Saturday, 6 October 2012


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 Ocean.

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 Morbihan and 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…..?





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