Homage to Brittany

This account of my cruise in North Brittany is based on my Facebook entries. I leave my viewer to look at my show of slides and videos with musical accompaniment, since a voice-over commentary would be boring!

29 July

I launched Novalis yesterday morning at Plouër sur Rance. I motored against the headwind which made it impossible to sail. My engine lost power and died when I was on anything other than tickover with the choke on. I decided not to go through the lock at Saint Malo and sailed back to Plouër with a following wind. I was resigned to having to put the boat back on the trailer and go home.

This morning, It dawned on me that there was a boat repair workshop in Plouër, so I left Novalis moored to a buoy and took the engine ashore with my tender. The young mechanic found that there was no need for new spare parts, but that the carburettor was fouled up. He dismantled and cleaned it, and then put everything back together. I had just one man-hour to pay.

This was a game-changer, and I left the Rance this evening by the lock and am now moored at Solidor, just next to St Malo. I went ashore for a little while and visited the church, a magnificent 19th century classical building. There was an organ recital, and I sat down to listen to a piece that sounded like César Franck, but was not recognisably of him. A considered eating a meal in a restaurant, but there was so much noise, people and cars. I returned to the boat.

I will go to St Cast le Guildo tomorrow on a north-westerly wind by sailing to the Ile of Cézembre and avoiding the rocks to the north of Dinard. After St Cast, it will be a new discovery for me to pass Cap Fréhel and the many isles. For the first time, I have the boat for it. The engine performed well up the Rance and against the fierce current between the lock and St Malo.

30 July

I left Solidor this morning and sailed to Saint-Cast le Guildo. I had a light NW wind and went to the Ile de Cézembre. I didn’t land. There is only a restaurant with a very rude owner, and the relics of man’s favourite activity – warfare. The island is full of bombed WWII defences and unexploded bombs. All forbidden, not that I would want to take my morning constitutional there!

As I sailed off the west of the island, I beheld the sight of a massive car ferry coming towards me. I steered toward the north of the island and started the engine for more speed. Within a minute or so, I was well out of the way. I was concerned about the ship’s wake, but it was going slow ahead. When the ship was away from me, I tacked and steered towards the Ile de Jacut and St Cast. The wind freshened but the ebb tide created a heck of a chop. The current was in my favour, but the chop made it difficult to advance close-hauled.

I arrived at St Cast this afternoon and paid for two nights at the marina. It is Sunday tomorrow and the Lord’s Day and a day for rest. This afternoon, I will try to find a grocery shop and a new bucket (the old one is leaking – “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza…” Also, the wind is forecast to be quite strong and the shore the other side of Cap Fréhel will be a lee shore. The chop there can be quite dangerous with a strong wind and contrary current. It should be more reasonable on Monday. Then I will go toward St Brieuc, which should be “plain sailing. From St Brieuc to the Ile de Bréhat, I will be close-hauling and tacking or motoring.

I recently bought a plastic tender with oars, and it has proven very useful to get from my moored boat to shore. There are lots of new things to get used to…

31 July

I wake up to Sunday morning in Saint Cast le Guildo. Yesterday afternoon, I went for a walk into the town, which has become a playground of the well-to-do and summertime holidaymakers on the beach, from children making sandcastles to young people playing volleyball and making a lot of noise. The seaside entertainment culture reminded me of Blackpool, only in the older times, there was Reginald Dixon on the mighty Wurlizer. Now it is heavy rock or whatever they call it – “Oof-ta-oof-ta”. As Charlie Chaplin said “Machine minds and machine hearts”!

Was I going to go all Augustinian about fallen human nature? I withdrew from such a judgement, since there is goodness in everyone. I brought a few books with me for these quiet days, in particular Berdyaev’s The End of our Time. He wrote this book in 1933, but could have been describing 2022! I have learned not to idolise the “good old days”. 1972 was 50 years ago and was a ghastly period as had been the 1930’s. Individualism, collectivism, man who has rejected the image of God in his soul. Already in the last years of the 19th century, Oscar Wilde wrote The Soul of Man under Socialism.

These thoughts dashed through my mind as I worked my way through the crowd and the heavily tattooed young men and women. What right have I to judge without judging myself? They go to the beach. I go for cruises on my boat. I hope I seek a more spiritual view and a slower life.

In the night, drunken young people bellowed at the top of their voices. Were they on a boat in the port or on the shore? There was nothing intelligible in their ravings.

To be positive, I need to go and buy some bread, say Mass (I can do so on board in a “minimalist” way) and go for a walk. The weather is overcast and cooler. I have a few little jobs to do on the boat with a few bits and pieces from the shipchandler. I will have a quiet day, and then will go to Saint-Brieuc and Bréhat tomorrow.

1 August

I arrived at Erquy (look it up on Google Maps) from St Cast le Guildo. I had a very nasty chop to Face off the Cap de Fréhel but I survived! Novalis is dried out on the beach.

2 August

The cruise continues. I left Erquy dry-out port this morning and motored WSW into the immense bay of Saint-Brieuc. After a time, some wind started coming in from the north, which allowed me to stop the engine and continue under sail. Accurate navigation is of the essence, since these waters are full of rocks! I finally avoided a whole field of underwater rocks and turned up the channel into the port of Saint-Quay-Portrieux, Port d’Armor. My plan is now to sail to the Ile Bréhat and stay there next weekend to wait out some forecast unpleasant weather. My final port of call will be Paimpol just to the south, said to be a very beautiful place. Then I will return to Erquy and carefully plan a passage round the Cap Fréhel to avoid the vicious chop I had to combat last time.

I have been looking at the weather and strong winds are announced for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I have decided to forego my visit to the beautiful island of Bréhat, and I need to go back past the Cap Fréhel to avoid dangerous conditions. By Thursday evening, I hope to be in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer which will protect me from the NE wind and waves over the weekend. I will just hole up during that time and then return to Saint-Malo and the Rance next week. I may well finish my cruise with another visit to that beautiful medieval town Dinan at the bottom of the Rance before returning to Plouër sur Rance. This new plan seems more reasonable. I have a huge distance to cover in 2 days, but I believe it is possible.

3 August

I spent no less than 9 hours at the helm as I left Saint-Quay-Portrieux and took a due-east course past the rocks affectionately called “Les Contesses”. I navigated up the Channel of Erquy. I was not able to see across the bay to begin with because of a gloomy mist. There was nearly no wind, so I motored most of the way and consumed 5 litres of petrol in my 2.6 hp outboard engine. After passing the Cap Fréhel, I met the ebb current, but was able to advance all the same. From about that point I had enough wind to sail in a full reach. Finally I reached Saint-Cast-de-Guildo and am in port for the night. I will go across the Bays of Arguenon and Lancieux to Saint-Briac-sur-Mer to hole up for 3 days (Friday to Sunday) from a strong NE wind. On Monday I will return to the Rance and spend some restful days before hauling the boat out and going home.

4 August

I am now dried out at St Briac sur Mer. We are moored bow and stern since the boats are rather close together. The NE wind has begun and will be quite strong over the next 3 days. The floating period is only about 2 hours before and 2 hours after high tide. I can leave here next Monday from 2.20 pm until 6.20 pm. It seems about right to go to the Anse de Solidor or into the port of St Malo to wait for the right time to go through the Rance dam lock. I will need to get that worked out. It all depends on the tides and being in the right place at the right time. The two bays are beautiful as I left St Cast le Guildo and was very careful about the rocks.

5 August

The wind seemed to calm a little this afternoon as I decided to leave Saint-Briac. You will understand that I took no photos.

“They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep. Their soul melteth away, because of the trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. (Psalm 107)

The waves were vicious as the wind blew at about 20 knots. I reefed the main and drove through the waves with my engine, which ran out of petrol almost at the entrance to the port of Saint-Malo. I hove-to and refilled the engine’s tiny fuel tank, and this was quite hard in the waves, just to keep my balance sitting on the stern with the petrol can. I restarted the engine, Took down the main which suffered a little damage. I have some sewing to do this evening! The wind is whistling through the rigging of the moored boats in the port. I took my chance with the wind and the rough sea, and I made it. It was a good test for the seaworthiness of this boat and her ballasted keel. Tomorrow, I will go into the Rance and there is a little festival at Saint-Suliac on Sunday. We often have the Fête de la Mer at this time of year, usually just before the Assumption or on the Feast itself. There are more mariner-priests than many imagine.

Here are a few photos I took yesterday of St Briac sur Mer. There’s a lot of money in those houses, even more in Dinard. I trust I have not invaded anyone’s privacy. The last photo is my mainsail under repairs. The leech (the hypotenuse not attached to the mast or the boom) needed a row of stitches, by hand with a sailmaker’s needle and special sail thread. I really would like to find a fresher mainsail of the same dimensions with a reefing line. It was an exciting time today in those big waves!

6 August

I am now moored at St Suliac. See my blog postings and the French TV series “Entre Terre et Mer”. This afternoon, I have some things to buy from the little grocery shop, and I will visit the church where there is that poignant Lady Altar where Our Lady pulls a shipwrecked sailor out of the sea. I love churches where seafarers leave their ex-votos. I wish you all a happy Feast of the Transfiguration

Here are today’s photos, entering the Rance after the lock and a visit to Saint-Suliac.There is a gap between two buildings that is so narrow that I can’t imagine a person slim enough to squeeze through, though there is a gate at the far end. I took more detailed photos of the Lady Altar in the church. Indeed the Infant Jesus is saving the shipwrecked mariner with a boathook. It is a fine but badly defaced church with heavy dark wood nineteenth-century altars and choir stalls. I am moored in the bay, but the vicious wind is creating a chop on the water – makes it difficult for me to type!

7 August

I’m still in St Suliac today and there is a little village celebration. Here is a little traditional Breton music with a couple of ladies dressed like a hundred years ago.

Some photos from my trip ashore this morning. I tried some Lançons, which is the same thing as whitebait. They are tiny eel-like fish that are rubbed in flour and deep-fried. You eat them head, bones and everything – delicious!

I decided to leave St Suliac this evening when the sun was a little less hot. The boat was tossing up and down, even moored near the weather shore. The wind was quite strong like since Friday, north to north-east, perfect anticyclone conditions. The village festival started quite nicely, but it was much more “chanson française” throughout the afternoon and crowds around the bars and food places. I didn’t go ashore in the afternoon. I read the lovely book of Berdyaev I have. His writing in 1933, without mentioning Hitler, was so prophetic about our present time. His understanding of the Russian Revolution was uncanny. I decided to go to the port of Plouër sur Rance, where the water is calmer than a cup of tea. I sailed with the genoa (big jib) alone and the vicious gusts gave me speed against the ebb current. I was quite exhilarated. I only needed to use my engine to manoeuvre in port. I will go to the medieval town of Dinan tomorrow or Tuesday and spend a couple of days there. There are some beautiful churches.

8 August

Novalis left Plouër sur Rance under genoa with the strong north-east wind funnelling down the Rance as it became narrower. I went through the lock and into the non-tidal section of the Rance. I arrived in Dinan and had the courage to climb the extremely steep medieval street from the port to the town centre. I returned to the boat and fried up some pork and sauté potatoes that I bought this morning at the supermarket in Plouër.

9 August

I went to the showers of the harbour master’s office. You get in with a code they give you. This is the first time I have gone through a door into a medieval building with that unique smell of very old wood. The facilities were modern and obviously installed in an extension built in the back yard. The sun is now rising and will give us another very hot day. I have finished breakfast. I’m going up that steep street again whilst it is still cool and I will visit the church and take some photos.

Here is another visit to town in the coolness of the morning and when most visitors were in their hotels having breakfast. I went to the church of Saint-Sauveur, which is magnificent.

“The construction of St. Sauveur Basilica was commissioned around 1120 by Sir Rivallon le Roux, Lord of Dinan, on his return from the first Crusade. The church was extensively rebuilt and extended during the 15th and 16th centuries and is a successful blend of architectural styles. The lower part of facade is part of the original 12th century building. The bell tower was built during the 18th century to replace the 17th century dome which had been destroyed by lightning.”

I notice the radical reordering of the Counter-Reformation and the baroque era. The two side altars mark the place of a disappeared choir screen, and holes in the walls for the beam are a witness. The choir stalls are found in different places in the church, removed from the choir by the post-Vatican II installation of a forward altar. The organ is totally without interest.

I am in the boat cabin and there is a pleasant breeze coming into the cabin. I will go and find a moderately-priced lunch on a terrace somewhere and take a book with me. It’s now 26°C. I had lunch at a brasserie: andouille, chips and salad with a beer.

My holiday draws to a close. I already have a new translating order for the 16th and there will be others. I have to earn my living! I went out in my rowing tender to see the Rance the other side of the old bridge. I didn’t go very far because I had to row against the wind on my way back, which was easier than I thought. The tender only draws a few inches and its square bow rides above the water. To go back to Plouër sur Rance, I really need to be on the ebb tide with the calmer wind in the morning. Also I need quiet conditions to get Novalis onto her trailer albeit with a helping hand to do a bit of cranking on the trailer as I wade into the water to keep the stern straight.

10 August

I left Dinan this morning a little after 7 am to get through the lock of Le Chatelier and go with the ebb tide to Plouër sur Rance. With a north wind, it was motoring all the way. I arrived at the slipway at Plouër and went and got my van and trailer. I now have the knack of launching and recovering this boat, since I did it all alone without needing any help. I unrigged the boat in the full sunshine with only a hat to protect me. It took less than 2 hours to get home, where I am now. The house is reasonably cool with it being shut up all this time.

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1 Response to Homage to Brittany

  1. James Russo says:

    Thank you Father for the lovely video and its evocative music. I very much appreciated seeing the towns you visited and especially the churches.

    Pax et bonum,

    Father James Russo

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