A day at sea with Johan, a fisherman from Le Guilvinec
On board the Kan Atao
In Le Guilvinec, I spent a day inshore fishing with Johan, skipper of the Kan Atao. Ever since then, langoustine has summoned up for me the flavours of that human, heartfelt and powerful experience.
04:30 – Off I go!
I never dreamt that I would get up at this hour! After a quickly-eaten crêpe, and still half-asleep, but excited about this trip, I put on my fleece, sweater, wind-proof jacket. It’s still night-time. We're meeting at Le Guilvinec harbour. The sky's clear; there's a full moon highlighting the Kan Atao, our trawler; Warm handshakes from Gérard and Ronan. The crew climbs aboard. Johan, "the skipper", comes to welcome us!
No airs and graces on board!
I keep telling myself that Johan really likes the colour orange. I also note that the bridge is covered. Not bad! So we’ll be protected from the wind and sun? "My father covered it after being hit by a big wave." Johan reminds us that the sea has a strong character, just like the men who live from it! Doesn’t Kan Atao mean “always singing” in Breton? I'm glad: today the weather's beautiful and the sea is calm! I soon discover that there’s not much space on a trawler. It's a working boat – no airs and graces on board! Johan turns over two fish crates to make a seat: "Make yourself at home… ". I'm having fun: a first class voyage with a sea view!
On a sou'westerly
The scent of coffee mixes with the smell of diesel. Lucky I’ve got a strong stomach! We're leaving the port en masse. To my ears, that engine is a bit above itself. We have to speak loudly to make ourselves heard. Waves hit us to the right and left and we’re pitching about. Where are we going? South on a sou'westerly: "We're heading into the rocks, where we will get our clothes wet for sure". What are we going to be fishing for? "We're trying to catch langoustine, but they always hide when they're scared". Ronan adds: "This is when the boss and Gégé have their siesta". It takes us two hours to arrive at the fishing ground! I get to know Ronan, and the nice guy he is. He's been a sea fisherman since he was 15. "Sailors are paid piece-rates, according to the market price. Even if we get a good catch, everything depends on the bids in the auction!" In the rolling swell, I curl up in my clothes. Nice and warm, I breathe in the air of the open sea. Trawlers are like the fireflies of the sea. The revving of the motor has a soporific effect!
An impressive manoeuvre
The sound of chains wakes me from my torpor. "We’re going to cast the first line". Ronan slips on his gloves and oilskins. Johan and Gégé take up their positions. I quickly understand that I must keep a low profile. No mistakes! I'm impressed by the power of the manoeuvre. At the back of the boat, the men are totally immersed in the intense activity of the operation. Precise, rapid… a look, an order… when it comes to letting out the trawl nets, everyone knows their role, like the back of their hand. Men, boat and sea roll as one…. The trawl net, floats, diabolos for scraping the bottom, ballasting chains, two steel doors to keep the trawl rig separate from the rest of the trawler, and finally the cable to pull it… I can see a dance that is almost war-like. I can only imagine the courageous strength of these men on days of Spring tides.
Once the metal storm has subsided, faces start to look more relaxed. Three hours without manoeuvring; while the boat trawls at a depth of 100m, I have the chance to chat! Buttered bread dipped in coffee is a comfort for the crew. I listen to the news that friends are exchanging over the radio. I familiarise myself with the rhythm of life on board. Johan explains to me "We'll be making three trawls". To my amusement, I learn that the pocket of the trawl net is edged with a Tahitian net, which drags the ocean floor. These sea fishermen, are they poets? Well, they are definitely cooks! What’s on the menu? Fish! Gégé gives me his recipe: "Onions, garlic, little cuttlefish cut into pieces, with a bit of water… ". Looks good!
A good catch!
The sound of iron thundering: that’s the sound of the trawl rig being drawn up. Again, I admire the strength of the operation. Right there, the miracle of the sea takes place before my stunned eyes: the catch is unloaded onto the sorting table. With the first trawl over, the nets are put back into the sea. I enjoy watching the langoustine wriggling; I didn’t know that those oh-so-ugly monkfish had such green eyes. It gives them a mad charm! I see a spotted dogfish; which, to my surprise, has a rough skin – Ronan explains, "We scrape pans with that". From Johan’s smile, I understand that it’s been a good catch. With a dexterity that amazes me, Gégé and Ronan sort the fish. The precious langoustine are regrouped by size. "That’s not a bad one! ". I enjoy a number of sailors’ jokes. Monkfish, hake, sole… they are all gutted and washed in a trice with just three movements. In the wake of the ship the seagulls are feasting on the waste. Johan invites me to taste a raw langoustine: "A real carpaccio!". I never would have imagined such a fine taste. The pleasure’s divine when your eyes are riveted on the ocean.
Return to port
Once the three trawls are over, it is time to head back. I am even more exhausted than the guys cleaning the bridge. It’s lovely weather. The boxes are full. I'm allowed to slip onto the front deck. What a way to enter the harbour! On the view point stands the same crowd that yesterday I was part of, when I was still a novice! "The life of Le Guilvinec is its harbour " says Johan. Then we have to move quickly to make sure we make it in time for the fish auction. "The old fishermen take the catch to market. By way of exchange, they get their share of the catch as payment. ". The little bags of fish are all ready. Ronan shows me Guy, Christian and Jean-Marie, with a trolley to hand.
17:30 – I'm back on dry land!
You really have to know how to manoeuvre the boat. Johan is in command! He makes a crafty approach to the quayside. With a huge effort, Gégé and Ronan pass the boxes to the old guys. "Well done!" shouts Guy. I see them heading to the auction at full speed. Our trawler relinquishes its place. We tie up again, a bit farther along to starboard. Johan waits to find out the sale prices.
With the swell still affecting me, I absent-mindedly get back onto the quaiside. Happily, I relive all the exciting moments of this fine day’s fishing trip that I've spent with Johan, Ronan and Gérard. Thanks guys! I've only got one wish: to treat myself to a full plate of langoustine with a glass of white wine… but first a good shower!
More information :
Passengers from aged 18
Departures from April to Septembre, on Tuesday to Friday
No departures on weekends and on bank holidays
Make the most of your boat trip by staying in Le Guilvinec or close by