05/08/2008, La Ciotat
La Ciotat is not exactly the Provence of books and movies, but the setting is glorious. It reminds me a bit of industrial Cape Breton, with beautiful scenery, slightly run-down buildings, a sprinkling of elegant houses and brightly painted fishing boats. The townspeople are very friendly, the food in the cafes is delicious and the selection of produce and delicacies in the shops means that even dinners on board have gone up a notch! La Ciotat is a working fishing port, and there are stalls along the waterfront where the fresh catch is sold each morning.
The town has some interesting history- the world's first motion picture, filmed by the Lumiere brothers, was of a train arriving in the La Ciotat station. The theatre where the film had its first public showing is still standing. It reminds me of the old Majestic Theatre in New Waterford, but a bit older, a bit smaller and perhaps a little less majestic. The game of Petanque was also created in La Ciotat, or so they say.
Katherine arrived at 1030 p.m. on Saturday night (10 hours later than scheduled) after being rerouted through Paris because of a mechanical problem with one of her flights. This was very disappointing since we had to cancel our planned celebration dinner (of my birthday and Katherine's finishing law school) but we made up for it the next day.
There is a huge market on the La Ciotat waterfront every Sunday morning where you can buy everything from food to cheap shoes. The huge selection of gourmet treats brought on a serious case of impulse-buying and we tried a little of everything for lunch. In the afternoon we took the dinghy out to explore "l'Ile Verte", an island lying just off the town. There's a great view of the "Bec de l'Aigle" (a spectacular rock formation that really does look like the beak of an eagle) from the fort on the island. We had dinner in one of the local cafes that evening-delicious and inexpensive. The fish soup might have tasted even better if we had realized that we were supposed to put the rouille and cheese into the soup instead of eating it on our bread!
The cliffs outside La Ciotat are the highest in Europe (394 meters according to the leaflet provided by the Office de Tourisme) and the area is famous for the "calaques"- deep fiords that cut into the cliffs. We decided to putter around the corner to Port Mioux- an absolutely breathtaking spot where the boat was surrounded by high limestone cliffs. Anchoring is not permitted there, but mooring balls are available. After tying on to a mooring, you must also tie a stern line to the cliff face. The calanque was crowded with other boats, but it was still an amazing setting. Our post-arrival entertainment was watching young men jump off the cliffs into the water- some with much bravado, others after much contemplation. Then we had visitors aboard- three customs agents. Two of them made a cursory inspection below but asked Rick three times if we had guns aboard. One stayed up top chatting with Katherine and me- he was very friendly, told us a bit about the area and complimented Katherine on her excellent French.
From the calanque at Port Miou it is only a 20 minute walk to the town of Cassis. Katherine needed to book her train to Paris, so she and I decided to go exploring. As we approached the town, we could see the wonderful view barely visible over the high fences of the elaborate villas along the way. As we stood on tip-toe to peer over one fence, a fierce guard dog suddenly stuck his snout out and snarled at us. Yikes! Then we noticed a sign that said "Chien Mechant et Perspicace!" We understand mechant, but perspicace?? After consulting two dictionaries back at the boat, we decided it meant "Perspicacious". Intruders in France are obviously well educated.
A little further on, the view really came into its own, and we could see the old chateau that looms over the town. The train station was another 3 km outside the town so we took a local bus. For an 80 cent fare we had a very pretty drive through the countryside, past vineyards and gardens-totally charming. France is even nicer than I remembered. The bus driver gave us a free ride back, too.
The next day, we anchored off Cassis, did a bit more exploring and had lunch in a cafe. By the way the liquor "Cassis" is not made in Cassis, but the Cassis white wine is very good. Today we are back in La Ciotat, and we hope to rent a car tomorrow to do some land-based exploring.
05/05/2008, La Ciotat
Palamos , Spain and its headlands faded into the sunset, literally, as we powered our way into the 20k breeze. We were a little nervous of this crossing of the Gulf de Lion as it has the same reputation as the Bay of Biscay, to many. I was advised to wait, pick the right window and then, go for it, as quick as you can. Power on, to keep the speed up. So that's what we did. The wind eventually died and the seas settled down and the crossing was uneventful, except for the traffic. We had 23 vessels in close proximity to us over the 20 hour crossing. We had to take evasive action 6 times as the other vessel's closest point of approach(CPA) was within a mile. Most of these were at night, of course and the craziest one was when Bonnie was on watch at about 4:00am. She had five fishing boats, dragging nets, going every which way within about 1/2 mile and none of the fishing boats have AIS, as well she had the 940' "Emerald Princess" on a collision course. I was asleep down below but had woken with the sound of her running back and forth from the helm to the chart table. It took the two of us to get them all on MARPA (mini automatic radar plotting aid) and tracked visually to make sure we had no accidents. In the midst of the fishing boat fleet we found that shining a strong light on our sails worked well: one fishing boat immediately altered course after he saw the lit sails. The fishing boat thing reminded me of similar experiences we have had in the Bay of Fundy, where the herring fleets chase the big schools of herring. Everything worked out well and later as we were closing the coast at 10:00am, the Maersk Radiant actually altered course without being asked, to save us from tacking. He was very accomodating and we thanked him for it.
The only other interesting note about the crossing is the water temperature dropped from about 18 degrees to 15. But once we arrived the air temperature increased from about 18 degrees to about 25 degrees.
At the start of the passage we were heading towards Cassis, but upon reading the pilot a little closer we discovered the fees for the marina there would be any where from 50-70 euros in high season. I discovered that just 5 miles away was the village of La Ciotat where the rates were closer to 20 euros, so you know where we then headed.
La Ciotat is a delightful little Provencal town, a bit run down at first glance but bustling each morning with the citizens doing their morning shopping and the caf�s are full with the chatter of concern and happiness. The markets are full of fresh vegetables, that look beautiful, compared to home. The stores are full of the yellows, oranges and blues of Provence. The boulangeries..., charcuteries.., patisseries and on and on. The aromas of lavender, garlic, fresh bread and spices tingle the nose. It's a new world to us and we like it. The only downside is we miss the price and taste of the Spanish wine. Sorry, that's not totally true as we still have about 2 cases of Spanish wine hidden throughout the boat. Bonnie has lots more to tell you about the Village and the area in a future post.
La Ciotat has become an important repair yard for those with super yachts. When we arrived, Abramovitch's boat was here and so was Paul Allen's and most interestingly that large 200'(?), French, three masted yacht that had been captured by Somali pirates a few weeks ago off Somalia was here as well getting its bullet holes repaired. There are lots of others here too, both sail and power, in the 80 to 150' range. It's quite a spectacle.
We've now been here a few days. Our daughter, Katherine has arrived. We've explored the Isle Vert and had lots of Cremes (cafes). It's time to move on. The next passage(?) will be to Port Miou which is five miles west of here. It sounds nice in the pilot. Apparently we have to tie our stern to the cliff face and hang to the bow anchor. We will let you know how it goes. A bientot......
All the Best from Aisling I