To the Land of Friends and Fromage

25th September

We’ve just dropped anchor a little up the river L’Aulne leading inland from the Rade de Brest after winding our way down from our tranquile spot in the Brest – Nantes canal where we’ve been moored up alongside Yanic on his barge Patricia. Just ahead was Agge on ‘Norfolk County’ a 28m 1908 Steam Drifter which he’s restoring with remarkable energy and spirit. We didnt get to spend enough time with Agge before he was off to the Medittaranean where he was helping Sea Watch as an engineer aboard a ship rescuing migrants trying to cross the sea to Europe. Yanic was a fantastic host, happy to share his time whether it be showing us his various projects, like rebuilding an old river ferry to do a cross country trip to Istanbul, or restoring beautiful old diesel engines, or spending hours fishing with Seren and Morla.

Port Launay with Yanic and Agge

Our sail across ‘La Manche’, arrogantly named by the British ‘The English Channel’, was without incident, leaving Falmouth early afternoon after taking on a 30l barrel of Rum – Thanks Elle!!! and filling with water, we had some perfect beam reach sailing until the early hours the next morning when the wind died and we motored the last stretch towards the Brittany coast. Our Companion from former times – Tramp was onboard and being familiar with the entrance to L’Aber Wrach was a great help piloting us through the rocky entrance and up the river to a safe anchorage just in front of ‘Rose of Argyll’ who visited us in Wales last year, and off the sailing and boatbuilding school AGD where they are building a new tall ship The ‘Belle Espoir’. The older original wooden Belle Espoir which blew over off the wall at low tide and was damaged beyond repair, lies alongside, anything reusable is transferred to the new steel ship. This school is the only ‘Association’ of its kind in France with no government aid, existing solely off donations and plenty of good will, It tries to take students who might benefit the most from such an experience whether it be that they’ve been the wrong side of the law or had trouble with drugs… a fantastic and inspiring place!

L’Aber Wrach

The anchor wasn’t down for long before the welcoming committee arrived, it was fantastic to see Jean-Marc, Mama, Pascal, Dede, Cathy, who’d driven since the early hours from Dijon then Elora, Benjemin, Benoid, Bluen, Davide and others. Sitting on the bank under the huge gnarly Pines the first evening, with a crackling Fire, Tramp serenading us with shrootybox and harmonica, plenty of cheese and wine, abundant laughter (in French of course) and merriment, Seren and Morla playing happily with new friends Olive and Magma it felt like another step of our adventure, a new country, new friends and reunited with old, it was a feeling of humbling contentment, satisfaction and joy.

We stayed around L’Aber Wrach about a week, mostly socialising, eating fine food and visiting Benoit and Bluens workshop – a very inspiring, well equipped, beautifully decored place in the middle of which lay the mast, ready to be shaped for Genora, a 65 ft ….. brought over from Penryn about 8 years previously and almost completely rebuilt by Benoit and many helpers.

The design loft in Bluen and Benoit, workshop
Bens skulling oars – on returning to ‘Plumbob’ one day we found one of these beauties with ‘For Lili Bolero’ scribed on!

After loading up with diesel from Jean Marc, water and supplies at the Paluden Quay where we had unloaded nearly a ton of Caribbean sugar 6 years before we headed West and South through the Chenal du Four and into the big sheltered bay, the Rade de Brest. With Elora and Benjamin along for the ride and Jean Marc and Davide now part of the Lilly crew once again, we tied up in the Canal a few days later.

heading upriver to the canal
With young friends

This wasn’t far from where Davide lived on a piece of land with about 12 others, a mix of shelters, caravans with elaborate extensions, a yurt, a stone cottage common house and other wood frame buildings in progress. There was always something going on there and we were made to feel very welcome, our tent pitched in the middle was used a couple of nights, the second after a few hours digging potatoes followed by a tartiflette feast, enjoyed by about 30 around the long outdoor table under the trees.

We were beginning to get a sense of the community here, its aspects, some of which seemed unique, special, particularly French. Pretty much everyone we were meeting and mentioned above knew each other or were connected pretty closely in some way, a lot of them had been helping each other on building , boatbuilding or gardening projects, almost all had no regular full time work but were rarely idle. Some of the fruits of their labours were nothing but extraordinary, massive old boats, warm and welcoming funky dwellings, politunnels, breweries, workshops, along with playing music and so much done with a beautiful aesthetic, whether it be the candle lighting on an old ship playing gypsy klesma music at 2am on squeeze box and clarinet, Benoits stunning art and half models scattered around his design loft, an old Breton fishing boat converted into a breakfast verandah under hop vines. Spending a day going ‘Peche au pied’ scrabbling around the weedy rocks on an equinox low tide to collect Abaloni, crab, shrimps seaweed and the like, who cares if it takes a day out to get a mouthful of delectible fresh seafood for dinner. If you don’t have to go out to work you also have time to collect, grow and produce your food, or as some of the crew did, spend a day making 50kg of pasta at a neighbouring friends workshop using a donated industrial pasta machine (every community should get one!) And to share your time! We’ve been given so much of peoples time and welcome attention here.

2 October 2020

We had a cracking sail out of the Rade de Brest and a great trip south, anchoring under cliffs, then a fast 60 mile onto the low – Isles de Glenan nicknamed the Caribbean of Brittany, then off at sunrise and onto the Isle of Houat for a night before heading inland again. This time into the Villain river through another lock to where we are now anchored near La Roche Bernard in Fresh water.

Pauline and Ishmael sailed on Lilly about 10 years ago from Darwin to Bali then from Thailand to the Andamans, meeting up with them on the dock with their 3 children brought a tear to the eye, a feeling our lives had moved in such a similar direction but on distant though adjacent paths.

Pauline, Ishmael, Kaouri, Willow and Naoum

We are keeping a close eye on the weather, looking for a window of favourable winds to sail Southwards towards Spain and Portugal, so far theres been a lot of wind and rain and last night soon after the barometer plumetted a sharp gale, sounds of crashing branches put us on edge then at around 2am Lilly started thrashing around, glasses falling off the side woke Seren though all hands were already on deck, replacing the broken snubber line on the anchor chain and hauling in the 3 dinghys on deck, little ‘Pink Turtle’ was bucking so violently she threatened to somersault, Plumbob and Shellduck were also threatening to fill with water and were brought on and lashed to the deck.

Anchor watches were set but after Nono then Rowena had done 45mins each, the storm subsided and we all slept til late morning when a sparkling sun was breaking through the trees above.

We later heard that out at La Belle Isle 30 miles away gusts of 183km were recorded!

8th October…

And so the weather looks favourable to be heading across the Bay of Biscay in a couple of days time, a high pressure is moving in from the atlantic, on the front of which is a prolonged period of Northerlies. It’s 390 Nautical miles to Cape Finisterre which we estimate to take about 4 days and if the weather looks suitable we will stop in the Rivieras just South of the cape, if the weather doesn’t look so good we will continue South another 400 miles around to the South coast of Portugal.

The first hop South….

3/9/20

As the tide identified to move Lilly from The Quarry drew nearer, the preparations intensified and the reality of leaving Pembrokeshire, and our beautiful community of friends, dawned on the crew. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, friends and family were invited down to enjoy one last party on and around Lilly. Gifts of rum and whiskey overwhelmed the boat’s normal liquor stores and with hazy heads on Sunday morning the time had come to slip the mooring lines.

After tearful goodbyes, we headed downriver to be met with significant swell churned up by the shallows around the mouth of The Cleddau. The ocean was greeting us and testing our stowage. Plates and mugs thrown across the boat revealed our shortfalls before we settled for a peaceful night at anchor by Dale.

Lilly then needed to retreat up river to sit out a storm and we were afforded a few more days of final prep during which Iona (a community refurbishment project of an 18 foot Plymouth Pilot) was completed and we foraged bounty one more time from the community garden. Oh how we will miss that place!

Friday 28th August we once again set off down river, this time for the last time, with a full boat including stowaways Tess and Tess, Tom and Abi, all close friends from Pembs that we were delighted to be able to share the passage to Cornwall with.

Consistent, firm 20 knot northerlies were forecast and a brisk crossing of the Bristol Channel was anticipated. With suspicions that the ship’s log was over-reading, we were soon ploughing along, apparently at 8/9 knots. It wasn’t long before a pod of dolphins came to say hello, wish happy birthday to Seren (6) and play around the boat. This also signalled the point at which two crew members were forced down below to stoicly sit out 24 hours of sea sickness as the boat pitched and rolled in the short, confused sea.

Particular mention goes to Abi who admirably threw together a delicious pasta in between moments of sickness. It was much appreciated! Night came, the watch rota began. There was no letup in the conditions during darkness so the crew all enjoyed the sunrise as we rounded Land’s End and the sea thankfully became a millpond.

We made landfall up The Helford and enjoyed idyllic river exploring, pasty hunting and a fabulous welcome from new friends Greg and Katie – riverside residents of a wonderfully creative and eccentric nature. We all celebrated Tom’s birthday at a picturesque pub in Helford before more intense goodbyes as friends left to return to Pembs. The ‘hellos’ are a refreshing antidote to the dwindling ‘goodbyes’ as we are warmly welcomed by the Penryn community.

I have had several moments of pinching myself as this adventure begins: how on earth have I ended up on a gaff schooner preparing to sail round the world?! Who’s idea was this?? It’s thrilling, intimidating but also feels oddly natural. Couldn’t have guessed this life path a few years ago… However, it’s one step at a time and our attention is now turning to the 95 mile crossing to Brittany early next week when the winds look fair.

Nick