More Keels Than I Can Haul

Salon Nautique Features
Big Boats, Little Boats
and Old Boats and Other Stuff

Paris:- Friday, 29. November 1996:- When I think really hard about it, I can not remember ever having been to a boat show before. If I was, it must have been forgettable. Yet I intended to go to last year's - the 35th edition - but last year there were the transport strikes, and that was that.

It looked kind of dodgy this week with the trucker's tightening their barricades ever closer to Paris, but by today the threat seems to have eased off, and I'm taking the public transport anyway.

As you may have noted, the Salon Nautique does not start until tomorrow, but I am here today to get the free press goodies, that will be handy to plan a good report with, but weigh a ton, so this is not all play. Also the Parc des Expositions recently changed its official name and I thought it worthwhile to find out if there is anything else I need to know about this, but no - it is now simply: 'Paris Expo.' Still at the Porte de Versailles of course.

Sail Boat

I have a colleague who reports on the French boat scene for German magazines and he told me that the Salon would be busy today, finishing off stands and sawing things and banging and cables all over the place - so I am only really here for the bumpf and not expecting much.

They generously give me as little paper as I want and a card and I decide to look for the stand of the Musée de la Marine and the Porte de Paris - by starting at the bottom of the stairs and walking straight ahead.

The first thing I do not notice is signs of putting a Salon together. It looks finished to me, and patiently waiting for 315,000 visitors to visit its 904 exhibitors, spread around 81,000 square metres of exhibition space. There are supposed to be 31 countries represented, not to mention many of France's own maritime regions.

According to the official history, the first salon was in 1926 and it was held on or near the banks of the Seine, where it was easy to demonstrate boats. The salon had ever greater successes with the public until the middle of the depression in the '30's, when the military started to become prominent.

There were no salons from 1939 to 1946, and for a while after the second war there were two salons; one for pleasure craft and another for industrial marine, and then they merged and industrial dominated until the economy got going again in the early '50's, and interest revived in pleasure boating and water sports.

And at this point, the 'history' means little to me as I know absolutely nothing about pleasure boats except that old shiny wooden CrissCraft inboard speedboats still look neat - there is one here - but I do not find the name of the company in the 308-page catalogue.

In the distant past I have rented rowboats, I once spent a freezing and foggy weekend on a very slow sailboat in no wind and I travelled across a large stretch of rough water in a 16-foot plastic speedboat - once - and my main claim to things nautical is three crossings of the Atlantic on Ocean Liners, one of which was the Queen Mary, which bulled its way through a four-day November storm from Southampton to New York.

Of the 1,500 passengers I saw no more than 300 and never all at one time. The third-class veranda bar was a beautiful place to sit for hours and watch the bow disappear beneath the waves about the size of apartment buildings, and drink perfect 25-cent martinis, either New York or London-style. Either very dry or kind of wet. Head barmen were said to arrive at the dock for work in Rollers - but not from this particular crossing, as I could not tip more than the price of a drink without being silly.

So I came here today, hoping to get the information stuff, take a quick look around, and go back to looking for that rare book.

Sail Boat

First off, one can't take a quick look around 81,000 square metres; especially not when it is filled with huge sailboats. Secondly, there were not many of us public here today, but all the stands were manned and ready to go and wanted to try out their pitches, so I got... involved. I got collared by time-share people who wanted me to buy a 'magic key,' that would open doors throughout the world for a week a year so long as I could afford to get there.

I had a long talk with the river police, which will lead to some interesting stuff on and about the Seine and other Paris water areas next spring. Created as recently as 1990, it now has 64 officers and six boats, plus three zodiac types and four four-wheel drive trucks.

After getting an account of the general police organization in France, which is very complicated; I found something really unique.

'La France II Renaissance'

At first I thought it was a branch of the Musée de la Marine, but the 'France II Renaissance' stand turned out to be really special.

To begin with, it has this fairly large and incredibly detailed model of the five-masted bark, 'France.' The original was built in 1911 and it was 150 metres long, 17 metres wide, with 6350 square metres of sail, and had two 900 hp Schneider diesels. From 1913, it ran the nickel route from New Caledonia to France. Its owner enjoyed company so the ship was fitted with a grand piano, a library, hydro-therapy gear, and a couple of cannon for good luck.

The owner, Mr. Prentout, unfortunately died and in 1916 the new owners decided they could do without the props and the diesels and rely solely on the France's acres of efficient and cheap sail - but disaster struck on 11. July 1922, when in a calm sea, the ship struck a reef off New Caledonia and sank.

Today Marie-Luise Allain explained to me how she and her partner, Bernard Bouygues, intend to build a copy of this magnificent ship - hence the name, 'France II Renaissance.'

The two have been working on the project for seven years - and it includes, besides building a replica of the 'France,' also creating a seaside location for a full-scale model, but working, navel shipyard - an 'Académie Maritime' - designed for building sailing vessels. Besides assembling all the artisans necessary, this shipyard would be open to the public as a 'working' museum.

Sail Boat

The 'France II' will be built in sections, by specialists around the country - somewhat in the same way as Airbuses are built. Of course, some of the skills needed are somewhat rare: people capable of creating and installing the rigging for example.

With a budget of 400 million francs, the whole enterprise is constructed as a non-profit undertaking. When finished, the ship will have a crew of 90, including navel cadets. To build the ship, 250 jobs will be created, not counting sub-contractors.

When the ship is completed, it will do goodwill tours for France as well as carry a number of passengers in considerable luxury. Financing to build the ship and the shipyard-museum, is by subscription. For individuals, the starting rate is 200 to 499 francs for the 'Ruban Bleu' class - children under 12 can buy into this for 70 francs. There are other classes, up to 'Gold,' which can be had for 50,000 francs and up, or 100,001 francs for companies. These sums are tax-deductible in France.

The subscription rates are annual, and 75 percent of the money collected goes into a blocked account, for the purpose of the actual construction of the ship. The remainder is for the expenses of the association. Marie-Luise Allain works at an unrelated dayjob full-time, and devotes all her spare time to running the association, and appearing at salons like this one.

For further information, contact Bernard Bouygues at France II Renaissance, 25, rue Paul Vaillant Couturier, 95100 Argenteuil; or fax to (33-1) 39 61 06 08.

The Rest of the Salon Nautique

As I intended only a quick peek today - and got no further than seeing a bit - maybe a quarter - of Hall 1, the Metropole Paris report about the Salon will continue next week. The catalogue has revealed some interesting subjects that will need examining, plus I have a CD-ROM, entitled 'Les Glenans,' which contains an interactive introduction to learning to sail - a fully equipped 10-metre virtual sailboat, and I will do a review of this.

Wish me luck with this sailing lesson. Years ago I had a 'Fokker' tri-wing flight simulator and I was able to take off - but I was never able to land the darn thing.

About the Salon Nautique:

36th Salon Nautique International de Paris

From Saturday, 30. November to Monday, 9. December
Daily from 10:30 to 20:00; on Friday, 6. December, until 23:00
Tel.: 01 41 90 47 10
Official Web site: http://www.SalonNautiqueParis.fr/

Entry price: 60 francs. Children from seven to 13, 30 francs. Children under seven, free. Official catalogue: 60 francs.

Note: The Parc des Expositions - Porte de Versailles has a new name. It is now called simply:

Paris Expo
At the Porte de Versailles
Métro - Porte de Versailles, line 12; or métro station Balard, on line 8. Bus - lines 39 and 49 and on Sundays and holidays, line 80, from Gare Saint-Lazare.

Special RATP deal for the Salon Nautique: round-trip Métro ticket and Salon entry for 65 francs, available at 30 RATP ticket locations and at all major train stations.

All contents copyright © 1996 Metropole Paris unless otherwise stated.
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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