Electric Ile

Our last view of the clear Glenan waters – our anchor chain and our reflection

I’m gradually shedding the shackles of expectation, the great enemy of the laid back lifestyle. On our sail from the Glenans to Belle Ile an unforseen south easterly wind meant that it was possible we would have to head inland instead, perhaps to Quiberon or the islands that we couldn’t pronounce but were calling “Hodor”. It was all fine, all possible, we’d decide when we got closer – plans can be made and remade in the blink of an eye and now I just don’t mind. Suddenly the wind disappeared completely and I suspected a change was afoot. Sure enough, a flap flap bang boom – yes, the wind now hurtled from the south west sending us straight to our original course. And like that, the plan spins back.

I enjoy sailing far more than I could ever have expected, and my familiarity with the workings of the boat has grown naturally and without deliberate effort from the tiller and main to the jib, running backstays and staysail. And yet for all this enjoyment arrival often holds the greatest delight. After the anchor goes down (conversely almost always the most stressful part of the journey) it is a race to tie up the sails, get the dinghies off and go exploring. This has never been more the case than in Belle Ile. From our anchorage we could see grand rows of buildings with faded pastel plaster facades rising from behind the harbour wall, and beside it one edge of a huge citadel topped with pale pink apartments. We got Fanny off the deck, braved the ferry route into the harbour and were pleased to find a huge cobbled slip where we could leave her while we took in Port de Palais. 

Well Belle

We usually have some time alone as soon as possible, but that first night ashore is for both of us and weaves our first impressions together. I cooed at the prettiness of the harbour and checked out upcoming events on posters in shop windows. Rich was entranced by the ferry unloading, the 80s Citroens and Renaults, the little boat in a gallery window made from a mussel shell and the pedal motorbikes. I waited ever less patiently as he ambled from shop window to shop window like a toddler in a supermarket, pointing at things and demanding audience. It’s great to take in his excitement, but we’d been sailing so I was looking forward to some calm and soon headed off to find a bar. The next day I had a few hours in my own pace and space. I saw an opera rehearsing in a portside garage and sat down to listen outside, photographed the decaying shutters of town houses, sketched the pretty shops along the quay and searched bookshops and market stalls, taking in this most gorgeous of towns without the running commentary. It’s always after this sort of rest that I can rejoin Rich for the big adventures. We like the same things, usually, it’s just that sometimes we like them differently.

I had found the Glenan Isles tiring. I am the learner, and I get sick of always being told what to do no matter how justified it is. My first snorkel in years, my first sail in Bob with my own rig – everything we had tried was fun and exhausting. Just before we left I had scrubbed half of Gwen’s bottom with a small sponge on a stick wearing an ill fitting snorkel and Rich’s fins, and nearly did myself in. Here in Belle Ile I could relax. Here there were things I can do without thinking and learning – have a walk, drink wine, take a bike ride. And finally, a few nights in, we did something I had been craving and went out late to hunt down live music. 

Our first drink was to the jumping gypsy beats of the open mic in the Matelot bar, after which we bimbled, happy on punch, towards another bar where I’d enjoyed a juice in over lunchtime. We couldn’t afford more booze so we joined the throngs of people perched outside on the shop doorways and listened to the incredible acoustic skiffle jazz group that were playing in the front garden. The slim double bass player, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, stared forward in concentration at one of the three guitarists, and carried on playing when the songs were done. He made such a landscape with his beat you could almost fill in the rest yourself. It was one in the morning and we were only just wearing our jumpers. We drained our hip flasks, swung gently and held hands, overjoyed with our new favourite place in France. 

I read online that slugs (yes we still have a boatslug problem) don’t like copper, so Rich tried winding some wire around the drawers

Test slug. Fail.

We have a tight budget which I manage, the details of which are too boring to go into in much depth. From the £200 we have to live on a week about a quarter goes to keeping Gwen in shape and often up to a quarter goes on things like phone bills and fuel that we spread out over the month. Because that only leaves £100ish for food, drink and fun we try to shop as cheaply as possible and don’t tend to go out a lot, particularly in places where the beer is as expensive as it is in Brittany. This night out was a real treat, and we resolved to find a way to afford more. The next day we cycled out to the big cheap supermarket (we didn’t know cheaper supermarkets existed in France having not found ourselves in one before!) and stocked up on three weeks worth of staples – rice, pasta, oil, tinned food, UHT milk etc. We cycled home to Gwen in the rain, triumphant and drenched, and ready for the long journey ahead. 

The next day we left Belle Ile, and France, for the big one – the crossing of Biscay.