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Piers and Lin du Pré are the owners of the Fleming 55 Play d'eau, based in Beaucette Marina, Guernsey in the Channel Islands at N49° 30’.197 W002° 30’.350.

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Leg 17 – La Roche Bernard to Port Louis – 25 August 2013

Our ‘inaccessible by land’ river pontoon at La Roche Bernard. The only other habited boat moored alongside us
click to enlarge

We’d had a brilliant six days at La Roche Bernard, not the least because we met Chris and Sue of Yacht Aquitaine again, whom we’d first met in Vannes.

The forecast was good but reality was to prove very different for our journey to Lorient.

En route to Arzal lock

0530 and the alarm woke us from a deep sleep. As I struggled to prise my eyes open I was thinking of good reasons not to go, but a strong cup of coffee from Lin soon put paid to the ideas.

Stepping out of the saloon to sniff the weather, total cloud cover drew blinds on any light from the night sky; so different from the previous night when clear sky allowed a huge full moon and countless stars to light the valley as clear as daylight. A NW F2 breeze ruffled wavelets in the river. The air felt damp. Silence was being broken as terns woke and began chirruping the first calls of the morning.

Before dawn broke, the FLIR thermal image showed three yachts on mooring buoys and the Roche of La Roche Bernard behind them
click to enlarge

The plan was to leave La Roche Bernard at 0700, head downstream to Arzal and take their first lock of the day at 0800.

Our 200m river pontoon was home to only one other inhabited boat which had chosen to be immediately next door to us. Wanting to be quiet we waited until 0640 to crane the dinghy onto the saloon roof. In the remnants of the night’s cloak the crane’s motor screamed as it lifted ‘T/T Play d’eau’ at which point the yacht’s two man crew popped out of the cabin, thanked us for the alarm call and made ready to cast off for the same lock as ourselves.

The nav plan

Today there were no pinch points to worry about and the plan was straight forward. As long as the weather played its part, or more accurately, as long as the forecasters were on our side, there’d be no problems at all.

The weather

The forecasts and synoptic charts showed the wind being N/NW F4 becoming N/NE F4/5 as the fronts passed.

This would be perfect and coincide with our plan to traverse the Teignouse channel through the reef at the base of the Quiberon peninsula, separating the Baie de Quiberon from the Atlantic Ocean.

At the Arzal sluice barrier the Cormorants were waiting for breakfast
click to enlarge

Given we’d be on a 1kt falling tide (helping us along), the NE’ly meant the wind wouldn’t be against us. If it had been it would have created a classic wind against tide scenario, building waves and swell, made worse as the sea funnelled through the channel over the reef.

The journey

As dawn’s light began to penetrate the clouds, we cast off, bid La Roche Bernard farewell and meandered gently downriver to Arzal’s Lock where we waited only ten minutes before it opened and allowed us to enter.

About an hour after leaving the lock and wending our way to the sea, it seemed the wind was probably a notch stronger than forecast but nothing worth being concerned about in the least.

Three and a half hours later as we neared the Quiberon peninsula, Lin and I had been urging the wind to be as forecast but it stubbornly refused to budge. As if to dig its heels in and show just how belligerent it could be, it backed to W’ly and increased to top end F5 and edged into F6.

Waiting for the lock gates to open to let us out to the tidal part of La Vilaine river
click to enlarge

This created a 1½ mile stretch of somewhat challengingly large and steep waves over the reef giving Lin and I the dubious pleasure of one moment seeing the sky, the next the ocean floor, then the sky again and the ocean floor again, as Play d’eau rode the bronco for the next fifteen minutes.

Once through the reef and heading NW to Lorient, the sea calmed to a gentle Atlantic swell and we could breathe again.

A blessing

Nearing Lorient and some three miles east of Île de Groix, we espied a flock of cormorants swimming on the water, which, on closer inspection was a small school of dolphins, playing and jumping! How brilliant was that?

Our unpleasant memories of the Teignouse channel roller-coaster just evaporated.

Arriving

Halfway to Lorient, the sea behind us was agitated and the remnants of a front hung over a lone yacht
click to enlarge

The entrance to Lorient is a really narrow 135m wide from zero contour to zero contour. Since it was absolute low tide it was even less. Traffic was reasonably dense in both directions with many yachts and small fishing craft. To keep ‘in the flow’ Play d’eau was at idle and 5 knots. Sensibly, sail boats were pulling their sails down before entering the channel and running in under power.

There had to be one…

But there had to one, didn’t there, who insisted on entering the channel under sail alone. Not a problem in itself, but a potential problem. He’d been overtaking other boats and was now some 75m on my port side. All was well until the high walls of the ramparts to our starboard took his wind whereupon he immediately turned straight for me.

Nearing the Lorient entrance we kept to starboard ready to take the next channel to Port Louis I pulled all power off hoping he’d pass in front. Turning to starboard wasn’t an option; I was already as far to starboard as possible ready to turn into the next channel for Port Louis marina.


click to enlarge

Turning to port would have hit him. Engaging reverse power would have taken far too long to effect Play d’eau’s 35 tonnes of inertia, as would increasing forward power to accelerate. Even with fresh wind in his sails he kept on coming straight for me. Coming into ear shot he shouted ‘Give way! Sail!’.

What could I do? Evaporate? Almost hitting us and just before going about, he shouted, ‘You should plan and anticipate. We have sail.’

I felt like bellowing ‘9b’ (sail doesn’t have right of way in a narrow channel where a craft is restricted in its ability to manoeuvre) but was so stunned at his arrogance, I didn’t. It should have been he who planned and anticipated, not me. Where’s the Gattling gun when you most need it?

However, in complete contrast, a delightful and welcoming girl from the Capitainerie came out in a dory to greet us and shepherd us to our berth. Just as earlier with the dolphins, it’s so good that a blessing can ameliorate a growl-inducing event.

Peace descended, and we forgave the forecasters.

Port Louis the next morning. Peace reigned as dawn broke
click to enlarge

The tecky details

Departed La Roche Bernard – 0710
Arrived Arzal lock – 0754
Departed Arzal lock – 0824
Arrived Port Louis – 1534
Time on passage – 8hr 24min
Total planned distance – 55.3nm
Longest leg – 17.8nm from Basse des Mats to NE Teignouse SHM
Tides – almost midway from Springs to Neaps
Tech issues – nil
Incidents – ‘There had to be one…’

Piers and Lin
From the Nav Table of
Play d’eau
Fleming 55

You can get in touch with us any time by using our Contact Form.

4 comments to Leg 17 – La Roche Bernard to Port Louis – 25 August 2013

  • Hi Piers and Lin – not surprised you got in a tangle with a sailing boat in a narrow channel. We had a recent experience in the River Medina where we kept Formanda well to one side of the river and on a constant course and low speed to give various day sailers max room as they were tacking up. But we had one larger sailing cruiser come up from astern into the small gap on our starboard side then try to claim we were in their way – I would have dearly loved to have a pocket-sized ColRegs to chuck at them pinned to the page regarding overtaking rules.

    Mind you unfortunately it can equally be power too. Yesterday we had a crazy guy at the helm of a 35ftish sports cruiser come charging through the small craft channel in Portsmouth as if his life dependent on it (and others didn’t). He came pretty close to wiping out half a dozen boats and got five blasts from me for his pains. Sadly I forgot to warn the foredeck crew…equally sadly the volunteer patrol missed the incident.

    • Hi Kim,

      It’s very rare I want to criticise anyone on the water (we’re all there to enjoy our sport), but I have to say the anger at the ineptitude stayed with me for quite some time; the unfairness, the arrogance, the selfishness, the complete lack of seamanship….

      And hearing of your escapades and narrow escapes just shows how easy it is for idiots that think they know better to threaten property and life. Mind you, your Kahlenbergs probably did their fair share of damage to the hearing of your crew!

      Enough of my ranting. I’m going to enjoy the rest of our romp around the Brittany coast. Mind you, Lin and I have agreed a code to ensure any crew gets well out of the way of the Kahlanbergs if there’s any chance of needing to sound them.

      Piers

  • Pip

    Did you have to change your trousers after that incident, Piers? Why does the Isle of Wight spring to my mind?
    Well done for your restraint … you should have given him “the bird” complete with the Gallic Shrug!
    Pxx

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