A small history of this profession, practiced here on our Arcachon Bay. The title seems strange to you? You will find an explanation while you read. First of all, what is a boatman? It is the man who sails ship or the small boat, transporting goods or passengers. In ancient times, that man was called the « nocher » or the « nautonier ». This word has not been used for a long time. Elsewhere, he is called the bargeman, the the ferrymen, the gondolier, ...
The history of the Boatmen of the Arcachon Bay is closely linked with the history itself of the Pays de Buch; the creation of the city of Arcachon, the development of La Teste, the sea bathings, the arrival of railways (1848 La Teste) with the pleasure trains,... We are thus at the beginning of the 19th century. The motor boats don’t exist yet. The people were transported in small boats, with oars or sails. Sailor’s wives are often boatwomen. Either the men are fishing at high sea (the ocean), either they are widows, either their men are serving the state (at that time, the sailors were serving « La Royale » for 6,7 or 8 years! They were sometimes to be called back during hostilities, which could last 1, 2 or 3 years or more!).
Incidentally, these few notes of M. Robert Aufan *
From La Teste, we most of the time reached these installations (sea bathings) with fishing vessels. In 1838, you had to pay; for 3 persons,
- 1,50 francs to go to the Lesca installation,
- 3,50 for the Gaillard and Legallais installations (round trip)
- 4,80 for La Chapelle
But the relations between the tourists and the boatwomen were sometimes submitted to «lively discussions », concerning the prices which were seen as being «too high » by the travelers. This is why the 28th of August 1844, the Mayor of La Teste signed a decree, fixing the prices. They were decreasing gradually depending on the number of passengers, 6 maximimum per boat and they varied this way (per person): La Teste-Aiguillon and Lesca: 1 to 3 francs for the outward journey, La Teste-Gaillard and Legallais: 1,25 to 4 francs for the outward journey La Teste-La Chapelle: 2 to 4,50 francs for the round trip, La Teste-Cap Ferret: 4 to 6 francs for the round trip. In 1845, a new price was fixed by a local decree, on the 24th of April: 1,80 francs up to 3 people from La Teste to the Lesca installation, 2,70 for those of Legallais and Gaillard, 4,80 for the round trip until La Chapelle, 6 francs for the round trip to Ferret or the Bird Island.
This increase of prices had to do with the obligation imposed upon boatwomen, who had to appoint a sailor « for the satisfaction and the security of the travelers ». The decree pointed out that, still for the same reasons, « no craft, said to be « tillole » or « bâtarde », could in any case be transporting more than six people at once ».
*source: La naissance d'Arcachon, de la forêt à la Ville, 1823-1857 » by Robert Aufan, published in 1994. We are thus in the first half of the 19th century and this part of the Bay is full of turmoil. For a long time, the Havre of Arcachon has been roamed with many boats (to read). Trade by maritime way is very active there. The products coming from the neighboring woods are exported, such as gum, pitch, tars, then mine posts. Those are the beginnings of oyster farming, fishing is at its highest. The first steam trawler in the world has been armed in Arcachon, by Captain Allègre in 1840.
The sowing of pines in Aquitaine produces these effects. The country has become a new El Dorado!
Many are the foreigners who set up in the area to make a fortune or to find bankruptcy.
We are this in the middle of the 19th century, the Installations of Baths already exist in Gujan-Mestras and La Teste, at the edge of the beaches, in the districts of Eyrac and until La Chapelle. The inhabitants of Bordeaux especially come there through railroads, arriving at the La Teste Station (Terminus) There are no roads until these installations apart from bumpy roads, taken by sand cars, and apart from the fishing vessels, which are used as means of transport. 1857 Birth of the city of ARCACHON — May 2nd, 1857, Arcachon is established as a municipality through an imperial decree from Napoleon III. It is at the same date that the railroad war between Bordeaux and La Teste is extended until Arcachon. In order to make this investment profitable, the Péreire Brothers, Emile and Isaac (wealthy bankers and main shareholders of the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Midi buy for themselves and for the Compagnie, 96 ha of forest grounds and create the Ville d’Hiver. As soon as the Spring of 1862, avenues and streets are drawn, casinos and villas grow out of the sand. Some stylish villas appear in all styles, in a maze of small « alleys bending windbreak ». The popularity of the sea bathings draws here a « strange colony » of highnesses and celebrities, crowned heads, great families, men of letters and lyrical artists. Cabins and villas were built on the seafront, of almost 3 kilometers long, thus creating the Vill d’Ete. It is the beginning of the rise of Arcachon.
A book published in 1880 indicates the must-do excursions in Arcachon, in particular the maritime ones. A page of this book contains a map of the Bay, drawn by Paul Regnaul, Emile Péreire’s nephew. It is called the Guide de l’Etranger (to be found on the website of a lover of the Bay).
Of course, the sea bathings multiply at the same time as the Villas-Cabins, the new promenades by boat also do, bringing even men who hunt rabbits on the Bird Island, daily! It is for the same reasons that the Cap-Ferret then a desert of sand, unserved by any kind of road, is also a destination for hunting enthusiasts (at this time and until the peninsula, Piquey à la Pointe was the municipality of La Teste de Buch). Little by little, some organized maritime transportations with steamboats which would later be called either the steamer or the courrier (they would be called Longcourriers when they were meant for international purposes). One of the first steamboats, carrying out a line towards the Cap Ferret was « LE BORDELAIS », since 1864 and thus 4 time a week!
We also find the boats: "Le CAMPONAC", "Le POINT du JOUR", Le "VILLE de ROCHEFORT", Le SAINTJOSEPH, l' ILE d' OLERON, Le VIGILANT, le STELLA MARIS, Le BELISAIRE, Le CAP-FERRET, Le DALHIA, Le COURRIER du CAP II.
Many were the boats which, at different times and with more or less life expectancy, insured the service but none left as many memories as the old « COURRIER ». The first « COURRIER du CAP » will be requisitioned in 1914 and sent to Darnelles with seventy-eight fishing vessels. It will return to service in 1919, and will end up as scrap iron in Arcachon, in 1947 (sources Rebsomen, SHAA).
On July 11th 1931, the « COURRIER DU CAP II », primarily called « le Ville de Paimboeuf » was put into service This second Courrier had a sinister memory of the « Saint Philibert » ship, which shipwreck in 1931 made 467 victims. This time would, of course, be interspersed with two world wards, lasting many years and the effervescent activity of Arcachon. It would resume at the end of the 1940s.
The fishing port would also be ranked at the top of the fishing ports in France and this since the beginning of the 20th century. In parallel, in Arcachon, the bordering municipalities around the Bay are developing, and tourism, born with the first paid leave, is open to a constantly growing population. The fame of the Arcachon Bay, widespread by the international press, the coming of celebrities - which story we could not tell here - make of the Arcachon Bay and of the City, a very popular destination. Its climate, its oysters, its fishing port, its beaches, the Pyla Dune, the servicing through railroads,... The absence of roads to go to Cap-Ferret until 1929 will favor the maritime transport for the delivery of goods and travelers until the peninsula.
The first motorized fishing vessels and the automobile small boats took over the service of travelers. Grouped in two rival trade unions, the S.B.A or the « Syndicat des Bateliers Arcachonnais », now the A.B.A, « Amicale..., » and the « Bateliers Indépendants », the sailors fought against each other for some years, each of them praising the worth of their own boats, assailing their rival. It is in 1952 that they made an agreement, built upon some root words, which still transport you: the UNION of the BOATMEN OF ARCHACHON, appointed under the acronym U.B.A. Below, you will find some pictures of the boats, transporting passengers and goods between Arcachon and Cap-Ferret and excursions on the Arcachon Bay, the Bird Island, Piquey,...