In southern France, weird boats revive a lost plan of existence

In southern France, weird boats revive a lost plan of existence

In a workshop hazy with sawdust, gorgeous about a steps some distance from the foremost canals of an idyllic Provençal village, Alain Pretôt crafts a tiny, wooden boat. It’s one of two or three he’ll invent this year, in a mode weird to the Sorgues River. The workshop, decorated with posters of Georges Brassnens, The Rolling Stones, and AC/DC, is slender. There’s simply enough residence to circle the long desk where the boat’s skeleton takes shape. Here is a state of labor, nonetheless no longer duty: The pleasure of crafting in this workshop springs from the like of a river.

“This boat is our have plan of freedom on the river. It’s an instantaneous link to the past. It reminds us of our heritage and permits us safe entry to to nature in a respectful plan,” says Pretôt.

In the tiresome 1970s in the south of France, Pretôt dreamed of gliding over the blue waters of the Sorgues on a ragged light-weight wooden fishing boat known as a négo chin—Provençal for “drown the dog,” a reference to its inherently unstable low and flat-bottomed shape. Alas, the boat modified into a rarity at the time, and there modified into nobody to form one for him. So started his quest to learn and revive the forgotten craft. Now, 45 years later, Pretôt has constructed better than 100 of the boats, and conducted a significant purpose in reviving the fishing culture that founded the village of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgues.

Alain Pretôt sanding a négo chin in his workshop.
Alain Pretôt sanding a négo chin in his workshop. Quentin Boehm

“The foremost settlers of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgues have been fishermen, sooner than the Gallo-Roman length. The embankments have been shallow and wild,” said the tiresome Sauveur Romano—the village’s amateur historian—in a 2020 interview. “They wanted boats they might per chance per chance per chance presumably without difficulty put together in the tributaries, that don’t solid a shadow which scares the fish, and that can per chance presumably be maneuvered on my own,” said Romano. “These boats have been instruments for work, adapted to the pure prerequisites.”

There isn’t any longer any such thing as a totally different boat rather fancy the négo chin because there are few rivers fancy the Sorgues. Now not up to an hour east from Avignon, the spring-fed Sorgues is the fully outflow of a broad underground basin, and water filters thru miles of rock sooner than surfacing. As a end result, the river’s temperature hovers around 53-55 levels Fahrenheit year-round. The river and its slender feeder streams are surrounded by marshes, which humans have partly rerouted, drained, and cleared over the centuries.

In step with Romano, historical files first point out the village’s fishing guild, Confrérie di Pescaïre Lilen, in 1593. Better than a skilled association, the guild equipped local fishermen a fluctuate of assistance, no longer not like up to the moment social security or employee’s compensation purposes. The fishermen of the Confrérie outdated négo chins and particular fishing ways, equivalent to l’araignée, the spider (a fisherman locations a 40-foot salvage on the riverbed in a single day and collects his bewitch in the morning) and the l’épervier, the sparrowhawk (the fisherman throws a round salvage lined with weights in a circular motion, trapping the fish as he pulls it in and the outlet closes).

Pretôt stands on a négo chin; the wooden boat's shape makes it inherently unstable.
Pretôt stands on a négo chin; the wooden boat’s shape makes it inherently unstable. Quentin Boehm

Over time, industries equivalent to papermaking, dyeing, and silk-spinning started utilizing the ability of the Sorgues. These actions, as effectively as villages rising alongside its banks, increased river air pollution and, Romano said, reduced the fish and crustacean populations. The industrial worth of fishing diminished and membership in the guild waned. By 1870, the Confrerie had disappeared.

About a ragged-timers had the boat I modified into shopping for, nonetheless no longer many in right condition,” says Pretôt. In 1976, after digging thru archives and scouring the cabanons, tiny riverbank fishing cabins, for devices, Pretôt and his father managed to recreate the extinct fishing boat, utilizing European pleasurable wooden. Following custom, they let it season in the water to was watertight (at this time time Pretôt uses a skinny layer of fresh sealant to sprint up the job). As soon as launched, Pretôt had immense swaths of the river to himself, gliding alongside, propelled by a long vertical oar equivalent to those outdated by gondoliers.

Throughout the identical time, interest modified into rising in the fishing culture that had founded L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgues. Jean-Louis Borel, a local fisherman and river fanatic, led the motion to raise abet the Confrérie di Pescaïre Lilen and revive one of the important river’s lost traditions.

“Fishing with a salvage on the river, fancy our ancestors did, modified into illegal in the tiresome ’70s. It restful is, by the manner,” says Borel. A person on a mission, he sought out any person to educate him how the nets have been made and straight forward the manner to throw them.

“The other folks fishing with nets who I learned from have been in actuality poachers attached to their custom,” Borel says. However their files modified into important to rebuilding the Confrérie. And in 1977, the reborn guild placed on the foremost festival of Peche d’antan, loosely translated as “fishing of bygone days,” in the heart of the village. The festival’s measurement and recognition has grown each year. The tournament begins with a parade of négo chins, quite lots of them constructed by Pretôt. Frail fishing intention demonstrations apply. It’s the fully time of year that salvage-fishing is allowed on the Sorgues, and even then the fish are thrown abet into the water. Outdoors of the festival, fishing with nets incurs a stout blooming.

Pretôt uses a long oar to push a négo chin along (left); the Sorgues River, known for its clarity and year-round chilly temps, flows nearly 30 miles past several small villages in Provence.
Pretôt uses a long oar to push a négo chin alongside (left); the Sorgues River, identified for its readability and year-round chilly temps, flows virtually 30 miles past several tiny villages in Provence. Quentin Boehm; Daniele Schneider/Getty Photos

Other, much less-ragged festival actions encompass négo chin races up and down the canals: After they circulate below low footbridges in the village, boat navigators flatten themselves to the decks, hoping no longer to seize a tumble into the chilly river.

Borel sees a more healthy river at this time time than all the plan thru his youth, no topic development and increased tourism. “At the present time, we have a river that compares with one of the important most pristine and sought-after rivers in Canada thru trout fishing,” he says.

“Must you streak out on the Sorgues, to fish, to swim, or gorgeous to take a seat, the river has a technique of harnessing your attention, so you factor in of nothing else. The Sorgues has its have universe,” says the most up to the moment Confrérie president, François Arnaud.

As for Pretôt, who led the négo chin’s revival, he is aware of that he obtained’t be building these boats without finish. Fortunately, the craft has been picked up by one more so-known as “water-carpenter” in the village.

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“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching