Of Mice and Men …

Brittany to the Basque Country – Bénodet to Bilbao

It had been our intention all along to spend time exploring the parts of southern Brittany that were new to us.  Consequently we had planned to stop briefly at Camaret and Belle Ile, and then visit pastures new.  As has so often happened over the last 3 months, other factors conspired against us.

Having enjoyed only our third barbeque on board (langoustines in garlic butter) in three months the previous evening, we left Bénodet on Sunday 24th August while most people were still sleeping.  In contrast to the day before which was warm and sunny, soft rain was falling, and what little wind there was, blew from the direction of Belle Ile.  We altered course to pass close to the Iles de Glénan (well worth a visit) and were soon able to kill the engine.  With the sun having broken through, had an excellent sail to Sauzon on the NE corner of the island where we had moored on Azrar, our previous yacht, two years ago.  We picked up a buoy, but then started an uncomfortable night rolling with the swell, until we tried out new sleeping quarters – dropping the saloon table, retrieving the infill cushions, and managed to sleep!

Our original plan then was to sail to Ile d’Yeu, and then on to La Rochelle, maybe stopping at one or two smaller harbours first.  We left Sauzon next morning, and once clear of the southern tip, were then able to alter course, turn off the engine, and had an excellent sail to Ile d’Yeu, which from the north appears flat and featureless.  The entrance to the marina is tight, and with low tide approaching, there was not a lot of room for error.  The marina staff were however there to meet us, and guide us to a vacant berth.   When we hired bicycles from one of the numerous cycle shops the next day, our impression of the island changed dramatically and we thoroughly enjoyed pedalling around the entire island – about 30 km – stopping for lunch at the headland off Port de la Meule in the south having passed through St. Saveur with its church as the centre piece of the village.

Lunchtime picnic stop

The 11C Vieux Château, on the south coast, built on a rock and with the later addition and now ruined star shaped fortifications was also very impressive.

11C Castle Ile Yeu

Ile d’Yeu is a typical French holiday island with a pleasantly warm climate and many properties that appear to be used in the summer months, though some with shutters already firmly closed.  That evening we felt we’d earned the superb dinner we had at Le Père Raballand in the port.  The restaurant was packed and we managed to get the last table that wasn’t reserved.  The mussels were the best we’d tasted …… This was after we’d invited Steve and Julie from ‘Dos Tintos’ on board Pipistrelle for pre-dinner drinks.  As their boat’s name suggests, they know Spain well and we were able to chat about our plans for the next few weeks.  Having been away from their home port of St. Helier, Jersey since April, they were homeward bound.  They gave us the tip-off about La Rochelle being a possible problem for us as our next port of call due to a large Boat Show / Trade Fair being held there.   A call to the marina the following day confirmed the suspicion – not just for a few days, but for a whole four weeks until 25th September all three of their marinas would be closed to visitors!

So – we had to change our plans!  Fortunately for once, the weather seemed to be on our side and after some debate, we decided to bite the bullet and make the 210 nm passage from Ile d’Yeu to Bilbao in one hit – a 36 hour jaunt.

We duly left Port Joinville in bright sunshine clad in shorts and T-shirts, said adieu to Steve, Julie and another couple of friendly French boats at 12.30 on 27th August to head for Spain.  After 10 minutes, we were sailing under genoa alone down the north side of the island, changing course shortly afterwards in a southerly direction with about 15 knots of wind.  After lunch we decided to run under twin headsails (a first for us on Pipistrelle), poling out the genoa which added about a knot to our speed.

Twin headsails

What a peaceful afternoon’s sailing – we continued with this sail configuration in warm sunshine until after supper.  Then it was time to revert to sailing under genoa and change course 10 degrees to 190 to take us straight for Bilbao – only another 160 nm to run at 20.00!

So with our 2 hourly watch system in place we headed into the dusk, were accompanied by a large school of dolphins for a while and were able to appreciate the clearly visible Milky Way along with hundreds of shooting stars.    It was also a welcome relief for the first time in three months not to have to wear wet weather gear to keep out the cold during this warm night-sail!  The wind increased steadily overnight to about 19 knots, and awkward seas meant we had a roly-poly and slightly uncomfortable ride for a few hours.  The moon rose at about 05.30 with sunrise following two hours later.  By midday on 28th August the sunshine was hot again and we had just 60 nm to run to Bilbao – another 10 hours.  After an uneventful few hours, supper and nightfall, the lights of the Spanish coastline came into view at last, we congratulated ourselves on our achievement and entered the large harbour area of Bilbao.

Finally, and very tired we anchored just south of Getxo marina just before midnight to get a well earned night’s sleep before moving on to the Las Arenas marina, which we had both been to before on Overlord in 2000 and enjoyed the pool facilities at the Yacht Club.

Bilbao Sailing Club pool

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