Latest news from the Port Revel Shiphandling Training Centre
Françoise Massard
Click on the photos to enlarge them

Nearly three years ago, I was fortunate enough to participate in a training course on crisis situation management (“extreme manœuvres”) involving four port pilots and two captains. It was dispensed by the famous Port Revel Centre, which has been the world leader for over forty years (read more about a typical course at the centre in this comprehensive article). I returned there recently, because two major events were celebrated on 30 April 2009: the addition of a new ship to the fleet and the extension of the lake. To keep pace with the constantly increasing number of trainees, Port Revel embarked last year on major works to extend its facilities and develop its fleet (investments totalling more than a million euros). Trainees will benefit from these improvements as of this year (the 2009 courses have just started - at the beginning of April - and will continue until the end of October).

The idea that prevailed in the 1960s, when Port Revel was created on a shallow lake on the Chambaran plateau (in Isère département between Grenoble and Lyon), is every bit as strong today. Better than any numerical simulator, this system uses model ships that are built to 1:25 scale and manœuvred on a specially developed lake (with waves, currents, winds and shallows) with the pilots on board, giving them “the same sensations as in the real world”, to use the trainees’ own words. As ever, the new Port Revel development programme, which got underway in October 2007, had the same objective of meeting the needs of port pilots and ship captains. With the boom in maritime trade and increasing ship dimensions and tonnages, experience and skills are more vital than ever to manœuvre these gigantic ships safety in the vicinity of ports and coasts, where many hazards lie in wait.

Having extended its lake, which now measures 5 ha (with 70% consisting of shallows), doubled the number of quays, and installed additional marine current-generating systems, Port Revel can now cover an extremely wide variety of situations and accommodate 10 to 12 trainees per week, compared with eight previously.

The OTELLO, Port Revel's thirteenth scale model

Hence, on 30 April 2009, about a hundred visitors from all over France gathered at Sogreah’s Shiphandling Training Centre at Port Revel for the naming of its new ship: a model of the CMA CGM OTELLO, built to 1:25 scale, as are the twelve other models at Port Revel. The scale model, a faithful reproduction of a 334 m long container carrier capable of transporting 8 500 TEU, represents the actual ship down to its slightest detail in terms of manœuvring and behaviour at sea. Thanks to this new model, sailors can now train on a ship that replicates the new giants sailing the high seas today.

This is the “real” CMA CGM OTELLO, which I photographed in the evening of 28.12.2006 as she sailed out of Marsaxlokk harbour in Malta. Like her sister ship, the CMA CGM NABUCCO, she belongs to the series reflecting the names of famous "Operas".

CMA CGM OTELLO (Marseilles) - IMO 9299628 - Call signal FMEJ - Container carrier - 334,07x42,80x24,60 m - Max draft 14,5 m - Windage 10 000 m2 - GRT 91 410 - NT 48 921 - DWT 101 810 t - P 68 640 kW (engine MAN-B&W 12K98MC) - S 25 nds - Cap. 8 488 TEU (incl. 700 reefers)- Constr. 2005 (Hyundai Heavy Industries, Ulsan, South Korea) - Manager CMA CGM The French Line - Sailing under French flag.

The first tests carried out with the scale model showed that Port Revel has complete mastery of modelling techniques as the real ship's captain, who recently carried out the “sea trials” of the model, said that it imitated perfectly the typical behaviour of his own vessel… right down to its tiniest flaws! Further proof that 'Mother Nature (in the form of hydraulics)' is at work on the model as on the real ship. The realism of scale models is unequalled and for the moment has not been bettered by any other form of simulation.

The naming of the OTELLO

As with her “elder sister”, named at the end of 2005, the traditional bottle of Champagne was broken across her bow. Long live the scale model!

After the naming, we went over to the building housing the classrooms and offices to listen to the speech given by Jacques Gaillard, Chairman and CEO of Sogreah (the French acronym for “Grenoble hydraulics studies and applications company”). An aperitif and relaxed lunch rounded off the ceremony.

The speech given by Mr Gaillard (opposite) gives me the opportunity to recall a few facts about Sogreah, created when turbines manufacturer Neyrpic (founded exactly a century ago) was transformed into a limited company in 1955. The Sogreah group, which regained its independence in 1998 after a management buy-out, acts as both consultant and engineer in the fields of water, the environment, energy and urban development. Its head office is in Grenoble, but its 1200 engineers and technicians are spread throughout 30 offices in France (regional divisions in Grenoble, Nantes, Marseilles, Paris and Toulouse) and 15 international subsidiaries (Europe, Near and Middle East, Africa and Asia). The company has enjoyed regular, healthy growth over the past ten years and generated turnover in excess of €100M in 2008 (44% of which on international projects). It has references in over 170 countries.

The afternoon: “sea trials” of the newly named ship!

Guests also took the opportunity for a trip on some of the other scale models, which are all equipped with indicators giving rudder angle, engine speed, ship speed and heading, wind speed and direction, etc. Most of them are also equipped with bow and stern thrusters and fully operational anchors.

The boat hangar has also been extended to keep pace with the growing fleet

A larger, even more “realistic” lake

The 2008-2009 winter break was put to good use to extend the Revel lake, creating new zones with currents (50% of the lake is now subject to currents, compared with 35% prior to the works), new shallow areas (70% of the lake now has a simulated depth of less than 27.5 m, compared with 50% previously), two new locks (including one simulating the width of the Panama canal, i.e. 55 m) and numerous new quays (there are now more than 50).

Lake before and after extension

A few shots of the lake taken from the new embankment

The 200 or so trainees expected in the coming months will be able to benefit from these new facilities, on both the conventional courses and the “tailor-made” ones put together by the centre’s highly experienced and enthusiastic instructors to suit pilots’ specific needs.

During the course I attended in July 2006, I announced that a third escort tug had been ordered. Named the VELOX, it arrived in Port Revel in July 2007. It was manufactured by Ron Burchett in Vancouver and is a 1:25 scale model of a 37 m tug equipped with a Voith Schneider propeller and Turbo Fin, designed by Robert Allan in Vancouver and the property of Ostensjo in Norway.

To conclude...

Port Revel, which has thus inherited more than a century of experience from Sogreah in the fields of scale models, numerical simulation and port design and construction and was the world’s first centre of this type, has seen more than 6000 trainees come through its doors (mainly from the USA, Canada and Europe) since it first opened in 1967. Many of them are coming back for the second (and even third) time in their career. An ever closer partnership is forming between the instructors and the trainees, who use the facilities as it suits them. Special courses and arrangements are set up in close collaboration, e.g. manœuvring courses on escort tugs for the San Francisco pilots.

Lastly, I would not like to leave Port Revel without taking another look at some places of interest in this attractive region, the Chambaran nature park. I have already mentioned a few places that should not be missed. Today’s recommendation is particularly aimed at music-loving sailors, because I am alluding to the nearby town of La Côte Saint André, where Hector Berlioz was born in December 1803 and spent the first 18 years of his life. He is best known as a composer, but he also worked as a journalist (notably at the Journal des Débats) and writer (his Mémoires were published posthumously in 1870) - less well-known facets of his life. He was sent to study medicine in Paris by his father - himself a doctor in La Côte Saint André - but soon abandoned his dissection classes and began visiting the music rooms at the Paris Conservatoire!

The house where Hector Berlioz was born (street and courtyard views), built around 1680 but thoroughly modified in the 18th century
It became the Musée Berlioz in 1935 and a listed historic monument in 1942
Far right: the “Grand Salon” © Musée Berlioz (taking photos inside the house is forbidden)


Another illustrious figure from this “capital of the Bièvre region” is Dutch landscape painter Johan Barthold Jongkind (b. 1819, Netherlands; d. 1891, La Côte Saint André, having settled there in 1878). He was a forerunner of impressionism and had a great influence on the French impressionist movement.
Right: one of his paintings, The Port of Honfleur (1863))
Lastly, for food-loving sailors, the Château Louis XI (built for Philip of Savoy, destroyed during the French Wars of Religion and completely rebuilt in the 16th century) now houses a… chocolate museum!

Centre de Port Revel 38870 Saint-Pierre de Bressieux (France) –
Tél. 33 (0)4 74 20 02 40 – Fax 33 (0)4 74 20 12 29 –

© Françoise Massard