These people lined up on the pier at Pont Tournant are waiting to board a boat called the Adèle, to take them on a one-hour tour of the harbor in Cherbourg, France.
It is also possible to embark on the Quai de France, near the Cité de la Mer.
This sign offers “Guided cruises in Cherbourg harbor” and says: “Embark on board the Adèle for an hour and navigate in sheltered waters in the largest artificial harbor in the world (1500 hectares).”
This was correct when it was printed, but since then an even larger artificial harbor was opened in Qatar, so the one in Cherbourg is now only the second largest in the world — but still the largest in Europe, and a great place for a one-hour boat tour.
You’ll never guess who first floated the idea of building a sea-wall across the bay at Cherbourg, to make it into an artificial harbor.
Well, actually, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you have probably already guessed that it was Vauban, which is correct.
Vauban’s proposal was to build a straight sea-wall or dike directly across the bay, with only one gap in the middle for ships to go in or out. On both sides of the gap, he wanted to build small forts equipped with cannons, to deter possible invaders. In 1686 he wrote a detailed plan for the harbor and the landward defenses of Cherbourg — top secret at the time, but later published as a 102-page book.
Work on the landward side was begun in 1688 by three thousand men aided by eight hundred horses and oxen, but this work was stopped a year later by the war minister, Louvois, on the grounds that fortifying Cherbourg would only make the city harder to re-conquer after it was occupied by the enemy.
Construction of the harbor dikes did not even begin until 1783, ninety-seven years after Vauban’s original proposal. By then, the plans had been expanded to include longer semi-circular dikes with two entrances and several forts, so as to create a much larger harbor than Vauban had envisioned.
Of course, neither Vauban nor his successors in the 18th and early 19th centuries could have foreseen that there would someday be huge steamships crossing the Atlantic in a week or less, and that the steamship companies would find the artificial harbor at Cherbourg ideal for their purposes.
Ships coming from Bremerhaven or Southampton — like the RMS Titanic in 1912, or the SS George Washington in 1928, or the SS Bremen and the SS Europa in 1931 — could steam into the outer harbor, drop anchor, take on hundreds of passengers from the waiting tenders and be off again in less than two hours, thus saving substantial amounts of time and money on the highly competitive North Atlantic route. Cherbourg’s geographical position was also ideal for these companies, since it is at the end of a peninsula sticking up into the Manche aka the English Channel.
This overview of the inner and outer harbors is now on display at the Cité de la Mer. The six red dots at the top of the photo show the locations of the forts along the dikes of the outer harbor.
From 1924 to 1933 the harbor authorities went to considerable expense to dredge and modernize the inner harbor, so that ocean-going ships could be moored directly at the quay by the new railway station. Passengers found this more convenient than riding out to the ships on tenders, but the steamship companies preferred the old way, since maneuvering up to the quay was annoyingly time-consuming. A ship like the Queen Mary, for instance, had to be pulled and shoved for hours (or so it seemed) by six tugboats before it was finally snuggled up against the dock.
My photos and text in this post are from 2021.
See more posts on Cherbourg, France.
See more posts on Sébastien Le Prestre, Marquis de Vauban (1633-1707).
See also: Harbor tours in Kiel and Toulon.
And don’t forget the island of If off the coast of Marseille.