Semaine du Golfe 2017

Every two years, I celebrate the feast of the Ascension afloat, like two years ago at the Semaine du Golfe 2015. The almost landlocked gulf (Golfe du Morbihan) looks tiny on the map, crowned by the cathedral city of Vannes and open to the sea. This makes for the very powerful tidal currents especially at the times of spring tides. Only boats with the most powerful engines can beat the current and even then, they have to go diagonally.

The Semaine du Golfe (English version) is a gigantic gathering of sailing vessels from three-masted ships to dinghies like mine. As of today, 1,429 vessels are registered for the event. Apart from the kick-off parade on Monday 22nd May and the final parade of Saturday 27th May, we will be divided into flotillas depending on the kind of boat we have. I will be in flotilla 2 which involves 223 (so far) small unballasted boats with centreboards that can be sailed and rowed. Some of us will have a small engine in reserve to help get around if there is no wind or we need extra power to get through the currents and whirlpools and keep steerage.

Many lessons were learned from two years ago, especially the engine and sleeping arrangements, together with good “oilies” to cope with squalls of rain that are threatened for the beginning of next week. Most of the week should be fair to good with winds of about 10 knots, which is ideal for an idyllic cruise, because this is not a regatta. People either go off to the campsite in the evenings or sleep on their boats. This is what I do with two planks between the lazarette and the rowing thwart, 2 inflatable mattresses and a sleeping bag. I have a better portable camping gas stove for heating up food and water and a port side compartment forward of the rowing thwart as my galley. My stowage areas are thus better organised. The greatest seamen like Cook, Bligh and Nelson insisted on a tidy and clean ship. The same goes for a big ship as for a small boat.

The sails during the day are exciting and we will be guided on different voyages than two years ago. Many of us will discover places we did not see in 2015. This event is extremely well-organised and led by the various flotilla captains in their motor boats and powerful horns – and are always available on VHF in case of need. The evenings and mornings are golden times of peace, solitude and quiet, when I can say my Office to the sound of the cuckoo and a distant church bell. I will be far from worries about the modern world, noise and fear – but in a place that is beautiful and still left to nature. This, it will be my spiritual retreat between the sailing, the socialising and the times of solitude and silence.

The boat is nearly ready, only clothes, washing bag and towels, and personal things still on my list. Everything else on my list has been ticked and checked. I still need to get perishable foods like ham, cheese and bread. Most of my fare will be dried pasta and tinned food. This is the life of a “hard bastard”, which does a lot of good and sorts out priorities in life. I see those with high expectations in life more critically. This is something that comes from my own effort and preparation.

Like last time, there will be photos of the event, many memories to share with those I saw two years ago. There will be the legendary Roger Barnes in Avel Dro who also sleeps aboard in better conditions of comfort than I with four feet more in hull length. There may be other English sailors from the Dinghy Cruising Association.

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