#1 2017-09-04 14:28:43

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Not Just A Milk Run for Us

To and from the Vilaine river for the Brittany Meet

Guy Warner     accompanied by Gillie Green, Sue Greenall & Simon Wilkinson
14 June to 29 June 2017     (all times BST)

Port Solent to La Roche Bernard (LRB), Vilaine river, South Brittany
via Jersey and passage back

925nm in a Victoria 34 cutter

Prologue
After thoroughly enjoying last year’s West Country meet as a new member, I decided to take my Victoria 34 cutter Ruby Star to the 2017 Brittany Meet. I had booked Simon Wilkinson, whom I had first met in submarines at Faslane nearly 50 years ago, but needed two more sailors, preferably RCC members. I attended the excellent Winter/Spring dinners on the lookout for any members who would be boatless this summer. I was able to recruit Gillie Green at the Great Anchorages dinner as her Starlight 35 Surgical Spirit was being shipped back from Turkey for her two nephews. The Annual Dinner yielded Sue Greenall who had done little sailing since selling her Bowman 49 Capricho over ten years ago but felt she might now do more.  These two brave ladies undertook to sail to and from the Meet with a skipper and small yacht they did not know but they both knew Simon Wilkinson, mainly through skiing trips, and that was enough!

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The Outbound Route

The start
We set off from Port Solent at 1315 on Wednesday 14 June conscious that it would have to be a fast passage to the Vilaine river as we had to arrive on Monday 20 June at the latest due to lock closures on the Tuesday and Wednesday. I had already undertaken to pick Sue up from Jersey where she lives. Due to some favourable tides, we were able to call her mobile from just off the Corbiere lighthouse to say we would be some 90 minutes early on our ETA of 1330 on the Thursday at the St Helier marina holding pontoon – mainly due to Simon doing 13 knots through the Alderney Race!

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The Ruby Star team of Gillie, Simon, Sue & Guy

The net
We were underway again, now with our full team, at about 1500 on Thursday 15 June. Sue had already endeared herself to us all by bringing 12 bottles of wine with her. However, disaster struck when we became entangled with a trawl net lingering just below the surface about 10 metres long soon after passing the Corbiere lighthouse at about 1800. There was little wind and we were under the engine which stopped dead.  The net was too thick to easily cut free and too heavy to get on board, but we could sail at just over one knot, with the tide, back towards St Helier, towing the large expanse of net. We thought about going into a bay with Sue bravely volunteering to dive down with a sharp knife between her teeth! This was unlikely to succeed and we were anyway worried about possible damage to the shaft and prop. There was nothing for it but to call Jersey Coastguard. A sympathetic voice said one of the VTS (Vessel Traffic Services) small craft would meet us at the start of the harbour approach and tow us in for a lift out the following day. Simon did an excellent job in steering us crabwise under sail towards the rendezvous point – concerned about the many rocks which extend along the south coast of Jersey. To make good a course of 072 we had to steer due north (arctan 3), because of the three knot east going tidal stream. St Helier VTS were most proficient in managing to cut off a large amount of the net and deposit us back on the holding pontoon. We ruefully prayed that that we could get a lift out at short notice and that there would be no damage. There was nothing for it that night but to tuck in to a ‘get to know each other’ meal on board and start in on the wine.

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Remains of the Net

Fortunately, we got an early lift the next day, the remains of the net were removed and there was no damage. We were underway again at 1150 on the Friday, a day late and very pessimistic about making the Vilaine river lock on the following Monday.
                       
Sprint to South Brittany
It was clear that the skipper would have to abandon his ‘best laid plans’ for overnight stops at L’Aberwrac’h and Camaret – mainly to time the Chenal de Four and Raz de Sein. We just sailed straight on, regardless of tide, mostly motor sailing as there was little wind and predominantly from the wrong direction. We hit the Raz at about 1200 on the Saturday, very fortunately with the tide, but at about 1400 the engine died. We were out of fuel! The skipper then remembered that when he had a generator removed from under the saloon table, he replaced it with a 25l container of emergency diesel. This was duly poured into the tank and we were underway again. The skipper got no credit for his emergency fuel, instead it was pointed out that the fuel gauge was over reading by 25l and our fuel consumption doubled at nearly 3000 revs over that at 2000 revs. No criticism was allowed on board, only suggestions for improvement (Ruby Star Rule 6), so it was tactfully put that way. To our surprise we made Loctudy marina by 1950 on the evening of Saturday 17 June.

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Loctudy marina – direct from Jersey

There we were able to fill our fuel tank plus container and luxuriate in hot showers followed by a good meal on board plus wine!

The Houat anchorage
Our effervescent team were all up for a 0430 slip to make the planned Ile de Houat anchorage by the Sunday evening where we had invited Wender (Sam & Sue Poole) some time ago to join us for supper. There were reservations expressed as to whether she would show up but, apparently, long standing members of the RCC always make a rendezvous and a mobile call agreed that Treac’h Salus to the south of Houat would be suitable. Wender duly wafted alongside for 1930 aperitifs while our mastermind of victuals, Gillie, got busy with the meal. Gillie was a marvel with food organisation throughout the trip! Over drinks, Sue Greenall was able to explain to Sam that she was not just a pilot and skier but had once lived on board her own yacht for 10 years and sailed far and wide, mostly two handed plus two children born in the process. I have to say her sailing pedigree shone through; moreover, she was always early for her watch, night and day. There was much revelry and salty stories from the three submariners listened to with feigned politeness, helped by some excellent red and white wine which followed beer, gin and pimm’s. Sam wisely decided after the festivities to ease away and anchor separately rather than risk a middle of the night pyjama party if we dragged; never actually a risk as that consummate sailor Simon had done the anchoring.

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Wender (Sam & Sue Poole) anchored with us at Houat

Making the Arzal lock
Weighed anchor promptly at 0600, with some throbbing heads but intent on not showing any resulting diminution of powers. We proceeded under engine as again little wind and from the wrong direction. Got the timing right for the 1100 (local) lock, followed by fuel at the Arzal marina

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The Arzal Lock

and an alongside on pontoon A at La Roche Bernard marina, assisted by the supreme organiser Guy Graham. Our arrival time of 1330 (local) was as sent by Guy to Guy over a week beforehand – amazingly, deadly accurate, thanks to our new 40hp Volvo Penta engine and a resourceful team on board who had bonded so effectively throughout the turbulent passage.

Fun and conviviality in LRB
Monday evening drinks on board Ruby Star with Peter and Sandy Bruce and their Owl team which included guest sailor Michael Coombs and Italian maiden Paula who spoke English better than all of us! We entertained again on Tuesday with Mike Pidsley and some Gas Pirates for drinks including Sarah Gleadell who had so kindly guided me during the Beaulieu Meet last year, also Hilary Keatinge who was in LRB taking photographs for the website.

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Eve & Hilary in Ruby Star at LRB

Eve Bonham-Cozens RCC, plus Guy and Mary Graham, stayed for supper on board during which we all too frankly exposed our biographical histories. Eve had a house ashore in which she had spent many years and regaled us with stories of widespread offshore sailing with Clare Francis although she is now a successful author of torrid fiction. She had actually been invited as a guest of Sue who had sailed with her in the Bahamas some years ago. She was to generously open her local house to all RCC members. The gourmet dinner ashore on Wednesday had some nine courses and skilfully mixed up all the crews.
   
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Gillie poised for the gourmet dinner

The subsequent sing song went on well into the night. I sat next to circumnavigator David Pirie at the dinner which resulted in him and Marcia coming on board the next day for lunchtime drinks with a copy of ‘Travellers on a Trade Wind’ for me, a very well written account by Marcia. I had also started reading, ‘The Lost Journey Homeward’ by Eve Bonham (her pen name), another compelling book. The Commodore organised a safari supper for the remaining yachts on the Thursday evening. I was delighted to receive a hand written personal letter from him in the afternoon telling me to provide a starter on board for seven and proceed to other yachts for the main course and desert. It listed the various people I would be with. When I discovered that all the participants had received similar letters, I realised what a brilliant organisational feat had been created in a limited time and that a former Olympic oarsman was not all brawn! It proved highly successful and was much appreciated by all.

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The Inbound Route

Could we make it back home in time?
The Ruby Star team had allowed two weeks out of their crowded diaries for the Meet and I had to get them back accordingly. We duly slipped at 0625 (BST) on Friday 23 June to make the 0800 (local) lock. That turned out fine but I had foolishly disregarded Peter Bruce the previous evening when he asked if I had looked at the estuary tides for the early lock. We wafted along towards the Vilaine entrance with the water getting shallower and shallower. I was on watch with Gillie and ignored her when she said it would be better to follow the yacht ahead which was taking a slightly different route from us. We draw 1.6m and could no longer get through the mud when 1.4m was showing. Again, Rule 6 came into operation and Simon came up to deploy the anchor and Sue dispensed drinks while I tried to defend the indefensible! It cost us an hour on an already tight schedule. Nevertheless, we made the planned Locmaria anchorage in Ile de Groix at 1920, although we had to back off from this picture location as there were rocks there at 2m.

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Locmaria Ile de Groix – too shallow to anchor just here

Battle with the French Navy
We weighed anchor promptly at 0600 the next day bound for Audierne with Simon and Sue on watch. A couple of hours later, Ruby Star crossed half a mile ahead of a French frigate heading east. It was soon apparent that we were mixed in with the Queen Mary 2,

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Close to the Queen Mary 2

a French Assault Landing ship and four French destroyer/frigates in close formation (probably at half-mile spacing) for an aerial photo opportunity. One escort was leading the QM2 who had an escort on each beam with the other big ship astern and the final frigate behind that.

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Ruby Star and the French Navy

We were between the starboard frigate and the QM2 so altered to steer west to comb their tracks. A 20m Gendarmerie Maritime coastguard cutter, presumably posted to keep yachts clear, came alongside our starboard beam and indicated by shouting and pointing that we were to steer south, under the frigate’s bow. Instead, Simon wisely turned to point the frigate’s stern which seemed to enrage the Douaniers who used Cod War tactics to try and force us round, while the frigate sounded many short blasts on his siren. Ruby Star was reluctant to be sliced in half, so managed to duck under the Douarnier’s stern using full starboard wheel and looped the loop, by which time she could steer south under the frigate’s stern to proceed on the course wanted.
The coastguard cutter then went off in a huff and we resumed our old course as soon as the formation was clear. There may have been some choice French words on VHF afterwards but not on our channels.

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Aggravation from the coastguard

The skipper slept on below oblivious during this interaction as the highly competent team of Simon and Sue did not consider he could add anything; they were right about that! The spirited altercation did not prevent us getting into Audierne marina at 1645 on Saturday 24 June.

Audierne to L’Aberwrac’h
Alerted by the yacht inboard of us that low water was very low (springs), we slipped out from the marina at 0615 and anchored safely in the harbour entrance for a communal breakfast. Weighed anchored at 0830 and went on our way to do the Raz and Chenal in one tide. This was uneventful with a benign sea state. We were alongside inside the wavebreaker at L’Aberwrac’h marina at 1720. There the team were kind enough to take the relieved skipper out to supper ashore which was much appreciated.

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Ruby Star at L’Aberwrac’h

Overnight to Jersey
We had a leisurely start at 1030 on Monday 26 June to ensure we did not arrive in Jersey during the small hours. After much motoring (again), we duly ran out of fuel at 0220 and had to replenish from the can. However, a burst of sailing raised night time spirits and, with Sue on the wheel across St Aubin’s Bay, visible from her elevated house and garden, we arrived on the St Helier marina holding pontoon at 0800 on Tuesday 27 June as planned. There we said our emotional farewells to Sue over breakfast and hoped that she would not fall asleep during her aeronautical dinner that evening. We were underway again at 1150 after replenishing our fuel.

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Sue – always a sailor

The lobster pots
Another shock; the engine stopped dead at about 1430. This time we found ourselves entangled in lobster pot lines somewhere between Jersey and Sark. With a three knot tide beneath us we were unable to reach any of the lines and remained rooted to the spot, anchored by the stern by what we were told later were probably 15 pots joined in a line.

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Remains of the lobster pot lines

Again we contacted the Jersey coastguard who fortunately did not appear to remember us. They called out the St Helier lifeboat who was with us by 1620.

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Lifeboat to the rescue

It took two burly lifeboat men an hour trying to grapple the lines to cut us free. The coxn then decided to pass a line from the lifeboat to pull our bows to face the tidal stream. In pulling us round, the pot line holding us parted. We were then towed somewhat ignominiously back to the St Helier entrance where the lifeboat brought us alongside them and then manoeuvred us on to the holding pontoon with great skill, watched with some trepidation by surrounding yachts.

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Being secured alongside the lifeboat

We were back on the pontoon by 1920 contemplating yet another lift out the following day – and Gillie and Simon missing their scheduled trains from Portsmouth stations. Quel dommage!

Overnight to Port Solent
Underway again at 1305 on Wednesday 28 June and keeping a sharper watch, we set out to make the tidal gates at the Alderney race and the Needles. Both were achieved without incident and we managed to cross the shipping lanes with only one on watch although it was lively at times with 28 knots of wind at one stage. With Simon and me asleep, Gillie, on the final night watch, got us up to the Needles on schedule. We were then in our Port Solent marina berth at 1310 on Thursday 29 June – just a day later than planned and in time for the afternoon trains.

Epilogue
It was an adventurous trip for us with a tight timescale and initial unknowns together with several incidents but I discovered that you can always rely on RCC members, whatever their cruising backgrounds. We turned out to be a great team, with diverse skills, which dove-tailed well together and we all survived the close living conditions with tolerance and humour.

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Simon checking the navigation

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Guy planning and plotting

Everybody enjoyed themselves hugely, at least that is what they said and we did have a lot of laughs, even in adversity! In La Roche Bernard, it was all very convivial and well organised; a Meet in true RCC tradition. Overall, I could not have been more fortunate with the crew dynamics. We kept watches two and two, with three hours on during the day and four at night. Partners changed round halfway in LRB. Ruby Star behaved perfectly throughout, as did our jovial team, although we would all have relished more actual sailing and some downwind. Moreover, those who said we would be better off going skiing were confounded!

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