The French connection.

Many of you will know that i really like France as a sailing cruising ground especially south Brittanny where few British sailors seem to get to. Several years ago i took my Frances 26 there on a solo voyage out and worked my way around as far as Benodet and the Odet river before having to come back and be involved with the purchase of our cottage.   I didn’t quite get as far as La Trinite sur Mer which was my goal or out to the Glenans islands but hey….. Since then i took the little liberty across the channel to Roscoff solo after which we cruised the north coast back as far as Paimpol in the east.   As and when i say ‘shed-it’ at work i will be heading back to Brittanny in whichever boat i am sailing and intend to spend a good 6 months over there.  I wouldn’t mind if i could get a slightly larger boat than the liberty up and running for when (not if) that time comes although the Liberty would be an excellent boat for the many shallow rivers and drying harbours.

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The French coast, at least the channel and Atlantic coasts are really great cruising grounds for small boats like mine.  Generally there is a port or river within a few hours sailing except perhaps for the south of Biscay.  France also has a great attitude towards sailors and sailing unlike the Uk where it is still seen as an elite sport for rich, chinless upper-class twats.  Sailing in France is almost as important as cycling and there is easily as good a comparison to be made with the prevailing attitude towards cyclists here from many moronic British motorists and a certain TV presenter.   Generally many children will be introduced to sailing boats and other watercraft as part of a school experience early on.

While i was anchored off Morgat the instructor from the local sailing school came past towing about a dozen optimist type dinghy’s, their young drivers hardly large enough to see over the gunnel.  That was probably almost their first time afloat, some of them larked about, some started an impromptu race and at least 2 were heading for the horizon and open water……when he towed them all back in a couple of hours later he described it as “like herding cats” but he seemed happy enough with the day.  Maybe i would read too much into it and perhaps the kids were just larking about, long may that continue, but maybe one of the impromptu racers will be the next Peyron…..and maybe the little lad heading resolutely out of the bay the next Moitessier.    Anyway…many French kids have an early and good experience of the sea and it is some of those that then have the nous to get it together with a little boat and go of on a big old sailing adventure.  Aside from the much more organised sailing school system it’s been that way from St Exupery, down through Moitessier and Tabarly et al to the likes of the sailors featured today.

For as long as i have kept cuttings and files on anything to do with boats and sailing there has often been a young French guy, or recently young French woman with an old, small and unpretentious secondhand boat heading out on a sailing adventure.  The main part of todays post is about a couple of them who have done it recently and/or are out there now.

Pont Aven : ideal for a boat that will dry out level….or lean against a wall.

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Today’s post is really about 2 things, the first is a group of good youtube channels that i have just found and the second is about the boat featured in the first  channel.  First the channels :  the first one up today is called the ‘Sailing Frenchman’, here is a link to a clip with a tour of  Le bateau….get me !

I like to feature these channels as and when i find them, the last one i discovered (free range sailing) seem to be really picking up views and supporters now and really turning out good work.  On that one both Troy and Pascale seem to positively enjoy the comments and feedback from their supporters and their sailing is right up there with the simple but adventurous approach.   Anyway, today’s first pick up is a single French bloke sailing the sort of boat that even i could get on the water in a stretch and is i think just about the smallest viable ocean going boat practically speaking.

If you haven’t found it so far the boat is an ‘Ecume de Mer’ and i have often hankered for one because there are loads of them out there, they are within my budget, sail well and don’t look so bad for an IOR influenced hull.  The downside for my sailing is that, i think, they only came in a fin keel configuration.   The basics on the boat is that they were designed by Jean Finot as a competitive quarter-tonner back in the 70’s and then became a successful production cruising boat.  Length is just under 26 feet and they are quite beamy, draught is my main problem at around 5 feet.  Looking at the boat today they do look quite dated to that early IOR era with narrow stern, wide in the middle and a big genoa-dominated masthead rig.  To my eye they look like an upwind orientated boat but then it’s never a bad deal to have a boat which will actually go upwind.

The Sailing Frenchman seems to be cruising offshore and ocean solo in this boat, one of his passages was from Gibraltar out to Madeira and that’s the kind of ocean passage i had in mind when i started to write the small boat ‘ocean’ series.  I notice that he has problems with his sound balance just as i have done with my own short video’s but he is out there doing it and having a good old adventure so more kudos to him.  What really turned me on to his channel is his first episode where he sets up camp in a forest next to the boat and starts building an improvised shelter for it with bits of tree : very bushcraft orientated approach !.  The boat was clearly in a poor state when he bought it with a dead engine and osmosis but he seems to have tackled all the work with a great ‘can-do’ attitude.  The project clearly took a few years to complete and along the way he learns a lot of new skills before getting the boat afloat again.

Today’s second channel pick-up is completely different and i would suggest just watching some of the video clips from this one.  The one i found first just happened to feature something i have done myself  ie high latitude sailing in big water.  The channel is ‘Sea Gypsies’ and the boat is unusually a much bigger one at around 120 feet. Once again the boat was found as a near hulk and completely refitted.               Some of their stuff is self-consciously anarchic and ‘cool’ but there is some good stuff in there too.

There is a superb quote which i hope you find…..”going on watch is a sobering experience”…..BTDT !

Anyway, enough of chilly-bin sailing and back to the little Ecume de Mer.  For an IOR boat it’s not a bad shape with plenty of boat in the water in the middle, so pretty balanced looking and enough volume in the hull at this size to give some amount of useable space. This era of early IOR boats did give us some nice designs before the IOR encouraged very wide and flat boats that had to be built overly light to be competitive. The contessa 32 comes from the same period this side of the channel, great boats but there is no way that i could afford one.

Ecume de Mer.

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The other IOR influence from that era is the small mains’l and big genoa orientated rig.  That can cause some problems mainly in that it either needs very good roller furling or several jibs and lots of foredeck work. None of the sails need be huge but working up there on a small boat foredeck in a chop is never fun.

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One for sale .https://www.theyachtmarket.com/boats_for_sale/1370900/

Would i have one ? probably not although i like the look of them, at this size i would probably go with a Sadler 25 with bilge keels, that option would allow me to dry out easily and the Sadler is possibly the better boat downwind and has very similar useable space as the French boat.   The little Ecume de Mer is a very good upwind boat for a boat that size though and that’s no bad thing to have.   During our cruise of the north Brittanny coast as  we surfed out of the Chenal de Gaine an Ecume de Mer was just entering the channel and powering upwind….and going well.  Once again its worth mentioning that the original boat was competitive in the quarter ton cup.   Watching the channel and reading between the lines suggests that the Ecume was reasonably well built for a boat of that time but that all of the classs will be now be old and tired : the one featured in the channel clearly had osmosis and it sounds like water in the balsa sandwich deck.   The tempting thing is to buy a cheap one but then the problem is having to usually replace all the gear, often including the engine and sails and then having to deal with the old GRP.  The really tempting thing is to buy a cheap one, whip the keel off and replace it with a shallow draught Warwick-Collins or Scheel type.

Relaxing in Audierne but why don’t i have a coffee in hand ?

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The next 2 of today’s youtube hot picks share a similar theme : the French connection with a Bengal-ese connection thrown in for good measure.  The common link is a boat called Tara-Tari built locally in the bay of Bengal partially using jute fibre mat in the construction and fitted out from locally sourced scrap materials.  This little boat became well known in the French sailing scene when a young woman called Capucine Trochet took it on and sailed it from the bay of Bengal back to europe and then took the boat voyaging after a major refit.  I won’t tell the story here, that’s planned for a separate post and for a very good reason.  The link here is yet another young French guy sailing the boat developed by the same designer and using similar technology to build.  The boat is essentially a sampan partially built from jute fibre but rather than the yacht-rigged Tara-Tari this one goes back to a lateen rig on a biplane mast….bamboo i think.

Tara Tari

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