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1793 - Le petit Neptune, or French coasting pilot, along the coasts of Aunis and Saintonge

Thursday 29 May 2008, by Pierre, 1707 visites.

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

What shall we do along the French coasts, early in the morning (in 1793) ?

The English sailors knew very well these coasts, and they often came back here, not only for fishing !

Source : Le petit Neptune, or French coasting pilot - London - 1793 - Books Google


From Olonne to Pertuis Breton the coast runs about 6 leagues to the E S E. The land is all low, both on the coast of Poitou and of Isle de Re. You may sail in the mid-channel between them, or approach nearer the main land, because of the bank of St. Martin, or Peu Breton, which shoots almost into the middle of the channel towards the east. When you have the church of St. Martin bearing S S W you may again steer to Isle de Re, and cast anchor before St. Martin in 3, 4, 5, or 6 fathoms water; mud and sand.

On the coast of the main, exactly at Pointe de la Trenche, which forms the entrance of Bay Moran, are also banks, which run out a great ¼ of a league, and require caution. When you are past St. Martin’s road, and are bound for La Palisse or La Rochelle with a great ship, you must approach the main land at one third of its distance from Isle de Ré, because of a bank of mud and sand in the middle of the channel, on which there are from 15 to 16 feet at low water, but on its north side you have 5 or 6 fathoms. This bank is not very dangerous, because it is soft ; however it is good not to touch upon it. When you are past this bank, and have Pointe du Plomb, which is at the western extremity of Bay Moran; bearing N E you may again steer towards Isle de Ré, and anchor in the road of La Palisse, if you think fit, under the fort of La Prée, in 6 or 7 fathoms water; muddy bottom: or else go to the road of Chef de Bois, always following the middle of the channel, till you open La Rochelle, and then steer east into the road, where you anchor in 5, 6, 7, or 8 fathoms water; muddy ground.

When you sail from St. Martin in a ship that draws from 11 to 12 feet water, and it happens to be low tide, no account is made of the bank before-mentioned, and consequently at high water less notice is to be taken of it, for there is then water enough upon it for passing without the least apprehension. There is also a pass between this bank and Isle de Ré, in 4 fathoms at low water. But from the point of the island a bank of sand and mud stretches a good way in the sea, and renders that passage narrow. Great ships commonly wait for the tide to pass over the said bank.

In luffing, either at entering or coming out of Pertuis Breton, the following marks are to be observed for avoiding St. Martin’s Bank, which consists of thick flints, and has but 5 or 6 feet water on it at low water, where deepest.

When you run along the coast of Isle de Ré, and begin to bring the first houses of the village of Oye into a line with the steeple of Ars, then is the time for tacking about; for if you should wait till that steeple comes to the middle of the village, you will be upon the bank : and when you steer along the coast of the continent you may then go in 8 or 9 fathoms water; for without the said bank, as you make to the west in the middle of the channel, you will find from 12 to 14 fathoms. But when you have brought the said steeple of Ars in a line with a mill that stands on the south extreme of Oye, you are then within the bank, and may steer into the road, where you come to an anchor as before mentioned.


At the west point of Isle de Ré lies a great rocky bank, which is never uncovered, and extends ¾ of a league into the sea. A great tower is erected on that point, and a fire made on it every night, for avoiding this bank, which is named Les Baleines d’Ars (the whales of Ars).

On the south side of the said isle, from the Baleines to about half ways its length, are rocks which stretch a good quarter of a mile wide of land; and at its extremity another bank of rocks, called Champ Chardon, extending a good ½ league off the shore.

Moreover, at the S E end of this isle, under the village of Sainte Marie, there is yet another bank or point which advances into the sea a good ¼ of a league, and requires caution, either in coming in or going out of the Pertuis d’Antioche.

E S E view of the Tower of Cordouan
From an original engraved by order of Louis XIII in 1636


About 10 ½ leagues from the west point of Isle de Ré, in the Atlantic Ocean, lies the shoal of Roche Bonne, 1 league long from east to west, and ½ a league broad. To the N W of this you find the Banches Vertes, another shoal, whose size is about half the extent of the former, from which it is se parated by a channel, through which you may pass in 30 fathoms; both shoals consist of many rocks above and under water; they are steep to, and have from 20 to 30 and 40 fathoms near them.


About a small ½ league wide of the eastern end of Isle de Re, there is another small bank with not above 2 of 3 feet on it at low water, and which dries in spring tides. This bank, called Laverdin, is very dangerous to those who enter, or go out through the two Pertuis, viz. the Pertuis Breton, and the Pertuis d’Antioche. For avoiding it observe the following marks:

When you enter by the Pertuis Breton, and design for La Rochelle, you must steer nigher to the coast of Laleu than to Isle de Ré, till you have the land of Plomb, or the whole Bay of Moran hidden by the point of La Repentie ; after which you may make directly in a straight course for the road of Chef de Bois, and there come to an anchor as aforesaid. If you enter by the Pertuis d’Antioche, you must keep the lanthorn tower in full view, and not bring it to the point of Chef de Bois, which would infallibly throw you upon the Laverdin. When you bring the point of Chef de Bois to the lanthorn tower, and the point of La Repentie to the Point du Plomb, or discover the eastern coast of Moran by the point of La Repentie, you are then on-the said bank of Laverdin. You may however pass quite round it, for between it and Isle de Ré are from 5 to 6 fathoms water.


The Pertuis d’Antioche is between Isle de Ré and that of Oleron, having above 2 leagues in breadth. But at the end of the northern point of Oleron lies a great bank, or ledge of rocks, called the Antioches, or Antiochois, which extends full ¾ of a league wide of the coast to the W N W ; wherefore you must follow the middle of the channel, or else steer nigher to Isle de Ré than to the Isle of Oleron, always taking care of Point St. Mary in Isle de Ré. Afterwards, when you are got within it, you make use of the marks, as before directed, for keeping off the Laverdin, for there is no other danger in your course to the road of Chef de Bois.

On the north-easternmost point of Oleron stands a light-house, called the Tower of Chassiron, where a large fire of wood is kept in every night ; it has two fire places, one above another, that sailors may easily distinguish it from the Tower of Cordouan at the mouth of the Gironde.

If you would enter the port of La Rochelle, or the Digue, coasting pilots are required. At the entrance of the Digue, on the larboard side in entering, there is a mast erected, to which you pass very close. It is dry every tide, both within the Digue, and in the harbour of La Rochelle.

The tides are from ½ an hour after 3 to 4 o’clock, at the new and full moon.

When you go from La Rochelle to the river of Charente, Brouage, Oleron, or Seudre, you take a pilot at La Rochelle, who conducts you to the place intended. We will, however, give some directions to be observed in those courses, in case you should be obliged to make them without an opportunity of taking a pilot with you.


When you sail from Chef de Bois, for Oleron, Brouage, Seudre, or Charente, you must look out for the Isle of Aix. The course to this island is 3 leagues southward ; it is a-flat island, on which are a number of small houses, with an old church of stone. You steer 3 or 4 cables length wide of this isle. There are many rocks about it, but the most dangerous ate nearest to the continent. Off the Isle of Aix, between it and Oleron, but nearer to Oleron, a great bank, partly dry at every tide, and 2 leagues in length, lies S E and N W, as is the coast of Oleron : it has passages all round, but scarce ever a vessel passes between it and Oleron. The channel between this bank and the Isle of Aix is a good ½ league in breadth, and is that which all ships take in their course to Oleron, Seudre, Brouage, and Charente, or for coming out by Maumusson. This isle lies east on the larboard, in making for the abovesaid places ; and if the ship be bound for Charente, you range along the whole length of the isle on the eastern side, steering eastward till you arrive at the opening of the river Charente, and anchor between the isle and the river, in expectation of a pilot; for the Charente is never entered without a pilot.

One might also pass to the north of the Isle of Aix, but it is very dangerous, both on account of the rocks at the point of Fouras, and of those at the N E end of the Isle of Aix. There is a bank at the southern point of the river Charente, called the Palles, which extends a great way into the sea, on the side towards the Isle of Aix; and therefore it is best to anchor near the isle in 7 or 8 fathoms water. Between this isle and the point of La Rochelle, along the main land, lie several banks of rocks, which stretch off a full ¼ of a league into the sea, and must be avoided.


When you are bound from the Isle of Aix to Brouage, you are to steer S SE, keeping the steeple of Hiers to the north of a wood which is nearer the sea than the said steeple, till you bring the Tower of Fouras to a tiled house on the south side of the river Charente. Then your course must be S E and S E-1/4 E, till the village facing you, which stands on the brink of the sea, comes to the north of Soubise ; and when Soubise shall be within the said village, or in a line with the mill that is above it, you are near the rock called Banc aux Huitres (or oyster bank), which lies directly before the mouth of the haven. After this steer SE¼ S, till you bring the westernmost steeple of Hiers in a line with the westernmost Sandy Hummock, on which there is a gibbet, and keep it thus while you are sailing S S E inwards; and when the steeple shall come to you by the eastern side of the valley which is in the wood, hold them so, and entering by these marks, proceed till you come before Brouage.

The tides are at 4 o’clock, and the currents very strong.

To go to Seudre, or to pass through Maumusson, it is necessary to have the country pilots; for these channels are not very steady, and particularly that of Maumusson. They change very often, and are besides very winding and narrow, with a multitude of banks and rocks, which cannot well be described.


The Isle of Oleron is above 5 1/2 leagues in length, S E and N N W, and 2 leagues over in the broadest part. It is almost entirely surrounded with banks, and therefore it is not safe to approach it too near. On the southern side between the point of Maumusson and the end of Oleron are several banks, which almost bar the passage, and leave generally but a very narrow channel, and shifting very often. This passage is called Passe, or Pertuis de Maumusson.

 General Directions for sailing in between the ISLE of OLERON, ISLE D’AIX, and ISLE DE RE, by an English Officer.

The leading mark to avoid the shoals on the west side of the Isle D’Aix, is to bring Fort Madam open with the S W point of the island, then the said point will bear S S E. Keep the mark a handspike’s length open, and you will have 7 or 8 fathoms water: this mark will do for an eastern turning mark. For your western turning mark there is a spire steeple on the main, to the southward of Brouage steeple (which is also a spire steeple); keep it a large sail’s breadth open with the southernmost point of Oleron, and that will bear S by E. Observe not to approach Oleron nearer than 12 or 11 fathoms water; nor Isle de Ré nearer than 6 or 7.


About 14 leagues W ¼ N of the northern point of Oleron, and 8 leagues southward of the eastern point of Isle d’Yeu, lie 2 rocky banks, called Roche Bonne, and Les Banches Vertes. These rocks appear even with the water at low tide. The first bank is above 1 league in length, and the second near ¾ of a league. They are near each other, and there is a passage between them, with sufficient depth for the largest ships; however, they are very dangerous, and require great caution.

From Oleron, or the entrance of Maumusson, to Point la Coubre, it is necessary to keep off at sea a little wider, because of several points of banks, stretching off from the Isle of Oleron, which must not be approached within 15 or 16 fathoms water. Then you may sail near the coast of Arvert, if you choose to pass through the Petite Passe, which is along that coast, and must steer very close to the shore till you are got within the river of Bourdeaux. This passage is very narrow, having no more than 1 ½ fathom, or 2 fathoms water, and serves only for barks which enter that way with the tide; but it is very inconvenient, as high winds make there a great swell.

 Sailing Instructions for the ENTRANCE of the GIRONDE, or RIVER of BOURDEAUX; by Mons. MAGIN, Engineer to the French Navy.

The entrance of the River of Bourdeaux is easily known by a fine light-house, commonly called Tower of Cordouan [1], which is of the greatest utility in lighting ships during the night, and being their guide in the day-time.

The disposition of the rocky and sandy banks which lie at the mouth of this river, makes five channels, through which the vessels enter, viz. the Channel of Charantais ; Channel of Matelier, or of Saintonge ; Channel of Lescameau ; Channel of La Porte ; and Channel de Graves.

[1This tower, the most magnificent light-house in Europe, has been erected by order of Henry IV. it was began in 1584, by Louis de Foix, and finished in 1611 : its height was 169 feet, French measure ; but in 1727 the upper part of it being found calcined, at that time, by the force of the fire, an iron lanthom, in the form of a dome, was substituted in its place. This lanthorn is supported by four strong iron pillars, the whole being 22 feet high, so that the present height of the tower, and lanthorn taken together, is 175 feet. The diameter of this vast fabric, is 20 fathoms, and 5- feet, French measure, and the gate opens to the E S E. The fire-place on the top holds 225 pounds of coals, which being lighted every night, when the sun sets, continues burning till his rising next morning.

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