We made it! After months of damp and cold, and slow sailing around England’s south coast waiting for an opportunity to escape the UK and resume our travels, we crossed to France once we had the all-clear to travel.
Using the antiquated mode of mailing, we slipped our C1331 ‘Leaving the UK’ form in the letterbox and departed Helford River towards the French port of Brest. In the saturating mizzle we sailed out of Helford River, only to be trailed by UK Border Force who politely quizzed us about our movements before steaming back to Falmouth. Strict entry regulations are in place for sailors into the UK so the Border Force are literally out in force. Additionally, the arrival of key G7 leaders and entourage in Cornwall brought a heavier presence of security around Falmouth and the wider region.
Crossing the busy shipping lanes from the UK to France, was fine and at night the ships’ lights are clearly visible and they are also identifiable on AIS. Still not as daunting as crossing the Singapore straits, I reckon though. Fishing boats can be a problem as they tend to weave back and forth with little warning of their impending manoeuvre, and there’s always the situation where a vessel isn’t on AIS.
To arrive at the head of the Chenal du Four where currents can run up to 6kn we slowed down to catch the south-flowing current at the right time.
Fortunately, UK phone carriers did not ex-communicate themselves from the EU during BREXIT and we can roam with our phones and data like before. Phoning ahead I arranged a berth at the Chateau Marina in Brest.
On June 9, France officially opened its doors to travellers from the UK. While we, as sailors, may have travelled earlier, we would have had to quarantine for seven days on arrival. It would have been a shame to have missed this region.
Having a full-vaccination certificate negated the need to have an expensive PCR test (around £150 each in the UK) and we were welcomed in to the Port of Brest and our passports now stamped into the Schengen zone. With blue skies and a temperature in Brest some 10 degrees warmer than Helford River, it really feels like we are in a new country!
Brest is a busy militarised port town so we stayed only long enough to clear in, buy some wine and cheese then we headed out and began our sail south.
The Brittany region of France is popular with sailors and the weather changed for the better with temperatures in the mid-20s. Scrouging around the lockers, I dragged out pairs of shorts, T-shirts, thongs (flip-flops) and dusted off my French language books.
The Bay of Biscay is notorious for variable and strong winds, high tides and swift currents, with many shallow entries to navigate to escape the weather. Heading south and making good use of northerly wind, we sailed 17nm offshore to go around the shallows at Pointe du Raz rather than fight against the strong currents through the Raz de Sein as the timing wasn’t good for a passage through. From Brest to Benodet took 14 hours and after a day of sunshine filling up our batteries through the new solar panels, we dropped the hook at Anse de Benodet at midnight, with just enough astronomical twilight to see the horizon. By 1am, it was pitch black.
Our next stop 34nm south was the pleasant seaside town of Port Louis in the Lorient area. Here we stopped only one night before heading the Golfe de Moubihan a further 35nm south. Heavy skies, no wind and rain, we motor-sailed this leg to arrive late afternoon where we anchored to the south of Ile de Moines.
Spain is 250nm to the south and with the 90-day Schengen clock ticking, we will stay a little longer in France before making a run south.
Until then… tick-tock…