Down on the marina, amongst all the different coloured cabins, a strange pirate is waiting for visitors in front of “La Marcelle’s” chocolate-coloured wooden kiosk.
Since 1996, “La Marcelle” has been inviting young and old alike for a trip around Fort Boyard and to discover Île d’Aix. On-board, René Brassens, the sailing ship’s smiling owner and skipper, Vice-Champion of France of single-handed dinghy in 1975.
“La Marcelle’s” second life
The 1935-built “La Marcelle” is a former lifeboat used on the first “Queen Elizabeth”. This 13-metre long Norwegian cutter comprises a dozen sails in all and cruises at a speed of sic knots on average, i.e. 11 km/h. To ensure it remains in good condition, it is serviced two months every year.
A trip on “La Marcelle” has to be earned. Depending on tides and on the time of the year, getting on-board the ship and setting sail takes place either in Boyardville Port or on the beach. In the latter case, apprentice sailors must go to Saumonards Forest, where they can leave their vehicles, then cross the beach on foot, through shallow water, to reach René’s rigid-hulled inflatable boat floating about fifty or so metres from the water’s edge. A hundred metres further out at sea, “La Marcelle” patiently waits for its “pirates for a day”.
“Who wants to hoist the sails? Who wants to steer?” All hands go up in a split second. And they’re off for a 1h15 trip direction Fort Boyard!
Bare feet on the teak bridge, hair blowing in the wind, it’s a real breath of fresh sea air for the budding one-hour or one-day sailors. During the trip, René tells tales non-stop whilst the youngest on-board, boasting pirate hats, head down to the cabin to look for a treasure.
Boyardville, Chassiron black and white lighthouse, Le Chateau-d'Oléron, Marennes’ bell tower, the mouth of the Charente River... René points out places, explains, describes, narrates.
Fort Boyard ahoy!
We’ve made it, we’re almost at Fort Boyard. Whilst young and old alike start to hum the signature tune of the famous French TV game (Fort Boyard), René jumps at the chance to explain the history of this 68-metre long, 32-metre wide and 20-metre high fort, whose construction was initiated in 1804. “Vauban thought that it was impossible to build it because of the sandbanks that it was supposed to sit on.
Yet, that didn’t stop Napoleon from going ahead with the project. The work had to be interrupted in 1809 in particular due to the Battle of the Basque Roads. It was finally completed in 1859.”
Next, direction Île d'Aix, a moment for some to stop over for a while and for others to take a few snaps from the boat. And to find out more about this little three-kilometre long island, listed as an Outstanding Natural Site, where you move around on foot or by bike.
It's now time for the passengers still on board to return to Oléron. And time for kir and peanuts as well. The trip is turning into aperitif time with friends. At the front of the ship, the net suspended above the water thrills the children and the most dauntless. Even the adults dive in for a last original souvenir photo.
Thank you René and thank you Marcelle!