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  • Writer's pictureRebecca

Camaret to L'Aber Wrac'h: Fog and French recycling

Sunrise over Brest on our departure from Camaret

We started our journey north under clear but dark skies yesterday morning. We were sailing from Camaret near Brest to L’Aber Wrac'h on the north east tip of Brittany through the Chanel du Four. As we motorsailed through the tidal race, a weak north easterly breeze blowing, the fog began to enclose us. The advantage of the fast moving tides is that it pretty much deters boats approaching from the other direction, but we kept a sharp look out and monitored the radar and AIS for other ships. It was a surreal experience not being able make out navigational marks only a few hundred yards away, but made possible and so much safer with GPS and the technology on board. The Chanel du Four has a reputation for being

difficult, probably as a result of the sailors of 30 years ago or more for whom the navigation alone would have been hairaising, using only dead reckoning and estimated positioning in a place where the tide swirls and stream velocities and directions change rapidly. The fog remained even when we left the north end of the race and thickened, especially when we crossed a patch of very swirly water over shallower areas. These shallower areas are also great for fishing...and low and behold, a small open boat emerged from the mist on our starboard side, lines set. At it wasn’t moving so we could avoid him easily. Then a larger hulk emerged on the port side, much like one of those fog COLREGs practice cards, bow pointing towards us. Ooh heck. Again as a fishing boat they were motoring slowly, around in circles it seemed.

We were thinking of having breakfast en route, we had not yet eaten, and yet it was all eyes to the horizon. This was not a time to crack open the eggs and scramble some grub, so cake had to surfice. The fog did not let up even as the westerly cardinal buoy, Libenter, finally swam into view off the port side announcing our arrival at the entrance. A small yacht emerged and we decided it was wise to throttle back and tentatively feel our way down the channel. Over time my eyes played tricks on me and I started to think I spotted something, a yacht, a motorboat, but then not. The sun rising south of east, and us going in that direction also made our eyes strain, the only advance warning of the waters ahead the sun that glinted off the waves. First one yacht emerged and then another, suddenly we felt like a salmon swimming against a tide of white plastic as yacht after yacht poured out of L’Aber Wrac'h. This adding to the fun of trying to follow the narrow channel and pick out the navigational marks which hearabouts tend to include painted concrete pillars set on the rocks which they guard you from. Directional decision making was assumed by Rebecca at the bow as reaction times became important. Then suddenly, as we passed the Petit Pot du Beurre, we discovered the reason for the mass exodus as we shot out of the fog bank into clear blue skies revealing the inner estuary and the marina beyond. Clearly the yachts thought the way clear and had put to sea...we saw at least one turn back.

We dropped the sails and motored in to find the marina had lots of space - handy. Having got the boat secured, we wandered into town for lunch, spotting en-passant the municipal and futuristic poubelle just outside the marina:

  • A yellow one to accept: plastic bottles, cardboard packaging, magazines, newspapers, Tetra Pak style cartons, metal packaging.

  • A green one to accept: glass, but not ceramics

  • A red one which clearly states it includes: yogurt and cream pots, nappies, polystyrene, films and plastic bags, plastic tubs/containers, kitchen rolls and paper towels, wet wipes and food waste.

One of the things we reflected on here is that the non-acceptance of some items on the recycling bins is strongly indicated by their statement of being accepted in the ‘black’ bin, which is called les ordures ménagѐres - household waste, as well as stating their non-acceptance on the recycling bin (Do not dispose: plastic film, yogurt and cream pots, polystyrene, dirty food packaging and nappies).

The futuristic refuse bins in L'Aber Wrac'h

Rewinding back to our visit to Douarnenez (pop. 15,066), we were really impressed by the range of plastics we could drop off into their yellow recycling bins. When we arrived at the Temps Fete festival we got a goody bag (ooh) including our festival flag, branded reusable plastic beer cups, local delicacies and two plastic bags - one clear and one yellow. The yellow recycling bag fit with the local recycling scheme and the organisers would pick them up from each boat everyday if you liked including those on the moorings or at anchor. You could put in the same items as in L’Aber Wrac'h plus ‘all plastic packaging’ i.e. plastic bags, plastic films, plastic pots and trays, yoghurt pots and cream pots, just the same as in the on-street recycling bins. They also have a food waste (composting) scheme. The festival and the local town seemed to have a lot of provision for recycling. We couldn’t help but trip over the bins; industrial sized wheeled bins are available on the street, in car parks, in squares etc. No need to trek for half an hour to an out of town supermarket to find somewhere to recycle. Also there seems to be no commercial protection of bins, no locks, no signs that we noticed barring others from using them.

The Breton islands were also impressive in that waste and recycling bins seemed to have blossomed like wildflowers in scenic places and obscure places. A short walk round the relatively tiny Ile de Sein (pop. 214) revealed at least ten different locations, though the range of plastics which could be recycled was not as wide as Douarnenez. For an island, where everything that goes on has to get off, some also had modified wheels to be easily trundled to the port we presumed. Scilly is moving to improve its recycling system, but compared with the Ile de Sein, we really struggled to find places to recycle there.

Refuse bins on the Ile de Sein

Like the UK, France has multiple systems depending on where you live and these are administered under the local government. Even though we have moved only 50-60 miles we have found differences in their policies, as we have, but the overall standard seems to be higher.

So, is there less waste around the place? It feels like it. Slightly subjective and we have hardly controlled for size of population or local economy, but, like many of the towns we have visited in the UK, Douarnenez is not a wealthy area and L’Aber Wrac'h is certainly a tourist destination. Contrasting Douarnenez’s Temp Fete festival with Sea Salts and Sail in Mousehole from a scale perspective is hardly fair, but while the latter had to sign a commercial waste contract and could only recycle glass bottles, Temps Fete appeared to fit into the local waste management scheme.

The Baie de Anges, L'aber Wrac'h and the results of the megre beach clean

Returning to our afternoon in L’Aber Wrach: post a moules-frites lunch (yes, I am still eating them despite the presumed presence of microplastics) and a spot of watercolour painting (why not paint your cider?), Nick recovered from the morning’s stresses with a snooze. I put on some tunes and set to a little boat maintenance oiling the cap rails, spars and blocks followed by an amble down to the Baie de Anges beach - we all recover in different ways!. The tide was returning over the sands and I hoped for some warmer waters for an evening swim. Given that it had been a sunny Sunday with families picnicking on the beach, I was surprised to see so little litter. There's not none, but very little. Where are all the plastic bottles? What makes people behave differently here? Maybe that’s something we can look into as we move onto Paimpol.

Rebecca & Nick

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