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Tuesday, 14 December 2004
Few boats have had such diverse history as Dahouet's Pauline, which was pilot boat, trawler and coastal trader. Now a reincarnation of the original is introducing people to the pleasures of sailing a classic boat.

The story of the present Pauline began in the late 1980s when a group of young people, from Dahouet, returned from a visit to a classic boat rally and vowed that, in the near future, their little port would be represented at such gatherings. Soon the association “Une Chaloupe pour Dahouet” had been formed whose aim was to recreate the former pilot boat Pauline. Research began, for the intention was not simply to reproduce Pauline but to enter her in Concours des Bateaux des Côtes de France whose rules required the compilation of an extensive dossier to support the authenticity of the reconstruction. It was then that the first problem arose. Archives were combed, museums were visited and descendants of the original builder were consulted, but not one single drawing of Pauline could be found. How could Dahouet’s pilot boat be authentically reconstructed, without plans, or a half model? Fortunately, a number of local people could still remember “la belle Pauline” and by asking innumerable questions, the members of the association built up a more and more detailed picture.

Monsieur Kerleau, a carpenter who used to repair boats on the beach, had particular vivid memories and, under his guidance a half model was built. Meanwhile plans were drawn by monsieur Vivier, a naval architect, after he had studied available photos and

 customs’ records, which gave Paulines dimensions and tonnage. When these plans were finished, it was found that Vivier had drawn a vessel that was virtually identical to the half model; Dahouet could have its chaloupe.

Raising the 516,000 francs needed to pay for the new Pauline was a superb example of what an enthusiastic group can achieve. Both local regional councils recognised that various activities, centred around the boat, would be tourist attractions and kicked the project off with promises to meet bills up to 300,000 francs. Membership fees and gifts brought more funds and festivals, tea dances and souvenir sales were enormously successful. By autumn of 1990, the Dahouet group had raised sufficient capital to justify placing the order for their boat.

The Builder

People around Paimpol still talk about Chantier Bonne, builder of the first Pauline. When Emile Bonne brought his wife and two children to the village from Boulogne, he had less than 250 old francs in his pocket, but he soon found work in Paimpol boatyard. A few months later, this giant of a man was often seen in nearby Kerity after he has finished his day’s work.

These regular visits to Kerrity caused a lot of curiosity among local washer women, working on the beach. They would watch Bonne pace pensively up and down the undulating land near the shore; sometimes measuring a particular area, sometimes rolling up his trousers and wading into the water to test the depth. “Who is he? What on earth is he up to?” the washer women asked themselves. Several months later their questions were answered when, after raising finance, locating material sources and sounding out future clients, Emile Bonne bought the land he’d paced so often and started his own boatyard.

He worked incredible hard and drove his employees to do the same. No alcohol was allowed on the premises and any man who looked as though he’d had too much the previous evening was sent home – a policy applauded by his employees wives! Long hours and exacting standards paid off very quickly: two years after opening his yard Emile Bonne was employing 250 people. Pauline was just one of 17 smaller vessels launched in 1901, along with 19 large schooners and dundees, for the Icelandic fishermen.

This golden era was short lived. In 1905 demand for cod began to fall, and with it demand for schooners. The yard had earned an unsurpassed reputation for quality and there were still plenty of small boat orders and money to be earned by sending the most skilled workmen out to repair damaged boats. The Bonne family continued to earn a reasonable living from the reduced workforce until war broke out and sounded the death knell. A generation of sons of fishermen who might have ordered Bonne boats were sent to the front – many never returned. When Emile Bonne died in 1922, the run down business was closed.

The owner

Hippolyte Guinard, nicknamed “Polite” began his seafaring life as ship’s boy on a cod fisher owned by his uncle Bertrand, during the years when Laurent Michel was Dahouet’s pilote lamaneur. In 1890, Bertrand took over that rôle and, on his death in 1899, Polite inherited the job. For two years he used his uncle’s Saint Sebastien then ordered a new boat, which he named after his daughter Pauline.

Pilotage was not a lucrative occupation – statutory pay rates hadn’t changed since 1857 – so, like its predecessor, this new pilot boat had to double as a trawler, a form of fishing at which the Dahouet boats excelled; some claim they rivalled the great bisquines.

Both sail plans provided enormous motive force, even in light airs, and though a bisquine’s 350 m² of sail was incomparable among fishing boats, when the wind was directly behind the Dahouet boats came into their own. The boomed mainsail being superior to the loose footed one in those conditions.

When Hippolyte Guinard acquired a motor boat in 1910, his old boat went to new owners who used her for fishing in winter and as a cargo boat in summer. During the war, Pauline disappeared from the records until, in 1917, Eugene Lamande

re-registered her as a coastal trader, permitted to work within the area bounded by St Malo and Roscoff. In those days, many small ex-trawlers were earning a steady living collecting seaweed and hauling it to the fertilizer factory, and when Job Le Tallec acquired Pauline after Lamande’s sudden death, he was keen to use her in this trade. Unfortunately, there was a snag; Pauline drew too much to get to the Larmor factory on any but the highest tides. It seemed like an insurmountable problem, but the locals said “Not at all.”! “Nothing to it,” they told Le Tallec. “You just take the keel off, saw through the garboard strake, modify the frames and put the keel back.”

So the once beautiful “Pauline”, by then single-masted and rigged fore and aft, hauled seaweed for 15 years until the day when heavily laden with her malodorous cargo, she struck a rock and sank.

Recreating Pauline

Emile Bonne left Paimpol a valuable legacy. Some of the men who had been trained to his exacting standards found employment in other yards, where their skills were passed down through other generations of Paimpol boatbuilders, to such yards a Chantiers Houn, Raynaud and Daniel. At the age of 14, Yves Clochet began his apprenticeship in Houn’s yard, then gained further experience with Raynaud and Daniel before setting up his own business at Plougiel in 1976. By 1990, Clochet had already rebuilt and constructed several traditional vessels and was the obvious

choice of yard for this ambitious project. There was just one more decision to make: should they have Pauline built at Clochet’s yard, or ask him to come to Dahouet and do the work there, in public view.

The idea of building the new Pauline on the quai Terre Neuvas was tempting. It would undoubtedly attract visitors who would buy more pins, books and postcards and thus swell the association’s funds. Much to the approval of many retired fishermen, however, they resisted the temptation. As one old timer said, in a lovely mixture of Breton and French which unfortunately loses its dry charm in translation; “they’ve done the right thing, having her delivered caulked and painted. I’d never have had a boat built in the open. Even the humblest dory should be built in shelter. If it isn’t you don’t just get a few slits in the timber; more like open windows and when she goes in the water, after she is built and caulked in the sun, the boards swell and tar squirts everywhere; instead of a beautiful boat you end up with an eyesore. The other thing they’ve done right is picking Clochet to build her. You can always spot a good craftsman, even if you’ve only seen him make a dinghy you know. Clochet will do the job right, in the old Paimpol way, starting with picking the best wood. There’s just one more thing they’ll have to remember when she comes to Dahouet. That black paint’s going to make her like an oven inside, so they’ll need to watch out for trouble until they get her where she belongs – à l’eau.”

True to the old sailor’s prophecy, Clochet did ‘do the job right’, and with remarkable speed and economy. Pauline’s keel was laid on 3 November

1990 and, by the end of December, the frame of the boat had progressed to the stage where Clochet was saying: “Look, you must decide the engine you’re going to fit, it’s holding up progress.”

As Pauline was to be used as an association boat, often withyoungsters on board, the members decided they must have the security of a modern engine. A 48 hp Yanmar was chosen, and soon Clochet had the bearers in place and turned his attention to planking “Pauline’s” 13 pairs of Mayenne oak frames. The steamed oak strakes are 1.3/8 in (35mm) thick, except for gunwhale, rubbing and garboard strakes which are 1/5 in (5mm) bigger.

In traditional Pleneuf fashion, Clochet planked the hull from garboard to rubbing strake then worked down from the gunwhale, with the final plank being forced into position. By April 1991, the pine deck was being fitted and on 14 June, amid much celebration, the completed hull arrived at Dahouet.

Sailing on ‘Pauline’

On a favourable tack, a whisper of a breeze sends Pauline scurrying along and she travels as though on rails, showing no tendency to wear away under a sudden gust.

I think this must be due to the long keel and great draught aft, for she is just as stable on the ‘wrong’ tack when the mainsail lug yard is on the windward side of the mast. In fact, she is remarkably easy to handle, always light on the tiller for a boat of 16 tons, and she sails well on all points.

Pauline divides her time between teaching groups of young people the art of sailing and taking out tourists, who are free to decide whether they want to lend a hand. Few could resist getting involved, for those qualities which made the flambards excellent trawlers make Pauline an exhilarating boat to sail.

Dahouet is a delightful little port, in truly picturesque surroundings, with excellent facilities for

visiting yachtsmen. Adjacent Pleneuf-Val-Andre has a plethora of reasonable priced hotels and one of the best sandy beaches in North Brittany. Sailing on Pauline could be just one highlight in a memorable family holiday. 

Marian Martin

Last Updated ( Monday, 31 January 2005 )
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