Friday, 9 March 2012

LIVING THE DREAM - Sail South To The Sun



"I decided to put to sea and to live my dream. My dream to explore craggy wave swept shores, under sail...."

"We are soaring free, on the breeze, bound South in our adventure:"


Stargazer swoops over a long swell. In the gathering twilight, the grey form of the Lizard crouches off our starboard quarter, hunkering down for the night. Our bow wave tumbles aft, to join the moonlit phosphorescence, dancing in our wake. Bright carpets of stars reach down from the velvet night sky, to surround us. I can feel the heave of the sea beneath us, hear its surge, but, in the dark, cannot see it. All I can see are stars above and sparkling phosphorescence below. We are soaring free, on the breeze, bound South in our adventure.
Since boyhood I’ve lapped up tales of sailing. The single handers: Moitessier, Knox Johnstone, Goss and Mc Arthur.  I read Childers’ “Riddle of the Sands,” Ramsome’s “We didn’t mean to go to sea,” Raban’s “Coasting” and O’Brian’s swashbuckling naval tales.
I’ve always loved to be afloat, in a home built canoe, or in a succession of dinghies. I marked the new millennium by launching my first cruising boat; spent my summers exploring the craggy shores of the West Country, The Channel Islands and North Brittany. The more I sailed, the more I yearned to make new landfalls. I began to view my corporate career as a port of call, in the voyage of life, rather than an end in itself. I decided to put to sea and to live my dream. My dream to explore craggy, wave swept shores, in freedom, under sail.
That is how Stargazer and I came to be beating South through night, bound for L’Aber Wrac’h with all summer and an ocean of possibilities ahead of us.
The Chenal du Four and the Raz de Sein are both names to conjure with. Names that I’d heard dropped in harbour side conversations, by wiry weather beaten sailors, in salt stained boats; or seen in the pages of pilot books. Names marked “beyond here lie dragons” in the sea chart of my sailing experience. They are the gateway to my sailing dreams.

 "The sun peers, with a bloodshot eye, through ominous black clouds, over Ile Vierge:"


Visibility is my chief concern as we slip out of L’Aber Wrac’h. The sun peers, with a bloodshot eye, through ominous black clouds, over Ile Vierge. Then it disappears into a swirl of grey. Small fishing boats appear suddenly and then blend back into the murk. Stargazer is loping over an undulating swell, making 3 knots against the tide. I’m hoping that the visibility will clear before we reach Le Four and the tide turns. Once that happens we’re committed to the Chenal du Four. Until then we have the option of anchoring in L’Aber Benoit.

There’s a darker, denser patch in the wall of grey off to port. A glint of white, as the Atlantic swell rears up into surf, at the foot of Le Four. The visibility is lifting. Stargazer’s speed over ground increases, the tide gathers us up and we bear off into the Chenal du Four. The coast is a slightly more solid blur, within a blended murk that combines sea and sky. The channel marks are visible about a mile off. Enough range to give the reassurance of visual backup to the GPS plot. The slender wands of channel buoys heel to the tide, as Stargazer sweeps past. Her bow wave chuckles approval, at the twelve knots of breeze bellying her sails.
The sun fights its way through the gloom to reveal a high cliff top to port. The brown forms of a stone built church and the ruins of an abbey cling precariously to it, dwarfed by a tall white lighthouse and lookout tower. Before them lie black fangs of rock. A scarlet beacon stands to attention astride the tallest; a tireless sentry, warning us away. We’ve arrived off Pointe de St Mathieu. We are through the Chenal du Four.
The visibility is clear and the sun bright for the Raz de Sein. A lightly rippled blue sea meets a cloudless blue sky. The bumblebee striped La Platte tower and the angular La Vielle light lie at their intersection. Poised a mile off them to north and south are two armies of yachts. They are massing either side of the Raz. Stargazer hurries to join the northern army. The wind has fallen light. Even with the cruising chute up we’re in danger of missing the command to “charge.” That command will be given by the tide, at slack water; the fifteen minute window of safe passage.
The command is given. The two armies rush toward one another. They cross at La Platte. I help Stargazer along with the engine. We catch the van of the northern army, as it crosses the Raz. A tug at the tiller and twitch from the keel remind us that, below the calm surface, unseen tidal forces are at work; remind us to respect the Raz. We heed the warning and scamper in under the Pointe du Raz, out of the tide, engine off, chute just drawing. We’re in South Brittany now. We’ve turned the corner. We can relax in the sunshine and drink in the scenery.
I still have a psychological corner to turn on the cruise. I set out with a “two week holiday” mind set – bound by time and driven by a list of places to get to. Somewhere on the voyage that evolved into a cruising mind set - free from time constraints, one step of the journey to shaping the next. My turning point was a sun drenched week under the city walls of La Rochelle; in the Vieux Port.

 "It was a theatrical entrance, redolent of Alice’s plunge through her Looking Glass:"


We’d sounded up river through a thick sea mist. At the last moment, the mist lifted, like a stage curtain, to reveal the stone battlements of St Nicholas and La Chaine, towering either side of us. It was a theatrical entrance, redolent of Alice’s plunge through her Looking Glass. A prompt for me to embrace La Rochelle’s bohemian southern lifestyle; as much a contrast to my normality as Wonderland was to Alice’s.

The sun beats down on Stargazer. She lies moored, in front of the ornate stone arch of the mediaeval city gates. I walk in the cool shade of the Basque colonnades and sit under the trees on the quayside. I listen to the buskers, join the throngs applauding conjurers and acrobats; while away hot afternoons with laughter and song in the cool of the shade.

 "Swell and a fresh North West breeze flushed us out of our anchorage:"


The weather took charge of our cruise in Noirmoutier. Swell and a fresh North West breeze flushed us out of our anchorage, off the beach, under the Pointe de Sainte Pierre. As we beat out across the Loire estuary, lightening crackling overhead, rain cascading off the brim of my hat, waves breaking down the side decks; I had no plan for “what next.” By the time Stargazer was off the Plateau du Four, battling her way, double reefed, through 27 knots of wind and 3 metres of swell, I had a plan. We would tack for the entrance to the Golfe du Morbihan and follow in the footsteps of George ("Oyster River") Millar.

Seas break over Stargazer’s cabin top, as we pass the candy striped finger of Hoedic lighthouse. They sparkle, jewel like, in the sun, cascade aft and leap overboard to join Stargazer’s plumed wake. We sweep through the Port Navalo entrance under the watchful eye of the, green topped, lighthouse. Stargazer’s prancing motion steadies as she rides the tide up the Auray river to moor, in mirror calm water, under the trees at Le Rocher; George Millar's anchorage.
The wind is a gentle North Westerly when the urgent Morbihan tide ushers Stargazer out into Quiberon Bay. We ghost over a sun spangled sea; the orange orb of the cruising chute hangs suspended between the indigo sea and royal blue sky. We anchor first off  Houat and then Belle Ile; spend a lazy week moving from anchorage to anchorage, living the beach life.  I row ashore to land in sandy coves and walk flower cloaked cliff tops; until a South Westerly swell in the anchorage, and a falling barometer, tell me that it’s time to seek shelter for Stargazer.
We reach down to the Vilaine. Our welcome is a thunderstorm. All landmarks vanish. Around us the shallow water is churned cappuccino brown. The rain sizzles, like hell-fire, on its wind torn surface. I hold our course; wipe raindrops from the plotter; watch as the depth gauge counts inexorably down; watch as our speed climbs to eight knots; hope that the squall clears. I round up and drop the main in thirty knots of breeze, rain stinging my face, two point eight metres of water under the keel and zero visibility. We reach sedately up to the lock at Arzal, buoy hopping, under jib, as the skies clear to an innocent blue. I step out of my deck shoes and empty a cup-full of water overboard, from each.

"Our bow wave chimes musically, the wind sighs in our sails and grass hoppers chirp in the meadows:"


The sun peeps out. Cows peer at us over the bull rushes; hawks circle above the flat meadowland; the horizon is studded with church spires. Our bow wave chimes musically, the wind sighs in our sails and grass hoppers chirp in the meadows. This is like no sailing that I’ve ever experienced before. Under the soaring arches of bridges, through steep sided gorges, past the Cran lift bridge and across the rolling Vilaine countryside, to Rieux, we sail; twenty five sinuous miles from the sea.

The dew lies on Stargazer’s deck until mid-morning. The sun takes longer each day to burn away the morning mist. I have lazed away a sun drenched fortnight on Ile Tudy...
.... Explored its picture postcard streets and beckoning alleyways;
...watched the herons fish in the calm of the harbour;
.... swum from the silver beaches of Benodet Bay. Stargazer is now snugly anchored in the Rade de Brest, untroubled by the gale blowing itself out overhead. I monitor the five day forecast on Meteo France. The gale warnings grow more frequent, the gaps between them fewer and shorter. Autumn is upon us. It is time to sail for home.
A rainbow hangs over Studland Bay. I bring Stargazer under the lee of Red End bluff, and drop anchor. This is the final landfall on my six month, Living My Dream cruise.  I have the same tingle of excitement and anticipation now as when I set out. I’m eager to launch my Coaching business; to pick up where I left off, with my Princes Trust mentoring work; to begin school voluntary work. I'm eager to discover where the winds and currents of those experiences will take me and what enrichment the voyage will bring.


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