The Second Edition of the RCCPF pilot book, Atlantic France is due for publication in May 2018
The coast from Ushant to Hendaye is over 400 nautical miles long with more than 110 ports and a similar number of anchorages. It comprises nine distinct areas. Each has its own character and is big enough and interesting enough to be a cruising area in its own right. L'Aberwrac'h at the west end of the North Brittany coast is often, for British yachtsmen, their first port of call in Brittany on their way from the UK to the Bay of Biscay or the Golfe de Gascoigne as it is known by the French.
North West Brittany
The Chenal du Four and the Raz de Sein are two of Europe's nastier tidal races. As a result, many skippers like to pass through this region as quickly as possible. This is a pity because it is a splendid cruising ground with lots of attractive places to visit.
Camaret is a favourite first or last stop. Brest is a perfect spot in bad weather either at the excellent Marina du Château in the commercial port or at the older Moulin Blanc Marina which is handy for a day at the magnificent Oceanopolis aquarium. However, the Aulne is the real treasure of the Rade de Brest and a trip to Port Launay and Châteaulin will be a high point in any cruise. Outside the Rade, there is excellent sailing round the high cliffs of the Crozon peninsula and the spectacular beaches of Douarnenez bay. If weather permits, a visit to Île de Sein offers challenging pilotage and a unique unspoilt island.
Bénodet Bay is classic South Brittany. Bénodet and Loctudy are both delightful and somehow just right for messing about in boats. The Odet river from Bénodet to Quimper is possibly the most attractive river in Biscay and has a number of peaceful anchorages. The Îles de Glénan, on a sunny day, could be mistaken for the Caribbean. Then there is the fascinating Ville Close at Concarneau, right next to the visitors' pontoon. Those who need a marina, will like the large modern one at Port-La-Forêt.
Groix and the Rias
The mainland opposite Groix has a series of flooded valleys that make interesting and attractive ports. Shallow draught boats can visit Pont Aven, where Gauguin worked, and see the fine art gallery and masses of artists' studios. The Belon River, home of the famous Belon oyster, is a pretty river where it is possible to combine peace and quiet with good walking and serious gastronomy.
Lorient is a big city with several marinas. There is plenty to do and a good waterbus for getting about. Etel is famous, or infamous, for having a very dangerous bar. It is necessary to call the pilot for entry instructions, which of course makes entry very easy. Once inside there is a nice town, a spectacular beach and an inland sea not much smaller than the Morbihan.
Quiberon Bay is one of Europe's prime yacht racing centres. There are three large marinas - Haliguen, Trinité and Crouesty - and a dinghy-racing centre at Carnac. In addition, the Morbihan inland sea, which opens into Quiberon Bay, offers yet more good cruising.
It is said that the Morbihan has an island for every day of the year and the tides run so fast they can strip the galvanizing from an anchor chain. Neither statement is true, but there certainly are a lot of islands and the tide does run extremely fast, which makes the pilotage great fun but quite challenging. The Morbihan also has two very attractive medieval towns, Vannes and Auray. Vannes is particularly popular because it has a marina in the heart of town.
The chain of islands that protects Quiberon Bay also offers good cruising. Belle-Île, the 'beautiful island', is the largest with a couple of proper harbours and lots of anchorages; one of these has been described as the most beautiful in all France. The little islands of Houat and Hoëdic are also very attractive and perfect spots to anchor in good weather.
The Vilaine and the Loire
Brittany is generally considered to end at the Loire but some towns south of the Loire, such as Pornic, consider themselves to be Breton. However, well before the Loire the character of the ports and the coastline becomes much softer and more southern than true Brittany.
The jewel in this area is the Vilaine which was turned into a huge boating lake when a barrage was built near its mouth. It has 20 miles of non-tidal water, dozens of riverside anchorages and two delightful historic towns, La Roche Bernard and Redon.
South of the Vilaine, the granite hills of Brittany give way to the flat salt country around Guérande. There are several attractive places to stay. Piriac is a pretty holiday town with a new marina; Le Croisic is a fascinating old salt and sardine port that is still surrounded by active salt ponds. La Baule has two marinas for those who need a spectacular beach, some posh shopping and a visit to the casino.