After 5 nights in Port Louis I was glad to be back on the move. It had been a busy few days doing museums, driving Ronnie and Glenis to Roscoff, catching up with my cousin Lara and family, as well as the usual maintaince onboard. Joel and Tania had joined me from Spain. They were on a driving holiday in France and were going to leave their car in Port Louis to sail slowly to Brest. They arrived on Sunday evening in time for a stroll around the lovely town before a dinner of Irish Stew and spuds. The next morning we left in bright sunshine and sailed for a bit before the wind came around onto the nose as forecast. But approaching Concarneau, the wind went around to the southwest and we had a cracking sail up to the town. I had not been in Concarneau since 2004 when the marina had to be evacuated due to a storm causing damage to the marina. This time it was a lot more peaceful. The marina was quite full but since we arrived at 2pm we were able to get a berth. By 6pm there were boats still arriving and waiting to raft up so it was good that we arrived when we did.
After lunch and a snooze, we went for a stroll to some shopping and see the old town. Concarneau is built around a large port with a big fishing fleet, shipbuilders and a dry dock. Guarding it is the old walled town, designed by Vauban as most fortifications are. I had forgotten how beautiful it was and how touristy. After a good look around and a stroll on the waterfront we settled down to a dinner of Merguez saussages and all slept well after.
The next morning there was very little wind and flat seas so I decided to do a long day through the Raz de Sein to Camaret. We motored around the Point de Penmarch and headed to the Raz finding the swell had got up a bit along the way which made Tania feel unwell. Nearing the Raz it eased and we were even able to motorsail for a bit. Arriving at Camaret we found the marina full so anchored off. We put the dinghy in the water and headed ashore for a walk and a pint before dinner. The next morning we awoke to fog and light winds. Before we could leave I had to go ashore to fill up with wine one more time. Joel and Tania came along for the ride to see how I would get so much wine into the dinghy and then onto the anchored boat. The locals laughed at the sight of Joel and I sitting ontop of 120 bottles of wine, trying to drive the dinghy. But with his help, we got it all onboard and properly stowed. Then we set of in a light westerly breeze to sail the short distance into the natural harbour of Brest. Joel had to goosewing most of the way but kept us moving well in a mini race with a French yacht. Joel then had the chance to moor twice, once for fuel, demonstrating his understanding of the boat. Well done Joel !!! Then while I did some jobs onboard Joel and Tania went off to find a restaurant to have dinner in to celebrate their arrival in Brest, which we duly did.
The next day Joel and Tania stayed in a hotel as Johnjoe and Brendan were arriving. But they joined us for dinner onboard with the lads who were looking forward to the trip back home. Joel and Tania had once stayed in Johnjoe's house in Donegal a number of years ago so they had lots to talk about. We had plenty of wine and the lads were slow getting up the next day. But they did get up and we headed to the impressive Citadelle overlooking the marina for a bit of culture before a stroll around town and a roast lamb dinner onboard.
By now we were starting to look at the weather for the trip home. It was looking very unsettled for a week or so. After discussing the option of pottering around the Brest area for a week or so, the lads decided to head north and take the first comfortable opportunity to cross the English Channel. Sadly though, this meant that the Scillies would be out as extended unsettled weather there can be stressful. So the plan was to cross to Newlyn near Lands End and then Padstow.
The next morning we headed out of Brest at 7.30am to take the tide north through the Chenal Du Four inside the rocks and islands to the west of Brest. There was some swell going out but it eased as the morning went on. This looked good for our intended crossing the following evening. Sadly, there was no wind so we motored all the way to L'Aberwrach, arriving at 1pm.
We had a pleasant afternoon in L'Aberwrach, strolling the country lanes up to Landeda on the hill overlooking the harbour before a dinner onboard. The following morning the forecast looked ok for our crossing. We would have light wind just off the nose for the first 8-10 hours before is came round astern and increased. There was a blow expected at lunch the next day, but we were due in a few hours before that. Setting off at 2 pm the wind was as expected but the seas were quite confused as we headed out. With the engine on we punched through it but after 2 hours the grumpy skipper decided that it was too uncomfortable and made the decision to turn back. I had slept little the night before and would not be able to sleep in the seas we had. The swell was forecast to be 1 metre but it was the confused state that did the damage. On turning around we motorsailed a bit more comfortably with the wind more astern and 2 hours later we were back in L'Aberwrach, knowing that we were likely to be there for a week or so. Speaking to Anne at home, she confirmed that the weather forecasts for Ireland showed unsettled weather for a week or more. I had twice before been stuck in L'Aberwrach for a week so this was nothing new. We just had to get out our walking shoes and be tourists. Such is life !!!
We had three days of strong winds and rain at times in the small port of L'Aberwrach. I was tired and glad to be able to catch up with a good book and the occasional stroll up the hill to the village of Landeda which had a small supermarket, butcher and baker. The port area is a busy spot with a large sailing centre where teenagers did summer sailing courses. It also has a few restaurants and a bar. The conditions eased a bit on the fourth day but the depression just off Donegal which brought stormy conditions there, set up large swell and rough seas for us. As the sun was out at times, Johnjoe and I rented a bike for him and the two of us headed off for a couple of bike rides to the nearby town of Lannilis and surrounding area. The network of country roads were ideal for bikes with little traffic and well set up cycleways.
Finally the swell eased and the wind looked favorable for a crossing before the next depression approached the west of Ireland. We set off at 5pm local time to make a night crossing, aiming to pass Lands End at noon and then go round onto the north Cornwall coast aiming for Padstow. For the first 6 hours or so we had 1 metre seas and 12 knots of southwest wind which eased a bit as darkness fell. There was quite a bit of traffic on the French side exiting the traffic separation scheme but as the night wore on we had very little to concern us. Half way across we were motorsailing in pitch dark with extra nav lights on to make sure we could be seen. As dawn approached we were in signt of land motoring in light airs and by now had slowed a bit to make sure we reached Lands End at the right time to pick up the start of the favorable tide. Fog came down for an hour and we had to use the radar to make sure we could spot fishing boats and ships near to land. But the fog lifted enough to allow us to take the inshore route inside Longship reef where we had more favorable current.Passing onto the north Cornwall coast we were able to sail as the wind built enough to use. Occasionally it went light but the last 4 hours we had 15+ knots gusting to 20 as we approached the high land at Trevose Point just before Padstow. Soon enough we lowered sails and motored up the tidal river into the harbour, tying up at 8pm local time after a good passage of 28 hours. It had been 7 years since I was last in Padstow but the place had not lost its character. The harbour staff were still very chilled and good fun. I used to get a Christmas card from them signed by all the staff for a few years. It is a touristy spot and you feel like being in a goldfish bowl when you come in with all the people standing outside the pubs looking at you, just waiting for you to mess up. But the only damage caused was knocking over an empty pint bottle on the quayside when we threw a rope ashore. After a pint and dinner we were in bed at a reasonable time, well tired after our efforts.
The next morning was sunny and with a forecast of southwest 5 to 7, we knew that we were going nowhere. Johnjoe and I went for a long walk along the river and out to the headland looking out on Trevose Point. We could see the seas building already as the winds rose and a haze stood on the seas offshore. After a lunch with some Spanish cider we chilled for a bit in the sun, relaxing to the sounds of a brass band playing along the quay from us. Yes, we were definitely in Britain !!
The following days we knew we were going to be stuck so we each dealt with it in a different way. Johnjoe went home as he had family commitments to deal with. Brendan did what Brendan does best: he found cleaning and varnishing jobs to do. The skipper pottered and snoozed (imagine that !!!). First we had a meal out to celebrate our last night as a threesome before Johnjoe went home. We ate in a restaurant overlooking the harbour. I suggested that we book in advance as the harbour area was heaving with tourists during the day. But in the evening the restaurants and pubs were noticably quieter. Obviously Parstow is a daytrip destination primarily. Wandering around the quieter streets away from the harbour we saw lots of small houses for rent but nowhere near enough to explain the huge crowds and traffic around the harbour each afternoon.
To occupy our days we pottered onboard. Brendan had found some varnishing jobs in the cockpit, some of which we had started already in L'Aberwrach. We also go out for a stroll each day. A highlight for me was the visit to Prideaux Place, a 16th century family home on a hill overlooking the river. The tour guide gave a lot of explanation of the history of the house and its family. It is still a home today with a lived in feel to it. Mostly what I enjoyed was wandering the small streets, expecially in the morning before the tourist hordes arrived. Obviously we had to have fish and chips in Rick Stein's, which were wonderful. Rick has put Padstow on the map and he has a number of businesses in town including a high end restaurant, cookery school and patisserie.
We went out the lock at midday after being in Padstow for 6 nights. We had a forecast of 12 knots west or southwest increasing to 17 on the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel. There was a 1 metre swell which was fairly managable and the wind was on the beam, keeping the boat stable. Half way across the wind got up to 20 knots and we had a double reef in to keep moving well under control. At times we were sailing at over 7 knots in an increased wind driven swell. At one stage the wind surged over 20 and we had to reduce sail. In the process, we put the autopilot on to allow the two of us onboard to reef in the headsail. But on putting on the autopilot we lost all instruments. I switched them off down below and reset them a number of times. The autopilot would not work but so long as we didn't use it, the rest of the instruments worked ok. All of this in 20+ knots of breeze and failing light. Luckily we still had Harry the Hydrovane to steer us which he did great in the conditions. We were able to sail like this right the way in the entrance to Milford Haven, dropping the anchor in Dale at 12.30 after a long trip.
The next morning I went ashore to meet up Christine, Heather and Jane for a hike while Brendan had some quiet time onboard, cleaning no doubt..... We had a great walk and collected Brendan after for a stroll around the village before having a pint in the Griffin. All 5 of us were heading back to the boat for dinner when Heather's head got in the way as I was starting the outboard. It was a fluke but her eyebrow swole up quickly so she needed ice and to be checked out. Poor Jane had to bring her to hospital and miss out on dinner. Next morning a tired Jane came back to collect Christine as we were leaving at 11am to head to Rosslare. We had little wind so were resigned to motoring all the way across. On leaving the haven the autopilot again crashed. I tried to diagnose it and replaced the hydraulic ram which pushes the steering mechanism. That took an hour but did not sort out the problem. So we tried locking the wheel and using the Hyrdovane to steer which did work for a while when we had a little wind but then the wind died we hand steered the rest of the way to Rosslare, arriving just as the ferries were leaving. We rafted along side a trawler and were visited by harbour staff who informed us that the trawlers would most likely leave from 4am on. So I was awoken a couple of times and at 6am we had to move to a vacated berth. We snoozed on a bit longer before going for a walk on the beach and around Rosslare in the bright sunshine.
After lunch we headed out and were soon sailing under the cruising chute. After an hour the wind eased and we motorsailed at 5 knots until the wind went astern and eased further. So we motored the rest of the way to Wicklow, arriving at 9pm before dark. We only had time for a bit of grub before heading to bed early as we were setting off at 6am to ride the tide to Malahide. It was glassy as we set off and we motored for a couple of hours but crossing Dublin Bay it got up and we were finally sailing comfortably for the last couple of hours into Malahide. It was a sunny day, the seas flat and we had wind to celebrate our arrival back into Malahide after over 2 months away. We covered 1700 nautical miles, learnt lots and had plenty of stories to tell our mates on the return. It had been a trip of two halves: the outbound leg with a calm start, then wind building, and easing for a superb final sail down to Bilbao. The return started with a tough passage, then better weather before the weather forced us extended stays in port, ending with 3 light days to Dublin. It was lucky that the crew who did the last leg had planty of time and little deadline worries. Many thanks to Johnjoe and Brendan for coming over at short notice when I was let down by others. Lesson learnt....