Last Saturday, the 25 June I competed on board Juno in the Round the Island Race and immediately (well, after a short break for a couple of glasses of fizzy wine and strawberries) travelled from Port Hamble to Hamble Point to join Michael Forbes Smith on Aeolus, a chartered HR 36. There would be four of us on board, the other two being Adrian Waller and Julie Rosenberg.The original plan was to sail on the evening tide to Dartmouth but Michael had picked up a forecast which was forecasting fog on Monday or Tuesday and so we decided to cross the channel and the shipping lanes on Saturday night before the fog arrived. Julie's flight from Jersey had been delayed and she didn't arrive until 1930 meaning we would have missed the first 2 or 3 hours of the west going tide as well.
We had a quick dinner in the Ketch Rigger before departing at around 2030 for Alderney. Julie was rather upset that after sitting for hours in the departure lounge in Jersey we were going straight back to the Channel Islands. After the strong winds and poor visibility of the morning's Round the Island Race the wind had died away to about 5 or 6 knots and we motored in sunshine in a completely empty Solent. No other boats were in sight. A complete contrast to 12 hours earlier.
As I had been up at 0430 that morning and had sailed 60 miles in gruelling 20 to 25 knot winds earlier in the day I was allowed the first period off watch andwas also allowed 4 hours off, an unheard of luxury!
On waking up at 0200 I peered through the windows and noticed that the decks were wet. I initially thought that I had slept through some particularlyrough weather but as soon as I was on deck I realised we were in thick fog with the visibility down to less than half a mile. So much for crossing the channel before the fog. I spent the next few hours peering nevously at the radar plotter, especially when a fog horn could be heard off the port bow.
As the sun rose in the sky it burnt off the fog and Alderney was revealed about 5 miles away. This allowed us to pick out St Annes church and the white mark at the end of the inner breakwater easily and we were moored by around 1000 on Sunday morning.
One reason I joined the cruise was to skipper the boat on two sixty mile passages to allow me to do the Offshore Yachtmaster exam and so I now took charge of the boat for the next two passages. The first was to Lézardrieux. To make full use of the tide meant a departure at 0430 the following morning. We slipped the mooring just as dawn was breaking with hardly a breath of wind and once clear of the breakwater, turned west. This was because Michael, a Hornblower fan, wanted to see the Casquets. Personally, I had seen enough of them after being becalmed near to them twice last year whilst racing. This time I could use the engine and once past the Casquets we turned south towards Hanois lighthouse on the SW corner of Guernsey. We motored all day with hardly a breath of wind but in bright sunshine.
As we would not arrive at Lézardrieux until about 2100 BST I suggested that we had supper whilst at sea before we were involved in the tricky river navigation. we would then have time to visit the nearest bar ashore before they closed. We picked out the first buoy to the entrance just as we were finishing our supper and I rounded the boat into the very faint breeze to drop the mainsail. As I did this a squall of 20 knots hit the boat! Once the sail was down and under control I started to turn towards the entrance and was horrified to see a bank of fog rolling off the land. Initially I couldn't see anything but after a while I could just make out shapes about 400 to 500 yards away and we crept slowly up the river with two people looking for buoys and rocks and one person sitting in front of the chart plotter calling out any hazards on the chart. Luckily the tide was still ebbing out of the river and so we travelled quite slowly but maintained steerage way. Very gradually the visibility improved and we tied up at around 2100 BST. There was just time for a couple of beers in the Yacht Club bar.
Yet again it was an 0430 BST departure to catch the west going tide to L'Aberwac'h on Tuesday. Once again we rose to a clear day (It wasn't bright at 0430!) with a NW force 3 to 4 wind blowing. After motor sailing for a bit to clear two rocky outcrops to the west of Lézardrieux we could then turn the engine off and reach with the wind around 60°, doing 6 knots through the water with one reef in the main. As the day wor on the wind gradually increased in strength until we registered a few gusts of 34 knots. A second reef was called for but the boat stood up to the conditions very well and sailed with only about 5° of heel. By the time we reached L'Aberwrac'h the wind had fallen to about 20 knots but the seas just offshore of the entrance were still very confused. L'Aberwrac'h marina had plenty of room on the outside of the outer pontoon but the river was quite choppy and there was still a strong wind outside the marina so we tried to find a berth inside.
The marina was very busy and it took a while to find somewhere. The crew pointed out one available place but the entry was down wind and down tide and so I refused the space. Eventually, we found a space on the hammerhead of A pontoon but it was a tight squeeze with boats rafted up on the outer pontoon. There was also a large beamy motorsailer moored to the hammerhead whose anchor was at about my shoulder level and which I had to pass. There was just enough room to enter but no room to go around and try again. I had to get it right at the first attempt. I ferry glided into the berth and very gently came alongside. The boat still had a small amount of forward way on so I gave a short burst of astern propulsion to stop it. I was quite pleased with my approach. The short burst of astern had propwalked the stern out a little bit but I thought a quick tug on the stern line would soon correct it.
It was then that I realised no one was on the pontoon. Obviously they were paralysed with admiration at my approach. To make matters worse the tide was now pushing the bow around the end of the hammerhead. I encouraged one person ashore with some hysterical shouting but he was trying to secure the bow line. More hysterical shouting that concerned attaching the stern line was met by a Belgian who rushed down the pontoon to help. The stern line was thrown to him and he gave an enormous heave which nearly ended with him going off the other side of the pontoon. Nobody had tied the rope to the boat! I think I may have uttered a few rude words at this point. Eventually the boat was secured and I went to find a very stiff drink.
That evening we found an extremely good fish restaurant for dinner and then retired to a bar for some Calvados. The following day we had a rest day exploring L'Aberwrac'h and climbing the hill to the next village to obtain some provisions. In the afternoon we met Robin and Barrie and learnt of their problems with their rudder. They had sailed for 30 hours directly from Cowes with just the two of them and had entered at around midnight. Unsure of the entrance to the marina in the dark they had anchored off in the river but had then slept through the alarm only to wake when they grounded on the bottom and to find the rudder missing.
Martyn Graham arrived a little bit later followed by Hunter Peace under sail. His fuel filter had cracked. Keith Irons was last to arrive. An impromptu pontoon party was held aboard Aeolus where everyone recounted their adventures followed by another meal ashore in a different fish restaurant.
We had to leave the following day to pick Michael's daughter up in Brest and so it was yet another 0400 start to reach the Raz du Four at slack water. The wind had dropped to virtually nothing again and the Raz was very quiet. We were in Brest in Port du Chateau by 1300. That evening we visited the fish market and ate on board on a meal of oysters, crab claws, prawns and bagette washed down with a few bottles of wine. Michael's daughter arrived at 1000 the following morning and we immediately slipped lines and motor sailed to Cameret, about 9 miles away where we managed to find a bar serving moules frites for lunch. The rest of the fleet arrived during the afternoon in time for the Rally Dinner at Hotel de France that evening. The Rally Dinner had been postponed for one day to allow Hunter to have repairs done in L'Aberwrac'h. Robin, unfortunately, was stuck in L'Aberwrac'h but the news was that jury repairs to his rudder were progessing well and that he planned to rejoin the rally in Vannes.
The following day most of the fleet were planning an early start to sail south through the Raz de Sein. I had a flight home from Brest in the afternoon so we sailed the short distance back to Brest where I left the boat.