So what is best about Brest then? I woke early to find out….
We had a quiet night on the Irene after our 26 hour sail into Port. The crew were all pretty exhausted with people rising at different times.
When I got up Guillaume, our local ‘Breton’ trading partner, was already half way through his day which started with a radio and TV interview about our voyage. He had also arranged for a small amount of the beer to be collected.
There was also some issues to sort out like clearing the Irene, our ship, and her cargo with customs. Despite having a local contact and preparing all the documentation in advance and forwarding it to the officials it still was a far more difficult process than anticipated. The customs officials sent our Captain and Guillaume on a wild goose chase to get the documentation accepted and stamped. We are beginning to wonder whether we should just go below radar the hassle we have had with the bureaucracy. It is clear the major issue faced is the lack of imagination of officials and the damn rule book. We also got word from the French equivalent of the MCA that details of our ship had been forwarded to them and that we faced YET ANOTHER inspection.
Guillaume arranged for a TV crew to film on Irene for French Channel 3. He interviewed our Captain for the programme which went out with the news on Friday evening.
We are moored in Brest next to the famous ship ‘La Recouvrance’ and the largest classic ship yard in the region called ‘Chantier du Guip‘.
Guillaume kindly introduced us to the staff of the ship yard and they offered us a tour of the boats and the yard. It is very impressive as they were working on 5 very large wooden boats including ‘Hoshi‘ a famous wooden gaff schooner originally built in 1909 and was a key part of the Island Cruising Club fleet in Salcombe.
A coincidence as I spent all my family holidays as a child in Salcombe and my mother remembers Hoshi well. As I toured the boat yard I couldn’t help thinking of my friends Jay and Lucy. There is a serious amount of ‘boat porn’ here and I imagine Jay would very much be in his element here.
Sadly many boat yards around the world are going out of business or have become very small operations. It was great to see such a thriving business here in classic boat restoration.
After our tour of the yard, we were invited aboard our neighbouring tall ship ‘La Recouvrance‘, a replica boat launched in 1992. La Recouvrance is owned by the city of Brest and is named after the famous maritime area of the town called Recouvrance which means ‘action to recover’. The area was traditionally inhabited by mariners. The hospitals were also located in the area.
The manager of the boat gave us a full tour of the boat letting us have a look at the captains cabin, the saloon, galley and bunks.
She is incredibly well kept and is the pride and joy of the town. You spot her picture all over the town centre. The boat is used for festivals and galas and corporate sailing trips.
I’m constantly on the look out for smart solutions to energy. I really liked the crystal prism skylights in the deck of Recouvrance. Stylish, smart and very eco efficient. They simple refract and amplify the light down below (pictured above).
Finally we went to explore the locals fish markets. We are moored next to a big warehouse were the fishing vessels unload. There was a diverse selection of fish and seafood some of which you would never normally see especially in the UK including a large white and black spotted dog fish. Apparently much of the UK ‘by catch‘ makes its way to France as there is no market for it. Also on sale were the local delicacy ‘Ormeaux‘ (Abalone), a large marine mollusc. Apparently the Bretons serve them fried in garlic butter normally (don’t they do that with everything??). The shells of the Abalone are also a source of mother of pearl.
We were joined for dinner by Michael, a german carpenter currently working at the ship yard. Michael is travelling the world on his Carpentry apprenticeship. He is part of a long tradition of travelling journeyman from Germany.
Journeymen can be easily recognised on the street by their clothing. The carpenter’s black hat has a broad brim; some professions use a black stovepipe hat or a cocked hat. The carpenters wear black bell-bottoms and a waistcoat and carry the Stenz, which is a traditional curled hiking pole.
The costume is completed with a golden earring and golden bracelets – which could be sold in hard times and in the Middle Ages could be used to pay the gravedigger if any wanderer should die on his journey. The journeyman carries his belongings in a leather backpack called the Felleisen, but some medieval towns banned those (for the fleas in them) so that many journeyman used a coarse cloth to wrap up their belongings.
Unfortunately I’m unable to share photographs of our friend Michael. He refuses to have pictures taken of him (you will have to imagine him from the description above). He doesn’t own a mobile phone or engage in any internet activities. I found it very inspiring hearing his stories of travelling around Europe and the far east as a journey man. He has been on the road for 2 1/4 years! He lives in the moment and takes life exactly as it comes. He explained the ethic of the journeyman is that you must always leave the door open for the next jouneyman after you. This means they have a very high code of conduct. They wish to be well received where ever they travel. Hopefully we can do the same with New Dawn Traders and Irene. Make way for other crews and ships to sail after us!
After dinner we headed out to find somewhere to dance. I can’t say we were that successful. We finally found a late night bar playing (awful) music and serving ridiculously overpriced drinks. Ville, our finnish crew mate, commented that it was Scandinavian prices!
Jamie, curious, about what really is best in Brest, asked the barman. The barman thought hard for several minutes or so, then slowly replied ‘Well, ehhh, there is, this errr nice well errr a nice beach 50 km away from here’. How funny. The locals think the best thing about Brest is leaving! Not sure what our dear local contact Guillaume will think about that!
This morning, after a late start, we discharged the remainder of the Ale forming a human chain, to the quayside. Finally we have the saloon back!
Early next week we are sailing to Douarnenez (Finistère) to celebrate ‘Mardi gras‘. Apparently this mardi gras festival is famous not only in Brittany but also in France. The big celebrations kick off this evening (Saturday). However we will head there for the closing festival. Apparently it is a more local affair and crazier on the final night on Tuesday. Jamie and I are looking forward to breaking out our fancy dress.