Semaine du Golfe Sailing Festival - 19th to 24th May 2009

Picture above - the Sail and Oar fleet on the way to Lamour Baden - Picture by Mark S.

 This was our second attendance at the biennial Semaine du Golfe sailing event in southern Brittany. I previously described the format of the event  ( look here ) and I will avoid repeating this since the general scheme of things was the same for '09 as for '07. As last time, the HSC entered two boats in Flotilla 2, the 'Sail and Oar' flotilla. This flotilla was even bigger than last time, something like 250 boats, so plenty of other boats to follow if you were not sure where you were supposed to go. The great majority of these boats were traditional styled open boats, mostly of wooden construction and a large proportion  were rigged with lug sails which is a popular choice for daysailing boats in France. There were some fine examples of wooden boat building by  both professional and amateur builders. I have to admit that the HSC boats looked a bit mundane in this company and quite a few times I noticed photographers focusing cameras on the pretty boats only to drop their lenses in frustration as our ugly battleship grey boat sailed into their field of view, then raising their cameras again as we sailed on!

morbihan map

Map of the Morbihan

There were a few changes to our route from last time. This year flotilla 2 started from Vannes and spent a night at Arradon and a night at Bono whereas previously our overnight stops were at Port Blanc and Auray. As we did last time, Josephine and myself arrived a few days early on 16th May with the intention of sailing to Houatt or one of the other small islands which lie about 10 to 15 miles offshore from the entrance to the Golfe du Morbihan. However, just as last time, we were thwarted by the weather. The wind was F7 to F9 when we arrived, so we left our boat on a pontoon mooring at Arradon and did some on-shore tourism, including a pleasant day walking the length of the Ile-aux-Moines and back. The Ile-aux-Moines is the largest of the islands in the Morbihan and you can access it by a ten minute ferry trip from Port Blanc. There is quite a large village spread over the northern end of the island but away from the houses the whole island is like a wild garden with little tracks and footpaths you can wander around and numerous bays and small beaches.

Typical beach on the Ile-Aux-Moines

Typical beach on the Ile-Aux-Moines

The first organised activity of the event was a mass picnic on the Ile-d'Arz on Tuesday 19th May, although only a part of the fleet had launched by then, most people arriving and launching later on Tuesday or on Wednesday. We set sail from Arradon and had a brisk sail through the passage between Ile-d'Arz and Ile-Aux-Moines then round the corner of Ile-d'Arz to the picnic site which was on a pine wooded slope near to the main village on the Island. There were already a lot of boats hauled up on the beach when we arrived and a lot of people queuing up for the free wine and lunch snack which had been laid on. When I say 'a lot', it would be in the hundreds, which is typical of the organised picnics of the Semaine du Golfe. We made contact with some of the other sailors from UK and watched the traditional Breton folk dancing before wandering off to take a look at the island. This island is subtley different to Ile-aux-Moines being slightly flatter with more open space and less woodland. Like the Ile-aux-Moines, there is no significant agriculture.  I am not sure what the inhabitants mostly do for a living, do they commute to work on the Ferry or maybe they are mostly retired people or second home owners. They certainly keep their houses and gardens looking nice, which might suggest the later.

After the picnic was over, Josephine and myself stayed with our boat at the Ile-d'Arz whilst Mark S. and Herman sailed Meander back to Arradon then took an event shuttle bus back to the Flotilla 2 campsite which this year was at Ile de Conleau near Vannes.

 HSC Wayfarer 'Meander' leaves the beach at Ile-d'Arz

HSC Wayfarer 'Meander' leaves the beach at Ile-d'Arz - The Welsh flag signifies our attendance at Seafair Milford Haven last year

That evening we walked round more of the Ile-d'Arz and noticed that it seemed really peaceful once the fleet had left and the last ferry had departed for the mainland. The next morning we woke to a clear blue sky and hardly a breath of wind, with luck the wet and windy weather of the last few days had come to an end. We spent the day sailing and rowing, mainly rowing actually, back round the Ile-d'Arz then up to Vannes which was the Flotilla 2 start point for the main part of the event. We found that most of the boats which normally occupy the pontoon berths above the sea lock at Vannes had been cleared out to leave the pontoons free for our use, where the usual occupants had  gone I am not sure. That evening we looked round the stalls which had been set up along the waterfront, then headed for the marquee where free drinks and buffet supper were on offer. A few of the stallholders were traditional boat builders displaying their products, quite a few others were selling other arts and crafts including one displaying very cleverly made marquetry pictures of sailing boats and coastal scenes. Another feature was a demonstration of dug out canoe making, see picture. The fellow on the right is taking a golf drive swing with a monstrous wooden mallet against a blunt wooden chisel while the others are fanning small fires to burn away unwanted wood.

Demonstration of making a dugout canoe without using metal tools

Demonstration of making a dugout canoe without using metal tools

We made a mistake by attempting to sleep on board our boat in the pontoon berth at Vannes since once the folk singing started on the quayside huge crowds gathered and music and flashing lights continued into the small hours.  We learnt our lesson and for the remaining overnight stops we parked our boat half a mile or so away from the musicians.  My impression is that the music and the general waterside ambiance is the main attraction of Semaine du Golfe for many visitors. Although there must be thousands of people crewing on the fleets of boats, I think there may be even greater numbers who come by road to eat, drink, dance and listen to the music.

It was at the crack of dawn, just a couple of hours after the previous evenings festivities had finally died out, that a fleet of buses arrived bringing the Flotilla 2 crews from the Conleau campsite to rig their boats for a 6:15am departure. We woke to the sound of many feet tramping along the pontoons. Bleary eyed, we hastily packed away our boat tent and joined the mass of boats heading out through the open lock gate and swing bridge. There was just a breath of breeze so some were rowing or single oar sculling, others drifting slowly under sail. As the sunlight gained strength, we had the beginning of a beautiful day with a steady zephyr allowing most of the boats to stow their oars.

Heading west from Vannes

In the clear early morning light, Flotilla 2 heads west away from Vannes

With the help of the ebb tide, the fleet made good progress arriving forty five minutes ahead of schedule for lunch on the quayside at Lamour Baden. We then spent the afternoon going anti-clockwise round the Ils-Aux-Moines to our overnight stop at Arradon. This was a long sail on a hot afternoon and at times the wind died completely, leaving us all either rowing or just drifting on the tide. I have to say that some boats did also use engines, should that be allowed in the 'sail and oar' Flotilla? At times we crossed tracks with boats from other flotillas, for example at one point La Recouvrance motored past with sails hardly filling and fore-sails backed, see below. This must be one of the most graceful tall ships afloat, it is actually quite a new vessel although modelled on an 1817 French design for a small fast warship.

La Recouvrance

La Recouvrance

Friday was a perfect gentle sailing day, even sunnier than Thursday had been and with a little more breeze so that most of us had little need to row but the sailing was still very relaxed. The plan was to sail from Arradon to a picnic lunch at Pointe de Kerpenhir, which is on the west side of the entrance from the sea into the Gol fe du Morbihan. After lunch we were to take the flood tide up the R. Auray to an overnight stop at Bono. For me, the lunch stop was probably the highlight of the week, Point Kerpenhir is such a delightful spot with its white sandy beaches fringed with pine trees for a bit of shade and with views across the Morbihan entrance and out over the Bay of Quiberon. On this occasion the sparkling blue waters all around were criss crossed by the various fleets of boats following their planned sailing routes.

Near Kerpenhir Point

Part of the fleet beach near Kerpenhir Point, others tied to mooring buoys a little further out

As at the other stopping points, there was a choice of either pulling the boat up onto the shore or taking one of the buoys laid off the shore then waiting for a motor launch to offer a lift ashore. If you have a really light boat, the beach is a good option, but with our heavy boat which cannot easily be manhandled on shore we preferred to take a buoy and wait for a lift, we found that we never needed to wait long and usually it was one of the police RIBs that follow the fleets that came to pick us up. One point is that it is usually neccessary for several boats, perhaps even a dozen or more, to tie up to each mooring buoy, so you need to bring some good fenders.

It is quite a distance from Kerpenhir up to Bono, but with the flood tide under us it was easy going. When we reached Bono there was still an hour or more of flood left so we chose to explore a little further up the river towards Plougoumelen, then came back down to find a quiet place to take the mud for the night.

Boats pass under the suspension bridge at Bono

Boats pass under the suspension bridge at Bono

The long boat in the centre of the picture above is one of the French 'yoles' which race each other in the Morbihan area and which have their own Flotilla at Semaine du Golfe. (Flotilla No. 1 actually) I think they are a bit similar to the Cornish Gigs which have an active racing programme in the west country of the UK, except that they carry two masts with lug sails as well as the oars.

The next day, Saturday 23rd May, was the final day of the event and Flotilla 2 was to sail from Bono to Port Navalo, which is at the east side of the entrance to the Morbihan, then to join the grand procession of all flotillas up the Golfe towards Vannes. We were to leave the procession at Port Anna, just short of Vannes, our Flotilla 2 having its own closing festivities at Port Anna.

As we sailed gently down the River Auray on Sunday morning it started to rain slightly and by the time we landed at Port Navalo it was raining quite hard. Fortunately, a big marquee had been set up on the quayside and most people packed in there to keep out of the rain. The free bar provided for the boating contingent probably helped to keep people in a cheerful mood despite the weather. The HSC decided to be perverse and go for a walk round the headland as if to test our oilskins!

The rain cleared up as we sailed up towards Port Anna. Just short of the notorious tide race near Port Blanc (some of the British contingent referred to it as 'the toilet flush'), Flotilla 2 was ordered to hold back since we had got ahead of our place in the procession. So we all turned and sailed against the tide just upstream of the narrows, staying roughly in the same place for a quarter of an hour or so.

Boats of Flotilla 2 mark time by sailing against the tide

Boats of Flotilla 2 mark time by sailing against the tide

Given the signal to proceed, we whizzed through the narrows and past the crowds of spectators lining the shore at Port Blanc, but the tide race was not as fierce as it had been when we did this two years ago. The boats were swirling around in the whirlpools but I don't think that anyone was in danger of swamping as they probably were last time - I do hope the spectators were not too much disappointed!

Prize giving at Port Anna

Prize giving at Port Anna

End of event festivities at Port Anna commenced with a prize giving. The picture shows the commander-in-chief of Flotilla 2 making a speech after handing out some cups, he had ably guided us through both this event and the event two years ago. My French is not good enough to be able to tell you what you needed to have done to deserve a cup or a prize. After the prize giving, it was live music all evening, terminating with a really splendid fireworks display.

So ended another wonderful Semaine du Golfe, our thanks to all the volunteers who run it.

Viking ship at Port Anna

I think the Vikings might have quite liked this kind of transport

There are several good slipways at Port Anna, as there are at most harbours in Brittany. The next morning we used one of these slipways to haul our boat, the picture above shows Josephine patiently holding our boat while one of the more unusual boats of Flotilla 2 is hauled out ahead of us.

Josephine and myself then trailed our boat from Port Anna to Roscoff and took the car ferry to Plymouth on the morning of Bank holiday Monday. Mark and Herman returned to the London area, taking our club Wayfarer back on the St Malo to Portsmouth car ferry.