07/02/2008, Villefranche Sur Mer
We didn't go to Corsica last night after all. Just as we were leaving the wifi cafe yesterday, we bumped into our friends Chris and Sandra from Deep Blue. Since we really didn't have any deadlines, we decided to stay another day to spend some time with them. We all had dinner onboard Aisling last night and had a great time catching up on the news since we last saw each other in La Ciotat.
This morning Rick and I went for a run along the waterfront toward Cap Ferrat, unsuccessfully trying to stick to the shady parts of the road. The run was definitely worth the effort for the lovely views of the Cap and the beautiful houses and gardens that we could occasionally glimpse behind tall fences as we passed. Posted at various points throughout the town, there are reproductions of paintings showing views of Villefranche from the 19th century. Although there have obviously been some changes, it's surprising how recognizable everything is.
We're pretty sure that we're really leaving for Corsica tonight. We've been having such a lovely time that it's a bit difficult to drag ourselves away, but we really do want to see Corsica, so off we go!
07/01/2008, Villefranche Sur Mer
Il fait chaud. Tr�s chaud. Trop chaud. Nova Scotians just aren't used to this kind of punishing heat. Apparently, even the residents of southern France are not- they moan about it and tell us that this is "pas normale". At anchor, it is not so bad, because we can jump in the water to cool off, but one can't do that in the Port Vauban marina in Antibes.
After leaving Porquerolles, we spent a night anchored off St. Tropez before deciding to make Antibes our next stop. With the laundry bag overflowing, the water tanks getting low and our internet withdrawal symptoms becoming severe, a night or two at a marina seemed in order. We also needed to fill up with fuel to prepare for the passage to Corsica. Port Vauban, listed in the Imray pilot as charge band three, seemed a reasonable choice.
As we enter the port, our jaws drop at the sheer size and opulence of the superyachts (all British flagged) berthed in the Bassin de Grande Plaisance. We tie up at the fuel dock, where our bill for 241 litres of diesel is 400 euros. Ouch, and that's only 80% of one of our tanks. Onward to the Capitainerie, where we discover that the daily charge for a 15 meter berth is 50 euros. There will be no one available to take our lines at the dock, d�sol�e, it is lunchtime. It is some comfort to know that the superyachts share some of our challenges- a skipper calls in on the radio and is told to "parlez francais" and that he must stand off until 2 p.m. when the lunch break is over. The port's internet system is down. The toilets are the Turkish, foot-print type. There are no washing machines. Why would you need a washing machine when free pick-up and delivery of laundry is available, at 11.95 euros/kg, starting from 200 euros? Toto, I don't think we're in Spain any more.
Antibes is a charming resort town, with a star-shaped citadel overlooking the port, sandy beaches and an attractive old quarter. The marina is just steps away from the old city, so we wander across to take a look and cool ourselves off with a drink in the square. Unfortunately, the Picasso museum is closed for renovations, but the people-watching opportunities are endless. We return to the marina where we meet our neighbour George, a French professional skipper, who is going through a tough time because his partner in a chartering business has been killed in a car accident and George's boat has been caught up in estate-related legal issues in England. He is obviously feeling a bit glum, but cheers up as he regales us with stories of Mediterranean sailing and wealthy yacht owners. The privileged set are apparently suffering greatly from the high fuel prices- a day trip to Corsica from Antibes at full throttle could come with a pricetag of over 25,000 euros. I can't quite get my head around the concept of that level of wealth. And just imagine the carbon footprint!
My life, in contrast, is rather bourgeoise. I discover that the laverie recommended by the Capitainerie is no longer in business and eventually resort to washing all our laundry in the bathtub and hanging it on lines strung from the rigging. It is hot work. Naturally, I find the laverie the next morning, far too late.
We treat ourselves to dinner at L'Oursin, where the oysters are outstanding. The elderly French couple seated beside us are friendly, talkative and very patient with our laborious attempts at conversation. The husband remembers WWII clearly, and speaks fondly of General De Gaulle as the saviour of the French nation. Interestingly, he is also aware that Canadians may not have appreciated the "vive le Quebec libre" line. He warns us about the Corsican mafia", and assures us that although we will never see them, they are there. At least I'm pretty sure that's what he said.
Yesterday, we motored down the coast to Villefranche. It is a deep, protected bay that offers great protection from the east and west prevailing winds, though open from the south. Anchoring is a bit of a challenge as it is deep and the anchoring spots are very close to shore. We got the hook down in 35' of water in weed and mud, but the holding is just OK and we are jammed in between other boats and the shore. Fortunately the winds are forecast to be light for the next few days. The Villefranche old town has narrow, winding lanes set on a steep hillside. Each lane is connected up the hillside with steps. We suspect the local residents are in good shape. The rest of the town is resort-like, with many apartments and bougainvillea lined streets. The colors are beautiful.
Last night, we met Wally and Martha's friends Taff and Liz and had drinks at their home followed by dinner in a small waterside restaurant. Having seen their faces in so many of Wally and Martha's photos, we felt we already knew them. It was very gracious of them to spend an evening entertaining total strangers. The view from their condominium overlooking the bay is absolutely stunning and encompasses the bay and surrounding hillsides, looking south. Taff is a movie set designer and I suspect he is inspired each morning just walking onto his deck.
We hope to leave for Corsica tonight. It seems likely that much of our passage will be made under motor, but after George's stories, our fuel bill will seem small by comparison!
06/25/2008, Ile de Porquerolles
We awoke in the morning to another hazy sunny day. Breakfast in the cockpit (All Bran, no pain au chocolate today.....) and enjoyed the view. The rolling hills reminded us very much of Cape Breton, except there are homes and villages on these hills. We were both anxious to get to Ile de Porquerolles so we upped the anchor and motored around the corner. There are a number of anchorages on the island, all headed by beautiful sandy beaches. We decided to stay close to the village as we are city people at heart and crave the small crowds and the morning baguettes. The anchorage is hard to believe compared to what we have been used to here in the Med. Beautiful clear water with the bottom visible at 25'. The colors are deep blue and turquoise and the beach is backed by heavy growths of old pine and other, almost pruned looking, green trees with slightly rounded flat tops (?umbrella pine?)and deciduous trees. All the trees are windblown and on an angle from the Mistral.
Porquerolles is one of the Iles d' Heyeres, nature reserves owned by the French government and also known locally as the Iles d'Or. These islands have some strange history. They were inhabited by the Greeks, Romans and various others in ancient times, but in the 16th century the islands became a community of criminals when the king offered asylum to those who agreed to settle here. The intention was that the settlers would protect the islands from pirate attacks. Predictably, this backfired and some of the settlers became pirates themselves, terrorizing the coast. The army of Louis XIV took control in the 17th century and there are numerous forts round the islands, some of which were used by Napoleon and by the Allied forces in WW II. Porquerolles village was built by Napoleon as a haven for army veterans. Today the village has some charming houses in pastel colours, a few hotels, restaurants and shops as well as a large marina.
We dropped the anchor in a sandy spot and it bit well. Next came all the boat work like launching the dinghy and setting up the mew MEC sunshade. With the swim ladder finally attached, we could jump right off the side of the boat for a swim and at the same time check the anchor. Then it was off to the village for baguettes and a stop at a little cafe for a drink. We made the mistake of ordering the "grande" beer, which, when it arrived was something called a "formidable", so large you could hardly get the glass to your lips. The price tag was also formidable, at 7 euros each! We spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing on deck, reading and swimmming- just like a vacation!
The next morning we were up early to go for a run before the heat of the day hit. The summer crowds are not yet in evidence, so the country lanes leading out of the village were very quiet, except for the shrill chirping of crickets. We ran past orchards and fields interspersed with stands of forest, out to a point overlooking the sea and then back to the "Gorge du Loup", where jagged rocks against the aquamarine water gave an unforgettable view. By the time we got back to the village, we were hot and sweaty and got some very disapproving looks as we shopped for our vegetables and bread. Thank you Jean Francois for putting the Porquerolles on our list of sights to see! We would like to linger here for a week or two, but we are also aware of your advice to get to the Straits of Bonifacio before the middle of July, so we'll be off to Corsica soon!
All the best from Aisling I
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06/24/2008, La Golfe Giens, Southern France
Hello All: Finally...... we are away from the dock. It is a beautiful morning with clear skies as we pull away from La Ciotat. Our destination is Ile de Porquerolle, about 30 miles east of La Ciotat and very near Hyeres and Toulon. The wind is blowing about 18 knots apparent, right on the nose. As we pull into the bay, I count 25 sails on the horizon. Pretty amazing; Bonnie says it feels like fireworks night in Halifax harbour, except this is Tuesday at 10:00 in the morning! From a Nova Scotian's perspective , the number of boats here in southern France is almost unbelievable. The temp at the dock in La Ciotat has been in the low 30's since we arrived and it's been tough to acclimatize. On the water it is much more comfortable with the breeze. The shore is misty and bold with rolling hills and wind scored cliffs soaring every which way. Little villages and houses dot the landscape as we move east. It's beautiful. As we approach the Porquerolles the wind is building from the NE and will back to the NW. The anchorage is new to us and is exposed to the N and NW so we decide to pull into Gulf Giens which is a little more protected. It's an unusual bay in that its about 3 miles wide and about 1.5 miles deep and the water depth is only 20'. The holding is good in the sandy patches amongst the weed. It feels strange to be anchored nearly a mile from shore, but we enjoy the breeze as we settle down to supper in the cockpit. It is nice to be back at anchor.
All the best from Aisling I
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