Erected by the hundreds facing the sea, the oak breakwaters of Saint-Malo, hundred-year-old guardian angels of the corsair city’s dykes, are undergoing a spectacular renovation on the occasion of a construction site that must deal with the daily tide.
“It moves me, I wanted to take a picture, we have heard so much about it,” Myriam Cocherel, 56-year-old Malouine, told AFP, facing the backhoe loader dancing on the main beach in Sillon.
Scrutinized by dozens of curious people, the machine operators get busy under a beautiful autumn sun before the tide rises. Their grapples gently seize the 7-meter-long oak stakes installed 200 years ago over nearly three kilometers to break the waves that throw against the dike.
After digging a 2.5-meter trench around the breakwaters, the new oak piles from the forests of the great west are plumbed using a steel frame, then the whole is backfilled with sand and crushed stones.
“We make about 30 piles per day. To obtain the appearance of the old piles, we need gnarled oaks, a little tortured along the length, and they have to take to sea”, explains Laurent Vidoni, site manager at Merceron TP, for whom the most difficult is “having to deal with the tide and its coefficients every day”.
In total, the corsair city has 3,000 breakwaters, most of them installed by the Ponts et Chaussées in 1825, even if the first, one meter high, were planted in 1698 after violent equinox tides, according to historian Gilles Foucqueron.
Legendary, they already appeared in the Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe by Chateaubriand. The writer tells how, as a child, he hid in this well-ordered forest, climbing and sometimes falling from the top of the stakes, bathed in the waves at high tide.
– “Little piece of history” –
“If we don’t have these breakwaters, the joints that we see between the stones jump to the onslaught of the waves (…) It creates a void behind and there is a risk of collapse, so there is It is very important to put these piles in place to protect the dike behind “, explains to AFP Sandrine Mary, project manager at the DDTM of Ille-et-Vilaine (Departmental Directorate of Territories and the Sea), helmet of construction site and fluorescent yellow jacket.
During the project led by the State, a thousand will be moved and five hundred preserved. “It’s impressive because it has never been done even if occasionally breakwaters have already been replaced,” continues Ms. Mary.
The project, which started on November 15 and is due to be completed at the end of February, represents an investment of 1.7 million euros, financed by the State. Once the breakwaters and the dike have been rehabilitated, their ownership will be transferred from the State to the agglomeration of Saint-Malo within the framework of new powers on flood prevention.
“I am pleasantly surprised by the result, it does not make a stick of surimi, even if it is necessary to give them time to skate”, jokes the mayor Gilles Lurton (LR), who came to inspect the premises.
Split, too thin, or rotten from the inside, the old waterlogged breakwaters will be decommissioned and stored in a park in the corsair city before being returned for a symbolic euro to the city, which can use them for decorate its public space.
Many requests also come from individuals, such as Ms. Cocherel, who dreams of having a “little piece of history” at home. “Even if it is only a small piece, for me it is an emblematic memory of Saint-Malo, it is the life of Saint-Malo, it is not something that you find elsewhere”, Justifies the Malouine, sunglasses and beanie well pressed on the head.
Asked about the enthusiasm of the population, the mayor assures us that these wooden treasures will “not be reserved for those who have large means”. “The people of Saint-Malo must be able to take advantage of their heritage,” he warns.