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Brest and Douarnenez Regatta 2000 - Essex Smacks Attend
From the newsletter of the Colne Smack Preservation Society, Brightlingsea, Essex, UK


p 3

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Sallie in Port Rosmeur. Douarnenez.


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Charlotte Ellen and the Muscle Men. Rafting up is fun but can also be hard work

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Just a sample of the different working craft seen in the Rade de Brest

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Girl power: Charlotte Ellen’s and Ellen’s crew going ashore. Room for one more?

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Sallie in the Baie de Douarnenez

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Anyone seen the skipper after that party last night?

¤- Brest 2000 by Hilary. [ All photos by Tony Pickering. Sallie CK224 has no engine - Ed ]

It was a long way there and a long way back!!

Sallie left Heybridge basin on Monday 3rd July. The sun was shining and there was a light breeze. An excited crew had everything set in double quick time as we headed off down towards the spitway and foreign parts (yes I’m talking south coast!).
The last time we took Sallie to Brest in 1992 we’d had fair winds all the way to Falmouth. This time was to be totally different. When I came on watch at midnight that first day all seemed to be going smoothly. Within the hour the fog came down, the wind backed and increased and we had to get the topsail down smartish.

The borrowed handheld GPS took time to find itself each time it was switched on so we decided it was best left on all the time; it gobbled up the batteries. Sailing in the fog in unfamiliar waters was character building to say the least and a GPS is going on my Christmas list!!
We made steady progress until Eastbourne when the W5 got the better of us ( the smack was fine but the people were tired, wet, cold and p***** off!!). A night anchored off Eastbourne and we were raring to go again.
The next three days were difficult to say the least. Sometimes we had thick fog lasting for a whole day and night, sometimes there was rain, sometimes there was too much wind and at others none at all. The log says that at 07:30 on the 7th there was a hint of sun! WOW!
That night at midnight the nav lights failed. The log entry just prior to this says… “lots of traffic”, I recall feeling quite scared, we were doing eight and a half knots in a confused sea which made it difficult for me to steer. The generator was on deck to run the nav lights but kept threatening to conk out as it jumped around the deck and there were ships everywhere you looked. The skipper was really enjoying himself!
The next day saw us wallowing around in very light airs wondering when we would ever get to Brest. We had our answer a few hours later when the forecast for W-NW 6/7 had some of us deciding that L’Aberw’rach sounded like a jolly nice place not too far from Brest and with a mini festival of its own.
We were wind bound there for three days but we had good company as Ellen, Sunbeam and Charlotte Ellen were also there. The crew supper was great, shipwrights dancing on tables, plenty of wine and lots of singing.
The showers were fantastic and although we didn’t know it, the last we were to have until we got back to England. We all felt totally rejuvenated.
The smacks left early on the 12th, the day the Brest festival started. We had a wet and windy passage but finally we were there on the Illes des Britaniques with the other British boats. The number of boats was noticeably less than our previous visit but even so a pretty good turn out; Essex Smacks were well represented.
The crew supper at Brest for 15,000 was amazing. How they managed to give everyone hot food I do not know.
The weather did it’s worst for the first couple of days but eventually the sun came out. Sallie had a lovely day out in the Rade in brilliant sunshine. The sight of so many traditional boats out sailing was truly fantastic, from huge square riggers to Thames Barges to tiny lugsail dinghies and everything in between.
The French sure know how to organise a festival.
Shoreside there was so much to see and do, far to much to eat and drink and huge crowds everywhere.
The downside was a lack of showers, eight showers for 15,000 crew wasn’t enough!!

And so on to Douarnenez. The parade of sail on the 17th was spectacular but we were very soon left behind as the wind died completely and everyone resorted to engines. We arrived in Douarnenez 13 hours after, in company with another British engine-less boat “Tomboy”.
The hardy smackswoman rowed (yes rowed!) into Port Rosmeur and we were delighted to get a round of applause. Girl power indeed.
Douarnenez was quite different to Brest and I felt it was more about the boats and crew than the people who had come to see them.
We really enjoyed our day racing although the log describes the race organisation as “the usual shambles”!
The concourse de manoeuvres was fun even if there were only four people in the grandstand watching and two of them were asleep. As we hadn’t brought any dredges with us we used tyres instead. We could just imagine the French wondering how we caught oysters in Firestones!

All too soon it was time to head home. On Saturday 22nd we left Douarnenez for the long trip home. The forecast was giving lots of Easterly so we housed the topmast, put in two reefs and set the storm jib. At 16:00 we reefed again and shortly after decided to head for shelter.
Tacking and leading into the narrow rocky entrance of L’Aberildut earned us another round of applause.
We anchored for the night close to the sailing club with no means of getting ashore for a last bottle or two of wine as the dinghy was on deck.
The following day, no wind!! Lots of fog!
We rowed out and anchored until a light NE allowed us to get underway. The next 24 hours were frustrating with light winds or none and a swell which prevented us from setting up the topmast. When we did eventually managed this, it promptly descended to the deck again as the heel wire block failed!
It wasn’t long before a temporary repair was made and once again we were off. The log for Tuesday 25th reads… “England 20 miles away (Lizard point)” and shortly after we heard Concorde's sonic boom- probably the last one as later that day we heard of the terrible crash.
At some point a shipwright who shall remain nameless mentioned he’d never seen the Eddystone lighthouse, he regretted those words as we spent 24 hours being washed first one way and then the other past it.

Eventually a light Southerly appeared and with parachute set on the bowsprit, we were off.
At Start Point the sun was shining, the wind was Westerly, the running sail pole was set and it was pasta for supper again! With a fair tide we were clocking nine or ten knots and every one was happy. Richard and I began to think we would get home in time to return to the barge on the 29th.
A flat calm off Deal prior to a thunder storm delayed us by a crucial hour, but no matter, before long the North Foreland was abeam and we could smell the Blackwater.
Later that night, just before midnight, the wind died at Osea and we failed to make the lock in at Heybridge Basin. We anchored for the night at the doubles and drank the last bottle of French wine. We locked in the following day and a Dutchman offered us a tow up the canal; well you don’t think we accepted do you??.

All in all it was a fantastic trip despite the frustrating weather conditions. Would we do it again? Ask me when I have recovered from this one.

Thank you Hilary for sending me this article on Brest 2000 at such short notice , You have done such a good job perhaps you could send us an article on the life aboard the barge XYLONITE . I am sure all our readers would be interested . I would also like to congratulate Alan and Leslie for sailing the Lee Cockler ‘Enterprise’ all the way to Brest. This is the first time a Lee Cockler has attended the festival. Ed.

. 2001 © Roger Walker