Died and gone to Devon – part II

Sailing, Travel

Salcombe

We left for Salcombe on Monday morning – this time with Pete’s mum Jacky on board N’Tiana for the first time in three years, coaxed by her son into honing her skills behind the helm.

There was a whisper of wind from the east which was just enough for us to gently bob along in the sun with the cruising chute up, gazing at the thin golden line that denoted Slapton Sands.

As we neared Start Point we were forced to put the engine on, only to switch it off again as the wind got up off Prawle Point enabling us to sail the final few miles to mouth of the estuary.

Like all Devon harbours, Salcombe presents a small challenge in the form of a sandbar that extends right across the entrance. It’s advisable to enter on a relatively high and rising tide, so if you do hit the bank you’ll be lifted off again shortly. There is a leading line which, if followed, guides vessels safely across the sand bank then it is easy to navigate the channel up to the town moorings.

Salcombe is not actually a river estuary, it is a flooded valley similar to the Rías of northern Spain. Like all south Devon’s natural harbours, it is surrounded by gorgeous countryside with great walks along the coast and around the inlet’s many creeks and headlands with inspired names like ‘Snapes Point’ and ‘Splatcove Point’.

The town of Salcombe cannot compete with Dartmouth’s beauty but the sheltered natural harbour it overlooks offers something else which has transformed it into a go-to destination for many second homers – a handful of golden sand beaches. Salcombe is very evidently a tourist trap. An upmarket stylish one, but a tourist trap all the same with the usual smattering of overpriced ‘nautical chic’ clothing shops.

We walked two miles towards the mouth of the harbour to a great beachside restaurant that would not look out of place in Florida Keys called The Winking Prawn – which, as the name suggests, serves up a wide selection of fabulous local seafood. There I feasted on roasted hake with crispy pancetta, aoli, pea shoots and salsa verde while Jacky and Pete tucked into a platter of fruits de mer, lobster included.

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River Yealm

Our next stop was the quieter River Yealm, which we reached in just over three hours flying downwind with the cruising chute up and a good breeze behind us.

There we were met by Rupert, an old friend of Pete’s who, by chance, lives in Newton Ferrers just up the river and was whizzing about on his rib checking his lobster pots.

The River Yealm is a lovely narrow thickly wooded river, so narrow in fact, larger boats are pushed to find a mooring buoy by which they will not block the channel.

Again, the entrance requires avoidance of a sand bar which leaves just a tiny gap marked by a red channel buoy – but by this point we were getting used to navigating narrow river entrances.

The river itself is heaving with boats, with virtually every mooring buoy occupied yet with no town overlooking you, it retains a feeling of serene tranquillity.

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Rupert was celebrating having collected eight large scallops when freediving earlier that day. Hoping to catch the remains of dinner, he and Pete headed off seaward to do some fishing while I got some work done.

They returned with a delicious catch and we headed ashore to cook up the seafood feast Rupert was kind enough to share with us.

Pete left the next day as duty called back in Bath, leaving me bobbing about on our mooring with just the dinghy for company – and transport.

The quiet evening was enlivened by arrival of a 108ft old-fashioned lugger which the harbour master apologetically explained would need to raft alongside me as there was no other mooring space big enough.

Against his expectations, I was delighted.

The ship had a professional crew so all I had to do was spectate as its owner and captain, Marcus, came alongside with such calm finesse I probably wouldn’t have even noticed had I been down below.

This amazing vessel, I found out after an invitation to come aboard and share in the delicious wine being poured out, had been built by Marcus and his wife Freya in 2011 in Millbrook, Cornwall as an exact replica of an 18th century Cornish privateer.

It is a licensed commercial ship and with their crew and paying guests they transport wine from France and Portugal, rum and coffee beans from the Caribbean and tea from the Azores, then beer from the UK back to these foreign climes.

Anyone wanting to learn about sailing or simply enjoy an amazing maritime adventure should look them up – grayhoudluggersailing.co.uk.

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Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo both offer wonderful walks along the coast, with panoramic views of the hills rolling inland and the rugged rocky shoreline.

One particularly magical route follows the ‘Nine mile drive’ built as a carriageway by Lord Revelstoke – the banking tycoon Edward Baring – to provide an impressive visual feature on his extensive estate.

After a few days moored up in the River Yealm, heading ashore in the dinghy for walks, provisioning and trips to the pubs – the Ship Inn in Noss Mayo gets my vote – it began to feel quite like home.

So it was with sadness but excitement we set sail westwards once again, towards Cornwall – the final leg of our journey along the south coast.

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Died and gone to Devon – part I

Sailing, Travel

Pete and I have sailed in some seriously beautiful places. We’ve weaved our way among the pine scented islands of the Dalmation coast, from Zadar down to Montenegro and gazed up at the snow-covered peaks that rise from the blue waters of Kotor Bay.

We’ve skirted around Sicily taking in the ominous rumbling giant that is Mount Etna and the historic wonders of Syracuse and Taormina.

We’ve supped on sumptuous tapas in Palma, partied in Ibiza then recovered in the sheltered bays around Formentera.

We’ve sailed across the Mediterranean, up the Portuguese coast, from northern Spain to Brittany.

And yet, in the last week, the coast of Devon has outshone them all.

The lusciously green rolling hills, tapering down to dramatic rocky cliffs and narrow river inlets, their steep sides fringed with gnarled oak trees. The patchwork fields bordered by hedges alive with garish pink dog rose and sugar scented honeysuckle. The secret coves and golden beaches. The pastel houses, waterfront pubs, crab shacks and jaunty beach huts. They all work together to form an intoxicating saltwater cocktail which is impossible to resist.

Admittedly, since arriving in Devon we have been blessed with day after day of the sort of perfect weather usually reserved for the Mediterranean. Every morning we wake up and emerge on deck to clear blue skies, the sun already high and blazing. It has been nothing short of miraculous.

Exmouth

After rounding Portland Bill at about 4am, we flew across Lyme Bay close hauled with a fresh south westerly breeze to reach Exmouth in less than eight hours.

The River Exe approach requires concentration with a narrow channel between sandbanks, submerged at high tide, through which the tide streams in and out. You follow a leading light up the channel, aware that just a few too many feet to starboard and you will scrape the bottom. But once in, you are in lovely sheltered waters behind a large spit of land, The Warren, which juts out across the river mouth from Dawlish Warren. When the tide drops the huge muddy sandbanks that surround you become visible and there are few places to get ashore without some industrial strength welly boots. There is however an efficient harbour taxi, greatly enhanced by its boat dog, a nine-month old poodle cross, aptly named Fender.

Exmouth itself is a fairly ordinary town but the huge sandy beach and the coastline and river walks that surround it are wonderful. It is also one of the most popular spots on the south coast for kitesurfing so Pete set off early the next morning for his first ever kite surfing lesson with Edge Watersports.

I walked six miles east along the final stretch of the Jurassic coast, where the rust red cliffs are crumbing into turquoise waters below, to Budleigh Salterton, a quaint little beachside village of tea rooms and orderly beach huts, where the gently flowing River Otter joins the sea.

Pete returned from his day of kiting, crashing and swallowing sea water aching and grazed but so full of passion for his newly discovered hobby, he immediately disappeared again to purchase himself the necessary equipment. The words, ‘All the gear, no idea,’ were impossible to restrain although his teacher Jamie was very complimentary in his feedback.

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Teignmouth

We left Exmouth the next day, to hop just five miles along the coast to Teignmouth – a place which hadn’t been included in our original plans but of which our cruising guide spoke so highly we felt it must be worth a stop off.

The moment we moored up against the floating pontoon, bobbing just a few yards from the ramshackle pebbly beach which served as dozens of houses’ backyards, we fell in love.

Teignmouth’s river entrance is so well disguised by its seafront beach and promenade, you cannot spot any evidence of it at all until you are virtually upon it and have to put your faith in the channel markers and your charts.

Much of the town is built upon a large pebbly spit which extends across the entrance to the wide shallow river behind it, leaving just a tiny channel to one side through which you pass. More astonishingly, Teignmouth still operates as a small port so commercial vessels have to navigate their way in and out through this tiny band of water – although only at high tide.

Once through the channel you enter a wide river which curves around creating a second waterfront at the back of the town, which is where we moored up. This waterfront sloping down to the shallow sheltered waters of the river, is alive with activity. Dozens of small craft are pulled up onto the pebbly sand, between which washing lines are strung, picnic tables erected, retirees and couples sit on stripy deck chairs or towels and children and dogs run amok. People sit outside their scruffy terraced houses whose French windows open directly onto the beach and where the houses end, greatly cherished two-storey beach huts painted in dashing primary colours take over, eventually tapering down to smaller beach huts then the pebbly spit, past which the tide squeezes in and out of the river.

Where tiny paths and streets snake to the waterfront between the homes and huts, you can find small stalls and shop fronts selling fresh Teignmouth crab sandwiches, scallops and other local shellfish delights.

A walk into the heart of the town itself, confirmed it to be a bustling lived-in place. Largely undiscovered, as yet, by the ‘Devon Riviera’ hordes or rich city dwellers seeking second homes, Teignmouth is delightfully local and all the better for it. It has not been polished and preened into pristine submission by wealthy weekend incomers like Salcombe. It retains its own quirky salty character.

We arrived on a Friday and as the afternoon progressed, the riverfront filled with people sitting on the quay wall in the golden sun, overlooking the beach, enjoying their first, second, third pint from the aptly named Ship Inn.

Our arrival also coincided with the Teignmouth Folk Festival and Border Morris dancers soon filled the quayside leaping around energetically in their feathered top hats and tattered tail coats, clashing their sticks as the musicians struck up a series of lively tunes. I challenge anyone to unearth a more old-worlde English scene.

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Dartmouth

Having met our friend Sarah and purchased a whole fresh lobster and a crab from one of Teignmouth’s many family run fish counters on Saturday morning, we set sail for the treat that is Dartmouth. It was perfect sailing conditions with blue skies and 10 to 15 knots of wind from the south. We tacked up the coast past Tor Bay taking the inshore route between the Ore Stone and Hope’s Nose.

After rounding Berry Head, we reached Dartmouth in the late afternoon.

Dartmouth and the River Dart is south Devon’s crowning glory.

Sailing in past Dartmouth castle on one side and Kingswear castle on the other, before the thick twisted woodland at the river entrance gives way to row upon row of pastel houses climbing up the hillsides from the riverfront, must be one of the prettiest town harbour approaches in the world.

Aside from its picturesque location on the river, Dartmouth is a town of timber framed Tudor buildings, historic fishermen’s cottages, fine Georgian properties, boutique galleries, independent shops and pubs, restaurants, cafes and delis celebrating local produce. All in all, it is a delight.

Once moored up we prepared our fresh lobster and crab and dined like lords before going ashore and washing up outside the Dartmouth Arms, gin and tonic in hand, looking across the water at Kingswear.

Travel up the River Dart two miles further to Dittisham – pronounced Ditsum – and you enter a more tranquil idyll with just a scattering of pretty houses and a waterside pub, the Ferry Boat Inn, at the end of a convenient dinghy quay.

We left N’Tiana on a mooring buoy and took the dinghy up to Totnes to drop Sarah for her return home.

With the sun arcing through an azure sky, there can be few journeys more beautiful than the five-mile passage up the River Dart to Totnes. It is a bucolic paradise of ancient woodland, sweet smelling hayfields, secret river beaches, reeds and rushes. The very few houses that interrupt this rural wonderland are so beautiful – take Sharpham House which sits high on a hill above the river transporting you into a Jane Austen novel – they only add to the green surroundings. There is even a resident seal which we mistook for a very large otter until later corrected by local knowledge.

It is possible to get up to Totnes in a sailing boat like N’Tiana at high tide, but it would require some focused pilotage. On this occasion, the dinghy was a more suitable craft enabling us to gaze wide eyed at our surroundings, all worries left at the shoreline.

To be continued 🙂

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When in Weymouth

Sailing, Travel

If you tell someone you have sailed a boat back from Portugal to the UK, they are usually gratifyingly impressed. If, however, you are waxing lyrical about a torrid 25-mile sail from Studland Bay to Weymouth, or any other section of the British coastline, you are likely to get a less awed reaction.

And yet, these short traverses of British coastal waters are often far more challenging and fraught with peril than anything you are likely to encounter during most open ocean cruises. The only difference being, if you do get in trouble off the coast of the UK, you are within reaching distance of help – this is more problematic when you are hundreds of miles from the nearest land.

The British Isles present some of the most testing and rewarding sailing conditions in the world.

On our voyage back from Portugal, Pete and I had to carefully monitor the weather and resulting sea conditions when planning our passage route and timings, looking for weather windows that would ensure safe conditions for long enough for us to reach our destination, along a stretch of coast with few safe havens.

In the UK, you have a major additional consideration, the tide.

The power of the tide in the UK cannot be overstated. The Bristol Channel has the second highest tidal range in the world – reaching more than 12 metres – exceeded only by the Bay of Fundy in Canada.

At springs the tide can often run at more than five knots – that’s five nautical miles per hour in normal parlance. The fastest tidal races in the UK can, horrifyingly, reach more than 10 knots. When you consider the average sailing speed of a 43-ft yacht like N’Tiana is six knots, this can present a problem depending on your intended direction.

The tide can be your best friend or greatest foe. It can whisk you to your destination or sweep you backwards.

When the wind is blowing in the opposite direction to the tide, it can kick up nasty choppy seas. When the tide is too low there are many small harbours and river inlets that become impassable or inaccessible and poorly timed arrivals are forced to bob about waiting for the water to rise. But woe betide the poor fool who anchors or moors up at high tide without allowing for the drop and returns to find their yacht stuck on the mud for hours.

‘Time and tide wait for no man,’ as the old saying goes, so it’s best to plan ahead, and leave on time.

Then you have the British coast itself to factor in. In the west, a rocky, irregular coastline of sharp jutting points and islands, studded with hazards hidden just below the waterline. In the east, a shallow sea of shifting sandbanks with few places a yacht can safely reach the shore.

Sailing in Britain puts your pilotage skills to the test.

By choosing to sail east to west along the south coast, Pete and I were also choosing to travel against the prevailing south westerly wind. We accepted this would mean a lot of close hauled sailing. What we had forgotten is just how bloody tiring that is.

Getting to Studland Bay had been a strenuous five-hour sail, tacking into a force six breeze, which woke up every muscle in my upper body with a loud unsympathetic alarm call.

Pete and I sailed out of Studland Bay just before midday the next morning in order to reach the tidal race off St Alban’s Head while the tide was still relatively slack, having just started to ebb. We passed Old Harry Rocks, which marks the end of the band of chalk which once joined up with the Needles on the Isle of Wight before the sea finally broke through, severing the Island from the mainland for good – much I suspect to the Islanders’ relief. Old Harry Rocks also marks the official start of the Jurassic Coast – a breath-taking stretch which extends 95 miles all the way to Exmouth in East Devon, named after the period during which most of its dramatic rocks, now being attacked by the sea, were laid down.  Tacking into 20 knots of wind with the tide against us made it slow progress as we passed Swanage and it took us a solid three hours before we were passing the race by which time my arms were once again putting up a violent rebellion against doing any more winching.

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In three hours of sailing along the English coast, I felt more physically exhausted than in the whole length of our sail from southern Portugal to the UK. Ah, so good to be home.

But once round the point, with the ebb tide behind us, we flew past the military firing range, past Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door and across Weymouth Bay. Sadly we were unable to admire this famously beautiful bit of coast as by late afternoon the thick grey cloud had enveloped us, so we had no evidence of land at all until we were about 800 metres off when the lights of Portland harbour began to shine through the murk. We were conveniently placed just inside the sheltered harbour entrance in Weymouth and immediately greeted by ear-splitting cheers, shouts and chanting which a cursory investigation revealed was related to England’s world cup match against, someone, and not to our arrival.

A big screen had been erected on the cobbled street on the harbourside and I struggle to believe the town of Weymouth has experienced anything approaching that level of excitement since, well, the last World Cup. It was a relief to all the boats moored up along the harbour wall that England won that night.

I love Weymouth. It has that uniquely British seaside blend of quaint prettiness and cheap gaudy seediness.

The Old Harbour is a treat with its colourful rickety-rack old houses clustered along the waterfront’s uneven cobbled roads. It is alive with noisy drinking haunts, fish and chip shops, overweight tourists, brazen seagulls and smelly fishing boats craning their catch onto the dockside.

The other side of the town centre is Weymouth beach, a huge curving sweep of sand, which slopes gently into the water perfect for sandcastle building, swimming or flolicking in the shallows.

Bordered by a grand Victorian promenade that makes one want to go reaching for a parasol, Weymouth beach exemplifies the faded grandeur and tacky charm of the British seaside. There are donkey rides, beach huts, crazy golf, pedalos for rent, fish and chip and ice cream stalls and a multitude of tea rooms.

Like most resort towns, in the right weather it has that lovely feel of a place where people have come to enjoy themselves. By midday on Tuesday, the harbour was awash with people soaking up the sunshine while guiltlessly enjoying drinks outside the many pubs.

But Weymouth also has elements of a film set, step back from the harbour or beach front and the evidence of dirt and deprivation are immediately more apparent. It is not a place of affluence and elegance.

After arriving, having not eaten since a late breakfast, we beelined through the yelling red faced football crowds for one of Weymouth’s best fish and chip shops, the Marlboro Restaurant. It seemed rude not to. Restaurant seems a grand title for what is essentially a proper old no-frills family-run ‘caff’. It is a total delight, with charming staff serving up deliciously fresh fish in the lightest of batters, thick juicy chips and homemade mushy peas. Pete proclaimed it the best fish and chips he had ever eaten.

After a day of work, boat repairs and shopping, we were up at an anti-social 2.30am on Wednesday morning, to time our rounding of the next notorious tidal race off Portland Bill before we crossed Lime Bay to reach Devon.

By 4am it was already light – the joys of mid-summer – and we were flying along under full sail towards our next destination, Exmouth.

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Back at sea

Sailing, Travel

It is one of the more frustrating attributes of the human condition that we always want what we cannot have. Or, phrased differently, the metaphorical grass is always greener on the other side of the metaphorical, erm, fence? River?

The are times when sailing – admittedly these times tend to coincide with somewhat adverse conditions – that one would be willing to offer oneself up as some form of human sacrifice just to be safely ensconced on land with a warm shower, a level, stationary bed and access to all the hot food and beverages our land-based kitchens can produce.

This means the initial return home from being at sea is a total delight. You luxuriate in the space, the soft furnishings, the absence of dampness, in the abundance of hot water, crisp bed linen, Netflix, Deliveroo.

In the freedom to walk out of your front door without landing in icy seawater.

Being on dry land is a wonderful thing. You don’t realise just how wonderful until you are confined to a boat for several weeks, salty greasiness pervading everything you wear and touch.

But this delight in everyday things calms. The novelty gradually wears off and you begin to take all those small daily luxuries for granted once again.

That’s about the time to head back to sea.

Inevitably, after a few weeks at home, as life settles back into its reassuringly repetitive rhythm, familiar faces in familiar places which you miss so much when away, you begin to yearn once more for the freedom of oceans on your bow.

So, after a month at home sorting through a large backlog of life admin, Pete and I were ready to return to life afloat.

We headed to Yarmouth – the one on the Isle of Wight, not to be confused with Great Yarmouth in Norfolk – to pick up N’Tiana and head west along the south coast.

We were accompanied by our friend Claude, a man who takes such a grave view of the dangers of the sea, he insisted on wearing a life jacket from the moment we stepped onto the Wightlink ferry in Lymington, almost without interruption until he returned on the same ferry to the mainland about 36 hours later. He even slept in it, he proudly told us.

Claude is not generally prone to undue worry about health and safety issues so this sudden show of concern for his self-preservation was a surprise.

Claude is one of those rare human beings – I know a handful of them – who has his own personal deity looking out for him, ensuring he emerges from frequent scrapes unharmed. Most of us cannot often rely on this divine intervention to save us and therefore try and avoid such scrapes to begin with. But it seemed that Claude had less faith in his god’s maritime abilities.

He innocently recounted some of his earliest experiences of sailing, most of which seemed to involve narrow escapes from severe injury or death in these very seas around the western Isle of Wight.

One adventure Claude recalled involved his 12 or 13-year-old self and a friend setting off from Lymington in a mirror dinghy. They ended up beaching the small boat somewhere on the Hampshire coast east of Lymington, planning to camp for the night, when the clear proprietor of this stretch of unspoiled coastline came and accosted them.

As Claude told it: “This old chap came along and said something like: ‘What are you two boys doing here? This is my beach.’

“And we said: ‘Ah, hello, pleased to meet you. We’ve sailed here and our boat’s just there. I don’t suppose we could camp on your beach?’

“No!” He said. “You cannot camp here. You can stay in my summerhouse, just there.”

His summerhouse, it turned out, was on a palatial scale far bigger than most people’s primary residence, which left those of us listening who know a bit about property ownership along that stretch of coast convinced that Claude had unwittingly made the acquaintance of Lord Montague of Beaulieu.

Despite his trepidation about the bloodthirsty nature of the sea, he kindly agreed to come along to help Pete and I transport the inordinate amount of luggage we had amassed, including a new generator and other such bulky items.

Once on the boat, Claude pointed out that really, sailing is just ‘posh caravanning’ – one of the best descriptions of the sport I’ve ever heard and one I will repeat readily to anyone who revels too much in the more elitist facets of yachting.

After a riotous evening at Yarmouth’s renowned fish restaurant Salty’s, he left us the next day, disappointed not to have had a sail on N’Tiana but still alive and still wearing his lifejacket, proclaiming, “Safety first” as he boarded the ferry.

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While in Yarmouth the usual boat checks were completed.

We had a visit from a local engineer, who aside from telling us of all the happy things that could mean the engine goes BANG in the next few months, also inspected our teak decks whose caulking is peeling off.

“Yeah, it’s not great,” he said. “But, you know, what can you expect, I mean, this isn’t an Oyster.”

“Erm, actually, it is an Oyster.” We responded.

He offered to throw himself into the murky harbour waters then and there.

Yarmouth is a beautiful little town, sandwiched perfectly between the western Solent and the salt marshes of the tidal River Yar behind it.

For me, a regular visitor since babyhood it is a true home from home. I love the annual return to Yarmouth.

It always starts with a quick inspection to see what new shops and restaurants have opened – La Cucina is worth a visit – what houses are being built or knocked down and what the latest controversy is at the local yacht club – the grandly titled Royal Solent Yacht Club.

Chris is our man on the ground is who is always ready to furnish us with the gossip needed to bring us up to speed on Yarmouth life. As a naval architect who has, at various stages, sailed in most parts of the world in a vast array of vessels big and small, he is also a great person to know if you need any boat related jobs done.

An old university friend of my parents, Chris has endured the annual invasion of the Prynne family rabble, and assorted friends, every August for the last 30 or so years with great equanimity – even in the days when we all used to stay in his tiny flat and he’d find spare babies left asleep in his chest of drawers. He seems to accept that there is a window of time in August when his peace will be utterly destroyed – possibly even enjoy it.

June is a perfect time to visit Yarmouth. By June the town has fully awoken from its deep winter slumber, when it grinds to a virtual standstill.

“In January, you can hear the tumbleweed blowing past,” Chris claims.

But the summer months bring a hive of activity as people flock to the Island for their summer breaks and visiting yachtsmen fill the harbour and the local pubs.

In June, the town has a lively bustle but it has not yet experienced the mad flurry that accompanies the start of the school summer holidays.

Chris waved us off from Yarmouth harbour on Sunday as we decided to brave the fairly unpleasant forecast and catch the ebb tide through the Needles channel to head to Studland Bay, a lovely stretch of Dorset coast just south of Poole Harbour which ends in Old Harry Rocks.

After tacking into the wind and rain for five hours, we reached Studland, finished off the remains of a veggie chilli I had cooked the previous night, and collapsed in bed to the gentle rolling of the boat and lapping of the water.

Entirely content to be back at sea, for now.

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From Bretagne to Britain

Sailing, Travel

Brittany is what the English think of when they conjure up the quintessential romantic image of rural France – complete with the stripy T-shirted Frenchmen cycling about with strings of onions around their necks.

It’s picture perfect villages of whitewashed stone buildings with their pastel shutters are burrowed in among lush green meadows and woods of oak and pine connected by winding lanes and tree fringed rivers.

It is the home of the crêpe and ‘moules frites’ is written large on every restaurant sandwich board.

Young men sit outside cafes at midday enjoying lurid green crème de menthe.

To English eyes it is oh so very, very French.

Which is funny really because the Bretons are Celts who in some ways have more in common with the Cornish across La Manche than many of their fellow countrymen.

In fact, if you removed the crème de menthe, the ubiquitous crêpes and perhaps the Bretons themselves, you could easily be in Cornwall.

The countryside and villages bear a striking resemblance to England’s south west peninsula.

Like Cornwall, Brittany is a glorious place to explore on a boat with countless pretty river inlets, bays and seaside towns.

Also like Cornwall, Brittany attracts many wealthy urbanites who flock there for their weekend and summer breaks, buying up second homes and lending the more popular seaside destinations an air of chic affluence usually reserved for the city. Brittany has the price tag to match its popularity as we quickly discovered on being charged €4 for a small beer. This may have been less of a shock had we arrived from our own expensive British Isles but coming from Portugal then Spain it caused us both to gulp silently.

Sadly for us, but possibly not for our wallets, we did not have the time to do anything more than poke our nose into South Brittany for a couple of days before we headed for home waters.

But after crossing Biscay, Brittany was a brief heavenly respite.

We moored up in Sainte-Marine on the mouth of the beautiful River Odet which snakes it’s way up to the small city of Quimper.

A more picturesque spot than Sainte-Marine would be hard to find. The village clusters around a tiny river cove where a handful of café bars and restaurant terraces offer views across the Odet and its hotch potch of little boats to the larger resort town of Bénodet.

Every house in Sainte-Marine seemed to have been designed and built for the sole purpose of preserving and enhancing the prettiness of the village. Purple wisteria draped itself elegantly over stone walls, blossom fluttered from gardens to the roadside and wild flowers bloomed from every hedgerow.

Keen to stretch our legs, we walked for four miles along the coast to Île Tudy, another gloriously postcard village squeezed onto a spit of land on the mouth of the Pont L’Abbé river estuary.

A pristine white beach lined most of the route across which little wavelets gently fizzed as they advanced and retreated over the hot sand.

Behind it thick golden meadows were grazed by cattle casting long shadows as the sun sank low in a cloudless sky.

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On Saturday we decided to head to Quimper. It was only about 10 miles up the river and we’d read that one could easily take a boat to get there.

What we had not factored in was that we would need to cross the river to Bénodet to get anywhere at all, that the only boats to Quimper were not ferries but tourist tour boats that charged a small fortune, only left twice a day and took you to about three other places enroute and lastly, that we were in France, the land of the Gallic Shrug.

A small ferry usually ran throughout the day between Sainte-Marine and Bénodet. But not today it seemed. The ferry had temporarily stopped working due to celebrations taking place across the river over the launch of a new lifeboat.

We were told by the local harbourmaster it would resume service at 12.30pm. In two hours’ time and too late for us to catch a boat to Quimper.

We asked about buses.

He shrugged, maybe from Bénodet, but not from here.

Could we take a taxi?

Again from Bénodet. But, shrugging, it will cost about 50 Euro.

Both ways?

One way.

We went to the tourist information office. It was closed, of course, I mean, it was the weekend after all when no tourists ever need assistance.

We went to try and bribe a local rib owner to rent us one of his boats for the day. Not to Quimper, he said, too shallow.

Could he take us across to Benodet? We asked.

Non. He’d like to but if he did he would have to start saying yes to everyone. Shrug.

We asked him again about the ferry – it will start running again at 12.30pm yes?

Well, pff, he answered, shrugging. Maybe 12.30, maybe 1.30pm, maybe not. You know, ‘e is French.

Ah okay, we understood. What about the buses from Benodet? They are quite regular oui?

Well, another shrug and a grin. They are French bus companies…

We understood.

We decided in the event, to walk to Bénodet which involves following the river a couple of miles to the nearest big road bridge outside both towns. It was actually a lovely hour and a half’s walk and we kicked ourselves for wasting the previous hour and a half trying to get there by lazier means.

However, having struggled to reach a town that was quite literally 150 yards across the river from us, we felt a bit defeated at the prospect of battling to get to Quimper. And more importantly, getting back. Our French advisors had not filled us with confidence.

So, shrugging, we settled on visiting Bénodet for the day.

It turns out there isn’t much of Bénodet to ‘visit’.

It is a great example of where the tiny original town or village has been grossly expanded with residential holiday homes, apartments and hotels largely thanks to the huge sandy beach next to it. Being French, it is done with more tact and style than what one finds on the Costa del Sol but much of it definitely felt like a ‘resort’ rather than a town.

After eating some of the best crêpes France has to offer – smoked sausage with cheese, tomatoe and sweet onions followed by the classic chocolate and banana with a sprinkling of coconut – we ambled along the Bénodet seafront, browsing the overpriced shops and looking down at the early summer tanners sweating on the sand.

We agreed we had chosen the superior side of the river.

That evening, being our last night in foreign climes, we treated ourselves to dinner in the Bistro du Bac overlooking Sainte-Marine’s cove. A starter of six of the freshest oysters Pete had ever eaten while I enjoyed sardines from a town just a few miles up the coast, confirmed this as a good decision.

We both oohed and aaahed over the delicately cooked local fresh fish served as our mains – lobster, scallop, cod, prawn and others I couldn’t confidently identify – washed down with a delicious bottle of Mâcon-Villages.

Les desserts? Mais oiu! Bien sûr!

Pete went for his favourite, crème brûlée, while I opted for a more unusual pistachio mousse and raspberry cake which was delectably candy sweet.

We left sunday morning with the tide to sail north around the Brittany coastline then towards the Channel Islands before crossing north to the Isle of Wight.

The forecast had warned of a notable absence of wind but we had a wedding to get back for so accepted our lot and prepared to motor most of the way home.

The sea was glassy calm as we chugged out of the river Odet. Hardly a ripple disrupted it’s silky surface.

We needed to get past Ushant with its notoriously strong tidal race while the tide was favourable so we remained under engine throughout the afternoon reaching our target by early evening and turning north east towards Guernsey.

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As we drifted further from land a swallow, clearly exhausted, swooped down and tried to land on the boat. The movement of the sails and probably our presence on deck spooked it so it flew off again but, desperate, returned and this time flew straight past us into the saloon. It sat on the book shelf for a few minutes surveying its surroundings before hopping off and disappearing into the bow of the boat. We accepted our stowaway for the night, left him some water and hoped the rest would do him good. He flew off again at 5.45am while I was on watch, hopefully this time reaching land.

The wind remained weak and patchy throughout but the next morning we killed the engine and got the sails out, determined to try and make some of the journey under sail power alone.

We drifted about tacking, letting the sails out, getting them in again, switching north then east as the wind, like a true trickster, leapt about. It blew confidently for 15 minutes from one direction then veered around 90 degrees before dying entirely and repeating the whole charade from a new direction.

Just when I was on the verge of giving up and putting the engine back on, it would gear up again with a healthy breeze from where it had started.

Pete was enjoying some sleep down below while I waged my own personal war on the wind, whooping and cursing intermittently.

Happily by the afternoon a light breeze settled from the north and we sailed along at a relaxed pace past the Channel Islands which loomed briefly out of the haze then disappeared again.

By dusk the wind had once again fallen to a whisper so we engined across the busy shipping channel as cargo ships, cruise liners and other floating giants ploughed towards the traffic separation zone dwarfing little N’Tiana.

The English Channel – or La Manche if you are French and are damned if you are going to assign ownership of that shared stretch of water to the English – had returned to an eery calm.

There was mythical ghostliness to the still silent water as the sun melted into the blue horizon and the sea melted into the sky.

We were suddenly in a new realm with no beginning and no end.

When darkness fell, the stars were reflected on the water so that we could have been sailing through the night sky.

I felt I might wake up and, instead of the Isle of Wight, find we’d arrived in Atlantis or the Underworld, although I didn’t feel we’d behaved sufficiently badly on this particular trip to deserve the latter.

It felt like we were being silently borne somewhere – hopefully home – by some inexplicable mystical force.

So it was that the lights of the South Coast and Needles Channel bought us back to reality with their distant glow at about 3am the next morning as we glided towards them.

For me this was the perfect home coming. Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight is the place I have visited every summer, rain or shine, with my family since I was a newborn babe.

It is the place where my sisters and I learnt to sail. The place where I learnt to love to sail. A place of happy memories. A safe haven.

So it seemed fitting that Yarmouth should be our first landfall in the UK. The first harbour in her entire seafaring life where N’Tiana has not had to fly a courtesy flag. We had finally bought her home.

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