Ivé long had a fascination with the Brittany coast with its multitude of charming coves and harbours and lovely towns and islands and longed to see it again, unfortunately with my restricted free time I’d use most of my holiday getting there along the most dull bit of coast until you reach the channel islands and then it becomes fun and more interesting, but guaranteed the weather will have turned unsettled and I’d be storm bound for a few days waiting to proceed along the ragged northern Brittany coast.
I found a trip advertised on the classic lugger sailing from Douarnenez to Vigo in Nothern Spain over a one week period, sounded like fun and I could have a day in Douarnenez before a gentle sail over the bay to Spain, what could go wrong, early June was generally very settled weather.
Getting to Douanrnenez proved a little more involved than I anticipated, starting on a bike then a plane to Paris, then a plane to Brest, then ah !~! no Busses taxi to tram stop, then a bus to Quiper, then another bus to Douarnenez.
Having missed visiting Douarnenez on my previos voyage I was delighted to discover the picturesque harbours and visit the Maritime museum, it was amazingly quiet and I think it is the only place I have been that is surrounded by harbours on all sides, there is a a strong tradition in wooden boat building and repairing and also a boat building college.
The greyhound is a remarkable ship run by a no less remarkable a couple who had against all odds re created an 18th century revenue lugger of the type used off the Cornish coast to catch smugglers, a fascinating ship put together with much attention to detail, and an enormous amount of love and care it was really very amazing that this sort of experience could be booked at the click of a mouse!! And for a very affordable price!
Whats more they are also carrying small amounts of cargo to various ports on the way, not to mention us thrill seeker charterers.
Well after a briefing and a night at anchor we set sail into a light S W breeze being careful to try and keep well clear of the pont du raz which I could remember from my previous trip that the tide tries to suck you onto the coast if your not very careful.
The pace was kind of stately for the first period, we’d not been at sea very long before we came across a very large dead whale blotted and floating very high in the water from a distance it looked very like an upturned yacht, we reported it with some difficulty to the coastguard station on the nearest cape.
The next day we had accompaniment of dolphins which was really lovely to see, at night you could also see the white streaks under the boat as they played in our wake.
We fell into our four hour shifts and progress seemed very slow as we banged into a bit of a slop without much wind for a couple of days and then the wind started to increase and at last we were making some speed, infact the wind was approaching 6-7 in a a squall as we turned in around 2am to sleep for four hours, then there was a lot of noise and I imagined that the wooden blocks were beating hell out of the deck, little did I know then that it was the broken bowsprit banging the hull next to my berth!!
Bowsprit on deck
Around 6 am when I was due on deck I noticed that the motion had changed and we were rocking from left to right hove too, on deck the huge bowsprit had been hauled alongside and the skipper was busy trying to bring it over the bulwarks to secure it on deck.
We had left douarnenez a couple of days ago with what looked like pretty good weather forcast, however the barometer had plummeted quite dramatickly so we had to call up a ship to get a more up to date forcast, thankfully it was not expected to worsen much more in the coming hours.
It was most unfortunate losing the bowsprit as the forestay to the first of the three masts was also now gone, probably the recoil of losing the tension had cracked the mast also, meaning the sail had to be lowered and all lines were used to secure the mast so that there was no danger of it coming down.
There was now only one possibility and that was to turn round and gently sail downwind under the reduced rig back to Douarnenez for repairs which took a further day and a half. We arrived back and the weather had really deteriated and the next day ther was proper storm infact it was that storm Miguel which had cost the lives of three lifeboat men on the same coast, was glad to be in the harbour for that one !!
fordeck before the breakage
It was a shame to not make Vigo but the last couple of days chilling in Douarnenez was also no bad thing, before returning with the flix bus from Quimper, which takes it’s time but proved a very relaxed and cheap way of travelling back to the Netherlands.
It was a very memorable experience, the breakages were most unfortunate as this ship is more than well proven having previously sailed right round the atlantic, many thousand sail miles without incident!
has canonons and knows how to use them!
Of the proffesionality of the skipper and crew I can’t fault them and the boat was very well equipped and regularly checked and tested, it just goes to show that despite the best preparation and an apparent good weather forcast, were not fully master of the elements and need to treat going to sea with respect and caution as things can go rapidly wrong and do from time to time!
pair of rowing gigs as tenders, the optimists were cargo to go to Spain.
A lot of the fun is the group of shipmates you get to share your trip with, always seem to be a good and and interesting crowd, not to mention the amazing catering that is included, shall be booking again but maybe give Biscay a miss.