A boating adventure on the Brière

Brière Marais

Brière Brière Brière

Brière Brière Brière

Click on any of the images for a much larger photo

This is the Brière – an area of lakes and marshes a little inland from the France’s (or should I say Brittany’s) Atlantic seaboard.

Said to extend to 720 square kilometres, it’s a big area of marsh and water created by digging turf in much the same way as our own Norfolk Broads. However, it doesn’t have the long history of intensive exploitation by the holiday trade that is so apparent on the Broads – the big leisure activity here is wildfowling, and I guess that’s the purpose of the many hides.

The marshes are wild and empty – which makes them just lovely. (Click for a Google satellite image.) If you’ve ever wondered what the Broads would be like without the hire boats, the Brière is the best example I’ve yet thought of.

While there are no holiday cruisers, there small flat-bottomed canoes known as chalands that can be hired by the hour. They have almost no rocker and for seats they have thwarts high up in the boat, with the result is that they’re pretty tippy, and must be scary for holiday makers unused to canoes. They don’t paddle too well either – it’s no wonder that the locals use poles or outboards – but who cares? This is a fabulous place to be.

You don’t get any of the clear waymarking that the Broads has, and few clear waterways. The geezer who gives you your paddles also gives you his phone number because he half expects you to get lost, but that’s ok, for you will of course be rescued for a consideration.

He doesn’t explain how he’s going to find you in such an extensive labyrinth, however.

I gather the tradition is that the locals navigate by the churches, but our hirer gave me a satellite photo with suggested routes on it. I still became baffled after about half an hour and decided not to go too far: if you decide to spend a whole day on these empty marshes, I’d strongly suggest taking a smart phone with a GPS facility (and perhaps some spare batteries) so you can find your way using Google Maps.

You know you’re in a wild place when you see signs like the one above, which I found in an earth closet on an island in the marshes. As a freelance journalist, I naturally enjoyed the use of the word ‘commission’. And for our American friends, here’s a photo of a turkey that came to see me off…


Ile aux Moines – a jewel of an island in the Gulf of Morbihan

Boat Gulf of Morbihan

Boat Gulf of Morbihan Boat Gulf of Morbihan Boat Gulf of Morbihan Boat Gulf of Morbihan

Boat Gulf of Morbihan Boat Gulf of Morbihan Boat Gulf of Morbihan Boat Gulf of Morbihan

There always seems to be something special, slightly slow and old-fashioned about an island, and the charming Ile aux Moines set in the Gulf of Morbihan on the West Coast of France is no exception.

Here is a first instalment of photos of boats and scenery from the island taken during a holiday trip there this summer. We liked it immensely. I have a half-cooked plan that when I eventually retire some time in my late sixties, one of the first things I’d like to do is to sail to Morbihan and spend a couple of months both on the island and boating around it in the company of friends who will each drop by for a few days.

Well, it’s a nice idea, and dreams don’t cost too much while they’re still just an idea. In the meantime, there are the photos and a few things to find out about – including the hard-chine one-design dinghy class that’s so popular in the area.

I’d just like to add that it was Francois Vivier’s wise recommendation that took us to the Ile aux Moines. Thanks Francois!

Wooden Boatbuilding – a review

Wooden Boatbuilding Jean-Francois Garry

Baffled by the difference between a futtock and a fashion piece? Would you like to be able to read a set of offsets or take off some lines? Would you like an attractive, nicely illustrated guide to the principles of traditional-style boatbuilding to read over Christmas?

Wooden Boatbuilding could well be the book for you.

The first in a new series about classic boats from Adlard Coles, this is a very attractive and nicely designed book written by a well known French boatyard and chandlery owner Jean-François Garry, and translated into English.

There are sections discussing boat plans and how to choose between designs, taking-off lines, lofting, timber types, the various components of traditionally built boats and the techniques required to plank hulls and decks, boat carpentry and maintenance. Despite the book’s claims for itself, I wouldn’t want to attempt any of this stuff having read this book alone, but it certainly provides a useful introduction.

There’s a very Gallic theme among the photos and illustrations, and the occasional appearance of words in settings unfamiliar to a native English speaker remind one that the material was originally written in French. In the foreword, for example, we learn that the book gets to the point in a helpful manner ‘by deliberately overlooking difficulties that an amateur would not encounter’. Elsewhere, ‘oak is widely used for classic yachts but so too are red woods’. We know what’s meant but we haven’t heard it put quite like that before.

Happily, the technical side of the translation seems to be correct throughout, so I don’t think there’s any danger of learning something that later turns out to be misleading. There’s also a very useful collection of recommended reading, a short section on the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) and a glossary. The only thing that lets it down are some rather dodgy and fuzzy photos that look like they’ve been placed at low resolution by mistake.

This very attractive and useful package would make a nice gift for many people interested in traditional boats, and is available from Amazon.