Sunday 3 June 2012

Seaside Sunday: bisquine

Local to the Bay of Mont St Michel, the bisquine fishing boat was designed for its shallow waters and treacherous tides. Its large rigging helped make it both powerful and manoeuvrable, with a long bowsprit allowing the jib to add stability. (The masts could take up to three sails each, although the uppermost seems to have been used mainly when racing.) These characteristics were perhaps most important during the Easter Caravan, the short and heavily-regulated season for fishing wild oysters. 

Local pride, rather than economic survival, was at stake in annual regattas where the bisquines of Cancale raced those of Granville. Boats were carefully prepared for these occasions, which were at their peak from 1895 until the First World War. The competition was fierce, with collisions frequent, and didn't end when the sailors returned to dry land: the prize-giving sometimes ended in a fight!

As well as the oyster-fishing for which the area is famous, bisquines were also used for trawling and line-fishing. They first appeared around 1810, their name referring to the origins of this style of boat in the Bay of Biscay, and a century later there were several hundred sailing in the bay. They lasted well into the twentieth century but after the Second World War their numbers quickly declined. It seemed that the bisquine was extinct - until  La Cancalaise and La Granvillaise were built in 1987-1990. 

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