The tides along the Brittany coast, especially as you get closer to Normandy, are some of the largest in the world. During a full moon at St Malo, for instance, the tide range can reach 15 meters, nearly 40 feet, or higher than a 3 story building. Not only does it require very careful planning when you are entering or leaving a harbor, or anchoring for the night, but that volume of water is flowing in and out twice a day, producing ocean currents that at their peak we could not motor or sail against. Anchoring is a real challenge. We normally set out a ‘scope’, or length of chain relative to the depth, of 4:1. In 10 meters of water, we would set out 40 meters of chain. But if the tide range adds another 10 meters of depth, we would have to put out a total of 80 meters of chain (which by the way we don’t have!), increasing our swing radius and risk of collision with other boats or the shoreline. It leads to all sorts of strange adaptations, including marinas with a lock, similar to a lock on a canal, that closes its gate to hold the high water in, and only opens for brief periods each side of high tide. Other marinas will have a large wall with a cutout to pass through, a ‘sill’, that holds back the water at low tide. You can only cross the sill at higher tides, and only after examining the height gauge on the wall or on a digital display. The inside of the marina is usually dredged to a depth to accommodate most boats, but you only leave when the tide comes in enough for you to pass safely back over the sill. If you push it and hit the sill with your keel, causing cracks in the wall leading to drainage of the pool, the damage from all the grounded boats inside would require a fast call to your lawyer to claim personal bankruptcy!
On the ocean current front, we had already started to notice larger tidal currents along the Brittany coastline since we left Belle Isle. With the jagged geography of Brittany’s peninsulas, one finds accelerated currents as the water gets squeezes as it rushes around these points into and out of the narrower English Channel. As we pulled away from the Odet River, we pointed Sea Rose’s bow towards the first of these ‘acceleration zones’, the Raz de Sein, or ‘The Race at Sein’ (a point of land in the area). The pilot book was rife with warnings to transit the Raz at slack water – the time of greatest calm while the current is changing direction – and to make sure that slack was followed by favorable current in your planned direction. We chose to aim for the small seaside town of Audierne first, just before the Raz, for our overnight in order to get the timing right the next day.
There are many notable coastlines that France shares with the sea. There’s the glitzy French Riviera which conjure up images of Jackie 0 and other celebrities cavorting on their beautiful Mediterranean yachts. There are the beaches of Normandy, forever etched in our minds with the difficult memories of D – Day. Here too, the northern coast with the port of Dunkirk, and the weighty toll of evacuating Allied troops. For sailors, the area around La Rochelle is infamous for its mecca of sailors, and the start of globe-trotting races such as the Vendee Globe, and the upcoming The Race Around. But the Brittany coast where we will sail through next, is lesser known and a step further away from the itineraries of most tourists. Brittany, as you undoubtedly guessed from the name, has its roots in Britain. The people of Brittany, or Bretons, are considered part of the Celtic ethnic group, along with the Cornish and Welsh, and their native Breton language is still spoken by several thousand people in the area. Today, it is easy to miss these unique ethnic roots among the tourist shops selling the perennial clothing and accessories of Brittany easily identified with their vertical blue and white stripes. But Karen and I endeavored to drill deeper and understand this large peninsula of France far removed geographically from the cultural epicenter that is Paris.
After a successful crossing of the Bay of Biscay, and reuniting Dan and Don with their spouses, Karen and I struck out on our own again with the comfort of knowing that one of our biggest technical hurdles of the summer was already over. With the spike in adrenaline from the crossing, it would not be hard for us to set out along the Brittany coast and start to gobble up miles towards our northbound goal. Such haste comes easy to both of us. But so too does the guilt of missing out on the here-and-now of local gunkholing. With so many sailboats out on the waters of the Bay of Quiberon, there had to be some nooks and crannies of historic and scenic significance eagerly waiting for two wide-eyed American tourists to visit.
Spring. It is a time of rebirth. A time to shake off the chill of winter and make haste with plans for the new season. Tasks for our upcoming summer of sailing were sprinkled across the winter like a new fallen snow; little reminders that in a region with such strongly defined seasons like New England, one can’t be too tempted to placate the present without planning for the future.
In a parallel universe two seasons ago, we had made plans over the winter to leave Greece behind and sail west out of the Mediterranean and henceforth along the Iberian peninsula to cross the Bay of Biscay from Spain to France. We had read stories of the Bay of Biscay, nearly all of a dire nature. Monstrous waves – the kind that bury the bow in water – temperamental winds, a large enough expanse to be beyond immediate help, and a sudden change in depth forcing the incoming ocean swells into a witch’s cauldron halfway across. It wasn’t until our insurance company charged an additional premium and required additional safety gear onboard for the crossing did I start to take these stories more seriously. Among the gear, we were required to install a higher capacity bilge pump.
With our circumnavigation of France halfway completed, we headed east from the coastal Normandy region to check out the eastern portion of the country. On the way, one passes nearby the countryside village of Giverny, most famous as the residence of Claude Monet. Giverny is where Monet spent the last 40 years of his life. He built out a substantial studio at his residence, and planted expansive flower gardens, followed later by an Oriental style floating garden across the street. These grounds become the subject matter of many of his most famous Impressionist paintings. Today, you can tour his home and studio, and stroll through the flower gardens and past the flowing streams and ponds, all of which lead to a visual sensory overload. For sure it is an SD-card busting experience. Continue reading “Around and Round We Go, Round Two, Ep. 95”
If you rent a car to explore France, like we did, you’ll need to get up close and personal with roundabouts. The French, and I suspect a lot of other Europeans, love these quintessential urban infrastructure anachronisms. On the one hand, they are highly efficient traffic cops, shepherding cars to their next exit without delay. On the other hand, they are technology-free, minimalist designs that could easily have existing hundred of years ago, and in fact they did, making your driving experience a true journey back through the centuries.
For some reason, Karen and I had never, collectively or on our own, ever visited France. Maybe it was my high school language choice of German (which didn’t get me too far in Germany!), or our leaning towards warm, tropical get aways. I must admit that after hearing several friends come home from France and report that the French were tough on those that didn’t know the language made this foreign language neophyte especially hesitant!