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*

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