Lu Heikell considers some of the many harbours that carry happy memories after many mile and many years at sea

There is a narrow street leading up from Port du Rosmeur to the town centre of Douarnenez, in the Finisterre region of Brittany. Rue Obscure is paved with cobbles and lined with old stone cottages and is accurately named.

Most sailors know Douarnenez for being a safe stopover in the wide bay on route between the Raz du Sein and the Chenal du Four, those two notorious tidal gates that mark the northern entrance to the west coast of Brittany.

I first visited Brittany on a little bilge-keeled Snapdragon more than 35 years ago, on the brilliant Somerset schools sailing programme. The crew consisted of the long-suffering skipper, John, two other adults, me, and two other teenagers. It was certainly cosy on board, but the experience was unforgettable.

After a largely wet and chilly first week; we had left Roscoff only to shelter from a gale in Île de Batz for two days before haring off south down to the Morbihan. We were on the way back home to Falmouth when we took the sand in Port du Rosmeur after shooting the tide through the Raz.

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I think it was the first time the sun showed itself as three youngsters were let loose to explore this great little town. As we walked up Rue Obscure I thought: wouldn’t that be a great address?

Roll forward 20-odd years: Rod and I had decided to buy a little bolt-hole and Douarnenez fitted the bill as somewhere that was open all-year-around, unlike so many seaside towns which can become ghostly quiet in the winter. We were welcomed by the locals – on the first morning after moving in I walked up Rue Obscure into town for croissants, and in both the local Spar and the boulangerie it was clear that everyone already knew we had bought Mme Rochedreux’s house.

We immersed ourselves in this traditional sardine fishing town, with a daily market and seafood that was literally still flapping or crawling when you bought it. We would wander around to Port Rhu, the locked port on the west side of the town, where traditional boatbuilding is celebrated both in the workshops and in the pages of the famous magazine Le Chasse Marée.

Every Wednesday, come rain, wind or shine, the Oppies were towed out into the bay for the next generation of sailors to learn our sport. I wonder how many future Mini Transat or Vendée Globe heroes we saw out there? Summer would bring the Dragon class for their annual regatta, often accompanied by the Danish royal yacht and the charmingly low-key late Prince Henrik, who would drive up the breakwater in a Renault Megane and give the fishermen on the quay a cheery wave before hopping on board.

My favourite event in Douarnenez though, without doubt, is the Temps Fétes, a festival of traditional craft that sees the town full to bursting, the whiff of Stockholm tar in the air and sizzling sardines cooking over charcoal. Sea shanties are sung and cider is swigged.

We watch as a flotilla of tan sails appeared from across the bay. Old workboats and fishing boats; gaffers, luggers and square-riggers now enjoying their retirement gather from across the continent.

By midweek you could literally walk from one side of the harbour to the other without getting wet. The bad news is it only happens every other year. The good news is it is this year.

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