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The day dawned…

0300 UTC 0500 CEST. Thankfully , my neighbours, Rob and Sue on Arabesque had said they wanted to leave early too – they were en route to Bordeaux. We all got up at the same time – it was way “too early” for making sensible conversation. We quietly worked together to untie the raft and Arabesque veered off gently into the slate grey of that pre dawn moment. Right, this was it, I focussed closely on the tasks at hand. By now I had put a post it note on the wall by the chart table listing what I had to do – it was the only way. I recalled the words of an old friend – Tony (ex Para) telling me that before you jump “Always state the bloody obvious” for example “Are your wearing your chute” – you have to imagine this being shouted in your ear over the noise of aircraft engines and the air screaming past an open cargo door. So yes my post it note was definitely “The bloody obvious”,,,1. Unplug the electric (yes, I know John…) 2. etc…

The wind was light. In front of me was a large wooden classic schooner and rafted up to him was a large motor cruiser. Given the beam of these two vessels side by side, it meant I would have to swing the bow round at virtually 90 degrees to get out of the slot. I mechanically got on with my jobs. I blocking all the “what ifs” from my mind. The ropes were ready to slip. I shortened the aft line and put fenders on the stern quarter. Climbed back on board. Let go all the lines starting at the bow – reversed on to the remaining stern line and did a perfect spring out. It was a good omen. Or so I thought. As the engine idled and Enterprise slowly crept away from Camaret, I busied myself with all the essentials, Putting away fenders and making sure they were tied securely. it would be another three days before I should need them. Arabesque was pulling away into the gloom…some other boats had stirred too and were pulling out of Camaret, by now about a mile behind me. I had already decided not to cut the corner through an outlying reef as the course started to bear away to port. Arabesque and another French yacht decided they would cut the corner – I could see why – the sea was calm – there was a slight breeze – no problem. But I doggedly stuck to my plan, carefully mapped out the previous day. It didn’t matter. There was no rush. I had plenty of time to get to the notorious Raz de Sein, some 20nm away. You are advised to get to the start of the race at HW slack – this would be at 0800 UTC. I told myself this is yet another time when decisions get revised for the wrong reasons – pride; racing another boat; just because you can; No, I advised myself “stick to the passage plan”.

The sun would rise soon and paint the grey, black monochrome world around me. The boats behind me started peeling off to the north, towards the Chenal du Four that I had come through days before. Its always disconcerting when you see people going exactly the opposite way. But I was sure of my calculations. There was no comfort in seeing the two yachts ahead of me, who were also heading for the Raz, disappearing into the murk, They were now several miles away due to their short cut through the reef. Never mind. This is what being a skipper means. Hold to your own mind; make your own decisions; stick by them. I had the full main up by now but was motor sailing with a gentle breeze coming from the west.

Approaching the Raz I was hailed by Arabesque to wish me bon voyage – they were already going through. A nice gesture on their part, I entered the Raz at exactly 0800 UTC. Bang on plan. HW slack. The sunrise was golden, and warming, the sea was calm. But you could see clearly the swirls and agitations as the current flowed around the submerged rocks. A tremendous way to see the Raz for the first time. The haunted and haunting lighthouses of this western most part of France were floodlight, In that wonderful dawn light they gave you the comforting feeling of tough, wise old sailors,  just keeping a watchful eye on you. In the back of my mind I knew that this is also the location of one the the most important CROSS (French air sea rescue stations). But it didn’t matter, all the conditions were benign.

The experience was a gift. It was truly magnificent to cruise gently through the race, checking my pilotage that I had printed out the night before, changing course at the right moments. Using binoculars to get a good look at the navigation marks, compass to check bearings – there was time – time was the special and unexpected gift. It was an education. It wasn’t what it might have been. I thanked the Almighty for that.

I emerged into the infamous Bay of Biscay, relieved and full of anticipation for what lay ahead. I was not to be disappointed.

Tevennec lighthouse waves IMG_5835
Tevenec Light house …. on a different day …and on my day
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Leaving the Raz behind…. Late lunch – at the start of Biscay

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