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ChaliVentures in the Med
ChaliGram 11-5: Last Day in France (maybe)
09/25/2011, Port Vendres, France

Dearest Friends and Family,

We are now alllllllllllllllllll the way at the bottom of the Golfe du Lion in the lovely town of Port Vendres, very close to the border with Spain. We arrived here on Friday, and I can't tell you how wonderful it was to see mountains again. After a week of the flatlands and marshlands of the Golfe du Lion, I realized how much I missed having mountains in my view! At this end of the French coast, it's the Pyrenees. At the eastern end, it was the Alps.... in the middle it was the Massif Central. Almost every place we've been in the Mediterranean, it's been mountainous..... Something you get used to, yaknow?

We had bypassed this town when we headed north in May, and I'm very glad we came here on our southbound trip. The weekly market was yesterday, and although much smaller than the weekly markets we've experienced in the last few weeks, it was perfectly adequate for our needs. We had our customary "moules frites" for dinner on our first night. (Steamed mussels with french fries), and they were the smallest mussels I've ever had....but tasty nonetheless. The town has its fair share of visitors, for sure, but it's a lot more laid back than the towns in Provence or the Cote d'Azur. It's a commercial harbour (shipment of fruit and veggies), and it used to be THE harbour that connected Algeria to France via frequent ferries back before Algeria won its independence in 1962. I've heard as much Spanish and Catalán spoken here as French. And the orange and yellow Catalan flag is flown everywhere. I learned that Catalan is one of the few surviving dialects of "Occitaine" (Langue d'Oc) that was spoken throughout all of southern France at one time before the language of the NORTH won out. So today, instead of saying "Oc" we say "Oui" for YES.

Our west/south-bound cruise starting in Nice over a month ago featured some real nice surprises.... as well as places we will definitely bypass next time. We had had no intention of going to Cannes, but..... sea conditions were such that our anchorage near Cannes got very uncomfortable. So...... we called them on the radio, and thankfully they had space. Well! Didn't Cannes turn out to be a wonderful surprise! The vieux port was ideally situated to stores, a FABULOUS daily covered market, vet/pet supplies, bakeries, butchers, supermarkets, etcetcetc. For liveaboard-cruisers, convenience to the necessities is a real difference-maker in how we feel about a place....and cost of course. Like Nice, Cannes is part of the "Riviera-Ports" group of marinas that has very reasonable rates. So ironic! The marina is right next to the convention center where the big film festival is held. I'm sure it's a complete zoo in May. It's definitely a place where we would consider wintering at some point. And although Cannes has glitz, it also has its own castle and church at the top of the hill AND an old town section.... a REAL town! The Rough Guide says that the "Vieux Port fills up with extraordinarily sumptuous yachts in the summer." HA! Based on our experience, they weren't any fancier than boats in the marinas to the east. And ChaliVentures certainly isn't a sumptuous yacht! We were among many NORMAL yachts!

We stopped in Ste. Maxime on the Golfe of St. Tropez. I don't know what it was.... but the place just didn't "sing to me." Chuck liked the town, but it left me a little flat. While there, we took the ferry over to St. Tropez for a few hours. I was curious to see just how "decadent and debauched" it really was. Well! As far as the architecture and setting, I thought St. Tropez was much prettier than Ste. Maxime. We even managed to have a reasonably priced Plat du Jour of salmon for lunch. I quite enjoyed walking around the town. But the harbour! Now THAT one was full of huge yachts of the filthy rich, for sure.

From Ste. Maxime we sailed to beautiful Porquerolle Island and got anchored just in time before some big winds from the west arrived. Nice clear water with a sandy bottom. AHHHHHHH, lovely! A perfect place to wait out the westerly wind for a few days. BUT. Could we wait??????? NOOOOOOOOOOO! I think it was mentioning that we only had enough spaghetti for one more dinner that got Chuck nervous. He has an addiction to pasta. And not just ANY pasta.... only spaghetti... "it tastes better than penne, or rotini or bowties." ??????!!!!!! WhatEVER. So..... after our 2nd night at anchor, the wind was supposed to be temporarily calmer, so we decided to GO FOR IT! .... ANYwhere where there were stores! Well......... we could have gone into the nice protected Toulon harbour, but we felt confident that conditions were calm enough to go around Cape Sicié..... esPECIALLY since the marina in Sanury sur Mer (on the other side of Cape Sicié) said they had an available berth when I called. SURPRISE!!!!!!! As with most capes, the wind and waves were intensified by at least a factor of 2. From the east, we were protected by the Cape, but once we got out of its protection we were WALLOPED! ughhhhhhhh. All I can say is that thankthewindandseagods it was only a couple of hours, and not a couple of days (like that horrible crossing of the Ionian Sea last summer!) It wasn't the wind that was so terrible, but the HIGH WAVES. Zoey was NOT a happy camper either. I had to hold her panting, trembling little body the whole time. BUT! Our reward for such discomfort (and stupidity I might add!) was arriving in Sanury sur Mer. AHHHHHHHHHH, what a perfectly beautiful town it is. I couldn't stop taking pictures of the water front. We were on the pier closest to town, and so I had an unobstructed view of the church and city hall and their reflection in the water. The morning after our arrival there was a huge market that wound around the entire harbour. Oh yea, and lots of stores.... that had SPAGHETTI! AND..... a laundromat within a mere 2 blocks. Bliss. It was pretty touristy, but frankly, the entire coast of France is touristy.. I mean, give me a break....the South of France???? It's been a vacation destination for at least 150 years!! But it's "mature" touristy, not new and plastic-y touristy. We met a delightful English couple -- Pete and June --who live in Sanury 6 months of the year. They bought a wreck of a house many years ago and completely transformed it. INCREDIBLE! They invited us for tea, so we got to see their creation first hand. We also learned that Pete is Pete Ashdown who was a race-car driver -- as in Grand Prix type races -- back in the 50's and early 60's. It was a fun afternoon.

One of our repeat stops was good old La Ciotat. We liked it even better this time. GREAT Sunday market. In fact, many of the same vendors were there who were in Sanury sur Mer 5 days before! Our new Scottish friends whom we met in Nice -- Graham and Margaret -- showed up on our last night there, so it was much fun socializing onboard ChaliVentures again. The only other HIGH point between La Ciotat (just east of Marseille) and Port Vendres was a visit to Montpelier. While we were moored in the little holiday village of Carnon Plage waiting for the Mistral to blow itself out, we took a bus to the provincial capital of Montpelier. What a beautiful city!!!! The first thing I noticed as we rode the tram from the Bus Station into town were the TREES!!!! Lots and lots of trees. It's a university city, so it has all the vibrancy one usually finds where there are lots of students. Old stuff, new stuff, great architecture and TREES! I could easily imagine having a 2 or 3 bedroom apartment there. And, it's only 30 minutes from the water.

So! that sort of sums up our adventures in the last 5-6 weeks. We still have 2 weeks+ til we're due back in Barcelona, which is about 110 miles south of here. We think that weather conditions will allow us to round Cap Bear (France) and Cabo Creus (Spain) tomorrow.....not a sail to be made when conditions are rough! There are supposed to be some very scenic spots along the NE Spanish coast -- Cadaques in particular -- that have been recommended to us. So, we'll just be moseying our way south and trying to stay out of the way of the big winds that come flying down the Pyrenees! Once we're back in Barcelona (Oct 15th), then we'll only have 2 weeks til we leave to come back to the States (Nov. 2nd), and another 10 days til our daughter Alex's wedding. woooohooooooo!!!!!!! We're flying back to Barcelona on January 1, so we can take advantage of being in that fabulous city! Look at your calendars, and come visit us there between January and April!


Much love,

Alison, Chuck and Zoey (of course)

ChaliGram 11-4: French Coast-July&August
08/18/2011, Nice, France

Dearest Family and Friends,

Yes. I know. It's been 6 weeks since my last Chaligram. Shame on me for being so lazy. But in all honesty, it's been a pretty laid-back, event-free 6 weeks, and not a hell of a lot to report if you must know the truth.

We find ourselves back in the Nice old port again..... and THIS time we're on the EAST side of the harbour; opposite the superyachts, so I don't feel claustrophobic like when we were here in June. It's quite lovely; we both really like Nice. And since we signed up to stay for over a week, we even got a break on the mooring cost.... which is pretty low to begin with. So for the bargain price of $46.00/night more or less, we're staying in a marina in Nice. Such a deal! And considering that staying in the free anchorages actually costs us about $13.00 a day in fuel to run our generator 2x/day (for the refrigerator), the difference to stay in the marina is only about $33.00/night!! That's cheaper than.. TURKEY! If you're feeling squeezed by the cost of fuel where you live, in France we're paying about €1.60/litre, or €6.00/gallon which is the equivalent of $8.80/gallon. There. Feel better? Enough about money! It's depressing enough to track the markets and economy in both the US AND Europe, not to mention reading about those irresponsible idiots in Congress making such bad money decisions!

The weather has been extraordinary. GORGEOUS! DELIGHTFUL! Not too hot. In fact, if you can believe this, Chuck actually wore his flannel pajamas for about 10 days in late july/early august! And mind you, that's withOUT air conditioning. That's how cool it's been in the evenings. Very unusual. Perfect sleeping weather.

So, we've really been taking it easy. The highlight of July was our visit to Menton, the eastern most town along the French Mediterranean coast. Italy is less than a mile away. As you will see from the photos in the link below, Menton is just BEAUTIFUL! It's very Italianate, with colorful buildings built on the hillside. And ..... there's a good reason for that. It started off in the 1200's as a town owned by a Genoan family before it became part of the Grimaldi principality (Monaco). It didn't become part of France until 1860. It's been a holiday destination since the 1880's when wealthy British, American and Russians and others sought it out as a winter resort. It has a wonderfully warm micro-climate, nestled on the sea and protected by the Alps. It's purported to have the most temperate climate in France. From the old port where we stayed, to the cemetery on top of the hill, it was a visual paradise. We stayed there 11 days, and made friends with a French liveaboard couple, Kate and Patrick. Patrick's passion is fishing, and one day they came by the boat offering us FOUR Dorados. I sauteed them that night, and they were delicious! We socialized a few times with them. They're very thoughtful and friendly people. It was really a treat, because we haven't actually met many French live-aboards ("Vie-abord"). It's mostly weekend sailors with their established land-based lives, and so they have a totally different mindset than we live-aboards have. We had to leave Menton because the owners of the various berths where the office assigned us all came back, and there were no more berths available! ☹ In fact, we had to leave on a fairly yucky day with threat of rain and high winds on the nose. But we managed to dash out of there before any unpleasantness began, and an hour later anchored in a new place, on the east side of Cap Ferrat. Monaco is between Menton and this anchorage. In fact we could see its skyscrapers, and the dozens of helicopters coming and going every hour from there..... some even landing on the megayachts in the anchorage.

So, we hung out in various spots in this anchorage. We had a rendez-vous in the anchorage with Suzanne, Brian and their JackRussell terrier, Bisquet. (No, Bisquet and Zoey didn't really get along....both are too much little princesses.) Suzanne and I had become Blog penpals in June, when they'd arrived in Gibraltar after crossing the Atlantic. It was great fun to finally meet in person, and we got together a couple of times. When weather got really bad, we went into the marina at Beaulieu-sur-Mer (literally translated as Pretty Place on the Sea, though between you and me, I think Menton was much more beautiful!). Beaulieu was a nice place, though; it had a daily veggie/fruit market in the town square, a MAGNIFICENT supermarket close to the marina, AND a train station. We hopped on the train and took it along the coast, heading west past Nice to Cagnes sur Mer. From there we took a taxi up to visit our new friends Bill and Elisabeth Polk in their exquisite villa in the provencial hill town of Vence. That's the same place where Zoey had her close encounter with a Toad which I described in my last email. It was a very enjoyable and delicious dinner party with lots of interesting guests who were authors, diplomats and other foreign service types.

And now....... we're back in Nice. It's always such a treat to tie up in a harbour after being at anchor for a long time. I've gone to the grocery store every day we've been here, just...... beCAUSE! And there's a washer/dryer in the marina, too! Am I in heaven, or WHAT?!? We've made friends with a lovely Scottish couple here who've just started the live-aboard life. We're due to leave here tomorrow to start our very slow cruise west again, hitting some new spots this time, before we turn south towards Spain and into Barcelona by Oct. 15th. I hope we remember how to sail! We've spent the last 8 weeks in an area not longer than 15 coastal miles! And we never bothered to raise the sails to just go 2-8 miles from one spot to the other.

Big News on the family front: We became grandparents for the fourth time on June 20th. Chuck's daughter Christina ("Tuni") and Dean gave their 6-year-old Claire a little baby sister, Eliza Spinney Turner. Now that Eliza's almost 2 months old, I think Mama is finally getting a little more sleep. I think. I hope. ALSO, our baby Alex (well, she'll be 29) and her fiancé Barret have decided to get married on November 12th.... a little sooner than expected, but since one of Barret's brothers is being re-deployed for the 4th time -- to Afghanistan this time -- they wanted to have their big shindig before he leaves. As a result, we'll be heading back to Virginia just a wee bit earlier than usual, on Nov. 2nd. They met at art school (Savannah College of Art & Design) about 10 years ago, and they're getting married in a modern art museum in Wilmington, not far from their home in Philadelphia. Cool, eh? So... the family expands.

Hope you all are surviving the heat I keep reading about over there, and enjoy the last weeks before school starts.

Link to our latest photos:

Love from Alison, Chuck and Zoey, of course!

Chaligram 11-3: France: Being SAILORS!
Alison Spinney
07/04/2011, Villefranche, France

Dearest Family and Friends,

Happy American Independence Day!
[Zoey certainly will NOT miss the fireworks over here....she hates boombooms. We have France's Bastille Day to endure on July 14th. I'll have to give her some tranquilizers or something!]

Chuck has declared that this is the best SAILING season we've had since we've been in the Med for the past 6 seasons (as opposed to motoring or motor/sailing.) I mean, SAILING and TACKING and running downwind.....the REAL thing! It's been GREAT! Why is this the case? This is the first season that our *itinerary* has been so limited. If you look at the coastline from Barcelona up to Menton, France (the border with Italy), it's only about 350 nautical miles.....compared to about 1500 miles that we did last year. That means we have LOTS of time to go short distances. So instead of zooming from Point A to Point B, motoring or motor-sailing at 5.5-6.5 kts. if necessary to make the 30-40 miles, now we have a leisurely sail to go the 10-20 miles that we might want to get to. We can afford to sail along at 3.5 kts if we want. It's NICE!!! ...a TOTALLY different change of pace. That being said, now that the high season has started, we have to be very tactical in our arrivals at destinations. Can't sail/arrive someplace on the weekends: the anchorages are PACKED, as are the marinas. If we WANT to go into a marinas during the week, then it must be early in the day (no later than 2pm), but late enough to have allowed the previous night's transients to leave.

Since my last ChaliGram written from Marseille in early June, we have visited some perfectly lovely towns and split our time either anchored in little bays, or tied up in town marinas. We really liked La Ciotat because it had a "real-town" feel to it. There was a large shipyard there where they build the one-design 80' long sailboats that race in the Grant Mistral Round the World Race (similar to the Whitbread 60's). The Friday we arrived there was also the first night of the classic boats festival, so we were surrounded by lovely old-design sailboats. On Sunday, the entire U-shaped harbour was lined with the weekly market of food and clothing and stuff. Unfortunately, we could only stay in the harbour for 2 days because the owner of the berth where we were staying was supposed to return. oh well. But we anchored out in the bay just off the town for a few days. Bandol was a beautiful little town, but much more touristy, AND the marina was expensive. Some of you wine experts might recognize that Bandol is the source of some really fine wine.... and for the first time since 1977, I started drinking Rosé wine again. The Provençal Rosé is light, dry and crispy and MUCH nicer than the low quality pink chablis yucky stuff I imbibed long ago. Bandol had a nice Sunday afternoon tradition in their main square: DANCING. The particular Sunday that we were there, it was the 60's crowd. And... EVERYONE was in white since June had already begun. I loved the music and there were some really good dancers! Bandol would be an "A", but with no laundromat and an expensive marina it becomes a B-. Our FAVORITE place along the whole French coast so far is Saint Raphael. Since we arrived on a Thursday.... at 2pm, we were lucky enough to get a berth in the OLD PORT, right in the middle of this lovely town. It had everything a live-aboard cruising couple needs: relatively inexpensive docking costs(32€/night), grocery store within 2 blocks, a LAUNDROMAT within 2 blocks, a fish market, fresh veggies, restaurants, stores, pharmacies and train/bus station all within 2-3 blocks. I LIKE small towns! oh... and some beautiful architecture and a grand old Basilica. The town had history..... not just a vacation destination created within the last 100 years. Basically, if there's an old church and a WWI memorial in the town, we know we've got the first signs of a real town. After Barcelona, I'd say we both liked St. Raphael the next best. On the people front, we had a rendez-vous with Dave, a friend of fellow cruisers. We'd met Dave while he was visiting our friends Vanessa and John during our Black Sea adventure in 2009. So he was doing his bi-annual French Restoration Project visit, and he drove to St. Raphael to see us and do some exploring together. GREAT time!

We anchored for a few nights in the lovely Porquerolles Islands, where the water was as clear and blue/green as any we saw in the Abacos, Bahamas or indeed some of the Greek Islands we've visited. These are all places that we'll probably visit again as we head west again, then south to Spain. We skipped St. Tropez and Cannes. We're just not into that SCENE. However, we DID get into the Nice old harbour, and that was "bad" enough vis à vis the SCENE. We were literally surrounded by 5 story megayachts from 80-125' long. ughhhh. They blocked my view, and actually made me feel claustrophobic if you can believe that! Plus the crews on these monsters tend to party late, and when they DO have guests on board, they always seem to be leaving at 5 AM to get to the airport. Lots of sleep interruption there. Nice is a nice city, but it's pretty large, so everything was a pretty long walk away, including the.... LAUNDROMAT! So, I must admit, I derived a certain evil satisfaction from hanging out our laundry to spoil the view of the Megayachters. While we were in Nice, we rented a car and drove into the surrounding hills into the town of Vence. An email acquaintance of Chuck's lives there and invited us to dinner. Well! They had a spectacular estate and grounds. It was a thoroughly delightful experience, 'specially since you never really know how well you're going to like someone IN PERSON after just being email correspondents. They had a few other couples there too....all VERY interesting backgrounds and politics. We were all basically like-minded. As much as we enjoyed it though, I think Zoey's thrills surpassed ours. Imagine! NO LEASH REQUIRED! She sniffed and explored all through their extensive grounds and gardens and chased after anything that moved. But.... when we were having dinner on the front veranda, I heard her intermittent bark from the back yard, so I excused myself to see what the "issue" was. The issue was a TOAD! Zoey was totally baffled by this creature. It didn't run; it didn't fly; it didn't slither. What to do with it???? It hopped, she barked; it hopped, she barked and on and on and on and on. I don't THINK she actually nipped the thing, but I rescued poor Toad by removing Zoey from the scene and taking her back to the dinner table. She needed to rest anyway. So she was the Terrible Trembling Toad Terrorizer.

Now, we are anchored off the town of Villefranche, just a mile or so east of Nice, in a relatively protected Bay. We were actually in this same spot 5 years ago when we had a short, whirlwind cruise through parts of the French coast in 2006. We're surrounded by hills dotted with fantastic estates of famous and/or rich people. There's a Rothchild estate around here somewhere. The town itself is fairly historic (1500's), has the citadel, the church, the fort..... but it also has a zillion tourists. This bay is so nice that not one, but TWO cruise ships are parked in it right now. We time our dinghy rides into town based on the number of cruise ships here. On the people front, on Saturday night, we had a rendez-vous with an old classmate from the American High School Foundation, Mexico City Class of 70, Stephanie Sopkin (Calvo). Good old Facebook enabled THAT connection and that event. It was a very enjoyable evening. We really miss our close cruising friends who are all far away now, so having these special rendez-vous' have helped a lot in the socializing department.

We still have 3 months 'til we head back to Barcelona. The high season has only just begun, although since we've been cruising since mid April, we feel like we've been at it for a while already. Not sure if we're just going to HANG OUT at different spots, or do some inland travel or indeed sail over to Corsica with the 10,000 other French boaters on holiday. Stay tuned!


Much love,

Alison, Chuck and Zoedster the Toadster

ChaliGram 11-2: Barcelona to Marseille
06/02/2011, Marseille, FR

Dearest Family and Friends

This second ChaliGram of the 2011 season has me writing from another big city, just like the season's first. The last time I wrote, we were falling in love with Barcelona. It turned out to not be a momentary infatuation; we stayed almost 3 weeks and finally managed to secure a winter contract there. We are very much looking forward to returning in October. What a great city! We'll probably spend only about 6 weeks in the States when we come back in the Fall--from Thanksgiving to New Years. As promised in my last Chaligram, I have included more pictures of Barcelona in addition to new pictures from our travels so far in France. At the moment we are sitting out a F9 blow (about 40 kts of wind/hour) securely tied up in Marseille's Vieux Port/Old port. This is now used exclusively for pleasure craft....unlike 2600 years ago when the Phocaean Greeks first landed here, and later when the Romans used the harbour. Unhappily for "Massalia" they sided with Pompey against Julius Caesar, so JC stripped Massalia of its riches and power. However, its prospects improved when the Crusaders needed a good port from which to depart for the holy land. LOTS of history here, and unfortunately the main museum is closed for renovations. Marseille has been selected to be one of the two 2013 European Capitals of Culture, so they're really spiffing the place up. It's much lovelier than I remember when we visited here in 2001..... Some really beautiful architecture here.

So.....I'm feeling a little seasick as the boat rocks back and forth in this wind.... oh well, it won't last forever. This is a lively, bustling city, and, although Barcelona still holds the prize for easy access to all the necessities, Chuck can still get a fresh baguette every morning without having to walk too far and visit about 10 chandleries within 5 blocks. We were planning to go out for a walk-about right now, but it looks like it's going to, a good day to write a ChaliGram.

After we left Barcelona, we headed north into France and into the Golfe du Lion. This Golfe is notorious for very treacherous winds from the northwest that affect the weather all the way to Corsica and Sardinia. Fortunately, we didn't get caught in the infamous Tramontane and basically harbour-hopped our way up the coast, staying in place when the weather threatened. We particularly enjoyed the little town of Gruissan. Although it is one of the 6 huge vacation/resort/marina developments along this coast, there was actually an old town, and the architecture of the new creations wasn't TOO awful. We were assigned a great spot side-tied along the village promenade in front of restaurants and shops. I'm sure it wouldn't be so great once the vacation season starts, but in mid May it was delightful and SO CLOSE to a bakery, a supermarket and a laundromat. paradise. We took a bus into the relatively big city of Narbonne one day, which was about 30 minutes away, and enjoyed this ancient town immensely. Every harbour we go to we ask ourselves if it would be a good place to "hole up" for the month of August when "Med(iterranean) Madness" begins (all Europe goes on holiday). Having fairly good access to a town like Narbonne makes Gruissan a definite possibility. However we're hoping that some of the towns east of Marseille will also prove to be good candidates. Another stop along the Golfe du Lion was at Port Napoleon. Now this isn't a place anyone would go unless they were 1/heading up the Rhone River and the French canal system (We'd LOVE TO DO THAT, but ChaliVentures draws too much water.), or 2/Wanted to have their boat hauled for winter storage or to do work. In other words, there aren't alot of attractions. BUT! for us there were two big attractions: 2 sets of boating friends were there. Ever since we bid adios to our Dutch friends Ineke and Albert who headed south down the Spanish coast we were feeling a little lonely and really missing friends. So we just HAD to stop in and see Barb and Art, a Massachusetts couple on their Vancouver 28 sailboat "Badger," whom we first met in Sardinia in 2006; also John and Sharon, whom we'd met in Marmaris, Turkey who had their mast taken down from "Seraphim" because they were going to go up the French river/canal system, winter in Paris (oh yeah!!), then continue on through canals to the Danube then down into the Black Sea and back to Turkey. WHAT A TRIP. If only we could! We had a nice rendez-vous, and it was definitely worth the stop.

So far we're really enjoying France and very much looking forward to visiting Cassis, La Ciotat, Bandol and/or Sanury sur Mer, Frejus and/or St. Raphael, and possibly Cannes. (I've attached a google earth map showing the french coast that we'll be visiting.) We tend to prefer towns, although there are some lovely (and crowded) anchorages in les Porquerolles islands that we'll no doubt visit as well. I don't have enough confidence to talk on the phone in French yet, but i've gotten good at sending emails in French to future marina stops. Marinas in France are VERY CROWDED, and there's a sense of security KNOWING that there'll be a spot for us. There are ZILLIONS of French sailors (and they're very friendly, too!)..... I just hope that many of them decide to LEAVE their marina berth for at least a month making it available for transients like us! I do enjoy speaking French, although it's much more of a challenge for me than Spanish. We've been lucky by having access to WIFI's in most marinas, although the signal isn't always so good from where we're docked. That's a BIG change from Italy which had no WIFI's....only 3G networks using the phone or modem which was very inexpensive. The 3G solution costs a fortune in France, plus we need a French bank account yadayadayada. They don't make it easy, hence our relief to find WIFI's...albeit bad ones. It's really tested Chuck's patience level.

Come to France! Come to the coast! Come visit us! We'll be SOMEWHERE between Marseille and Nice.... just let us know! (but of course, you have to like sweet little dogs!)

Love, Alison, Chuck and Zoey

Alison Spinney

Living the Dream in ... Southeast France

Onboard s/y "ChaliVentures III"

+34 633 050 637

06/28/2011 | Suzanne De La Vergne
Dear Alison, Chuck and Zoey,
I have enjoyed reading your blog and hope to be in the Nice area by mid July. I have pretty much given up the idea of getting a slip although the marinas where I have put in written "demandes" say to call a week in advance.I was hoping to have a slip for the period of July 28-Aug. 3rd when my husband flies home to California to collect our grandson for a visit. He will be flying in and out of Nice. Can you recommend any anchorages for that period of time? I think you mentioned being in Bandol. We love the wine from there but do not know much about that area. We arrived a week ago in Gibraltar after crossing the Atlantic. My husband is now in China on business but will arrive back here Monday and we will start for France. Any advice you can give me will be greatly appreciated. By the way, we are traveling with our furry child "Bisquet". She is 3 years old and was rescued at age 1. The vet believes she is part Jack Russell and many say she is a wooly/rough coated Jack Russell. We know very little about Jacks however she is a wonderful companion and a great boat dog. Again, thanks in advance for any advice you might lend.
All the best,
"Katie Jane"
Chaligram 11-1: BARCELONA!!!
04/23/2011, Barcelona, Spain

Remember when you were a kid and had your first experience of "love at first sight?" ... your first experience of PASSION? Well. That's how I feel about Barcelona right now. What a GREAT CITY!!!! I visited Barcelona 40 years ago (yes, FORTY!!!) when I was a 19 year old student at la Universidad de Valencia in 1971-72, and I DO remember enjoying the city -- it was SO DIFFERENT from Valencia! -- I have to say that.... well, it's like I was never here. Even under the repressive Franco regime way back then, the city had a totally different feel to it... much more European, and no so provincial Spanish (back in 1971, remember.) There's always been a big separatist movement here, and it continues to be a very autonomous region. I think they're Catalan first, Spanish second. The local language is Catalan....which is easy enough to understand since I speak Spanish and French, but definitely different from Castillian Spanish. and, and, and.....

Oh yes, I guess I should back up a bit.

Our return to ChaliVentures in Cagliari, Sardinia about 5 weeks ago was fine, and without too much unpleasantness.... beyond the normal pain-in-the-assness of living onboard while the boat is stored on land (no fridge, no toilet, no running water). 10 days after our return, we were launched on March 25th, and life was blissful again. Who would think that washing the dishes with hot running water could be such a thrill!!!! And to make it even better, our buddies Ineke and Albert, whom we had met last year while in Chania, Crete, arrived in Cagliari after crossing from Tunisia where their boat had spent the winter. It was, and continues to be a very enjoyable rendez-vous. Anyway, after all the boat's systems and sails checked out, we were ready to leave. Cagliari is a great town, but the marina left something to be desired and is a LONG WALK. .... and, since our little 4-legged slave owner can't do long walks anymore, we don't either, at least as a family unit. Bike rides to the grocery stores and markets, one at a time, were pretty much the name of the game. SO! we were READY to get ON with it.

Our first stop was in cute little Carloforte on the wee island of San Pietro, just off the southwest coast of Sardinia. Albert and Ineke were there, as they ALSO were going to Barcelona. We had spent about 2 weeks there last October and enjoyed it. That was to be our starting point for our passage to Barcelona. At this (early) time of year the weather is fairly unpredictable and persnickety with lots of nasty weather systems around. We decided we wanted to just go ALL THE WAY to Barcelona, but if the weather window slammed shut unexpectedly, we could always stop on the island of Menorca, one of the Spanish Balearic islands, just northeast of Mallorca. We had spent time in Menorca when we were eastbound back in 2006, so didn't feel any urgency to go back, unless we had to. Well...... we lucked out. JUST. Although the first 15 hours of our passage were miserable with short choppy waves from the just-ended PREVIOUS weather system, the last 48 hours of our voyage were just fine. We actually had some rather pleasant sailing conditions for almost 1/2 of the time. In fact we had to slow down and dawdle a bit so we wouldn't arrive too early in the morning. Somewhere to the north of Menorca, we got "attacked" by flies and yellow-jackety kind of bees. After our passage from Tunisia last September when we had such an unpleasant encounter with 5 trillion flies off Cap Bon, we were rather disturbed by this development. "WHAT!!!! AGAIN!!!!?????" Happily we had our canvas/plastic cockpit enclosures deployed, so very few critters actually got into the cockpit or cabin. Approaching Barcelona from the east was rather daunting, and frankly, hard enough in the early morning light, much less in the dark! But our waypoint on the good old GPS was perfect, and although we couldn't SEE the south-facing entrance to the harbour until the very end, we cautiously approached, and sure enough we landed where we were supposed to! The fact that a fishing boat was entering the harbour helped a lot too. As we approached, we saw that the lights on the entrance buoys were OUT, hence our initial confusion. It's always such a WONDERFUL feeling to be tied up securely in a berth after rocking and rolling at sea for over 60 hours. And! surprise surprise, they have "finger pontoons" here, so we don't have to get off the boat by climbing over the bow.... We can get off from the side to our own little mini in most/all? marinas in the states. What a TREAT! It makes getting Zoey on and off the boat so much easier.

This marina, Port Vell (old port) is smack dab in the center of town, (versus our situation in Cagliari) with the neat little neighborhood called Barceloneta immediately in front of us. Markets, bakeries, supermarkets, a zillion restaurants are within 200 yards of us. There are also a billion tourists, but what the hell. Goes with the territory. Plus, it IS Semana Santa! The marina is secure behind locked gates, so no worries. Plus.... I just LOVE a town with a subway system. Since it's still April, we're paying low season rates, but that all changes (DOUBLES!) on May 1. There's another marina that was built for the 1992 Olympics just a metro stop away, so we may go there on May 1. At some point, we'll start moseying up the coast and then into France. No rush. We've pretty much decided that we want to stay here for next winter... and maybe for the rest of our lives. Who knows. You know how love at first sight is!

Since it's only been a couple of days, we haven't done much exploring yet, so I only have a few pictures. But, thanks to the Good Friday parade today, I now have a few shots of Barcelona. Semana Santa/Easter Week is a real big deal in Spain, generally speaking, although Barcelona is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from central spain or Andalucia. So, I don't really know what to expect. [LATER: yup, it was like being at a Ku Klux Clan rally.... all those penitent parade participants dressed in the traditional robe and hood. very spooky.] This town has a wonderful mix of Roman, Gothic and Modernist buildings/structures. It's just so.... VIBRANT and visually delightful.... and we haven't even been to see the Gaudi stuff yet. We haven't been to see ANYTHING yet! next ChaliGram will have lots more pictures. promise. AND.... something unusual from our normal European destinations: there is ethnic cuisine here! In fact, we've passed a number of Turkish doner kebap restaurants. Go figure! So far we haven't gone out, but perhaps tonight. Our little neighborhood of Barceloneta is supposed to have the best fish restaurants in town!

Yup. Our life is pretty damned terrific right now. I LOVE being able to communicate. Even though all the signage is in Catalan, all the shopkeepers speak Spanish, so I haven't had any problems.

Happy in Catalunia,

XO, Alison, Chuck and Zoey

ChaliGram 10-7: Tunisia to Sardinia
10/08/2010, Sardinia

Dearest Friends and Family

Please forgive me for being redundant.... I've posted status updates on Facebook and had lots of 1:1 emails, so for some of you, this Chaligram won't be terribly new news.

We ended up staying a month in the marina at Monastir, Tunisia. Our friends Ineke and Albert, whom we had met in Crete arrived, and things definitely started looking up. We rented a car together and went to see some of the sights, specifically the coliseum built by the Romans in 300's AD in El Jem and the wonderful roman mosaic museum that was close by. The coliseum was a little smaller than the one in Rome, but it was actually better preserved. This is hearsay mind you.... when we were in Rome, the line to get into that coliseum was so long that we never got in. And..... no dogs allowed. In El Jem, there was practically no one there; we just walked right up to the ticket booth and then enjoyed it almost all to ourselves....including Zoey. Amazing. We also visited Al Kairouan, which is the 4th holiest Moslem city after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. There wasn't much to photograph because we weren't allowed inside the Grand Mosque.... only wandering around the rather huge courtyard. Naturally, the ONE day that we decided to rent a car and go touring, we had a torrential downpour.... on our drive home....with only 1 functioning windshield wiper and a leak in the roof tout bout! But, it was an enjoyable day, 'specially since we were with Ineke and Albert.

Perhaps our opinion of Tunisia isn't completely fair, since our time there overlapped with Ramadan, which was very early this year. And since fasting is required from sunup to sundown, and the hot August days were still very long, well understandably people weren't always as friendly as we might have liked. During Ramadan, all the booze, beer and wine are removed from the grocery stores; This was NOT a practice in Turkey. They seem to be more devout in Tunisia... or rather, the civilian law includes some laws from the Koran as well. We enjoyed delicious lamb and breaded turkey cutlets and lots of canned tuna, which was very inexpensive there. Although Tunisia is a popular wintering destination among cruisers -- mainly because it's SO inexpensive -- I don't think we'd like to spend the winter there, unless we really have to.

From Monastir we made our way up the coast and finally checked out of Kelibia before sailing the 176 miles (~32 hours) north to Sardinia. We wanted to take advantage of the weather window that actually had the winds beHIND us for a change. Things were going along just fine until we rounded Cap Bon. Then it happened.... first one, than 10, then 200, then 500 flies descended on us. It was awful. Swat, swat, swat.... we couldn't keep up. Even though they were cannibals and swarmed all over the flies we'd already killed -- thus allowing us to kill 10 or 20 in one swat -- they still seemed to MULTIPLY. The more we killed, the more flies were there. Finally, by nightfall, I took the watch, and it took me a minute to realize that.... there were no flies. Not just that I couldn't see them. I used the flashlight to verify that THEY WERE NOT THERE! Could it be? Could they be gone? Regardless, I enjoyed my nocturnal watch withOUT swatting. HOWEVER, at dawn, a few appeared. Where DO flies go at night? Perhaps they were sleeping among all the dead bodies. Well, the 2 flyswatters were broken, and we'd used up the batteries in the "ZAPPER", so it was now time for chemical warfare. I got out the roach spray, and it worked like magic. I was reminded of that old RAID commercial on TV where the critter screams, "RAID" and tries to escape. Dead or Escaped. Doesn't matter, they were GONE. ahhhh blisss. What a pleasure to clean the cockpit at last.

We arrived in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, on the southern coast and went to the marina where we had arranged for a winter contract, although we only stayed for a few days; we don't plan to "SETTLE IN" til mid October. IN the meantime are taking a leisurely cruise along the southern/southwestern coast of Sardinia. I'm writing this from the lovely little town of Carloforte on the island of San Pietro just off the southwest coast of Sardinia. It's weird being back in the weather patterns of the western Med. It seems there is always some awful system coming out of the Golfe de Lyon in France (down the Rhone river valley). We are side-tied to a town dock (free! yea!), and couldn't leave now if we wanted to. (Tell me again why we left Turkey???)

We're enjoying yummy pizza, great cheese and delicious prosciutto.... not to mention good cheap wine. Although I'm making lamb stew in my pressure cooker tonight from some Tunisian lamb we had in the freezer. yum.

It's now a week later. I finally got around to selecting, captioning and uploading photos so I can include the link with this email. We're still being extraordinarily lazy and becoming experts in doing nothing. In the last week we ventured over to mainland Sardinia and stayed in the little town of Portoscuso for a few nights. But we like Carloforte better. Unfortunately, we had to go into a marina this time -- no free wall available/coast guard kicked us off -- , but since it's October, the rates have really gone down. We've made friends with a Gilbert and Dani, a charming couple from Brittany, in northwest France, and will be having happy hour on their boat tonight. yippeeee. We miss our friends.

We don't anticipate having any more ADVENTURES until we come back to Alexandria, VA, so this will probably be my last ChaliGram for this cruising season. We hope to see many of you when we get back to the states in mid November.

LINK to photos:


Alison, Chuck and Zoey-who's-feeling-much-better-thank-you-very-much!

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ChaliVentures from the Mediterranean to the Chesapake Bay
Who: Captains Chuck and Alison Spinney & Zoey the Jack Russell Terrier
Port: Annapolis, Md
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