Impressionist painters loved the light of Southern Brittany. Crossing the Bay of Biscay on mid-summer's night at sunset, the boat sailed through intense and mesmerising golden light. During early morning and at dusk, on hot clear days, this creates a sense of awe and wonder. As in biblical and spiritual stories, this phenomena moves the soul. Angels, gods and goddesses live in this world.
When the gods hid, weather fronts zipped in off the ocean. Seeking shelter from the force six winds gusting to forty knots, we piloted to the security of Vannes.
It was a brilliant experience. Observing the French living life on windy summer's day helped gain insights into their culture. Despite the wild weather, the Gulf du Morbihan was alive with sporting activities. It is safe and sheltered inland sea.
During a stormy Sunday, stand-up paddle boarders competed in the Bretagne championships. In true egalitarian style, every part of the community was involved: children, pensioners, athletes and people from the whole spectrum of society racing to complete the white-capped course.
In the same area, the city’s rowing club had twenty boats out on a fun sortie powered by some very unhealthy and out of condition rowers. They were blown into the city by the fresh westerly wind.
The rowing and stand-up paddle boarding malarkey looked like hard work; much effort and not getting anywhere fast. Not my scene.
Smarter people were skidding across the white-capped waves doing about twenty plus knots in catamarans. It was good to see women helming with men crewing these greyhound like vessels.
Windsurfing and sailing are spiritual activities that lead into another world, another way of thinking, experiencing and feeling about life. It comes from the beauty of nature and its physical forces: the sun, wind, currents, waves, ocean currents, light, clouds, stars and the moon.
Back in the real man-made world, there is part of the yachting world that is about crowding boats into marinas and rafting up when all the pontoons are full. It is not my way of doing things. At times, it is like being on the bumper cars at a fun fair. Seamanship and careful docking do not appear to be a strong feature on the sailing pedagogy. Boat crash and bash into each other as the perplexed helm woefully lack seamanship skills. It is a male thing. When you see women steering the boat into a pontoon berth, they seemed never to make a hash of it.
Just a few miles north, we moored next to a fifty foot Beneteau that had lost its mast and had major structural damage after a local fishing boat on auto pilot crashed onto its mooring. Left on the high tide early afternoon the next day to escape the bedlam.
After the rigours of pilotage in the fast Spring tide currents in the narrow Gulf channels, the boat was set up to break out into the Bay of Biscay. The weather fronts passed and winds eased. The plan was to sail north to Benodet and to watch the Euros Football Championship, the England - Wales game, then anchor in the Archipel des Glénan for a weekend anchorage.
South of the Quiberon peninsula an Atlantic swell and the wind against tide chop had the nine-meter yacht rolling. After four hours, the Soliel Noir and its poorly crew happily arrived at the heavenly Port Tudy, Ile du Croix.
Here was a place worth visiting with blue skies, hot sands, fair winds and a bar showing footy. Life is worth living at 27C.
Due east, the city of Lorient provides an excellent staging post to change crew, replenish and a secure berth. Check out the Second World War Submarine Base. The Eric Tabarly Museum gives a superb insight into French yachting as a premier water sports nation. Buy a joint ticket and also go inside a diesel submarine. Imagine being part of the crew on these boats or the factors and processes that led to the construction of the submarine pens twelve-foot-thick roof. RAF Lancaster Bombers bounced their bombs of these with no damage. Today, the base is the centre of French ocean racing.
At La Trinite, monster trimarans, the size of New York street blocks and as high skyscrapers, train their crews and maintain a fleet of the world's fastest boats. Pete Goss, the ex-Royal Marine and Ellen MacArthur, would be envious of these facilities. Ben Ainslie, the British Olympic dinghy sailor and master helmsman in the San Francisco America's Cup win for the USA, new America’s Cup HQ looks insignificant against the Brittany team bases for the Vendee Globe races.
In hot thundery conditions with variable winds, distant thunder and lightning with huge black clouds approached from the west. Heavy torrential rain pounded the boat and glassy seas. Very quickly in the middle of the Bay of Biscay, a ferocious electrical storm with sheet and fork lightning surrounded the yacht for three hours. Blind navigation was the order of the day with visibility at ten to twenty meters. The skipper carried out watch duties during the severe weather while the first mate sheltered.
Sailing is like chess. Many factors come into play. Success comes from making the best use of changing winds and making good use of currents and tides for a conveyor belt boost to help reach the destination. Careful planning, prudence, respect for the elements, a bit of luck and help from the gods are essential ingredients.
Sailing in Southern Brittany in mid-summer involves warm seas, fair winds and sublime cuisine.
Celebrating my mother's birthday and mid summers night
Eddy Jackson MBE
54° North Journal
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