The weather in the last week has been quite balmy, with the wind mainly from the north, so we have spent the time in the islands of Houat, Hoedic, Belle Ile and Ile de Groix. Our thoughts of finding quiet anchorages quickly evaporated after the first night – this is high season in France, and the entire French cruising population is looking for that same secluded spot. What appeared to be a relatively deserted spot on the SE corner of Houat steadily filled by the hour. When we first arrived, a rather obdurate English lady stood on the bow of her boat, warning off anyone trying to anchor within 100 metres, but by midnight even she had admitted defeat, as the ever increasing number of boats had reached the point where you could easily converse with your neighbour; and so it was almost everywhere. Thankfully the weather was such that there were no problems.
During the last four months we have come accept the French way:
Berthing is carried out at high speed, with no fenders or warps on deck. The skipper is the only person entitled to touch warps; the rest of the crew (regardless of number) are forbidden to move from the cockpit until the boat is attached.
Springs are sometimes deployed, but usually only one; and there is no direct translation for ‘shore line’.
Once settled, the shore power cable is draped across the maximum number of yachts, before the crew is tasked with cleaning the decks – this is a daily ritual. The French generally have the cleanest of decks, whilst growth below the waterline seems to be encouraged.
Leaving harbour, regardless of how small, the main will be going up as the boat leaves the catway, and fenders are left in place for as long as possible.
Anchoring takes place in whichever spot takes the skipper’s fancy – on the rare occasion someone objects on the grounds of being too close, re-anchoring will take place with no ensuing argument, or any bad feeling. The act itself is carried out within about 30 seconds – anchor dropped, engine off, dinghy launched, crew ashore. Anyone not allowed ashore is on food preparation. On return, the shore party will then take turns relieving themselves over the transom before then indulging in the gastronomic delight prepared in their absence; which is designed to last a minimum of three hours. Anchor balls are discouraged – in fact it’s the only way to spot an English boat – and riding lights are only for people without boat insurance.
Finally, flags are a matter of personal preference. Ensigns are often worn, together with a second tricolour as a courtesy flag; and thankfully never removed at sundown. Oh yes, and tillers are the weapon of choice for anything less than 40 feet – no hiding behind the dashboard and steering wheel for them!
If all this sounds a bit disrespectful you could not be more wrong. It’s all carried out with great humour, and when it goes wrong there is the inevitable shrug of the shoulders, and there are rarely any raised voices or lack of sympathy. Compare this to your average British yachtsman – often quite pompous, usually fairly loud, and always the worlds greatest expert on everything yachting. When things go wrong it is never his fault, and someone else on the boat will usually bear the brunt of his scorn – one prime example of this was someone from a Royal yacht club in Dorset, sailing with his less than boat-wise wife, who would vent his spleen with as many f’s and blinds as possible, for all to hear. He has become a celebrity in the area.
We think the French have got it right, because above all we ought to be doing it for fun, and they clearly know how to enjoy themselves.
We are now in Lorient, re-stocking (again!) before once more pushing out towards Les Glenans, where we hope for calmer seas and clearer skies than on the way down!