Lucy and the New Dawn Traders

Fare Traded by Sail

Category: Brest


Sorry for the radio silence. A cat got my tongue. And the internet is switched off in this town for Mardi gras festival. Just back online now!

Before leaving Brest we got the news that the insurance doesn’t cover us to cross the Bay of Biscay. And we are unable to find out exactly where the bay starts and finishes in legal terms so we can avoid it. Which is currently stalling our passage.

WTF. You might ask. I did. WTF!!!!!!! 

Without, at the very least, crew insurance we can’t sail. Half the crew are employees and the rest of us our trainees so technically this is a workplace and thus we must have insurance should the worst happen.

The issue is that the Bay of Biscay is a dangerous place and most insurers put clauses in their marine insurance for yachts and ships excluding passage in the Bay of Biscay during the winter months.

We left Brest 3 days ago. The crew agreed that if we were waiting to renegotiate insurance the least we could do in the meantime was go sailing and celebrate Mardi Gras. So we loaded a cargo of wine and set out into the sunshine to skirt the coast of Brittany and head for Douarnenez, a rowdy little fishing port 3 hours sailing south of Brest.

We hoisted the sails after rounding the headland. This time we learnt how to use the winch to hoist the mainsail. The winch was formally a winch from a mine shaft in wales and is very heavy duty. It has an iron handle either side of the mast. However it is painfully slow to operate and I think I prefer the group hoisting with the ropes and the pins.

With the sails up all the problems we have faced melt away. For awhile….

We arrived in Douarnenez and moored up next to fishing boats and trawlers on the quayside. We had to keep checking the mooring lines to adjust the ropes with the tide. And our route off the boat was by a very narrow slippery ladder.

After a quick dinner of rice and satay curry we prepared ourselves for the circus of Douarnenez. Liberal amounts of face paints and eyeliner were applied. And a moderate amount of glitter.

It took some work to find the festivities. We stumbled across some pink pigs and a couple of transvestites that pointed us in the right direction. The bars were filled with throngs of men dressed as women and women dressed as men along with a heavy dose of Pirates.

Cripes have I travelled back to Dalston I wondered?

Much dancing and chanting ensued. Antoine, our crazy frenchman, stripped off and wandered around just in board shorts, bare feet and with a towel around his neck.

I learnt a number of rousing french songs and danced a number of jigs. We finally stumbled back to the boat around 3am to find it was high tide and the boat was several metres out from the quay. Having to take a huge leaps to get back on board. Nothing like a fraction of mild peril at 3 in the morning.

The next day pretty much nothing happened. Spirits were at an all time low. No news about insurance. No idea whether we are going anywhere. Stranded in the doldrums…

Yesterday was not much different. I tried to find an internet cafe. Went for a walk. Moped around with Martina and Antje. Made some flapjacks.

We toasted to ‘low morale’ at lunch and did some work on the RIB (our inflatable safety boat).

At 6.30pm yesterday Laurance, our Captain, returned to the boat with news that the insurance may be sorted. We are waiting for a call…

So that is where we are at. Once again.

Not the end of our tale I hope.

Up the greasy pole

Bating the mast – tallowing the wood…

According to the captain, bating the mast is a key role for all new trainees aboard ship. And first up is me. I was presented with some really delightful overalls and headed out on deck.

What a shocker! It was scorching sunshine. What happened to winter? I began to wonder if we had time travelled through the night and woken up in May.

Damon prepared a nice hot tub of tallow for me to apply to the mast by warming it up in an old tin can on the hob. I got into my overalls and harness and we made the swing seat ready. I was then gently hoisted to the top of the main mast section. My knees were trembling but I soon relaxed as the view was epic and it was really rather nice having a birds eye view of the harbour.

I set to work after taking a few snaps. Taking liberal chunks of tallow and rubbing them around the mast. I instantly shoved a massive splinter through my right middle thing which hurt like hell.

Tallowing the mast protects it from the elements and preserves the wood preventing it from splitting. Gradually I applied a thick layer around a metre high section of the mast swinging around to reach each side. The mast has a diameter of about 50 cm.

I was then lowered a metre more and continued. It took well over 40 minutes to do the whole thing and by the end I was absolutely covered in the stuff.

Lucy at the top of the mast

I went down below to wash the stuff off. On the way I passed the box. ‘Tallow – made from liver fat’. GRIM!

We were visited by the French port authorities who came to check our registration papers which we have finally received from the Cook islands. As far as I can tell they were happy with everything and we now have clearance to leave Brest.

Ville sanding and varnishing the rear cabin roof

The rest of the crew have been getting on with other maintenance tasks. Ville has spent the day varnishing. Antje has been apponted the exciting role of dishcloth monitor. A highly prized role. She spent the day washing cloths. A day in the life of a trainee is never dull. 

We will depart tomorrow on the high tide (thank goodness – we wanna be sailing!). In the meantime we are off to sample some wine and collect some cargo.


Best in Brest?

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.

Tally ho!

The Channel

Much jubilation in board. We finally set sail yesterday from Plymouth!! We had a good wind and we set about hoisting our sails immediately. By the time we exited the Plymouth sound we were cruising 8kts with the sun in our faces. The excitement on board was palpable. For half of the crew it was the first sailing a classic tall ship. Irene looked magnificent in the afternoon light.

We headed out on a bearing of SW-S. Not long after passing Eddystone lighthouse we were joined by a pod of playful dolphins. There seemed to be at least 30 of them surfing our bow waves and leaping through waves. The seas were relatively calm. None the less a few crew were sea sick.

My first watch was at 6pm as the light was ending. The sunset was incredible. The skies full of fluffy clouds were basked in deep oranges and pinks offsetting our canvas sails perfectly.

The crew set about preparing the first hot meal on board. A tasty meal of sausages, spicy red cabbage and mash. Perfect fare for the cold conditions on board.

The wind maintained into the night. We had a few hairy moments just before crossing the shipping lane. A large vessel refused to give way and we had to perform. An emergency manoeuvre to stay clear.

My second watch was a 2am for 4 hours which passed surprisingly fast. Standing on the stern of the boat surveying the ship in pitch black with only the navigation lights to see was an incredible experience. Surfing through waves with the wind behind us. The stars made a brief appearance around 4am and I was able to steer by focusing on the constellations rather than the compass.

We first saw the French coastline and the rotating lights of the multitude of lighthouses around 4:30 am. The way to identify individual lighthouses is by counting the time between each flash. You can then identify them on the sea charts.

It was a welcome relief to retire to bed at 6am. I was exhausted! When I returned to deck at 11am we were skirting the French coastline. The view as we entered the channel towards Brest was incredible.

Guillaume, our French trading partner, pointed out all the lighthouses and gave us a run down of the history of the region. We entered the port of Brest under full sail. Only dropping sails at the last moment to enter port.

We moored up next to a beautiful tall ship called ‘La Recouvrance’, the most famous tall ship in Brest. She is named after a local district.

We had a great welcoming committee including the local press and the parents of Guillaume who brought us a fine package of local wine for the crew! Time for a celebration. We have completed our first deal! Bottoms up as they say.

Tomorrow we set about unloading our cargo of ale. For now we are heading out to sample the local delights in Brest.

À bientôt.

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