We Have a Parrot... It's a... Drone!

It all started when our team of gardeners decided to prune the fir trees that line the garden and face the beach.

They had to use special machinery to get up there (very high actually) and do the job. One of them likes to take pictures and he sent us several photographs of our house as seen from the air... which meant that for the first time ever since we bought Les Tertres, we had a good view of the roof. A good view but a very incomplete one... Half of it that is!

In October, Popeye decided to go to Brittany for his birthday... He mainly wanted to go boating of course, which we did... of course!

A few weeks before, I had read an article about a toy-drone built in France.

I should mention that Popeye loves to fly miniature and very basic helicopters which only last a couple of weeks, usually...

The Parrot was the real thing though. A real drone complete with four rotors, a camera and controlled from an app on your iPhone or iPad.

Its name - The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0.

It looked nice and fun. I bought it. It really was a rash impulse! I liked the demonstrations on YouTube and I was pretty sure that Popeye would love to fly the little beast all over our land and above the house... and get nice movies from the flights.

(To tell the truth, I was a little bit worried since Popeye does not really like to get gifts for his birthday.)

Back to his Parrot which I managed to bring to Brittany in total secrecy (the box was quite big though)!

Popeye acted very surprised when I gave him the box after breakfast... and he truly was flabbergasted when he discovered what was hidden inside the wrapping paper!

The Parrot! At the time I did not know that he had read quite a few articles about the A.RDrone 2.0... and that he really was hoping to get one... not for his birthday though.

He was extremely happy and we started to watch the tutorials on the Parrot website... I could see that he was getting worried though. 

Popeye is a great sailor but new technology like a drone that you control with your iPhone feels a little bit out of his league. You know... all the setting-up... the Wi-Fi connection... Well, new technology...

His phone is to be used as a phone and certainly not as a remote-control nor as a monitor screen.

But he’s a brave man and I am not afraid of new technology so we tried to get the beast ready.

And then we called Swee’Pea because it was a lot of fun on YouTube but it was not this easy to control after all! Besides the fact that we had to start “playing” with it inside because it was very windy outside. (They sell it with a special device which looks like a big four-leaf clover and allows you to fly the Parrot inside your home!)

Swee’Pea cried out: “Wow! You’ve got a Parrot! This is so great! But guess what? My boss has one and he says it’s driving him insane!”

We were going insane because the thing was erratic... But I guess that we really did not get it working real well after all...

After a while and only because he did not want to break his new (and expensive) toy, Popeye said: “Let’s wait for Swee’Pea to come back from California and then we’ll have a lot of fun!”

And off we went boating which proved to be a lot more fun than our experience with the drone... But Popeye was still very happy about his Parrot!

Swee’Pea did come back from California for good and the three of us went to Brittany for Christmas.

And the fun did begin! Swee’Pea is great with this kind of technology... Give him an iPhone and he’ll turn it into a wonderful remote control right away. Give him a drone and he’ll fly it all over the place... (And not necessarily because he is a fully-fledged pilot now.) 

Getting ready for the first take-off

Well done!

Where is IT going? 
Popeye tried to keep really cool but boy, was he tense!

It was windy... and this did not worry Swee’Pea a bit! He loved to get the Parrot up as far as it could safely get with quite a strong southern wind and then down, hovering over the house and the garden and the moor.

Nice landing, Swee'Pea!

The movies the Parrot brought back are quite hard to watch without feeling a little bit seasick... but they are  a lot of fun though. Exactly the way I thought they would be...

"Refueling" and getting another range of a 10 mns flight
Imagine flying all over your fields and your garden and your house when you are still standing with your two feet in your garden while watching everything on your phone because it is real-time video after all!

Flying all over the countryside without actually taking off!

It kind of makes your head spin round, doesn’t it?

Of course, the Parrot never got really autostabilized! We are still hoping for some fine and calm weather next time we’ll be there...

Because Popeye did learn how to control it since it is his toy after all...

Never ever try to stabilize your Parrot manually even if you feel it is bound to crash due to high winds...

Never ever...

Because... it does crash!

And then you feel real' bad!

The Parrot’s last landing was a little bit rough... We all were expecting this to happen sooner but it crashed at its last planned sortie.

(Let’s use some military word there. It is a drone after all. A friendly one but so close to the real ones. The killers. Which can be a little bit scary when you do think about it.)

Right now, our AR.Drone 2.0 is resting. Back into its box. Waiting to be fixed. Popeye hurried to get the spare parts though. (In triplicate, you never know!)

We’ll be going back to Brittany in a few weeks... We no longer have cats but our Parrot will be on the back seat... This time, Popeye wants to take it down to the beach and fly it from there...

Does a drone drown?

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book - Quelmer - Jean-Baptiste Charcot and the 'Pourquoi Pas ?' - A Ferryman named Jean Le Gal

Quelmer is a very small village. It is one of the “suburbs” of Saint-Malo, very close to the tidal power station in the Rance estuary.

It may be small but when if you happen to be in Saint-Malo, you should not miss visiting it.

Its ship graveyard is the only one of its kind in the area.

Very close to the ship graveyard, you’ll find Commandant Charcot’s house overlooking the Rance estuary where his ship, the “Pourquoi Pas ? IV” used to spend the months it was not roaming around the Poles.

And last but not least, you’ll have to take a walk down the nearby slipway while remembering the dreadful story of Jean Le Gal who used to steer the ferry across the estuary in 1790.

Quelmer is an amazing summary of Brittany’s history, from a very distant past to our time.

Let’s start with the ship graveyard.It is the only one of its kind in the area. Ancient sailing ships and fishing boats die on its shores because they are totally outdated and unfit for our modern times. But in the past, those boats were totally in business and some of them even sailed all over the oceans.

The graveyard is close to a small but very busy shipyard. Brittany is a seafaring nation. It always was even in very remote times and it still is. From round-the-world (yacht) races to coastal trawling and deep-sea fishing. A lot of Bretons still spend their life at sea. And Brittany is home to some of the most important shipyards in France.

Let’s not forget that Brittany is a peninsula with an impressive coastal length - 1.700 miles while it is only 125 miles wide from North to South.

Let’s walk to “La Passagère”, home to Commandant Jean-Baptiste Charcot, right above the shipyard.

The stately house overlooks part of the Rance estuary.  

Charcot who was born near Paris spent most of his life in Saint-Malo (Quelmer) whenever he was not exploring the Artic or the Antartica. He had all his ships built in Saint-Malo and in-between his famous voyages, he’d come back to Quelmer and have them repaired right below his home. 

The last one was called “Pourquoi Pas ? IV” (“Why Not? IV”). They met an untimely end together during a storm off the coast of Iceland in 1936 on their way back home from Greenland.

So many great seamen, explorers, discoverers of new worlds and privateers alike were born or lived in Saint-Malo and its surroundings throughout the centuries.

Jacques Cartier discovered and explored Newfoundland and what is now Quebec from 1534 to 1542.

Jacques Gouin de Beauchesne discovered the Falkland Islands in 1701 and was the first sailor to round Cape Horn from West to East, that very same year.

Many privateers like Duguay-Trouin and Surcouf spent their life harassing the British, Spanish and Dutch naval fleets at a time when the kings of France were trying to extend their positions in far-away lands.

Brittany, home to famous shipbuilders and sailors, possesses a much darker side though.

For centuries, it was home to smugglers. Nowadays, there is a hiking trail still called “The customs trail” that runs alongside the coast in Brittany. It is 1.000 miles long and was used by customs officers throughout the centuries (from 1791 until the beginning of the XXth century) to fight and curb smuggling.

Smuggling still continues in this day and age in Brittany. I have told one story about smuggling that happened right below our house.

In Quelmer, smuggling left a bloody trail.

People needed to cross the Rance at a time when there were no roads nor any bridge. Therefore there was a ferry which left from the slipway below “La Passagère”.

In 1790, the ferryman was a man named Jean Le Gal. The story goes that one night, he met two smugglers who were carrying a body-shaped bag. Nobody really knows what happened then except that the next morning, the ferryman was not at work.

People went looking for Jean Le Gal. In his house, they discovered a dreadful drama. Jean Le Gal, his wife, his children and their maidservant had been murdered in a very savage way. The hit men whoever they were had slit their throats.

The slipway in Quelmer was then given the appalling name of “L’égorgé”... (“The man whose throat was slit”) People even forgot Jean Le Gal’s real name when a local writer called him “Carré” in a novella about the crime.

Nowadays the place is extraordinarily calm and quiet with gorgeous shimmering reflections on a sunny day.

The river Rance is an extraordinary place to go to, from Dinan to the estuary and its tidal power station. You’ll find small villages and resorts on every meander. Most of them filled with historic buildings.

Quelmer does not boast outstanding buildings like Dinan, Saint-Malo or Saint-Suliac but for me, it is a real compendium of the history and the spirit of Brittany, from shipyards and sailors to explorers, adventurers and smugglers.

I love Brittany

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book - Ships die too - The Quelmer Ship Graveyard in Northern Brittany

There is a very strange place in Northern Brittany, close to Saint-Malo. A ship graveyard in a small village called Quelmer, on the right bank of the Rance.

The place is very quiet and silent. At least in winter. Because very close to the graveyard, there is a small and very busy shipyard there.

In 2010, the first time I was there, it was cold and sunny and the abandoned decaying hulls did not look too bleak... Well, they were depressing but the sun was shining at high tide.

I went back there several times this January. It wasn’t very cold but the sky was overcast. Ebb tide every time.

I was very surprised to discover that there were more wrecks than in 2010. More recent boats too had joined the ancient wooden boats. And they were sort of piled up for lack of space I imagine.

The oldest ones were utterly falling into decay even though someone had   gotten the bright idea to bring a team of painters and taggers over to the graveyard in order to brighten those sad-looking, neglected and deteriorating ships. Or maybe the painters and taggers came on their own. Let’s have a happening in Quelmer, guys!

"L'endormi" - Painting by Philippe Kalvez
Anyway, the paintings are aging fast too because of the marine environment. Some taggers come up regularly and add their own signature to existing works.

The whole thing turns up to be very amazing though. Bright colors on disintegrating wooden hulls. Paintings that are mostly flaking off if not fading away. And all those huge bodies in complete self-destruction.

The atmosphere is eerie there. Not only because of the monsters that are “dying” a little bit more day after day. But mainly because they are not really dead. They are useless. Most of them have been stripped naked. But they still exist. They are dying. I do apologize for using this anthropomorphism. But those were my feelings while I was there.

Their death is slow and amazingly peaceful though. Chipping away, sort off. Tossed about by winds and water. But slowly, so slowly.

And then once they are really dead, their remains haunt the shore. I imagine that on a windy night, their ghosts surface and that furtive shapes sail away. There may even be some sailors singing... from olden times.

While I was there in January, there was no wind but the tide was on the ebb. On La Rance, the ebb and flow are very slow and peaceful because of the dam, a few miles away.

I could hear sucking sounds while the water was withdrawing from the shore. “Come away with me,” the river was murmuring. And the boards were creaking, squeaking and groaning their answer. “Sailing is over for us. Don’t you understand?”

It was all so mysterious. A little bit spooky though.

I felt very lonely there. A little bit scared from time to time, going under, behind and in front of those run aground whales. Nothing happened to me though. I did bump across several very silent young people mainly walking around because this is obviously the place to hang about when you are young, which makes sense because I liked cemeteries so much when I was younger.

This place is so much darker, secret and puzzling than our usual graveyards.

Yes, darker and spookier but so exceptional because of its abnormality. Ships are made to sail off the wind to open seas. They should not be left stranded to rot on a river bank. They should be sunk away and go to their final rest on the bottom of the sea where fish and shellfish would use them as places of safety.

But ships come to die in Quelmer, one of the few ship graveyards in Brittany.

Just in case...
*Good Luck, and Good Night*