ROSCOFF and ÎLE DE BATZ
Sunday-Tuesday, June 9-18, 2019
After Lézardrieux we continued our trek westward, timing our departure so we would have a favorable current en route, and slack water when arriving at the next anchorage since it was up a river. We looked forward to getting to South Brittany which doesn’t have the high tides and strong currents that make sailing North Brittany’s waters so challenging, and limit the options when picking our next harbor and the time windows to get there.
Planning our route resulted in several hops, each one navigating one of the three sites of potentially unpleasant waters. We chose Roscoff, some 50 miles away as our next port of call.
Initially we hadn’t planned on stopping here due to some online reports from other cruisers. One that definitely gave us pause was this report (paraphrased): “We noticed how hard the tide was flooding through the marina. A boat approached and we watched him T-Bone our transom, causing substantial damage. The harbor staff told us, no wonder, we were tied up in the ‘danger zone’ at the extremities of the pontoons. Why didn’t they tell us that when we arrived?”
We also learned the new marina offset the docking difficulty by meeting incoming boats and literally pushing them into the berth (which we later witnessed).
However, we also read that approaching the harbor at slack tide (either at highest or lowest water mark) with little-to-no wind negated the need for the rubber-boat nudging; so, we coordinated our departure to coincide with favorable (low) winds and little-to-no current. And, all went well.
The marina still retains its newness with facilities being excellent (which means including a good laundry area :), friendly staff, and easy access to lovely town and old harbor.
The only oddity was grocery shopping required a bike ride (the marina rented bikes for boaters to reach it). Otherwise, whatever began as frozen or cold food would be quite warm by the time you deposited them on the boat. Yet, if you ended up there to provision, you may want to lug your laundry because we spotted an unusual (to us) service in the parking lot:
But, if all you desired was a taste of traditional Breton cuisine, shops sold tantalizing options: both savory and sweet items, including some from Algoplus, the local seaweed factory where we took a tour with Max getting a sniff of Nori…
all in French but, at least the tasting didn’t require language other than ‘yummy’ or ‘yucky’.
Like most cafes and restaurants over here, menus are conveniently mounted outisde, so you’re able to decide if you’d like to eat there before entering. Although, when checking out one establishment’s menu we noticed a strikingly unusual dish, which I’ll let you discover for yourself…
Additionally, walking just 15 mintues into town brought you to an array of local cafés offering crepes, galettes, or gaufres, the latter served at Le Bistrot a Gaufres, and where we ate three times (!) during our stay (we highly recommend the vegetable one :).
Or, you could order bread and pastries the night before at the marina office, retrieving it the next day beginning at 7:00a. We most definitely were in France :)
Unbeknowst to us we arrived as the marina was preparing for an annual event, one of the most prestigious sailing races in France: La Solitaire; and, this year was the 50th anniversary, which raised the celebratory atmosphere a notch or two.
As the name implies it’s a single-handed race, meaning you’re on your own on the boat. Which may not sound too bad until you add in non-stop sailing for 72 hours or so (implying 15-20 minute cat-naps for a maximum of two hours sleep every 24 hours) in the often atrocious tides, currents and weather of the English Channel. There are four separate races, each one more than 400 nautical miles. Oh, and no toilet aboard. Considered the world championship of solo around-the-buoys racing, and an unofficial qualifier for garnering sponsorships for the Vendee-Globe (the non-stop, around-the-world single-handed race), La Solitaire earns its reputation as an extremely tough race. It’s not surprising to notice the entrants’ ages appeared on the younger side…
Out of 47 entrants, only 7 are non-French. We were rooting for three of the non-French sailors (a Brit, an Irish and a Kiwi). The 2019 raced featured brand new high-tech Beneteaus equipped with foils (think ailerons projecting out from the side which help lift the boats to of the water to reduce drag). Unfortunately, this challenging race served as a shake-down for these new boats. We heard of several racers being penalized for replacing faulty screws with bolts for a plate covering the foils (which allowed water to leak, sometimes at a rapid rate, into the cabin). To us it seemed unfair to not allow this repair in order to make these boats safer for the racers.
We were in the pefect position to participate in the excitement of seeing these racers arrive after their second stage
with Max helping with lines as needed as boats began arriving en masse.
Wandering the pontoons we also got a glimpse of the preparation required for such a race, such as one sailor’s notes in his cockpit.
By the evening the boats added a festive look to the marina with the various sponsors’ logos in the rigging and on the hulls.
Thanks to hiring a ride on one of the many sight-seeing boats accompanying the fleet out of the harbor,
we watched as the fleet departed, jockeyed for the starting gun, and sailed off on their third leg.
But, the best aspect of the race for us was meeting Maria, Project and Communications Manager of Alan Roberts (www.AlanRobertsRacing.com), one of the few British sailors in the race.
We enjoyed her company immensely. We learned she, too, had raced, which is how she first met Alan. And, it was only asking further what she raced (dinghies) did we eventually get out of her she won the 2018 national championship with her crew Rob Henderson! I later read she also was, and I quote: ” the first female helm to win an adult fleet at a UK RS national championship since the RS classes were first established 25 years ago.”
If anyone needed a project manager who’s extremely capable, intelligent and personable, you’d be fortunate to have her on your team. Again, we only wish we had more time to spend with her.
The race was only one of the attractions here. Directly above the marina overlooking the la Baie of Morlaix we noticed a viewing platform. We discovered it belonged to the Jardin Exotique et Botanique de Roscoff, which opened in 1986.
So, off we treked the short walk where we peered at various trees, shrubs, and flowers
Most of the signage had English translations, albeit cumbersome ones, and I especially enjoyed reading about the various professtional and amateur botanists associated with certain flora. Some of these were placed in a familiar historical context such as Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and Daniel Solander (1733-82) who sailed with James Cook (1728-79) on his first voyage (1768-71).
Two others – Phillbert Commerson (1727-73) and Jeanne Barret (1740-1807) – caught my interest due to the unusual arrangement of their relationship. As the following so oddly explained…
Being the perfect day for outdoor sight-seeing, the view from the top was as promised: a perfect perch from which to gaze across the bay. If you could put the next three photos together, left to right, you’d have a look at the marina (in the middle photo JUANONA is almost at the end of the second pontoon from the left… not that you can see her!)
The village of Roscoff seems quite touristy but definitely provides visitors with examples of typical Breton architecture,
including its church, the Notre-Dame de Croas-Batz. Built over a 200-year period beginning in 1520 its belfry (double gallery with two tiers of bells) served as a prototype for many other churches we saw in Brittany.
One of Roscoff’s claims to fame involved a visit by a royal personage on August 13, 1548: Mary Stuart, aka Mary Queen of Scots. She stopped here with her entourage from Dumbarton near Glasgow. At only 5-1/2 years of age she was aboard the Royal Galleon of the French king, slated for marriage. Supposedly she prayed at the chapel. Would have been fascinating to hear what she prayed for. I have a feeling it wasn’t for a couple of fresh croissants.
Standing at the quay in the old harbor you can see a lovely island called Île de Batz, one we decided to visit on a sunny day.
While waiting for the morning ferry we had a chance to see one of the fishing boats
unload its cargo of crabs. Crate after crate (10 days worth) came off the boat and, when weighed, loaded into a truck for their next destination. We wish we could have asked them where they’d been and more about the process but while they were friendly (agreed to a photo) they were busy.
By then the ferry was ready for boarding. After paying and settling into our seats we watched as other passengers (locals, tradesmen, and tourists), multiple sacks of mail, bread from one of Roscoff’s Boulangeries, and construction materials were laded. It reminded us of the daily runs of Casco Bay ferries and how they, too, served as life lines for everyday living on small islands.
Within 15 minutes we found ourselves walking amidst the ruins of a 6th-century monastery, subsequently replaced by later churches.
We continued our counter-clockwise circumnavigation on lanes and trails running parallel and perpindicular to potato fields. Stopping to watch one harvesting operation, the tractor driver waved us into the field where we could see up close how the machine pulled the potatoes from the earth after which two people (most likely his wife and one of their fathers) sorted the small from the large before dropping them into crates.
They agreed to a photo then proceeded with their work, and us with our leisure.
Within a mile we cycled into a broad expanse of green fields and blue sky with a stone house in the distance along with a bypassing helicopter.
Pedaling closer we saw a man working on a window frame.
Unsure if we were riding on a private lane, we tried to mime the question. When it looked as if he was coming down to see us, I thought he may not be happy of our interruption, especially if we missed any sign stipulating the path as ‘privé’.
Fortunately, that couldn’t have been further from his demeanor as he welcomed us and asked if we wanted to see the house (!). In the meantime his wife biked up, introductions were made, and off she went inside leaving us with our friendly host. From her patient manner I got the impression she’s use to his embracing strangers. If anyone remembers Ed Wynn in the first “Mary Poppins” movie, this Breton could be his brother.
In showing us around he told us it was his NYC cousin’s place, one that belonged in the family and used to be the island’s mill. Which made sense of the two towers standing at one end of the house, and the 360º panaramic view. He also mentioned it was available for rent.
If looking for a place to R&R away from it all (and with little distraction), this would be it.
Thanking him and waving goodbye we returned to our bikes and followed the larger trails that allowed bikes on them (although some requiring a bit of bushwhacking)
to scenic coves
and fields never far from the shoreline.
With a quick stop at the local store for some of those potatoes we saw earlier we completed our ride within two hours.
Catching the ferry back we were glad we took the early one over for there was quite a crowd waiting to board in Roscoff.
And, with the tide having gone out, we disembarked on the long ramp built to accommodate the 20 to 30 foot tides.
As an aside, it’s fascinating to see how local boats handle the outgoing tide. On Île de Batz, we scrutinized several small sailboats balanced on their keels and shored up by two poles on either side, ones they carry on deck.
In the old harbor we’d seen boats hanging on their lines as the water goes out. Check out the larger boat against the quay in the photo below,
and the ones pretty much sitting on the bottom of the harbor.
As we mounted our bikes, once again fishermen caught our eye.
Detangling their nets of various hues, they created a scene some of our artist friends would be happy to paint.
Before ever touching foot in this part of France, I associated blue-and-white striped cotton shirts as traditional French nautical apparel, and specifically, worn by those in Brittany.
Several companies made the most of this style as we saw in the ubiquitous, blue-and-white-striped-wearing tourists roaming the sights like we were. They are pretty cool, especially the ones of a heavier cotton weave, which last for a long time (as per my sister who snagged one when in Brittany).
However, I learned that this jersey or marinière became synonymous with not only sailors but also a unique Breton, the ‘Johnny’. This was due to a political cartoon created by a British artist in an illustration. And, I found that out was during our tour of La Maison de Johnnies.
This tiny but informative museum explained how Johnnies (called Petitjeans in Britain) crossed the English Channel in the early 19th century to sell their pink onions.
Henri Ollivier (1808-65) appears as the father of this trade when he sailed to England with his cago of onions. When reading about his successful green thumb* it’s not surprising to learn of his entrepreneurial spirit carrying him to Britain.
*In 1842 this enterprising Frenchman gained national recognition when his cauliflowers and artichokes took ‘1st Honors’ in a contest run by the Royal Society of Horticulture of Paris.
A combination of abundent produce in Brittany, lack of it in Britain, and overpopulation in Roscoff led to the seasonal exporting and selling of these tasty onions. Not only were they delicious but also had a long life once picked.
The museum explained the process of shipping …
stringing, the arduous job of creating the braided ropes (image the paper cuts doing that?!), which reduced the flow of oxygen increasing their preservation …
and selling these aromatic globes by walking or cycling door-to-door, both men
They concentrated their selling in Wales where shared Celtic roots made it a popular and natural market for the Bretons.
With the exception of a small nostalgic group, the Johnnies and their onion-selling have all but died out due to changing economics post-WWII. However, we did meet a Brit earlier this summer who recalled a visit of a Johnny at his grandmother’s home.
Now that you’re familiar with a Johnny, back to the shirts…
In the August 16th,1944 edition of PUNCH an illustration by Ernest Howard Shepard (1879-1976) appeared featuring “The Breton onion-man”.
Shepard used this figure to represent the human spirit of determination and strength of France’s resistance fighters during WWII. He dressed the man in patched trousers (characteristic of Johnnies since the 1800s) and the striped jersey or marinère, which the landsmen actually didn’t wear.* But, thanks to Shepard they stayed a symbol of the onion-selling Breton.
And, if Shepard’s style reminds you of another illustration, you’d be correct in thinking of A.A.Milne’s tales about a lad, a teddybear who loved honey, and a whole gang of stuffed pals.
Shepard’s work created the first visuals of this heart-warming group in 1923 when Milne’s verses appeared in PUNCH magazine. Although his work comprised subjects other than children’s stories, his connection with Pooh continued throughout his life. At the age of 93 he drew his last work when he finished 240 color drawings for the 1973 edition of WINNIE THE POOH.
*This shirt originally began as a naval uniform for seamen from Northern France. Designed in 1858, each stripe represented one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s 21 victories. Since Coco Channel popularized it in her 1917 nautical collection, the distinctive shirt has been worn by an array of personalities, from James Dean in the 1955 movie “Rebel Without a Cause” to Duchess of Cambridge in 2018.
So, when it comes to a momento of Brittany what better one than a marinère jersey? :)