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Natière : The Saint-Malo shipwrecks. Underwater archaeology at Saint-Malo

In 1995, the wrecks of two large corsairs were discovered near Saint-Malo, sunken at the base of the Natière reef. Ten years of underwater archaeological exploration have raised the curtain on a forgotten chapter of commerce raiding. The older of the two wrecks, La Dauphine, was a large 300-tonne warship; it had been built at the royal shipyards at Le Havre in 1703 under the leadership of the shipwright Cochois. Under the command of captain Michel Dubocage, it was escorting an English capture when it foundered near Saint-Malo on 11 December 1704. The second has been identified as l'Aimable Grenot, a 400-tonne frégate built at Granville by a private shipowner, Léonor Couraye du Parc. It was originally fitted for commerce raiding, but was reconverted for trade. It sang on 7 May 1749 as it left Saint-Malo "for a voyage to Cadiz, laden with linens and other merchandise from the area".

After a lengthy and painstaking examination of the vestiges, archaeologists produced computerised images of the two ships; these were then compared with historical and archaeological sources in order to positively identify them. Visitors to the website can explore a three-dimensional reconstruction of La Dauphine, three centuries after it ran afoul of the St Malo coastline.

The site also explores the daily life of the men aboard these vessels, retraces the major national and international trade routes and introduces some of the era's great sea captains and shipbuilders – and all against a background of commerce raiding and naval warfare. A number of the objects discovered are either unique or extremely rare. They include a fragment of a Davis quadrant and a Jacob's staff (two navigation instruments); an astonishing "cannoneer's rule", which was used to determine the calibre of cannons and specify their uses; a wooden pipe-holder in the form of a pistol, complete with pipe; and a miniature wooden boat fashioned from a barrel stave.
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