A few years ago I was fortunate enough to visit an exhibition on historic canoes and kayaks in the southern Brittany town of Douarenenez. This delightful Breton town was the centre of the French sardine industry in the 19th Century, and at one time it was the home port to over 1,000 sardine boats. Although fishing still takes place on boats based in the port, the town itself is possibly now better known because of its maritime museum, “Le Port-Musee”.
The exhibition was called “Canoes and Kayaks la decouverte d’un nouveau monde”. There were over 150 exhibits, ranging from an early 19th Century painting to a modern sea kayak. It was essentially a history of paddling in France from the late 19th Century pioneers up to the present day including recreational and competitive developments.
The museum would have been well worth a visit even if there were no canoes and kayaks. as there is a wide range of traditional craft from a wide variety of European countries plus the added interest of a number of larger craft which are moored on the river. These include “Northdown” which is a traditional Thames barge and the “Saint Denys”, a tug built on the Clyde, which spent most of her working life based in Falmouth.
What was there of interest though, specifically for the paddler, in the Canoe and Kayak exhibition? One of the most modern items was one of the Catchiky’s which was paddled around Brittany in 1980 by Loik Bourdon and Franco Ferrero amongst others. Franco, from Pesda Press, was clearly making an appearance as an honorary Frenchman! This kayak certainly showed its age and the use it had been put to over 25 years. It is a model of kayak which is still in production and there was a new example of the type, from the manufacturer Plasmor.
There were a number of short films shown at various times and for me the most interesting was probably Christian Gabard’s film of the 1959 white water racing world championships. An interesting item shown in the film was an inflatable spray deck. Does anyone know whether they caught on? In the days before we became obsessed with risk assessments, it was interesting to see that some of the competitors didn’t wear helmets and others chose not to use buoyancy aids.
There were also a number of paintings and photographs which depict the historical origins of both canoeing and kayaking. Possibly the largest oil painting was by C. Giraud. Painted in 1857, it shows the Prince Napoleon taking part in a seal hunt off the west coast of Greenland. The use of kayaks for hunting is a theme which occured in a number of other exhibits. There was also a selection of framed posters from the last one hundred years. One in particular raised a slight smile although I am certain that the Hutchinson mentioned on the poster is not the same one who for many years was practically a household name in sea kayaking.
It is always inspiring to see the standard of journeys which were undertaken in the past. For example, Gustaf Nordin, a Swedish canoeist who paddled from Stockholm to Paris in 1905 and Captain Lancrenon who published a book, “Trois Milles lieues a la pagaie,de la Seine a la Volga” in 1898, were both commemorated either through photographs or items of equipment. Lancrenan’s beautiful kayak, the Vagabonde III, was built in 1891 and broke down into two sections for easier transportation. It was exhibited alongside the Bic sit-on-top. 115 years of progress!
The more recent trends were not ignored. There was the inevitable Sit-on-top, plus white water play boats, racing kayaks, a slalom canoe from the Atlanta Olympics and winged paddles. I must admit though that I have never really looked upon a sit-on-top kayak as a museum piece.
There were a number of older exhibits, including a 19th Century Greenland kayak which is normally housed in a museum in Nantes, as well as a most beautiful birch bark canoe. The Greenland kayak was collected when the ship “La Recherche”, visited the area in 1835-6. It appears to have come from the Frederikshaab region, prior to being presented to the Nantes museum. In fact there were a number of historic canoes and kayak, which were like works of art as opposed to practical watercraft.
It was a fascinating exhibition and I wonder when such a collection of historic canoeing and kayaking artifacts will be on show again?
The French Sea Kayak Symposium is being held, in April 2018, on the north Brittany coast. close to Paimpol and Ile de Brehat, which is a superb kayaking area. It follows the format, which many Symposium’s use, 3 days of workshops and an extended paddling programme for a further 4 days.
There are a number of experienced coaches from 6 European countries, who will be helping to deliver the sessions. If you have only attended Symposiums in the UK, many may be unfamiliar names, but all are experienced and passionate about various aspects of sea kayaking.
Why not consider the French Sea Kayak Symposium in your paddling plans for 2018, you are guaranteed a friendly Breton welcome and some of the finest sea kayaking available anywhere. There is further information on the kayaking opportunities around Ile de Brehat here.
There are a number of options available, which are inclusive of camping:
• Pack 1 – Symposium and paddling week: 250 €
• Pack 2 – Symposium: 130 €
• Pack 3 – Paddling Week: 120 €
• Pack 4 – Symposium + EPP Level 3: 330 €
EPP is the Euro Paddle Pass Level 3 ( which is equivalent to the British Canoeing 3 Star Award).
This post was one of the first that I wrote when setting up the original blog in 2010. At that time we were managing to go sea kayaking in Brittany on a regular basis. In fact most months during the year we would travel to northern France and generally go paddling. In recent years our kayaking interests have been in different geographical areas, 2108 sees a welcome return to this area though with a Sea Kayak Symposium being held near Paimpol in April next year. As soon as booking details are known I will post them here.
This section of the Brittany coast has to be one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in France, if not in northern Europe. It is well known from the tourist brochures and guide books and each year attracts significant numbers of visiting yachtsmen.
My favourite departure point is from Coz Pors at Tregastel, the paddling in either direction is memorable but last Saturday we decided to head east towards Ile Tome, an island of approximately 35 hectares whose spine runs north south. Situated off Perros Guirec, it has been uninhabited since the Second World War and the last few years have seen an active programme aimed to rid the island of rats to allow sea birds to breed, and so far it appears to have been successful.
Following on from the post a couple of days ago here are a few photographs of Brittany lighthouses. There are endless opportunities for viewing them from your sea kayak, and here are a few more. They are mainly from the north coast of Brittany. I might be biased but I think the lighthouses on the north coast generally look more dramatic than those to the south.
Sadly they are now all unmanned but when we started to visit these offshore buildings a number were still manned and it was always a pleasure to take out the daily papers and some fresh milk. These small gestures often resulted in the offer of a hot drink and on a few occasions a guided tour of the lighthouse. Sadly these days are long gone.
Situated in the Baie de Morlaix, Ile Noire lighthouse was built in 1845, with the keepers house added in 1879. Paddling in this area is always enjoyable with numerous islands to explore.
La Croix. Built in 1867 it is situated just to the south west of Ile de Brehat. In common with some many lighthouses in this area the Germans blew the top of the light as they retreated. It is always a welcome sight when paddling around Brehat.
Cap Frehel is the largest headland on the north Brittany coast and on clear nights I can see this light from near my house on Jersey. It is open to visitors a certain times of the year. The headland is spectacular when viewed from below in a sea kayak or whilst walking along the cliffs.
Sept Iles lighthouse is situated on Ile aux Moines, part of a delightful archipelago to the north of Tregastel. This was one of the last lighthouses in France to be manned by keepers.
The Port Navalo light marks to entrance to the Gulf du Morbihan. This is one of the finest sea kayaking areas anywhere, a mixture of fast tidal streams and world class historic sites. The lighthouse was built in 1892.
There is something special about Breton lighthouses , particularly when viewed from a sea kayak. This is a selection of some that I have seen over the years. Not all of the photographs are of the best quality as some were scanned from slides. That said Breton lighthouses are amongst the most unique maritime buildings encountered anywhere and it is always a treat to visit them by sea kayak.
Le Heaux de Brehat. To the west of Ile de Brehat on the north coast of Brittany it was built in 1840, although the top was blown off by the Germans in August 1944. Located on an offshore reef, the sea kayak is an ideal way to access this light. It is close to the end of the Sillon de Talbert
Ile Louet is situated in the Baie e Morlaix, near Roscoff on the north coast of Brittany.
25 nautical miles west of Corbiere is the Roches Douvres. The light was finished being rebuilt in 1954 after it had been destroyed by the Germans 10 years before. We raised the Jersey flag but the following morning it was a serious crossing of 25 miles in dense fog. I have to admit that we felt pretty isolated the night we spent on the reef.
L’Ost Pic is located just to the south of Paimpol. Built in the 1890’s I have to admit that the last time I landed there I ended up swimming.
Phare du Paon is situated on the north coast of Ile de Brehat, this is ome of the finest sea kayaking you could find anywhere. It was originally built in 1860 but like so many lighthouses along this coast it was blown up by the Germans in1944. It was rebuilt in 1949.
Another lighthouse blown up by the Germans, this light, Le Grand Jardin, marks the approaches to St Malo. It was rebuilt in 1949.
These are the last of the old photographs that I have been able to scan in for a while. Some good memories of paddling in Jersey and further afield.
Derek Hairon on the Roche du Diable in southern Brittany, Easter 1983. This was a time when canoes were not seen that frequently on white water in Europe.
Playing at Le Mourier Valley. We used to build little dams to hold back the water and then release it so that it was possible to shoot down the concrete steps. It was best to do it whilst it was still raining. It has been quite a few years since we did this last, should be time for a return visit.
Self rescues off Greve de Lecq. This was experimenting on a Senior Instructor Training course in about 1982.
Nicky off the southern tip of the Quiberon Peninsula in 1984. We were crossing to Houat, a delightful island, for lunch.
Arriving in Carteret on the Normandy coast. The 14th July 1989, we had gone over for the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.
On the Rance in France, in the early 1990’s. It was one of those days when kayaking on the sea would have involved paddling from one sheltered location to the next, but in Brittany there are plenty of sheltered estuaries to head to.
Canoeing in the forests of northern Maine. Great family holidays in the early 1990’s.
The girls may have enjoyed this part of the holiday more. On the statue of Andre the seal in Rockport. Andre just a great children’s book and film. The tape version was played for hours on car journeys.
It never fails to amaze me just what a superb sea kayaking destination Ile de Brehat is. Just off the north coast of Brittany, close to the old Icelandic fishing port of Paimpol, Brehat is a real gem and has all the ingredients for a classic paddle. Most guide books talk about the mild micro-climate, no doubt the result of the Gulf Stream but this Saturday took us all by surprise. After what seemed like months of rain and wind we stood with baited breath looking down from the road as the archipelago stretched out before us. Not a breath of wind stirred the surface but today the tidal co-efficient was 100 so there was plenty of water moving in this corner of Cote d’Armor.
Pointe L’Arcouest, the departure point for the vedettes to the island has a large car park but today it was largely empty, most people we knew were heading for the Alps for skiing holidays. Alain Bouhee, a French paddler, as usual was already there and his kayak packed. Christian Scalbert arrived shortly afterwards and then it was the usual race to get packed and head off.
For the first time in months waterproof jackets were left off as the sun beat down on our backs as we ferry glided across the main current. Brehat is surrounded by a myriad of channels and small islets which create a complex navigational scenario. Fail to concentrate on the chart and before you know it locating your position requires compass bearings. It would be true to say that every time we paddle around the island we follow a slightly different path. The joy of selecting your own route is one of the real pleasures of sea kayaking.
Phare du Paon marks the north east corner of the island, one of two lighthouses on the island, reflecting the level of hazard to shipping. We decided to cross the main channel, to the west of the island and lunch on a reef close to Ile Morgat, we shared our beach with a wide cross section of birds.
As the tide started to flood we hitched a free ride back towards L’Arcouest via another lighthouse, La Croix. With just a little bit of effort speeds in excess of 7 knots were easily attainable and so we were soon back at the departure point but as it was only just after low water there was a considerable carry up the beach.
Every paddle around Ile de Brehat is different but whatever the conditions it is always enjoyable.