Semaine du Gulf 2015


This was the fourth time that John and Josephine had taken their 15 foot home built sailing dinghy to the Semaine du Gulf sailing festival held biennially at the Gulf du Morbihan in southern Brittanny. I feel that I am now just beginning to get an understanding of the complicated pattern of islands and tidal flows but even so, there are still plenty of inlets and also the upper part of the gulf that we have not visited since they are not included in the preplanned routes of the event. Although this time round we were the only representatives for the HSC, we did meet quite a few other sailors from the Uk, although of course the great majority are French. In particular, we shared a few evenings with Chris and Bob who we had previously met at Seafair in Wales. Below is their pretty gaff rigged boat with sails set and waiting on a mooring bouy for the signal for Flottila 3 to depart Lamour Baden on Wednesday morning.



Chris and Bob aboard Teal at Lamour Baden - ready for the off


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The picnic on Isle d'Arz

As usual, the organised part of the week started with the Tuesday picnic on the Ile d'Arz to which all entrants are invited. I understand that this year there were over a thousand boats registered for the event. I expect that some of these would have failed to arrive but there were also plenty of non-registered boats following along. So, at a guess, perhaps a thousand boats and an average of several people to each boat - that makes for a pretty big 'picnic'.  The picture above shows part of the crowd at the tables set out under the pine trees above the beach. 

This year we were allocated to flottila 3, whereas previously we had been in flotilla 2, the 'sail and oar' flotilla. There does not seem to be so much difference between these groups, there are certainly engines to be seen among the flotila 2 boats and we were not the only engineless boat in flotila 3, not quite anyway. After returning from Ile d'Arz we spent the night with our boat tent on a mooring bouy in the harbour at Lamour Baden, that being the base port for flotilla 3, although the way things worked out we never returned to it during the week. We were the only people in flotilla 3 staying aboard our boat overnight, the others were taken by bus to a campsite about a mile inland. Staying on board during SduG is convenient in some ways, it avoids waiting for busses and the possiblity of missing busses but with few other people doing likewise it is perhaps less sociable and one also tends to miss the crew briefings. Another time perhaps we will do like the others and use the provided shoreside campsite.

By the time we had managed to get ashore in our tiny inflateable tender on Wednesday morning the crew briefing was about to start and we had a choice of attending it or rushing off to find a cash machine and do a bit of necessary shopping, so we missed the briefing. However Chris and Bob told us the plan of the day which came as a bit of a surprise. The orignal plan, as per the documentation provided before the event, was for us to sail to Le Logeo then to Port Navalo that day, however, even while the the crew briefing was in progress, our flotilla leader received a message that high winds were forecast and that flotilla 3 and flotilla 3b were to take refuge at Vannes while flotila 2 would go to Port Anna. These were more sheltered harbours than Port Navalo but in the opposite direction.  We left Lamour Baden drifting on the tide in a flat calm but while we were lunching at LeLogeo the wind started to rise and that afternoon we had a splendid downwind sail to Vannes. 


 Josephine pulling our boat up to the beach for lunch at Le Logeo.



A typical French 'yole', pictured during the sail from LeLogeo to Vannes

Thursday was indeed a windy day, mostly sunny but with biref showers accompagnied by fierce squalls so I am sure the organisers made the right decision to keep all the small boats holed up in sheltered harbours. This was actually the first time that I have known sailing to be cancelled for a whole day at SduG, although this is something that happened rather more frequently when we have been at the Seafair events in Wales.  We had a pleasant day ashore, walking around the old part of Vannes city, then doing a walk along the coast path to Conleau and back before spending the evening with Chris and Bob. We also looked at the various exhibition tents set up round the harbour and went aboard two historic ships that were open to the public. These were both Dutch and built about 100 years ago, one originally a steam hydrographic survey ship, now converted to diesel, the other a fine sailing ship originally for fishing but converted for passengers and hospitality events in 2008, see pic below and these websites.

Morgenster sailing ship

Widipedia article about Hydrograaf

One of the tents on the quayside offered demonstrations of 'stitch and glue' boat building by a French boat building school. This was of particular interest to me since I am starting to build a small rowing boat at home. Our 'Grey Boat' was built stitch and glue back in 1978 and it seems that the basic idea has changed little since then. I did notice the use of strips of double biax glass to reinforce the seams, rather than woven tape, this should be a worthwhile improvement since with woven tape only half the fibres in the tape are alighned to strengthen the joint.

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Hydrograaf and Morgenster at Vannes

By Friday the wind had moderated and the plan was for flotilla 3 to leave Vannes on the afternoon flood tide at about 15:00 and make a short trip to Port Anna which took only an hour or so.  Flottilla 3b were perhaps less fortunate - they were required to leave Vannes on the morning ebb tide at about 05:00 and since we were sleeping aboard our boat we certainly noticed them tramping along the pontoons to prepare their boats at about 04:00. We spent Friday night comfortably dried out on the beach in the little harbour at Port Anna. 

Saturday is the final sailing day of SduG and as before, flottilas 2 and 3 assembled at Port Navalo then in mid afternoon they joined the grand parade of sail which starts out at sea then progresses up the estuary to Vannes. Helped by the strong ebb tide and a north westerly breeze we made quick progress down from Port Anna to Navalo, I think that took only a couple of hours. Arriving in good time at Port Navolo meant that we had plenty of time for lunch after which we walked out round the headland towards Port Crousty, joining the crowds of shore based specatators. The picture below shows the Recouverance heading out through the entrance in order to turn round and join the parade back in. 


'Recouverance' heading seaward through the entrance to the Gulf

Our main preocupation during the Parade of Sail was to sail carefully, keeping an all round lookout to avoid, or at least minimise, close encounters with other boats. The first mile or so inwards from Port Navalo was quite windy and we were glad that we had set our small mainsail making our boat easier to control in the turbulet and crowded waters. As we progressed further up the Gulf the wind lessened but the tide was still strong in places, particularly off Port Blanc - the notorious 'toilet flush'.  The SduG is a popular day out for shore based spectators as well as for those afloat, there were crowds of spectators on all the good vantage points from the entrance right up to Vannes - picture below shows people watching from the shoreline in proximity to Port Blanc and the second picture below shows some of the small boat fleet alongside the pontoons at Vannes.

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Spectators along the shore near Port Blanc

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Small craft on the pontoons at Vannes - don't forget to bring some flags to SduG

I would say that even based on the program published in advance of the event, the sailing routes for the small craft flottilas seemed to be a bit shorter and less ambitious this year than they have been in the past. There was no planned visit to the lovely River Auray, or to Lochmariquer or the beaches out to the south of Lochmariquer. Rumour had it that there had been a few capsises/sinkings during the fairly windy conditions at SduG in 2013, perhaps this infulenced the planning. Or perhaps the planning had been influenced by comments about lengthy passages without toilet stops during the 2013 event! As things worked out, the sailing this year was further curtailed by the weather on Thursday and the consequent revisions to the program for Friday. I think the organisers did well to cope with these changes which must have required hasty re-planning of the buses to take crews from the campsites to and from the boats and also revisions to the catering arrangements. With the small boat fleet now divided into several flotillas I wonder if it would be worth considering reserving a flotilla for those who prefer shorter sails and perahps also having a flotila for those who would like more ambitious routes, perhaps even taking the fleet to sea if the weather is suitable.