• France edition
 
Travel Feature
Why learning to sail in Brittany is great for the whole family
Photo: Tracy Moran

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

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

The Local (news@thelocal.fr)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Tête-à-tête - August in Paris
'You'd have to be crazy to stay in Paris in August'
Is Paris in August heaven or hell? Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

'You'd have to be crazy to stay in Paris in August'

The eternal debate of whether staying in Paris for the month of August is pure joy or punishment is taken up here by The Local's Joshua Melvin and Ben McPartland. They debate the heat, tourists, Paris plages, and the seductive call of the rest of France. READ  

Foreigners less likely to get jobs than French
Foreigners in France are more likely ti turn up in queues at job centres it seems, than locals. Photo: AFP

Foreigners less likely to get jobs than French

Foreigners from outside the EU suffer from a much lower employment rate in France than native citizens and EU immigrants, a study confirmed this week. READ  

French PM takes a swipe at eurozone's policies
French MP Manuel Valls has blasted the eurozone's economic policies. Photo: Pierre Andrieu/AFP

French PM takes a swipe at eurozone's policies

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has launched a timely tirade against European finance chiefs for their ineffective economic policies. It comes as indicators show the French economy's recovery is lagging behind its neighbours. READ  

Holiday travel chaos
Steer clear of French motorways, drivers told
Stay off the roads in France this weekend, unless you need to travel that is, in which case prepare for delays. Photo: AFP

Steer clear of French motorways, drivers told

Drivers in France are being warned to steer clear of French motorways on Friday night and Saturday. With July and August holidaymakers set to cross over, the weekend is set be one of the busiest of the year on French roads. READ  

Plan to make stores give unsold food to charity
French lawmakers are trying to make it illegal for big supermarkets to throw away food. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP

Plan to make stores give unsold food to charity

A collective of French lawmakers have proposed legislation that would force larger supermarkets to donate out of date food to charity rather than throw it away. The politicians behind it say waste is “the scourge of our consumer society.” READ  

France gets tough on anti-Semitism and racism
France's top cop cop urges crackdown on anti-Semitic acts. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

France gets tough on anti-Semitism and racism

France’s 'top cop' has been forced to remind local authorities of their duty to report all acts of racism and anti-Semitism to law enforcement officials so culprits can be prosecuted. The move comes as the Gaza crisis has led to increased tensions in France. READ  

Paris police lose 51 kilos of cocaine at HQ
Police police are looking for 51 kilos of cocaine they have lost. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Paris police lose 51 kilos of cocaine at HQ

Paris police have lost 51 kilos of cocaine that were locked up in the legendary police headquarters in the city centre. This embarrassing lapse comes mere months after a much more serious case of misconduct at the same building. READ  

French bombard Google with pleas to be forgotten
Thousands of French have bombarded Google with requests to be forgotten - more than any other nationality in Europe. Photo: AFP

French bombard Google with pleas to be forgotten

French internet users have bombarded Google with requests for links to be deleted from the search engine, but the internet giant has told European officials it's proving difficult to clear their memories. READ  

Gaza crisis
Thousands march in Paris to back Israel
Around 5,000 marched in Paris on Thursday in support of Israel as the Middle East crisis continues. Photo: Dominique Faget/AFP

Thousands march in Paris to back Israel

Around 5,000 people joined a pro-Israel demo in Paris on Thursday evening to show their support for the Jewish state as it continues its bombardment of Gaza amid growing international criticism. READ  

French telecom giant Free bids for T-Mobile US
France's Iliad, which operates Free, has bid for a contolling stake in US carrier T-Mobile. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

French telecom giant Free bids for T-Mobile US

French upstart telecom operator Iliad, which operates Free, said on Thursday it has bid for a controlling stake in US carrier T-Mobile, offering an alternative to a potential tie-up with rival Sprint. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Travel
Air France strike set to hit holidaymakers. Latest info here
National
France honours Jean Jaurès, 100 years after he was assassinated
National
Nudity on the beaches of France: Dos and don'ts
National
Hospital opens patient wine bar with 'medically supervised' wine tasting
Society
Will France ban this violent Jewish fringe group?
Culture
Why are the days of going topless in France coming to an end?
Travel
Reckless or adventurous? US dad takes his two children up Mont Blanc
National
From manure to money: Ten bizarre facts about the French Parliament
Culture
Tourists picnic with rats in Louvre gardens
International
Is France really Europe's biggest public spenders?
National
Could your job in France soon be done by a robot?
National
Why you should think twice about feeding stray cats in France
National
And the new redrawn map of France will look like...?
Politics
Is French President François Hollande about to tie the knot?
International
Want a long-term visa? You may soon have to take a French test
International
Votes for foreigners: 'France would be giving up its sovereignty'
National
VIDEO: Stuntman jumps onto a moving Paris metro... and survives
Gallery
Forget 'faire l'amour', here's 15 top French expressions for making love
National
Report - 'Anti-Semitic' riots in France: 'We may leave for Israel'
National
Paris Plages: Here's 10 reasons to head down to the city beach
International
'Mont Blanc is like Disneyland. It's time to end the free-for-all'
Travel
Fancy climbing Mont Blanc? Here's 10 reasons to think twice about it
Gallery
Looking for a weird museum in Paris? Here's 10 that are worth a visit
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
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