2008 – The 100 Island Cruise

I have a theory that there is nothing more likely to ruin a short holiday cruise than a plan that is set in stone.  We had loaned our Dutch charts to a friend,  so Holland was out, but all other options were open as I staggered home from work on a Friday night and settled in front of a computer for some serious study of the weather.
It had been a brutal couple of months – and although the lows were still going to be streaming across, the Azores high was definitely due to migrate further north for a while to push the bad weather into Scotland and Ireland. Equally this same high would leave a permanent  northerly gale by Cape Finisterre, so that a rapid trip to NW Spain looked high risk. South Brittany seemed a better option but with SW winds for a while and then a few light days on the cards; it looked like an ideal time to visit the Scillies before heading south.

With Lynda , Bryony and Philip on board , we fetched into the Channel on Saturday night in a fresh NW wind, planning to get far enough South to take Sundays forecast SW wind all the way down Channel – which by and large we did – arriving off Helford at dusk. Since dawn we had had   15 knots and bright sunshine with the boat sailing herself to windward whilst Lynda Bryony and myself started to make inroads into the enormous pile of books on board. A few tacks to get round the Lizard and we were able to ease sheets a bit to fetch St Agnes by dawn to anchor in  typical warm sector drizzle and mist.

The rain cleared by midday so we pootled over to our favourite anchorage under Fort Blockhouse on the N coast of Tresco and spent the next 4 days walking, canoeing, exploring and snoozing amid many of the myriad islands and many anchorages in this wonderful archipelago. The neap tides allowed us plenty of choice of anchorage – despite the NW wind – which can be quite a difficult direction in these parts.  For the first time ever we explored the Eastern isles, which we had more or less to ourselves – if you don’t count the seals which kept popping up to examine the canoe.

I wanted to try out a twin pole, 2 headsail down wind rig and Fridays forecast offered us a brisk reach to Ushant, with a veering wind to take us on   from there. It might serve perfectly.  We sped South and round the outside of the Ushant TSS with 20 knots on the beam – but not long after  the wind came astern it died off to 12 , which was not enough for our twin headsail rig . Down it came but once we were under spinnaker  sods law brought an increase to   20  + knots again and before long we were down to 2 reefs and a poled out No 3 . In retrospect we should have kept to the twin headsails but it was a useful experience and we were able to sort out the best leads for the various uphauls and downhauls and sheets. With more than 15 knots  and a long passage to make it worthwhile – it should be an ideal rig.

Our ETA at Port Joinville on the isle de Yeu was at 0300 on our second night at sea .This was low water  – so we hove- to for 90 minutes  5 miles to windward of the harbour entrance  to wait for sufficient  rise of tide. In retrospect there seemed to be a bit of shelter from the NW wind – possibly because the swell was Westerly – and we would probably have been safe at low water- but a strange entrance at night deserves a bit of respect .

The harbour was very crowded and we came alongside the only boat not double berthed, receiving  a very frosty welcome from the occupants the next morning as  if we had no right  to be entering a harbour at 4 am.  8 days out of Hamble, this was our first stop in a harbour and already  I was feeling irritated! Luckily for us we were able to move away from our (English) “friends” and spend 2 days cycling, swimming  and enjoying  the rather special   feel of the island with its wonderful rocky west coast , white painted cottages  and distinctly Mediterranean feel.  We also took advantage of the truly immense poisonnerrie  , and Lynda cooked a memorable supper of Brill.

On the face of it ,  a NE wind should have been  ideal for a passage to Belle Isle  , but the sun had other ideas and as it grew hotter , so the wind died off , to be replaced with a  NW sea breeze straight on the nose.  We didn’t complain, as there are few things more pleasant than a beat in hot 12 knot wind and flat seas  – and if we arrived too late to anchor in the tiny (and slightly scary)  Port Gouphar, there was plenty of room in the far safer Port Kerel. Next morning the astonishing anchorage of Ster Wenn was already full, so we sailed on round the North of Belle Isle and visited Treach er Beniguet, a pretty little anchorage on the W end of Houat – before making our way onto the Morbihan for the night.

If there is more fun to be had than beating into the Morbihan with 6 knots of spring flood under you, I have yet to experience it. Islands flash past, eddies lie in wait, and there are always other boats around to pit your wits against. High point of this evening was a motorboat who sped past us at a highly illegal 15 knots, only to go slap into a counter current and disappear off astern again! As ever, it looks a great place to explore if you have sufficient leisure to do it justice. That will have to wait for another time, but tonight we had to be content with an idyllic sheltered anchorage behind one of the many islands before setting off north next morning for another gentle beat to the Glenans.

The Glenans are one of our absolute favourite anchorages, being in effect a miniature   version of the Scillies, but with the advantage of several safe havens within a few hours sail.  One of these is the Odet estuary – whence we sailed the next day to pick up Ben and Barney who had travelled, via a somewhat circuitous route, to Benodet to join us for our last week. We celebrated that evening in one of the many restaurants of the pretty little village of Sainte Marine , but feeling that this brief sojourn  in  civilisation  was quite enough , we were up at 0300 to get back out to the islands and an 0700 rendezvous for a dive with the local plongeurs , and another day of exploring the archipelago.

The forecasts were now predicting a return to the rowdy  South Westerly winds that have been so much a feature of our summer – so it was time to move round to the relative shelter of  North Brittany . The Isle  de Batz is 120 miles away , but you can take a  fair tide all the way from the the Raz de Sein – which is what we did – arriving at the anchorage opposite Roscoff at 0300 , just as the wind began to howl. We had to drop Barney and Bryony off at  Torquay for the Firefly nationals  in 3days , so spent a day exploring Batz , , a day in Morlaix and a couple of nights anchored in complete shelter in the Bay  de Sainte Barbe just to the east.

The crossing to Torquay started off at dawn  under kite – but as we got out of the lee of Brittany , so the wind and sea built  impressively , giving us a fast and exciting ride  with an average of nearly 8 knots for the trip. The trip  home from Torquay , whilst not quite so windy , gave us a challenge of a different kind – dense fog . In years gone by  this would have been pretty stressful , but radar and AIS gave us a feeling of control and confidence  that allowed us to enjoy the passage and reflect on what an awesome passage making machine we now  have in Festina Lente.

We like islands. The Scillies , Yeu , Belle-Isle, Houat , the islands of the Morbihan and Glenans , and finally Batz – these are all wild and special  places , and whilst the weather was not perfect , modern forecasting gave us sufficient information to plan our route to use the winds , rather than fight them . Add in  a capable and companiable  ships company  and you have the final ingredient for a wonderfully enjoyable summer cruise.