Brest 2008 - a melting pot of maritime heritage

© Marcel Mochet /AFP - Brest 2008
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The departure of boats is always laced with nostalgia but when it consists of nearly 2,000 craft, each with their own maritime heritage, culture and tradition, amidst an atmosphere resounding with sirens and horns in thanks to the whole of Brest for its warm welcome, the emotion as they cast off for new horizons is tangible. It is warm though, with blue skies and fluffy clouds to provide the procession with enough breeze to tease them out to sea. As they disappear from view under the flags of around 30 countries, perhaps one of the most intriguing things about the Brest Maritime Festival is that you can really appreciate the significance and the privilege of what it is to play host to international maritime heritage.

500,000 visitors have flocked to Brest 2008 in NW France over the past six days and the majority of the locals have come down to the port everyday and every year since the festival began, eager not to miss out. As the festival draws to a close for another four years, thousands of spectators have come down to the harbour and the stunning surrounding coastline to bid farewell as the procession of boats, steeped in history and tradition, create an amazing spectacle. The crowds are massed along the big sea wall encompassing the brand new Château Marina and dotted along the coastline towards Berthomes, Pointe du Portzic, Point du petit Minou, Pointe des Espagnols and Toulinguet – eager for one last glimpse of the beautiful 2008 fleet.

On the water, around 500 local spectator boats from the pretty little coastal villages of Conquet, Camaret and Moulin Blanc and elsewhere have come out to give their historic counterparts the send off they deserve. A third of the Brest 2008 fleet will head for the 3 day event at Douarnenez, whilst a number of the tall ships will make for Liverpool, UK for the big tall ship festival. The remaining craft will slowly wend their way home, to horizons far and wide, their minds already thinking ahead to Brest 2012.

'Brest 2008 has been a great success, with 500,000 visitors to the site over the past six days' says Jacques Sevellec the Event Director. 'We have created a fantastic, safe environment here and this has led to an atmosphere of conviviality and enjoyment.'

Literally from the other side of the globe, Steve Knight (Chairman Australian Wooden Boat Festival) has travelled to Brest 2008 all the way from Tasmania. 'Brittany is such a lovely place and this festival, Brest 2008, is absolutely fabulous. It was actually this very event which gave the people back in Tasmania the inspiration for their festival in Hobart, and although it is different, we obviously have to thank the people here for giving us that inspiration in the first place. I’m also really keen to develop this village theme, with various countries displaying their boats, their culture and their gastronomy, because it really seems to work well here. As the boats head off to new horizons today it is remarkable to think that in this very harbour at Brest, not much more than 200 years ago, ships put to sea to places they really didn’t know about and were able to discover countries like ours. Today we send people all the way into space with their own means of propulsion and we know when they’re coming back. The people in the 16th, 17th and 18th century that set off from Brest, didn’t know where they were going necessarily, when they were coming back and they had no means of communication, no radar, no charts, no GPS'. Given the huge international fleet at Brest 2008 it would seem that skippers and crews know exactly where they’re going these days…

As well as being an inspiration to a host of other events, the Brest Maritime Festival has also proved to be an inspiration for a vast number of projects, including the Matthew, based in Bristol, UK, a replica of Italian John Cabot’s journey across the Atlantic to discover Canada.
© B.Stichelbaut - Brest 2008
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From historic replicas to large yachts and coasters, fishing boats and working boats, classic boats, small traditional craft and skiffs, classic motorboats from the ‘belle epoque’, exotic boats such as Asian junks, pirogues and boats from the West Indies, the Southern Ocean and Polynesia, adventure boats which have made incredible journeys around the globe, fishing boats, crab boats, trawlers, as well as modern day offshore racing boats from Figaro Beneteaus, to Mumms, to Imoca 60 footers and ORMA and Maxi trimarans, the Brest Maritime Festival has certainly had it all.

Brest 2008 has welcomed crews from France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Vietnam, Switzerland, Croatia, USA, Madagascar, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Madagascar, USA and New Zealand to name but a few, and the result is a delightfully international melting pot of maritime heritage.