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La Route du Sable - 18th and 19th June 2011

See here for the Route du Sable website

First, what is behind the name of this event?  A direct translation is 'Route of Sand'. As I understand it, in days gone by, barges would dry out on the tide to load a particular kind of sand from the sea bed, this sand containing small pieces of sea shells, which are mainly calcium carbonate. This cargo would then be taken inland via the R. Aulne, which becomes the Nantes-Brest canal, and would be sold to farmers to be spread on the land to reduce the acidity of soil. The Route du Sable event is essentially a short cruise in company, for sail and/oar powered vessels of traditional design and it follows part of the route that used to be plied by the sand barges.

Josephine and myself joined up with Roger Barnes, president of the Dinghy Cruising Association, to take part in the Route de Sable. I have to admit that my boat was probably the least traditional of all those in the event, whereas Roger's boat, an 'Illur' from the board of Francois Vivier, is a fine clinker built and lug rigged sailing dinghy, based on traditional lines and so is much more appropriate for this event.

After spending a few days camping and rambling on shore, Josephine and myself joined Roger and launched our boat at Tinduff (a harbour on the northern side of the Rade de Brest, not one of those puddings that you cook in the can and that could blow your head off if you forget to puncture the can first!)

We set off From Tinduff on the Saturday morning, surfing on the following waves as we crossed the mouth of the bay of Daoulas. We stopped briefly alongside the jetty at Landevennec, then as we continued west the wooded shores closed in on both sides and it became clear that we were now definitely in a tidal river rather than open water. The river takes a couple of big bends and the French navy has chosen to park several of its unused warships at this point. I could make out the name Colbert in painted out letters on the stern of the largest of these ships. Looking this up on Wikipedia I see that this ship was launched in 1956 as a cruiser armed with quick firing guns but was later updated to carry missile launchers befor becoming a museum ship on the quayside at Bordeaux. The museum was popular with tourists but it would seem that quayside residents objected to the presence of such a large ship in front of their windows and campaigned successfully for its removal, hence the ship is now lying at Landevennec awaiting imminent scrapping. A bit sad perhaps, but maybe there is more to it than I have indicated.

A little further up river we came to the very new cable stayed road bridge that sweeps across the river, curving in both the horizontal and vertical planes. The supporting towers are of an asymetrical design, their main structure leaning sideways, presumably to balance the curved roadway. An earlier suspension bridge remains close by but I think that is now redundant.

aulne bridge 01

New and old bridges over L'Aulne - taken in the rain - I think the camera (waterproof) must have got a bit wet

According to an internet page that I had seen, the Route du Sable was supposed to start on a bend of the river south of the village of Rosnoen, but we didn't see any sign of the fleet at that point, just a deserted muddy river bank. Considering the wet and windy weather I did half wonder whether we were on some wild goose chase. However, we did then come up to a handful of traditional looking rowing and sailing boats moored off the slipway at Tregarvan on the southern shore and as we sailed past someone confirmed that they were entrants in the event. We took a mooring and Roger anchored for a while, then someone told us that the start had been moved further up river. We sailed on and found some more boats clustered around a slipway on the northern bank. We marked time by reaching back and forth across the river, waiting for orders you might say. I suspect the strong breeze made it impossible for the organisers to communicate with the boats that were afloat but eventually a few boats moved off up river, then more followed. The rowing boats did not need to do much rowing, the wind and the flood tide were driving them along and some of the sailing boats were making good progress just under bare poles. The channel narrowed and the wind became lighter but also flukey, so it was quite tricky sailing at times, but the strong flood tide ensured good progress. In due course the sea lock at Guilly Glaz came into sight and that brought the fleet together since the lock stayed open until there was no room for any more boats. Once in the lock, I counted about 30 boats, but about 5 arrived later and came through as a second batch, making about 35 altogether. So it was a small event compared to Semaine du Golfe, but everyone seemed friendly and I think many of the participants lived quite nearby and already knew each other from previous years the event has run.

Sea Lock at Guilly_Glaz

Sea Lock at Guilly_Glaz


The fleet approaching Port Launay, Roger at left

The fleet approaching Port Launay, Roger at left

Leaving Guilly Glaz we were on non-tidal water, passing under a big stone built railway viaduct then on up to the quayside at Port Launay. We got our boat tent up then we were offered a lift back to Guilly Glaz for the fleet supper that we had  paid for on registering for the event. I think that Roger and ourselves were the only ones staying on board overnight, I can only assume that everyone else found accommodation on shore. The supper took place in a large hall, I guess it was some kind of community room or conference room. With about 35 boats in the fleet, and I suppose an average of several persons in each boat, plus plenty of non-boating friends and family members being invited along, it was a good crowd and we definitely enjoyed the meal. However, it had been a long day since leaving Tinduff and we were glad to eventually settle into our cosy boat tent for some sleep.

At the fleet supper

At the fleet supper

The fleet was underway from Port Launay around 10:30 on Sunday morning. Most of the boats were under oars rather than sail since the wind had dropped and trees sheltered the river. We came up to another lock at the town of Chateaulin. This was a smaller lock than the sea lock so the fleet had to go  through in about three batches. Continuing through Chateulin, we needed to lower our mast because of the bridges in the town centre, then just the other side of Chateaulin we reached the designated lunch spot at a riverside campsite (Camping de Rodaven). A few boats, Roger's included, rowed on to the next lock before turning round and coming back for lunch. We found that a free bar had been set up on the campsite (cant complain about that!) this serving wine and nibbles to go with our sandwiches. Some of the boats were hauled out onto road trailers at that stage, the rest returning to Port Launay and hauling out there. Our boat and Roger's were soon the only two of the fleet still afloat. I guess that unlike ourselves, most of the crews would be back at work the next day.

Lock at Chateaulin

Lock at Chateulin

It was now raining quite hard and Josephine and myself went for a walk in our oilskins, finding a footpath leading up though the woods above the river to give us a view over Port Launay. Coming back down, we took a look at the variety of boats that were moored along the river. One that stood out was the Norfolk County, a riveted iron ship, the port of Lowestoft identified on her stern. It looked only too likely that someone had done a lot of work to restore this ship, but had then given up before finishing the restoration. An internet search confirms that this is indeed what has happened and at the time I write this she is for sale on Ebay. She has quite a history, built in 1908 as a ketch rigged sail and steam drifter, used by the military in both world wars, then in the late 1940's she was converted into a small diesel cargo vessel for use in the Norwegian fjords. The engine is a two cylinder low speed diesel that must now be a rarity in itself. One would think that it would be worth completing the restoration of such a vessel, so I hope she goes to an appropriate owner. (that is not an offer!)

Our boat at the quayside at Port Launay - when moored like this we need to adjust our mooring lines so that the boat tent does not chafe on the quay wall

Our boat at the quayside at Port Launay - DCA pennant displayed. (When moored like this we need to adjust our mooring lines so that the boat tent does not chafe on the quay wall)

  Continuing along the riverside, we found Roger chatting to a French yachtsmen who was living aboard a sizeable ketch alongside the quay, it turned out that several of the boats moored here belonged to 'liveaboards'. Quite soon we found ourselves on board this ketch, first being offered glasses of wine, then a cooked meal! After that we wandered back towards our own boats, only to be diverted onto another yacht where we were offered more wine - and so it was another late night - what hospitality.   

Roger borrows our tender

Roger used our inflatable to go ashore at Pors-Beec'h. I have a long line to the inflatable so that I can pull it back empty to go ashore myself.

Following Route du Sable, Roger and ourselves did our own little cruise in company. We made overnight stops at Le Faou and Daoulas, two harbours in the eastern part of the Rade de Brest. We had a final windy beat back to Tinduff before heading home via the overnight car ferry from Roscoff to Plymouth.

Roger at Le Faou

Roger at Le Faou