Achieving the Impossible: Building the Cherbourg Breakwater

What has this to do with building a breakwater? Find out on Saturday!

I shall be presenting some of the fruits of my Cherbourg research at 7.30pm on Saturday 2 February at the Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Custom House Quay, Weymouth – for those of you who aren’t watching the rugby, of course!

The bizarre science-fiction world of Ancien Regime inventors and engineers is the setting for this richly illustrated account of the building of the Cherbourg breakwater.

Giant wooden cones competed with Montgolfier balloons for the public’s attention, as a war-hungry naval minister manipulated the king to realise the prestige project which would end war with England for ever, by creating France’s first deep-water Channel port.

From the rivalry and feuding between different engineering corps gradually emerged the science which shaped Europe’s first offshore breakwater, just as the shadows of the Revolution descended.

The grim truth of its cost in human life became even more apparent as tragic efforts were made under Napoleon to discover an effective method to resist the immense power of the sea and raise and maintain the breakwater above sea level.

What was supposed to take a few years took nearly a century to achieve, during which time Cherbourg can claim to have been the parent of breakwaters all over the world, including our very own Portland breakwater.

Visiting Cherbourg will never be the same after you’ve lived through this gripping tale!`

Steve Fraser

Submitted on Monday, 28th January