by Keith Kellett - travelrat
In July 2002, Tall Ships came to the port of Brest. They left three days later, to race to La Coruña, Spain. Here, they met with other ships, which had raced from Alicante, and together, they cruised to Santander, before racing to Portsmouth.
The Cutty Sark Tall Ships Race is, in fact, a ‘race’ in name only. The fastest ship doesn’t take the most prestigious prize; it goes to the ship whose crew have ‘ … done most to promote international understanding and friendship.’ It’s not decided by the organisers or the sponsors, but by the captains of participating ships, acting on the advice of their crews … half of who must be, by the rules, between 15 and 25 years of age.
One ship which easily meets the crew age criterion is that of France’s sole entry, Tante Fine (‘Aunt Josephine’). During her working life as a langoustier (lobster boat), Tante Fine probably only carried a crew of three or four, but nowadays, she carries a crew of 24. Twenty of them are young people from the Rouen/Le Havre/Fécamp area, taking part in an educational programme called Les Voiles de l’Espoir (‘Sails of Hope’).
The biggest of the Tall Ships are stately square-riggers, with three or more masts, averaging between 50 and 100 metres in length. In contrast, Tante Fine is a two-masted, gaff-rigged ketch, only 26 metres long.
She was built at Plouhinec, Brittany, in 1960, and worked the lobster beds in the Bay of Biscay and off the coast of Mauritania. She brought her last catch home in 1986, and was bought, in a sadly dilapidated condition, by Les Voiles de l’Espoir in 1991.
More than 8000 man-hours were spent in her restoration in the boatyard at Fécamp, where she is now based, and, in 2001, Tante Fine set sail for Antwerp, to participate in the Tall Ships Race for the first time. This year, a new group crewed the ship in the race, and it’s hoped that it won’t be too long before she brings some silverware home to Normandy.
When not racing, or teaching youngsters seamanship and teamwork, Tante Fine can usually be found at Fécamp, where she participates in the promotion of the tourist industry. So, naturally, visitors are welcome. Contact:
Les Voiles de l’Espoir, 39, Quai Bérigny, 76400 Fécamp, FRANCE
Tel: (+33)(0)2 35 29 78 01
And for photos of her before and after refurbishment, see this French site, according to which she won the Cutty Sark race the year Keithsaw her.