Friday 29/07/11 Audierne to Douarnenez and the Raz de Sein

Ah, the Raz. Excellent forecast; no hint of wind, rain, fog, cloud or swell in any of the forecasts. As is my usual habit when approaching a notorious stretch of water (and, to a lesser extent, anyway) I checked about ten of them.

It was a beautiful morning as we left, full of sun and the promise of a warm day. We were soon joined by three other boats heading the same way. This is always encouraging when approaching a tidal gate of any sort, as it suggests that you’ve all got your timings right. Or indeed I suppose that you’ve all got them wrong. Anyway, we trucked along nicely, and made good time to get to the middle of the Raz at slack water, just before it turned to sweep us through. We neared a group of small fishing boats that scattered and began to head towards the cove they’d come from as we approached. It seemed a little strange at the time but we carried on. At this point the visibility was good. A few minutes later we picked out the lighthouse off the point. A few minutes after that we lost it, and a few minutes after that we lost everything else. It was as if somebody had dropped a bag over our heads; it went from a clear day to thick fog and I did not like it at all. I’d never been in really thick fog sailing before today, at least not that I can remember, and it took me a while to realise what was going on. My instinct was to turn around and get out, but as Si (ever brave and calm) pointed out, ‘I’m not sure we can’, given that the tide was pushing us north and the other boats heading through our way couldn’t be far behind. So we throttled back to snail’s pace, got the foghorn out, hoisted the radar reflector, plotted our position every ten minutes or so and thanked our stars for AIS and our chart plotter. It was horrible, but the best that we could do. I had never quite grasped how disorientating poor visibility is. We could see nothing at all but white air in front of us filled with droplets of moisture that clung to everything, and the sea – glassy smooth – that moved past us. It was like someone had pressed the mute button on the remote control, and it felt menacing. When one sense goes your other ones may be heightened but you begin to doubt them too, and the knowledge that we were metres from rocks and concrete towers turned passing seagulls into monsters on first glance. The first snag came shortly after we sounded the horn for the first time, in that it stopped working. This is because when it came to buying a fog horn for Planet, I picked up an ‘eco-friendly’ and rechargeable one that you pressurise with a bicycle pump. This was not my finest hour; it may well be ‘eco-friendly’ but it is also short-lived, so that most of our trip through the Raz was spent pumping up the thing after each set of blasts. At least it gave me something to do other than worry. To be fair to the foghorn, once pumped up it worked fine, and although I’d buy a less labour intensive, less environmentally friendly one in future for ease of use, I’m keeping our pump one too. If the gas runs out on a conventional one you’re stuffed; at least this one gives you another chance. Snag number two was other boats. We felt reasonable safe to assume that we were unlikely to see boats coming the other way, given the tide, with the exception of the ferry. Fortunately this turned up on the AIS, although alarmingly late and travelling at high speed. We could hear it but not see it and when it finally popped out of the fog it was very close indeed, although we were never on a course to collide. We saw two other boats in the middle of the Raz; the first was a power boat coming the other way, which passed with no problem, and the second was a sailing boat which overtook us at high speed. Neither of these boats was sounding a foghorn, and the only sound signal we heard the whole time was one which judging from the AIS must have come from the ferry passing behind. The sailing boat was obviously unperturbed by the fog. He appeared to be on his own; we waved as he passed and instead of waving in return he looked around and then obviously satisfied that he could see nothing (quite literally), disappeared off below.

Not long after this we got close to the north end of the Raz, and we got the first signs that the fog was lifting, as we had hoped it would. It finished almost as quickly as it started, and it wasn’t all that long before we could see land again, and with it several other boats that had obviously come through the Raz at more or less the same time as us.  The sun came out and we began to see clearly ahead towards Douarnenez. I sunbathed and Si read his book. Paul from Erin very kindly gave us a copy of his latest book when we said goodbye to them in Groix. It is called More Tales from a Cornish Lugger and follows on from his first book, Once Aboard a Cornish Lugger.It describes his time fishing from Looe; the people, the boats, the good times and the bad times and documents the rise and falls of the mackerel fishery during the 70s and 80s and the realities of life on the fishing luggers that worked out of Looe. We’ve both read it from cover to cover and are now flicking through it again, rereading our favourite bits. Every now and then the person reading will start laughing and go on until they are shaking and nearly in tears. Then whoever it is will try to read out the passage in question to the other one to explain and attempt to get to the end of it without collapsing into hysterics. We can’t wait to get home and read Paul’s first book. I strongly recommend that you go and buy them both here:

We sailed almost into Douarnenez in the end; a gentle afternoon breeze picked up from astern so we were able to kill the engine and have peace and quiet for the last couple of hours. The tide was nearly high by the time we arrived, which meant that we were able to head through the lock and the bridge into Port Rhu, Douarnenez’s inner harbour. It’s lovely here; we’re right by the quay, surrounded by pretty boats, historical ships, a maritime museum and the prospect of moules frites and shanties in the square next to us tomorrow evening. I think we’ll stay a few days.


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