I live by the sea, maybe live for the sea, on an island in the tidal River Medway. Just downstream of the historic Chatham Naval Dockyard - where Nelson's Victory was built. For me the sea is about freedom and exploration - both personal and geographical. Stargazer is a 31' sloop; and companion on my journey
Saturday, 6 October 2012
TURNING THE CORNER
10.30 is late to be getting out of my bunk and early to be
thinking about uncorking champagne. Today is special though. It’s the 31st of May 2012 and it’s my
50th birthday.I’ve left a
bottle chilling, over the side, so that I can toast the day in.
I walk barefoot to
the companionway, pulling on shorts and a polo shirt as I cross the saloon, and
lift the top washboard out. Light and
colour pour into the cabin. The sun is high in a cloudless blue sky. It glints
off a sea ruffled by a light breeze. From the deck I can see Stargazer’s anchor
burrowed into the seabed beneath us. Fronds
of brightly coloured weed sway, in a slow motion dance, around it.
The Iles de Glenan surround us like a brightly coloured
necklace. Each bead is unique. Some islands are rounded lozenges of green grass
,fringed by white sand; others are angular cubes of black and brown rock. They
keep La Houle at bay, sheltering our anchorage from the might of the Atlantic
I haul the champagne back aboard as my coffee brews, wash
some strawberries and stir the crème fraiche. Breakfast is served!
I savour this moment.
I’m celebrating my birthday at anchor in a Treasure Island setting.Stargazer and I have navigated the Chenal du
Four and Raz de Sein for the first time. We’ve turned the corner at Ouessant. The
summer and new cruising grounds lie before us.
The Chenal du Four and the Raz de Sein. Both are names to
conjour with. Names heard dropped in harbour side conversations with wiry
weather beaten sailors, in salt stained boats; or seen in the pages of pilot
books, at the head of columns of dire navigational warnings.
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 off
Ile Vierge. Then it disappears into a swirl of grey. Small fishing boats
leap out of the murk, as we skirt the reefs en route to Le Four. Not visible
until we’re within hailing distance. Stargazer is lifting along over a long
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
running back to L’Aber Wrac’h or 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 the 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 the
marks heel to the tide as Stargazer sweeps past, her bow wave chuckling now
that the apparent wind is up to 10 -12 knots.
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 rock fang; a tireless sentry, warning navigators 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 smooth 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 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 of
the sea, 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. It’s a
switch in mind set. I set out with a holiday cruise mind set – bound by time
and driven by a list of places to get to. Somewhere on the journey that evolved
into a cruising mind set- free from time
constraints and allowing one step of the journey to shape the next. It’s hard
to say when that switch occurred. It probably happened on the way north from La
Rochelle; on the way home.
The weather took charge in Noirmoutier. Swell and a fresh North West breeze flushed us out of our
anchorage under 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, battering her way, double reefed, through the worst that 27 knots of wind
and 3 metres of swell could throw at her, I had a plan. It was shaped by
weather, tide and personal whim. We would tack for the entrance to the Golfe du Morbihanand follow in the footsteps of George ("Oyster
River") Millar up the Auray river.
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 dive through the Port Navalo entrance
under the watchful eye of the, green topped, lighthouse. Stargazer’s motion
settles. She rides the tide up through the Harnic narrows to moor in mirror
calm water under the trees at Le Rocher. George Millar's spot.
My mind set has changed during the tumultuous beat. From
that point time does not seem to matter, other than as a means of predicting
tide. The weather and the sights to see determine how long we stay. Variety of
experience drives the choice of next landfall. Rural solitude, city
sophistication, dramatic cliffs, mediaeval walls, soft sandy beaches. We
meander around the Morbihan, up to Vannes, out to Houat, up to Belle Ille,
South again to the Vilaine. George Millar is my guide for the Morbihan, I meet
Martyn and Hilly while anchored in Belle Ile and cruise the Vilaine with them.
Experience sailing with crickets chirping alongside, hawks hovering
overhead. Experience the feeling of the world opening up and new sensations
rushing in, as I allow one step to guide the next.
Back home in Poole I find that I’ve turned still another corner. I
have formed my company and named it MINDSET MPC. The name came to me as I
stepped ashore, along with the certainty that, after 25 years’ of corporate
employment, I had a personal contribution to make. My first paying assignment
is about to start. It feels like setting out on the “Living the Dream Cruise
2012;” I have the same tingle of excitement and anticipation. I’m eager to discover
where the journey will take me and what enrichment lies along the way.
My love for craggy Atlantic coasts is stronger than ever.
The snug, rockbound, cliff anchorages of Belle Ile and the Crozon have seen to that. I feel South and West Ireland beckoning for next
year; sense Land's End as our next corner to turn….and Stargazer and I still have Scilly to visit. That’s on the way to
Ireland isn’t it…..?