Hamish Southby-Tailyour and son Jacob bring their Moody 33 Equinox home, almost two years after leaving her in France

Jacob, my 15-year-old son and I made it to France in July 2021, still a time of Covid, to start the 400-mile journey from Port Bloc at the southern entrance to the Gironne Estuary on the west coast of France, back to Plymouth.

On our arrival at Port Bloc, we discovered a new deadline – the owner of Port Bloc was selling! We now only had two days to get Equinox ready for launch, including re-stepping the mast. We also faced the amusement of having to remove a well-established wasp nest.

So after finishing the antifouling, refitting the propeller, anodes and cutter and replacing batteries, she was ready to be craned in. The mast followed and Jacob spent a few sessions up it re-reaving a number of halyards and the lazy jacks. We also had to jury-rig the radar reflector off the starboard spreader as it was damaged by the company tasked to prepare the mast for transport. The afloat tasks then started in earnest. The engine was recommissioned and all was starting to take shape.

It took a while to remember where all the spares were stored and how certain idiosyncratic systems worked but after only a few days living on board it was beginning to feel like we had never left.

We left Port Bloc with the advice to be well clear of the channel 2a buoy before the ebb commenced, so we slipped our lines after an early lunch three hours before highwater, headed out into the Bay of Biscay.

The route home

Coasting along the western shore of Île d’Oleron, we thought of heading into either Les Sables-d’Olonne or Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie but the weather, while not warm, was settled enough and everything appeared to be working, so we sailed into the dusk towards Île d’Yeu.

Arriving at 0800 in the morning, we anchored just south of the entrance to Port Joinville and I slept for a couple of hours. Feeling refreshed and with the weather still favourable, we pushed on to Belle Île. After a romping six hours, the wind was dying and we were now having to motor-sail to keep our heading and daylight ETA. Jacob let the anchor go in 4m in Port Yoc’h; calm in the lee of Belle Île just after 2200.

Early next morning we weighed anchor and after two minutes of motoring towards Le Palais, just off the headland, the alternator belt snapped and now the engine was inevitably overheating. We let the anchor go in 8m and within five minutes we had the belt replaced, but on trying to leave we now discovered a fouled anchor. At least it was holding, with the rocky lee shore just over two cables away!

It took a good while but with some responsive boat handling from Jacob at the controls, and with Equinox pitching heavily in the waves and myself only narrowly avoiding serious injury from the snatching chain, we got her free. It is in times like these that the sunken foredeck of the Moody 33, while in my opinion not that visually appealing, provides real security while working forward.

Leaving Port Bloc. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyour

Make do and mend

Le Palais was busy but fun. In the height of summer everyone was enjoying the sunshine and some slow-paced island time. While the weather was not that settled, all was calm on the social front until the next tide brought in a well-loved and used wooden boat with a large and lively young crew to moor outside but one to us. And at 0230 in the morning at the height of their party, a highly predictable event occurred – one of the crew fell through our sprayhood, ripping out the port window.

My morning therefore did not get off to good start (which is a rather polite synopsis of my feelings at the time) but with no option but to mend it, a joint project ensued, allowing Jacob and I to spend a couple of hours together playing pass the needle, and while not beautiful, the repair is standing up well.

Entering Île de Groix. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyour

The lock gates were opening and we were released from the sardine-like environment of the inner harbour, grateful for the two days of shelter but pleased to be able to move again, and headed north- west in the company of a little old blue racer-cruiser towards Île de Groix.

We were close-hauled with two reefs – the large Atlantic swell left over from the previous two days hinted at more wind offshore, but in the sunshine we enjoyed four hours of great sailing. Crossing tracks with Marie Tabarly’s schooner Pen Duick VI, back lit in the afternoon sun and heading south under full sail, was a particular highlight.

We arrived in Île de Groix’s Lock Tudy, enjoying the lee of the island, and picked up a fore and aft mooring in the outer harbour. Strong westerlies were forecast and the shelter was welcome. Having just squared away, there in the entrance, arriving under sail, was the little blue racer-cruiser we had passed earlier that same day. We gestured that they were welcome alongside and so began a delightful 36 hours spent in the company of her owners, newlyweds Yves and Matilda.

Sunset over the Île de Groix. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyour

Alternator aggro

The strong gusts and showers of the night continued the following day so we walked together across the island to see the Force 7 piling up the seas on the southern coast at the aptly named Pointe de L’Enfer.

On returning to our boats, Matilda and Jacob cooked up a phenomenal carbonara, complemented by a very pleasant bottle of red, gifted to us as a small token of regret by the young man who had crashed through our sprayhood two nights previously. They left our little raft the next morning and as they did, gifted us a Bretton courtesy flag as a memento of our time together.

The next morning we were hailed by a French local who had come alongside and, having seen Jacob sculling the dinghy earlier, asked whether he would like to try his skills in a World Championship sculling dinghy! ‘Oui, s’il vous plait’ was the only answer and Jacob promptly received, gratis, an hour’s tutorial from one of the entrants in the World Stern Sculling Championship race around the island.

Leaving Port Bloc and heading north. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyour

The wind that afternoon, while moderating, would still be fine on the nose for a course to be laid to the Îles de Glenan to the west. So, after an enjoyable five hours we were finalising our tack in towards Le Pie, making an easy entrance to this beautiful archipelago. With the wind due to blow hard from the south-west in the night, it was also the most protected.

The sun was trying to shine but it was cold for August so we decided to take a break from the push home and stayed a day, with sunshine ‘promised’ from late morning.

A ripping good time awaits in Le Palais. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyour

The weather was now set calm, and after a quiet night we slipped the mooring before dawn and threaded our way out of the maze of moored and anchored yachts. Our course lay north-west towards the Raz de Sein and as we rounded the Pointe de Penmarc’h we were freed more and it became likely that we would hit this famous tidal gate perfectly.

We did, and in the light westerly breeze of the afternoon and sitting on a spring tide, we were picked up and carried all the way to Camaret where we came alongside at 1800 and strolled up to the harbour office to determine how to get to Brest by ferry and bus to buy some alternator belts since we were now cutting through our last of three spares.

It quickly became clear this wasn’t going to happen.

I returned back to the boat at a run, dodging all the early evening fisher-families, their gear and dogs spread along the length of the breakwater, and we were on our way again in just under two minutes. We only had an hour of flood left, there was a dying breeze and we were now feeling very cautious about using the engine. So much so that I set up the lines for an alongside tow, ready for immediate deployment if needed.

Jacob’s sculling prowess gets the recognition it deserves. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyour

I was going to enter Le Chateaux marina on spec but Jacob sensibly suggested I call ahead. A very accommodating Capitainerie, just before leaving for the evening, found an easy berth for us and much to our relief it was a simple manoeuvre to come alongside so we managed to keep the engine use to an absolute minimum. A moules frites and some excellent local beer did much to restore our spirits and relax us.

Happy homecoming

The next morning I was up early and rattling down the pontoons on the Brompton; cycling off in search of alternator belts. Returning after a thankfully successful mission with the only mechanic’s total stock of two belts in my rucksack and a plan to fix the problem, we were now on track to catch the ebb and subsequently the tide north.

And once in the Chenal du Four we were treated to a glorious sight, as there, off to the west, with the island of Ushant low behind them, were the two gaff-rigged superyachts we had looked at the evening before, cruising in company under full sail and clearly enjoying the conditions. The view got Jacob musing as to whether they were owned by the same person, allowing them to enjoy both superyachts simultaneously, sailing on one while admiring the other!

The Îles de Glenan offer splendid sanctuary. Photo: Hamish Southby-Tailyour

AIS obviously makes shorthanded Channel crossings easier but it really came into its own here, with the spinnakers and single masthead lights of the Cherbourg-bound Fastnet fleet bearing down on us throughout the night. But by now, and with good reason, I was confident enough to allow Jacob a couple of hour-long night watches, giving me some much-needed uninterrupted sleep.

The Eddystone lighthouse materialised out of the morning and slowly Rame Head became ever more discernible between the grey horizon and cloud over Dartmoor. We phoned Yacht-line, Q was lowered and we were home; Brest to the Plymouth breakwater in just under 24 hours.

Arriving alongside at the Tamar River Sailing Club, we were welcomed by the rest of the family, and within minutes Jacob, noticing one of his sailing instructors servicing a club safety boat and realising it was Friday, dug out his wetsuit, launched his Laser and promptly joined his training session. We have never arrived on time for Friday night sailing before or since, and so my wife Clara and I were left to reunite Equinox with her mooring.

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