In the last week of May 6 intrepid BOD sailers took the overnight ferry to St Malo and thence to Arredon on the beautiful Southern Brittany coast for la Semaine du Golfe; a week of sailing for classic boats of all shapes and sizes, from rowing gigs to three masted square riggers.
The first challenge was to get the boats, Sarah Louise and Gelasma, rigged and safely launched and berthed. Spaces were not allocated so it was a bit of a free for all, but everyone was respectful of each other’s varnish and somehow about 200 extra boats, support ribs and launches were all squeezed in.
The next challenge was putting the tents up, but once camp was established in the basic but functional local campsite, (bring your own loo roll) we were free to enjoy some excellent sailing and French hospitality.
Sunday saw a parade of sail, to welcome the tall ships into the Gulf. We were sailing next to Phoenix and were rather startled by the cannon fire between shore and ship, ending up with some of the wadding in Sarah Louise’s bilges.
Monday was a trip to the Isle du Arz for “dejourner sur le pins”. 1200 people descended on the little village which put on a paella feast, lots of wine and cider. There were Breton pipe bands, folk dancing and shanty singing to entertain the crowds.
On Tuesday we started the very well planned passage sails round the Gulf. Each fleet left its base to sail to another area, where we stayed for dinner and then got ferried back by coach to the camp site, and returned by the same the next day. This way every fleet got a chance to explore the Gulf and the islands, as well as familiarise themselves with the exciting tidal gates, between narrow rocky passages. It was not uncommon to find yourself being whisked one way, whilst the boat 20metres away was being whisked equally fast in the opposite direction by a back eddy! On one occasion I had to navigate round a whirlpool which suddenly appeared by the bow. The tiller was next to useless against the powerful current and the BOD paddles came into their own. We noticed seasoned regulars all had outboards.
Thursday and Friday was the regatta for our racing fleet. 184 boats were divided into classes with fleet racing for the local classes and handicap racing for the rest of us. There were approximately 25 in each class. The BODs were grouped with the “wolf” class; almost exactly the same shape and size, save for carvel construction and a taller rig, and 10 ” water wags” from Dublin Bay in Eire, who were hugely competitive. Cathy Murphy, ex Olympic representative in the laser radial at Seoul was the one to watch, bang on at the start line and very good at spotting the best place to get out of the tide. The racing was well organised, with 3 round the cans races each day, but ensuring a good mix of beats, reaches and runs, as well as tide and shift spotting.
The last race of the regatta was a passage sail up river to the lovely town of Le Bono. Just to challenge us the race officer set the start inside the harbour at Port Navalo, so we had to get across the tidal race at the harbour entrance. Sarah Louise got a good start, but had to deploy the paddles to prevent shipwreck on the rocks! Much debate amongst the crew followed. Being decent sporting chaps, we decided that we would have to retire, however on reaching shore we discovered everyone else had paddled or turned their outboard on and really it was expected!
With absolutely no idea how the French handicap system worked we attended the prize giving and celebratory meal on Friday night without any expectations, to discover that we had won our class with 5 firsts. Much drinking and dancing followed…
Saturday was the grand finale, a massive parade of sail from outside the entrance of the Gulf at Port Navalo, all the way up to Vannes, the principal town in Brittany. There were 1480 classic boats in the parade and numerous local boats alongside, all cheering us on. As before each fleet was attached to a tall ship and we massed at the entrance to the port and sailed through the Gulf. The French absolutely love classic boats and every available inch of shoreside space was taken up by picnicking families who waved, cheered and photographed us all the way into the city centre. It was exciting going up the narrow canal into the city, no wind so there was a lot of paddling for the crew. We were alongside Eric Tabarly’s beautiful yachts, the original Pen Duick and Pen Duick 2. Vannes was en fete with lots of stalls, food, music and a stunning light show.
We left Sarah Louise in a luxurious finger pontoon berth in the middle of the city and returned the next day to lift her out onto the trailer.
It was a fantastic week, lovely weather, strong but not too strong winds and gorgeous scenery. The Gulf really has it all, challenging sailing, sandy beaches and coves and welcoming bars and restaurants. There are no entrance fees. All we paid was 12 euros each for camping, breakfast and transport each day.
Come and join us in 2019!
Celia Charlton – C30 – Sarah Louise