“Le Raz de Seine” is a narrow section of water between the mainland of Brittany, France and a series of islands and rocky outcrops. It has a bad reputation as a result of dangerous currents that flow in various directions and the likelihood of dangerous waves as a result of strong winds in the opposite direction to the tidal flows.
It is called a Tidal Gate – which means that for sailboats there are only 2 times a day that it is advisable to pass through. The times are 45 minutes before high tide and only when the winds are low to moderate, otherwise the passage could be rough and very dangerous.
There is even a web cam setup on the shore so that actual conditions can be seen by anyone who is thinking of sailing through. (Night time pictures are quite dark as it is not floodlit)
With all this information most wise sailors pick their time of passage very carefully. Even wiser sailors (Ocean Deva Crew included) tag along with a more experienced crew and a bigger boat, just to get some safe first-hand experience. We therefore joined Anke and Martin from the Mago Del Sur as they prepared for their passage south, with the intention that at the port of arrival we would disembark and hop on the local bus that would take us back to Brest.
To make the passage as safe as possible, wise sailors also pick the time of neap tides as a helping factor, as the flow of water is less than those of the spring tides. A combination of a light north west wind, neap tides and an arrival time 45 minutes before high tide is the ideal combination – and this is what we had on the 7th February.
On the 6th February we left Brest and headed for Camaret Sur Mer, a pretty, summer seaside resort which has the closest marina to the Raz. While it was dark, 6.45am, on the morning of the 7th we were up and preparing the boat to head out on this small adventure. Moored up close to us there was also a Swedish boat, “Beyond” that was making the same passage as ourselves. They had been waiting 3 weeks for a suitable window of opportunity to be able to make a safe passage (Last November Ingrid and I waited 1 week in Camaret to make this passage – but due to Atlantic storms and waves over 5m high in the Raz, we returned to Brest to spend here most of the winter.). We were therefore all a little excited and apprehensive, but confident in the knowledge that we had chosen the right time to make this passage.
At 7.15 that morning Martin and I had the privilege to see the result of the recent Space X satellite launch as we saw a train of 60 lights travel across the dark and clear pre-dawn sky. It was a little like looking at a TGV with lower and upper windows, but instead of racing through the French Countryside, it was racing through the starry night. We watched for about 10 minutes as it passed overhead and then disappeared over the western horizon.
The wind was very light in the morning, so we had to use the engine to make any progress which is not good for sailing but this would give a better chance of a smoother passage along the coast. The dawn was broken by a beautiful sunrise as we headed through the flat and calm waters of the seas around the Brittany coast.
We saw a pod of dolphins for about 30 minutes as they played in front of the boat’s bow. They crossed back and forth and I am sure they were turning and looking at me as I took their photos. Maybe they are missing boats passing by during these winter months, so I think they were pleased to see us and be back on the camera again !
For the planned approach to the Raz, we needed to keep at least half a nautical mile away from the light house of Tevenec and the same from Gorle Greiz to avoid the dangerous cross and back currents that are prevalent in these locations.
As the winds were light and the timing was perfect, we had a very smooth and trouble-free passage. It would have been great to see some big waves crashing into the light houses but a smooth and well calculated passage was the much safer and most comfortable option – we can always look at the webcam if we want to see the rough conditions.
Once through the Raz, the sailing direction changed from south to south east and so we could turn off the engine and enjoy the sail to our final destination of Lorient. Making between 5 and 7 knots per hour, our estimated arrival time was about 10 pm.
We therefore took time to relax with all the excitement over and enjoy the sunshine and fair winds – what else could a mariner wish for ? There was also an exceptional excuse for a beer – I can't actually remember the reason for the excuse, but it does not matter as the beer was welcome.
Arriving in the dark at a new port is always an exhilarating and challenging event, but with the help of GPS, lighthouses and buoyage system Martin moored Mago del Mar in safe spot and we were all tired, cold but happy to have crossed the Raz under such benign conditions.
Next time it is our turn!