• 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

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
Foreign students worth €1.6 billion to France
International students are worth a lot of money to France. Photo:Tulane Public Relations/Flickr

Foreign students worth €1.6 billion to France

The tens of thousands of international students who come to France each year are giving the country’s economy a healthy boost, a new study has revealed. It's partly in thanks to all the money they shell out just to be able to afford to live here. READ  

French crooks boosted as wiretap firms strike
French phone tapping firms go on strike. Photo: Spying photo

French crooks boosted as wiretap firms strike

French criminals likely breathed a sigh of relief this week when the four firms that carry out most court-ordered phone wiretaps in France refused to take on any new jobs after a bitter dispute with the justice ministry. READ  

The Local List
Ten inventions you could curse the French for
Not every invention that has come out of France has been positive. Photo: Invention: Shutterstock

Ten inventions you could curse the French for

Some great inventions have come out of France over the years, not least the scented-flatulence pills, but there are also a fair few we think the world perhaps could have done without. Here's 10 creations you could curse the French for inventing. READ  

Pop-artist Koons opens Paris retrospective
US pop artist Jeff Koons gestures in front of his BMW Art Car decorated with exploding, multi-colored rays on June 2, 2010 during a press conference at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Photo: Fred Dufour

Pop-artist Koons opens Paris retrospective

The Pompidou Centre in Paris opened on Wednesday a major retrospective of the works of Jeff Koons, the controversial American master of kitsch and the world’s highest paid living artist. READ  

Europe takes France to task over disputed dam
Police clash with protesters at the disputed Sivens dam in south western France. Photo: Florine Galeorn/AFP

Europe takes France to task over disputed dam

The European Commission launched legal action against France on Wednesday over a controversial dam project that saw a young protester killed by a police grenade last month. READ  

High heels bring out best in men: French study
Women wearing high heels have a positive effect on men, says a French scientist. Photo: Shutterstock

High heels bring out best in men: French study

Men are more likely to be inspired to help women who are wearing high heel shoes, a French scientist has concluded after carrying-out a first-of-its-kind study. READ  

Wikipedia seeks help to explain French cheese
Know a thing or two about French cheese? Then read on. Photo: Shutterstock

Wikipedia seeks help to explain French cheese

Internet site Wikipedia has asked cheese-lovers to help it explain France’s dizzying array of fromages by sending in photos to help cheese-lovers distinguish their Cantals from their Roqueforts. READ  

French parents 'forced child to eat faeces'
The court heard how the couple had treated the children 'like animals'. Photo: Vasileios Karafillidis/ Shutterstock

French parents 'forced child to eat faeces'

A French court has sentenced a couple to two years in prison for abusing their two young sons, repeatedly punishing them with brutal methods and at one point, forcing one of them to eat his own excrement. READ  

France set for warmest year since 1900
France is set for its warmest year since 1900. But it may not be time to celebrate. Photo: Shutterstock

France set for warmest year since 1900

France looks set to record its hottest year since 1900 with average temperatures in the first ten months of the year the highest for over a century. Only a very cold December would stop records being broken. READ  

Letter from Camus to Sartre found in France
French writer Albert Camus, whose letter to Jean-Paul Sartre has been discovered. Photo: AFP

Letter from Camus to Sartre found in France

A previously unknown letter between two of France's most famous writers, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, has been discovered after having been kept in a frame above an autograph collector's fireplace since the 1970s. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Win a €250 voucher for your Christmas list
National
A pill to make flatulence smell like roses? A Frenchman has cracked it
Culture
Rare 400-year-old Shakespeare work found in northern France
National
Paris air pollution: 'It's like being in a room with eight smokers'
National
From infidelity to sexual needs: How French women have changed in 30 years
National
Billboards to be replaced by trees - the bold move by one French city
Gallery
French government gives 10 reasons to be proud: No. 1 - The Economy
Politics
France's 'first ladies': A look back at the other halves
National
Would background music make the RER in Paris feel safer?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
National
Trierweiler to break her silence... in the UK
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Winter is coming to the French Alps
Gallery
Don't confuse France with Paris: Here's ten reasons why
Sponsored Article
Live like a local - anywhere in the world
National
From the homeless to migrants: A portrait of modern France in ten stats
Culture
Are you brainy enough to be Miss France? Take the quiz
Gallery
France's most notorious celebrities. How many do you know?
Society
City of Love? Seven Paris myths debunked
Education
Why is France worst in the EU at English?
National
C'est pas possible! Paris is 'world's cheapest city for young people'
National
Looking to save space? France allows toilets in kitchens for first time
National
Find out how women in France are getting stung for a hidden tax
Culture
Which one is your favourite? The top 10 heartiest French winter dishes
Face Of The Week
Nabilla - 'France's Kim Kardashian' held for attempted murder
National
So who's scaring everyone by flying drones over France’s nuclear plants?
Education
Whoever thinks French was a dying language should read this
Politics
OPINION: 'One day France will be grateful to François Hollande'
Gallery
IN IMAGES: A history of France's most controversial architecture
National
How to make an 8-square-metre Paris apartment perfectly liveable
Gallery
VIDEO: France's raunchiest TV ads, including that infamous Perrier one
National
Five reasons why you should work a ski season in France and five not to
National
10 art exhibitions not to miss this autumn in Paris
Culture
What's on in France: 11 things to do this November
National
How French have you become? Take our quiz to find out
National
10 things to never say to a French person
National
Top 10: When French translations go wrong
National
Parisian bars that serve drinkers free meals
National
France falls to Germans in nude swim tourney
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Nowhere combines sex and art quite like France
National
Why you should never turn down an invitation to a French wedding
Sport
Discover the route of the 2015 Tour de France. There are a few surprises
Gallery
Ten changes that would make learning French so much easier
Culture
IN PICTURES: 'Glass ship' Vuitton ready to set sail in Paris
International
How a giant 'sex toy' earned an American artist a slap in Paris
National
'Unlike in the US the French don't put the blame on the poor'
Gallery
Cover up and don't be too Latin: French travel warnings for the US
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