Neptune rules the waves

Meteorology is an inexact science with an almost infinite number of variables contributing to the final outcome. The classic apocryphal tale to illustrate this is a butterfly sneezing somewhere in central America , which subtly changes its micro-environment . This change gradually feeds into the mystery that is local , regional and eventually worldwide weather with the net result that we get yet another wet Bank Holiday in Britain! Yesterday I wrote ( rather smugly I suspect!) about the miracle of modern forecasting making life on the ocean wave so much easier , without realising that it probably irritated the hell out of Neptune. It appears he decided to teach me a lesson.

First he put a hex on the computer – or perhaps the sat phone. Whatever it was , for the first time for a year we were incommunicado and were back to the traditional weather forecasting of barometer and an eye on the horizon. Next , possibly because the effect of butterflies has been overrated , he caused a whole pod of whales to fart somewhere off the Azores , with the result that a small low which had been confidently predicted to be of no consequence , took on a new lease of life , picked up vast quantities of water in the form of thunder clouds , and headed east.

The first indication that all was not well was when Lynda woke me just before dusk saying “I don’t like the look of those clouds astern!” Neither did I! They were tall dark and ugly, with those curly bits at the bottom which suggest you treat them with respect. Rapidly we shifted jibs and slabbed 3 reefs ( having “confidently “ expected a quiet night) and retreated below as the heavens opened. By midnight we had a steady 30 knots and rain of tropical intensity , so handed the main and lashed the boom to the deck. Through the night the rain increased to biblical proportions and we surfed downwind with practically nil visibility . Now came Neptune’s piece de la resistance , as we began to meet ships converging towards and emerging from the Ushant TSS. Thankfully we could identify them from the AIS , but radar was almost useless for both them and us as the intensity of the rain and echoes from the thunderheads obliterated all “proper” echoes until we were within 5 miles. We changed down to trysail and storm jib to be better able to manoeuvre and spent a busy few hours talking our way round them on the VHF , Lynda in the bubble peering into the murk and me glued to the nav screen like a TV addict. As dawn arose Neptune played his next card . It was now blowing 35 knots and we were approaching the continental shelf where the depth falls from several thousand to less than 200 metres in a matter of miles. I thought it would probably be OK , but it did add to the uncertainty. We went round the boat above and below lashing and stowing everything that could move and as we entered the shelf zone he played his final trump card ,sweeping the cold front past us and shutting off the wind. This left us rocking and clattering in the very rough seas which would have slatted the sails to bits had we hoisted any more. The only thing to do was turn on the engine , pull our storm sails in tight to reduce the rolling a tiny bit and admit that however many modern toys we might have , Neptune ,should he so wish , can still have the final word.

Having made his point , he soon relented and gave us a fresh SW for our final 100 miles to Belle Isle. With 3 of us to stand watch we rapidly caught up on sleep and are now anchored off Le Palais awaiting the tide to allow us to lock in to this little port. Many years ago my father and sister came here in a Brixham trawler and managed to spear a car parked on the quay with their bowsprit ,and I have been longing to visit the crime scene ever since . We are thinking of changing our surname in case the locals still remember!

With 3 on board it was noticeably less hard work in the difficult bits ,although of course there was less to do in the easy times , but on the whole I think 3 is an ideal number for long passage making. The last 100 miles were a pleasant end to a pleasant and companiable trip ( Neptune notwithstanding!) , and of course the last bit of unknown waters as we are now back in our old stamping ground. I wonder how we will feel it compares with the more “exotic” locations of the past year? But for now Festina and her crew send their regards to everyone from the chilly (17 degrees C!) but familiar waters of South Brittany . All well.


  1. Well Done!!

  2. Wecome back to mainland(ish) Europe! Sounds like the last bit was hairy, but must be great to have Bryony on board. Hearty congrats to you all, and many thanks for the insightful and entertaining blogging. Peter

  3. Well done!!

    Don’t know what we will do when there is no blog to read. Have really enjoyed following your progress – we now feel that we know what to do and where to go if we are brave enough to try a similar trip. Last weekend we took my Mum to the Bugle at Hamble for lunch. This weekend summer holidays start and we are off to Orust to start a sailing trip with our UK friends.

  4. Congrats on your safe return to Europe. I have enjoyed reading your blogs with all the little anecdotes to keep us all amused. We are heading off to W Brittany as of 26th July and may just cross paths with you somewhere. Our final destination should be Vannes.


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