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The story of Fandancer
Early morning rescue, and sunken boats
Sun/03/12, Beaucaire

We've been in Beaucaire for over three and a half months now. The weather is definitely getting better; it's forecast to be 21 or 22 next week. But we have a very big Mistral wind blowing at the moment, often the wind is over 60kph with gusts of 80 or 90 kph,so it's very strange to have really warm, sunny weather, but a very strong wind blowing! The Mistral always blows from the North, down the Rhone valley, and people say it lasts for multiples of 3 days - either 3, 6, 9 or 12 days. We're on about day 5 now, and the forecast is suggesting it might be gone by Tuesday. The little canal basin in Beaucaire is extremely well-sheltered; the main town is north of the canal, and then behind that is the castle on the hill. We couldn't really be in a safer berth.
However, this morning we were woken just before 7am by one of our boat neighbours, Lennie, a nice Dutch lady who lives permanently on her boat by herself. I heard all this banging and shouting, saying she needed Tim to help her, so I woke Tim up to go and investigate. Tim got to Lennie's boat first, and found that another smaller motorboat with no one on board, about three boats along from Lennie, had broken free from the stern ropes by which it was moored to the quay, due to the wind continually moving the boat so the rope was worn through. The boat was still moored by its bow line badly tied to a red buoy further out in the middle of the canal, and the wind had blown the boat away from the harbour wall and was trying to blow it almost a full circle (270 degrees to be exact) so the stern of the boat had swung round on a long rope and was now banging into the bow of Lennie's boat! Do you get the picture so far?
My gallant husband launched Lennie's dinghy, jumped into it and paddled out to the loose boat to attach a line to it so we could manoeuvre it back into its space. It wasn't that difficult to do, and just as we were securing the boat onto the mooring rings on the quay, one of the guys from the Capitainerie (harbour master's office) shows up. Apparently the police had phoned him at home at 0630 and said they had seen this loose boat on one of their surveillance cameras, but by the time he arrived there was nothing for him to do.
It just shows how important it is to check your mooring lines carefully, and if you leave your boat unattended for a long time, get someone to check it regularly for you. There are quite a number of unattended boats here over the winter, and we are always amazed when we walk round the harbour to see how badly secured some of them are, and how some have been neglected for a very long time. This winter, FOUR boats here have sunk! Now, when I think of a boat sinking I think of it disappearing completely under the water, but it wasn't actually that dramatic, it just means they have sprung a leak somewhere, and been taking on water. In the worst cases, they fill up with water and the bottom of the boat actually touches the bottom of the canal otherwise they probably would have disappeared. The local pompiers/firemen are called, but there is only so much they can do, especially if there the leak has been going on for some time and the boat is full of water. Two of the sunken boats seem to have been completely abandoned, in very poor condition, and no-one was looking after them. The other two were saved, pumped out and repaired. We will definitely be getting someone to check on Fandancer regularly for us when we leave her for a couple of weeks when we head back to England later this month.
PS - the picture that goes with this blog is of some Algerian men who frequently sit for the whole afternoon on the bench near our boat. They usually chat to each other for a while, then often fall asleep. What a lovely way to spend your day!
PPS Clare W, its great to get your comments on this page, but everyone can read them so maybe send me email instead, or facebook message?

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Summer has arrived in Beaucaire
George, its sunny
Sat/02/12

Bonjour mes amis,
I haven't been on here for a while, they've probably deleted me by now. The truth is, not a great deal to report. Apart from the weather, which is a very British thing to report! A few weeks ago we had a very bad cold snap which lasted a couple of weeks, when the temepratures never rose much above freezing. The lowest was minus seven. There is a pharmacy just opposite where Fandancer is moored in Beaucaire, with a flashing green temperature display. Unfortunately we think the sensor is in full sun, as it always seems to be about five degrees warmer than it actually is, but when it was 27 the other day that felt good! So based on that assumption, maybe the minus 7 was actually minus 12! But based on my maths knowledge, doesn't two minuses make a plus? So who knows ....
Anyway there was solid ice on the canal here is Beaucaire for well over a week, I wouldn't have liked to have walked across it, but the ducks did, and also some silly youths who didn't know better, tried to walk on the ice and sadly succeeded. Local people told us that this was the first time it had been so cold and the first time there had been so much ice!
My dear friend Claire came out from the UK to stay with us during this cold snap, poor thing I think she was frozen, as the Mistral winds were blowing too, making it feel much colder. It was too cold to sightsee really, but we braved it to St Remy for my fortnightly visit to the psychiatric hospital (for some reason we have actually been there 3 times in the last couple of months - as visitors, not patients, I might add!). We also took Claire to the ancient Roman aquaduct at Pont du Gard which was a sight to behold, but we were cross at having to pay 18 euro for a car, especially as we were there only one hour and two minutes according to the ticket, as it was SO COLD!!!
Another day we went to the old town on the hill at Les Baux, a medieval settlement which would be a fabulous place if it was twenty degrees warmer but not so nice at sub-zero temperature. So we took shelter in the castle gift shop while we warmed up. Tim's brother told us when they visited this area some years ago, they also didn't see much of Les Baux as it was TOO HOT to walk around! Perhaps no visitors ever get to see it as it only gets extreme temperatures up on the hill!
The only other thing that has happened recently is that in order to recuperate from a bad cough and cold, we took a walk in the fresh air alongside the old disused lock here in Beaucaire. There is also a disused railway line nearby, or at least we think it is disused, as it is all rusted up and no trains ever seem to go along it, but it may be a just a branch line run by British Rail ....... Anyway we found an ancient set of points which looked like they should be in a railway museum, the sort you see on old black and white films - I think they had some in one of the old St Trinian's film where some naughty schoolgirls had fun making an old railway trolley move from one line to the other by manually moving the points lever, oops I'm digressing .....
.......so I tried to operate this lever without success, but at the same time a little white van drove behind us, between the railway track and the river, on a shingly sort of area which wasn't a proper road. I thought I was going to be reprimanded by a stern French official for walking on the railway line or playing with the points lever, so we quickly increased our pace and carried on walking. The little white van overtook us then came to a grinding halt. It turned out that it wasn't a French railway official, but just a little old man on his way to go fishing, who suddenly got his van stuck in the shingle, he must have hit a loose bit and drove the front end into a sort of hole. He was well and truly stuck, wheels spinning, so thought we had better go and help.
To start with, he gesticulated wildy, as he didn't speak any English, which I interpreted as him wanting Tim to help him push the van, while I revved the engine and reversed the vehicle out of the hole. So I gingerly sat in the driver's seat while the two men braced themselves with their arms ready to push. After about twenty seconds of them pushing, I realised the van had to be put in gear, and the handbrake released, which I did. Didn't make any difference though, and I don't think they even realised the handbrake had still been on while they pushed! So we then resorted to digging! Luckily he had a shovel in the back of the van, so while Tim dug I went to find some sort of board or plank to put under the wheels. The old man had the idea of using the wheel jack so more stones could be dug from under the van, and this did seem to work. Finally, after about 20 mins of digging and clearing shingle, the old man got in the driver's seat, obviously spotting my previous ineptitude in this area, while Tim and I pushed the van. Hooray! With lurch and a cascade of flying shingle, the little van shot off in reverse and onto some firmer ground. Handshakes all round, and we carried on with our afternoon walk!


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Canal is frozen!
George is freezing, -7!
Wed/02/12, Beaucaire

Yes, I know minus seven isn't the world's lowest temperature, and I know you have probably encountered things being much worse, but this is the south of France and it's not supposed to be this cold!
There is a strong Mistral wind blowing, with gusts of over 100kph, pretty strong! This is making the temperature feel much lower. The whole of France is suffering, the evening news consists mainly of snow reports from areas of France. At least we haven't had any snow here, and I still think we are in the area which has been least affected by the bad weather.
Monday night was pretty bad - the canal had begun to ice over, I've never seen such a thing before, and with the high winds, chunks of ice were bashing into our boat during the night, making it feel and sound like we had hit a huge iceberg, terrible scraping noises, creaking ropes, things blowing over on deck. Didn't sleep a wink!
Yesterday afternoon it was blue skies and the temperature was above freezing and we thought the ice was definitely melting, but then last night the low temperature came back with a vengeance, and it all re-froze, so this morning when I looked out of the aft window from my cosy bed, it looked like the whole canal had frozen solid, although it was not that thick in places.
I bravely emerged from my cosy duvet as I was due to do the local Radio Beaucaire broadcast at 9.30, so I thought I would nip out to the Boulangerie first. It was only 4 degrees in the saloon on Fandancer, but minus seven outside!
Now when I say 'Radio Beaucaire', I don't want you to be thinking that this is anything like local radio; basically, the boaters turn their VHF radio to Channel 77 at 9.30am ever morning, and people who volunteer to be the net controller for the day make some announcements for about ten minutes. I can't remember how I foolishly volunteered to do one day a week. I have to ask if anyone has any emergency or medical needs, I look up the weather the evening before on the internet, I have to ask if anyone wants a lift anywhere or has a spare seat in a car, and whether there are any social events, things people want to give away, if anyone needs help tracking down engine spares, you get the drift. Hardly anyone ever joins in.
Sadly I don't get to play any jingles or music. But I have tried to inject a little more interest into the broadcast than what is normally heard; I told the listeners the maximum and minimum weather temperatures in the world, (38degC in Perth, Australia, and minus 37deg in Fairbanks, Alaska); I tell them the exchange rate for their euros, and sometimes I throw in a few interesting Fandancer Facts - eg; did you know that the average Frenchman eats 45lbs of cheese a year, and that Beaucaire is on the same longitude as Stavanger in Norway, and the same latitude as Toronto.
At the end of the broadcast, those boats who have been listening in, normally say thanks to the net controller, ie, me; and I think there must have been the huge total of six replies this morning! Phew, the dizzy heights of stardom. Sometimes I even get recognised in the street!

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Le shopping
George. Sunny but cold!
Mon/01/12, Beaucaire

Beaucaire is a very old and beautiful historic town, but lacks the facilities to entertain a shopaholic such as myself. The first day we arrived we had a quick walk round the town to get our bearings, but only saw one narrow road where there was any sort of commercial activity, which is mostly Algerian in origin, such as a fruit shop, a Halal butchers, a small shop selling a diverse range of goods such as tagines, mobile phone chargers, oil lamps and tin openers. We also saw a jewellers, and a bakers, plus at least 3 hairdressers, a Chinese restaurant and 2 laundrettes. I decided that the majority of the shops and the indoor luxury shopping centre with a Costa Coffee, John Lewis and Habitat must be in another part of town which we hadn't discovered yet. But we've been here almost 2 months now and I still haven't come across it! There is however a smallish supermarket called Super-U on another street, which has bizarre opening hours - it closes for lunch between - wait for it - 1230 and 3 pm! Yes, 3pm! I always forget and find myself waiting outside for ages, thinking it must be open by 2, but of course it never is! Once it didn't open til 3.15pm, it seems to be entirely at the whim of the girl on the checkout as to when she will raise the shutters for the afternoon's trading.

Out of town is where the action happens, there is quite a large industrial estate a bus ride away with a huge Carrefour hypermarket, an Aldi, a Lidl, a MacDonalds, various shoe shops, a tyre depot, a sports shop, and an emporium which appears to be a cross between The Range, a party shop and Poundland. All except Carrefour and Lidl of course shut for lunch! There is also a large Mr Bricolage store, equivalent to B & Q. I think the politically correct police would not allow a store of such a name to open in the UK, or at least there would have to be a Mrs Bricolage too, selling designer cushions, pink handled tools and rubber gloves with feather trim. Anyway, when would you think a shop like Mr Bricolage would do the bulk of their trade? At the weekend? Saturday lunchtime always seems to be when B & Q was busiest, at least I could never find a parking space when I had the misfortune to visit one in the UK on a Saturday lunchtime. But no, in France, they decide that it is more important for their staff to have an extended lunch break on a Saturday, so they close between 12 and 2.30, depriving you of the pleasure of purchasing that important pot of paint or vital tool to finish a job. And they don't open on Sundays at all!
I hope you like the photo of Mr Bricolage, check out the guy in the front row with hand on his hip ....

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French motorways and toll booths
George. Sunny but cold!
Mon/01/12, Beaucaire

We had a hire car last week when my daughter was here, and were able to experience at first hand the peculiarities of the French system of road signage. You would think that a sign for the Airport would be easily visible, and displayed a long way ahead of the turning, but no, all you get is a tiny symbol on a sign located immediately where the turn off is. Too bad if you are in the wrong lane, like we were! We ended up having to onto a motorway until we could turn round and come back, but little did we know that the French had another trick up their sleeve, the motorway toll! So not only were we on the wrong road, we had to pay for the pleasure!

So after about 8 miles going in the wrong direction, we see the traffic slowing down in front of us, and realise it is the Peage or toll booths. But do the French display the prices in advance so you can be prepared and fish out the right number of coins before you actually get there? Of course not! No indication at all of how much to fork out. Not even on the machine itself. So we approach an automatic machine at random, one of those which has the basket thingy you throw coins into, and luckily there is a Madame there in a fluorescent jacket, appearing to be making some adjustment to the barrier.
"C'est combiien, Madame?" I ask. "Sur la pont d'Avignon, le chien est sous la table, la singe est dans le sac blah blah blah " she replies.
So I bravely throw in 2 two euro coins and hope for the best.

I didn't realise it didn't give change, and the barrier wouldn't open, but Madame Fluorescent was very nice about it, but she then proceeded to dismantle the whole machine to try and return my coin to me. Bearing in mind that we were now going in the wrong direction and going to be very very late in getting to the airport, I didn't care about the change, and just wanted her to open the gate so we could be on our way. But no, she continued to take apart the machine, and eventually found our coin, which she then re-inserted into the machine and gave us the correct change from another machine, she then had to open another box to operate the lifting of the barrier. I was getting more and more stressed, but eventually we got through the peage.
"Quick, turn round when you can, we're going in the wrong direction!" I requested of my patient and long-suffering husband, so about 100 yards past the toll booths there was a road junction with a roundabout. We negotiated the roundabout and turned 180 degrees, and then found ourselves back at the same Peage from which we had just left, in order to get back to the junction for the airport. So we paid the same amount for another toll, luckily using the right coins this time, and set off for the airport .......

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St Remy and Van Gogh
same as usual ...
Thu/01/12, Beaucaire

I'm a bit embarrassed that this site is called Sailblogs, as since I started writing it, we have not sailed at all, and even worse, we have been in one location for over four weeks now, so maybe I should find a blog site called AlmostPermanentResident.com. But I hope you will forgive me ....
I'm glad all that Christmas and New Year stuff is over, I feel better already! And the days are getting longer - it's still light at 5.30pm here now. All the decorations and lights have been taken off the boats and put away for another year. Apparently there was a competition for the best decorated boat, (we didn't enter) but the winner is not announced until mid-Feb, when all the entrants are invited by the Mayor to the Town Hall and are given a bottle of wine each. I hope we can manage to infiltrate this holy shrine without an invitation, as I think our last minute pseudo-decs of two strands of gold tinsel and some red beads should definitely be rewarded for effort.
Yesterday we went to St Remy on the bus from Tarascon, only one euro each, a 20 minute journey through some beautiful countryside. Beaucaire, where Fandancer is moored, is actually in Languedoc-Rousillon, but Tarascon, over the bridge, is in Provence, as is St Remy. Beautiful huge trees lining the roads, gorgeous brown and red and orange terracotta roof tiles, poplar trees in the distance. Just like an impressionist painting! And that was what we were hoping to see in St Remy, for this is the town associated with Van Gogh for the last years of his life, when he was a patient in a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of the town.
We firstly walked round the old town to get our bearings, and I took some photos. We had a snack lunch in a local bar, just coffee and a croque monsieur. All the local bars seem to have these electronic Lotto terminals, and although I don't know much about the French lottery, it appears they have many more different draws than in the UK, it seems there is an hourly draw, and several daily draws of the lucky tickets! I think this game was secretly designed by men as a way of giving them an excuse to rush to the local bar and have a drink at frequent intervals in the day, while checking their tickets and waiting for their winning numbers to be displayed on the screens.
There is always some Frenchman in every bar who rushes in and orders a drink while holding a wad of tickets, then is glued to the screen for five minutes, then shrugs his shoulders, tears his ticket in half and throws it away, buys another drink, and then another book of tickets, and so the cycle is repeated ....
After leaving the entertainment in the bar, we followed the Van Gogh route out of the town and down the road to the hospital. At various places en route there are 22 boards each displaying one of VanGogh's famous paintings; he painted 150 while he was in St Remy, they used to let him out of the hospital so he could create these masterpieces, and you can see some of the actual sites where he must have sat to paint the olive trees, mountains, cornfields. I was very much hoping that if we got to the end of the route there would be some sort of reward to collect (as you know, I am very competitive), or maybe the final board would be in a bar where a free drink would await us. But no such luck. We managed to find all the 22 boards except for three, which I believe were missing, as we looked everywhere in the location where they were supposed to be, without success. One of which was of course, the final display board, which was obviously missing on purpose, so they didn't have to give out a prize ...
We were able to go into the visitors' area of the hospital, and it was absoloutely beautiful, breath-taking. There were some cloisters, built in the 11-12th century, and a lovely chapel. All very calm and peaceful. Unfortunately the main display was closed, which was the room where Van Gogh actually lived, and did some of his paintings, and also we didn't get to see the art works in the gallery painted by present day patients, but the gardens and other areas we saw were really lovely. There was no one about, it was so quiet. Tim said when I go completely doo-lally and mental, (not long to go, then!) he is going to book me a place there. I will resist the urge to tell further stories or make any jokes about psychiatric hospitals as it would probably offend some people, but you could write to me personally if interested .....

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