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Cruising France - North and West Brittany

Cruising along the Brittany coast between Tréguier and the Raz de Sein will exercise your navigation and pilotage skills. There are plenty of anchorages and towns to visit, so day sailing is feasible, with strong tidal streams. Catching the tide may mean a very early start. Going west, you'll be arriving at low water; passages east give you more destinations!

This is lightly populated holiday country, often very quiet outside July and August. There are delightful beaches, and several isolated offshore islands to explore. Inside passages offer pilotage challenges. Big Atlantic swells are an occasional (sometimes dramatic) hazard, as are patches of over-falls.  Two major tidal gates guard the entrance to Biscay. The first is the Chenal du Four, inside Île de Ouessant; the second is the Raz de Sein, notoriously rough with even moderate winds against the tides.

See Channel Overall for information which applies to all Channel regions.

For overland travel in the area, getting to and from your boat,  http://www.breizhgo.com/fr/ is helpful.

Map of NW Brittany

Ports of the Brittany Coast - Port Blanc to Roscoff

The 50nm or so stretch of coast from Port Blanc to Roscoff has plenty of picturesque stops, but the slight disadvantage (when traveling west) that you're traveling with the ebbing tide. So harbour access may be limited on arrival. Here's a detailed list of all Brittany ports' facilities. Look out for those places which are accessible at all states of tide. My evaluation, from East to West:

Tréguier (8/10) is a lovely half timbered town on a long river estuary about 7nm inland of the outermost rocks. The cathedral and it's square on the hill above is a delight. Look out for the excellent fish restaurant in Rue Ernest Renan - 'La Poissonerie de Trégor'. It's just above the fish shop - very good value. Cross tides make the marina daunting to approach in anything other than slack tide.

Port Blanc (6/10) is an attractive anchorage set in an archipelago of granite islets, accessible at all states of tide, but open to the north. Visitors moorings are available, and there's usually anchoring room. An inner area is suitable for boats which can dry out. The village is very quiet out of season.

Perros Guirec (3/10 - limited access) is a busy little holiday resort with a well sheltered marina. Access is very limited by the drying approach, and may not be possible at neaps.

Sept Îles (6/10) provide a fair weather anchorage. Visit the lighthouse and the bird sanctuary while waiting for a tide change - or perhaps while waiting for high enough water to enter Ploumanac'h.

Ploumanac'h (8/10). . . difficult to spot the narrow entrance to this pretty place. It's a "must visit". A well marked winding channel (which dries) leads past pink granite humps and improbably isolated buildings to a rock pool, whose water is held in by a sill.  Lines of buoys inside provide fore and aft berthing for visitors.

Trégastel (3/10) just west of Ploumanac'h, is rather exposed. Some of its outer moorings for visitors are available at all tides.

Trébeurden (6/10) is a substantial marina with drying approaches. There is some surge if there's a large westerly swell at high water springs. Several day anchorages tucked among the islands which surround this popular holiday resort make it a good spot for younger families.

Lannion. (1/10) I've never managed to find space here, so I wonder why pilot books include it!

Primel. (3/10) A small fishing village whose (rather exposed) visitor moorings are available at all tides. Nothing special. A useful place to wait for a tide - whether to enter Morlaix, or make a passage east or west.

Morlaix Estuary (8/10). This estuary has anchorages which can be reached at all states of tide, and numerous passages threading through the 4nm rock encumbered approaches. A drying channel leads to Morlaix Town (8/10) and its wet basin marina, some 5nm or so from the last deep water. The trip is worth it. This lively market town is busy all year, and the marina is close to the centre. Useful for crew changes (TGV station).

Roscoff (7/10). Roscoff is a long estabished old resort town with a certain faded grace, worth a visit. The drying harbour is a good place to scrub the bottom, leaning on the wall. There's a ferry terminal at Port Boscon, just east, connecting with Plymouth and Ireland, and a busy fish auction site. A very useful full service large marina (pdf file) with shore hard, just south of Port Bloscon, can be entered at all states of tide. Strong currents run through outer visitor's pontoons outside slack water.

Île de Batz (7/10). Good walks. The channel between the Île and the mainland is reasonably easy to navigate at half tide and above, but quite a challenge at lower tide levels. Anchorages off the island (and some waiting buoys for the drying harbour near the west entrance) can be reached at all tides. It is, however, probably easier to visit the island using one of the frequent ferries from Roscoff town.

Cruising West Brittany - L'Abervrac'h to Raz de Sein

West of Roscoff there's only one easily accessible port (L'Abervrac'h) before reaching the west facing coasts. The west facing coasts have offshore islands stretching westwards, through which run strong tidal streams.  The islands themselves provide some fine fair weather anchorages for adventurous folk. Two wide passages inshore of the islands carry strong tidal streams. Avoid wind over tide situations, since these may create some dramatic overfalls. The northern passage is Chenal de Four, inside Île de Ouessant. The southern is the Raz de Sein.  Between the two are useful sheltered cruising areas, the Rade de Brest and Baie de Douarnenez, the latter well worth a visit. Outside Île de Ouessant there are TSS.

L'Abervrac'h.(4/10) Small village with a shop. Accessible at all states of tide, and lit for a night arrival, this is a feasible landfall from Plymouth or Falmouth. It's also useful for waiting a foul tide when making a coastal passage. Some 4nm inside the rock encumbered approaches to the estuary is a marina (boats under 12m) and some visitor's buoys (raft up) accessible at all states of the tide. There are more moorings further up the estuary if strong NW winds make the outer moorings uncomfortable. A short cut into (and out of) the estuary towards the east  (Malouine channel) saves some 4nm, but is only usable in daylight and if you can identify the leading marks clearly. Needs some 4nm visibility.

Île de Ouessant, (5/10) a fascinating fair weather anchorage and moorings in SW facing Lampaul. Passage du Fromveur (just south) carries 9kt tidal streams at springs - use only at slack water.

Le Four. There are four places useful for waiting the tide in the northern-most channel.

  • L'Aberildut (3/10) is a small inlet which has visitor's moorings for boats under 12m. These should be booked ahead. 
  • Le Conquet (6/10 if you're a small boat) is a picturesque small harbour suitable for yachts which can take the ground.
  • Larger yachts can anchor out of the tidal streams at Anse de Porsmogeur or Anse de Blanc Sablons, both north of Le Conquet. Choose whichever is best sheltered. 

Rade de Brest (7/10 as a boat's base) is a well sheltered cruising ground with a choice of marinas and anchorages, especially for vessels which can take the ground. Avoid the commercial port and naval establishments.

  • Brest itself is a major city with two marinas, good for crew changes (TGV to Paris and local airfield).
  • The River Aulne (7/10 for wild life) is particularly attractive, with much wild life along its banks, navigable to Port Launay (8/10, rural peace, picture) above a lock, some 12nm inland.

Camaret (8/10) is a busy holiday town with good beaches and large and easily accessible marinas. Interesting boat construction museum to visit. This is a very convenient and pleasant stop for vessels going to and from the Bay of Biscay. Good Photo tourist guide.

Gulf of Douarnenez is well sheltered.

  • Morgat (5/10) is a holiday town with an easily accessible marina and a enormous beach, described briefly in the photo tourist guide above.
  • Douarnenez (9/10 for historic boats) is a "must visit", a centre of maritime history with a collection of fascinating historic craft afloat in Port Rhu and a museum. Marina accessible at all tides, but usually full if a historic maritime rally is in progress. Busy fishing port does not accept visitors.

Raz de Sein. Gateway to Biscay. Best traveled at slack water. Can be very rough indeed with only moderate winds against tide. Pretty settled weather anchorage off Île de Sein - calls for detailed chart.

For loads more links to the northern coast harbours in this area, go to http://www.digimap.gg/marine/marinas/

And onwards to French Biscay - where tidal streams along the coast no longer dominate your passage plans.

Summary

  • Attractions: Challenging pilotage, out of the way settled weather anchorages, French café life, historic sail museums. 
  • Snags. Those 2am departures to catch the tide, vicious wind over tide overfalls, tidal gates.
  • Ports of Entry.  Not applicable.
  • Layup or Wintering. Ashore, only Roscoff or Brest. Afloat, Morlaix and Brest.
  • Transport. Air to Brest. TGV to Brest, Morlaix. Ferry Roscoff to Plymouth and Ireland.
  • Boat Charter. Not researched . . .

 

Reviewed Aug 2015


 

Cruise Region: 
Country's Boating Regulations and Data: 
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