Help transport goods by sail power
And live a sailor’s life on board ship
There’s nothing quite like the pleasure of going to sea on one of Brittany’s working sailing ships! You’ll be a proper crew member, not a cruise passenger, aboard one of the biggest traditional cargo vessels still in operation. During the voyage (minimum 24 hours), everyone becomes a sailor, learning the rudiments of sailing, taking your turn on watch, cooking meals... and being lulled to sleep by the rocking of the waves.
07:30: the vast deck of the sailing ship is bathed in soft, warm light. Our 22 metre vessel is the star of the show at the pontoon. After greeting Yann, the captain, and the crew, I put my sleeping bag and gear in my cubbyhole. The cargo ship is generously proportioned and well maintained, and proves to be comfortable and spacious. I go back up to join in the human chain that’s just finishing loading the artisan-made canned foods. These are neatly stored with the salt, wine and other foodstuff, in compartments in the hold. Over the entire course of the journey, almost 20 tonnes of goods are loaded and unloaded at our 15 or so ports of call.
Sailing from the land of salt to the land of onions
We’re given a quick run-down of the day’s itinerary. From one stopping-off point to the next, we’ll cover between 30 and 50 nautical miles. The cargo’s checked, the anchor’s weighed, and the Dundee is barely out of the harbour before we hoist the mainsail. This promptness shows that the purpose of making the journey by sail-power really is to reduce the carbon footprint of goods transport! Guillaume, freight manager and founder of the company TOWT (Transoceanic Wind Transport), is here to make sure. He’s the one who persuaded 22 local producers to let him handle the transport of their goods between Nantes and Morlaix. He’s also the organiser of this wonderful trip on a very impressive sailing ship.
Wind power and elbow grease
Paul, who’s been on board for two days, takes the helm while I go with Caroline to hoist the foresail. You don’t have to be an old seadog, because Yann and his two sailors show us the ropes. They explain the other sails to us: the jib and the topsail. We’re getting a hands-on introduction, out on the waves, to the joys of traditional sailing. The sea is smooth, and as the coast recedes into the distance, the outline of an island comes into sight.
Life on board tastes good
Fresh air, especially out at sea, whets your appetite! It’s time to help in the galley. The sails are partly lowered so that everybody can eat together. Among other things, the menu features seaweed pasta supplied by a producer in Brittany. While some of us do the washing-up, others grab a quick siesta on deck. Wind fills the sails again, and a sharp, salty tang mingles with the smells of the wood and the tar that protects the ropes. In the afternoon, dolphins come and play in the ship’s wake.
Poetry in motion!
I put away my camera and proudly take the massive helm, only handing over to Alexeï when I have to go and make dinner. To cook in this limited space, you have to be well organised! Bottles appear out of bags for an aperitif on deck. The horizon and the ocean are on fire with the setting sun. To starboard, lighthouse beams sweep the sky. Yann spins sailors’ yarns and Guillaume takes us back to the days when flat-bottomed sailboats used to share the coastline. I take first watch with Jean. Sailing along beneath the stars is sheer pleasure. Afterwards, the temperature is perfect for heading back to my cubbyhole and drifting off to sleep.
So many memories
Although the night is short, everybody wakes up full of energy and ready for action. The friendly atmosphere on board and the magical moments we’ve shared act like powerful tonics! We can already make out the striped tower of a lighthouse on the rocky headland. While we warm our hands on cups of coffee and on the halyards, we watch the coast and then the quays as they get ever closer. A prime spot is reserved for our distinguished sailing ship. Fabrice the grocer is already there to collect his ‘fleur de sel’ salt. The whole crew, those who are continuing their adventure and those of us who are returning to dry land, gather together on the terrace of the harbour café. We’ll see how you’re getting on at one of the next ports of call, Concarneau or L’Aber-Wrach – promise!
Text: Annick André
Additional information :Two routes are offered in 2016, one from Paimpol, Brittany to Bordeaux in the spring, and another from Douarnenez, Brittany to Plymouth and Falmouth in the autumn.
Several trip options are available:
- Introduction to Seamanship (2 days max)
- Coastal Navigation (3-5 days)
- Long Haul (+5 days)
The Biche is an unique Dundee-rigged boat – the last one in the Atlantic, symbolises the golden days of fishing sailing boats that lasted until the eve of the 2nd World War.
The Grayhound Lugger is a wooden replica 18th Century three masted Customs Lugger, built using traditional materials and methods. It’s Britain’s first registered vessel to provide a regular cross channel cargo delivery service under sail.
Places are limited
To find out more about Wind Transport: http://transportalavoile.bzh/
*To be confirmed, subject to weather conditions