To the north of Douanenez is Brest, a major port for centuries and the focus of extreme conflict during the Second World War. Used as one of the extensive U-Boat bases and a harbour for German battleships, including the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau, Brest was the target of constant allied bombing raids. In 1944 the battle for its liberation was vicious, and by the end of the war literally only a handful of buildings remained standing in the city, including significant sections of the mediaeval harbour fortifications. The images below show Brest harbour before and after the war.
The post-war reconstruction of Brest took years and required huge volumes of concrete that, in turn, demanded huge volumes of sand. Le Dieu Protège ("God Protects") was built in 1951 specifically to excavate, transport, and deliver sand for the rebuilding of the city - the sand trade was thriving. It seems that the first owner had proposed various names to the authorities, all of them refused because of other boats already claiming them. He came up with the name in memory of a small boat sunk in the treacherous coastal waters after delivering the church bell to the island of Ouissant (presumably the protection extended only to the bell....). The boat is 23 meters long, has a capacity of 150 tons of sand, and has double wooden hulls to protect against the abrasive effects of its cargo and the stresses of large volumes of sand being dropped into its hold. It was equipped with sails (below, right), but was motorised and was fitted with a substantial mechanical bucket grab (named in French, le crapaud - the toad).
Until this innovation, sand extraction had taken place by beaching the boat and loading the cargo by hand and shovel, assisted, if on the beach, by horses, as shown in the delightful model at the museum (above, left). The bucket could hold 70 cubic meters of sand at a time, and around two hundred bucketsful of sand needed to be hauled up to fill the hold. [Although quoted from the museum documentation, the bucket capacity seems excessive and the numbers are inconsistent - see comment below]. The remaining requirement was a water pump to remove the 15 tons of water that drained out of every cargo. Four anchors would secure her to an offshore sandbank while she worked.
Le Dieu Protège's working life continued for thirty-five years - her last job was dredging the local harbours. She was purchased by the museum in1990 and restored - and, as the photo below shows, she is being further restored today.
Go down the steep ladder to the hold today (now empty of sand), and there are fascinating movies being shown of the sablière at work in her heyday. I have taken the liberty of extracting a few still images from these:
My thanks to a superb museum - http://www.port-musee.org. There's much, much more to see than Le Dieu Protège, so, if you're in Brittany, take time for a visit.
And I'll leave you with a picture of le sablier at the helm of a gabare sablière - it's a great place for kids.