May 2009 Letter

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Bonjour tout le monde! Hello, everybody!

We are now in France.  I'm trying hard to learn some of the language, but it is really difficult!  Spanish words keep popping out of my mouth.  Just when I got used to rolling my r's, now I'm trying to gargle them.  Impossible!

When we left Barcelona, we sailed all day to a pleasant marina in Sant Feliu, Spain.  It was fun to be sailing, but the sea was a bit choppy and I felt a little 'off'.  Need to get my sea legs. 

Our next port of call was L'Estartit, Spain.  We had to motor the entire way because we had no wind at all.  Then we experienced a few minutes of near panic when we got there, tried to med moor and lost our rudder control as we were backing in.  It took a few minutes to figure out that we had snagged one of the mooring lines on our rudder.  This is a shallow marina.  But in those few minutes we had no steering and that was very frightening!  We spent almost a week here.  This location was our jump-off point from Spain to cross the Gulf of Lion to France.   We needed a good 24-hour clear weather window to do our over-night sail to France.  The Gulf of Lion can be very dangerous when the frequent Mistral wind funnels through it.  We got a good weather report and set sail on May 6.

It took about 18 hours to get to Cassis, France, but we were turned away because they had a regatta that weekend and the marina was full.   Bummer, we really wanted to go there.  Oh well, on to the next port.  Uh-oh, no room at Bandol either.  So we motored 6 more hours to Toulon, a large port and military base.  The office was closed by the time we arrived, so we just pulled into a berth and plugged in our electricity and water.  We were exhausted and dirty and salty.  The next day was a holiday, and the office was still closed.  I supposed that someone would eventually want some money from us, so we just continued to act like we belonged there, and hoped that another boat wasn't going to show up wanting to know what we were doing in his berth.  Turns out we were fine and on the third day we got all checked in at the office.

We met a fellow, Tom, who just arrived from Florida.  His boat, s/v Chérie, was to arrive via Dockwise Yacht Transport the next day.  We offered to help him with the launch as he was single-handing.  It was a half-day ordeal and quite an experience.  Dockwise is a huge freighter that ships big power yachts and sailboats across the oceans around the world.  The boats are floated into the freighter and secured on stands and braces.  Then the water is removed and the boats are on dry dock for the transport.  Once at the destination, the freighter is flooded again and the boats sail out.  The boats are so close together that it is necessary for the Dockwise personnel to keep adjusting the boats throughout the process as the boats begin to float within the freighter.  It was interesting to be on one of the boats as all of this was happening, but I would have been freaking out if it was my boat.  That would have been just too, too stressful.

We rented a car for a few days and took a road trip inland to explore the French countryside, staying at a different hotel each night.  We had a fantastic trip!  It was such fun to just be driving through the country, stopping at wineries along the way.  Avignon and Les Baux were both just incredible medieval cities.  We toured the palace and the castle and enjoyed eating out every meal.  We almost always eat on board, so it was fun to be a bit extravagant and enjoy the cuisine on this trip.

Now it was time to get sailing again.  We left Toulon and sailed over to the islands of Porquerolles.  We had light wind, sunny skies and flat seas.  After dropping the hook, we had drinks, snacks and listened to music.  Then while Mike napped in the cockpit, I enjoyed the quiet late afternoon/early evening at anchor.  Watching and listening to the birds, seeing the sun cast shadows on the rocky cliff, and hearing the water lapping against the rocks.  This was a great first night at anchor!

After several days exploring Porquerolles and its anchorages, we got underway for St. Tropez.  Motored all day on flat sea with no wind.  Shortly after anchoring near St. Tropez in Canoubiers, we were boarded by two French Customs officials.  They inspected our documents, filled out a form, then decided it was necessary to search our entire boat.  We don't know what they were looking for, but they opened every cabinet and went through everything inside, even turning up our mattress.  Then they smiled, thanked us, said we were fine, and left.

St. Tropez was our first port in France to show us the glamorous side of the French Riviera.  The incredible super yachts in the harbor, lots of beautiful people dressed in white linen with deep tans, expensive jewelry and little fluffy dogs.  Add to that a gazillion tourists in their vacation clothes with cameras around their necks, and you've got the picture.  St. Tropez has a fantastic open air market twice a week and we bought all kinds of things there.

Our friends that we met in Barcelona last fall, Patrick and Christine on the Nordhaven yacht Frog Kiss, met up with us in St. Tropez.  They invited all of us (Tom, Mike and me) over for dinner.  (Here comes my 'Bad Timing' story)  I was in the shower, getting ready for our dinner party, hair lathered in shampoo, body all soaped up, and the water pump stopped working.  Oh great!  Mike pulled up the floor board to check the pump.  He had to dig out his tool kit and start doing all sorts of tests to find the problem.  In the meantime, I'm just standing in the shower with soap drying all over me.  This was one of those times that I would have actually considered going European and swim naked off the stern of the boat to rinse off.  BUT, our swim ladder still had a crimp in it from when we bumped into the dock last winter during a windstorm, and couldn't be lowered.  So I would have no way of getting back on-board if I jumped off.  Anyway, Mike determined that he needed to install a new water pump, so while he did that, I used a bottle of store-bought drinking water to try to rinse off, or at least keep the soap wet!  Eventually, the repair job was completed and I finished my shower and had a good story to tell at the dinner party.  Patrick came over the next day with a crowbar and fixed our swim ladder.  Now I don't have any excuses for not jumping off the boat naked.

We had the group over for dinner on our boat the next night, said our goodbyes to Patrick and Christine (they are heading north in the morning), and Tom cooked Thai food for us on his boat the following night.  By the way, we are getting very attached to his dog, a Jack Russell Terrier named Calvin.  We keep threatening to kidnap him.

In the middle of the night, the weather turned to crap.  Howling winds from 30-35 knots with large whitecaps came blasting into the anchorage.  We were rocking and swinging around and thought we might be dragging toward shore.  So in the pitch dark wind, we raised and reset our anchor, then stayed up all night on anchor watch to make sure we held as the wind continued to howl.  We couldn't have slept anyway with the way we were rocking.  A few waves actually broke over the bow!

In the morning we motored to a little town called Rade de Agay and anchored just off the beach.   It was a bit rolly the first night, but was very calm and beautiful after that.  We just hung out there, did boat chores and laundry, and enjoyed the peace.  

High winds were predicted to be on the way again, so we moved on to Cannes and got a berth in the marina for a few days.  We were amazed when a big power boat squeezed in beside us.  We were packed in so tight that our inflatable fenders were flattened!  This guy didn't speak English (he was Italian), and when he left the next day, he scratched the paint on the side of our boat.  I was furious, but he just took off.  The marina didn't have any information on him that was helpful to me, which is odd because I had to provide extensive information on us when I checked in (USA vs. EU citizen?).

We walked around Cannes and looked at all the big yachts, expensive stores, private beaches, beautiful people, rich people and, of course, all the tourists.  Money, money, money.  It's a nice enough town and I enjoyed seeing it, but my guidebook says it best.  "Unless you have the budget of a supermodel or Formula One driver, it can feel like a party that you're not invited to."

Next we sailed to the island just off the coast of Cannes, called Saint-Marguerite.  We anchored near Fort Royal where Dumas' Man in the Iron Mask was held in a prison cell at the end of the 17th century.  A terrific rain, lightning and thunder storm greeted us, and passed before evening.  At dusk the island was illuminated with multi-colored lights which was absolutely beautiful!  (see picture in my Photo Album)  After a couple of days exploring Saint-Marguerite, we headed to Villefranche, which is where we are now.  This will be our home base for exploring the French Riviera.  Our kids and grandkids will all visit us here over the next month or so.  We also hope to connect with a few of our cruising friends who are planning to sail here.   We are scoping things out for the kids visit and learning our way around.  Right this moment we are tucked into the marina in Villefranche riding out the latest windstorm, continually repositioning the fenders to avoid damage as the boats rock into each other.  My goodness, I hope this isn't the norm for the summer!  We had planned on anchoring out in more settled weather for most of the summer.

But I'm not complaining!  Life is good and we are excited to be here.  I'm continuing to practice my French when we are out and about.  Eventually I'll be able to understand what is being said back to me!

Au revoir!  Bonne journée!  (Goodbye!  Have a Nice Day!)

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