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       If there is a character who has all its place in this HISTORY of the LACUSTRE CITY, it is well this Cevenol a little gruff, a little grumpy, a little stubborn, but with a heart of gold, Jean Claude BONNET...
      He is one of those without whom PORT GRIMAUD would not have become such a beautiful city.
      He is one of those who have participated in this beautiful adventure from the beginning, bringing his energy, his strong arms, his skills and his enthusiasm.
      Claude GRAF, Madame MABILEAU, Jean Claude BONNET, 3 residents who have accompanied us for many years: present, available, encouraging...

bilou, Claude et Jean Claude

      I wasn't sure how to talk about him, describe him to you, explain his background here in the Lake District. But after much thought, rather than meeting face to face, I preferred to send him a questionnaire to which he was able to take his time and answer sincerely.
      He didn't cheat, he opened up with modesty to explain his journey, his encounters, his joys and sorrows... without "pathos"... Just a "real talk"...

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Jean Claude BONNET de Port Grimaud
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His childhood :

       It is difficult to be born in the middle of a war, in Saint Hippolyte du Fort in the Cévennes! You have to be strong, solid, ready to accomplish any task to help your family in these difficult times: Bringing in firewood, helping with the grape harvest, the vegetable garden, making jams and preserves... And still go to school!
      At a very young age, once he had passed his BEPC, he had to leave the family home to work for three long years in a company that laid high and very high voltage power lines. A very physical job, rather dangerous because many accidents inevitably happened, often resulting in death... But very lucrative and formative!
      Jean Claude, lucid, will retain from this experience that: "After three years of this regime, no situation in my subsequent professional life has panicked me"

      His brother Pierre, 11 years older than him, went to Paris to work as a postman at the Post Office. Then transferred to Saint Tropez, he managed to convince his little brother to come and join him on the coast.
      François AUDIRAC was the owner of a shipyard in Les Canebiers. His wife, Francoise, was originally from Ganges, 13km from St Hippolyte, a beautiful coincidence which surely helped Jean Claude to find himself employed, at the age of 18, in this company and then in the shipyard that his employer had just acquired in the port of Saint Tropez, where he was to train and enjoy this new job.

      Happy period, sun and sea, fruitful fishing at the Canoubiers, and shellfish collection at will! The good life for a teenager until the day in 1961 when he had to leave to do his military service: It was the Algerian war and a 28-month mobilization! Embarked on the escort ship "Jaureguiberry" which served, before being decommissioned, in Pierre Schoendoerffer's beautiful film "Le Crabe Drum", he took advantage of the end of the war (1962) to do only 22 months of military service...

      Back in Saint Tropez, he happily returned to work at the Canoubiers shipyard which, in the meantime, had been bought by a new Belgian owner...

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His discovery of Port Grimaud :

       With his Tropezian friends, Jean Claude sometimes came to ride horses in a farm located at the site of the municipal car park and the tourist office at the entrance to PG2. In the city of Bailly, rumours were circulating about the construction of a new town at the end of the gulf.

      "One day while walking, we saw a large quantity of sheet piles near the beach... and then I wanted to see.
      I met Claude GRAF again, whom I had met in 63 at the St Tropez shipyard, where he had amazed me with his knowledge and his way of life. I also found people from the Canebiers like Guy CHESNAULT who had a shipyard there and who managed the Port Grimaud shipyard

      , a friend of Jean Claude, also had a shipyard at Les Canebiers. Most of the boats of that time were made of wood, requiring annual maintenance including an overhaul of the hull and the obligation to repaint it:
      "We painted all the boats that Guy CHESNAULT sent us. Most of the clients were new PG owners which helped me to build up a clientele of boats for safekeeping".

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His first years in PORT GRIMAUD :

       As soon as the shipyard was operational, Jean Claude and Jean Salvy came to paint the boats on site, which kept them busy from Easter to July.
      So he had to find work for the season and the rest of the year: various odd jobs because there was no lack of work! He was a mechanic at Aquila in St Tropez, specialising in 'mini-Austins' and sports cars, a barman at the Sporting, Place des Lices, a sailor on sailing boats... He varnished masts on boats moored in the harbour, and many other 'small occupations'.

      But he came back, whenever he could, to Port Grimaud, to eat in a canteen, run by the Da Silva family, which was behind the condominium workshop (at the end of the outside car park, in front of the resident garages).
      This room, which was renovated a few years ago, was used at the time as an ironmonger's workshop where Mr Cochonet excelled. He was an ironworker and sculptor, to whom we owe, among other things, all the wrought iron balustrades and balconies in the town, as well as the statue of the goddess Pallas-Athenaeus situated in the small garden at the beginning of the rue des 2 Ports...

      In 1968, he was hired by OMV owned by Jean Pierre VASSE, a "former" Canoubiers.
      Pierre HERRY with, in addition, the right to run 25 electric boats in order to compensate for the costs of the free coches for the owners.

      Residents and visitors used the same coaches which ran until 1am...

      2 other boats were built in the same yard in Toulon by Pierre HERRY. In 1974, a 5th one, in steel, was built in the camping "Holiday Marina", located on the banks of the Giscle river and next to the "Villa Verdé" nursery on the main road...

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Owner in Port Grimaud :

       Jean Claude got married at the end of 1969 to a charming lady from St Tropez, Chantal, who became the caretaker of a villa on the Capon road in St Tropez. They stayed in the small caretaker's house adjoining which he had to completely renovate. Early in the morning, Jean Claude would do some shopping for fresh produce before going to Port Grimaud where his work awaited him.

      Well established in the lake city, his activity was becoming intense with more and more boat guards and very busy maritime work. Spending too much time on the road each day, the couple decided to come and stay in the lake city. They therefore went to the agency of Mr. RONDEAU, Place des Artisans, (in charge of the sale of Port Grimaud by Mr. Spoerry) who advised them to buy rather than rent. There was a flat for sale on the same square at a price of 160,000 francs, a HUGE sum for the owner, a HUGE sum for the young couple!

      Sometimes in life there are unexpected encounters that will change your life! Jean Claude met 2 of them:

      - first of all, a landlord, rue des 2 Îles, on whose engine Jean claude was working; After his visit to the agency, this resident found him unusually worried, and asked him what was wrong: Not enough money to buy? "You can borrow! Or? "But in a bank! But you need guarantees! No problem, "I'm the guarantor..." offered this benefactor...

      - Then Alain MOREU, his dentist and friend, who took him to the Crédit Agricole branch and demanded that a loan be released immediately!

      "And on that day," Jean Claude tells us, "your life shifts to something you couldn't even imagine! Thank you Paul for making me touch something I thought was out of reach".

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Working in Port Grimaud :

       , a craftsman, had been laying dead bodies in PG for a few years when he wanted to change his activity. He therefore thought of Jean Claude to continue his small business.
      And here he is with about fifty boats to maintain, equipment, and a lot of work within the lake city: For each new owner having a mooring, Jean Claude had to dive and do what was necessary so that the boat was well "attached"...

      "But I had a precious help with my dog who never left me." he tells us...

      Mr. GIRAUD was the director of BTM, the company in charge of building the lake city. Every Wednesday he visited the construction site with the architect and Jean Claude had a lot of pleasure in meeting them. And all together, they participated, with a lot of motivation and pleasure, in the adventure of Port Grimaud under construction.
      Mr Alberty, a new resident of the lake town, was looking to buy a business for his son. At the same time Monsieur Herry wanted to part with the water coches. Jean Claude was asked by this new resident to enquire about such a transaction, knowing that a contract bound the water boats to the Port Grimaud ASP, of which Mr Martres was the President. The latter was willing to accept on the condition that the contract was drawn up in Jean Claude's name! Mr Alberty therefore created a company in Jean Claude's name...
      The son was not very motivated in this business: The water boats were in a pitiful state and the first summer was a real mess with boats breaking down often and that had to be kept afloat at all costs! In September the son resigned!

      Here is Jean Claude obliged to buy half of the company and to invest himself totally in it!

Jean Claude BONNET

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The Venus of islands :

      On July 23, 1975, at 10 a.m. and 1 mile from the tip of Carqueiranne, the launch "Venus des Iles II", providing the link between Toulon and Porquerolles, was the victim of a fire.       Despite the immediate intervention of the emergency services and in particular of the escort ship la Gallissonnière, there were 14 dead and 58 injured.
      The trial of the owners, the shipowner, the skipper and the engineer, prosecuted for murder and manslaughter or breach of navigation laws, began 6 years later, on April 22, 1981.

      The Maritime Gendarmes made numerous checks in all the ports where passenger shuttles were operating in order to verify that the number of passengers as well as all the safety standards were perfectly respected...

      No more overtaking of passengers in Port Grimaud !

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Jean Claude and the 'coches d'eau' :

       The first constraints to be taken into account: to separate the resident and visitor services in order to avoid any overload of passengers and to equip the coaches with radio.
      Another problem that Jean Claude had to solve quickly: the reversers! Whether they were still mechanical or replaced by a hydraulic system, the breakdowns were too numerous and expensive. Jean Claude therefore invented a completely new hydraulic system. :

      "By studying the problem well I developed a hydro system with a single more powerful motor driving a double pump that drives two hydro motors on the propeller shafts.
      Again, the turners I had contacted said that it couldn't work. Fortunately I had bought a lathe so I was able to do them myself (at night) I’ve mounted this system on the boat I had built in 1980 at Dettori in La Seyne. The experiment having proved conclusive I equipped two other boats in 1981 and the last two in 1982.

      With time, everything started to work: Jean Claude built a shed in Gassin so that, every winter, the coaches could be serviced:

      "Every year a coach would go through the process of being completely dismantled from its hull and reassembled in my way.
      In 85 I built one entirely in wood and plasticised with PU. Then another one in steel in 1997.
      Three of these boats still sail on the Hérault, at the Gros d’Agde and the last one built in built in 1995, takes residents to Les Marines Cogolin.

      In 2010, new legislation came into force, and the Merchant Navy decommissioned, only in the Mediterranean, all wooden boats carrying passengers. The boats became 'cargo ships' with a maximum of 12 passengers! They had carried millions of people without any problems.

      "I couldn’t part with the one I had built in 1985 because I consider it as a work of art. My descendants will do what they want with it...."

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General atmosphere in the city over time :

       "It doesn’t take much for the atmosphere to change.
      At Les Coches I think it is still friendly. The residents like the service and I think that is mainly due to the way the passengers are arranged in the boat.
      They can talk to each other or exchange a smile and over time create a bond. I’ve noticed it I have noticed this throughout my career.
      Of course the conviviality took a big hit when the Géant Casino opened and the food shops were forced to close. The bistros became restaurants...

      In the early days, the quay of la Tartane was still free of hard-standing terraces. As soon as the shopkeepers had put their equipment away in their shops, the restaurant would spread out tables and chairs along the entire length of the quay and it was fiesta time every evening until late at night.
      Ditto for the Guitoune with Anita and Michel where it was packed every night even out of season.

      We now see a majority of customers, young, old, male or female, completely addicted to their mobile phones, not taking the time to look around and only walking around to take pictures (with their mobile).
      Once at home, they will finally be able to see Port Grimaud... on their mobile phone !

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Good and bad memories :

       After more than 50 years of active life devoted to the lakeside city, Jean Claude keeps very good memories with beautiful meetings and friends by the dozen...
To prove their affection, many owners offered, during these decades, cases of champagne and bottles of wine that he could not drink in their entirety without becoming an alcoholic!

      And it is with great sadness and deep melancholy that Jean Claude remembers all those who are no longer there today...

And everything changed in 2005...

      The success of a man like Jean Claude, who started with almost nothing and through his work, his energy, his will, arrived at the head of a company that "works", sometimes creates jealousy.
      A new President at the head of the ASP and new councillors, some of whom have a fierce hatred for him and dream of replacing him with other people, have undermined the Coches d'eau service, which was so useful, so practical for the life of the city, so well managed, so well "oiled" that it satisfied almost all the residents.

      After a merciless battle between a tough Cevenol and several owners, Jean Claude was able to save his business... But at what price?

      The service offered by the Coche d'eau has been dismantled: the PG2 / PG3 service has been replaced by a shuttle that is not adapted to the canals (too wide, too high, too powerful with two much more polluting engines). For PG1 the service lasted 11 months out of 12. It now only lasts 10 months out of 12 and costs, in the end, more for the co-owners.

About electric boats

      In 1999, at the request of the former President of the ASP, Mr. Pierre Martres, Jean Claude bought the electric boats business and signed a contract authorising him to operate 23 of these small boats.
      Unfortunately, the equipment was in a deplorable state, offering no safety for the passengers, and ended up in the public dump!
      It was necessary to buy new, more stable and safer boats and to rebuild the pontoons on which to moor them. In the end, Jean Claude preferred to put 15 boats into service instead of 23, finding that this was more than enough on the lake to avoid disturbing the life and privacy of the residents...

      After the cataclysm of the years 2005/2010 triggered by the new "Masters" of the city, a second rental company has been authorised to operate eleven electric boats...
      Today we have a good twenty of them. !

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The electrics 'Coches d'eau' :

       After the decommissioning of the Coches d'eau in 2010, Jean Claude had to create new boats, with the support of a Naval Architect, which he wanted to be electrically propelled! A real challenge that had to be realised, knowing that it didn't really exist yet...

      "It was very tough and I needed a lot of luck to get through it.
      I had to find not the one who knew what to do: they are legion, but the one who knew what not to do and I found him!
      Guillaume had participated in the implementation of the Monaco electric boat and therefore knew the pitfalls to avoid. After eight years of intensive work, our collaboration allowed us to develop the hulls as they are today. Without any modification !
      And that is what I am most happy about.

      As I no longer drive them, age forbidding me in the eyes of the Navy, I am amazed like a child when I see them working.

      They save me from burning 20,000 litres of fuel on the PG canal

      In 2012 the CCI du Var and the Association France Qualité Performance rewarded Jean Claude and his company for "their listening to the environment. ».

      "When I received the medal, I said that I hoped that the example of a man like me, already in his seventies, developing such marvels, would serve as an example and would encourage a few others to get involved.
      After eight years of service without a single setback, it is clear that this is not the case and everything is happening in general indifference. It is a pity and especially frustrating

      Jean Claude alone covered the cost of the studies, the construction and the implementation of these boats without any help from the Agency for the Environment and Energy Management (Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie), whose role it is, nor from the ASP, nor from the town hall, nor from any environmental association! He is now in debt until he is 81 years old!

      After eight seasons, these solid and reliable boats have not moved; no breakdowns! They glide on the water, silently, to the great joy of the owners and visitors who are always welcomed with a smile and efficiency by very careful and attentive pilots...

      "As far as I know, these are the only boats of this type that operate over a long period of time without any problems, at least in France. The solar panels are still as efficient as ever and provide at least 80% of the charge in season, 100% out of season. We are currently seeing new panels that are even more efficient.

      « We can always do better" is my motto!

Coches d'eau électriques Port Grimaud

The fire barge :

       For Jean Claude, the story of this barge is very close to his heart because it illustrates his desire to work for the life of the city and the determination of some to destroy it :

      In 1997, Jean Claude, with the help of his son Laurent, designed and built, at their own expense, a marine barge specially designed for the lake city, with one objective: that it be adapted in case of fire.
      Jean Claude realised that there was a real danger: if a boat caught fire, the neighbours' boats were bound to be affected. In order to reach the quays, the fire brigade would have to arrive by sea, which would have taken too long to quickly contain the fire.

      The barge is equipped with feet that are mechanically planted. The barge is equipped with feet that are mechanically planted. It is positioned in front of the burning vessel and with the help of its water hose, mounted on the end of a crane developing a height of 8 metres, it can spray from above and even break a deck panel or a porthole to penetrate the interior of the vessel and thus extinguish the flames more efficiently. Extinguishing foam can be added. The pump delivers 50 m3 /hour.
      In order to be reactive very quickly, Jean Claude rented a place to moor this barge, in the centre of the town, behind the Church, therefore near the Coches where he was most often present.

      Unfortunately, from 2002 onwards, some members of the Council did not appreciate the presence of this boat and kept trying to make it leave, even doubling the price of the place !
      One councillor even said that "the fire is a matter for firemen, not sailors!".

      The barge then moved to the Marines de Cogolin where it was welcomed with open arms...
      From her departure from Port Grimaud to 2018, she has been used to replace 130 pontoons of 45 tons of thrust with a submerged pontoon of 150 tons of thrust that Jean Claude designed and built with his son in their workshop in Grimaud.
      This barge is always very active, driven to perfection by Laurent. In 2018, it was used to change all the moorings of the Marines: dead bodies, mother and daughter chains.

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The Medal for Courage and Dedication :

       This medal of honour is a French distinction awarded to any person who, at the risk of his or her life, goes to the aid of one or more persons in mortal danger. The French Navy can award it in case of rescue acts...

      Jean Claude received this honorary award, with distinction, for a boat accident that could have been fatal without his reactivity and courage! (one can even speak of temerity!)... I let him tell this event himself:

      "On August 17, 1979, for my first year of the coches, I had just arrived and finished equipping the new engine of the resident coche that I was changing. This coach was parked next to the church and I was in my van parked by the turnstile of the bell tower. The market place was full of people.
      Suddenly there is a loud noise and the crowd starts to scream. I get out of the truck and see a vertical boat in the corner of the bridge on the coach side. It was a small red Neptune with 6 people: an elderly couple, a couple in their forties and their children: the girl 12 years old and the boy 8.
      The boat, with the engine fully accelerated and the propeller engaged, heeled over and everyone fell into the water (except the kid in the cabin). The boat started to turn in this restricted water area in the middle of the ejected passengers and started to "slash" them... We had to hurry!

      My nephew Bruno was driving the replacement resident coach and was manoeuvring to leave. I shouted at him to stop, and when he passed by, I jumped on the front of the coach. We waited for the boat to come towards us and then we ran into him. That slowed it down and I was able to jump on it. I stopped it with the ignition because the throttle was cut low!
      We got everyone out of the water. The father of the children had a very badly damaged leg. There was nothing left but the skin on the front from mid-thigh to toe! It was all gone! Luckily there was a doctor in the crowd who immediately applied a tourniquet which saved him. His wife had propeller cuts on her back and his daughter on one arm. They were very lucky...

      I almost broke my tailbone when I landed on the boat. I had after-effects during the following winters: my eyesight became blurred, I felt big compressions in my head which forced me to stop everything. My doctor friend from Aix dragged me to all the hospitals in Marseille. Without success. It’s It went away slowly and came back more and more rarely.

      While I was jumping on this boat, my wife was in Marseille at the Conception hospital for the delivery of Emilie.

      The explanation, according to me, of this accident, is that, unbalanced while engaging undoubtedly a little too quickly, he gave a blow of his hip on the accelerator and that one was at the maximum but under the shock it was broken with the level of the box! And as he hadn't put on his safety bracelet ...

      I never saw these people again, I don't even know their names! Strangely I never think about the annual birthdays but I get a big buzz every decade like next year when it will be 40 years...

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  the work of François SPOERRY...

© Yves Lhermitte 2023   Reproduction prohibited without permission...