In the wake of the first sailors aboard La Recouvrance
Re-live the days of the tall ships
Yann Fournier and his crew will meet you at the Château de Brest Marina for a trip back in time, in the very heart of one of the widest bays in the world. Get ready to hoist the mainsail, swing the halyard and haul in the sheets!
A two-master from a bygone age
The first things that strike you are the beauty of this famous all-wood schooner, the height of her masts and the intricacy of her rigging... "La Recouvranceis a replica of an 'aviso' - a military vessel designed to carry despatches and urgent messages - dating from 1817," explains Yann, the ship's skipper. "Since her launch in 1992, she’s been Brest's floating ambassador." Now it's time to weigh anchor and set sail for Auberlac'h bay, where we'll have lunch out on the water.
Your turn to sail the ship!
150 tonnes, nine sails, a total sail area of 430 square metres, four kilometres of rigging, 130 pulleys... La Recouvrance's vital statistics are enough to make a modern sailor blanch. The ship can be manoeuvred by the combined strength of five seasoned sailors, but today everyone's ready to lend a hand. Watching Thierry, Jean-François and the others hoisting the mainsail, the process doesn’t look all that easy... but it does look fun. Now it's my turn to flex my muscles and hoist the staysail - the square sail above the foresail. It's a good job Maëlle, aged ten and a half and a budding sailor, is there to help me!
Traditional sailing skills
The sails are up, and we're all gathered around Sébastien, the First Mate, poring over a nautical chart of the bay. "What do these dots mean? And these colours? Where do tides come from? How do we work out where we are on this chart?” Our questions come thick and fast. Sébastien helps us pinpoint our position by using three daymarks, a set of compasses and a protractor: "We need to veer south so as to round the Pointe d'Armorique headland." Ready to go about? Mind your head! The boom weighs 600 kilos and could easily knock a person out.
A unique bay and its history
To our port side, a small scallop boat is making its way along. "These little boats used to fish for scallops and also collect maerl, a sediment that’s been used as a fertiliser for strawberries for a very long time," explains Patrick, the ship's mechanic. Yann adds: "Here, land and sea are entwined; and so are the histories of the bay and the army." Richelieu, Colbert, Vauban, Dajot... for centuries, Brest has been a stage for military activities and nowadays it's a theatre for manoeuvres by submarines from the French Navy's operational base on the Ile Longue, which we're sailing past at the moment. But with no periscope on the horizon, we continue our journey.
Stop for lunch
It's lunchtime. In a well-sheltered part of Auberlac'h bay, we sample the tasty dishes made by Marie, La Recouvrance's cook. A real treat! After lunch, some of us take a short siesta in the shade of the sails, and others have coffee in the officers' mess. When we haul in the anchor, Yann invites Serge to take the helm while Benjamin calls us together for a quick lesson in seamanship. "You'll soon know all the ins and outs of tying a bowline knot." Although we could point out, if we were feeling uncharitable, that the knot made by Lucy – an adopted citizen of Strasbourg – looks rather like a pretzel! We cruise on in the bright sunshine. The wind gets up a little, promising to bring us safely back to land. As I gaze at the sea, I find myself secretly dreaming of setting sail for the Pacific or the southern seas, just like Bougainville, Kerguelen and La Perouse... Next time, maybe!
• Half-day sailings also available (Mornings or afternoons) - Price: €53 per person
• Sunset Sailings in the Bay of Brest (Boarding at 19:00 - returning at 22:30) - Price from €73 per person
Learn how to manoeuvre the boat and take a hands-on role
Buffet-style dinner of local produce served on board, with drinks included
Sunset and discovery of the lighthouses
• Two-days cruises - Price from €394 per person, including meals and bedding
Check La Recouvrance’s schedule and book your cruise online at www.larecouvrance.com