• France's news in English
 

Why learning to sail in Brittany is great for the whole family

Published: 07 Aug 2012 14:32 GMT+02:00

A sure sign that you're a bit bored is the urge to learn a new hobby. When you decide that new hobby should be ocean sailing and you whisk the family away for a week of lessons on a live-aboard yacht, it's a telltale sign you're having a midlife crisis.

 

Having visited Brittany many times, I was already a fan, and I knew its coast offered some of the planet's most exciting sailing waters.

Brittany is home to many sailing schools, but most of the instruction is, naturally enough, in French. With a bit of research, I found a company offering Royal Yachting Association courses and certification in English from the beautiful port town of Camaret-sur-Mer.

Apart from a few sailing trips with my grandfather when I was a kid, I knew very little about sailing beforehand. My expertise was limited to knowing the loo is called the "head", your head and the boom don't want to meet and how to steer the tiller. In other words, I was a true beginner.

 

Click here for a gallery of Tracy's Brittany sailing adventure.

 

We were a bit concerned about the safety of our two girls - ages six and three - and their potential to disrupt our lessons with fussing. But our concerns were misplaced. After our first day of sailing we went ashore for dinner in Brest, and both children where begging to return to the boat within an hour. And they were kept safe throughout, whether they were in the cabin playing or clipped into the cockpit whilst on deck.

I assumed the week would include learning how to tie a few knots, how to work the sails and perhaps the identification of a few nautical flags. Looking back now, I'm amazed by how much I learned in such a short time.

The instruction started slowly, with safety talks, boat acquaintance and basic maintenance, moving on to knots. You know you're well on your way when you know the difference between a bowline and a round turn and two half hitches.

 

By the end of day one, the mystery of buoys was revealed. Those things I'd seen bobbing around in the water all my life suddenly had meaning. Red signals the port side (left for landlubbers) heading into harbour (opposite in North America), green the starboard side, and they all guide skippers safely around obstacles and shallow waters. On day two, when charting a course by plotting waypoints, I learned how to use the buoys to pinpoint segments of my voyage.

Within a few days, my husband and I were charting a course for the day's journey and skippering the boat. Sure, we had a lot of help in the form of our instructor, Richard Curtis, of Brittany Sailing, but we still enjoyed "being at the helm."

The Breton coast must be one of the few places in the world where, when you learn to identify various military vessels, you actually stand a good chance of seeing them. We studied our cards and books in order to identify minesweepers, fishing vessels, dive boats, etc., as well as the symbols these craft show for various situations, whether they're at anchor, towing or not under command. And one morning, through the haze, we identified a minesweeper ahead of us. Richard joked about having arranged the sighting just for us. Thanks to his lessons, we knew how far to stay away from it.

Later, we sailed past French naval Zodiacs in the midst of a rescue exercise, complete with a helicopter. That sighting alone made the whole trip a success in the children's eyes.

And when there were no other boats around to impress us, there was still the beauty of the Breton coastline, which is lined with natural and manmade sights, including beautiful peaks, fortresses, bridges and lighthouses.

For history buffs like my husband, it was a treat to sail past the French naval ship graveyard on the River Aulne, where we saw the well-decayed Colbert and a few other vessels anchored in retirement.

Sailing is certainly not just winds, waves and sightings. Much of the coursework focused on all that can go wrong. I tensed up during the man overboard exercises as I reflected on how important it was to get it right. After a few hours of practice, we were able to rescue our man overboard dummy named "Danny" from the water fairly well, but I still hope I never have to use the technique in real life.

By the end of the week, we could identify every buoy we passed, chart a course, save Danny in windy conditions, work the sails, identify other shipping vessels based on shape and symbols, furl in the genoa, heave to, lee-ho (warning given before turning the boat through the wind), move around other vessels in harbour and moor the boat.

It's hard to imagine a more exciting day out than sailing on a sunny, windy day off the coast of Brittany. A live-aboard weeklong course for learning how to sail involves a steep learning curve, but it is doable with the right teacher.

 

Richard was a confident and well-experienced instructor, as well as being good company - important when sharing a small space together. His nautical credentials stretch farther than a few leagues deep, from his days as a Royal Navy Skipper to his trans-Atlantic voyages, which means he has plenty of colourful stories, as well as valuable lessons.

I couldn't help but smile when I learned the nautical meaning of a "telltale" sign – the strings which blow out from the sails to indicate wind direction. To me the whole trip was a telltale sign that I needed to do something exciting with my life.

Learning to sail off the Breton coast was indeed a midlife crisis well spent, and now we all have a great new hobby to enjoy.

 

Related links:

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Ferries cancelled as Calais remains closed
Calais port remained closed on Tuesday due to protests from French sailors. Photo: AFP

Ferries cancelled as Calais remains closed

Cross-Channel ferry services out of Calais remained suspended on Tuesday following industrial action from French sailors and port workers who have blockaded the port. Passengers are advised to reorganize their journeys. READ  

French court backs controls on Italian border
A view of the Italian French border with migrants camped out on the Italian side. Photo: AFP

French court backs controls on Italian border

France's top administrative court has ruled that border controls on migrants at the Italian frontier were legal and did not violate the Schengen agreement that created Europe's passport-free zone. READ  

US 'snooped on France's biggest companies'

US 'snooped on France's biggest companies'

More revelations emerged on Tuesday of US spying on French targets, with reports claiming the NSA systematically snooped on the country's biggest companies and all business deals valued over $200 million. READ  

French strike action closes Calais port
Striking MyFerryLink workers have closed the port of Calais again. Photo AFP

French strike action closes Calais port

There was more disruption to cross-Channel ferries on Monday when French sailors held a wildcat strike that led to the closure of the port of Calais. READ  

Swathes of France on alert over heatwave
France is seeking to avoid a repeat of 2003, when a heatwave killed 15,000 mostly elderly people. Photo: AFP

Swathes of France on alert over heatwave

Weather warnings were issued for much of France on Monday, with the country set to swelter amid an "intense heatwave" for the rest of the week. READ  

Two Uber bosses 'held by police' in France

Two Uber bosses 'held by police' in France

Two of the bosses of Uber France have been arrested by police and taken into questioning, reports claim on Monday. It comes after France declared war on the UberPop ride-sharing app. READ  

French terror suspect 'denies religious motives'
A French flag and flowers are placed on the fence of the Air Products gas factory where the head of the decapitated man was found last week. Photo: AFP

French terror suspect 'denies religious motives'

The Frenchman who confessed to decapitating his boss before crashing his vehicle into a gas factory in an attempted suicide attack has denied he was driven by religious motives, sources claim. READ  

Does France really not need to fear a Grexit?
Protesters in France show their support for Greece. Photo: AFP

Does France really not need to fear a Grexit?

As a Greek default on its debt looks almost certain and a 'Grexit' (Greek exit from the euro) looks increasingly possible, we take a look at what exactly it would all mean for France and its own struggling economy. READ  

How to keep cool during France's heatwave
Soaking up the sun in French holiday hotspot Nice. Photo: AFP

How to keep cool during France's heatwave

Here's how to keep cool as the mercury soars during this week's heatwave in France. And don't forget your pets! READ  

French air traffic controllers set for strike
One union cancels a strike, another says it will go ahead. Photo: AFP

French air traffic controllers set for strike

There's both good news and bad news for travellers in France after plans by an air traffic controllers union to hold a strike on Tuesday and Wednesday were scrapped, only for another union to insist a walkout later in the week will go ahead. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
It's getting hot in here: France set to bake under 'intense' heatwave
National
Dreading the heatwave in France? Here's how to survive the sun
Why France doesn't have much to lose from a Grexit
National
Frenchwoman dies as bungee jump ends in tragedy
Travel
The most beautiful French villages you've never heard of
National
Can we really feel any sympathy for French taxi drivers?
National
Here's what we know so far about the suspect in France's factory attack
Trouble in France as taxi drivers' anti-Uber protests turn violent
Feigned French shock over US spying is not fooling anyone
Gallery
When Franco-American relations turn sour - Ten transatlantic scraps
Spying on French presidents: What the Wikileaks documents reveal
Sport
Dozens fall violently ill after 'mud race' in France
How a genetically modified 'jellyfish-lamb' ended being eaten in France
Culture
Ten must-visit movie scene locations in Paris
National
Paris to return historic squares to the people
Forget Nutella here's eight things the French should really give up
Sport
What the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris would look like
National
Video: See the cat that hitched a ride on a plane and lived to tell the tail
It's time to lay off the French - They are not that rude
National
Just look at what France has given the United States over the years
Health
France's creaking health service must change if it wants to stay world's best
National
French warn UK: 'Brexit could be your Waterloo'
Features
Waterloo 200 years on: Why it's still a taboo for the French
Europe commemorates 200 years since Waterloo
National
Waterloo: What you need to know about Napoleon
French told stop eating Nutella to save planet
Is it time for France's empty churches to be turned into mosques?
National
How John Lennon's song of peace led to a race row in a French school
French people told to stop scoffing Nutella in order to save planet
Society
French school teacher shows his pupils porn film
National
IN PICTURES: See the blaze that ravaged a French basilica
Video: Tourists shocked by Calais migrants scramble
Society
French family gets letter... 138 years late
The French words the English language needs to steal right now
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: 9 questions every expat should ask
Travel
13 ways France aims to become more welcoming to tourists
Education
Expat parents protest changes to admissions for Paris bilingual schools
Education
Test yourself: Just how good is your French grammar?
Travel
France to spend 'hundreds of millions' on tourism
National
French mum's Facebook post about her daughter Louise has gone viral
Land for €1 per square metre - could this be the best bargain in France?
How well do you know France's road signs? Take our test
Gallery
The most beautiful squares in France: Which one gets your vote?
There's Life Outside Paris: Seven reasons to leave the capital for Lyon
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,617
jobs available