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Sailing Holidays in France on Traditional Boats

The French adore wooden boats with bowsprits so we aim to keep them happy. All the Classic Sailing vessels have working boat origins from pilot cutters to sailing trawlers, privateers, revenue luggers or cargo carrying sailing ships. Sailing the best of Britain’s maritime heritage fleet to join the French each spring and summer.

We have  adventure voyages delivering cargo and holiday voyages exploring the interesting Brittany Coast from St Malo all along the Channel coast past L’Aber wrach to Ushant and round the corner to the North Biscay Coast and the offshore islands. Traveling solo or with you family a voyage on a traditional wooden boat to France or exploring the ports dotted down the Biscay Coast will provide you with many a tale to tell when you are home. 

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Why we love this sailing ground

 North Brittany for Rocky Entrances, Winding Rivers & Rewards Ashore

Seafaring and a love of the sea runs deep in the coastal communities of Brittany. In winter the Atlantic pounds the lonely lighthouses but in summer who could fail to feel the magnetism of dazzling blue seas, rugged coastal scenery and tide swept beaches. In August the French seem to live a life of al fresco eating, long summer days collecting seafood from the beach and evenings on waterfronts watching the boats go by…..

French fishing boats seem to go our to sea in all weathers and the fast tides and cool seas are rich in langoustines, spider crab and white fish. Mussels and oysters are harvested along the coasts and Moule Frites is as common a street snack as fish and chips in England.

After a day on the water, nothing can be nicer than some good French wine and a plate of seafood and fresh salad, whether you are in a restaurant ashore or a treat for supper on board.  If you go foraging like the French, you might event find your own.

More about Sailing in Brittany    

Sailing in France - A calm day off Roscoff

Atlantic France & Biscay Coast

Too far for weekend jaunts across the Channel from the Solent, this coast around the corner is distinctly French. From the Breton wild Atlantic frontier around Isle d'Ouessant to the shallow sandy Glenan's archipelago, this coastline has bred some of France's best sailors, and built many of her ships.

The Rade de Brest is an inland sea that has sheltered the French Navy for centuries. Douarnenez Bay is famous for wooden boat building, festivals and kite surfing.  Lonely light houses are swept by fast tidal races, but this coast is more friendly as a cruising ground than the rocky plateaux strewn North Coast.

The Gulf de Morbihan is another inland sea that the French keep to themselves, apart from an annual festival. A myriad of small pine covered islands and complex tides create a min landscape to challenge navigators.

Further South are ports who have served the wine trade via their mighty rivers. Nantes at the head of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux on the Gironde River.  Grayhound heads to Nantes each year to collect a Muscadet cargo.

Sail to the Best of Summer French Festivals 

Douarnenez and Paimpol Festivals are held every two years, on alternate years so there is always a great wooden boat festival to go to every year.

  • Douarnenez Temp Fete will be held in 2018, 2020, 2022
  • Paimpol Chant Du Marin (Shanties & Traditional music from around the world) will be held in 2019, 2021
  • The mighty Brest International Festival of the Sea Festival is held every 4 years. Next ones are 2020 and 2024
  • L'Armada 2019 - Huge Tall Ship Festival on the Seine

The beauty of French festivals like Brest and DZ is that also encourage all the boats to go out sailing in the morning – so the Classic Sailing Fleet can sail in company and go out into the Rade de Brest or the Baie de Douarnenez and pose amongst the colourful fleet of sailing ships.

Up close with a French bisquine in the Rade de Brest
Up close with a French bisquine in the Rade de Brest

The best thing about Brest is the port is huge and the adjacent inland sea is deep enough for all vessels to sail in and out of harbour and go for a spirited romp in flat seas each day. There are no lock gates to get through and some ships sail right off the dock without engines. Many themed parades of sail like the ‘parade of the dandies’ where around 40 old sailing ships that used to fish from around the world will sail through the harbour, or the parade of Classic Yachts. The French spend a lot of money on this epic Festival so expect night time fireworks, light shows and illuminated night parades of sail and  Bastille Day celebrations.

Douarnenez is a tasteful affair in a medieval port famous for its wooden boat building. The visiting wooden boats are arranged around the harbour as if in a painting...but there is plenty of movement in and out of the picturesque harbour. Douarnenez itself has two ports: The old fishing port, on one side of the town and the river basin, Port de Rhu, with its wooden wharves and waterside bars on the other. The town has fascinating architecture, narrow streets and golden sandy beaches near seefood cafes.


Douarnenez & Brest - the sailing & festivals


Paimpol - Chant Du Marin - Shanty Festival


small boats at dz
small boats at dz


Muscadet Run and Cross Channel Trade

Sailing Lugger Grayhound is based in Douarnenez as it is a hub for cargoes being transported by sailing ship. Home of TOWT (Trans Oceanic Wind Transport) you can sail Grayhound to to DZ or join her in a French port and sail French organic wine and champagne back to Scillies or West Country mainland.

There is an annual Muscadet Run from Nantes in the Loire Valley to Douarnenez, and several cross Channel delivery runs each year. 

A cargo delivery voyage adds another criteria to your adventure on a traditional sailing ship. These exciting voyages are aimed at reviving a trade under sail encouraging sustainable shipping. Joining as a working member of the crew you will be handling French organic wine from various vineyards and delivering West Country beer to unique restaurants and pubs along the Cornish coast. As with all our voyages the food will be wholesome and filling, the Captain and crews are professional and keen to pass on their skills. You just have to be reasonably fit and healthy, keen to be helpful and with a willingness to learn and save the planet! 


Grayhound is one of our fleet who runs a sustainable shipping voyage.
Grayhound is one of our fleet who runs a sustainable shipping voyage.


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Seafaring and a love of the sea runs deep in the coastal communities of Brittany. In winter the Atla

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