Along the Seine, on the bank, from the Panorama du Pétrole, which is also on the bank, to the Panorama de la Compagnie transatlantique, which is on the quay, rises a long gallery which includes the various exhibitions of the class 65, navigation and rescue.
It is a very simple wooden and plaster construction, only raised by two porticoes placed at the two ends of the Seine façade. These porticoes, which are accessed by a staircase with a few steps, are formed by a semicircular arch, flanked by two turrets bearing a semaphore, the stays of which are decorated with banners in the national and foreign colours.
In spite of its simplicity, this construction has a sober elegance that pleasantly caresses the eye.
The framework, enhanced with light brown paint, has a very nice effect on the yellowed panels that form the background: it is both serious and cheerful.
Two annexes complete this exhibition: the first is a square building in the same style, placed between the main gallery and the Transatlantic Panorama.
The other is a miniature harbour, which encloses part of the Seine's course opposite the class 65 gallery.
The Exhibition comprises the following main divisions, dictated if not by administrative classification, at least by logic:
La marine de guerre;
The merchant navy;
The pleasure boat;
And finally, what we will call the "joke rescue".
The navy is represented only by the engines of its ships. Its particular exhibition is confused at the Esplanade des Invalides with that of the Ministry of War. This exhibition of engines is infinitely more like clockwork than mechanical construction and does great honour to the Indret shipyards. It includes a series of reproductions in motion, of the machines which make our warships work, and these reproductions to the tenth are not only marvels of execution, but also marvels of accuracy. The last bolt has been reduced and copied in a manner as scrupulous as an important piece. The motion is set in motion, not as is often done by a concealed transmission, but by the introduction into the cylinders of the steam produced by the large generators installed in the annex.
On the wall, the Indre shipyards have placed their roll of honour, the list of the 183 buildings for which they have built boilers and machines since 1829, a total of 280,120 horsepower. This table starts with the timid Pelican, which was a tour de force for its time, with its 160 horsepower, to arrive at the Brennus, today in the shipyard, with 13,500 horsepower, i.e. 90 times more. The Indret shipyards are a true national institution and the first place was due to them in this exhibition, on the walls of which are inscribed the names of those who contributed to the growth of the French navy, or who illustrated the annals of navigation. But in the midst of these names : Colbert, the initiator of our commercial navy, Dumont-d'Urville, who was spared from travelling around the globe, only to die miserably in a railway accident; from Dupuy de Lôme, the bold researcher, whose utopias had as fruitful results for navigation as the experiments of the alchemists of the Middle Ages had for modern science, we regret not to find the names of these two modest, forgotten and disdained men, the Marquis de Jouffroy, the true inventor of steam navigation, and Thomas Sauvage, at the same time an engineer, an artist, a literary scholar, like the artists of the Renaissance, as well as the inventor of the propeller.
The Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée worked for both war and commerce. The magnificent reductions of the Pelayo (Spanish battleship), the Trident, the Formidable, the Duquesne, are there to prove what variety of work comes out of these powerful workshops, on which the governments of the whole world have been, are or will be dependent. One of the main clients of the Chantiers de la Méditerranée is the Messageries maritimes company, which on all the seas show, gloriously carried, the French pavilion stamped with the M. N. which are their rallying sign. Next to reductions of their most beautiful types of ships, the Messageries Nationales have exhibited a life-size deckhouse which constitutes the music room of the Polynesian. It is a rectangular construction projecting approximately 1.75 metres from the rear of this beautiful building. Solid louvers allow, in case of heavy weather, to close hermetically the windows which light it. This salon is beautiful in its decoration and furnishings. It is preceded by a small reading room which, through two doors, one on the port side and the other on the starboard side - let us be local - gives access to the music salon. The walls are entirely made of precious wood, painted panels or marquetry. The general tone is light grey and the furnishings, gold and grey, match this shade. Above the doors are attic figures of artistically crafted musical bears. Large sofas surround the living room and a large central planter. The piano is placed on the front side. This salon is very popular with visitors, who come here to rest.
The large workshops we have mentioned are not the only ones of which our national shipbuilding industry is proud. Let us also mention the Forges et Chantiers delà Gironde, the Forges du Havre, the Forges de la Loire, not to mention the large factories in the interior, which manufacture parts for the navy. Anchors are represented by a shipment from the Forges de la Chaussade, whose exhibition is located on the bank of the Seine.
The Fraissinet generators, petroleum generators for torpedo boats (same manufacturer), Belleville generators, and Belleville food horses should be attached to this part of the Exhibition. The feed horses are devices that introduce water into the boilers without the intervention of a moving mechanism.
This annex also contains the Pascal servo-motors and others, for mechanically manoeuvring the rudder of large liners; some of these devices are sophisticated enough to allow the course to be set simply by turning a small crank on a dial. It is well known that today the term "steering" has no value and that most rudders are operated mechanically.
There are two distinct parts to boating. They have English names, but with good will it can be translated: rowing is boating; yachting is sailing.
I do not know what need was felt to give such naturally French amusements foreign labels. One could canoe in Bougival before William the Conqueror and, without going back to such remote times, the canoeists of Asnières and of the Argenteuil basin, for many aeons, did not ask anything of the perfidious Albion, not even the names of their boats. They used to say: a canoe, a skiff, or, in a more rousing way: a Norwegian, without having recourse to English barbarisms: I helmsman or the helmswoman, wolf or she-wolf of fresh water, shouted: "Catch to saw to assert softly. That was real French mathurin; the dress was fanciful, I agree, but it made the handsome guys and girls stand out, because there were some on the Seine and on the Marne. We had fun, we didn't train, and instead of the solemn match with its juniors, its seniors and all the other nonsense from across the Channel, we simply did the pigeon-hole from the Grande-Jatte to Croissy. The loser paid for the frying and the winner poured in the first Argenteuil.
It is true that the boats of those happy times - we dared to call a boat a boat - were made of wood. Today they are, as can be seen from the types on display, built of precious materials; there is waterproof silk for the top, island wood for the walls, silver for the fittings, velvet for the cushions and gold to enhance the varnish. These are very luxurious pieces of furniture, inhabited by canoeists - pardon this vulgar term - no less luxurious, enrolled under the banners of powerful societies: the Rowing-Club, which has translated its name into the more understandable one of Société des régates parisiennes (S. R. P.), blue and red pavilion; the Société nautique de la Marne (S. N. M.) wears white bordered with blue. These colours are also those of the teams.
Yachting is a more serious institution. The fleet which wears the pavilion of the Yacht-Club de France on its mizzen mast, squared off in blue and red with the initials Y. C. F. comprises no less than 200 vessels of various tonnages, of which the most perfect type is represented by the Eros, the steam yacht of Baron de Rothschild.
In the tiny harbour half a dozen yachts, either steam, sail or oil-powered, sway melancholically; this exhibition must be related to that of Yachting.
It is a little more moving to stop for a moment and look at the Maman Poydenot.
The Maman Poydenot is in flesh and blood - in canvas and wood, I mean - with all its equipment and machinery, a brave lifeboat which has Saint-Guénolé as its home port and the scene of its exploits. It is the Central Society for the Rescue of Shipwrecked Persons which has exhibited this boat. This society is known to all our sailors; its green pavilion, the colour of hope, stamped with a gold star - Stella maris, - is hailed very low from Dunkirk to Biarritz and from Nice to Cape Cerbera. It has so often brought salvation with it!
Do you know that, in the 25 years of its existence, this society has rescued 474 ships and saved nearly 5,000 people? Do you know that it maintains on our coasts, with the help of voluntary subscriptions alone, posts where devotion is so much a part of the custom that people no longer pay attention to it? The motto of the society is Virtus et Spes, courage and hope; there are few better realised.
A station consists of a dinghy on a trolley, which allows it to be transported to the point on the coast where its help is needed, a gun and rescue equipment, first-aid boxes, etc. It costs 30,000 francs to install. It costs 30,000 francs to set up a post, with a canoe like Maman Poydenot; there are generous hearts who find it good to give the Society a complete post from time to time, but the bulk of the offerings come from the small pennies slipped into the Society's trunks - little tricoloured canoes - out of the gratitude of the saved.
It is dark and heavy. A ship is lying on the shore, helpless, without a cross or a battery. It is going to sink. Under the sea spray, under the blows of the sea that tear the face like a whip, the boat is launched into the sea. Twelve men boarded it. They are brave and tough, believe me; they know that, despite their life belts and the unsinkability of their canoe, death can pay for each of their oar strokes. The skipper is a sea-wolf baked by all the suns, tanned by all the breezes, often old, always solid as a bridge, sometimes with the red ribbon on his blue knit.
Hardier, children! stump up! and we stump up. Ah, this is not rowing; this is the fight for the lives of others, a battle in which each rescuer puts his own skin at stake. You arrive at the ship in distress, you throw a mooring line over it, you take on board what you can, women or children, and you go ashore, to come back again, and like that until the end.
Sometimes the sea is too rough; it is impossible to get the boat afloat. Then the mooring gun sends out its arrow, which unwinds a rope ingeniously coiled, the arrow arrives in the mast.
After this first rope another one is sent, stronger, then a final one in double. This constitutes a back and forth movement. A buoy with a sack glides through the water guided by the rope, snatching one by one the castaways from death.
When you meet it, greet the green pavilion with the gold star. It's a rag-tag skull, come on, and it's as good as any on the battlefield.
Almost as much as perpetual motion, rescue has its utopians and its monomaniacal seekers. It is to these good people, who are not very dangerous after all, that we owe the mattress-canoe-paddle post, which prevents you from sinking at night, your bunk being transformed into a raft of the Medusa with oar, sail and all that is necessary to make shipwreck.
There is also the bather's hat. This is a marvel. If you have a drink, the hat comes off and lies on the surface of the water, connected to you by an uncoiling cord. It doesn't prevent you from drowning, but you are brought to the attention of the kindred spirits by the little buoy that floats along, guiding your corpse.
In this part of the rescue for laughs, we must classify the individual descending devices for burned theatres. Each spectator being provided with his own device, enclosed, says the inventor, in a case like a spyglass case, - it is enough to descend through the windows if the staircases are burnt. This is the infancy of the art.
More serious are the rescue ladders, various models of which are displayed either inside or outside the gallery. But it can be assumed that the real rescue ladder, i.e. one that offers all the conditions of mobility, stability and safety, does not yet exist. This is an open avenue for research by professional inventors. - The exhibition of fire appliances is not very varied: ladders, helmets and pumps; pumps, helmets and ladders.
We could have done better. It is not very moving, although it could have been very moving.
©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Paul Le Jeinisel.