Since our time in Borkum, sailing Verbena into Saint Malo – a walled in medieval Brittany coast city – became a mission. Friends suggested it and the city is close to Mont Saint Michel, also highly recommended.
From Cherbourg, our plan was to go 40 nm SW to the Channel Island of Guernsey then head 50 nm SSE to Saint Malo. After Saint Malo, we would continue along the Brittany coast to Roscoff, 75 nm west, and then onto a good Bay of Biscay departure point. Good plan, but at this time of year almost all winds are strong south westerlies. Heading to Saint Malo meant an extra 50 miles that we may have to beat (the sailing version of crawling) back to the west.
Cherbourg to Guernsey:
On Saturday September 21st, we saw a path to head to Guernsey on a SE breeze then the next day or the day after head to Saint Malo on a mostly westerly breeze.
We left in the early afternoon to catch the falling tide currents from Cherbourg to Guernsey. We were a little early on our departure for perfect tidal push but if we wanted to get the Guernsey before dark we couldn’t wait for perfect.
The wind leaving Cherbourg was light and deep behind us, putting us in Yanmar engine conditions. As we turned west we unrolled the jib and slowly progressed. We thought about setting the spinnaker but decided no harm in being a little slow as the currents would only get better as time went on, plus the family was enjoying our peaceful sail. When we got to the point to turn SW, the wind died and the seas got very choppy. After we rounded the point, the seas settled down and the wind slowly built to 15 kts out of the SE.
Finally we had a perfect flat seas close reach sailing conditions. We set a single reefed main and a full jib. The currents continued to build in our favor all the way to Guernsey. It was the reminder we needed on why we love to sail.
Guernsey is unique in many ways including the marina. Like other ports there is an outer breakwall, then an inner marina breakwall. Unique is the outer harbor has 5 long floating pontoons you can dock on that are deep enough water in any tide. There is no electricity and these pontoons are somewhat exposed, but you can walk from them to harbor. Our boat is too deep to go into the inner marina, so these would have to be our location in Guernsey.
Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands. They are British in the same way that Bermuda is British and are not fully part of the EU. For the first time in our journey, we flew our quarantine flag and had to check-in to the island. This consisted of filling out a form and dropping it in a lock-box. It was a nice reminder of home (our land home anyway) to fly our quarantine flag given to us by our Boston friends with all their signatures on it.
Docked up we walked around the town and found a place to eat for dinner. It really did feel like a European Bermuda, full on with nice shops, restaurants and a bunch of financial service and insurance company offices along the streets.
Getting to Guernsey late in the day, we weren’t ready to head off to Saint Malo the next day, plus the forecast was now for 25+ winds from the west. We’d be going south so it would be possible, but it wouldn’t be pleasant. We also had more obstacles on our quest to reach Saint Malo by sea. The large marina we were planning on staying at is under construction and couldn’t accommodate us. Instead, we would have to go through some locks into an inner marina. Given the tides, the locks would only be open till 1 pm and then closed till about 9 pm. We decided, let’s spend a full day in Guernsey and see what the weather brings for the next day.
A highlight of Guernsey was taking a chilly dip in the tidal pool. Built into the rocky coast is pools filled at high tide. Seeing these, I could see a plan for Boston to build pools like this into the Fort Point Channel area. If you are reading this Mayor Walsh, please consider it!
Guernsey to Roscoff:
On our Guernsey land day our thoughts of sailing Verbena into Saint Malo met their watery grave. The forecast for the next day was for southerlies going to SSW and then for a good week we were looking at strong SW breeze. Saint Malo would be a difficult sail at best. Then, sometime in the near future we would need to still head 50 nm straight west. Instead, we decided, let’s head 70 nm SW to Roscoff. We knew this would be a hard sail, but from Roscoff we are at a point where we can now head across the Bay of Biscay once we find the right weather. We haven’t given up on a visit to Saint Malo and Mont St. Michel, we will now just have to do this the land-lubber way, by rental car.
Another dawn departure and we slip off the docklines. As we are heading out of the inner harbor, I put on the autopilot for a moment to fiddle with the chartplotter. The wheel jerks left and the boat lurches to port, there is no fighting it. I turn off the autopilot and focus on getting out of the harbor’s tight quarters. The optimist in me thinks, ahh, it’s probably just a one time thing, it will fix itself. Sure it will.
Out of the harbor the seas are choppy and the wind is strong from the south. We are in the lee of the island so Renee and I both know this will quickly get much worse.
I try the autopilot again and the same hard turn happens. One more try and again, same thing happens. I have an idea of the problem – the tiny arm letting the autopilot brains know the angle of the rudder has likely come disconnected – but in the current seas, chop and wind I can’t see myself digging into the depths of the steering system investigate.
Without a word of utterance between us, Renee and I resign ourselves to 10 hrs of hand steering.
The next hour plus we opted to motor directly into the south west breeze in anticipating the breeze to go more south in a couple hours per the forecast. Our thinking was if we motored now directly into the wind, we’d have a good enough angle to sail to Roscoff once the breeze shifted south 10 to 20 degrees. Good theory, but motoring into the seas and wind meant a constant pounding where the whole boat shakes. I know the boat can take it, but that doesn’t make any of us like it any better.
The breeze does turn 10 to 20 degrees south in the next couple hours and we set the sails. The seas and wind are just as strong, but the motion is so much better now that we are sailing with a double reefed main and partially rolled up jib. Not to mention our speed has also improved.
Covered in salt and spray from 10 hrs of hand steering, Renee, me and the kids are wiped out. As we get within the last 3 miles of Roscoff the seas flatten out in the lee of the land and we know the hard stuff is over. Now we just need to find a place in the marina to dock the boat in the still strong breeze. We had called ahead and were told that although the marina staff would be gone by the time we arrive, they will try to save a place for us.
We enter the marina and begin looking for something like the location we were told by phone. We thought it was at the end dock of pontoon which made sense given our depth, yet all these spaces were taken. We decide to raft up with one of the boats at the end of the dock and figure it out in the morning if we are wrong.
It is a blur what happened next, but the result was Vera and Ben were left on the boat we were trying to tie up to and Renee, me and Verbena are backing away thinking we’ll make another try. The kids go explore to see if they can find a better spot and the do! We inch further into the marina and wedge ourselves into a dead-end spot at the base of the dock.
We were very glad to be safe and secure. A nice sight was seeing the 20 meter catamaran owned by Christine and Alain that we tied up next to in Borkum. This was their home port and they have continued to be a great help in planning our travels of this area. We felt in good company.
When will the wind gods let us continue west and will I be able to get us out of our tight dock spot, these issues will wait till tomorrow or as turned out to be over a week later.