February 23, 2013
Our February visit to the UK was fortunate; Gruissan suffered the coldest winter for 20 years, with temperatures of 20 degrees below, the water and plants left in the bath in our rented apartment froze, as did 77 flamingo’s on the Etang, (inland salt water lake) Thick ice meant that they could not feed on their staple diet of shrimp in the Etang, frozen into the shallow water they broke their legs when they tried to leave.
A rescue operation was mounted by the local bird protection organisation saving many injured birds.
Our winter maintenance was delayed by outside pressures, leaving me a race against time to complete essential maintenance with our May departure already planned.
Happily; this year I conquered the installation of the troublesome ‘Autostream’ propeller; a brilliant piece of kit; I successfully applied the fitting instructions accquired during our visit to the London Service Centre.
April took us on our 3rd annual land visit to our landlord’s apartment in Alcocebre, Spain.
On our return to Gruissan at the beginning of May, unseasonal weather left us apprehensive about an early start on this year’s Spanish cruise, as volatile weather and heavy disturbed seas prevailed.
We prevailed on the friendly Marina staff to allocate one of the few visitors moorings to us and were grateful when they were able to help with an alongside berth on the ‘Quai du
Our cruising plan was to sail along the Spanish coast visiting several favourite destinations and familiarising ourselves with available ports and their facilities. (I have attached critiques on ports visited as an appendix)
Our planned departure point for the Balearic’s would be from Sant Carles del la Rapita on the Ebra Delta. Situated south of Barcelona, we resolved to spend most of the summer exploring the Island of Ibiza.
Granddaughter Meghan was to join us on the 23rd July; having made her first unsupervised flight from Manchester.
My cousin John, planned to join us the following day, he had not sailed previously, so was looking forward to the new experience.
It was lunchtime on Saturday 9th. June, when we slipped out of Gruissan and headed south towards Cap Cibere and Spain. It was a gorgeous sunny day with a flat sea, but with continuing unpredictable weather forecast we were mindful of being caught in the flux of the rapidly changing weather .
On a course of 180 degrees and a gentle North Westerly force 3; we made reasonable progress at 5 to 6 knots and arrived in Port Leucate in mid afternoon, a superb shakedown trip.
We opted to stay on the reception pontoon as we intended a quick start the following morning.
A 1030 hrs we slipped our lines and headed for Port Vendres, the wind was South East force 1-2 but soon strengthened to force 5 causing a lumpy, confused and unpleasant sea. Being headed our speed was reduced to 3-4 knots as the wind came round. In steadily declining weather we cut for nearby Canet en Roussillon, a tidy small seaside marina village.
We tied against the first available ‘accuel’ pontoon, situated close on the port side with its short flimsy bouncing finger making securing difficult, we were assisted by Brit neighbours Simon and Avril in their McGreggor motor sailor.
The next five days were spent bunkered against strong winds blowing from Spain.
We departed for the northern Spanish Coast and the innocent looking Cap Bear and Cap Cebere, ignoring advice to given the’Caps’ a good offing we paid the price the consequences being that we sailed through rough and confused short sea.
Rounding Cap Cebere we turned into the Bay of Rosas the wind now on our beam, it made for lively sailing as we made towards Port Roses marina in the north of the bay.
The pressure of weather had taken its toll on our lazy jacks which parted making our approach to the marina difficult when we had to dump the mainsail onto the deck in strong wind, the sail bag having collapsed, it was not capable of catching the mainsail as we dropped it to moor to our allocated berth against a breakwater.
With the lazy jacks repaired and sail restored, we departed Roses for Palamos, a tidy but expensive marina, once again our progress was delayed by strong winds increasing our costs.
Three days later we made for Blanes on the Costa Brava, a favourite haunt, Chris and I spent our first foreign holiday here some 40 years ago, but it was much changed, we hardly recognised the place.
With the festival of Saint Joan being celebrated our stay was a disturbed one, with fireworks echoing around us throughout the day and night. We were glad to depart for Mataro marina situated north of Barcelona. We had decided to avoid Barcelona, as reports of crime involving boats were rife.
An enclosed promenaded marina, Mataro had a good welcome and our stay was comfortable with good facilities and convenient local shopping.
Garaf had been recommended to us, but was not borne out by our experience, with poor service and a lack of response on the VHF, we reluctantly stayed one night and departed for Tarragona the following morning.
The historic Catalonian City of Tarragona was a paradox to our previous stay, an interesting place to visit with its old quarter, Roman ruins and fort, there was plenty to see, we spent most of our two days stay exploring.
By now the weather had stabilised, as we moved south it became warmer.
Our next trip took us to Sant Carles de la Rapita, we carefully passed through the bay of Barcelona avoiding it’s heavy shipping, we rounded the port entrance and headed towards the Ebra Delta. With its shallow depths and extensive shoreline, it seems to take forever to transit the causeway toward the safe anchorage inside the bay and alongside Sant Carles Marina. We had arranged a rendezvous’ with Ron and Sue Morgan, who had travelled from Ibiza and were on anchor in the bay .
After mutual greetings, we joined Ron and Sue for dinner, however as evening approached so did the invasion of mosquito’s which feasted on us forcing us to retire early to our boats to seek shelter.
The following morning we accompanied Ron and Sue into Sant Carles De la Rapita Marina, a recently completed MDL marina, Ron and Sue planned to take up an annual berth. We decided to spend a few days re-cooperating after a series of long sailing days, we negotiated a two week contract at very reasonable prices.
With its friendly and helpful staff and fantastic facilities, we enjoyed eating in the restaurant and swimming in the infinity swimming pool, Chris and I and made the most of the excellent shower and laundry facilities, washing everything in sight.
It was now mid-July as we made for the fuel pontoon and departed for Islas Columbretes, an outcrop of small islands 30 miles off Castillon, a nature reserve it was a convenient stop off avoiding a lengthy overnight crossing to Ibiza.
However, I miscalculated the trip time and arrived approaching midnight making the hazardous entry into the anchorage in pitch dark.
It was a strange arrival, serenaded by birds disturbed by our arrival, their alarm delivered an unusual grating sound in the darkness which reverberated around us.
We were woken early by an onshore wind making the anchorage lumpy cutting our stay short. We made a hasty departure accompanied by a New Zealand registered Catamaran, we hauled off the strops and left under dark and ominous skies and a persistent NW force 5 wind.
Twelve and a half hours later we arrived in San Antonio Bay, Ibiza, the weather had gradually improved all day during which the wind gradually reduced to nothing, as we dropped the anchor in San Antonio.
A popular sailing destination, we were not alone, yacht and power craft everywhere.
We spent more time than we should in San Antonio, this was due to choice and an unexpected power failure resulting in expensive battery replacement.
We had expected to anchor during this time, as marina prices on Ibiza are exorbitant at 117 Euros per night in San Antonio Marina, and 250 Euros in Ibiza Town. But with poor anchor holding and a couple of instances of anchor drag when we watched Fandango depart whilst we sat at a beach cafe eating an ‘English Breakfast’. Our confidence in anchoring was cruelly dented.
Our faithful CQR anchor was not up to holding in the thick and fallible bottom weed, so when we met Phi and Tracy Knox, resident Brits with their boat charter business in San Antonio marina, we gladly accepted the offer of their standby harbour mooring.
San Antonio is not a place for traveller seeking peace and tranquillity, with its reputation as a party capital well earned, it’s transient population of young partying Brits and ‘Boom Boom’ music from morning to late at night, we spent many a night spellbound by the antics of the revellers and amazed ourselves with ‘Brits behaving badly’.
John and Meghan joined us on time and we spent some time settling them in to our life in San Antonio.
The Ibiza ferry arriving in San Antonio.
We finally escaped San Antonio in the first week of August and made for San Miguel, a beautiful bay further north, with potential cliff top walks and tranquillity, it seemed ideal, however the swell at night was too uncomfortable, so we decided to move on.
Situated on North West corner of the Island, Portinax provided some of the scenes for the Rodgers and Hammerstein movie ‘South Pacific’ . With its open blue water bay, numerous anchoring opportunities and white sand beach we finally felt at ease to enjoy it’s tranquillity.
Surrounded by numerous beach cafe/restaurants and rocky walks and swimming in the clear blue water we could have stayed there much longer.
However there was a stark reminder of potential weather changes with the disconcerting view of the GRP and keel of a yacht in-bedded in rock on the right hand side of the bay.
Meghan was fascinated when she discovered that fish would rise to the surface and grab the bread from her fingers, so she spent some time in the dinghy using up our old bread..
Swimming off the boat was a daily treat and a welcome escape from temperatures into the top 30 degrees.
Our aft deck solar shower came in handy to wash off after a swim.
Chris, Meghan and Cousin John in the dinghy approaching Fandango from the beach at Portinax .
Despite the idyllic scenery, we decided to make for Majorca so that John could source a cheaper flight to the UK, he had to attend an important appointment in the UK.
Unfortunately the plan was thwarted when we developed a battery problem which became so serious that the instrumentation on the boat was not working properly, I feared serious consequences so we returned to San Antonio where professional advice was available.
We were introduced to Mike a Brit electrical engineer, Mike had travelled through the canals on is motor boat at the same time as we did, he was brilliant and soon diagnosed wrong settings on the smart voltage regulator and a broken earth wire which had resulted in overheated batteries, there was no alternative but to replace a battery at Ibiza prices(260 Euros for a 120 ah ) and make do with a second half decent battery for the remainder of the trip.
Our return route took us to some new places and some staggering marina prices, the justification often being “In July/August demand forces price rises” but with many marinas less than full, it soon became obvious that it was ‘rip off’’ time for some short sighted marina operators.
Crossing from Ibiza to Denia on the Spanish mainland our entrance into the port was accompanied by sudden strong winds from the South. A friendly ‘Club Nautique’ we spent several days avoiding yet another windy front to pass.
We visited the Americas Cup Juan Carles Marina in Valencia, a popular place for Grand Prix enthusiasts, the race track circulates the marina. During the race season they charge a minimum of 1000 Euros per night with a minimum vessel length of 20 meters.
Outside this time the cost of a mooring for us was just under 16 Euros per night, we were ‘gob smacked’.
On the other hand we were forced to divert to San Filou de Guixols Marina on the Costa Brava, when we were refused entry into Blanes, despite having booked a berth that morning.
The cost at San Filou was an astronomical 89 Euros, we were pushed into a mooring next to the stink boats; and with a complimentary sleepless night thrown in we departed proclaiming never to return. We found the behaviour of some of the occupants of the ‘Stink Boats’ about as caring and considerate as a bag full of wasps at a dinner party.
We arrived back in Gruissan on the 24th. August
Back in the UK, life continues, with Son in Law Chris having a fall and fracturing his hip, so spent summer in hospital.
Chris and Caroline decided to separate in early November, Chris now lives in sheltered accommodation supported by Social Services.
On the 20th. September we took delivery of our new crew member, we finally found a Burmese cat breeder in France, the breeder is an Irish lady who has lived in France for 20 years and is a judge and breeder, she had 3 kittens, one blue female and two brown males, they are distantly related to Meggie our lilac Burmese who died last summer.
We decided on a Brown boy who we named Humbug but his posh name is ‘Grainoge Helios Humbug’.
He is already a full member of our little French family.
Humbug at 6 months, snatching a chance to relax on the dining table at the Gruissan house, before he is told to go down.
Caroline continues to live in our house for the time being.
Brother Pete and Sister in Law Rhian were due to fly out to spend some time with us in October 2012, however Pete became ill and was unable to travel. Thankfully after a short course of treatment he has recovered to his normal healthy state and hopes to visit next Autumn..
Elder daughter, Vicky and Son in Law Bob, and the children, Ethan, Olivia and Erin took the opportunity of a new job offer and in early January, rented their UK home and moved out to Dubai on an open ended contract.
We spent November in our sailing friends, Bob and Julie-Anne’s house in the mountain village of Le Bousquet which is in the Pyrenees Oriental between Carcassonne and Perpignon. The village is small with only 47 residents (49 with us) and is in the most picturesque setting in a range of wooded sloped, a typical mountain village, everyone is so friendly.
Our winter in the Gruissan house has been a quiet one, we have worked on Fandango all winter resolving some maintenance issues and in March we travel to the UK and hope to visit Porthmadog during our time, we look forward to meeting up with our friends at PSC.
June 22, 2012
Our scheduled lift-in took place on a windy but sunny day with a moderate North westerly wind. As the travel lift lowered Fandango into the dock I pondered the usual lift-in worries, would the engine starting, would the troublesome ‘Autostream’ propeller operate correctly, (was the service engineer’s advice correct?) and would the newly installed holding tank, so painstakingly fitted during the winter operate as intended.
Fandango lowered into the water and I jumped aboard, pressing the start button she started on the first crank, the reassuring sound of water exiting from the exhaust confirmed all was well in that department. The first objective was achieved.
After checking for leaks the hoist slings were removed and I selected forward gear and Fandango moved smoothly forward, then reverse gear was selected and also responded correctly. Ahhhh! Relief, the second of my concerns were addressed with a positive outcome.
Free of securing warps we motored out of the dock towards the Marina.
We had decided not to take’ Nautiland’ up on their offer of the use of their quay in the Zone Technique, as we felt that their generosity last year should not be abused this year, instead we made for the marina and our pre booked quay side mooring alongside Quay du Ponant. There was a fairly stiff breeze from the North as we passed through the edge of ‘Little Tahiti’ and turned towards the marina and the quay and tied up. It felt good to be back in the water and our anticipation for the coming season afloat was high.
Deciding to stay in Gruissan for stable weather seemed to have been the right decision, the Gulf Stream does not appear to have settled down and is currently over the South of England and the Channel, the result being the spread of unseasonal, unsettled windy and stormy weather across the UK and a large area of the Mediterranean from the Golf du Lion to the Gulf of Genoa.
Many troughs of weather passed through over our months stay, causing water levels in the marina to rise and fall, much rain to fall and high winds seeking us out from a range of directions.
We were invited to join Jasmine and Bernard, the new owners of the ‘Le Mouton de Penurge’ Restaurant on the quay, for their opening and birthday celebration, Jasmine claimed it was her 30th birthday (she admits to having a 21 year old daughter)so nobody disagreed.
Bob and Julie-Anne Gard, visiting friends Valarie and David, and John and Eileen Cooper who own a lovely traditionally built wooden yacht called ‘Windrush’ were also present. The food was excellent and we enjoyed a convivial evening.
During our stay we enjoyed visits and meals with friends John and Eileen Cooper, Gary and Markuss, Peter and Joyce Webb and Brenda and Norman Newman. We also celebrated Julie-Anne’s birthday with Bob and Toby Gard friends Valarie and David at Maxime’s restaurant on the Quay.
We celebrated the diamond Jubilee with Bob and Julie-Anne at their home, we contributed a potato salad and coronation chicken to the buffet meal and spent the night chatting eating and dancing with friends we met at Christmas.
During the weekend of 24, 25 and 26th May a Jazz weekend was arranged in Gruissan, with live Samba bands and very scantily dressed ladies and a very strange male fire eater wearing Basque and fishnet stockings and other music, lots of temporary bars and stalls selling L’escargo, whitebait, Oysters, pommes frits and a host of continental food. The festivities went on late into the night and resulted in lots of visitors to the village and noise from late night revellers.
Several evenings were spent in neighbouring Arno’s restaurant, his ‘pommes frits’ are the best in town, eaten with squid, mussels or chicken they are fabulous.
On Monday 4th.June came sad news, first it was discrete rumour, not talked about freely but within the network of friends and then confirmed, Bernard had been found dead, their new restaurant was suffering from the same shortage of customers as the other restaurants in Gruissan .
On Thursday 7th June the unsettled weather culminated in a huge lightening and hail storm producing golf ball sized hail stones, which bounced noisily onto the boat roof startling us. At first I thought it was someone throwing stones at the boat, looking outside I saw people running only to discover the real cause of the noise.
The storm continued for near to half an hour, but strip lightening continued for most of the night.
In the morning we discovered that the roof on the car had been damaged resulting in several dints, around Gruissan was the same story of damage was repeated.
Later Mickey joined Bob and Julie-Anne for the start of their sailing trip to Italy via the Pocquerolles. Mickey is a long term friend of the Gard’s.
On Friday 8th.June we attended Bernard’s funeral, a non religious funeral, afterwards we joined the family in a final farewell when Bernard’s ashes were buried at sea.
Finally the weather forecast we had been waiting for arrived, only the second day of sunshine for some days, with a light NW wind and a slight sea, our summer adventure had arrived and we decided to leave Gruissan for Port Leucate at lunchtime.
April 22, 2012
The journey down to Spain was gratefully broken by a stop- over at friends Bob and Julie-Anne’s home in north Carcassonne. They live in an ex wine growers house with swimming pool, set amongst operating vine yards. Their warm welcome was enjoyed and appreciated, a good chat and an early evening bar-b-cue of Bob’s special ribs topped off the evening.
We departed on Sunday morning and took the route towards Perpignan via the foothills of the Pyrenees, picturesque and interesting with some good vineyards, unfortunately they were shut due to it being Sunday.
The stunning scenery was punctuated by wooded mountain slopes and quaint Swiss style mountain villages.
On the road near Antugnac is a WW11 memorial to Resistance Fighters 87and Allied Forces who gave their lives when a crack German Panzer division were `; sent to clear the mountain villages of its male members in an effort to deal with the resistance movement.
Alcossebre is not the same place that it was when we visited last year, this year’s trip was punctuated by poor weather, abandoned businesses, homes and money pinching survivors. The Spanish economy is clearly struggling in this part of Spain and this is reflected in the tourist industry which offers over priced entertainment and a housing market swamped by overpriced houses, apartments and villas, their owners anxiously trying to offload their assets.
Our month was dominated by poor, chilly weather which resulted in reduced beach time and increased visits to places of interest in an effort to fill our time. Sunny days were enjoyed on the beach.
Visits to the picturesque fishing village of Peniscola, historic Benicasim and mountainous Villefames, gave us a flavour of the Costa Azahara.
A favourite was the cheap juice oranges at 8 Euro’s for a 10 kilo bag, they make a great breakfast juice which contributes to our ‘5 a day.’
A favourite walk was along the boardwalk towards the Lighthouse, the craggy shoreline beach and adjacent scrubland a pleasing sight, there are a number of derelict houses and a stable complex which are a sorry sight, overgrown and abandoned, we are told that there is an application in with the council to reopen and develop the stables. It would appear that the houses were built on the edge of the National Park, the developer, a Venezuelan was also responsible for developing the marina complex, but the housing development collapsed on his death and remains unresolved.
A favourite hostelry was ‘Pickopota,’ a bar and restaurant where we regularly frequented during last year’s visit. It was within easy walking distance of Arcos 2.
However this year the welcome did not seems as friendly, it turned out that with business being leaner they made the short sighted decision to reduce their opening hours to weekends only, so we transferred our affection to nearby ‘Chez Jo’s’ and the English owned ‘Cheer’s’ bar near to the marina.
Leaving Alcossebre at the end of our month away was not so much of a wrench and in future we will not spend so much time there.
April 21, 2012
Welcome to our 2012 Tripsailor blog, by now you will have had an opportunity to read our late update blog for our 2011 sailing season. The blog is a single entry over-view of our short sailing programme; hence it is presented as a single entry.
However, we hope that you will find it interesting. For those friends who are members of PSC you will have received an extended version with photographs as our contribution to the Autumn/winter newsletter… Unfortunately due to internet capacity it has not been possible to include those photographs in this edition.
We are pleased to report that the family situation in the UK has improved and Son in Law Chris has started to make real progress in his recovery, he is able to walk and is interacting far more with his family, we are so proud of him and the progress that he has made.
Caroline has astounded us with the depth of her courage demonstrated throughout the adversity of the past months. Often alone, she continues to anchor her family and fight their corner against a system that does not always cater for young families who face the trauma that they have faced over the past 14months.
The children, ‘Meghan’ is a typical 10 year old who tries hard to help but often falls foul of her mother has continued to do well at school achieving the heist possible marks in English for her age, Izabella is a delightful 2 ½ year old, her placid demeanour helps her cope with this strange environment, she is a ray of sunshine and baby Noah, is a happy and contented little boy who spends his day smiling. We are proud of all our families’ achievements.
Given the improvements in the family circumstances we have decided that we are able to venture further afield.
Our winter was spent in the rented house we took last year; it is comfortable and meets our domestic needs during the winter months.
In early autumn we were graced by a visit from Fred and Pat, close friends from the UK and my cousins John and Anne who helped us explore the area and drink some good bottles of wine, a visit to the Dali museum in Figures we are grateful to them for their visits and hope that they enjoyed their visits as much as we did,. We hope they can come back to see us again in the near future.
Work on Fandango was not completed as diligently as it should have and whilst essential maintenance was prioritised prior to Christmas other planned work was not, leaving me in a mad rush to complete the work before we departed Gruissan for our short sabbatical in Spain. A lesson learned for the future.
During the winter we spent time with friends Peter and Joyce, and Gary and Markuss. We were pleased to meet up with Brenda and Norman when they paid a short visit to Gruissan.
We have enjoyed a number of planned and unexpected visits (in both directions) with new friends Bob and Julie-Anne and son Toby. It is strange how now it feels we have known them forever. They have made us feel most welcome and of course are most welcome with us.
With the holding tank finally fitted to Fandango during the spring, we plan to leave Gruissan in early May (weather permitting) and coast hop down the Spanish coast crossing to the Balearics from the mainland.
During the summer we intend to continue work on our French language course, so ably presented by our friend Annette, a French speaking Dutch lady who owns a very nice concrete yacht in the nearby marina. For many years she sailed their home completed yacht around the world with her French born husband, ‘John Marie’, before he became ill and sadly passed away.
We are indebted to her for her patience and time contributed to our struggle to learn the French language with humour and kindness.
We will post updates whenever we have news and hope you enjoy our blog of 2012.
Chris and Chris.
April 21, 2012
Our sailing expectations for the summer of 2011, drastically reduced following news from home in February. After a great deal of soul searching over our future in France, we gratefully settled on sailing fairly locally for this year, so to be available to go home if needed.
Back in January 2011 we made a scheduled visit to the UK, we learned the good news that our youngest Daughter Caroline and Son in Law Chris were to become parents again, although this news was tinged with concerns over the health of the unborn baby, however after various tests the baby was given a full bill of health and the birth date of the 9th.July was confirmed.
In February our dear Son in Law Chris (45), suffered a heart attack and massive stroke, it was unexpected and devastating for us all, in particular for pregnant Caroline, and bewildering for grand-daughter’s Meghan and Isabella.
Over the following months, Chris desperately clung to the edge of life and eventually he started to show small signs of recovery, but it was clear that it was to be a long and frustrating road to recovery, one still being fought.
Over the following months we made several expensive trips home in an effort to support Chris and Caroline.
In order to assist in last minute passages home we decided to purchase a car, and in March we took delivery of a VW Golf, which we took back to France.
Elder daughter Vicki and Son in Law Bob, grandchildren Ethan and twins Olivia and Erin moved into their new house, their current challenge was dealing with three challenging but delightful children and bringing their new home up to date as they would like it.
In the middle of April, we surrendered the tenancy of our Gruissan house and took a short break at our landlord’s apartment in Alcacebre, Spain.
Back in Gruissan in early May we launched Fandango only to discover that the post service installation of the Auto-stream propeller reflected the incorrect fitting experienced in the previous year the result of which caused Fandango to go forward in reverse gear and reverse in forward gear; accompanied by a great deal juddering and grinding. There was no alternative but to pay the cost of a second travel hoist, we dared not refit the auto-stream; instead we opted to fit the original backup alloy propeller.
We finally departed Gruissan on 25th. May. Our plan was to make for Cap d’Agde, Port Camargue, Port Napoleon and on to Ille de Frioul off Marseilles and eventually the beautiful French Island reserve of ‘The Pocquerolles’ and picturesque Corsica about 150 miles east of Gruissan.
We were due back in Gruissan for our scheduled trip to the UK on the 15th July. We were expected in Lancashire for the birth of our grandson, and and the same time to collect Granddaughter Meghan who was returning to France with us for her school holiday.
It was a beautiful warm sunny morning with a northerly breeze which pushed us at 3-9 knots on a broad reach in a slight sea, perfect for our ‘shake down’ sail of the season.
We spent several days exploring Cap d’Agde, and on Friday 3rd June we moved on to Port Camargue which was a further 35 miles east.
This was our first visit to Port Camargue, the largest marina in France, boasting in excess of 5,000 boats, and surrounded by apartments, bars, restaurants, a zone technique a shopping centre and numerous golden sandy beaches which gently shelve down to beautiful blue sea, the numerous coves facing every point of wind roll towards neighbouring Gru du Roi approximately 2 miles west of Comargue.
Fandango being broad at the stern, was unable to fit into the standard 12 meter ‘stern too’ post style moorings despite several attempts to squeeze her in. We secured against an alongside pontoon intended as a passage berths.
We spent several weeks waiting for the weather to stabilise. Weather forecasts showed that whilst on land the weather was sunny, warm and beautiful, at sea the weather had not stabilised with bands of heavy winds passing through, we dared not risk a trip to the Pocquerolles with the prospect of mooring on anchor, marina prices in July and August are astronomical.
As the 15th July fast approached we settled on enjoying sunbathing on the beaches and socialising in the bars. The offshore weather had not stabilised.
Over the next few days we returned to Gruissan, on arrival our boatyard, ‘Nautiland’ had come up trumps allowing us the use of a pontoon in the Zone Technique.
Our trip to the UK went well, our grandson Noah arrived 10 days late but in good health.
Son in Law Chris was now home and making slow but steady progress, he had suffered some setbacks suffering medication induced epileptic style fits, which were both debilitating and undermined family confidence.
Meghan was excited to be making the trip with us, a series of new experiences laid out before her, meeting family members, ferry travel, and the journey through France with its different scenery and open countryside featuring grapevines and sunflower’s, castles and Chateau’s was enlightening and exciting.
En route we called on friends Keith and Carol near Angouleme, we are grateful for their hospitality, and a good night’s sleep, Meghan and I swam in their pool and relaxed around their pool before completing the trip south to Gruissan.
The three days travel from the UK was long and wearing, our arrival in Gruissan consolidated all Meghan’s expectations.
During the next few days we stayed in Gruissan , Meghan enjoyed the beaches, but was initially alarmed by the heavy rolling waves crashing to shore but she soon learned to ride them and could be heard shrieking with delight as they broke over her.
Her education was continued when she learned to speak a little French and made some French friends.
Sadly ‘Meggie’ our 20 year old Burmese ships cat, who had been looked after by neighbours Sue and Jill whilst we were away, was not well, a visit to the vet confirmed our worst fears when she was diagnosed with kidney failure. The result was that we had to say goodbye to our lovely little friend; rest in peace Dear Meggie.
The next five weeks were spent sailing in the ‘Golf du Lion’ but the weather was still not stable enough for us to make for the Pocquerolles and so decided to stay in Port Camargue.
Whilst in Port Camargue we met new friends Bob and Julie- Anne and their son Toby, who is of a similar age to Meghan, they were on their way west following collection of their new boat, ‘Vicki 2’ a Dufour 41 from Italy. They were looking for winter storage facilities, we suggested Gruissan as a possible option.
Whilst in Port Camargue we were treated to the 25th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of a lifeboat at the port, with a weekend of festivities including several demonstrations, a helicopter rescue, water dog rescues and a parade of the famous Camargue horses followed by a bar-b-cue a firework display and a concert by the ‘Angles Blanc’ A local dance band.
We enjoyed the festivities with Bob, Julie-Anne and Toby, both children spent most of the evening glued to the barrier in front stage and by 0130 am we all retired exhausted having spent most of the evening dancing to a range of largely English music, a good time was had by all.
Two days later we departed Port Camargue for Gruissan and took up the stern too mooring provided by our boatyard adjacent to the Quai de la Tramontane’ in Gruissan…
In late August we started the long journey to the UK with Meghan. That was the end of our adventures on Fandango for 2011, the remainder of the summer and Autumn was spent in Gruissan, preparing for lift-out and our winter lodgings in Les Cabestans.
A plan for the winter is to fit a holding tank in Fandango, take French lessons and formulate an sailing programme for summer 2012.
A rough plan may be to depart Gruissan in early May and head down the Spanish Coast to Valencia and cross to the Balearics.
Chris and Chris Grundy.
June 03, 2011
Winter in Gruissan was a rewarding experience, with sun most
days, sitting in front of the Boulanger’s in the village drinking coffee and
watching the world go by, we could forgive the strong wind blowing from the snow
capped Pyrenees. Protected from the wind by the building with a view of the
village square, it soon became a feature of our daily routine.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
On market day the view of the numerous stalls selling olive
oil derived products, local goat’s cheese and vegetables, butchers (Charcoutiere’s)
unit and dried meats, it is a wonderful sight, sipping on a cup of ‘Cafe’.
With two frosty days and very little rain during the whole of
the winter, the wind was a small price to pay.
The wind did not blow every day, but when it did, it could be
too strong to stand up in, but it kept the rain away, the Languedoc Roussillon
region is known for its strong winds( amongst other things/wine/cheese) which
funnel down the Rhone Valley or off the Pyrenees.
Our choice of winter house was a resounding success,
conveniently close to the Zone Technique du Port, Fandango’s winter resting
place, the house was comfortable with all our wish list addressed, satellite TV and installed
internet access, communication with loved ones and friends was gratefully
accepted, the Christmas Goose was ordered from the village ‘Epicure,’ copious quantities
of oysters(Huites), mussels(moules), bullots,(sea snails) lobster(Homard), King
prawns(Crevettes) sourced from the historic salt pans just outside Gruissan, you
may forgive us for being grateful for our circumstances, surrounded by quality ‘Le Clape’ vineyards,
we were in heaven.( the name in English is unfortunate and has no link to our
Many visits to Centre Du Tri in Narbonne on the bus at 1 euro
per trip were enjoyed. (This is the main commercial area)
Christmas came and went, many thanks to Betty’s of Harrogate
who posted a Christmas pudding and cake to us. Our family kindly donated ‘Red
Cross’ parcels to us which arrived in time.
New Year was celebrated with the ultimate
dinner at ‘Le Ferme’ a restaurant we had visited several times, the first time
with long time friends Keith and Carol Pendlebury.
We arrived at the restaurant at 1230 and left at 1730, a meal
to be remembered. The Chef is famed for his Pate de Foi Gras, and we were not
disappointed, having consumed a modicum of St. Jacques with local black
truffle, Duck, and a fanfare of deserts we retired home and did not eat for two
Our first trip home was in a hire car, we set off on the 6th
January for the 1200km trip to Calais, and the trip was broken by a delightful stay
with an introduction to Keith and Carol’s new home in Manot near to Angouleme (Bury’s
Catching up with their news in front of their wood burning
fire and enjoying some ‘Huites du St
Martin’, Beuf Bourgeon and a glass or two of local wine was a delight and long
Our plan was to stay with daughter and Son in Law Vicky and
bob, Ethan and the Twins Olivia and Erin in Ashford and then on up to Bury to our
younger daughter Caroline and son in law Chris, Meghan and Izzie and then to Brother
Pete and Rhian in Porthmadog.
However our plan was offset by sudden news of the death of
Bob’s Grandmother, which coincided with our arrival; with the funeral arranged,
baby-sitting duties were our order of the day.
Our visit with Caroline and Chris, Meghan and Izzie was met
with the news that we were to be grandparents again. This time a boy,
Our visit with Brother Pete and Rhian was much enjoyed, and a
visit to a deserted PSC was made.
We were soon on the road heading back to Gruissan, satisfied
that family were well and that our affairs were in order.
‘Meggie’ (the cat) had been cared for by Cecile our French
Our arrival home was greeted by a glance from ‘Meggie’ a
turned back as she snuggled back to her bed, apparently disgusted that she had
been abandoned for 3 weeks.
We soon settled down and started our preparation of Fandango
for the new season; plans to move east towards the French and Italian Rivera’s,
French Islands, Sicily, Sardinia and the Greek Islands were starting with the
purchase of cartography.
On the 14th. February, Saint Valentine’s Day, news
from home turned our lives upside down, it was unexpected and shocked us, our
45 year old Son in Law, Chris, had suffered a heart attack followed shortly
afterwards by a massive stroke, we were devastated, and so was pregnant
A long, trip home was
We have been supported by Maryvonne co-owner of Nautiland who
are our boat yard handlers in Gruissan, she has been an absolute gem and our
thanks go to her, also to Avis in Narbonne who worked hard to get us a car with
short notice, and to Cecile our cat sitter who also did more than we could have
The following morning we were on our way, the 1200 km trip to
Calais was covered in a day, tired and anxious we stayed the night in the lovely
Cottage Inn in Calais and the following morning we made our way to the port
where we crossed and stayed the night with Vicky and Bob in Ashford.
We arrived in Bury in mid afternoon, Caroline was distraught
but coping surprisingly well, our duties for the next 8 days was to support
her, Meghan and Izzie and to help in any way we could. We resolved to source a
car so that we could avoid the expense of a hire car, Smith Knight Fay the VW
dealers in Bury obliged with a VW Golf which we arranged to collect on our next
visit to the UK in March.
We paid a visit to poor Chris in the stroke unit at Fairfield
hospital, he was very poorly and struggled to speak before lapsing into
unconsciousness, Megan and Izzie paid their first visit to their Daddy and were
both distressed, reassuring Meghan that things would be alright was difficult
as they clearly weren’t.
With the pressure of the cost of the hire car snapping at our
heels we were forced to leave and return to Gruissan, and return the car.
The next few weeks were difficult, with almost daily contact
with home, Caroline was struggling to keep her family together, deal with
financial affairs and we were doing our best to support her from afar.
News that pressure was building on Chris’s brain and his heart
was in a bad state, surgery was not ruled out, and a high pulse rate would be
News gradually, became more positive and an action plan for
physiotherapy targets was set.
Our next visit home was much more positive, Chris was
improving day on day, he was now able to walk and his renowned sense of humour
was returning. We left much more positive. Caroline, Meghan and Izzie were
happier but wanted their husband and father home, but that was not to be for
quite some time.
At last news from home allowed us to start making our own
plans, Chris was due home in the last week of May, the adaptations to the house
had been made and all is moving on.
Chris is still not out of the woods, he has a long way to go
to full recovery, but the signs are good.
Chris and I spent the last two weeks of April in our landlord’s
apartment in Alcobresse, near Valencia in Spain, the rest was welcome.
Our arrival back in Gruissan was met with a busy few days as
Fandango was lifted back to the water, only to discover that the problem with
the auto-stream propeller continued into this year and we were obliged to crane
out again and fit the original fixed blade propeller without the rope cutter.
This year we have to be careful and avoid fouling the
We finally departed Gruissan on the 25th. May and
made for Cap d’Agde.
Our first day sailing felt really good, a glorious day with
hot sun and a 12 knot wind, from the South, the sight of the snow capping the
Pyrenees contrasted strongly with the day as Fandango sailed at a constant 4.5
knots, all is well.
We have chosen to delay our progress in Cap d’Agde, as heavy
wind is expected on Wednesday 1st June, our plan is to continue up
the coast towards the Pocquerolles and then on to Corsica.
We have to be back in Gruissan by the 9th July,
when we will drive home to support Caroline when she gives birth to our
Meghan will be joining us for her school holidays; we are
looking forward to her visit.
News from home is that Noah is currently in the breach
position and a section may have to be carried out.
December 07, 2010
It is said by those critics of Port Napoleon that it is a miserable place, isolated and a long walk to any amenities.
Some of the criticism I would have to agree with, however what Port Napoleon has in its favour is a great restaurant, Wife, All the technical support which might be needed by the maritime user all of which are offered at fair prices. Wi-Fi is available within the restaurant or verrander without an obligation to spend money; however most people will buy a coffee or croissant or a beer.
One negative that we found particularly difficult was out of the control of the boat yard that is the plague of mosquito’s which fed on us in the morning and evenings, leaving us swollen and sore. Their presence is due to the swamp/flatlands nearby which forms the Camargue, providing a breeding ground for the infernal insets to set their onslaught on us.
In the past their breeding was controlled by insecticides but now we are told there is no control as this area is a nature reserve. This for us was a major factor in us not wishing to remain at Napoleon.
Crain out and storage facilities at Napoleon is available, but storage is booked up in advance and anyone considering hauling out at Port Napoleon should book early to avoid disappointment. I was impressed by the storage and cradling facilities, each boat whether bilge, long or fin or flat bottomed was craned out onto a cradle and the boat set facing the prevailing wind direction, the wind strength being considerable here.
Services are delivered promptly and whilst we were there most people were complimentary about what is available within the complex.
Our own experience with the fitting and tuning of our mast was promptly attended to and well serviced, our thanks to the rigging boys at Port Napoleon and MM Rigging who did a good job, many thanks.
The nearest shop is 3k away in Port St. Louise, but I managed to buy mussels(Mules) at a shellfish retailers just down the road for a very reasonable price, Otherwise is was a long walk or energetic cycle into town.
The residential population at Napoleon seems very transient, not many boat owners appear to stay the pattern being that they will supervise the haul out and carry out servicing and then they go home and those that do are committed to using the very expensive and reputedly basic accommodation offered at Napoleon or live on their boat with minimal services, I am happy that we did not choose this option.
The camaraderie amongst many of the international boasters is friendly and helpful, we met several people there who we would want to keep in contact with, namely Arthur and Barbara Roberts and ‘Badger’ their Vancouver 27, Alexandra and Neil Flemming and their Bavaria 41 ‘Kinsail’, Ron and Elizabeth Haword ‘Eliza B’ and Val and Owen John from the Ovni 39 ‘Seren’ and other people who we met but due to language difficulties were unable to fully develop a friendship.
We thank them all for their friendship, support and advice which are very much appreciated.
I can imagine that when everyone has gone home and you are left alone and the wind is howling through the unoccupied boats in the yard, then this is when it would be miserable, we were glad to have been there and would recommend Port Napoleon to anyone thinking of reconciling their boat after a trip like ours.
We departed Port Napoleon at 0815hrs on a sunny and flat calm Thursday, and set our sails for the first time since late June, it was good to be able to use the sails again and we felt liberated by the freedom of the sails and from the drone of the noise from the engine.
As we passed into the bay the large cargo ships at anchor, waiting to go into Marseilles were crowding around us, we slipped past them along the edge of the buoyed channel and turned the corner towards Sete, we rounded the causeway leading back to Napoleon and along the coastline passing seaward of Napoleon, the masts in the marina were visible for a long time before they eventually slipped out of sight.
The coastline here is adorned with the colourfully painted buildings and grand shaped reminders of the Mediterranean Coastline, we contacted the marina at Sete to be told that there was plenty of space but that we should arrive before 6pm to ensure access to facilities, our passage plan made that look doubtful as we expected to arrive around 7pm.
With our pilot books scrutinised, we discovered that there were two entrances to Sete, one to the East the other to the West, restrictions to the easterly entrance were that priority was given to commercial shipping.
As the Easterly entrance was nearer we decided to make for that, and at just before 7pm we passed the Easterly breakwater and made our way through the port, past several container ships and ferries and into the Marina.
Mooring was again stern to, one aborted effort was as a result of a short bow line so our second resulted in us almost picking up another line round our keels but we managed to release it. We were surprised to see the welcome and familiar faces of Julie and Karl, we had encountered them several times during our journey, they offered helpful advice and assisted us to pick up another bow line and moor safely, there was a sail training yacht nearby and it seemed that they also wanted to help and offered helpful advice. Chris said that she was overwhelmed by the volume of advice given.
Later Karl and Julie came aboard for drinks before we sat down to eat and retire to bed. It appears that Karl and Julie are making their way to Gruissan for the winter.
The night was long and restless as the turbulence from fishing boats passing all night caused Fandango to rock and roll.
At 8am we arose and paid the bill, the weather forecast was for SE 3 to 4 rising after mid-day to SE 5 to 6. We had decided that the 30 miles could be done before mid-day so avoiding the force 5/6.
As we exited the westerly entrance the wind was blowing at 12 knots but the sea was lumpy and on the port bow causing an uncomfortable roll, as we made our way out to sea the roll did not get better and it was clear that our decision to leave was the wrong one, we battled up the coast for 10 miles before deciding that enough was enough and we made our way towards the entrance to Cap d’Agde, a large marina at the head of a bay, by this time the sea had increased and the wind was blowing stronger as we finally reached the narrow entry into Cap d’Agde, large waves guarded the entrance as we transited the breakwater, a large catamaran followed us in as a yacht exited and a power boat turned back.
Sailboarders inside the breakwater added to the confusion as we dodged our way through them and the catamaran forced its way past our starboard side. We were glad to have made the relative calm waters of the inner harbour as we were assisted to tie up by the owner of a French Catamaran in front of us on the reception pontoon.
The reception pontoon was a concrete wall facing the South East.
We registered with reception and they took our SSR registration card as security, we expected to be allocated a pontoon but instead were told that we would be staying on the reception pontoon, with no other options we were grateful to stay here.
As we looked through the breakwaters out to sea the waves were becoming larger and heavier, who says that the Mediterranean is an idyllic warm sunny place to be, we were later to discover how wrong that assumption was.
Our mooring was close to a restaurant and the ablutions, beyond was a row of restaurants and fishing boats their stalls set on the quayside ready to sell their catches. It was how I had imagined a Mediterranean village to be.
This was a huge marina, with several docking areas, a boatyard, chandlers and other boat factors. Beyond here and adjacent to the quays were numerous restaurants and shops, the style of these reminded me of Tenerife.
Large gin palaces were moored stern to the quays providing diners with the typical view seen in places like Monaco and San Tropez.
Back at Fandango the waves from the breakwater were bouncing us around. Our first night’s sleep was interrupted by the stern slop as the waved hit the underside of Fandango’s stern. Eventually I conceded defeat and abandoned my comfortable bed for the main saloon; the wind was starting to howl, bouncing us against our fenders and the quay.
The following day we spoke to reception, asking to be moving, but were informed that the marina was full, so we endured another night of discomfort and sleeplessness.
The wind had increased to force 8 on the bow and was set to increase to a gusting force 9, but it was a warm wind.
-0` QERs I put my head out of the hatch, I was greeted by Marina Security who had decided that due to the increased weather we should move, in a force 8 we were to leave the quay and make to an alongside mooring further into the marina. Safer and with less wind we tied up and relaxed for the first time in days.
Whilst the wind was as strong it was missing us as we were shaded by buildings and a large British Ketch called ‘Misty Moonbeam’ at 60 odd feet she was a good windbreak.
For the following days the wind contrived to batter us from a variety of directions, but the only loss was when we lost one of our balloon fenders in the wind, it came unfastened and floated away during the night. Never again to be found.
Finally after virtually nonstop wind and not modest rain, the wind abated and we could start to make plans for our move to Gruissan.
Tuesday morning was still windy but in the afternoon it left completely to leave us with a beautiful sunny afternoon, the warm sun was a welcome relief and restored our faith in the Med weather.
Wednesday morning came and at 0800hrs. We cast off our lines and headed for the much more friendly Cap D’Agde breakwater, the sun was shining and the wind was a poultry 5-7kph. from the north. With just 19 nautical miles to go and the odd fisheries exclusion zone to negotiate, the going was easy and with the sun gently warming us it was an ideal day for our final journey of the season.
As the Gruissan breakwater appeared, there was quite a swell from the east, a remnant from the recent bad weather resulting in an onshore swell, this made the entrance through the breakwater appear very narrow and the swell made it essential to ‘ride the waves’ through the entrance, squaring up we made a slightly nervous approach but with the following wave pushing us through the entrance we finally passed between the breakwaters as if the pray of the mantis. Inside the flat quiet pool greeted us, although surprisingly shallow we followed the buoyed channel past other yachts and fishing boats towards the marina entrance.
Our instructions were to skirt the entrance to the marina and make along the outside wall towards the fishing harbour beyond, the entrance to the Zone Technique was marked by a very rusty and partially submerged fishing boat which sadly lay on its starboard side, abandoned to the ravages of tide and time.
Beyond we could see pontoons and the wall which marked the boundary between water and hard standing, a red coated lady stood on the edge of the Zone and beckoned to us, We had not met Maryvonne previously but this was the lady we had communicated with by internet during the winter and most of the early spring with updates on our progress, our messages met with perfect English responses.
Maryvonne is the co-owner of Nautiland Marine Services, who were to be handling Fandango for the winter; we could see the sign on the front of the shop towering over the corrugated sheeted building at the far side of the yard.
As we made fast against the edge of the Zone, Maryvonne greeted us and helped us to tie up.
This was to be our home for the next few weeks whilst we searched for accommodation, looking around we could see the marina in front of us, it extended as far as the eye could see, it was fully occupied and adjacent buildings completed the Mediterranean ambiance, with brightly painted two and three storey apartments and paved walkways separating them from the marina.
Surely we would not have to look far for suitable accommodation; there were literally hundreds of options apparently available.
Palm trees lined the walkways and we could see the odd bar with its seating outside, we had arrived.
To our left was the Zone Technique, a large boatyard with several hundred boats of all shapes and sizes were stored chocked up, around the outside of the secure yard were a number of companies offering all the required marine services, there were several travel lifts moving boats backwards and forwards, it was clearly a busy area with lots of facilities, we were lucky to have made the right choice.
We quickly acquainted ourselves with the area, and discovered that Gruissan was a mixture of old village and modern holiday apartments, which were appointed around the marina and Gruissan Plage(Beach)
The beach is within 1 k from us and is reminiscent of the beach views of Florida with its stilted wooden built houses closely packed together on non descript square blocked roads.
I imagine that this place would be a ‘Mecca’ for sun seeker’s in the season, the golden sand beaches leading to clear blue unadulterated ocean which was rolling landwards was very inviting, but the beaches were patrolled by the unwanted Mosquito, the dreaded parasite which plagues the area.
The old village dominated by the ruined castle which towers above the narrow small houses formed into streets.
The village offered an array of restaurants, bars and shops. The Boulanger in the village square served coffee on tables set outside the front and the smell of fresh bread emanated from the building, drawing the busy crowd to its counter for the French staple diet of fabulous bread. (And cakes)
There is an open market held 3 times a week and occupies Village square and surrounding streets, a wood burning stove gently roasts chickens, whilst there is an olive grower with tubs of various flavourings and an apple grower selling ten varieties of apples, greengrocers, cloths and cheese, pasta and jewellery are also offered.
A permanent fish market offering oysters, mullet, moulles, and other fish is situated on the other side of the square and is open every day.
Our search for accommodation was more difficult than first anticipated, whilst there are large numbers of houses, flats and apartments are available, many are not suitable for winter living, with un-insulated walls and roofs, they are often expensive to heat and cold to live in during the winter. (Even though electricity in France is a fraction of the cost of that in the UK it is still expensive)
Chris had a number of requirements on her wish list, a bath, and two bedrooms, full cooking facilities (to accommodate our Goose roast at Christmas) and a landlord/lady who would allow cats (as we have Meg our 20 year old Burmese cat with us)
We gravitated towards a 3 storey house in the village, whilst it did not meet all our wish list it was pretty close to it, Maryvonne was very supportive and offered various options, on one occasion she and her husband Pierre had rented a house and she recommended a viewing, her advice coincided with the arrival of the owner who was able to give us an overview of the house but as the house was currently occupied we were unable to view it, it seemed to meet all our needs.
The house is divided into two dwellings; the lower level was 75 square meters, and the upper 35 meter. The lower apartment was more suitable for winter living, with front and rear patio’s, stable door into the rear area, separate bathroom and WC, two bedrooms and full cooking facilities it met all our needs.
The house was in a central area with easy access to shopping, restaurants, bars and the village.
Beyond the rear garden is a grasses field on which olive trees are planted, the area is designated an educational site, with a small vineyard, an ancient village oven used to bake all the b read for the village, and abandoned WW11 German bunkers facing out to sea and over salt beds, it was easy to imagine jack booted Nazis strutting around the area. On the far side of the area is the etang (inland salt water lake) a flock of pink flamingos can be seen wading on sand banks as they fish for shrimp.
We moved into the house at the beginning of November and two days after Fandango was craned out into Nautiland’s yard, being within 5 minutes from the house it is a stark contrast to the 260 mile round trip previously experienced.
Our plan is to travel home in the early New Year, spend April camping in Spain and to resume our adventure in early May; we plan to continue through to the French and Italian Riviera’s, Italian Islands, Corsica, Sardinia and Greek Islands next year.
To all our friends and family we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.
September 20, 2010
Christine’s special night.
Our evening at the Hotel Beau Rivage was special, For those of you who know us well, you will be aware of our fondness for The Hotel the Maes Y Neudd in Harlech, the hotel and food are in our view second to none and given the choice would always opt for a visit over anywhere else, well our visit to the Hotel Beau Rivage was almost an equal.
Our twin room was in the hermitage which is an annex of the hotel, it’s window looking out over the Rhone, it had a modern feel, with bathroom, separate toilet, flat screen TV and Wi-Fi. The accommodation was comfortable and Yes! Chris got her bath.
Apart from a number of mistaken visitors to our door, our time was relaxing and a pleasant change from Fandango.
We were able to SKYPE with both daughters Vicky and Caroline which was special.
Dinner was served in the dining room which overlooked the Rhone; we arrived towards the end of service, but on time. The menu was extensive with a la carte, Connoisseur and a Gourmet menu. The Connoisseur’s menu was an expensive do at 89 Euro’s, but it included the very best local wine with every course, Condrieu is famed for its quality wines. With a bottle of 2009 Van Blanc costing in excess of 30 euro’s it was a good deal., However, Chris does not drink much wine, and as this was her night we elected for the less expensive Gourmet menu.
Starting with an aperitif of Kir, (which is similar to Campari) ,we moved on to the first course, I chose pate frio gras and Chris, had scallops St. Jacques , as a pallate cleanser we were served a glass containing raw tuna cut into dice mixed into a wasabi sauce and topped with a very light mouse of tomato, it was delicious. We both had duck for the main course, mine was served pink, Chris’s was medium, the plate was so well presented small but very filling, the sorbet was pistachio and Mango so light and very refreshing. The cheese trolley was stacked high with every conceivable French cheese you can imagine, all courses were served with a variety of bread… We chose a bottle of St Joseph’s red 85 Rangs 2008 Maurier to accompany the meal. The desert was a pyramid of chocolate and pistachio mouse and brandy snap swirl in the top, beautifully presented it tasted perfect.
We concluded with coffee, I had an espresso and Chris had Cafe au Lait.
We retired full and very relaxed having spent almost 2 hours at the table, a wonderful meal, in a condusive environment and a great experience.
Breakfast was served in the dining room overlooking the Rhone, the sun shone through the windows. A continental breakfast is probably not my favourite but was well presented and comprehensive with fruit, cold meats Croissants and coffee.
I paid the bill and we booked out at 1100hrs and made our way back to Fandango, a German couple who we had met at the hotel offered us a lift back to the boat so with roses and bag in hand we were transported in style in their red Peugeot Cabriolet. Once again a brief encounter with genuine people resulted in the most generous of gestures; we thank them for their consideration and generosity.
Another day in Le Roaches took us to the feast and celebration which the Captainerre had invited us to when we arrived.
A street party, very simple, just people getting together, we do not know the reason for the party but the main street was shut off and chairs and tables erected .We were not greeted just accepted,
The Captainere acknowledged us with a plastic cup of Rose wine, free on the town; it seemed that they were just pleased that we had attended. We missed the performance of the brass band, but I imagine that it was the most auspicious of occasions, to hear the pride of the town sending their musical message. We were proud to have been invited.
Returning to Fandango, early, but timely, we passed a fig tree situated at the top of the companionway leading to Fandango, it had immature fruit on it but I picked two in the hope that they would mature in the sunlight, sadly they just went soft and stayed green so they were reluctantly discarded, a lesson to be learned I think.!
Our arrival back at Fandango was timely as it coincided with the arrival of another of those steel Dutch boats which are so popular in the French canals, the owners were a Danish couple, we helped them to moor and chatted, we introduced ourselves as they did but my memory fails me to the point of frustration as I don’t remember their names. They were sailing north and then flying home they had decided that their maritime adventure had drawn to a close, they were to offer their boat for sale, sad to us, a fear for me, but the completion of their dream, time to go home.
We bid them farewell as we pushed off from the pontoon at the unwelcome hour of 0730hrs and left for Valence distances to travel are now split into 80 k trips so are conveniently timed also. This trip was straightforward, just two locks to do for Valance.
Our trip to Valance was fairly unremarkable just a day to get to the destination at the end of the canals. Valance was a pleasant marina, linked with a campsite nearby and a supermarket within a walkable distance if you discount the roadworks, Walked to it and bought what we needed and made our way back to the pleasance, had a drink in the bowling alley and retired to Fandango for a well earned night’s sleep. Tomorrow was the mighty Bollene lock, the biggest of them all, the one we had looked forward to with some trepidation and anticipation.
We arose early and set off through the bridges which led us downstream to the Bollene, as we made our way we hoped that we would not be delayed, this would effect our arrival at our next location Viviers .
Our arrival at Bollene was matched by a large barge, given priority over pleasances we knew it would result in a delay we hoped it would not be long. We stemmed the tide for about 1 hour as a vessel transited from the other direction, Disappointed with the lock keeper who did not allow us to enter the lock with the large barge, it soon dawned on us that we had not been allowed to enter as it was so large and its engines/prop would have caused us problems, It took nearly 3/4hr to fill the lock therefore our 1 hour wait was relative to that.
Finally the traffic lights turned green and the lock gates opened and we made our way forward. Like so many other locks we had encountered, on the Rhone, the experience of decending in the lock was similar to a lift in a large tower block, once we were secured to the floating bollards all was calm.
The experience of dropping 30 meters into a slab sided, muddy and dark hole was awesome, it took us ¾ hrs to decend into the depths of the lock and when we finally reached bottom, we felt very small the size reminded us of the skills taken to build such a place, a cathedral that would house 20/30 London busses without difficulty.
Finally the gate rose above us and we exited, alone and impressed.
The rest of our trip was insignificant and arrived in Viviers a trip of nearly 80 kilometres,
It was hardly a long trip, but we were uncertain of the conditions of the pleasance, we had heard that this ancient village destination was badly silted and un-accessible to us. Despite numerous calls to a non English speaking harbourmaster resulting in the phone being put down and local tourist information office not being able to help us, arrived not knowing if we could access the pontoons.
Our arrival did nothing for our confidence, with empty finger pontoons visible for the river; it was finally down to us to make the decision to attempt an entry or to move on.
As always the skipper makes the final decision, so I gently edged Fandango towards the ominously empty pontoons, these were pontoons we had not encountered before, projecting from the bank, they hung like locusts waiting to pounce, they were strangely poised, with floats which made them sit high on the water, uncomfortably flimsy all the signs were there to avoid, but we had few other options, so we continued forth ever so cautiously.
A local Ecole Bateaux was leaving but there was no sign from him despite our gestures for information, however he came back to beckon us into a seaward/riverward pontoon.
We gently moved towards the indicated locust, and as we did so, the depth ominously reduced, but not enough to ground us but to finally welcome us to the safety of its haven, all but 0’25meters below the keels, we sighed with relief and submitted to its lure.
The finger pontoon was not too stable as it swayed to and fro as we dared to walk its planks, but we dared and it submitted.
We hooked up to electricity and surveyed the scene, an imposing ruined castle looked over us, beckoning us to its walls, we walked into the village, quaint, with tree lined Rue’s leading to the town square and its cafe, we were lured into it’s clutches and secomed to a drink or two.
Despite several attempts to pay for its hospitality, knocking on the door of the absent Captainiere we left feeling guilty at 0700.hrs bound for the Ancient City of Avignon.
The Gorge was passed without recognising its significance, we had waited eagerly for its arrival but when it came, it passed before us and slipped away into the distance, maybe the approach of yet another large barge masked its passage.
With the final few locks now approaching we relaxed to enjoy the scenery, some of which was industrial, but most was the famed vineyards of the Rhone, oh! To be there to sample its products.
With skies filling, we arrived at the junction of the Rhone and the upstream approach to Avignon, its modern day bridge and one way channel was clearly marked, stemming the strong current we barely made 2 kph, passing hotel barges and local shipping we crawled our way upstream, it reminded us of the pilot information warning of the strong tidal current which existed upstream, and the reason why local bargees make 600 euro’s from yachtie’s who are seeking passage upstream by tying up alongside for the passage north.
We gradually edged our war upstream passing the half span relics of the bridge at Avignon and subject of the French song so often sung in English schools as part of their French curriculum. ‘Sur La Pont De Avignon’,
We finally located the moorings, but were surprised to see that they were alongside quay moorings. All the pilot books wax and wane about a fantastic 140 berth marina, which was completed by public subscription,
The phenomenon of the power of water had prevailed and in 2003 the whole lot had been washed away during a flood, never to be replaced.
The Harbourmaster ushered to the only remaining spot on the quay, a miserable spot between an Ecole Bateaux boat, and its pontoon, a fig tree which had accidentally rooted into the wall and another of those Dutch cruiser, but we gratefully accepted and paid our 18 euro’s per night (for two nights) and sat listening to the evening traffic frantically passing us by nearby.
There were a number of Brits on the quay, some of whom we had encountered previously, and some new encounters. Val and Owen off the Ovni ‘Seren’, Julie and Karl off the Moody 31,. Sat amongst the moored boats was an old friend, we had seen it’s mast in Le Havre and recalled that this was a Moody 36 from Porthmadog, “Eliza B”.
Now owner by Ron and Elizabeth from the South Coast, we introduced ourselves and imparted what we knew of ‘ Eliza B’ we recalled the days when she was owned by Phil Moorhouse in Porthmadog.
We spent an evening with Ron and Elizabeth on ‘ElizaB ’swapping notes on the Moody 36. Thank you Ron and Elizabeth for your hospitality.
Avignon’ s history is notable as its antiquity goes back to the Popes, namely about 8 of them, in the 100 year period between the 13th and 14th Century, when, due to the disharmony and unrest in Rome, the seat of power moved to Avignon.
A Papal palace was established there, and during the reign of two of the Popes the palace developed an austere to a gregarious/flamboyant facade reflecting differing attitudes of the two Popes.
It was during this period that the Avignon Bridge was built, firstly built in wood and later in stone, the origins of the myth suggest that a humble shepherd wanting to get his sheep across the river was commanded by God to build a bridge over the Rhone.
The Rhone at this time was a river which had not been tamed by locks, barrages or man-made contrivances, and had historically swept away any attempt to tame it, even today it is an awesome force.
The shepherd is alleged to have approached the Popes financier at a public assembly, asking for the finance build the bridge, he was laughed at and ridiculed by the crowd, and told by the financier that if he was to lift a large stone which had been left at the riverbank by the builders of the Palace because it was too heavy, and carry it to the river he would be granted the finance.
It seems that there was some divine intervention, as he picked up the stone on his shoulders, carried it to the river and threw it in, forming the first foundation stone of the bridge.
Since this time there has been a bridge on the site, now a monument to the history of Avignon, its fame lives on.
On a wet and miserable day, we visited the Papal palace, the entrance fee was reduced for those over 60.so we took advantage, the visit was well worth the 12.50euro’s paid, with a guided tour around the palace we were able to learn more about the palace.
A good day, well worth the effort and money.
At 0700hrs the following morning(Saturday) we pushed off from the quay and headed downstream, a cold edge to the wind it was hardly light, reminding us that it was Autumn.
One more lock on the Rhone then it’s to Port St Louis and a small lock and a bridge and into the marina basin.
The last lock on the Rhone was Vallabregues, a 15.5m lock, then on the home run, exiting the lock in lovely sunshine, our speed picked up to 15.5 kilometres, we were on our way to the sea, the Rhone was hurrying us to our destination.
We passed through Arles at lunchtime still doing 13 KPH, as we had been told there was no longer a pontoon for pleasances we confirmed the absence of the pontoon, only space for the hotel barges, realising that we would arrive far too early for the St Louis Lock, I reduced engine speed to 800 rpm but we were still doing 8.5kph. The wind started to pick up so that too was pushing us to our destination.
Approaching the entrance to Port St Louis, a car ferry passed in front of us as if we weren’t there, by the time we arrived at the entrance it was approaching 4pm, there was a dredger and floating pipe work in the entrance to the lock as the wind whipped up the water around us it would be ironic if this last lock was to be our nemesis.
The green light at the entrance to the lock indicated that we could enter, as we did so the wind strengthened and howled straight at us, we struggled to tie up, the large ship bollards not really suited to us, there were some stainless steel handles let into the dock side just below our deck line, so we tied up there and held on.
We hardly noticed the lock level lower, less than a meter as the bridge eventually opened and the lock keeper leaned out of his window shouting over the howling wind to get a move on, the wind pinned the bows to the side of the dock as the stern decided to do the opposite, we almost turned round in the lock but managed to power forward with the anchor grinding along the dockside and Chris frantically struggled to release the bows from the headlock. Eventually the bows swung out and we moved under the bridge, there was a small yacht and a power cruiser waiting in the basin to exit, madness I thought.
The visitor’s pontoons were facing us on the far side of the basin, we moved towards them trying desperately to identify a pontoon which would be easily accessed, a friendly face appeared on the dock in front of an available space, we moved towards it relieved that we would be secure and safe.
The occupiers of the German cruiser in the space next to us stood nervously on deck ready to fend off. Quietly with the wind on the nose we pushed into the space, tied up and secured Fandango in the slot, no damage, no drama we were glad to be safe.
The force 7/8 Southerly wind was warm but it blew for the next 3 days ensuring that we were to go nowhere in a hurry.
With an Intermarche supermarket and its petrol station within 100 meters, a bar, creparie and restaurant nearby and power, water and Wi-Fi on the boat we were happy to sit out the hostile wind and collect our thoughts for the final onslaught on the conclusion of our trip for this year.
The showers at Port St Louis are housed in temporary buildings around the Capatainieres office , work on completing new facilities are well on their way, the temporary facilities were not up to much and Chris found the ladies facilities very poorly maintained and preferred to shower on Fandango.
At 19 euro’s per night we found this to be an expensive place.
Wednesday arrived as I paid the bill and we cast off, it was a calm and sunny morning and our transit through the Canal St Louis would take us out to sea, past the causeway, mussel beds and heavy shipping to the buoyed channel leading us to Port Napoleon. We had walked the 3 kilometres to Napoleon the previous day so we had a good idea of the lie of the land, our intended destination was the visitor’s pontoon at the far end of the marina, pontoon ‘G’.
As we rounded the end of the causeway, the wind gently reminded us that we were back at sea for the first time in nearly 3 months, liberated, it felt good to be in Fandango’s natural environment.
As we followed the channel we could see flocks of pink flamingos which are indigenous to the Camargue , but we did not see any of the famous horses.
We arrived at pontoon G 16 to be greeted by Ron and Elizabeth from ‘Eliza B’ they had arrived earlier and Ron took our lines as we gently moved into place.
Our purpose in being at Port Napoleon was to recover our mast, a large marina and technical support for all sailing needs it is the principle winter destination for many sailors including Brits.
Fandango was dwarfed by many of the vessels, we can no longer consider ourselves to be in the large boat market.
We had identified where our mast was and had arranged for it to be lowered from its storage rack ready for us to start work, for the next 2 ½ days, we worked full time cleaning and checking through the mast and refitting instruments, ready for it to be fitted at 1530hrs on Friday.
On Friday morning we were advised by the harbourmaster to go stern to the pontoon, as heavy weather was due on Saturday through to Monday blowing from the North. After the mast was fitted I returned to our pontoon and for the second time reversed up to the pontoon.
Saturday night arrived, the skies were cloudy and dark and the wind was starting to pick up, by Sunday morning the bad weather had arrived, no rain just strong warm wind. I was expecting something more but maybe the Tremadog Bay and the Irish Sea had robbed me of the pleasure sitting out a good storm in the safety of Fandango. Not weather to be sailing in but not what I had expected.
I am hoping that I will be able to elicit the help of the riggers in the next two days, Fandango’s mast is not easy to set and I would rather know that it is done properly than try to muddle through myself.
We plan to leave Port Napoleon on Tuesday or Wednesday and to arrive in Gruissan by the weekend.
One more blog and then this will be the end of our trip for this year, but we will continue the blog with our land based activities during the winter.
September 19, 2010
At this point we have travelled more than 1000kilometers and conquered 160 locks, we have only 16 locks left, but they are the biggest of our trip and will conclude with the largest of them all, the Bollene lock which is a 30 meter and apparently amazing to encounter, more about that when we have done it.
The Port de Plaisance at Chalon offered us respite from the weather which had been pretty awful over the past two days with constant heavy rain, now I know that we are on an adventure of a lifetime and in England having only two days rain would be a blessing, but we should be allowed to depart from what has been a pretty amazing trip so far, to complain about the weather, after all we are British, English and from up north!!!
At just over 10 euro’s a night, this Port du Pleasance has been a pretty nice place to stay, after moving from the waiting pontoon where there are no facilities we moved onto pontoon B125 on Thursday and had access to electricity and water.
The pontoon was on the outside of the marina and we tied up alongside, many of the craft were hire boats so I was a bit apprehensive as some hire boat sailors are clumsy and have little regards for others when approaching and mooring.
However, during our stay we were blessed with some pretty nice neighbours. On Thursday evening a large traditional French hire boat, moved into the berth in front of us. I could see that they were struggling, getting the boat moored and accessing power, so I went to help, during which I ended up explaining the principles of ‘springing’.
It transpired that the occupants were a group of 4 friends with their wives; they had travelled from Denmark to hire the boat for a week, and had saved the ‘astronomical’ hire fee of 2500 Euro’s by saving over the past three years.
They were a jolly bunch and for my trouble they invited me for a drink, I accepted a canny or two and ended up spending the next couple of hours chatting, they were leaving the following day, but they left me feeling good about the social scene of our trip and glad to have met them. We parted saying our goodbyes and I returned to Fandango for dinner.
The following day we were joined by an Ovni 39, the boat called Seren, its owner is from South Wales and the boat masquerades as a 39 footer but is actually 43 feet. Seren’s owners Val and Owen John were also travelling to Port Napoleon, helped for the next week by a couple of friends. Val and Owen’s intention was to winter in Port Napoleon. They had taken the Marne canal route which is allegedly shorter, is deeper and less unfriendly but has 50 more locks.
Saturday morning arrived, I had managed to remove the huge driftwood trunks which had accumulated between Fandango’s hull and the pontoon, the heavy rain had washed debris into the river and we were the point at which it had accumulated.
The morning was warm and the sun had broken through and a blue sky was presented, we filled with water and finally cast off at 0945hrs and set a course through the arches of the Pont …….. for Tornous.
Moving along the broad reaches of the Saone was a bit of a shock, after spending more than 6 weeks in shallow, narrow and often very challenging canals; the Saone River was easy to navigate, its lateral buoys clearly presented and wide open reaches, a strong current was in our favour and meant that we made good time. With only one lock to encounter time was no issue in getting to our destination, in 2 ¼ hrs we had travelled 25 kilometres and with a 12 kilometre speed limit we were turning down the revs so as not to exceed the speed limit. Going downstream the scenery had changed from wooded banks, to open pastures to corn fields and cows grazing on the banks of the river.
As is the French way, fishing is a popular pastime for both men and women, whilst our encounters on the smaller canals had sometimes been jousting contests to see how long they could leave their rods out to frantically reeling in when they realise that we could not deviate to avoid them.
Now the fishing was done from distant banks and became part of the scenery, one method of fishing was particularly interesting, from what seemed like small boats with poles erected from them, they reeled out a frame with canvass it had the appearance of an upturned para -glider sail which was hauled into the water using guys which were pulled through the water.
Reminiscent of the Seine, we had started to encounter large barge shipping, bigger than the Seine they pushed their way through the river but seemed considerate of us and stayed away from us so not to catch us in their wake.
We arrived at Tournos just before lunchtime, it had a typical Mediterranean character with colourfully painted houses and red terracotta roof tiles there was a long riverside pontoons which were available for plaisances, further along a large Hotel barge was busy taking on passengers.
The place seemed busy and we had made such good time that we decided to miss out on Tournos and push on for Macon which was another 30 kilometre’s downstream.
Reports that Macon was a noisy and inhospitable place to moor, concerned us, so we opted to stay away from the Town Quay, and made for the Port Du Pleasance which we had been told was rough with an inhospitable Capatainiere, who declined to render assistance.
Arriving at the Pleasance at 1600hrs. We approached the entrance which is situated between two islands in the centre of the river, initially the mouth of the entrance shallows quickly to 1.6m under the keels, but it soon increased to near 3 meters. As we continued the entrance opened out again into a large basin.
As we approached the Pleasance we could see that there were modern pontoons along one side of the basin, whilst on the other is a river bank and a park. Mooring for visitors is at the top end of the plaisance, but instead of pontoons mooring was stern too, this would be the first timewe had encountered stern too mooring and I have to confess to being a little concerned about expediting it. We motored down the line of moored boats and could see vacant spaces but these appeared to be reserved.
From within a couple of boats appeared the shaven headed, dark clothed and athletic figure of a man, waving to us and indicating to a free berth.
I quietly lined up Fandango with the space selected reverse and slowly moved backwards towards the space, Chris picked up the forward buoy first time and got a line through the hoop at the top of it and we moved backwards into the space with ease, and with a sigh of relief we were safely in place, I realised that all my concerns were unfounded, I felt proud with myself that we had moored stern too for the first time.
The shaven headed man introduced himself as the Capatainiere; he spoke a little English and is most helpful. He confounding the reports of an unhelpful Capatainierre, the plaisance was neat and tidy and appeared well run.
Whilst a bit pricy at 18.60euro’s the Plaisance has modern clean showers and toilets, fuel, water and electricity, winter storage and a Crain/hoist.
The Macon Port Du Pleasance is owned and managed by the Macon authorities and is about 3 kilometres from Macon, but the walk into town is by way of the river bank, and is an easy and pleasant walk along a promenade of trees and dog fouling areas and bins.
There are plans afoot to extend this plaisance from its current 150 moorings to 450 pontoon type berths, so I’m pleased that I have had the opportunity to practice my stern to mooring before it is changed to pontoons.
The Capitainierie is very particular about security, the site is surrounded on the pontoon side by a wire fence and locking gates, electric cables are locked into the bollard so I think there have been occasions where boaters have done a runner and not paid bills.
We decided to extend our stay to 3 days and spent the time exploring Macon and relaxing.
At 945hrs on Monday 13th. September on a cool, damp, morning, we slipped the mooring and departed Macon, our destination was to be Lyon, however we realised that in order to get to Lyon we would have to do 80 kilometres, so we decided to split the trip over 2 days and look for a suitable mooring which was equidistant.
The afternoon turned into a warm and sunny one as we approached the Halte at Trevoux, as we approached a large hotel barge was just leaving. The pontoon was equipped with water and electricity and a notice requested that we pay the 5 euro fee to the nearby camping site, which was situated at the top of the gangway on the other side of the path which runs alongside the canal.
At an extra cost of 1.5e each showers were available on the campsite and Bread could be ordered for delivery the following morning.
As we walked into the town the Mediterranean theme continued with narrow streets of old houses and dirt paths, the town centre was neat and tidy and the usual array of clothes shops, wine merchants and Tabacs were available.
We made our way back to the halte, stopping in a bar for coffee and a demi of beer and spent the rest of the evening enjoying the spectacular scenery and golden sunset.
The following morning having taken our shower and collected the bread, we reluctantly departed Trevaux and headed downstream towards Lyon and one more 10 meter lock.
As we progressed along the river the scenery was again changing, more industrial than we had seen before, but with the wide, fast flowing river pushing us along we soon made the mileage and just after lunch arrived in Lyon.
Mindful of advice given in the reference books, navicartes and from fellow boaters regarding security we were wary of stopping in Lyon and discounted a number of alongside mooring points as we passed through the city. The one recommended mooring is located at PK 4.5 and is identified by its willow trees which are planted at the site. Here there is a cobbled walkway which runs alongside the river, frequented previously by drug takers and down and outs, they have been driven away and now students and lovers frequent the area sitting on the stone forms which are placed on the walkway.
We arrived and saw that there was one other boat moored along the walkway, a Dutch built steel cruiser its British owner was from Sheffield and had been there for the past week. Encouraged by his confirmation that the area was safe we decided to stay for a day to see the sites of Lyon.
Chris went off to explore the area whilst I relaxed on Fandango, I later joined her and we walked around the centre of the city visiting the Car fours shop for provisions.
The following day (Thursday) we took the funicular railway to the top of the Fourviere area, at the top is the Basilique de Notre-Dame de Fourviere a twin level Marble church which is adjourned with the most exquisite stone carving and 4 domed roofs which are reminiscent of Islamic buildings. The building dominates the skyline and is floodlight at night, a beautiful building it is also a church which is still in use.
Behind the church is a walled plaza from which the whole of Lyon can be viewed, its elevated position means that the whole city and its landmarks can be seen.
A short distance away are the ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre, described as the largest existing Roman ruins in the whole of Gaul and named Theatres Gallo- Romains, they have been restored and are used for public and private performances of theatre and music. The day we visited there was to be a private party and technicians were busy setting up light and sound systems.
Returning to the city we ate in the old sector, it was a busy and noisy place with students parading around the streets in fancy dress and shouting slogans loudly, apparently it is a Lyonnais tradition for students at the start of their academic year to parade the streets to proclaim their commitment to a chosen issue such as anti abortion or low cost housing.
For the first time during our trip we encountered rude restaurant staff, a young female waitress in the restaurant Amphigin found Chris’s request for a cafe crème prior to the start of her meal unacceptable and shouted loudly “you want cafe Creme now” She was suitably rebuked.
We departed Lyon early on Thursday to make for Le Roaches du Condrieu and our visit to The Hotel Beau Rivage to celebrate Christine’s coming of age !!!!
Our passage down the Rhone was accompanied by some sunshine
The Halte de Plaisance at Le Roaches is well appointed, its position inside an inlet off the Rhone, this facilitates a more restful sleep for us and keeps Fandango away from the wake of passing large shipping.
Chris celebrates her birthday on the 17th. September so we have booked into the Beau Rivage Hotel in Condrieu on Sat 18th. September, it is a very nice hotel with an expensive but excellent menu of classical French Cuisine. We are looking forward to a great experience.
My next blog will describe our experience.
With only 260 kilometres left of our journey to Port Napoleon our adventure is coming to an end for this year, we hope to be there by the end of the coming week, then we get our mast back and we have just 3 days sailing to our winter destination in Gruissan.
September 10, 2010
Having spent the day cleaning, and replenishing our food stock at the local Inter Marche and purchasing a new barge board, replacing a woefully inadequate one, we were ready to carry on.
At 0830hrs on a sunny Monday morning (6.09.2010) we reversed out of our pontoon and made our way into the Canal Du Centre, a 100 kilometre stretch of narrow, sloping sided canal, which would lead us to the final stage of our journey to the wider and busier Soane and Rhone.
The Canal Du Centre is said to be wider than the Briare but according to George, the Canadian we met at Chartrettes, is dilapidated and poorly maintained.
The main feature of this canal is the number of lock its presents some 60 over its length.
Smaller than those on the Seine they are largely self operating.
As French locks are designed for large barges, mooring bollards and ladders are placed accordingly. As our 36 foot yacht in no way fits the profile of a barge, taking Fandango through these canals presents some very interesting dilemmas requires a flexible approach and sharpens boat handling skills. As there is no standard design for these locks good observation and careful discussion before entering a lock is paramount. It is therefore important to have a strategy in which the collation of information about the lock profile is communicated to ensure safe passage through the lock. Our strategy was to view the lock through binoculars, establish the state of readiness, the position of the ladder in relationship to the mooring bollards, the type of mooring bollard and the side of the canal on which the lock control panel is situated, and then formulate a strategy to ensure so that we could get to the correct side of the lock to activate the process.
This canal has about 61 locks, most of which are self operated. To control entry into the lock is based on an internationally recognised system of traffic lights, two red lights means wait, red and green means stand by and green means go ahead.
On the Canal Du Centre a series of locks are activated in agreement with the Eclusier who will ensure that the first lock is ready at the appointed time, after this the locks activate as you progress through each one, each is automatically readied for your arrival and entry is controlled by the traffic lights displayed on the approach to the lock.
The first few locks on our run were ascending locks, this meant that on arrival the lock would be empty, once we enter the lock, we secure Fandango and then the lock is activated and it fills to the height of the water on the exit side of the lock.
The process of moving from one to another requires us to enter the lock, tie up on bollards and climb up a ladder to the lock side and activate the lock by pulling a line suspended from a bracket on the lock side.
As there is no standard design, each lock presents different profiles, often ladders and bollards are not accessible at the same time, so flexibility is a key element.
Progress along the canals should be constant, that is unless there is a vessel travelling in the opposite direction, which takes priority over you or that a mechanical fault prevents progress, this requires that we ‘stem the tide’ often for long periods, the longest has been an hour.
VNF staff patrol the canal and are constantly supervising the locks to ensure that flow is maintained. It all sounds very efficient but there are a number of things that can go wrong which often result in frustration and slow progress.
Today was to be a busy one as we had …….to negotiate. During this journey the locks would change from ascending to descending locks, this means that rather than entering an empty lock which would fill, a descending lock works in the opposite direction and we would drop to a lower level to meet the lower level in the canal. Dealing with descending locks requires a different strategy as these locks were often very full, leaving little space for our fenders to fend off Fandango from the side of the lock. It was therefore essential to ensure that all our fenders and boards were correctly positioned to protect the hull. The four large balloon fenders purchased from Ian and Pippa in Rouen had proved invaluable to this end.
Our progress through the locks went as planned and as we approached Genelard the sun was shining and all was right with the world.
Genelard is a small village, boat mooring is in a large pool just inside the village limits, there was an unusually good depth of water in the pool and the sides of the pool were straight, allowing us to tie up close to the bank. Water and electricity were free and available on the bank side, so we tied up, plugged in and enjoyed the remainder of the afternoon and evening sitting in the warm sunshine. There was a bar close by, so we enjoyed a coffee, beer and a glass of Pastiche.
Later in the evening a British flagged boat appeared in the downstream lock, on board was a young English couple, speaking to them in the lock we discovered that they had concluded a 4 year, part time, cruise around Sardinia, Corsica and Turkey and said they were on passage back to the UK where they hoped to find a mooring in the Hamble, we passed pleasantries as the lock opened and they went on their way, we made good our passage to the bar.
Later we returned to Fandango to discover that the English couple had moored behind us and invited us to join them for a chat and drinks later.
Kate and Homer were consultants, one in planning the other in computing. They had taken sabbaticals over the four years and had travelled extensively throughout the Med during their time, they were a mind of information and as is our custom we pumped them for information about the Med and shared our knowledge of our trip from Le Havre.
A pleasant evening was had and we parted late in the night, the following morning before we rose they left Genelard.
We had decided to stay in Genelard until Monday morning and arranged our passage through the lock nearby for 9am.
A warm and sunny weekend was enjoyed relaxing and contributing to the expenses of the bar. On Sunday afternoon a large hotel barge called ‘Liberte’ passed through Genelard and squeezed loudly and painfully slowly into the lock, we sat and remarked on how glad we were not to have to follow this along the canal.
At 9am promptly we had left the mooring and moved the 100 meters to the lock entrance, this was an ascending lock and as we entered I heard a voice shouting Vat, I did not understand the meaning of this so continued on my way to the lock, Chris had stayed on land to help with the mooring lines and I met her at the lock. Just as she pulled the activation cord and the gates closed I saw the face of another boater appear outside the lock gates, I then understood that he was calling to share the lock with us and that we had inadvertently locked him out. Lock. Struggling with my conscience I exited the lock with a guilty heart and made our way up the canal.
We moved through a succession of locks closely following each other, and felt that we were making good progress although the distance covered was a relatively short distance due to the time constraints in handling the locks.
It soon became obvious that our progress towards St- Leger-sur-Dheune was a bridge too far, our conversation with a lock keeper confirmed that the depth at St. Leger was too shallow for Fandango, his advice was to stay on a halt just before lock no 6.
By this time, we had entered a series of 6 descending locks at Ecuisses; these are part of an original flight of 9 locks built in the mid 19th. Century, however only 6 of the lock now remain.
We met a local family whose business is to take parties through the locks in a traditional French canal boat; they also run a museum featuring the work of the locks and their history.
We moored up in front of yet another unoccupied converted barge, as we did so the sky became dark and it began to rain.
A short distance back along the canal is a hotel –restaurant called Entre Terre et Mer, we walked down to it in the hope that we might get a drink and food.
The owner’s are a French couple, he is a Breton, she spoke good English, they have a 7 year old son who is called Allessander, and it was refreshing to have a good conversation with someone. We formed the opinion that these were a lovely couple.
We ate in their restaurant, a salad with smoked salmon, large crevettes, Chris had cod and finished with a chocolate mousse, I had St Jacques and finished with Cheese, a really great meal in a friendly and convivial environment.
We would recommend this hotel to anyone.
We made our way back to Fandango dodging rain and arrived just before another heavy downpour. It rained all night.
We arose in time to make the lock opening at 0900 hrs it was still raining and everything felt cold and damp. We donned our oilies, (those we were told we would not need) and set off in the rain.
We had 18 locks to complete to Chagny, (it sounds rude but is pronounced with a silent ‘G’)
Two locks later in consistent rain we saw the tail end of a large vessel as it disappeared around a bend, we hoped that it wasn’t Liberte!!!
Slowing our pace was not good enough, by the time we got to the third lock we had caught up with the vessel and yes it was Liberte, travelling at less than 5 kilometres an hour (which is less than 3 knots) it was impossible to slow down sufficiently to give ourselves space, Fandango could not go so slow.
With no space to pass we had to resign ourselves to a very slow trip, stopping in locks provided some respite but then there was the traffic from the other direction, if we stayed in the locks no one could pass in the other direction and the eclusieres became aggravated with us holding a lock. At one point we were moved on by a lock keeper as there was a large vessel coming in the other direction, so we had to leave the lock and stem the canal in heavy rain with nowhere to stop. The large vessel was a leisure barge; he must have passed Liberate at a lock as it was not possible to pass in the anywhere else.
The helmsman on the barge was a very aggressive Frenchman, who despite my requests to slow down continued towards us, waving us into the side of the canal and shouting at us, the whole thing ended in a slanging match when I refused to move right into the side of the canal. He tried to frighten us by putting power on as we passed but I managed to control Fandango and escape, a very unpleasant experience and one which ended with me giving the bowman’s sign at Agincourt.
Progress was slow until we arrived at St Leger where Liberte had stopped for lunch and we managed to get past her and completed the remaining locks to Chagny.
Arriving at the Halt in Chagny we were advised by a very friendly Frenchman that there was not enough water for us (1 m) contrary to information in the Navicarte, so we were forced to move on, another friendly American told us that there was space in the basin further on in town so we made our way.
Arriving in the basin, things were not looking good, a general sprinkling of hire boats and barges left little space, not enough for us to squeeze in, blank faces peered out of boats as we circled looking for space. Luckily we saw a space in front of a Hotel barge large enough for us to get in but not big enough for a barge, we quickly moved into the space and tied up, just in time to stop another vessel taking it, we have learned that on occasions you have to take a very selfish stance or you get left with nowhere to go.
The space we had taken was at the end of an area reserved for hotel barges, just outside, so there could be no repercussions, this section of canal was narrow and the canal in front of us was already occupied with a hotch potch of barges, and peniche’s.
We counted ourselves lucky as other vessels arrived and we dried off and sat down for dinner.
The hotel barge behind us started its generator, we noticed that this was a British registered vessel called ‘Jubilant of Lymington’ registered in Southampton, the owner came up to us to apologise for the generator and said that it would be running for ¾ hr, we had a chat and discovered that the owner was from Lymington and that he was running the hotel barge for 10 weeks for something to occupy his time, we chatted about our plans and he left as the rain started again.
Later in the evening Liberte arrived, to our alarm it reversed against the side of Jubilant blocking the canal completely, (another example of selfish behaviour) we resolved to get up early the following morning to ensure we left before Liberte!!!
At 0745hrs the alarm went off and by 0815 hrs we were fed and ready to leave, only just in time as we could see the crew on Liberate clearing ropes and decks.
As we lifted our bank pins and moved out into the narrow canal I was contemplating the thought of stemming for 3/4hrs at the lock which was less than 1km away, when the VNF vehicle arrived and the eclusierre asked us if we were making to the lock, we confirmed our plans and he sped off up the canal bank.
As we arrived at the lock, the traffic light turned to green and we made our way into the lock and tied up. As the lock emptied and we descended into the depths of the 5 m lock, we reflected on the satisfaction that Liberte was behind us and we had escaped and we were in front.!!!!
Another 18 locks ahead of us we gradually counted down our progress as the rain started to fall once again. The canal continued winding its way before us ever narrow, overgrown trees bending over the canal as if to say we haven’t finished with you yet, we passed a British yacht as it made its way downstream.
We finally arrived at the final stretch as the canal widened into a straight stretch, an unusually designed restaurant spanned the canal, its customers peered through the windows from on high. As we passed beneath the restaurant we could see in the distance the bridge and control tower of the last lock on the Canal du Centre.
As we approached the Med 35B lock the green light illuminated and we slipped in and tied up on the floating bollards.
The lock keeper came out to book us through taking our boat name and SSR number.
35B was an ascending lock, but we had no idea of what was to come, the navicarte describes this as a 10.80 m lock, but nothing was to give us a clue of what was to happen next.
Looking down the canal we could see the canal ahead, a wide expanse of water with lateral buoys, much bigger than we were used to, quite a surprise as we were still in the Canal du Centre.
As the lock emptied the size of the lock slowly dawned on us, we went down and down, I thought we were never going to stop, as the bollards continued to drop further the sides of the canal closed in on us as if they were coming out of the ground to eat us up, finally we arrived at the bottom, the sheer expanse of the lock hit us, we looked tiny in the bottom all alone and very humbled by its size.
This lock had a gate which concertinaed upwards in sections, like a lift it had a counterbalance weight which moved down as the door opened.
Finally with the doorway above us we slipped our lines and moved underneath, dodging the water running from it was passed underneath the door and into the wide open reaches of the estuary between the Canal du Centre and the Saone.
The wind freshened as we moved into the tide of the Saone, a motor cruiser passed quickly in the opposite direction as we turned towards Chalon Sur Saone and the Halte de Pleasance.
In order to get into the Halte we had to go downstream and double back through a side tributary, a one way system was adopted to manage traffic into the halte, as we entered the tributary the halte seemed very full, oh no not again please, we just need one space, don’t turn us away!!!.
We approached the halte and saw a sign directing us to tie up on a waiting pontoon, the pontoon already had two hire boats on it, but we saw that there was a single space at the front of the pontoon. As we approached a sign forbidding entry to hire boats appeared, this is why the one space at the front of the pontoon was there.
It seemed that the poor weather had resulted in boats seeking a haven in the halte, we learned that vessels had been turned away all day, we were offered the pontoon space we had taken up as the only option to stay, so we paid up and although there was no water or electricity on the pontoon we gratefully accepted the place, dried off, tidied up and sat down for dinner grateful for the rest.
Chalon Sur Saone is blessed with a wide array of shopping, a large retail park is situated within 3 minutes walk from the Halte, Ronny McDonald was there, our internet saviour, Carrefour a very French large supermarket, petrol station, sports shop, all within walking distance. After the confines of the canals this was heaven.
As the weather cleared the jam of boats was relieved and by the following day space was available in the Halte, we moved onto an outside alongside berth and hooked up to the electric and began to enjoy the facilities on offer. A military academy nearby was playing French national music including the anthem.
We decided to stay till Saturday and move on to Tournus.