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The GOSSIP

Number 219 / May 2010

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Published by the Open Canoe Sailing Group

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launching. Therefore we knew where to try and book into. Trouble was our best choice site didn't normally take bookings. It took a while to determine this fact as the initial couple of phone calls to the site were not fruitful, due to my rudimentary grasp of the language (the campsite's web page implied they spoke English but they didn't!) so I gave up and called for the cavalry in the form of my linguist/Francophile sister, who managed to sort it out. The site (sort of) agreed to keep a pitch for us as we were coming from such a distance, provided we confirmed again a few days beforehand. When we eventually arrived there was a warm welcome and 'monsieur' showed us to our patch of a very small field, which is an annexe to the site that is mainly for static holiday caravans. The tent or campervan area provides space for about seven or eight pitches and is on a first-come, first-served basis as far as we can tell; there is a larger campsite with reasonable water access at high tide half a mile down the road, where you could wait while a place becomes available at the better site.

Camping de Bilouris is close to the water and it was quite easy to trundle our sailing canoe the hundred metres or so to the sand/shingle beach next to a small stone pier. At low tide virtually all the inlets in the gulf dry to mud, but this spot is clean, sheltered and it's easy to launch/land at all states of the tide. It turned out to be just what we wanted and we spent a week there enjoying some rather mixed weather, with some good days out on the water exploring much of the area.

The Gulf of Morbihan is a large coastal inlet in south Brittany, the peninsula at the northwest corner of France. Morbihan is Breton (Brittany's own ancient Gallic language) for 'little sea' and also gives its name to the 'département' within which it lies. It is about 10 miles by 6, with about forty islands and many creeks leading to a variety of towns and villages. Cruising has to be planned around the tides, usually taking the flood further into the gulf, returning on the ebb. The speed of the current naturally varies but can reach nearly 10 knots on springs in the main entrance to the gulf. There are extensive oyster beds in many of the shallower and more sheltered areas, which are often (but not always!) marked by withies (sticks!) - there were a few occasions when we inadvertently sailed over the top of the huge cages and scraped the leeboard, but no harm was done and we didn't get arrested by the oyster police!

In late July and August some parts of the area have become known as tourist hotspots, with crowds spoiling the very thing they come to see i.e. peaceful and beautiful land/seascapes. But the great thing about a canoe is that one can get to the more secluded, out-of-the-way places thus avoiding the queues for ice cream or traffic jams of cyclists often suffered on the two larger islands.

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Lunch stop on Île-aux-Moines.

We decided that for our first day out we should not be too ambitious and just head out across the part of the Golfe that we could see, with a view to maybe making it around the nearest big island (Île-aux-Moines). This worked out well with some pleasant sailing in a F2-4 SW breeze with cloudy, sometimes bright conditions. We stopped for a spot of lunch on a quiet, sunny beach that had a cycle track along the shore and handy public conveniences, a rarity in France! As we close-reached back towards our launch point there were many small sailing dinghies and yachts out and it was really good to be in such a fantastic area with like-minded people, many of whom gave us a close look, even diverting or chasing us to see more.

For the next day out the weather forecast (sourced from a French 'Météo' bulletin posted each morning on a notice-board next to our launch beach/quay, backed up with the internet on my mobile phone) was pretty good with sunshine and light winds so we decided to have a crack at exploring the west part of the Golfe that forms the estuary leading towards the historic town of Auray. This route-plan involved having to work against the incoming tide initially, to get through the maze of islands just to the west of our base, before taking the flood up the estuary. With light S to SW breezes promised, I hoped it would be a feasible reach against the current, followed by an easy run up the estuary on the flood for a picnic lunch around high water.

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Channel south of Île de la Jument.

There was virtually no wind on launching in the lee of the headland and mindful of needing to make progress we paddled for a short while before picking up a light breeze. As we wended our way between the islands we adopted the very effective tactic of me paddling with Ann helming and made it to the vicinity of 'Er Lannic' without much drama. Er Lannic is one the most important of the many historical sites in the area, with a circle of prehistoric standing stones that are partly submerged at high tide, a result of changes in sea level. It is a protected ancient monument and landing on the island is not allowed.

The wind became somewhat fitful at this point and we struggled to stem the tide, even keeping close to the shore where the current should be less. Resorting to paddle-sailing again we made progress to reach the main entrance to the Golfe and the point at which we would have to cross the main channel to head north up the estuary. We could see the tide was at its strongest here and building. The wind was still not being very helpful at a SW F1-2 but nothing ventured, nothing gained so we went for it, heading across the busy channel, hoping to get

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