Colin Le Conte and David Corson enjoy a magical trip from Guernsey to Western Brittany and its famous pink granite rocks.
Given that my father was a fisherman in Guernsey for years, including during the German occupation in World War II, it’s no surprise that I grew up fascinated by boats. After the war ended, he designed and built his own boat and I would often accompany him on his fishing trips. In fact most of my childhood was spent exploring the tidal waters around the islands.
Having developed a taste for the sea, as soon as I was old enough I bought a boat of my own; first a 21ft Coronet, followed by a Princess 266 and then a Windy Grand Mistral 37 before becoming the proud owner of a 2016 Princess V39.
To help others experience the same joy I get from exploring further afield in my own boat, I spent eight years organising cruises in company for the Guernsey Yacht Club Motor division, and I still take great pride in seeing so many people, who did their first long trip on one of our cruises, out on the water.
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Peter Cumberlidge invites you to create golden family memories in three hand-picked havens: fabulous Falmouth, glorious Guernsey and stylish Perros-Guirec
These days I tend to go cruising with my great friend and fellow Princess owner David Corson. We first met at the Guernsey International Powerboat Week way back in the 1980s. He was the organising secretary and I was helping with the computerised timing system.
We must have done a half decent job of it as David went on to become chairman of the RYA’s Offshore Powerboat Racing committee while I took on the role of the UIM’s Chief Timekeeper for the Class 1 World Offshore Championships for the next 14 years.
These days we have both slowed down a bit, progressed to more comfortable cruising craft (David’s current steed is a Princess V42 mkII) and enjoy taking our time exploring the many beautiful cruising grounds within reach of the Channel Islands.
Planning our Brittany boating adventure
Accompanied by our wives, Linda and Debra, we have spent many happy seasons hopping between the islands and the adjacent French coast. I have even set up a website (www.digimap.gg) to help share our knowledge of the area.
Having already visited both Northern and Southern Brittany as well as lower Normandy in previous years, for the 2019 season we decided to go to the Rade de Brest.
An area we had passed on our way to Southern Brittany in 2017 but not somewhere we had explored in any detail. Indeed, it is a whole cruising ground in its own right and has a number of interesting marinas and rivers. There is good reason this is the home of the French navy with such a vast sheltered area of sea.
We planned our Brittany boating adventure, starting with a long run direct from Guernsey to L’Aber Wrac’h and then a second, shorter run to the Rade de Brest.
23 May: Guernsey to L’Aber Wrac’h
Engine hours: 3:30
Fuel burn: 342 litres (V39) / 335 litres (V42)
L’Aber Wrac’h marina fees: €32.50 a night*
We left a couple of days early as we were keen to take advantage of the best weather. We had a good trip to L’Aber Wrac’h in F2 to F3 from the NW, travelling at around 32 knots with the benefit of a little tide, and completed the leg in close to 3½ hours. If only the sea could always be like that!
We arrived at low water and took the decision to use the Libenter Passage, which is a bit further but a lot safer and easier to navigate. L’Aber Wrac’h is a nice, non-tidal marina and has the great benefit of being some 25 to 30nm further west than Roscoff, making it easier to judge the timing right for going around the corner to the Chenal du Four.
We moored on the inside of the breakwater to avoid being disturbed by passing fishing boats, which never seem to slow down to reduce their wakes.
24 May: L’Aber Wrac’h to Camaret
Engine hours: 0:30
Fuel burn: 33 (V39) / 31 litres (V42)
Camaret marina fees: €29 a night
We timed the Chenal du Four to reach it at high water slack, resulting in very little tidal flow and good sea conditions with no swell, waves or fog. In these conditions, you wonder what all the fuss is about.
There are three marinas in Camaret, all of which are non-tidal. The first marina you reach has plenty of visitors’ spaces due to the number of boats that stay for a night or two on their long journeys north or south.
It’s an interesting 10 to 15min walk into town past the old church and the Vauban Tower – a UNESCO heritage site. It was built to look out for enemy vessels in the narrow Goulet de Brest passage and is well worth a visit.
Closer to town, the Notic marina can take around seven visitors’ boats alongside and a similar number on fingers with limited draught. The facilities are quite basic but it is conveniently located.
Camaret is a little run down but it grows on you and there are some nice walks around the headland, especially using the GR34 walking route.
It is an interesting area to explore, with several bomb craters, German fortifications and scenic views. Further around the headland you reach the Manoir de Coecilian, an old derelict house where the poet Saint Pol Roux lived, and you can also pay a visit to the fascinating Alignements Megalithiques de Lagatair druid stones.
26 May: Camaret to Brest
Engine hours: 4
Fuel burn: N/A (V39) / 116 litres (V42)
Moulin Blanc marina fees: €35.10 a night
We left at 10:00hrs for the short and sheltered trip through the Goulet de Brest to the furthest and oldest Brest marina called Moulin Blanc. We followed an easy and well-dredged channel and were met by a helpful staff member who guided us to our places. The marina facilities are good and they even provide a welcome pack. It’s also right next to Oceanopolis, a world-class aquarium that was well worth our visit.
The city of Brest is a 20-minute bus ride away. Although it was rebuilt after the war, it is a pleasant city with wide streets, a nice cathedral and some interesting places to visit. Top of our list was the Chateau museum.
We also had a good look around the new Chateau marina, set between the naval base and the large commercial area. It is rather separate from the town and a 20-minute walk to the train station.
We decided to remain in Moulin Blanc and hire a car to explore the area. We drove west to Pointe Sainte-Mathieu.
We had seen the lighthouse and the ruined abbey from the sea when travelling through the Chenal du Four but it was even more interesting on land. There is a fascinating church, ruined abbey, semaphore building and lighthouse, all within a few metres of each other.
Just a couple of miles away there is also an excellent new WWII museum set in German watchhouse bunkers, where everything is in both French and English.
29 May: Brest to Port-Launay and Quimper
We had always planned to visit Quimper while in the Brest area, after getting within a mile of it on a previous trip up the Odet river in 2017, but being thwarted by the lack of anywhere safe to leave our boat for the day.
So this time we took the opportunity to drive there instead and include a recce of Guilly Glaz lock, Port-Launay and Chateaulin on the River Aulne. We also visited the picturesque town of Locronan, reputed to be one of the prettiest villages in Brittany.
Quimper is a lovely old town with the river running directly through the heart of it. It wasn’t bombed during the war, meaning it has managed to retain much of its original architecture.
Our visit was planned to coincide with the “Grand Marche” Wednesday market, which during the months of July and August is known for attracting more than 100 stalls. Sadly, during our visit in May there were only four stalls in attendance selling their wares!
30 May: Brest to River Aulne
We had planned a leisurely cruise up the River Aulne with an overnight stop in Port-Launay, but the timing for our return would have meant us exiting the River Aulne at 16:00 with nasty wind-against-tide conditions predicted in the Chenal du Four and some 80nm to go. We decided to treat the passage with respect and took a day trip up the Aulne instead.
We left Brest marina around 2.5 hours before high water to give us enough time to cover the 11nm to the mouth of the River and get to the bridge around 2 hours before HW. Weaving around the tight bends we suddenly came across the old, derelict fleet of warships lurking in the shadows like ghost ships of a bygone age – impressive but creepy.
When we reached the bridge, which recently won an award for the most beautiful concrete bridge, we called the Guily Glaz lock-keeper (02.98.86.03.21) and informed him of our expected arrival time. He only operates 2 hours either side of HW, so do check the timings.
At Mean Spring Neap tides you should have 2.5m draught all the way to the lock, provided you stick to the deepest part of the river. Be careful not to move across the river to the lock until you are quite close though or you may go aground.
Above the lock is the pretty town of Port-Launay. At Chateaulin, there is supposed to be a pontoon for visitors, but it was in a poor state and could only take two boats. On the way back down the river we were greeted by a yacht race which was quite a sight to behold. We returned to Moulin Blanc marina and refuelled ready for the return trip to Guernsey.
31 May: Brest to L’Aber Ildut
We left Moulin Blanc marina first thing in the morning at around low water. There was a fog hovering a few feet above us which lowered and thickened before lifting as we headed out to sea. We travelled most of the way up the Chenal du Four in great conditions.
A light F3 breeze and gentle 1.5-knot tide sped us on our way and meant the conditions were good enough to visit L’aber Ildut, an interesting port which has a handful of visitor pontoons rarely mentioned in cruising guides to the area. We loved the place.
Although small, it is interesting, pretty and a hive of activity – we enjoyed watching seaweed being passed from fully laden boats to awaiting trucks. No wonder it is known as the seaweed capital of Brittany.
We had lunch on board the boats, took lots of photos and carried on with our journey, timing it perfectly for the Ile de Batz inside passage at around half tide.
We had always wanted to go through the inside of the island passage as it is shorter, more scenic and avoids the meeting of tides in the outside passage, but it is not recommended at low water.
A long following swell of around 2m high at 14-second intervals made life interesting as we surfed down the troughs but thankfully it was with us rather than against us.
This meant we could maintain a cruising speed of 28 knots, around 10 knots faster than the estimated speed of the waves. There is no way we could have maintained that kind of pace if we were driving into a swell of that size and speed.
Passing Roscoff, we headed for the inlet of Ploumanac’h – another port on our bucket list. We had no intention of staying overnight on the fore and aft moorings, so a quick visit was ideal. The ferries thought the same and we had one follow us in and met another near the exit.
1-3 June: Ploumanac’h to Perros Guirec
Engine hours: 5
Fuel burn: 290 litres (V39) / 280 litres (V42)
Perros Guirec marina fees: €39.00 a night (3rd night free)
We went around to Perros Guirec and arrived 20 minutes after the gate opened. The tide can rush in through the gate until the wall is covered, so our time of arrival was ideal.
The gate at Perros Guirec is only 5.8m wide and feels narrower as you approach the entrance. The pontoons are named and the visitors’ pontoon is the second from the right, and is called La Mutine.
We walked up the hill to the main town and explored the area. It is a nice town with lots of shops, a small church and a pretty beach on the other side of town.
Sadly this was the only day the shops were open as almost all of them close on Sunday and Monday. Walking back around the coast, we passed a smaller beach and a dramatic headland with good views of the Ile Tome.
The next morning, we took a taxi to the main beach (about €18) and caught the ferry to the Sept Isles. There are actually five islands, not seven, apparently due to a translation error!
The skipper was extremely skilled and went very close to the rocks to get a better view of the gannets, puffins and seals. They will take you into Ploumanac’h too if the tide is high enough. In the summer they also run ferries to the Îsle-de-Bréhats, which is another of our favourites.
The following day we enjoyed a beautiful hour-long walk along the coast to Ploumanac’h on a largely flat path with amazing views of the pink granite rocks worn smooth and often left delicately balanced by erosion from the elements.
4 June: Perros Guirec to Guernsey
Engine hours: 1:50
Fuel burn: 176 litres (V39) / 170 litres (V42)
The forecast was for the wind to increase the following morning before Storm Miguel came whistling through a few days later with F8 to F9 gusts. If the weather came earlier than forecast, we could be stuck for days, so we decided to call an end to our Brittany boating adventure and head for home.
We left at 09:00 French time to allow enough time to get back to Guernsey before the QEII marina closed. With a 1.5m following swell we made good at 29 knots and within two hours we were safely tucked up in Guernsey at the end of another fascinating Brittany boating adventure.
Brittany boating trip summary
Total distance: 368nm
Engine hours: 16:20
Fuel burn: 953 litres (V39) / 1,042 litres (V42)
Marina fees: €383 per boat
*N.B. All marina fees are for a 12m boat in 2019 prices. For more information on the marinas, visit: http://marinas.digimap.gg
‘Brittany boating guide: Princess owners explore France’s rugged coast’ was first published in the February 2021 issue of Motor Boat & Yachting.
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