It is strange to write our last blog entry from the warmth of Tabasco, moored in our home town of Cowes, four months after our arrival home to the Isle of Wight. We are spending a night aboard, our first since our adventure, after a cold, clear Christmas sail.
This last blog entry has eluded us; our focus since arriving home has been on finding work, settling back into home life and settling the kids into school. The pandemic and its restrictions have also been a constant path to navigate; like everyone, we are adjusting to a new normal.
Our last blog entry explained how we arrived in Galicia in Spain after a tiring and busy trip up the Portuguese coast, dodging the Summer northerly winds. On arrival in Galicia we did very little cruising in its real sense, spending days in one bay and leisurely hopping onto the next whenever the whim took us. The month of July was spent swimming, diving, exploring, snorkelling, fishing, playing on beaches – with no deadlines and no weather watching. We were in our element and Galicia did not disappoint.
But we had been in Galicia on the way down the previous year; should we try to see and explore somewhere new? Santander, San Sebastian, or perhaps Brittany? As we had not seen much of France on our travels, we settled on making the coast of Brittany our playground for three weeks over July and August, and so on 24th July we set sail from Galicia back across the famous Bay of Biscay, with destination Belle Ille near Quiberon in Brittany.
The Bay of Biscay is always daunting but we had done it once and with a favourable weather window we had no problem to it again. It was a three day crossing and as per our long leg rituals (which were now a norm) we cooked up some wholesome meals in advance, stocked the boat and headed off.
Wind on departure was light and we motored for almost 12 hours. After that, as per the forecast, the wind increased from behind up to 20 knots which resulted in a very nice sailing conditions. We hoisted the spinnaker first and when the wind and swell increased we went wing on wing.
It turned out to be one of our most chilled out passages to date. We converted the living area into a bed and the boys spent the majority of the passage playing in this central area with lego, drawing and reading. Night passages passed smoothly and with some good food in our bellies, we coped well. In the early hours of the 3rd morning after setting out, Belle Ile came into view. With the sun rising, we had lovely light winds coupled with flat, calm water and so we glided around to the north of the island and picked up a buoy outside the harbour town of Le Palais. The sailing conditions were so beautiful that Filippo really didn’t want to stop, but we were all tired!
We spent the next three weeks exploring the coast of Brittany; Belle Ile, the islands of Hoedic, Houat, and the Glenans, the Morbihan gulf and the towns of Lorient and Quiberon. We were not disappointed; what a beautiful part of the world and only a few days sail from the Isle of Wight. It proves that sometimes you don’t have to travel far. The photos below give you a glimpse of some of what Brittany has to offer.
We also managed to visit the base of the French offshore sailing where we saw few of the Imoca 60 sailing boats getting ready for the Vendee Globe (sailing race around the world solo non stop).
It was the height of summer however and so very busy with French holidaymakers. We avoided big towns and ate on board as the prevalence of corona virus in France was growing rapidly.
This part of our trip saw our first hospital visit in quite unique circumstances. On arriving on the island of Hoedic, Patrick crushed the top of a toe on a rock hidden on the beach which tore the nail off, resulting in a nasty wound. Hoedic is a small island with no doctor and so we were helped to the local fire station where Patrick was put on a stretcher in a fire truck. The firemen called the hospital in Vannes on the mainland and the doctor, on hearing a description of the wound, was concerned that the bone was crushed. It was decided that we should be transferred to the mainland; to our great surprise however not by boat but by helicopter……
And so, Patrick accompanied by Nora took a 15 mins helicopter ride over the beautiful Morbihan gulf, and into the hospital in Vannes, where they were treated amazingly by helicopter and hospital staff. An x-ray revealed that Patrick’s toe bone was not crushed as anticipated. A young friendly doctor sewed the nail back on and closed the wound. Not the easiest of procedures for a nine year old but Patrick was very brave. By this stage it was 10 o’clock at night and after unsuccessful calls to all the local hotels, the hospital gave us a bed for the night. Covid-19 played on our minds, but a bed was a bed, and Filippo and Sean were on Tabasco, hours away on the island.
We woke up the next morning, paid our vastly reduced hospital bill with the help of our European Health insurance card (how sad this Brexit story is…) and were relieved to hear that the helicopter ride was considered emergency service and thus free of charge :-). That morning Filippo and Sean sailed Tabasco over to the Gulf of Morbihan and picked up a weary Nora and Patrick. We were relieved to be back together but happy that the injury had proved superficial. Patrick stayed out of the water for a week but over the course of the next months, the toe healed really nicely. The whole episode will go down in family history, especially that helicopter ride.
Our time there was cut slightly short however. Mid-way through August, the U.K. announced a 2 weeks quarantine period for anyone arriving from France. As school started early September and this was our priority, on August the 15th we left the Glenan islands for Camaret sur Mer and from there it was time to cross the Channel and get home.
We spent a day in Camaret sur Mer, reminding ourselves of its charm. The last time we had been here we were going south to Spain. Now we were going home. Both the boys and Nora were excited by the thought of home but Filippo was very sad to see the amazing adventure come to an end.
Crossing the Channel turned out, once again to be a bumpy and busy affair with a turbulent sea state caused by strong spring tides. Filippo, always ready to push the boundaries, sailed with the spinnaker up for a majority of it. To Nora, the less experienced sailor, the Channel once again felt slightly hairy. It was a tiring trip with two overly excited kids onboard.
We will never forget however sighting the Isle of Wight, our home. What emotion. However we had to stay calm and patient- 5 hours passed between seeing it and reaching its coastline. The boys were so excited, the question ‘When will we be there?’ asked incessantly. On rounding the Needles, the sea state immediately calmed. We were greeted by a beautiful wind from behind and calm waters. With effortless sailing we glided past the Needles, Yarmouth, Newtown Creek, Thorness bay and Gurnard. Some kids we know were even out sailing their optimists at our dinghy sailing club at Gurnard.
We only let a few families know of our arrival as our need to quarantine made everything very low key. Our arrival home, just like our departure, was a quiet affair; we experienced its profound significance as a family, together and proud.
On rocking up to Cowes, our dear friends Giovanni and Christine handed over some hot pizzas and our family friends the Bradley’s came to welcome us home with some Prosecco. It felt so good to be home.
Since then we have settled back into our home which we had rented out, slipped back into school life and started new jobs.
In some ways it feels like we have not been away; but our year out sailing on Tabasco was the most challenging and extraordinary thing we have ever done. It has been very formative both as individuals and a family. It opened our minds to so many different ways of living, to the potential of so many adventures and to the sheer beauty and connectiveness of the world. We now have many more adventures in mind for future holidays on Tabasco: the Netherlands, Denmark, the Baltic, Ireland, Scotland, the Atlantic? There is so much more to see!
It took us 3 years of discussion and debate to decide to take a year out for this adventure. We can easily say that the hardest part of the whole process was making that decision. Once made, there was a sense of commitment and calm, a determination to make it work. There were no magic formulas, no magic bullets. Perhaps just the need to embrace risks as challenges and to have confidence in ourselves.