Two Bobcats to Brittany and the Channel Islands
Tom and Mary’, in mind we look back to 1966 the first Bobcat Rally, written by Roy Powell.
As we first read “Two Bobcats to Brittany” we thought- what fun! but as we thought about it again we realized here was an account of an achievement that marks 1966 as a year that should be remembered in yachting history. To get the full significance of the achievement you must go back a bit.
“gallia in tres partes divisa est” wrote Caesar--- or so we learnt in the fourth form-but at that age it was just an unpleasant chore to be “swotted up” or get the cane from the Latin master. It made little sense to be told that France, when Caesar conquered it, just over 2000 years ago (in B.C. 48). Was inhabited by three different races and the fact that the “Romans” held on to France for 500 years seems all so long ago that it is difficult to get into focus.
During their stay in France, the Romans were so impressed by Mont Saint Michel, Mount Jove they called it then, that they built a temple there. But there was constant guerilla warfare by the Frankish barbarians from A.D. 250 and local skirmishes until the Franks, Goths and Romans united to defeat Attila, King of the invading Huns in A.D.451. By A.D. 486, Clovis, King of the Franks, had defeated the Romans at Soissons and soon acquired the Kingdom of Burgundy, united the Frankish tribes and completed the conquest of Gaul by the French. Charlemange was King of the united France from A.D. 768-814, but on his death Norsemen invaded by the sea and took large areas. Charles 111, of France, put an end to the invasions, but ceded Normandy to Duke Rollo in A.D. 911. During this time Mont Saint Michel was used as a sanctuary by Christian hermits, but in the 8th century Bishop Aubert, of Avranches, had a vision in which he was commanded by St. Michel to build a church on the formidable rock. In A.D. 966, Abbot Hildebert started to design the present buiding, and in that year some three dozen Benadictine Monks came from Monte Cassino in Italy to found the monastry and build the Abbey which was started in A.D. 1020.
For 500 years succeeding generations of monks continued the building and it is for this reason that the architectural styles seem to grow from round arched Romanesque at the base to the most inspired and flamboyant Gothic as it rises to a final eagle-crested spire. The Mount has resisted many sieges and disasters. In 1203, the people of Brittany set fire to the town below and the Abbey was also burned. English invaders attacked and were repulsed in a bloody battle and two cannons captured at the time from the British are still on show.
Huguenots attacked in 1591, but were beaten off. The history of this famous Abbey has understandably been the subject of many books, but one thing must be understood to appreciate how impregnable it is. As you can see from the chart there is an area 30 square miles that is dry at low tide, yet when the tide is high it rises over 50ft. in depth. To witness this tidal invasion, which takes place at breath taking speed, is to understand why neither archer of long ago, nor ordinary boat even today, could reach the Mount and survive for long. It is appropriate then that in 1956 the 1000 year celebration were commenced by the return of a group of Benadictine Monks, and on 29th September, St. Michel’s feast day was celebrated with special ceremony. During this millennium celebration year, the usual 500,000 visitors increased to nearly a million, but it took Powell’s formidable task force, under the command of Tom Lack to achieve what no other “invader” has ever before achieved.
Anyone who has dreamt since boyhood of owning a boat would regard this holiday as an achievement of a lifelong ambition.
During the Bobcat Association Meeting at the 1966 Boat show, we had discussed the possibility of a rally for Bobcats in the summer holidays, and after much organization, five 8 meters assembled in Christchurch harbour on Saturday, 28th July, for the crossing to Cherbourg. My boat, Seamew of Christchurch, was crewed by my daughter Dawn, and friend Brian, and we were to be very thankful on many occasions to have our complement reinforced by Mary Lack and one of the boys, usually Bruce, aged 12, Mary’s knowledge of the capabilities of an 8 meter Bobcat and all aspects of seamanship was wonderful in anyone - let alone a woman of no great stature. One of her credentials was to have produced five tough boys, each of which was an efficient crew member for any Boat. We had arranged that, after the rally we should spend the rest of August in company with “Ginger Tom 11”, owned by Tom and Mary. “Ginger Tom 11” was crewed by four of their five young sons and Vi Deane, a great friend of the family.
Take plenty of butter
I had been soundly advised be several Bobcat owners as to the choice of food to take to France, and Dawn and Brian had thoroughly provisioned Seamew and stowed away vast Quantities of food, so that we were never short throughout the holiday. Butter is very dear in France, so many pounds were laid down on the water tanks to keep cool. Long life milk, packed by Express Dairies, is a great discovery.
An unfavorable weather forecast held us up for 24hours to the delight of William Lack who had prayed for this, so he could watch England v Germany in final of the World football Cup on television. So after all William’s prayer was answered-a good omen for the holiday.
The weather report from Hurn Airport was force 5-6 N.W. so we decided to make an early start on Sunday 29th at 06.15 hours, having reefed the main, we set off, but soon found light airs, so shook out the reefs. It was interesting to note, as we sailed across the Channel, where the shipping lanes lay-there was one at 17 miles out, another 25 miles. The visability was exceptional and we could see the Isle of Wight until we logged 31 miles, just about half way across. We kept contact hourly with Ginger Tom on the walkie-talkie which, apart from being very useful, provided a lot of fun. Another shipping lane was crossed when we logged 42 miles and I thought how useful this information might prove if we were caught in fog on any future trip to Cherbourg.
At last, France sighted at log reading 44. total distance traveled 66 miles in 11 hours.
Our engine failed to start as we entered Cherbourg Harbour, but Mary sailed us beautifully into the Petite Rade, where we dropped anchor near the beach alongside the entrance to the Bassin du Commerce where the yacht moorings are situated.
Next evening the Vice-President of the Cherbourg Yacht Club was entertained aboard ‘Gemini and
Octopussy’ and this provided an excellent opportunity for the crews of the other Bobcats, ‘Le chat Qui Rit and Lulubelle’, the latter having joined us after sailing direct from Yarmouth, to foregather. It was gratifying that plans made so long before resulted in 28 of us assembling on two Bobcats, to celebrate our first continental rally. On Tuesday, 2nd August we sailed to Braye Harbour, Alderney, which we made at 14.00 hours, a 4-5 hour sail.
During our enforced stay, owing to adverse weather conditions, we had some quite strenuous walks around this island which is ringed with forts a veritable Gibralter of the Channel. Each day we climbed to a vantage point to inspect conditions in the Swinge, by which channel we thought we might leave, but decided that, with winds force 6, the prospect did not look at all inviting. We decided to make a passage through the Aldernay race instead - under the lee of the island. We had intended to make St. Peter Port, Guernsey our next port of call, but the westerly wind favoured Jersey. Leaving at 13.00 hours we made St. Hellier39.3 miles by 19.00 hours. We met some heavy seas on this passage, especially over the Rigdon Bank off Cap Grossnez, where ‘Ginger Tom’ narrowly missed losing her dinghy overboard. We had no mishap apart from carrying away three jib piston hanks. Considering the seas we were glad to average 6.5 knots. At St. Hellier we moored alongside a French yacht from Granville in the outer harbour, but later moved into the yacht basin which dries out. The range of tide here is 40ft. The bottom consists of mud with many large stones and we had a few moments anxiety when taking the ground, with the attendant sound of grinding of hulls, but no damage ensued.
We left on Sunday, 8th August, an hour after high water, having reefed down three turns- wind force 4-5, thus reefed we found our reduced speed compensatesd for ‘Ginger Tom’s’ heavier load. Coarse 215 heading for N.W. Minqueiers have an awesome ring. Being the scene of countless wrecks. The rocks occupy an area larger than Jersey and only about a dozen of them remain uncovered - they are British Sovereign Territory! We rounded the bouy after 2 hours sailing log 14.8 and an hour later passed the S.W. Minquiers bouy, log 21.5 averaging 7 knots under reefed main, which was quite satisfying.
Cap Frehel abeam after 4.5 hours, sailing course 145.
We are now approaching St. Malo and between Ile Cezembre and Grand Jardin lighthouse the wind dropped and the engine failed to start. As we had a 3knot cross tide we signaled ‘Ginger Tom’ on the walkie-talkie, having waved a white pullover to attract their attention. As we were on the same wavelength we heard the French coastguard communicating on radio to the effect that the yacht off Ile Cezembre was signaling and might be in trouble. It was reassuring to note their vigilance. Meanwhile a change of plugs resulted in the engine starting up - what a relief. We picked up moorings outside the lock at St. Malo after 6.5 hours sailing - log 41, and shortly afterwards we entered the lock and proceeded to the basin.
It was a pleasant to arrive here, especially as my wife, Muriel, and small son, Andrew, were waiting to greet us. We found that the Portland weather forecasts were not accurate enough for us in this area, so we used French M.T.O. (pronounced May Tay Oh) also Jersey Radio. Here we met up with ‘Octopussy’ once again and learnt with interest of their trip to Guernsey.
Next day we lowered our masts preparatory to journeying up the River Rance to Dinan, there being a 12ft. bridge at Le Chatelier. We missed some good sailing above the Barrage.
On 10th August we locked out of St Malo and in an hour we locked in at the Barrage, which has been built across the Estuary to harness the tides to produce electricity. We were thrilled to meet yet another Bobcat ‘Katiki’, owned by the Traffords from Topsham, the three of us motored up in convoy to Dinan. On going through Le Chatelier, Tom’s French proved to be most effective as we had omitted to obtain a “Permis du Circulation” which is a necessary document for using the inland waterways of France. He appeared to convince the lock keeper that the one permis produced by the Traffords was for the three boats! On the way up we were enchanted by the views on both sides of this beautiful estuary and we were quite sorry when our 3.5 hour trip was over.
I have a friend living in the Chateau de la Motte Olivet nearby, and the twelve of us were invited to visit him. The boys were able to stretch their legs in the grounds and explore the chateau and to savour the delicious French patisseries charmingly served by Natalie, my friend’s 18 year old daughter. As our host was explaining the history of his beautiful home we were amused at the boys’ reactions. When they were told that they were sitting on Louis X1V chairs they immediately stood up, when they realized the glasses containing their cordial were 200 years old - they promptly put them down. It was quite a relief for them to escape to the spacious grounds and run off their energy.
Next day we moved up with one of the boats as far as the next lock at Lahon, where we visited a ruined abbey of great beauty - then back to Dinan, where all twelve of us lunched together in the cockpit of ‘Ginger Tom’ absorbing French wine and the Breton sunshine. During our stay, we visited the ancient fortress city of Dinan, which has great medieval charm and where we laid in a stock of wine which we purchased from an old family retainer of my friend at La Motte, each litre bottle cost 2frs.55 including 35 centimes for the bottles! (15 pence English). On the 12th , my friend , Monsieur M. du Halgouet, came aboard and we made the return journey down the Rance. He was enthralled by this trip on an English catamaran down his own River Rance - A trip he had never done before although brought up almost on it’s banks. We enjoyed swimming and taking photographs on the way. Once through the Barrage, we had to wait for the lock at St. Malo, so we went up by motor to within 100yds. of the beach at Dinard and spent a few hours swimming. What a wonderfull thing it is to be able to drop anchor and swim in so many delightful spots only accessible to shallow draft craft and incidentally to see what an interest is taken everywhere in our Bobcats.
13th August we left St. Malo under sail for Concale, where we anchored just off the fishing harbour, having carefully avoided extensive oyster beds, the only evidence of which are withies sticking out of the water in an irregular patern. We found it rather bumpy alongside ‘Ginger Tom’ in the night so we moved outside the Mole in the morning and dried out on a stony muddy bottom. Muriel joined us here for the next part of our journey so we were twelve. As we approached the beach at Cancale, we saw gaily coloured red and yellow squares on the beach, which turned out to be table cloths from the cafes which were laid out to dry, pinned down by stones at the corners. Oyster storage tanks lined the beach, presided over by vast Mesdames with caps on heads and huge yellow oilskin aprons surrounding their ample persons. All had wrinkled, friendly, weather beaten faces. Further up the beach, an interesting contrast was supplied by the lace makers, using the time between selling their wares, for crocheting replacements at incredible speed. They wore long red dresses with black fringed shawls and had tall cylindrical lace head dresses atop their elegant coiffures. All this local colour, as you can imagine, provided endless scope for our amateur camera men. The oysters some liked them some did not but how painless at 50p. per dozen it’s quite painless to find out. If you liked them, washed down with Muscadet - Oh Boy!! Oh Boy!!.
14th August. You may be wondering why I headed this story, no problem no problem at all _ so now I will tell you. Tom, our intrepid commodore, used this expression when anything looked most difficult, if not impossible, to me , and this was to be one of those occasions. We were to sail to Mont St. Michel and I had read Adlard Coles’ account of a trip there, reputed to have been made by a Jersey Yachtsman some time in the past, which referred to quicksands that could suck a yacht down, never to be seen again, and other gruesome possibilities. I had told a Concale fisherman that we were about to sail there and he said “It’s impossible, the tides are so strong and the waves so great it would be too dangerous-nobody ever goes there”. Obviously there were problems, even for Tom, but it was nice to have his reassurance that nothing is insuperable. On this journey Bruce aged 12, decided to spend a couple of hours in the galley cleaning and polishing, ending up by completely taking the oven to pieces and cleaning every part, what a boy!
First Yacht ever!
17.20 hours, we altered course to sail between Tombelaine and Mont St. Michel until we picked up some black bouys. The tide goes out six miles in this area and we anxiously watching the echo sounder which in places often dropped below 2ft. As the tranducer is placed a foot below the water level it meant we were in 3ft. of water with still 2 miles to go. We inched over the sand and dropped anchor 25 yds. From the car park at Mont St. Michel. To meet us came Monsieur Picherelle, a member of the lifeboat crew, who seeing us approach, had donned his peaked cap, to see the first, according to him, he had ever seen at Mont St. Michel. He pointed to a white bouy which he said had been put down by a St. Malo yachtsman years ago, but it had never been used, inviting us to pick it up, which I did Tom dropping anchor close at hand. Monsieur Picherelle said how appropriate it was that two British yachtsman had visited Mont St. Michel during the millenary celebrations of the foundation of the abbey.
First time in one thousand years---two Bobcats sail to Mont St. Michel.
Both crews excitedly explored this historic islet and much shopping was done in the narrow streets. Tom generously entertained Monsieur Picherelle on board and plied him with cans of English canned beer and cigarettes. We planned to leave at high water the following morning and turned in peacefully, feeling that something had been achieved that day.
15th August, 05.00 hours-the tide is coming in at a fantastic rate, my kedge is badly placed and I am almost beam on to the incoming tide. It is no exaggeration that the tide comes in at a rate of galloping horses - what a noise of rushing water against the hulls. In half an hour to my relief, the force of the flood eased and the tide is full, but where is ‘Ginger Tom’ and where is Mont St. Michel? Perhaps our journey was all a dream-then I hear the eerie sound of a foghorn in the distance. We are due away by 07.00 hours at the latest, now we will have to wait for the evening tide as we are fogbound- the boys will have another day exploring. Mud, Mud, Mud- sticky glutinous stuff, every time a dinghy goes ashore everything is covered with it, and yet here come the four Lack boys, Peter, William, Bruce and Tony all immaculately turned out with their dinghy looking spotless-come to collect Andrew and take him ashore-feel ashamed of my muddy dinghy, we must send Andrew on a course to that family!
Had to arrange for Muriel to get back to Parame with Andrew before we sailed, so Monsieur Picherelle offered to take her to catch the bus at 17.45. I put the dinghy on a very long line made fast to ‘Seamew’ and alerted them both to embark, as I could see the tidal bore approaching half a mile away. By the time they were in the dinghy ready to go ashore with Brian rowing the tide was upon them and Brian strong as he is, could not make it.
I had an anxious time watching my wife and boy swing back in the dinghy at the end of the painter, the dinghy having a great bow wave as though it was traveling at great speed. I could only hope and wait that my knots in the line would hold. Eventually I was able to pull them in, fit the Seagull and get them ashore.I now picked up my faithful crew, Mary Lack and Peter, and we sailed for Granville at 18.30 high water. Monsieur Picherelle and his colleague bought the lifeboat out ostensibly to see us through the narrow channel, but in fact to try out the new engine for the Zodiac inflatable lifeboat. As it happened, we were through the bouys first and their engine broke down and we offered the lifeboat a suit of sails. Monsieur Picherelle said over the walkie-talkie that all Bobcat owners arriving at Mont ST. Michel would be given a great reception and hoped to see many, now that the trail had been blazed.
The problem now was whether the Avant Port at Granville would have dried out before our arrival. The wind had dropped so we started our engine which only gave us 3 knots. ‘Ginger Tom’ could make much better speed-I must get a Penta like him for next season. The outer harbour dries out 16-20 ft. and I was getting anxious, as Allard Coles states that the approaches dry out from 2-9 ft. as far west as Le Coup Tower and buoy.
22.30 hours (4 after high water) we dropped our hooks in the Avant Port. Fifteen minutes later the harbour was completely dry! What a relief. We had come in the dark, straining to see Tom’s stern light against the myriads of lights in the town. At one time Mary shouted as a red light went across the bows-“Don’t run him down” and I put her hard a starboard just in time to miss a large fishing boat.
22.30 hours glorious sleep, Dawn, said several times during the night “don’t snore” and I replied “He is not snoring” thinking she was talking to Brian-not realizing that I was the culprit. 05.00 hours. Awoke to hear rubbing alongside-promptly on deck to find a large fishing boat “Brigitte” lying alongside me - adjusted the fenders to prevent damage. It is amusing to reflect that we do all this at these unearthly hours for pleasure! Yet there is an indefinable sense of satisfaction and achievement on arriving at a strange foreign port, which more than compensates for all anxiety. Which is soon forgotten. 06.45. locked into the harbour, inside the yacht harbour at Granville it is very pleasant, with modern pontoons and hoses for water just where it is needed. Two young ladies came aboard unfortunately whilst I was ashore, and asked if we were the catamarans they had seen at Mont St. Michel the previous day. “Yes we were “ said Dawn. “well we live there, but have never seen yachts there before and were very exited to see you coming in”.
We had a very special dinner that night as Tom’s guests, with fruits de la mer Langoustines, sea snails, shrimps, followed by Sole Meuniere and grilled Steaks, with of course Muscadet. Vi and I ordered fruits de la mer and shared our two large portions between the four of us. This is one of the pleasant things one can do in France, thus being able to sample some of their delicious dishes without having to commit oneself to a whole course.
17th August, every port on the west coast of Normandy dries and should not be visited except in offshore winds and Allard Coles rightly describes this as an inhospitable coast. However, although pleased to be warned, we had some delightful surprises.
At this stage of the holiday I had ruled out rushing home, so had decided to leave “Seamew” in France and to call back for her at a convenient time. ‘Ginger Tom’ had a further week’s holiday, so we decided to make for Gorey in Jersey as the next stage. These August days were beautiful with calm seas and hot sun, Dawn and Brian enjoyed themselves sunbathing and reading. Peter Lack caught our first mackerel on the passage to Gorey at a speed of 3 knots. We never seem to catch any fish over this speed. Logged 20.9 miles to Gorey where the range of tide at this time is 37ft. We dried out on the beach five minutes after arrival, one boat’s length from the rocks. To avoid coming down on the rocks one crew member stands on the cabin top and gives directions, sometimes very firmly. It is still quite a shock to see them so close by when the water is gone. The fact that we never landed on any showed the efficiency of my crew! At this stage we scrubbed the hulls and had a glorious swim. Ices all round after the swim were very welcome. Our sailing directions indicate the lighthouse at the end of the pier as the leading mark, but we discovered that the Gorey lighthouse had fallen into the sea some 18 months earlier.
18th August, 06.15 hours (H.W. minus 2.5) left Gorey, course 040 under sail and engine with a very light North wind. Skirted the S.E. Ecrehous bouy and by 08.00 hours changed course to North arriving at Dielette at 11.05 hours, log 17.7 miles. We were delighted to find a very pleasant beach in this small seaside resort which even boasts a yacht club! Both crews dined at the Hotel du Commerce where we were regaled with a degustation of Praires Farcie, Coquilles St. Jacques, Gigot d’Agneau and Muscadet. Returning to the boats for a well earned sleep, Tom fell overboard to our consternation. Somehow knowing Tom, we did not feel as anxious as we should have-someone noticed that he had removed his glasses, watch and wallet before falling in!
August 19th , left Dielette under sail and engine an hour after high water, bound for Cherbourg via the Aldernay Race. Sailed straight across Les Huguets de Joburg and were glad that the wind was light, as we could imagine the state of the sea under different conditions. Even under these peaceful conditions there were light overfalls and disturbed water. We rushed through the race pushed by a 7knot tide, and without any wind, the distance made in the first 2 hours was 14 miles. However once passed Omonville we had to contend with a strong reverse eddy which reduced our effective speed to a little over 1 knot. We went along the beach at Cherbourg for lunch before entering the yacht basin.
Thus ended for us, an unforgettable holiday.
One wonders what are the ingredients for a perfect holiday such as this, and, in retrospect the first must be one’s shipmates and , in this case they could not have been bettered. Next comes one’s boat, and in several weeks sailing we experienced almost every condition of weather and no owner could have been more thrilled seeing his ship standing up to high seas and yet remaining absolutely dry, sailing under light winds at 6-7 knots and still having in harbour a comfortable ship in which to relax.
These are most important ingredients and much more was added to them to make the holiday of a lifetime.