#873. Sailboats of Brittany

By pascaljappy | Travel Photography

Jul 05

During travels to most countries, it’s often unavoidable for me to photograph cars. And particularly in London, where the bewildering variety of areas and models make it possible to shoot rare automobiles in their equally exotic decor, as if at a fashion show.

Criss cross

In Brittany, however, boats are much more compelling photographic subjects than cars.

First because the whole region seems completely uninterested in anything fancy. Cars appear to be tools, just like a hammer, and to be chosen with as much consideration for aesthetics as one would dispense when buying a wrench. It’s unreal to walk past a house that would make your eyes pop in a magazine and find the driveway littered with derelict Renault 19s and rusty Citroen Saxos. This is the almost exact opposite of the Med coast where a family of 12 will squeeze into a shack so long as the Merc outside is shiny and visible from afar.

Secondly, and also in stark contrast to the ports in the South East (of France), most boats are sailboats, rather than motorboats, and often very beautiful. And, rather than concrete pontoons, many harbours are just beaches, subject to the constantly fascinating ebb and flow of the tides.

The red and the green

When I say beautiful, … 😀 I mean as photographic subjects.

Shepherd’s delight

Granted, not all are drop dead gorgeous. But, unlike cars, the most exotic are rarely the most beautiful or interesting to photograph.

There can be as much charm to a tiny little nutshell that has lost its spar and engine as in a much larger multi-mast vessel. And certainly far more than many (not all) motorized monstrosities that occupy the front rows of the posh harbours around home.

Plus the light, near the sea, is unlike anything we get in my neck of the woods. Instead of a gradual plunge into darkness, the Earth’s shadow graces maritime coasts with a flourish of blue, pink, mauve exotic hues that really make a huge difference in photographs.


Much like cars of the area, those boats seem to serve a purpose. Some no longer even have a mast because they are just used to go inspect the oyster farms. Others have very shallow keels because they have to navigate the gulf of Morbihan and its thousands of rocks. Others have two keels to stand up when the tide goes away. Other are built for speed. Others for long distance cruises. Others …

Quiet grey

This is both refreshing and inspiring for a short series such as this one.

I last set foot on a sailboat almost one year ago, in the port of Marseilles, for the Bastilles day firework display. It stunned me to learn that 80% of boats there never leave the harbour. They are week-end homes or dreams turned sour.

In a nutshell …

It’s no secret to readers that variety is one of the aspects of life I value most. My rants against the photographic industry and its dreadfully normative approach to product marketing are not a secret. To me, variety is life.

And the variety of uses in Brittany also makes for a far greater variety of shapes and sizes. Hence the idea for this mini series.

Old and proud

Most photographs here were made in the Golfe du Morbihan, around the Island Île aux Moines, during a day out on the water. Others are from Longuivy or other little villages along the Northern coast.

Liquid mirror

I am not try to dig out a deep channel of consciousness here. This is only a casual post made to show photographs of nice boats encountered rather than actively searched for.

Rather than present a consistent series as for a gallery, I have let each picture take me “where it wanted”. i.e., there is no hidden meaning in the series, each photograph is an independant image processed in a way that suits it, to my eye, rather than for integration in a larger whole.


This, above, is possibly my favourite because it best displays the idea of tranquility that you experience on a sailboat, in good conditions.

As all photographs, of course, it is a lie. While the relatively sheltered waters on this inland sea never see 20 feet breakers, the waters are extremely hit and miss. Over 40 large, “permanent” islands (mostly inhabited) dot the gulf, but hundreds of others pepper the horizon either slightly above or slightly below water level. The Eastern half of the gulf is even off limits to all but the bravest (most foolish? 😉 )

And, if that’s not enough, currents are extremely powerful, drifting up to 12 knots in some parts. We saw a sports catamaran fighting its way against that current for fun, like a swimmer would against a pool jet. And the mini tidal waves that appear out of nowhere when you approach the roaring current let you know that the ride ahead is going to be interesting.

Still, though, in that particular instance, serenity was absolute and I tried to convey that with the photograph’s composition and post processing.

Twink (twin pink)

Let me leave you with a few final images, including the last one of toddlers setting out on their life of discovery of the sea, lucky them.

Sox (silver fox)
Orange ducklings

If you’ve ever been bitten by boat love, it never really goes away, even when you live far from the sea and can’t afford the running costs for one of these beauties. Are you bitten? Which is your fave here? 😉


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  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Are there no local traditional boats left?

    There are similar waters in Sweden where you shouldn’t follow a small local boat if you have a keel! But no tides and hardly any currents except in a few local places and at weather changes. So sailing becomes especially interesting in almost no wind…

    … I wonder what they are up to on board in “Serenity”, they obviously don’t feel serenity and don’t use their sails…

    It’s sad to see a boat like in “The red and the green – the next weather will break it up!

    I think my “fave” boat would be “In a nutshell” or maybe “Old and proud” – they can carry a lot of sail on a small boat. But a 4′ by 16′-17′ two masted decked sailing canoe would be light enough to pull ashore single-handed.

    • pascaljappy says:

      I think Old and Proud is a traditional local boat. There were others around, but this is one we close to.

      Yes, it’s sad to see boats decaying like that. It’s a shame. A company now buys them back for a symbolic euro and turns them itno holiday ‘homes’. Maybe this is how the green one will end its life 🙂

      Not sure what the situation is in Serenity. Looks like they are chilling. I love the idea of a trimaran. Although it’s great to lean smoothly into the waves, rather than hover over them in a choppy way, they prospect of those large exterior areas and the sporty side of them makes me want to rent one and try 🙂

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        You can have speed against currents, with a centerboard that kicks up shallow waters open up, many say sailing close-hauled in a choppy sea, e.g. tide against wind, isn’t where they’re best.
        ( I ‘ve only sailed single hull boats and prefer small boats where you feel wind and waves more directly.)

        Have fun! 🙂 !

        • pascaljappy says:

          Thanks. Didn’t get a peep under the water to check the catamaran 😉 For me also, only single hulls. Would love to try a new flavour though 😉

          • Jaap Veldman says:

            Your nutshell is a lovely little Cornish Shrimper 17.
            The Annabel is a Dick Koopmans design, probably a Breehorn 42. Excellent, elegant and very well designed boats, many of them can be found sailing around the globe.
            The old and proud probably French Cutter is a real old beauty and my favourite!

            • Jaap Veldman says:

              And can’t remember when I was bitten…probably somewhere 2-3 years old 🙂

              • Jaap Veldman says:

                And about planting seeds:
                – Sharing can be quite frustrating. It requires owners with a similar attitude in taking care of her.
                – The smaller the boat the bigger the fun. Of course this is not always completely true. Certain boat lengths interact wildly with the wave lengths in certain areas. But on a small boat you’re close to the water surface and that’s fantastic because you’re in the middle instead of on top. And smaller usually means simple, uncomplicated and that can be liberating.
                And such a boat might fit on a trailer behind your car. Also very liberating!

              • Jaap Veldman says:

                And of course my opinion about smaller boats being more fun is very subjective!

              • pascaljappy says:

                Hi Jaap, may I ask if you are Dutch? You first name sounds Dutch but my reason for asking is that my father in law is Dutch and he is the one who passed on the loved of sailing to me. He too was raised with boats very young and has never stopped sailing since. He also favours the smaller boats, provided there is room enough to sleep for 2 grand childeren on board. Some happy memories there.

                Sharing can often be very frustrating. I think renting is probably a better option. There are severl Airbnb-type companies in France that let you use someone else’s boat for a week and that seems like a good idea when you don’t live close to the sea. Getting a slot in a hoarbour over here is a 10-year wait over here. And if you want to go to Greece, or Italy or Brittany, it’s far easier to rent a boat locally. Some people love to live on board in the harbour but I find that cramped and boring (shame on me 😀 )


              • Jaap Veldman says:

                Hi Pascal,
                I’m Dutch indeed. I was born in the northern province of Friesland, you’ll probably know there’s many lakes there and for many many years I’ve sailed them and I have also been sailing quite often on the seas surrounding us.
                When you don’t live close to the sea and you don’t sail very often, then hiring a boat indeed is the best option in my opinion. You don’t have all the fuzz (and cost) of ownership.
                And 10 years waiting time, that’s indeed very long.
                But, when you’re bitten…

                So Holland’s been good for you!

              • pascaljappy says:

                Holland’s been very good to me 😉 A lovely wife, a very interesting culture, great holidays, yummy food. I’m going back in October.

                My father in law is from Hoorn, accross the Ijsselmeer from you. I’ve never been to Friesland but love to go to Texel and other Islands for birding. A combo of the two next spring maybe ?

                We’ll be sailing a small sports catamarans this summer with my wife. It’s just practise but we’d love to rent boat in interesting locations, eventually 🙂


              • Jaap Veldman says:

                The islands..Schiermonnikoog or Vlieland shouldn’t be missed. No cars from main land there. Schiermonnikoog is my all time favourite for it’s emptiness at the east side of the island. Good birding there too! I did so many times there in a previous life. As you know, October sometimes can still have beautiful weather. Then I would suggest hiring a sailboat in Heeg and also visit the Piersma yard over there.
                Traditional Frisian wooden boats. Types e.g: Fries yacht, boeier, tjotter. (Google for appetite!) All these are with leeboards. The craftmanship…incredible.
                There’s not many boatyards left that build wooden boats in classic construction. But when you’re in the neighbourhood, Kroes in Kampen shouldn’t be missed.

                Btw In , I once was in Barfleur, Normandie. Which was very authentic,loved the place! No mass tourism there. And almost picked up a 4-5 m old wooden sloop there, as a restauration project…there are enough possibilities in France to find a nice small restauration project!

              • pascaljappy says:

                Oh my … that’s sounds wonderful. I’ve looked at the map and I would love to rent a little boat in Heeg as you recommend.

                I couldn’t find Fries yacht, but Google has a lot of information on Boeier and Tjotter. We see quite a few of these over here, although more pn canals than in the sea. Maybe the design is not suited for the local waters??

                As for Kroes … something like the Bysfeint would be perfect. Such a beautiful little boat.

                No time for resauration, unfortunately. But it was a dream of mine earlier on. There was a neglected Dragon in the local harbour that needed some love. Didn’t happen, the owner let it sink rather than sell it …

                All the best,

              • Jaap Veldman says:

                Bysfeint is one of my all time favourites! Herreshoff also once designed a daysailer with a fixed hood that ‘s beautiful.
                As for the Fries jacht, you could also google Friese jacht. Very similar to the boeier, without the superstructure, so an open boat. These traditional boats are all designed for shallow waters, that’s why they have leeboards.The bigger ones can be quite seaworthy.
                Traditional sail boat types that are also designed for the sea usually have long, slender leeboards. Schokker, Lemsteraak, and many more types.
                The Zuiderzee museum,Fries Scheepvaart museum and Scheepvaart Museum Amsterdam all have great collections. The first one has many full scale boats. Of course more concentrated on the types of the westside of the former Zuiderzee (now Ijsselmeer) where Hoorn (good place! 🙂 also is situated.

                As for undestination landscape photography, I would like to suggest the area along the Waddenzee coast from Harlingen to the east. Dykes, bare landscape, little old fishermen houses.
                And, closer to Hoorn, the former Wieringen island area.

              • pascaljappy says:

                Wow, thank you Japp. Those museums sound amazing. If we go in October, it would be really great to visit them as well as the coast you describe. Amsterdam and the area are wonderful but it’s nice to see something different and with fewer people. I’ll let you know. Thanks again, Pascal

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    “Old and proud”. Oh – sorry – there were two questions, not one. No – and still “old and proud”.
    I’m glad you have pushed aside the social climbers who buy expensive houses and then sit inside them, unfurnished – eating while seated on packing cases, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and NEVER inviting other people to enter their house – with a car they lease, because they can’t afford to buy it, reflecting the sun’s rays in the driveway – ALWAYS on display of course, to prove I know not what.
    And found reality – genuine folk, with a love for the sea, the skillset and marine knowledge to know how to indulge it, and their priorities sorted according to basic principles of common sense, instead of common behaviour. I fled the city where I was born and educated, in search of genuine people, when I was in my 20’s, and I’ve never regretted it. Fakes abound, but genuine is a rara avis and a treasure to find.
    Your figure of 80% doesn’t tally with the figures here. Walking my dogs, I’ve often had occasion to pass various yacht clubs (why they call them that, when most of the boats are what my friends call – witheringly! – “stink boats”, is beyond me – but then I don’t claim english ancestry, so the language I am stuck with is still a bit bewildering to me). Chatting to the humble workers at one, I was told they don’t understand why so many people have such boats and never use them – they’d taken statistics on usage and found the average – repeat, AVERAGE – rate of usage was only 5%. Your figure of storage for a mere 80% of the year suggests your locals in Marseille use their stink boats 4 times as much as they apparently do, here. The boat master felt they’d be better off time sharing – 12 people could jointly own one boat, and get the same amount of usage at a fraction of the cost. And people run around saying nasty things about how much money photographers waste on cameras!
    The ‘Annabel’ brought me up with a bit of a jolt – going back a bit over half a century, one of my girlfriends was a knockout named Annabel – sigh!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Pete. Very interesting.

      I’m happy about the jolt 😉
      And worried about the seed you may have planted in my mind about sharing. As if my mind needed more seeds of wild plants. I’m trying to be a good husband, a good employee (I’ve given up on being a good boss, the rules are just too convoluted over here) and a reasonable man. Financially, that last part is the hardest. 8% of too much is … not a lot. 8% of wayyyy to much is more, but still affordable.


    • pascaljappy says:

      There’s a famous online marketer who bought a flat in a luxury building and an expensive watch just for the neighbours because, as a neighbour, it gave him the opportunity to engage with rich entrepreneurs, gains their trust and win contracts. Inside the flat was mostly empty and he had everything in boxes ready to move on to the next luxury flat. A bit sad, if you ask me 😉 But why not, if you consider that as an investment and a tool …

      It’s a lot more sad to think of the pollution linked to building all those boats that never leave the harbour … So much wasted plastic and money … That being said, I’d love to find an old wooden boat such as nutshell, in need of some repair, to fix it and put it in my pond. The neighbours would have me hanged, probably, but what fun to go work an afternoon in the boat 😀

  • Peter Thomas says:

    Your Morbihan photos have tweaked my two passions Pascal, sailing and photography. And boats and the sea so I suppose four passions!

    “Old and proud”, but there is a snag. Old and Proud (Krog E Barz) is proud but not old. She is not original but is instead an accurate replica of a 1909 Langoustier. The good news is that you can go for a sail in her, there is a sign attached just above where the gaff is resting on the boom that says “Balade en mer”.

    In France old traditional fishing boats are often left to decay (sometimes on roundabouts after being planted with flowers) but you then make beautiful replicas like Krog E Barz and the fabulous Bisquines, la Granvillaise and la Cancalaise. In the UK we spend heaps of time and money on restoring old boats instead and we don’t seem to build replicas.

    They are called yacht clubs because that is probably what they were originally before the stink boats moved in and took over (a bit of a guess because I don’t know where you are). Happily not the case everywhere. At our sailing club in a small harbour in Dorset we have no stink boats except those that we use for running races. The harbour is small, the boats are small and we sail whenever we can so probably twice a week unless the tide or weather dictates otherwise. There is a separate stink boat club, although I don’t think they call it that.

    Anyway, back to photography. My wife doesn’t know this yet but I am planning to go to the 2020 Douarnenez Maritime Festival (15 to 19 July) and my camera will come too. That should be boat and photography heaven!

    Nutshell is a Cornish Shrimper made by Cornish Crabbers in Rock Cornwall. Cornish Crabbers is run by someone called Peter Thomas who sadly is not me.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Peter. I think the UK has much more of a heritage approach to things. Villages, cars, boats … In France, the culture is a bit different. There are some clubs that maintain old cars, for example, but it is a marginal phenomenon rather than a cultural aspect. Thaks for the calrification aout the replica aof the 1909 Langoustier. It did look in mighty good nick for a century old boat, but I didn’t know they may replicas of these. Nutshell and Serenity are probably my 2 favourites.

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