My Travel Book - There Is a Place in Brittany...

Life is always so surprising. You think you know a place inside out because you’ve been there so many times. And yet…

There is a place in Brittany called the “baie de la Fresnaye”. It’s quite large, mostly marshland but when the sea gets there, it turns into an impressive maritime expanse - one of the greatest spots for wakeboarding.

 A formidable fort protects its entrance ever since the Middle Ages. Fort Lalatte, not very far from Cap Fréhel.

We have been going there for ages. Like I said, it is a great wakeboarding spot, a wonderful place to laze around on board whenever the west wind gets a little bit too strong and a fun place to explore since it is quite easy to draw alongside the fort, swim to very small beaches and walk up to Lalatte for a change.

Do you remember our encounter with the Mola Mola? It happened right there in the Baie de la Fresnaye.

Follow the arrow on the right and you’ll notice a big and tall buoy on the right. It sticks out of the water so that seamen will steer away from it. This is not a mooring buoy. It signals a wreck.

The first time we were there, a long time ago, we did wonder what kind of boat had met such an unhappy end there. And then we became so used to the buoy that we even quit noticing it.

Anglers seem to love the place. We keep our distance.

Last week-end, we went boating for a couple of hours. It was a sunny and nippy autumn day.

Not very far from the harbor of Saint-Cast, a ship was anchored on the open sea. A big ship. French Navy. Usually you don’t go boating round a Navy boat out of sheer curiosity. She won’t try to send you to the bottom, at least not in Brittany! You just don’t.

I took a picture from afar and then I forgot all about it until last Monday when I opened the regional rag, you know, the kind of newspaper where you learn all about car accidents, burglaries and fairs in your area besides which boat or ship dropped anchor in one of the many harbours around. There it was. The Laplace (A793), a research ship which belongs to the French Navy and is engaged in hydrographic survey and oceanographic research.

My highly developed inquiring mind got my fingers to work. I turned my computer on and etc., etc. There it was! The first Laplace...

©Marine Nationale

It wasn’t hard at all. The Laplace had called at the Saint-Cast port to take an active part in a commemoration service. You see this ship shares her name with another research ship which was hit by a German magnetic mine and  sank straight to the bottom on the 16th of September 1950, 65 years ago.

A Nazi mine in 1950 in the Baie de La Fresnaye?

On the 15th of September, 1950, the Laplace was on her way to Saint-Malo and she dropped anchor not very far from Fort Lalatte. The sea was rough. She and her 92 crew members looked for shelter at night in the Baie de la Fresnaye, less than one hour away from Saint-Malo. Five years after the end of the war.

As a reminder… During WWII, Brittany was invaded and heavily occupied by the Nazis mostly because of its 1.100 coastal miles. Their line of defence was impressive. They were convinced of the high probability of Allied landings there to reconquer France and Europe. Long story short of course. There were blockhaus (bunkers) all over the place, heavy artillery spots and of course naval mines everywhere at sea and on the beaches.


After the war, the coastal fields and the cliffs were cleaned out. So was the sea except for a few lethal contraptions called naval magnetic mines that kept bobbing in the waters for a long time. The Laplace stood no chance of escaping such a mine if one was still around.

The ship was struck on the 16th of September, fifteen minutes past midnight. Most of the seamen were asleep. Those who survived the explosion plunged into the raging sea and found themselves trapped in the fuel spill or were swept out to sea by the ebb tide. The captain chose to go down with the Laplace, true to tradition.

Help came in the early morning hours. Too late for many men. 51 seamen and researchers died that night.

I was stunned when I realized that the wreck buoy was signalling the Laplace which was lying 15 meters down below by Fort Lalatte.  

©Fred Martin - movie about the wreck

So you see, life is always full of surprises. Some great. Some bad. This one is very distressing because the buoy will forever represent those 51 men who met their dreadful fate on the 16th of September 1950, 5 years after the war ended, when a long-forgotten magnetic naval mine finally accomplished its mission of destruction and death.

There is a memorial in Saint-Cast which faces the exact spot where it all happened. The view is mesmerizing. The monument and the list of names put me off quite a bit.

Last Monday, I wished I had not opened the newspaper… There is a place in Brittany... 
The view is mesmerizing. 

And yet…

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

1 comment:

Myrna said...

That is so very sad. But good to remember those poor people who died so senselessly and horrifically. It does rather make an idyllic scene seem ominous. The things that we people do to each other. Sad.