southampton boat show had split at first use). At the recommendation of my old friend Pete Philpott we visited the Dartmouth Arms near the lower ferry, a fine old English pub which has been featured in many films. We spent a lovely evening with Bert and Theresa eating fresh crab on Synergy which Bert had bought direct from the fisherman. The crabs were large and tasty but breaking out the crab meat was a messy business with us all wearing some of it by the time we had finished. It took a further 2 weeks before the final remnants of crab had been expunged from Synergy’s cockpit.

Cowes to Weymouth

Fort at Hurst Point at the West end of the Solent

 Bert’s boat was now nearly ready to go so we decided to hot foot it to Dartmouth and make our way down the Solent to Hurst Point, the exit to the English Channel. It was a fine sunny day, but once again the tide and wind were not in our favour so it was motor sailing all the way. We passed The Needles where lots of photographs were taken and had an easy run to Weymouth. Entering the harbour we were faced with a tight mooring between two rafts which Peter Sadler negotiated beautifully. Weymouth was tight for mooring space and we soon found ourselves on the inside of a raft of five, an education for Pete and Ali who had not seen rafted mooring before. Getting out in the morning was going to be interesting!


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Buckler’s Hard to Cowes

Approaching Cowes and dodging the Isle of Wight ferry

We had been determined to get to Dartmouth as soon as possible to join our friends Bert and Theresa on their boat Kokopelli for the channel crossing. However, Kokopelli had had some serious electrical problems and was not yet ready to set sail. We therefore decided to spend some time in the Solent and make our way to Cowes and particularly, to visit an old haunt of mine The Folly Inn up the Medina River. So we left Buckler’s Hard, retraced our steps down the Beaulieu River and after some fun sailing, we moored up at Shephard’s Marina in Cowes. After a wander round the pretty town of Cowes we caught a water taxi up the river to The Folly Inn – it was as good as I remembered it! The return water taxi broke down half way home. He had run out of fuel! But after changing tanks, normal service was resumed and we were dropped back at Synergy – door to door service! The night was a little rocky as we were moored across the river from the ferry terminal.

Buckler’s Hard

This next leg was one that I had been really looking forward to as the Solent was where I had taken my first sailing trip in 1991 with my old friend, Chalky White and we had visited Buckler’s Hard on that occasion. For those who have never been there, you must! It is a magical, unspoilt place up the Beaulieu River on Lord Montagu’s estate. It was once a thriving boat yard during Nelson’s time and produced around 60 ships for the Navy during the Napoleonic period and, better still, boasts a great pub called the Master Builders, once the home of the master ship builder Henry Adams. I just love it there. Jacquie and I had visited Buckler’s Hard when we went boat hunting, but I really wanted to arrive there in my own boat. We left Gosport, got the sails up and, miraculously, were able to sail to the Beaulieu River entrance where we joined a convoy of other boats heading up the river. On the way, the heavens opened and soaked the helmsman (me) to the bone, while my craven crew huddled under the spray hood in the dry. Buckler’s Hard was busy, but we were able to find a berth on the refuelling pontoon and moored up before heading to The Master Builder’s for dinner. We were joined by my brother and sister-in-law, Tony and Theresa who had driven over from Shaftsbury to say their farewells.

The following day we spent at Buckler’s Hard. Pete and Ali walked into Beaulieu to visit the motor museum while Jac and I stayed on the boat catching up on housekeeping/maintenance work. I tightened the engine drive belt (again); it seemed to be hell bent on working loose. An old friend, Pierre Bosdet, joined us in the afternoon and we had yet another enjoyable evening in the Master Builder’s pub.

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Brighton to Portsmouth

We left Brighton at 10.15 in the morning to sail to Portsmouth Harbour having seen our friends Malcolm and Glenda Stennett in their Levington based motor cruiser, Lady Genevieve, leaving for Dover. The departure was delayed as we found ourselves sitting on the mud. The marina, supposed to be dredged to 2 metres, was considerably less and even shallower draft boats than Synergy were stranded on the putty. Having escaped from Brighton we set off on the 46 mile trip to Portsmouth. The wind picked up to force 6 and we managed to get some sailing done but with the wind over tide around the Looe off Selsey Bill, the water became very rough for an hour or so. The rest of the trip was easy going except that going into Portsmouth was a little like trying to fly a light aircraft into Heathrow; following a narrow channel and dodging ferries and lots of other ships negotiating the narrow entrance. We moored in Haslar Marina and breathed sigh of relief that we hadn’t been run over by the Isle of Wight ferry!