Among the two dozen dories described in John Gardner’s seminal 1978 The Dory Book, one has always piqued my interest: The St. Pierre Working Dory. Unique to the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, south of Newfoundland, the “”grande doris” is described as as having the “hull of an overgrown Bank dory, with lofty bow and lofty stern resulting from an accentuated sheer and rocker.” This huge dory–in the range of 27 feet long, has a remarkable distinction: “there is no remembered instance of a ‘grande doris’ being lost, or of any fisherman being drowned from one.” Quite a record on the deadly Grand Banks.
Also, they are staggeringly beautiful.
My infatuation with these behemoths only multiplied when I visited one in Great Cove last year. and I chose that design to modify in my Elements of Boat Design class at WoodenBoat School. I planned to make my way to St. Pierre one day and see if there were any remnants. There were a few problems. St. Pierre is hard to get to, and I don’t speak French.
But this year, I decided, was the year. After wandering about in Newfoundland for a week, I made my way to Fortune, where the ferry departs for St. Pierre–which is technically France. A fellow near the customs office asked me if I had accommodations. “No,” I said. “The internet says there are no vacancies, but I’m sure I will find something.” “No you won’t,” he replied. “It’s Bastille Day. Everything has been booked solid for two weeks.” I muttered something about having my camping gear and he shrugged. This added to my challenge.
I did not really know where to look, but had met a fellow in Newfoundland who told me of a group of folks calling themselves Les Zigotos (zee-go-TOSE) (the weirdos) who were involved somehow with dories. I asked how to find them and he said, “Oh you’ll find them.” To be honest I was quite amused with how nebulous and unlikely my quest was becoming. But he was right. As we entered the harbor, there they were.
A mess of them.
After clearing customs I wandered down the waterfront and yes, I had found them. Dories everywhere.
Each slip along the waterfront has its own wooden capstan to pull the flat-bottomed boats up above high tide.
Five of the brightly-painted fishing sheds have been taken over by Les Zigotos. Three are full of boating and fishing gear. One is a museum. And the last one is the clubhouse. I wandered in and timidly asked. “Are you the Zigotos?” Much affirmation, mostly in French, a huge welcome, and a beer. Jean Luis spoke pretty good english and became my guide for much of the day, telling me about the tribe. Around 1990 they realized the St. Pierre Dories were all but extinct and formed their group. They resurrected two remaining boats and began rebuilding the fleet. They now have eleven.
Gerard, the chief Zigoto, arrived around two o’clock to take folks for a ride in his grandfather’s rebuilt dory. It’s powered with a small diesel, although his grandfather originally had an old car engine with a three-speed transmission. Gerard allowed as how that didn’t work very well. It’s a direct drive to the propellor, which can be pulled up into the hull in the shallows or for beaching, flexing at a universal joint near the engine.
On Grande Colombier–a neighboring island–were an incomprehensible number of nesting murres–small seabirds that stand penguin-like on the rocks, guarding their eggs, in flocks of up to one million. I lost count at about 943,221. They’re pretty hard to see in this picture. Take my word for it.
The North Atlantic there is a lovely shade of aqua.
Ile aux Marins, across the harbor from St. Pierre, was once heavily populated before the fisheries collapsed. A few well-kept homes remain.
I wasn’t back ashore long before being invited to go rowing. Jean Luis is passing us here with a motorized excursion.
And shortly after that I heard “Brad!” with beckoning hands. Another expedition around the harbor. I’ve no idea what all the chatter was about but apparently it was quite funny as the laughter was constant. Jean Luis is in the foreground here on the right.
Evening light served to accentuate the beauty of the dories.
This is Gerard’s grandfather’s boat.
A fish box, for hauling cod ashore from the dories.
And the party began ramping up.
Many Zigotos came and went; wine, beer, and whiskey aplenty were offered.
I picked out my lodging for the night. Le Larry, a relatively new dory with suitable floor space. I asked permission and was told sure, but wouldn’t you rather sleep in one of the buildings? No. I like boats. This seemed weird even to the weirdos.
Before dark, Gerard took me across town to the workshop, named for Gerard’s father Pierre.
It is a mammoth old warehouse, part workshop, part museum.
A portrait of the islands, a boat, and a cod, made entirely of cod skin.
A picture of the old days on the waterfront.
Plans for St. Pierre Dories.
Les Zigoto’s latest new dory. A real beauty.
Back at the clubhouse the party continued. More food, more drink. More levity. More Zigotos. I asked if this sort of behavior was unique to Bastille Day. “No. We do this every day—if it isn’t raining.”
Then the Bastille Day fireworks began.
Once the public show was over the Zigotos had another one of their own.
I finally slipped off to bed in Le Larry. At first light I heard Les Zigotos loading up the boats. They don’t just talk the talk. They walk the walk, going out most mornings to hand-line cod. They live the life.
Oops. They forgot something.
And back out again.
It was such an incredible feeling to find my tribe–in another country, another language. A group of wonderful people devoted to this shape, this amazing boat. I am so lucky.
Sunrise from Le Larry.