Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
First Part-Sieur Clubin
Book VI. The Drunken Steersman and the Sober Captain.
I. The Douvres.
AT ABOUT five leagues out, in the open sea, to the south of Guernsey, opposite Pleinmont Point, and between the Channel Islands and St. Malo, there is a group of rocks called the Douvres. The spot is dangerous.
This term Douvres, applied to rocks and cliffs, is very common. There is, for example, near the Cotes du Nord, a Douvre, on which a lighthouse is now being constructed, a dangerous reef; but one which must not be confounded with the rock above referred to.
The nearest point on the French coast to the Douvres is Cape Brehat. The Douvres are a little farther from the coast of France than from the nearest of the Channel Islands. The distance from Jersey may be pretty nearly measured by the extreme length of Jersey. If the island of Jersey could be turned round upon Corbiere, as upon a hinge, St. Catherine's Point would almost touch the Douvres, at a distance of more than four leagues.
In these civilised regions the wildest rocks are rarely desert places. Smugglers are met with at Hagot, custom-house men at Binic, Celts at Brehat, oyster-dredgers at Cancale, rabbit-shooters at Cesambre or Cęsar's Island, crab-gatherers at Brecqhou, trawlers at the Minquiers, dredgers at Ecrehou, but no one is ever seen upon the Douvres.
The sea birds alone make their home there.
No spot in the ocean is more dreaded. The Casquiets, where it is said the Blanche Nef was lost; the Bank of Calvados; the Needles in the Isle of Wight; the Ronesse, which makes the coast of Beaulieu so dangerous; the sunken reefs at Preel, which block the entrance to Merquel, and which necessitates the red-painted beacon in twenty fathoms of water, the treacherous approaches to Etables and Plouha; the two granite Druids to the south of Guernsey, the Old Anderlo and the Little Anderlo, the Corbiere, the Hanways, the Isle of Ras, associated with terror in the proverb:
"Si Jamais flu passes le Ras, Si to ne meurs, tu trembleras;" the Mortes-Femmes, the Deroute between Guernsey and Jersey, the Hardent between the Minquiers and Chousey, the Mauvais Cheval between Bouley Bay and Barneville, have not so evil a reputation. It would be preferable to have to encounter all these dangers, one after the other, than the Douvres once.
In all that perilous sea of the Channel, which is the Ęgean of the West, the Douvres have no equal in their terrors, except the Paternoster between Guernsey and Sark.
From the Paternoster, however, it is possible to give a signal-a ship in distress there may obtain succour. To the north rises Dicard or D'Icare Point, and to the south Grosnez. From the Douvres you can see nothing.
Its associations are the storm, the cloud, the wild sea, the desolate waste, the uninhabited coast. The blocks of granite are hideous and enormous-everywhere perpendicular wall-the severe inhospitality of the abyss.
It is in the open sea; the water about is very deep. A rock completely isolated like the Douvres attracts and shelters creatures which shun the haunts of men. It is a sort of vast submarine cave of fossil coral branches- a drowned labyrinth. There, at a depth to which divers would find it difficult to descend, are caverns, haunts, and dusky mazes, where monstrous creatures multiply and destroy each other. Huge crabs devour fish and are devoured in their turn. Hideous shapes of living things, not created to be seen by human eyes, wander in this twilight. Vague forms of antennae, tentacles, fins, open jaws, scales, and claws float about there, quivering, growing larger, or decomposing and perishing in the gloom, while horrible swarms of swimming things prowl about seeking their prey.
To gaze into the depths of the sea is, in the imagination, like beholding the vast unknown, and from its most terrible point of view. The submarine gulf is analogous to the realm of night and dreams. There also is sleep, unconsciousness, or at least apparent unconsciousness, of creation. There, in the awful silence and darkness, the rude first forms of life, phantomlike, demoniacal, pursue their horrible instincts.
Forty years ago, two rocks of singular form signalled the Douvres from afar to passers on the ocean. They were two vertical points, sharp and curved-their summits almost touching each other. They looked like the two tusks of an elephant rising out of the sea; but they were tusks, high as tall towers, of an elephant huge as a mountain. These two natural towers, rising out of the obscure home of marine monsters, only left a narrow passage between them, where the waves rushed through. This passage, tortuous and full of angles, resembled a straggling street between high walls. The two twin rocks are called the Douvres. There was the Great Douvre and the Little Douvre; one was sixty feet high, the other forty. The ebb and flow of the tide had at last worn away part of the base of the towers, and a violent equinoctial gale on the 26th of October, 1859, overthrew one of them. The smaller one, which still remains, is worn and tottering.
One of the most singular of the Douvres is a rock known as "The Man." This still exists. Some fisherman in the last century visiting this spot found on the height of the rock a human body. By its side were a number of empty sea-shells. A sailor escaped from shipwreck had found a refuge there; had lived some time upon rock limpets, and had died. Hence its name of "The Man."
The solitudes of the sea are peculiarly dismal. The things which pass there seem to have no relation to the human race; their objects are unknown. Such is the isolation of the Douvres. All around, as far as eye can reach, spreads the vast and restless sea.