19th June 2020
Hale, Milford Haven, Wales, UK – Roscanvel, Brest, France
When cruising by sailboat lots of people dispense great nuggets of wisdom. We were told once to ‘Buy a boat one size smaller than you can afford and fill it with things one size bigger than you need’, another old salty seadog told us, ‘If you’re going upwind, you’ve either left at the wrong time of are going to the wrong destination’, finally someone described the joy of cruising as ‘If you don’t like the view. Just change it’. We’ve not only changed the view; we’ve changed the country; we’ve changed the language; we’ve changed the culture. Goodbye Wales, hello France.
In this current Covid world, jumping between countries is no easy feat. Official guidance is lacking, hearsay is everywhere and misinformation is rampant. To ensure we’d be given a reception in France that didn’t involve jail time and big fines we decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth, the chair of an international French sailing organisation and the mayor of Brest! If would appear that we know people that know people, and those people, like the man from Del Monte ‘Say Yes’.
The departure Wales gave us was as dreary as the welcome. The sky and sea were so grey they fizzled into a single level of general greyness, the air was thick with drizzle that penetrated every layer of clothing and the guns at the gunnery range boomed in the background added to the air of menace. We just hoped that as we headed away from this cursed country things would brighten.
Just as we left Welsh territorial waters (if there is such a piece of water) everything brightened. Across the horizon splashes could be seen and the water was alive. The joy of dolphins was on Ruffian and the joy was everywhere. The dolphins surrounded us, escorting us south, and played in our bow wave for hours. Their presence not only bought joy as we basked in the sunshine upstairs as they frolicked and jumped, downstairs as we tried to sleep their squeals and clicks soothed us into a gentle slumber. Heading south felt good.
As the miles clicked by and day turned to night, turned to day, turned to night, the French coast with its militant fishermen and ferocious tides was closing. On the other side of the English Channel we were planning on taking a narrow, ferociously tidal, passage which cuts miles off the entrance to Brest and hoped to time our arrival at dawn. The thought of being swept through a narrow passage with fishermen chasing their catches in every direction and lights, marking rocks, being obscured by shoreline noise, sent shivers of fear through us. This was a plan that had to be executed exactly.
With time ticking down we steered Ruffian around fishermen who were focussed more on their fish than they were on us and as the sun poked its head above the horizon the first of the markers made themselves known. As planned the tide turned and whisked Ruffian into another harbour and another country. This was execution at its best.
Stepping ashore in France the contrast to Wales was stark. Everywhere we turned we were greeted by friendly ‘Bonjours’ and Iain felt embarrassed by his inability to retort and engage. The streets were alive with colour and the whiff of fine cooking wafted through the air. Coffee culture was alive and well with stylish ladies sipping their morning tipples as they stroked their handbag pooches and men propped up bars supping their morning Pernod. Never has cruising been so good. In coming to France we’ve changed country, we’ve changed the language and we’ve changed the culture, but most importantly our thirst to explore new lands, meet new people and experience new cultures remains the same, that is of course after 14 days of voluntary, unregulated, undocumented, unenforced self-isolation.
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