Cygnus dam busting in the Raz de Sein, Sainte Marine and Camaret.
14th September 2011
Raz de Sein, Sainte Marine and Camaret.
Fighting the fog to Camaret
So we got kicked out of Brest and decided to provision the boat to go to Camaret. After all eleven miles is a long way and god forbid we ran out of my favourite white chocolate. As soon as we got into the main channel a fog similar to Izal toilet paper descended. You remember Izal, it was banned several years ago under the Geneva convention for being more barbaric that Chinese water torture. You didn’t wipe anything but its razors edge could slice any cling on’s away in their prime. You get a paper cut from Izal and it is an ambulance job with a good chance of an amputation of the affected part. If the French had discovered it during the revolution they could have saved a fortune on guillotines.
Camaret old boats
The trip to Camaret may have been more interesting if we could see anything. The fog made it more like playing a computer game with the chart plotter and radar. It was my favourite type of game though as we finished without us being shot, stabbed, eaten, or dissected into a million parts.
Camaret would have been nice if we were thirty years older and had a Saga platinum membership card. There was nothing bad about Camaret it but there was nothing interesting unless you count a woman trapping her dogs head in the car boot. It is the Eastbourne of France and the type of place a mystery bus tour of geriatrics always end up. Even the boats there have seen better days.
I didn’t sleep much that night as the following day we would be going through several miles of water entitled the Raz de Sein which roughly translated means “Are you Insane”.
Raz de Sein and certain death
It is so notorious the Raz de Sein has its own coast guard station high on the cliffs above. Every book I had read described it as certain death unless you went through on a good day at the right time and clutching rosary beads. It mentioned eating boats as a snack and it wouldn’t even need a toothpick to get the bits out. Everything bad in the world was there, hoodies, toe nail clippings, ginger haired people and the world’s supply of “Agado, push pineapple shake the tree records” all just wanting your life blood. I had even worked out a couple of alternative places to go if it went totally wrong. One was Brooklyn and the other was Hell. There was little in it but at least in Hell they give you a pitch fork for toasting marshmallows on their free central heating system. In the Raz de Sein it is wet.
We were going through the Raz de Sein, I think.
The truth is when we got there we didn’t even realise we were in it until we were half way through. Raz de Sein, I poke you in the eye with a sharpened stick. A day in Ramsgate is far scarier than you will ever be.
As soon we got through the Raz de Sein fog descended. I checked the ports I had decided to go to. One was closed for upgrades and the other could not fit a boat our size in. Brilliant planning on my behalf if I say so myself. The next port I decided upon was a good distance away but having poked the Raz in the eye once there was no way I was going back to do it again.
Spear guns and bad maths
Along the way we had big winds, Atlantic swells, sun, fog, and rain. We also had dolphins again; three of them playing round the boat for half an hour on and off and yes one did call me a prat again. The first thing on my Christmas list is that spear gun liberally tipped with a mixture of cyanide, Marmite and anything else that may do harm to a healthy sarcastic creature.
Maths has never been my strong point and the original six or so hours I said it would take soon turned into thirteen. The day had descended into inky shadows a long time ago and sailing in the dark to me is a wonderful, calming experience. You are in your own world of blackness and the only sound is the sea rushing past the boat as you are being thrust forward by an invisible wind and swell.
All we could see were the distant lights of towns we would never visit on the shore and buoys blinking their own special codes in the darkness.
Benodet and Sainte Marine. Two towns, one river, one hero
By half past midnight we were heading into Benodet and Sainte Marine, two small towns either side of a deep river. The entrance was between rocks you couldn’t see. To make it worse the French had decided that there was no point in putting lights on the various buoys as the indigenous population would be somewhere ashore drinking wine or eating. All we saw was black ghostly navigation shapes occasionally brushing past the boat. There is even a line you can use to get into some ports called a leading line. The trouble with this one was that it led you straight onto the beach. When we saw the crabs scurrying under the pebbles and heard the waves crashing on the shore we realised we were a wee bit close. Further up the fast flowing river Aiden did his hanging over the side bit to grab a buoy. Jordan got to use our torch that not only burnt your retinas out but left smoking holes in the back of your skull as we secured Cygnus III on the Sainte Marine side of the river. After the celebratory can of beer we were asleep well before hitting the bed.
I had a big problem
Sainte Marine and Benodet
Now tying up to a buoy is all good and well unless you are a smoker and have no cigarettes left. Sainte Marine then becomes the one place on earth you don’t want to be unless you count a petrol station in Hiroshima half a century ago. It’s just wrong being in the middle of a river with quaint little villages selling Tabaco both sides and no way of getting there. There was nothing for it; we would have to move the boat. After tying up on the visitor’s pontoon later that morning we walked into Sainte Marine, one of the appealing and most infuriating little villages we had ever seen. It was stunningly beautiful but there was not one place I could buy the fuel of my addiction. All the tobacco shops were apparently in the town across the river and the ferry-boat captain had decided that today was a good day to go fishing!
Enter my hero, the Sainte Marine harbour master. I would give him the shirt off my back, nay I would even give him the skin off my back should he need something to put tattoos on. He could even have my children and tattoo them as well for good measure. Not only did he not charge us for staying as we had gotten in so late he also offered to take us across the river to the land of tobacco for free. Before he had finished the sentence I was in his dory waiting.
This place is Crepe
The town across the other side is bigger, more touristy and armed with several boxes of the dreaded weed in my pocket and a big contented smile we had a walk round. We even went into a Crepery which was no more than someone’s front room. In there they cook all manner of savoury and sweet pancakes in front of you. It was wonderful and even the teabag was made out of silk.
Later we went into a sort of pub for a drink. As various visitors to the establishment came and went they all shouted a big hello or goodbye, in French of course, to everyone in there. It really did make you feel at home.
Our hero, the harbour master, even came back to pick us up again and would not take our sons in return no matter how much we tried.
Sainte Marine is hard to beat
We have been to many places on the way some of which are truly stunning but so far Sainte Marine is hard to beat. It has a picture postcard village and the people live to make your life more enjoyable.
Whilst chatting and drinking with a few other boat owners here we found out some surprising French views of the UK. Unlike our fondness to put the French down they quiet like the English and think we are very polite and gentlemanly. The riots in the UK genuinely surprised them as they thought the English were not like that. A lot of French are hypochondriac’s and love nothing more than to believe they are ill but they also think our NHS system is Stone Age. They don’t have waiting lists here; if you need something doing it gets done.
How to use a French toilet
It would also seem through our observations that the French have strange views on toilets. They don’t like to use them on boats preferring to go in a bucket and throw it over the side. It also seems acceptable for men to just whack it out and pee over the side wherever they are. Ashore a lot of the men’s urinals are totally open to people walking past which can cut an Englishman of in mid-stream, believe me.
The other kind of French toilet we have come across is your worst nightmare unless you are a professional downhill skier. The foot marks are there for you to assume the skiing position but how do you know if your aim is straight and what the hell do you do with your trousers and underwear? Do you take them off all together? My personal approach is to half pull them down, holding on with one hand and use the other for balance, Rodeo style. Just don’t allow yourself to get thrown as you will end up in a whole world of ……………
The night-time approach is something I call the dam buster. It requires two torches front and back aiming down. When the beams meet over the hole you know your aim and trajectory are right, unless of course it bounces.
We will be sad to leave Sainte Marine, Bernodet and its people but having given our shirts, skin and son’s away we want to leave with something apart from happy memories and several packets of cigarettes. We also do not want to go back through the Raz de Sein.