ÎLE DE GROIX
Thursday-Sunday, June 27-30, 2019
One night was all we required to get a feel for Concarneau, so the next day we hoisted our anchor and headed out to sea. But not too far for our destination only 25 miles away. Soon we landed on one of Britany’s gems: Île de Groix.
The island has a small marina and some mooring buoys where you tie both your bow and stern. People told us it can get pretty crowded, especially on the weekend, which hastened our decision to get there Thursday. And, we were glad we did for by the weekend every boat was rafting to another one creating a web of lines.
But, we were lucky because we met Camille, Pierre, and Thomas who had sailed here from L’Orient. The boat belonged to Cami and Pierre who lived aboard while their friend Thomas was taking a break from his cycling vacation (he’d been up in Scotland) to join them for the weekend.
We wish we had had more time to spend with them but at least we shared a table watching the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup game and saw them briefly during our forays around the island.
And, they generously gave us a traditional cake from Brittany, which we devoured… :)
We rented bikes (we’re becoming hooked on electric bikes…), which gave us the opportunity to toodle around the entire island. And, where we engaged in a staring contest with the horse seen at the beginning this post. We also took our first dips of the season
on one of the pristine beaches dotting the shoreline.
This island served as the second time we came into contact with the Douanes (French Customs). Luckily it’s only because they were on a boat rafted to us. I engaged one of the officers quickly, letting him know we were ‘legal’ with our temporary residency in the Netherlands. He was fine; however, a sterner looking fellow asked him a question which included ‘Ou?’, which I knew as ‘where?’.
The nicer officer with whom I was conversing said, ‘It’s not you, it’s the boat. He wants to know where you sailed from.’ I told him we had stopped in the Channel Islands, technically not in the EU part of the VAT agreement (which has since come into question), and we had temporarity imported JUANONA into the Netherlands. He smiled and said, you’re fine as we have you in the system from when you were boarded earlier this summer.’
In spite of our legal status both with regards to Schengen and the EU VAT, I never quite feel at ease in the company of customs. More often than not one’s compliance appears to depend on how the Custom Officers interprets their understanding of the rules and regulations. And, in the fine print of the EU one, each country can decide whether and how much VAT can/will be charged on the boat.
It was nice speaking with the first guy, but also nice to wave good-bye…
Sunday-Monday, June 30-July 1, 2019
When Sunday came we provisioned at the grocery store, then quickly decided to leave when several of the rafted boats departed and we spotted an opening to make an easy exit from the harbor.
We rendez-vous’d with another American boat whom we had met via an email introduction via some other cruising friends. They had suggested meeting in a large bay off this island.
Jayne, another cruising friend, mentioned they had stopped here several years ago and saw an amazing display of the phosphorescence, a feature this small island is known for. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it but did enjoy a lovely walk the next day
after a fun dinner followed by a sleep amidst swells rocking JUANONA.
We only had a short time to share as we were heading in opposite directions and needed to take adavantage of the winds. That’s the problem with cruising: you’re always saying good-bye.
Monday-Sunday, July 1-7, 2019
We only had another short sail to reach our next port, this time a marina (Port Haliguen) outside the town of Quiberon.
We’ve been extremely fortunate being able to live ‘on the water’ because meteorologists had forecast a heat wave blanketing Europe. Being on the coast certainly helped mediate the temperatures; and, even though we couldn’t swing with the wind since we were in a berth, the lower temps of the water kept our hull (and us) relatively cool.
Here we took advantage of our proximity to several sites by planning several day trips with a rental car. A must-see for me was Pont-Aven, a lovely town, one both Max and I just relaxed into (once we fereted out a parking space amidst all the other tourists’ vehicles).
While walking along the riverside we noted how nonchalant some of these boats sat at low tide,
including one whose prop appeared immersed in the muddy bottom goo, which perplexed the captain mightily.
This town is where Paul Gauguin started an informal art colony in 1886 by encouraging fellow French painters to come here. However, it had gained popularity 30 years earlier first with American artists, followed by British, Scandinavians, Dutch and Irish.
For those who aren’t interested in history, please skip. For those who are, I’m just doing a brief stroll through the painters’ time in this village, which could charm the most cynical of tourists.
A museum on the main square introduced us to one of the key reasons why artists favored this town: Julia Guillou (1848-1927).She managed to buy the hotel (Hôtel des Voyageurs) where she had worked, soon earning the reputation as the ‘bonne hôstesse’. The museum occupies the annexe she later added to her hotel.
Over the years as owner of this hotel she offered rooms to painters, primarily academic ones, while ensuring a healthy income came from developing her hospitality business. Doesn’t she sound like someone you’d love to meet? She does to me. And, frankly, I have a friend who immediately comes to mind when thinking of Julia. Only she’d be right in there with the artists!
Painters gathered here drawn by Gauguin, including CamillePissaro (1830-1903), Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Emile Bernard (1868-1941) and many I didn’t know: Armand Séguin; Émile Schuffenecker, Paul Sérusier, Charles Laval, Louis Anquetin,Maxime Maufra, Henry Moret, Ferdinand Loyen du Puigaudeau to name a few. Being senior to the majority of the other French painters, Gauguin became the de facto leader.
During this time several different painting styles arose, and I’ll use Wikipedia.org’s definitiions versus trying to explain them myself: synthetism (‘emphasized two-dimentional flat patterns’); and, cloisonnism (‘bold and flat forms separated by dark contours’).
With lighter easels and paints available in tubes, artists found it easier to paint on site; and, Brittany with its dramatic coastline and variable maritime light served as the perfect ‘model’ for painters eager to explore new techniques.
The exhibit and excellent audio tour filled us full of the various storylines of the artists and their time spent here. So much so, I stopped trying to make sense of who did what when and simply just enjoyed their work. Well, a lot of it.
The Pont-Aven Group continued to inspire artists beyond Gaugin’s time, and several painters’ later work–
Moret’s (156-1913) ‘Goulphar, Belle-Île’ 1895
Maufra’s (1861-1918) ‘Rochers au soleil couchant; L’Anse du port Lonnec’ 1899
and, Puigaudeau’s (1865-1930) ‘Batz-sur-mer au clair de lune’
–drew my eyes. As did, Moret’s ‘Ramasseuses de goémon’ pastel.
What I loved were the odd non-art details that cropped up every now and then. For example, in 1894 Gauguin ended up with a broken ankle thanks to a fight with some fishermen in Concarneau (the beach resort town off of which we had anchored a week earlier).
Looking at this photo from 1886 in Pont-Aven you can imagine the bohemian spirit zinging around those streets.
Gauguin sits in the middle holding a dog while Puigaudeau stands third from the right wearing, appropriately, a Breton shirt :)
Gauguin seemed a restless soul, coming and going to and from Pont-Aven four times over eight years, with 1894 being his last. That year he returned in April with his young mistress Annah, a Javanese woman he’d met in Tahiti, but he didn’t stay long. He left Pont-Aven eventually landing in Marseilles and leaving again for Tahiti in 1895. He died eight years later in the Marquesas.
Many of these artists owed their growing fame to the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922).
He first began in 1870-71 with paintings by Monet and then Pissarro and featured the Impressionists’ second showing in his Paris gallery in 1876. Eleven years later he opened up a gallery in New York City, and in 1905 exhibited their work in London.
My goddaugther Maggie reminded me of an excellent book on some of these artists: THE PRIVATE LIVES OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS by Sue Roe. I had started it on Kindle awhile ago but decided on a paper copy for easier Index referencing. Anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes view of this group would enjoy it.
Although many are devotees of Gauguin, including Pierre Girded (1875-1948)I who painted his idol in a composition mimicking the Last Supper…
… I’m not a fan of Gauguin’s work. However I do appreciate his influence on others. After the fact, the artists who painted here became known as the Pont-Aven School. However, as the museum clearly states: the group of artists is ‘not one of a master surrounded by his students, but instead a sharing of personal and innovative ideas and aesthetics, at the margins of official instruction… According to Gauguin, the painter thus acquired “the right to dare all”. And, ‘dare all’ they did.
A perfect summation of our touring of this picturesque town. With one last look at the high tide having freed the earlier-mentioned sailboat’s propeller and keel, we drove back towards the sea and JUANONA.
The next day our land excursion found us retracing part of our route back to Carnac. We had driven by here on our return from Pont-Aven, and it was then that both of us exclaimed ‘holy cow!’ as we came to the top of a rise.
The reason for our shared shout came from seeing a huge field of megaliths, prehistoric standing stones, quietly laid out in front of us.
We had heard how this area of Brittany featured many prehistoric sites, and we had seen some on our bike ride around Camaret-sur-mer further north. But, these 5,000-6,000 year-old stones appearing in row after row in undulating fields for almost four miles is awesome. This is the only place where so many of these stones appear in one location.
Called the Carnac Alightments, a Neolithic site located just outside La Trinité-sur-la-mer, they stand as sentries; yet, no one knows why, only that they obviously took a lot of work to place them. Not a job I’d enjoy.
The Megaliths Visitor Center provided a good explanation of the site’s main champion, Zacharie Le Rouzic (1864-1939),
as well as other prehistoric areas located in Armorica, this region of Brittany. His mentor was the scottish archaelogist James Miln, but Le Rouzic became enamored with this site in the 1880s when the Carnac Museum opened. He began taking photographs, selling them in the museum. Eventually this led to a dual passion of photography and archaeolgy.
A short video explained the ‘how’ of installing such stones
and signage gave us the background on Le Rouzic. And, one of the staff told us we could simply take a picture of the large map on display
and view the stones on our own without taking a guided tour. (The tour allows you to walk amidst the stones; and, in case anyone can come between the months of October and March, you’d be able to walk along the rows without a guide.)
So, that’s what we did, stopping at all the designated viewpoints to gaze at these solemn rocks…
and stooping to enter one of the dolmens…
where I snapped a shot of Max, one that I would NEVER let him post of me in the same position.
But, it bugs the hell out of me that we don’t know the purpose. This is another reason why time travel would be a fantastic way to experience history. Maybe in the future.
Our final day of road travel we focused on two things: seeing France’s homage to a stellar sailor, Éric Tabarly; and, trying to find a larger battery for our electric outboard.
We accomplished both :)
Tabarly (1931-98) became an avid sailor starting with sailing as a baby aboard his father’s boat, PEN DUICK, and later joining the French Navy. He designed PEN DUICK II, his second racing boat, and began building a winning resumé by placing first in the 1964 single-handed, transatlantic race from Plymouth, England to Newport, Rhode Island.
His racing boats, all named PEN DUICK, evolved over the years adding to his victories and growing reputation both in France and around the world (his countrymen and women thought so highly of him that shipyard workers in 1968 stopped striking so they could complete number IV in time for a race). Max actually recognized one of these iterations, PEN DUICK III, docked at the same Guernsey marina as us back in May.
A relatively small display covered his life, including listing his racing achievements from 1964 to winning the notorious, annual Fastnet Race in 1997. But, it was only in reading later online that I learned he tragically drowned in the Irish Sea while sailing to Scotland June 1998. He was sailing on the original PEN DUICK, the one on which he learned to sail as a boy.
Racing these boats is pretty dangerous as this video captures a scene of a guy just missing being left behind in the sea…
and of another French solo sailor crashing.
When inside this museum it became clear the emphasis was on exposing visitors to the physics, mechanics and joys of sailing. Videos explained the principles of using the wind to move a boat through water. Another area includes many demos–including an indoor pool equipped with toyboats–
tested one’s marine skills.
In addition to entertaining you, it also showed that what may look simple, isn’t necessarily so. Both Max and I said what a perfect place to bring anyone interested in sailing, especially those attending a sailing school.
After an hour of perusing the exhibits and trying out our own maritime agility, we exited to look at the real thing floating in the marina. As it happened, these docks served as a base for some of the racing boats and teams we saw during the Urgo Le Figaro in Roscoff.
And, the electric outboard battery? After searching several chandleries, one said they didn’t have one and contacted the distributor who couldn’t ship one to us in time. Then he called another store and arranged for us to pick up the battery that had been used as a display (!). This type of help typifies the people we’ve experienced during our time in Brittany.
We visited one more town just up the river from our marina in Quiberon. La Trinité-sur-mer had been an option for a marina stay as we had heard it had a lovely old town and nice waterfront filled with cafes; but, it also had tidal concerns and tight berths. (Although, it would have been pretty cool to be in Éric Tabarly’s homeport.)
It also was the home of several of the huge catamarans. We spotted one when we were sailing from Île de Groix to Quiberon.
After a brief walk-around we both agreed where we landed (Port Haliguen) served our purpose fine.
Yet, this town did offer a celebration that night so we opted to return. We walked along one of the cobblestone streets
as some traditional Breton music drew us towards the town square.
There a group of locals were demonstrating some of the centuries-old dances composed of one large group versus individual partners.
An older couple beckoned us in, so we entered the ring and began our clumsy attempts at replicating their paces. Being only a few of the foreigners exerting rhythm often misplaced, we, no doubt, drew quite a few stares. Yet, our beckoners gamely tried to instruct us in the correct maneuvers as we moved with the clockwise circling.
After quite a few mis-steps with the man on my right continuing to shout ‘left’ whenever Max stomped right, we thanked our gracious partners who looked a bit relieved we were leaving. Actually they appeared extremely relieved.
Before I close this long-winded post, I just want to share with you some of our companions during our last sails in Brittany. Truly one of the joys of being on the water…
[NOTE: we RARELY venture out of the cockpit in the open sea without our harnesses, but we did this time based on the calm seas, water temperature and being extremely vigilant in crawling up to the bow.]
And, that’s the end of our stay in Brittany, a land full of treasures, ones we hope to revisit.
NEXT: crossing the Big Bad Bay of Biscay…