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Saturday 15 October 2011

St Michel II - Jules Verne's yacht returns!

The happy band of sailing men seen in the picture here are volunteers from the "Cale 2 l'Ile" association based in the French port of Nantes. The association aims to save some of France's nautical heritage by restoring and maintaining old boats.

The boat they're sitting on is one they all helped build - the St Michel II - a replica of Jules Verne's second yacht in which he enjoyed escaping from land to cruise and write his novels in peace. (The reason they're all sitting on the rail, by the way, is that they're helping the boat's designer, Francois Vivier, to measure the boat's stability.)

The 6 year project to build St Michel II was completed earlier this year and she was launched at Nantes where Jules Verne was born in 1828.

Jules Verne was, from an early age, an enthusiast for all things to do with ships and the sea. In 1865, with his books selling well, and his fortune increasing, he bought a small fishing vessel of around 25 ft at the small port of Le Crotoy at the mouth of the river Somme, and had it converted into a capable sailing yacht. Verne made many extended cruises in his little boat, becoming familiar with many ports in Northern France, the Channel Islands and parts of the English south coast. He even sailed up the Thames to London. It was on board this yacht, the St Michel, while cruising with his crewman Alexandre Delong, that Verne wrote his “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”.

In 1875 after having been elected to membership of France's premier yacht club, Verne ordered a larger 13m yacht from the Cherbourg yard of Abel Lemarchand. Although he took pleasure in working with the builder on the yacht's plans, she retained the lines and character of a traditional northern French pilot vessel. The new boat was named St Michel II and launched in 1876. Once again Verne undertook a full programme of extended cruising, along the coasts of northern france, the south of England, Brittany, and even across the Bay of Biscay to Bordeaux and back. He loved the peace and solitude he found on board his boats, and was able to write very productively while at sea, unburdened by everyday social and family matters.

After only a couple of seasons, however, the St Michel II was replaced by a magnificent steam motor-sailer of 31 metres length, the St Michel III, a vessel befitting the world's most famous author of tales of travel and adventure. This new boat required a crew of 10 men, and Verne's cruises became even longer and more extended, reaching as far as the Baltic, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, North Africa, Malta and Italy.

The original St Michel II was sold to the St Nazaire Pilot station where she served for many years. Later she became the supply ship for the prison on the island of Belle-Ile, off the Brittany coast. The St Michel II was eventually scrapped in 1911.

The new replica St Michel II has already taken part in a number of sailing events for classic and historic vessels around the coast of France. Her first public outing was at the famous "Semaine du Golfe de Morbihan" (Morbihan Week), a biennial boatfest which attracts hundreds of vessels of all shapes and sizes. I'm hoping to take part in the 2013 event with my own boat - if my own restoration project is complete by then.

St Michel II

LOA: 13.27m
Beam: 3.52m
Draft: 2.25m

Acknowledgements and links:

Association La Cale 2 l'Ile

Images and story sources: La Cale 2 l'Ile and Francois Vivier

Additional images: Ouest-France, Mer et Marine.com