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Somme (Department, France)

Last modified: 2005-12-24 by ivan sache
Keywords: somme | picardie | general council | bird |
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[General Council Somme]

Flag of the General Council of Somme - Image by Philippe-Pierre Darras

See also:

Administrative data

Code: 80
Region: Picardie
Traditional province: Picardie
Bordering departments: Aisne, Nord, Oise, Pas-de-Calais, Seine-Maritime

Area: 6,170 km2
Population (1995): 553,100 inhabitants

Préfecture: Amiens
Sous-préfectures: Abbeville, Montdidier, Péronne
Subdivisions: 4 arrondissements, 46 cantons, 783 communes.

The department is named after the river Somme (245 km), tributary of the English Channel.

Transbaie race

The Transbaie, a foot race crossing the Bay of Somme, was created in the late 1980s by Denis Courtois. In 1987, Courtois quitted smoking and started jogging; on 14 May 1989, the first Transbaie was run. The 17th Transbaie was run on 19 June 2005.
The race starts with a few kilometers on the quays of the port of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. The real fun consists in crossing the Bay of Somme at low tide, through sand beads, mud flats and low-depth channels, until reaching the beach of Le Crotoy, on the other side of the Bay, and running back to Saint-Valery before rising tide. The approximate distance is 15-16 km, but the course changes every year and is decided just before the start. The Bay is watched by helicopter and kayak in order to find a safe course for the 5,000-6,000 competitors. The course through the Bay is marked with two kinds of flags, described as follows in the official rules of the race:

Appendix 1. Marking in the Bay is made of:
- in straight line, of bright coloured ranging-poles planted c. every 100 m
- in curves and places with low visibility, of bright coloured ranging-poles planted c. every 30 m
- on fords, of poles with red and white strips marking a safe lane.

[Signal flag]     [Signal flag]

Signal flags used in the Transbaie - Images by Ivan Sache, 14 July 2005

There are indeed two kinds of "bright coloured ranging poles", smaller ones with a yellow triangular flag and taller ones with rectangular vertical blue flags.
The places with "low visibility" are the crossings of crevasses made in the silt by the arms of the Somme; these crevasses can be up to 1 m in depth and lenght and are expected to be dry at the time of the race. After having crossed by several hundred of competitors, the crevasses turn into a sticky field of silt, and shoes must have been strongly tied up. Note that this is silt and not mud, so it is not so dirty, in spite of a very strong organic flavour.
The fords are the crossings of the "alive" arms of the Somme, where competitors might be in water up to their waist (the deepest fords are watched by the firefighters and there is an helicopter of the Army with medical equipment and doctors on board watching the race). This is fresh water, very useful to get rid of the silt accumulated during the crossing of the crevasses. Silt is made of extremely thin particles and the washing effect of fresh water is striking.

There is an historical precedent to the race: after her capture, Joan of Arc was jailed in 1430 in the fortress of Le Crotoy and crossed the Bay to Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, before going to Rouen where a stake had been prepared for her. At that time, there was probably less silt and much more water in the Bay, and the crossing must have been something extremely hazardous.

Ivan Sache, 14 July 2005