All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Yes, it's water, Captain Haddock...lots of it at les Tonnerres de Brest 2012

Captain Haddock, inspiration of all those who aspire to swear yet not blaspheme, can rest easy....there'll be rum aplenty - and wine and beer and even water - on the quays for the maritime festival 'les Tonnerres de Brest' beginning on July 13 and lasting through to the morning of the 19th when the assembled fleet weighs anchor to sail round to Douarnenez.

You enjoyed the Diamond Jubilee river pageant? Or you would have done if the BBC had not chosen to show us half witted 'celebrities' instead?
Then if you are anywhere within range of Brest, get yourself down to the waterside and enjoy the sight and sound of traditional boats from all over the world, from canoes to tall ships, showing you the sunny side of the great days of sail.

Should you be of Scottish extraction, you could download the sailing programme and position yourself on the shore to watch the fleets tacking across the Rade de Brest...but as a day ticket only costs fifteen euros, even a Scot might make an exception and pay up.
The quays will be humming with music, there will be food from most of the countries whose boats are present, fireworks at night.....and good public transport to get you there and back until the small hours of the morning.

Why am I so enthusiastic?
Because I went to the first maritime festival at Brest in 1992.....the first time the port admiral had allowed the public access to the naval base on the Penfeld River  for a celebration of French maritime history...and it was a blast from start to finish.
Twenty years later, this will be the first one I will have missed.

Britain has always had enthusiasts and bloody minded traditionalists who did their best to preserve traditional boats, but France had not been so lucky....the emphasis on modernisation had meant that if you wanted to see a traditional boat, your best bet was to go to a muddy inlet where the hulks would be laid up to rot..

Then in 1989 the team on the magazine 'Chasse- Maree' - named for the three masted luggers that took fish from boats at sea and raced to ports all down the Atlantic coast to get the best prices for the catch - started an initiative.

Bateaux des Cotes de France.

The idea was to encourage communities to restore or even build from scratch the boats typical of their area - and was later extended to classic sailing yachts and steam boats.
The objective was to have these boats present at a sailing festival in 1992.
A tough call.

But answered.
Here's Le Grand Lejon from St. Brieuc....newly constructed...

La Granvillaise from the bay of Mont St. Michel....new again...

The pilot cutter Marie-Fernande from Le Havre...constructed from scratch...


And a favourite of mine, the oyster sloop Laissez-les-Dire from the Bay of Aiguillon...restored from her poor state as part of the challenge...

So many boats brought back to life or recreated...so many communities renewing links with their past...and the gathering at Brest in 1992 was the triumph of the initiative, with the launching of Brest's own Recouvrance.
The festival has been held every four years since...getting bigger, attracting entries from all over the world and inevitably, becoming more organised and more commercial.

This year there will as always be the big draw...the tall ships....
The Cuauhtemoc from Mexico

And the Sedov, veteran of the Cape Horn Nitrate trade with Chili....

Among many others...and they're not just moored up to the quay...they will deploy their clouds of sail day after day in the approaches to Brest, an unforgettable sight.

There are replicas of historic ships....the Recouvrance herself, now doted with mast and sails...

And the eighteenth century privateer from St. Malo, the Etoile du Roy.....
Not to speak of the working boats, shown above....and so many more.
Classic yachts, Bantry Bay yawls - themselves heirs to the French revolutionary navy's attempt to land troops in Ireland - pirogues, canoes....you name it, you'll see it.

But despite the way the festival has grown in twenty years the spirit of that challenge by Chasse-Maree remains...people proud to rediscover their maritime - and fluvial - heritage...and determined to enjoy the fun.
I shall be very surpised if there is not a gabare or two from the Loire, broaching their casks of Chinon wine under the flare of the fireworks while a skipper from the Old Gaffers attempts to persuade himself that
'Once aboard the lugger and the girl is mine...'

Les tonnerres de Brest draws its name from the cannon fire which would warn of the approach of the British fleet.....this year it will signal a welcome to all the maritime world.

Here's the official video presentation...and if you can't go this year, start booking your holiday in Brittany for 2016.
 

24 comments:

  1. Super film and photos! I would love to have seen this.

    I understand that the idiot who authorised the imbecile BBC coverage has now been made director general. Doesn't bode well ....

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    1. If an imbecile like that gets to the top of the greasy pole it's curtains for the original message of the BBC.
      I shall turn my face to the wall.

      Brest is a super maritime festival, well organised and well served by transport and accommodation which makes going there a pleasure....quite apart from all the subsidiary events in the area.

      It's not one of those precious 'enthusiasts only' type of event either...

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  2. I'm not a sailor (though the few times I have been on a boat I have discovered I have natural sea legs) but even I can admire the beauty and aesthetic perfection of these craft.

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    1. Beautiful, aren't they...and beautiful because they fit the purpose for which they were built.
      And when you see the Sedov and think that she was built to round Cape Horn to Chile to load up with guano in the days before chemical fertilisers...such a grimy, dangerous trade carried by such elegance.

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  3. This looks like an amazing occasion. Those ships are so beautiful. I saw a few of the tall ships a few years ago, in Chicago, anchored along the river and lake Michigan lakefront, but this looks so much more impressive. I bet you will miss being there this year.

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    1. The tall ships are beautiful, but I prefer the working boats and have been lucky to have been aboard some of them in my time.

      Yes, I'll miss it!

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  4. Oh! You make me a happy woman this hour!
    I've sent a link to my friend who sailed to NZ on the Soren Larsen.
    Thank you, Fly.

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    1. Thank you!
      Gorgeous ladies, aren't they!

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  5. How awful that you will miss It this year!

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    1. And for the years to come....still, I'll try to catch it on the French news roundups...there's bound to be something as Hollande is going there on the 14th...

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  6. Super post--what lovely boats. As a student used to get a group together to sail on the Dutch flat bottomed boats with bargeboards on the Ijsselneer. Saw tall ships in Copenhagen way back in 70-something. unfurling all that sail as they moved out into the Oresund [between Sweden and DK] was just stunning.

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    1. I know the Dutch barges...I was lucky enough to sail on a Thames barge while a student...wonderful how it was all controlled by a skipper and his mate.

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    2. just had a look at Les tonnerres de Brest webpage--super! Especially the smaller boats. Recognised quite a few of names of the Tall Ships I saw all those years ago :-)

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    3. Enticing isn't it.
      I think the tall ships have a sort of circuit these days rather like a better behaved Formula 1...

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  7. Replies
    1. Get yourself there with your camera for 2016.....it will be worth it!

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  8. I love tall ships, so thank you for this, including the film. What magnificent craft. They last time I saw them in array was off Yarmouth in 1981, on the day of Charles and Diana's wedding. That one didn't turn out so well, but the ships are still afloat.

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    1. You'd think the Queen, being a keen bloodstock breeder, would know better than to pick on someone from the Spencer family to introduce new blood.
      Mad as a box of frogs the lot of them.

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  9. Oh those tall ships are so elegant aren't they? I envy those who are able to attend this year. It sounds like the atmosphere will be wonderful.

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    1. I've seen some of the TV coverage....not like being there, but good all the same.

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  10. Mille millions de mille sabords! This I must see.....

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    1. Given 'le rigeur', I reckon they'll have a job finding more than three by the next time in 2016....

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  11. Bother, I read this too late even to think of going! However, thanks not only for a super post and photos, but for making sense of a big spread I read recently in the local paper about the launch of a restored three-master at Granville - Le Marité - which was about to head off for Les Tonneres de Brest, about which I had never heard.:-(

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    1. The next one is in four years' time...but there are other events at Douarnenez, etc....in the off years.
      Smaller, but still fun.

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