On the Lighthouse Road – Part 2 – my dives in Camaret

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In my quest to dive deeper into local diving, I searched for the best places to go scuba diving in Brittany, my home region. I discovered there was a corner I had never set foot on, even less a fin in. Before every trip, I’m always tempted to cram a little bit too much in a 2-week itinerary. After hours of research, I finally narrowed it down to an inspiring itinerary along Finistere northern shore: the Lighthouse Road.

On my second week, after covering most of my lighthouse photo scavenger hunt from Porspoder to Le Conquet, I settled for 5 days in the Crozon Peninsula. The area is well known among Brittany lovers and especially those fond of hiking. However, little did I know how fantastic its underwater playground was, from deep shipwrecks to walls covered in colourful jewel anemones. And as a bonus to my experience, I was lucky to use the services of Leo Lagrange Centre, the best-equipped dive centre I’ve seen in France and maybe in Europe.

The Crozon Peninsula & the Iroise Marine Park

If you look closely at a map of Brittany, you’ll see its westernmost tip, Finistere, ends like a mirrored E. The Crozon Peninsula is the bar in the middle. The self-proclaimed “end of the world” is right in the heart of two protected nature parks: the Armorique regional park for the land side and the Iroise marine nature park for the ocean side.

The first one was established in 1969, but the latter only recently. The Iroise Sea Natural Marine Park was the first marine nature park to be established in 2007 following the revision of the protected area regulation in France.

Between the coast from Porspoder to Douarnenez and the islands of Ouessant, Molène and Sein, the Iroise sea is indeed a rich marine ecosystem with large colonies of dolphins and seals. Being a major maritime route as well, the need for protection and management became critical.

My schedule for 5 days was one dive in the morning at 9 o’clock and then hiking in the afternoon. The Crozon Peninsula is a famous highlight of the GR34 hiking trail. Stretching over 2,000 km from Mont St-Michel to St-Nazaire, it goes all around the coastline of Brittany. Expect crowds at the most accessible points in July and August. In June and September, you will get most of the spots to yourself by travelling in the shoulder season.

Scuba diving in Camaret-sur-Mer

Expertly guided by the team of Leo Lagrange dive centre, the best was waiting for me under the waves. Their underwater playground is in the heart of the Iroise marine park and goes from the entrance of Brest Bay to the northwest shore of the Crozon Peninsula.

In late June/beginning of July, the water temperature was from 15 to 16°C (thanks to the tides, there are no thermoclines), and the visibility was at a decent 15 m (expect floating particles still). I haven’t been yet diving everywhere in Brittany, but it’s on my list: with deep shipwrecks and shallower rocky reefs, the dive sites accessible from Camaret left a big impression on me. They are the best dive sites I’ve seen in Brittany so far.

At the beginning of the week, we were a small group of 4 experienced divers to enjoy deeper dive sites or with more currents. When 2 dive clubs joined on the Friday for the weekend, we headed to shallower sites to adapt to all levels of divers.

Dive #1 – Basse Laurent

My dive parameters: max depth 22 m – dive time 47 min – water temperature 15°C

A “basse” is a shallow reef above which boats can still navigate. As you can see, most of the dive sites I explored indicate this word. So, I guess it was a great introduction to scuba diving in Camaret. Anywhere I go now, on first dives, I made it an official habit to bring the wide-angle dome of my underwater camera. It gives me more freedom and time to carefully look at the environment surrounding me, the level of light and the marine life.

The navigation was simple as we basically went around a large rock. However, the current at the surface taught me that it would be one of these dive trips where I would need to fully prepare and attach my underwater camera to my BCD before jumping in the water. On this dive, I lost time at the surface for this reason, and I drifted. I was almost out of breath when I finally made it back to the line. I took a few minutes to catch my breath at the line, and down we went without any further issue.

The underwater landscapes of granite boulders with horsetail kelp and sea urchins were typical of Brittany, but I had never seen so many jewel anemones covering the rocks. You’ll hear local divers often referring to them using their scientific name, corynactis (Corynactis Viridis).

They literally covered the walls, clear from any algae and came in a surprising array of colours: pink, green, blue, red, brown and white. As I didn’t bring my macro lens, I took a few overall shots of the rock walls, so you know what to expect and when to have a closer look. While doing so, I found all sorts of common marine species of the northern Atlantic Ocean hiding below the rocks: conger eels, lobsters, spiny lobsters and octopus.

Dive #2 – Men Gan

My dive parameters: max depth 24 m – dive time 41 min – water temperature 16°C

On my second day, we headed to the Goulet (“gully”), the narrow entrance of Brest Bay. Due to the restriction and the tides, currents can be powerful there. The only diveable moment is at slack tide. So, it was essential to prepare our gear efficiently to be ready to jump in the water on time.

Something I learnt in recent years is that strong tidal currents often mean a profusion of marine life on the rock walls. Based on my experience of the previous day, I came with my macro lens on my underwater camera with the firm intention of taking close-up shots of every shade of jewel anemones I could find.

Hopefully, Loïc, one of the instructors, joined as my dive buddy to kindly look after me since I almost stayed stuck to the wall the entire dive. The only time I turned back was to show him a 3 mm long nudibranch (for which I think he got how crazy I was about tiny marine critters) or when a beautiful tompot blenny decided to pose right in front of my camera.

I only included the best shots I got in this article. Still, by reviewing the 47 pictures I took during the 41 minutes of the dive, I counted 17 shades of jewel anemones with different colour combinations and a plain reddish-orange one. It’s unbelievable how fast time passes when you concentrate on framing your shot correctly and getting the right parts of the anemone in focus (I recommend going for the top tentacles!).

Dive #3 – Swansea Vale shipwreck

My dive parameters: max depth 30 m – dive time 32 min – water temperature 16°C

I now realise I hadn’t been wreck diving for some time. The last time was almost 2 years ago in the Port-Cros National Park. No matter how much I love the Grec shipwreck, I think it has now a serious competitor in Brittany among my top wreck dives in France.

The Swansea sank on the 8th of August 1918, so towards the end of WWI. However, the thick fog and not a submarine, as the rumour still says, ended the voyage of the British cargo ship. The ship was 77 m long and sank in one piece. However, the structures started to collapse towards the bow.

The best route is then going from the boiler to the stern and back. With a maximum depth of 30 m and an allowance of 4 minutes maximum of decompression, I had a total of 26 minutes at the bottom, making less than 20 minutes to take pictures in challenging conditions.

I briefed my dive buddy I’d like to spend more time at the propeller as they are usually photogenic. Hopefully, our line descended directly onto the boiler, so we didn’t waste time once we were stabilised.

The marine life around the shipwreck was striking compared to all the other dive sites, especially a large school of poutings and a few pollacks hunting among them. Large spider carbs were walking along the hull, and white and yellow gorgonians decorated the ensemble. A cuckoo wrasse was curious about my dive buddy who undoubtedly made a new friend that day. Here again, we could find jewel anemones, but the most amusing was how they followed the shape of the metal circles on the side of the boiler.

As we progressed to the back of the ship, I couldn’t help noticing the bunch of gorgonians on the starboard side. So, I signalled my buddy I was going for a quick shot. It was the deepest point of my dive. With the poutings swimming above the white and yellow gorgonians, it’s maybe my favourite shot.

My no-decompression time started to run out at this point. The propeller and its rudder blade were intact. Unfortunately, I failed at directing my dive buddy turned into an underwater model to take the picture I had in mind. Fortunately, the other buddy team was ahead of us and lit from behind the propeller, allowing me to take a decent shot. I guess I need to think more ahead in the way I brief my buddies…

As we slowly started ascending, the view above the stern was also a highlight of the dive with its ghostly atmosphere. It was then time to make it back to the line. After a last picture of the engine and a spider crab next to it, it was time for our safety stop.

Dive #4 – Basse Dinan

My dive parameters: max depth 24 m – dive time 45 min – water temperature 16°C

On my third day, we boarded the Remorqueur, Leo Lagrange’s largest diving boat, for a longer scenic ride towards the Tas de Pois of Pen-Hir Point. Our dive site of the day was just on the other side of the famous series of rocks (their name literally means “piles of peas”).

The central part of this dive is a small canyon where all the nudibranchs hide between gorgonians, sea cucumbers and seaweed. This is where I happily saw my very first Krohn’s Doris. With its purple and yellow colours, it looks more like a tropical sea slug than a cold water one!

The other highlight of the dive was this colony of sea cucumbers that I caught during their breakfast. No wonder why we call them lèche-doigts in French (literally “finger lickers”!). How to put it? It was both mesmerising but disgusting at the same time as they put one by one their tentacle into it their mouth and lick it out of it in a slow movement.

Dive #5 – Basse Jean-Paul

My dive parameters: max depth 17 m – dive time 48 min – water temperature 16°C

After an attempt at diving in the morning when one of the silicone wrist seals of my drysuit broke, this is where I logged the last dive of my trip. By chance, I always carry spare seals when I’m diving with my Fusion drysuit.

So for once, I joined the afternoon dive. It was announced to be raining all day; I was better off scuba diving than hiking anyway. My dive buddy, Caroline, was excited to go on an underwater scavenger photo hunt. I couldn’t be happier than showing her an octopus which happened to be her favourite marine animal. Note, I heard before you could rarely see octopus in Brittany, but it seems they are back! Two in a few dives is not too bad.

This shallow dive site had a different topography, with flat rocks forming long steps. As usual, all the marine critters were hiding below these rocks: edible crabs, lobsters, leopard gobies and a first time find for me, the red-mouthed goby.

What to do in Camaret-sur-Mer?

By scuba diving only in the morning, I could cover a lot of ground in the Crozon Peninsula around Camaret-Sur-Mer. Before hitting the GR34 trail, I recommend you take the time to explore the harbour of Camaret. When on the quay of the dive centre, you can see the Vauban Tower. It looks like it’s near, but the return walk is still 4 km long.

The 18 m high orange tower of Camaret is one of the numerous strategic military forts built by the engineer of Louis XIV during the 17th century. It might be actually one of the smallest, but Vauban himself got to defend it during a battle against the English and the Dutch. If you are a fan of history, you can visit it for 5€.

Next to the historic monument, you will find a lovely church, Notre-Dame-de-Rocamadour, and its intricate boat models suspended to its vault. As you make your way to the Vauban Tower and the church, impossible not to notice the ship cemetery. It was beautiful and weird at the same time.

As you walk back to the dive centre, take the narrow hollyhock flowered streets behind the harbour. Camaret-Sur-Mer is also an artist village hosting 24 studios and galleries. The large majority of the painters, sculptors and engravers are inspired by the ocean, so I bet you’ll love their work as much as I did.

The following days, I recommend you to go to these three sites among the best viewpoints of the GR34 trail:

  • Pen-Hir Point
  • Pen-Hat Beach
  • Dinan Point

After two weeks of being almost on my own at every spot of the GR34 trail, it was almost a shock to see the parking lot of Pen-Hir packed. Due to the breathtaking views of the ”Tas de Pois” rocks and beaches of Veryach and Pen-Hat, I can easily understand why. On the road to the viewpoint, you can also visit a megalithic site and a WWII museum in a blockhaus, but I prefer heading to Germaine’s for a crepe and a pint of cider above the stunning beach of Veryach.

As part of my lighthouse photo scavenger hunt, I included Pen-Hat Beach since this is where you get the best view of the Toulinguet Lighthouse. The long golden sandy beach is an invitation for a nap on sunny days. Be warned, swimming is forbidden (as I was told, it’s more an “at your own risk” warning since there is no surveillance). If you prefer walking, head to the left side of the beach to a higher level where you can get an overall view of the beach and the lighthouse. You can even see the St-Mathieu lighthouse in the background on a clear day.

My last recommendation is actually a local insider tip I got at the dive centre. I’m glad I could do it before leaving, as I played hide and seek with the sun at the end of my stay. If there are too many people at Pen-Hir for you, simply go to the Dinan Point. The views are superb too, and you get to see the Pen-Hir Point and the Tas de Pois rocks from a distance. A bonus point for those who will hike further up the trail is a beautiful arch hanging above the waves.

Where to stay in Camaret-Sur-Mer?

As a scuba diver visiting the Crozon Peninsula, don’t think twice, just book your dives and accommodation at the same time with Leo Lagrange Centre. Their fully refurbished facility, right on the harbour of Camaret, is a dive centre and a hostel at the same time. It is located within walking distance to all the restaurants, bars and shops and you can park for free near it.

For those who prefer their privacy, you’ll also find a great selection of holiday homes to rent in Camaret-Sur-Mer near the dive centre.

You can book one of their 9 rooms with 2 to 5 beds. Their installation is simple but feels luxurious. I just loved the walk-in shower after my dive in the morning. But the best was to be able to wake up 5 minutes before gearing up my tank and then having breakfast while the other divers were arriving.

As a cold-water diving location, with many scuba divers using wetsuits (7mm) or semi-dry suits, you will love their heated drying room for a warm and toasty wetsuit every day before going diving. For those who need to rent gear, they are an Aqualung partner with all the gear you need. However, drysuit divers need to bring their own drysuit.

Honestly, if you want to discover scuba diving in Brittany, I cannot think of a better place. If you go, please say hello to Florian and his team on my behalf!

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Posted by Florine

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