27 May 2019

le petit minou

WHY LE PETIT MINOU, just now? Well, it is because I have the 2019 Phares de France Calendrier Perpétuel by that hero illustrator of mine Jean Benoît Héron. And this week the featured lighthouse is the aforementioned Le Petit Minou.

OK, sailing up the Goulet de Brest, which we enter somewhere ENE of the previous  week’s featured-feu, (St Mathieu) this lighthouse hoves into view on the Pointe of the same name, north side of the Goulet.  On the picture above it is on the left. From this approach it doesn't look like the Héron elevation,  but instead displays an aspect of whiteness; it is painted thus on its western side and is naked granite on its eastward side. We will come to the lighthouse in the distance in a moment…

Le Petit Minou sits on a small island,  it is a cylindrical stone tower, 28 metres in height, with a lightkeeper's quarters at its base. It can be accessed by a stone bridge and road: but can’t be if you don’t have the right paperwork or key to the gate, as the island is deemed to be part of the Brest Naval Base so one isn’t actually even allowed to photograph Le P-M technically speaking.
The French! What are they like?

Le Petit Minou is the feu antérieur to the next lighthouse we would pass if en route to the naval base by sea (or in our case to the domestic port), namely La Portzic (feu postérieur, octagonal, unpainted, of 35 metres tall, seen distantly in my picture, from shipboard in the Gouletboth these lights were brought into service in 1848 (designed by Louis Plantier: his two designs ringed on this extract from Héron's poster of the phares around these parts) and acting together as a ‘range’ for outgoing
and incoming naval vessels.

Both phares are naval property, so one approaches them with caution especially if one is toting one’s box-brownie, but my limited experience is that what military personnel there are, are mostly too otherwise engaged to trouble themselves with ticking off lighthouse tourists. The controlling semaphore situated at Portzic does have to give the green light (metaphorically speaking) to any vessel wishing to pass into La Rade de Brest and was suitably protected by razor wire when we went that way, but with a gravelled path up to the gated entrance which we used without let or hindrance. We decided not to scale the gate on this occasion but contented ourselves with the view of the tower from a convenient bridge across a gulley carrying the start or end of a coastal path and which passes below the object of our interest. Nevertheless I imagine snapping this configuration may be deemed to be spying so apologies for any inconvenience caused.

The coastal footpath, coming at least from Pointe St Mathieu as far as Brest, is most enjoyable walking.  We have done bits. There is a sobering gun emplacement by Portzic (and others elsewhere) which the authorities have wisely stripped of heavy german naval guns, installed during the last unpleasantness — lest the current guardians of Brest naval base are tempted to fire off warning shots at suspicious passing coracles, or misguided gin palaces.

The lighthouses (both) display red or white aspects: Le Petit Minou two flashes every six seconds, the colour seen depending from whereabouts one observes same, while Portzic is occulting, white or red at twelve second intervals; i.e. Portzic has a continuous red or white light showing, interrupted by two brief periods of darkness at twelve second  intervals, facilitated by shutter mechanisms. Leastways that's how it was; who can tell what appertains now, – our visits were some time ago and LED developments march on. I assume that by using the lights seen and noting their direction one could simply triangulate one's position in the Goulet. Now it will be all GPS and radio beacons etc. I imagine, but the lights probably shine on as back up for when fluff gets into the computers. Red light carries less far, hence the difference in range portrayed in the diagrams above. Oh, and if you are seeing red as you sail in the Goulet you are advised to alter course! Land height has not been accounted for in these range diagrams either: you can't see Le Petit Minou at night from île d'Ouessant, believe me. it is all about what you can see from the water.

I think Le Petit Minou would make a most pleasant retreat, if released from naval duties and with the usual requirement of a little TLC (windows a bit small maybe, and I suspect a lot of stairs). We have seen various French frigates gadding about under its watchful eye (there are radars in the old semaphore tower adjacent, but Le Petit Minou is not usually manned, unlike Portzic). However, one must keep in mind that both of these linked towers only probably contain a spiral stair to the lantern room at the top, the accommodation for the keepers being situated at the base.

All that remains to be added is an observation that the shorelines thereabouts are all dotted about by gun emplacements of various vintages, the most recent of course being those of Todt construction for the occupying forces during the last 'unpleasantness', as part of Adolf's ‘Atlantic Wall'. They are intriguing, sobering, regrettable – the landscape is very slowly absorbing them: they are deemed too difficult and expensive to clear so they remain. Every headland has some sort of fortification in various degrees of disintegration, some of which date back to Napoleonic times.  They don’t detract from the quality of the coastline much . . . in fact in some cases they add something somewhat indefinable.

I like lighthouses y'see.

Acknowledgements go to Jean-Benoît Héron for his wonderful drawings; for the range diagrams I thank A. Déchorgnat, the originator of the excellent Lights of France App which features a number of my own photographs of lighthouses in France and in the UK. The photographs here are of course my own humble records of these two lights.