Sunday, 19 August 2012


The Fete des Doris

So, I have finally tracked down this Westerly Nomad for sale in Normandy. She's several miles from the water and several hundred feet above it - in the Normandy Hills on an obscure farm in an obscure part of the region. About two or threee hours drive from here - so I'll probably make the trip in a week or so, after having read up all I can about this particular design.

Before that however, there is great excitement hereabouts because next weekend (25th 26th August), we have the Fete des Doris, the high spot of the summer sailing season. As well as being Susan’s middle name, Doris is the name given by the French to a flat bottomed boat known by our American cousins as a Dory.  So what is the Fete des Doris? Well, essentially it is two days of festivity all around the estuary with hundreds of Dories taking centre stage.   

This particular part of France was heavily involved in the Newfoundland Cod fishery in the 18th and 19th Centuries and St Malo was the capital of the industry. Men were recruited to the fishing fleet from all around the estuary and shipped aboard the tall ships bound for the cod banks. When they arrived they were put into smaller vessels and the fishing was done by long lining from these boats. The Dory was well suited to the activity because it was a very seaworthy small boat which gained stability as the weight of fish increased. Equally importantly, it was a simple design using the straight planed timbers that were cheap and plentiful thanks to the mechanisation resulting from the industrial revolution – and these boats could be stacked on deck, one above the other, for the Atlantic crossing.

Despite their seaworthiness cod fishing was a dangerous game. Newfoundland is well known for fogs and the guys in the Dory’s could easily lose sight of the mother ship for days on end. So it was a high risk business but the rewards could also be generous and many ship owners in these parts became very wealthy men. So wealthy in fact that many built sumptuous mansions on the estuary shore from where they could see their ships arriving and departing. The inhabitants of St Malo often declare that they are neither French nor Breton – rather they are Malouin – owing allegiance only to their town of St Malo, the city of Corsairs – their mansions were, and are still, known as Malounieres.

Further down the pecking order, the average cod fisherman would set off for the voyage leaving his wife to scratch out an existence on small parcel of land on the estuary coast. A good trip might be enough to secure a small cottage on the land. Usually they were built in granite with wooden floors, shutters and staircases built by shipwrights.  They were often brightly painted, using whatever paint was left after the annual boat repaint. They are still known as cod houses. I’m busy renovating one at the moment.

AND – here by the way,  is a tip for all sailing folk seeking to keep cruising costs down – put as much of the expense as you can down to ‘household’ rather than boat. It works like this. If, for example you need to paint the boat:
1.       choose a colour that would suit your front door;
2.       insist that the front door needs painting;
3.       insist that marine paint is much better for front doors than bog-standard exterior paint;
4.       paint the front door;
5.       paint the boat with the left-over paint;
6.       put the cost to ‘home improvements’.

But on to more important matter - the Fete des Doris - On this one weekend a year, Dorys appear from every shore side nook and cranny to be launched near St Malo and then they are sailed or rowed from one slipway to the next during the course of a two day festival. There are twelve villages with slipways on the estuary and each one is visited in turn. The Dories arrival provides each village with an excuse for a feasting, drinking and dancing.  This year, my village Plouer Sur Rance will have the honour of hosting the vessels and their crew for Sunday lunch. It’ll be a fine time!

If you'd like to know more about dory's (pretty much all there is to know in fact) then dig out this book, the Dory Book by John Gardner - its the definite work on the subject


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