In this episode, River interviews Michael Briant, a former owner of a Prout 33 Quest and an accomplished author of cruising guides and sailing videos. You can purchase them on his Gentle Sailing site. He also is a famous director and actor (with his own Wikipedia page). Finally Michael has a YouTube channel Sailing Gently which we highly recommend you subscribe to and follow for fantastic sailing videos including some interesting travels in times of Covid 19.
Michael talks to us about Prouts and French canals issues with cats. Also he briefly mentions his adventures sailing through the French north coast ports. While he no longer owns Eloise (his Prout 33 Quest), he still hosts the Prout Owners Association. A lifelong sailor who has done multiple circumnavigations, he now is sailing a Westerly Ocean 43.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your adventures on Eloise?
Michael: I’d wanted to have a catamaran for years and years, and it just never it just never happened. Then I got back from a second navigation with my wife. She didn’t want to bounce about and she had liked catamarans that she’d seen. What she actually liked were 50 foot and 60 foot catamarans and what I was offering was i think uh what was that Elouise she was 34 32 something of that um something of that order.
Monique was madly disappointed, but she came with me over. I bought it, ddid a little bit of work doing it up, and then took my wife across to Portland’s. We picked her up there and had her put in the water and sailed her down to la Rochelle in France which is a distance about 500 to 600 miles if it’s by sea, but I cheated and took her across to Dieppe in France which is a 60 mile passage to 70 mile passage across the English Channel because the boat hadn’t sailed for three or four or five years.
The bouncy route in the channel swirled around the fuel tank and halfway across um the engine stopped all together and of course because it was new to me I had some tools on board. I didn’t have a clean filter. I didn’t have anything at all so I ended up sailing my brand new to my catamaran into the port under sail and it is a fairy port. It’s a port where cross channel fairies go into and have class submissions on. But it was fine. I mean so easy to sail. I mean really easy really surprised me i’ve never sailed a catamaran before.
First I couldn’t find the entrance, so I actually had to check out a way from the beach in order to find the entrance into the port. I got into the port, called up the marina, and said hey guys got no energy in here. They came out they gave me a tow and it was great and parked up there. I had the stainless fuel tank cleaned out. I took around to a port where the 1418 war mainly happened, and from there took it down through the French canals to the Mediterranean.
You mentioned your wife not wanting to bounce about and that’s a perfectly reasonable request how comfortable is the Prout 33 Quest?
It is a very different movement from a monohull so having sailed 30-40 thousand miles in monohulls walking into a smaller catamaran was a big change. On a reach or downwind, they are just so gentle and so comfortable it’s lovely going to windward.
I have to say um the movement tends to be a bit jerky but that that could be particular so that sort of catamaran. I’m not experienced enough i haven’t owned i haven’t sailed really any others.
I sailed on a Catalac once. I sailed with Tom Lack who actually built them designed and built going to windward. They are they have got a bit more bounce on them than a monohull and I think that’s partly because they don’t they don’t go down in the water so much i suspect that’s the reason for the balance but it’s nothing to worry about. It’s nothing offensive it’s just different from a monohull.
What about heavy weather? Did you encounter any heavy weather while you were sailing?
Yeah I make it a practice to avoid heavy weather as much as possible um i didn’t really during the time i owned um Eloise myself out of la Rochelle in France um i didn’t encounter anything much above a sort of six i don’t think and then i just reefed down and you know that was fine. I was never out there in a gale or whatever. She was fine. She never gave me any worries and i was never concerned about being out in bad weather. I had a good friend in the Caribbean who had a Prout 37 which was one of the reasons I had bought a Prout.
Absolutely beautiful boat um which i um was on board in Martinique and various other places and he was he was a German guy. He sailed her from Prouts in England to uh down to the mediterranean then across to the Caribbean. He never had he said to me he never had a moment doubt about him he’d been out in some heavy weather in earth and he had never had a moment’s worry um they were good so and he was a good sailor, so his confidence in his Prout 37 gave me my confidence in my Prout 33.
Anything that you would have changed or actually did change about the boat when you owned Eloise?
I put in a high chair. I put in a stool behind the wheel. I mean that you’ve got this little wheel which of course is very small compared to you know a huge great monohull wheel so uh you’ve got this little wheel and you should remember this little wheel because the windows are not very far behind you. I found since I didn’t like standing up, so I put in a high chair.
I bought a stainless steel captain’s chair on the internet and the next time i had it laid up. It was just a matter of get so simple to fit backing plate underneath and a few bolts and really comfortable really nice one foot on the side other foot there and the gear lead levels down there and the lever for swinging the outboard engine round is right in front of you excellent.
You certainly need to get the high chair I think if you’re going to um go very far. The radar i moved below a little bit along the port side, so in fact from my hike area, I could just lean down look through the um look through the hatch and i could see the radar. Those are the main things. Also we did the head linings, but I think everybody with all your boats whether they’re Prouts or Moody’s or Westerlies or even American boats, I’m sure of that era you end up redoing the head linings. It’s easy on a catamaran because they’re such big flat distances very few curves nice.
How did she handle on the canals? Was it tight at times? Do you have any problems with maneuverability?
Just before you just before you called me, I got my French canal Route to the Mediterranean book out to check it and the beam in the main canals and that’s in the locks of course. The maximum beam is five meters, and I can’t remember what the Quest 33 was but i think it was something like four point fifty four meters that sort of size and when you add the fenders on either side and most people if they’re sensible have got a scaffolding board running outside the fenders you’re going into those locks with maybe only a foot foot and a half clearance on either side
To get in them you have to line up at absolute right angles and the only place there is any current in a French canal is just outside the lock gate because the locks if you’re coming uh if you’re going up a level the top lock is entering um the water’s coming into the uh into the lock bay the lock basin bit and it’s coming out around the entrance and vice versa if you’re going up the levels are changing so you line yourself up you get a little bit way back you line up absolutely a hundred percent with the full length of your boat so it’s straight on into that canal lock and as you get there the current sweeps you to one side or the other side
In the Prout i was able to do it without having another breakdown and without actually doing it ever. I did meet another couple in a rather larger catamaran one time who were in tears because it was just you know if you’re on the limit of getting in there you know you only got a few inches either side. Probably a catamaran of that size shouldn’t be shouldn’t be doing it. They were in tears because they were dinging it.
Any advice about uh navigating the canals in a catamaran aside from don’t put a big one in there?
No I mean they they they’re brilliant because you can get right alongside. One of the problems with the monohull in the french canals is that because of the key it isn’t that deep alongside the banks. You know the canals are they’re not sort of concreted size they’ve got soft um they’ve got soft um soft canal sides.
The toe path there’s not sort of stone work. It’s quite soft so the center of the canal is deep the central canal is you know uh one five foot nine 1.8 meters so in a monohull that’s absolutely fine but once you go to park up for the night and you go alongside some leafy canal side and all the rest of it you can’t get to one of her in.
But the catamaran she slides right in there alongside the bank very easy to drive in a couple of stakes um into the bank and tie up put the plank on and walk short so they are perfect they are absolutely perfect.
Can you tell us a little bit about Gentle Sailing?
It’s a youtube channel I started. I had a load of videos actually i did a second navigation, so I shot a lot of film on digital which sold very well with sort of West Marine and Defenders and so on, but that was also about 10 or 15 years ago. For some reason recently I looked at all these films and because they stopped selling after a whil because they you know all films.
I think i’ll put them up if I’m not making money out of these. So I think I put them up on YouTube for free. Then I discovered that you start a youtube channel. I started one called Michael Briant and that’s all that’s not very good. So i made a subsidiary channel called Gentle Sailing and started putting all these old films up on there.
With a bit of conversion a bit of editing and so on and and they were you know they were quite successful people seemed to enjoy them people seemed to like them and then this year um I went. They were never getting mega views. They were never going viral.
This year i went off sailing down the French coast down the normally goes between the two covered Covid lockdown incidents and I put cameras which i didn’t have before you know those tiny little GoPro cameras plastered them all over my boat and started making videos and um i’ve been doing i did a couple of videos about getting the boat back from um England to France during the first lockdown which was quite an experience because the French didn’t want to let me in.
Then i’ve done videos about all of the Normandy coast um from the Lion to Sherbal which I shot between the two lockdown periods on my GoPro cameras and they’ve been doing very well indeed they’ve been doing very well um i’m really pleased about those.
They’re just like pilots it’s just like having a pilot book and i do it visually and show you how to get into the port of these little French walls which view which is a bit the same as um the intercostal waterway which i sailed up. I should have had a catamaran for the intercostal waterway because it would have been perfect for sure