Handala Sails to Brest France

We said our last goodbyes to the town of Cobh, one of the ports of Cork, Ireland and followed the River Lee.

Handala leaving Cork

Our course took us back toward the Scilly Isles and across the west end of the English Channel to France and the Rade de Brest.


As we entered French waters we were met by the French coast guard. We were given a formal passport check at sea, a procedure out of the ordinary for a private vessel, but to be expected aboard Freedom Flotilla boats.

French coast guard


As we approached the Brest harbor, sail boaters waved and one, the “Pink Floyd”, accompanied us into the harbour where we received a warm welcome.

Brest welcome

Brest band


As the crowd of supporters and our wonderful ground crew team took our lines, an energetic brass band played sea songs, socialist anthems and, of course, Bella Ciao!


Handala Brest


There had been some official controversy about our visit, heightened possibly by the national elections. Claude Leostic and her team in Brest skillfully resolved the political issues and arranged for us a prominent place in the marina.


Brest docks

The quai is a popular walking and jogging route so the rail was always lined with curious onlookers who, otherwise, might not have been aware of Handala and our mission. Many questions were answered and with a typical greeting of “Bon courage”. It’s remarkable that there seemed to be no critics despite the constant expression of support for the war among right-wing candidates and politicians.


Brest mayor

No official visit is possible without the (unofficial) Mayor of the Port of Brest. The empathy you see here between our Irish crew-member Aoife and the mayor is an expression of the deep cultural similarities between Ireland and Brittany.


Fellipe Malaysia

Very familiar faces for anyone who has followed the history of the Freedom Flottila Coallition. Malaysia has played a strong role and here our crew member Fellipe is flanked by two generations of activists.



Deep friendships are made on our voyages. Warren, our mate from Victoria, Canada, greets another participant. A meeting on a train and a conversation about Palestine brought them together before we even docked in Brest.




Claude was our constant guide, driver, fixer, host at official events, political diplomat and inspiring presence. Her team was always ready to pitch in, even in the middle of the night as port security.


Large gatherings of political supporters are a common and critical element of the Coalition’s work. Dr. Raphael Pitti is the honoured guest seated here to the right of John who provided a short warm-up speech.




Dr. Pitti is an expert in war zone emergency medical operations and head of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations. He has worked extensively in Gaza, especially since October 2023. His sharing of his experience with many of the recent events in Gaza gave us a shocking understanding of the challenges faced by medical personnel – even those on limited assignments under the bombing. Dr. Pitti also advocates for a more effective response from the French government to give material substance to its rhetoric.


Fellipe, as spokesperson for the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, explains the mission’s goals, challenges and accomplishments.


Solidarity everywhere.


While the regional representatives of the national government were resistant to our visit, the Mayor of Brest was happy to greet us at his city hall offices. While ultimately unwilling to fly the Palestinian flag along with others in the city square, he was welcoming and approving of our project. Claude, front and centre, has our Captain Wellu and the Mayor on her right. We were supported at the meeting by members of the left-wing regional parties.


A violinist and flutist were soon joined by a drummer and a bass player on the foredeck – the beginning of the farewell to Brest.

Showing and speaking to every port is why we are here.