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Shangri-La of the Atlantic

One long winter evening few of us were siting in cosy London pub talking about paddling. Somehow we ventured to trips we went on and what we liked and enjoyed and what might be the next. I have mentioned my memories from Iceland when I was sitting in the rain being cold and wet thinking, “why am I doing this? My next paddling holiday is going to be in France, somewhere in the sun, drinking wine every evening!” Toby said, sounds perfect. Would you join me in Brittany next summer? We started to look at possible places straight away, flipping through charts and websites on our phones. I have seen this French guy, paddling some big stuff said Toby and went on kayak tinder. Next minute he sent a message out, “Hi Nico, we like your pictures, it would be cool to paddle together when we come to Brittany.”

Now we were about to meet Nico, he said everything is good for tomorrow. We are all invited to my friend’s party, we can plan where to go while we are there. BBQ, beer, wine and cognac is a great combo for kayak planning. There is an offshore island here suggested Nico, we will have downwind conditions and we could go there. Next morning we were more serious. There is F7 in the forecast but we felt like we could still go, while we were checking our numbers and timings when Nico causally mentioned, the forecast says 5 meters waves but that never happens with a northerly wind…

We pack our kayaks on the beach and enjoyed coffee in the sun. There was almost no wind, the bay was flat like a pancake and we were off. Just as we were passed the lighthouse and entered deep, open water, the wind picked up. Now we were surfing downwind in F6, deep into the fog following a compass bearing. Waves were getting steeper and bigger, gusts of wind were hitting us hard and it was almost impossible to take one hand off the paddle. Now we were trying hard not to loose sight of each other in big waves. We were not surfing anymore, we were trying hard to let the steep, big waves just pass under our hull and brace for the impact of the crest.

Suddenly big dark cliffs emerged just ahead of us framed in big white spray of the wild sea crashing against the rocks “He who sees Ushant sees his own blood!” Is an old Breton proverb.

Now we were paddling hard across the wind to avoid the lee shore and get behind the reefs. We could still see each other between waves but nobody was waiting. With a few last big waves, we surfed behind the reef. We slowly paddled to the beach, the sun came out, the water was flat. We have made it!

As we walked around the island, orange cliffs were lit by the sun. Heavy seas were crashing into the rocky shore. White houses with blue window shutters were scattered around in deep green grass. There were bars and beer on every corner. We walked inside, with “we are the champions” playing loud and ordered our drinks with church bells ringing in the background. We were in a magical place!

It was time to leave. We packed our boats on the beach overlooking the chain of neighbouring islands and lighthouse in the middle. This would be pleasant paddle back we thought. Just as we did the first few paddle strokes into Passage du Fromveur, fog descended on us and we were finding our way between ghost ships briefly emerging and following our compasses. A few hours later we landed back on the beach. The sun came out, the fog lifted. We drank our coffee, thinking we must go back. We know, there is an Island out there. We just have to wait for another storm to find our way to this place again.

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