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.