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Tro Brioc e Breizh

The historical reenactement association Ar Soudarded has set itself a challenge outside of its usual martial territory. The usual fifteen member decided to take turns sailing Brioc. The aim is simple: to sail in the ways our ancestors did during the 10th and 14th century, our periods of focus. 


On the 21st of septembre 2018, Brioc, the curragh has completed her first tour of Brittany. Having left the Harbour of Tresseny on the 2nd of July, she is back to her home base on the 21st of september.

Brioc's construction type draws on the Irish curragh still used today. Through hagiography only do we know that 'large curragh' existed. Though the historical accuracy of the construction might be debated, it still is linked to the Bro Pagan 'the pagan country', where such a structure surprises seeing the number of reefs lining the seashore.  And yet we know that sailing and trading were possible and done, as testified by the Vita of Sezny and his landing on our shores.


This round-Brittany sailing trip had many intertwined purposes. First, to bring forward medieval Breton maritime know-how, second, reenacting the life of 10th and 14th century seapeople and finally to confirme Brioc's main target, to welcome passionate people and to help them sail.


We decided to sail out with historical equipment only (save legally obligated equipment). The trip was divided into three parts: the first, to test out the galley, from the northern coast to the medieval city of Dinan (Côtes d'Armor) where we were expected, the second part through the canals of the rivers Rance and Vilaine, with the aim to test out entirely historical 10th and 14th living conditions and finally the third was concluding the tour through the Archaeosite of Pont Croix where we unloaded wine from the Nantais region and salt from Gwenrann. 

We experimented the qualities of the curragh and they have proven to be surprising. She tack poorly against the wind and worse yet when the wind gets stronger, although her flexibility allows for the swell to pass, preventing us from getting drenched, and her stability is unquestioned. Her sideboards allow us to access heavenly moors, indeed she can beach effortlessly. Speed is not her strength but we reached over four knots near Bréhat neared six knots in the bay of St Brieuc, Brioc also has the advantage of sailing easily in small winds. This way, we reached Dinan quite effortlessly despite contrary winds and the lack or engin which complicated maneuvering in harbors and near reefs. 


Then we began the second leg of our journey, which turned out to be the most difficult. We needed to cross Brittany in width through the canals from Dinan to the Roche Bernard. Heat was one of the discomfort. Brioc is heavy, her small draft allowing for easy maneuvering but she remains slow. As we sometimes we wanting in crew we recruited generous souls ready to give a hand to the Pagan emigrants.  We tested out all the techniques we could, the scull for precision, oars to last the day and finally towing when no other solution was possible because of the business of canals. The security offered by the canals allowed us to test out some historical theories. The most interesting was the stone trough we brought on board used both as ballast and as a hearth (or even to salt food!). After having abandoned all modern comforts in Dinan, we realized that the ability to cook in the trough gave us a lot more comfort. As, at sea, we slept on board under tents put out for the night, the smoke drove away mosquitoes and brought us light. After long days of rowing, we reached the Roche Bernard where we loaded salt and wine, a cargo typical of the 14th century trade.


We began the last leg of our journey. Sailing was much harder as winds were in our favor in the morning, and against us in the afternoons. Passing any headland was difficult, as the wind would sometimes speed up to 30 knots, and with that we discovered that Brioc does not lie to, which forced us to let her run, thereby losing our ground. We struggled this way up to the headland of Quiberon, which we didn't succeed in passing the first time over.

At that moment, we needed a break. Sailing without an engine and fully historically is demanding, and unless one has the right conditions, it is better to stop, and watch out for the right conditions. We succeeded in reaching the Isle of Groix, where we moored in order to pay our respect to the 'tomb boat' the only material remains of early medieval sailing in Brittany. The weather beat up our cargo of wine and salt as we had to tack as close to the wind as possible, the point of sail the roughest for Brioc which led to water seeping in through the strain between the keel and the false-keel. In the end we made it to the village at Pont Croix, where we sold the wine that allowed us to keep on sailing and improve the boat. 

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