31/08/2007, Port St Louis de Rhone, Port Napoleon
One of the reasons for needing somewhere like this is our moth problem. All this summer, we've had a problem with little moths. These are probably food moths, but may be the clothes eating variety as well. To deal with them, we need to clear the boat out, scrub everything we can reach and defumigate.
What's more, we will be away for the best part of eight months. We are returning to the UK to earn some money till mid-January. After that, we are off on our long-postponed trip down-under, and plan to be back here in mid-late May.
So it's a good time to empty every locker, give away or sell as much as we can, and generally have another decluttering marathon. Today Sarah emptied out our vast forepeak. Roaring Girl's bows are already a good inch higher in the water. At the very bottom was her last mainsail, from before the fully battened main was added in the early 1990's. We put it there before we moved aboard in 2003; it emerged smelling sweetly and bone-dry. All that sikaflex we put on the deck-fitting for the storm-jib has been doing its job.
This work, sorting stuff out, filling the container we've rented and so on will take us through to next week. Sarah has to go to the UK for a job interview on Wednesday. (Don't worry: it's only temporary.)
After that we will have a couple of weeks in which to make jewellery, do some writing, and maybe even a little day-sailing. After all, we need to see how much faster she goes with virtually nothing on board. We haul out on 17th September, and head north on the 20th.
Oh yes, and it's Pip's birthday on the 13th.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
This place has clearly had a lot of thought put into it. The town, Port St Louis de Rhone, is badly depressed, having been hard hit by the collapse in river transportation. Someone has had the bright thought of capitalising on the desire of northern Europeans for somewhere cheap and readily accessible to keep their yachts in the Med, whether afloat or ashore.
There are three different ports here: the Vieux Bassin, Navy Service and Port Napoleon.
The old harbour is right in the centre of the little town. That would be very convenient for a short stay, and is reasonably priced. Navy Services, recommended to us by two very experienced friends, is basically a huge area of hard standing, and very cheap for dry storage. We originally planned to store Roaring Girl there. However, we have decided instead to stop here at Port Napoleon.
It's a little distance from the town, about 15 minutes cycle ride on the network of tracks across the flat marshes. On the site is nearly everything you could need to prepare your boat for the winter, or indeed to live aboard. (For us, if we were living on Roaring Girl this winter, we would rather be somewhere nearer a town.)
Besides the chandlery, the washing machines, the various boat yard services, the site has the wonderful Patricia of the Conciergerie. Just ask, and she will come up with a good solution. We have got lots of clothes to pass on (just how much fleece does one Mediterranean boat need?) Patricia volunteers for the Emmaeus community in Arles and will take it all off our hands. Need dry cleaning, or a good bottle of Rhone wine? All so simple.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
27/08/2007, In the Gulf de Fos
Once round the top of the spit, the water entrances to the small town of Port St Louis de Rhone lie ahead. Slightly to the north, a white tower marks the entrance of the canal to the Vieux Bassin in the town, and the Navy Service yard, specialising in land storage for yachts.
The entrance to Port Napoleon is about half a mile south, and is indicated by a string of red and green buoys, bearing on 243º. The almanac chartlet only shows two pairs. Much to our relief, the entire channel is marked with close pairs of lit buoys. It would be nerve racking without. Even for us, used to the flat lands and shallow brown water of the English East coast, found people wading next to us a bit disconcerting. We think they are cockling.
In the channel, we never went below 6m and this depth persists right through the marina.
The channel takes a sharp right and passes the cockling sheds. There are lots of people fishing, including one woman in a bikini and fetching blue scarf, thigh deep in the muddy water.
The normal visitors pontoon is G, the last one in the marina. All the pontoons have fingers, which are long but narrow and bouncy. Electricity and water on every berth. Tie up, and walk up to the capitanerie for the friendly, multi-lingual staff to check you in.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
27/08/2007, At the mouth of the Rhone
We left Sete at 1900 on the Monday night. The forecast was light and variable breezes and for most of the way that's what we had. We motor-sailed slowly, taking our time. It was a beautiful night with a huge moon, almost bright enough to read by. We had a very brief visit from some dolphins just before sunset, glimpsed a few fishing boats out of Sete and otherwise saw practically nothing until about 0400.
Poor Pip was unwell, despite the glassy flat sea. We think it was food poisoning from a quiche. We had bought several, along with some gorgeous bread, from a bakers in Sete, and one had obviously disagreed with her. Sarah stayed on watch an extra two hours so Pip could sleep it off. No complaints, though, as about 0500 a little breeze got up and finally we could turn the engine off.
With a flat sea and about 12 knots of wind, Roaring Girl romped away on her favourite close reach. So much for going slowly: we charged along at 5.5 knots plus. Not bad for a fully laden cruising boat with a long trail of weed and deliberately under-canvassed so the invalid could enjoy a flat berth. After about 2.5 hours, as the sun warmed everything up, the breeze died, and the engine came on again. By then, Pip felt much better.
The picture is one of the cardinal marks off the mouth of the river, the flat marshlands hazy in the background. For such an awesome and fast waterway, the actual river mouth is tiny. All the big ships go to Marseilles, Sete, or into the ports of the Gulf of Fos. This bay is to the east of the Rhone and the national park of the Camargue. Coming from the west, there is a big sand spit which you must skirt round carefully, but the safe depths are clearly marked by these cardinals.
There are hordes of fishing boats sitting on the edge of the channel, just out of the way of the numerous large container craft. Sailing boats motor or (when we came in) drift about. It's a very busy place, and we were glad it was full daylight.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
27/08/2007, Still Sete
In the morning, we had been told that we would have to move off the berth. Its usual inhabitant had decided to come home early and we had till 1400 to depart. We didn't want to leave until 1800 in the evening, to ensure a daylight arrival in the Bouches de Rhone, so the port let us move onto the fish dock for the afternoon.
Roaring Girl looked more at home here than she had in the marina, and it was a much shorter walk for all the jollity, so we didn't mind. Getting out of our very tight berth in the marina had been worrying us, but in the end it all went very smoothly. Pip has got very good at steering in reverse, and it really paid off that time.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
As noted on arrival, the Vieuz Bassin in Sete is just behind the lighthouse, and the pilotage of the entrance is pretty straightforward though the moorings are not so simple.
The Port St Clair, as the leisure part of the port is known, also runs the moorings which line the canals lacing through the town. Sete has two north-south canals, and a set of east-west cuts then divide the town into islands. The eastern 'arm' has lifting bridges all the way along; at the end boats must turn left if they want to reach the Etang de Thau through the last two lifting bridges across which run the railway and the main road. There are yacht moorings in several places, and particularly in the last stretch before the Etang. Here, at Quai Pavois d'Or, there are a few finger pontoons (tiny by UK standards but strong enough for a cruising yacht) and a quay to tie up against. These are let by capitainerie on the same basis as the ones in the Vieux Bassin by the sea.
If you want to go up the canals, either to moor against the quayside or to go through to the Etang, you need the bridges to be opened. (We don't know the exact air draft, but no yacht could get through.) You do this via the port (not the capitanerie); ring them on 04 67 46 34 95, or VHF 12. They open the bridges just twice a day (times appear to be variable), and you must leave a message to say you are coming as they only open them for the number of boats they are expecting. They need to know at least an hour in advance.
Sete is not cheap; its ?'?33 a night for us, including water and electricity. It's a very busy harbour, with large container ships, big fishing vessels, ferries and even cruise liners coming in and out. This does make for some wash but with strong chain snubbers we have not found it uncomfortable. We have stayed in the Vieux Bassin; going away for several days we considered the security better here than in the centre of town. If we were staying, for example for the winter, we would want to be a little more central.
The picture is the lifting bridges from the canals to the Etang de Thau (taken from the Etang side); the afternoon we watched them, over a dozen yachts came through into this inland sea. You can anchor in the Etang, but we would not want to leave the boat for long in unsettled weather as it can whip up quite nastily in a short time. We have friends who spent quite a time anchored here and really enjoyed it, but we have not had good enough conditions.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
We left Barcelona at 0915 on Tuesday, having bought 150 litres of fuel. The fuel dock in Port Vell is not that easy to manoeuvre on and off, being tucked under the bows of an imposing array of super-yachts, the crews of which all rush forward when they hear you revving in reverse to avoid blowing any possible excess on your insurance policy. Our first adventure of the day.
Our original plan had been to mosey north, stopping at Blanes and Cap Lligat; we wanted to meet up with our old friends Glynn and Lionel, and maybe even find Ruth & Pete on Mudskipper sheltering in a cala before skipping to Corsica. But the weather forecast showed southerlies up to F5 for Tuesday and Wednesday, following by a tramontana of Force 7+ settling in on Thursday at least till the weekend. So we decided to do the 150 miles direct to Sète in one go.
Barcelona from the sea is splendid. You get the most amazing perspective on the passion façade of the Sagrada Familia; it's quite difficult to get the full view from the ground, as you cannot get far enough back. On the water you get the full blast and an even greater respect for the vision that propels the entire fantastic project. There's also a good view of the massive solar panel which powers the Forum, the biggest in Europe. Unfortunately, we were a bit far off for our camera to capture it all; when we go back we can sail closer in (and hope to see Glynn and Lionel on that trip instead.)
About lunchtime the promised southerly arrived, bringing with it quite a big swell that knocked us about. We made fantastic speed, motorsailing (as we did the whole way) at 6.5 to 7.5 knots. Gradually we reduced sail to a small scrap of genoa and a reef in the main, so that our trusty autohelm (named Polly - that's another story) could do her job. We were getting very tired, especially Sarah, and considering anchoring for a while before pushing on across the open water to France.
A trawler came by and we manoeuvred to avoid him. A swell caught us and we jibed heavily; the block on the main sheet that attaches the sheet to the traveller parted with a bang. Sarah caught it just before it swung outboard, and didn't even break her glasses. We shackled it all back together, but that decided us to stop for a few hours. We chose Cala Aguiblava, just south of Cap Begur, which gets a great write up in the pilot book; it took a little finding but we got there, covering 60 miles that day. (Another irritating problem on this trip is that for some reason the GPS has stopped communicating with our electronic chart plotter; not a disaster but annoying.)
This Cala does offer good shelter, even from the swell and despite some downdraughts off the cliffs, but the best areas are silted up with moorings and little boats. It did us well though, providing a good holding. We took turns sleeping in the cockpit in case we dragged, set the reefed mizzen to steady us, and had a good few hours recovery time. The spare block and cleat went on the main, and an extra turn on the boom brake strengthened it against jibing in the swell. At 0615, the anchor came up clean and we set off the remaining 90 miles.
The first few hours were calm motorsailing, flat sea, hot sun. Pip had a shower on deck. Sarah dyed her hair. The wind gradually shifted aft to the promised afternoon southerly. We took the mizzen down, then reefed the main, pulled in a little genoa. Clouds formed ahead of us, and we eyed them apprehensively. The Golfe du Leon has a fearsome reputation for sudden, vicious storms and steep seas. The wind stayed east of north, which was comforting; it didn't look like the tramontana was coming early.
The wind, though, backed to the north east, and stayed there, putting us on a close hauled course. The swell stayed south easterly, contending with the wind-driven north-easterly waves. The sea turned gun-metal grey, streaked with white breakers, growling noisily. Every second, Roaring Girl dipped and swayed through the confused waters; sometimes an extra big wave would arrive, a confluence of wind and sea, which would hit us harder. We even took one really big wave right across the foredeck, over Bridget (the dinghy) and thumping against the clear plastic of our rigid dodger. That's never happened before, even in Biscay or the North Sea. The wind built to 25 knots; we plodded along, ticking off the miles as we hurried to France
Although it was rather uncomfortable, we were never in any danger or seriously scared. It didn't rain, it wasn't dark, the wind was pretty steady and Roaring Girl behaved like the effective, experienced vessel that she is, and that we rely on. The oddest thing was the refusal of France to appear; we have got used to the dramatic cliffs of Spain and North Africa; this is a low-lying marshy coast, barely detectable even by the radar in places. We were within three miles of Sète before we could see land.
Coming in to the port here is straightforward, and luckily we didn't intersect with any commercial traffic, who have right of way. We lowered our hardworking mainsail in the shelter of the breakwater. The Vieux Bassin, where the marina is, is behind the lighthouse, and very well sheltered (though you can rocked by passing big ships). The moorings are closely packed, all bows/stern to. A new arrangement for us is to pick up the ring on a buoy as you come in. It was not at all easy to moor; not our most elegant arrival!
We're safe here now, and have tracked down our friends Dee and Liz in Belbeze and Mary and Bernard in La Capelle Marivel. Depending on their plans and relative prices between here and Port Camargue, we will decide what to do over the next two weeks.
France is our fifth country on Roaring Girl this year (Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Morocco). Sète is our 21st port. Counting our land trips to Vejer, Cordoba, Fes and Granada, it's the 25th place we've visited. We're very excited about exploring somewhere new.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
11/08/2007, Barcelona Port Vell
Med sailing as the charter firms would have you believe. Cruising chute up just off Sitges, 6 knots of wind, flat seas, blazing skies reflected in blue water, hardly any other boats about. Fantastic.
We bombed along at 4 knots plus (very fast for us with a hull covered in seaweed and fully laden, in such a light breeze) for a couple of hours. Then we reached the edge of Barcelona airport, which was a serious problem for a light sail. The planes are continuous, taking off two to three minutes apart. Each one creates massive air and water disturbance, rendering the cruising chute useless. We put it away, got past the airport, got it out again to find the wind had backed and now was too far forward of the beam. We heeled hugely for a bit, doing well over 5 knots before hoiking it in and putting out the genoa. This carried us to the extremely busy shipping lane into Barcelona harbour.
The entrance is pretty straightforward, at least in daylight. (In the dark it must be a nightmare as the lights of the city are so bright and there are flashing red and greens and yellows everywhere.) The pilot books all go on about the 'new entrance', which is north of the old one. Never having been here by sail before, it's not 'new' to us; our Imray chart (bought in Gib) and our seapro livecharts both show the 'new configuration', but older charts will not.
The 'new' yacht entrance is about 2 miles north of the old one. Coming from the south, you cross the main harbour entrance, which is very busy with large container ships and cruise liners. Their lane is marked by red and green buoys and is not very wide, but you wouldn't want to hang about in it; get the engine on before hand if the wind is at all unreliable. The yacht entrance is shared with the fast ferries to Port Olimpic, the Balearics and Italy, and with the fishing fleet. There is a traffic separation scheme just east of it, which is not an issue if coastal sailing.
Inside, you keep left of the entrance to the fishing harbour, and then, if going to Port Vell (where we are), you keep to the right. The marina will open up in front of you, leaving the huge IMAX cinema to port. (Beyond it is the marina of the two Real Clubs; we gather one takes visitors but have not investigated. You go through a lifting bridge to get to that side.)
The Port Vell marina building, a spectacular glass sliver, is to starboard. This is the first marina in Spain where we got them on the radio (ch 68) in advance and were assigned a berth. And finger pontoons! First since Portimao, and only the second this season. We'd nearly forgotten how to use them.
We're only going to stay till Monday or Tuesday, as we plan to be here for a full month next summer. We will meander up the coast, hoping to meet up with our old Brighton friends Glynn and Lionel, who have a house about 50 miles north of us. (They're in Verona this week.) A couple of easy day sails will get us to Cadaques on Cape Creus, our jumping off point for Sete in Southern France. It's only 60nm but the Golfe de Leon is a notoriously tricky place for wind, so we are being very cautious,
In the meantime, there's Barcelona to look at. Pip has never been here before, and Sarah only twice (in 1984 and 1998), so there's lots to see. The picture is of Montjuic, seen from the cockpit. You cross under the cable car to get in here. We are less than 10 minutes from the bottom of La Rambla. Very cool.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
08/08/2007, 20nm SE of Barcelona
Torrential rain. Lightening across the sky and deafening thunder. Thirty knot gusts and hours of 22 knots plus. Swell of up to a meter.
Dead calm. Baking sunshine. Flat seas. Gentle zephyrs.
Boat speeds from 6 knots to half a knot under sail. Leaping dolphins, dramatic thunderheads and magnificent visibility.
We had all of these in the 36 hours it took us to come the 126 miles from Valencia to Sitges. A fine example of the changeability of the Med. All against a forecast of F1-2, variable, with southerlies late on the Monday afternoon.
Roaring Girl motored out of Valencia at 1515 on Sunday, expecting a very slow passage, cruising chute bundled on the deck to make the most of those southerlies. A gentle easterly was blowing in the dock, maybe just enough to let us sail on a close reach for a while before the wind died at dusk.
Outside the harbour it was blowing a good F4. The first task was to take a picture of the race markers used for the northern regatta diamond of the America's Cup. (Behind it, you can just see the Veles y Ventes building beside the super-yacht basin.) Then we got the sails up for our north easterly course. The wind held up well for a long time. From 1630 till 0630 on Monday morning, a record for us since Gibraltar. At times it blew fairly strongly; from midnight till nearly 0200 we had Maurice Griffith's 'exhilarating rush in the darkness'. Happily it was Sarah's watch and she enjoyed it, and Pip slept on. By the time of Pip's watch it had calmed down again.
At 0600 the wind died away, but by 0800 the heavens opened, just behind the lightening. It was like standing under the rose of a celestial pressure washer as drops the size of hailstones hit the sea, the hastily-dug-out oilies and bare skin with such violence that they bounced. There were a few more showers and then it all died away leaving us drifting at 2 or 3 knots for hours of baking sunshine. At dark it all started again, with some very dramatic thunder storms, but fortunately rather less rain.
We got into Sitges at 0330 on Tuesday morning, glad to tie up under the little torre (presumably an ex-lighthouse) that serves as the office. We've been too tired to explore much yet; that's the next thing. It's an expensive place though, so we may not stay too long.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
05/08/2007, About to be at sea
After all these complaints, we did like Valencia, and would certainly recommend it for a visit. We haven't even mentioned the fantastic modern art museum, IVAM, where we saw a wonderful exhibition of sculpture by Julio González.
Our next planned stop is Sitges. One of the gayest towns in Europe. That'll be different. It's 144 nautical miles. On the back of our last two trips we'll get there sometime on Tuesday. Maybe we'll see some free dolphins, heading into the blue.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
This in the new marina built for the Cup. We came here because it's nearer to town and in fact (slightly) cheaper than the Real Club. The only pilot book, that we have, which mentioned it is the new Mediterranean Almanac. Even this was written before completion.
Their waypoint, of 39º28'N 00º18.5W is good, putting you off the new south breakwater. Our chart (seapro Livecharts) showed a cardinal just south of this, north of the long breakwater shielding the commercial harbour. This does not seem to be there any longer.
The commercial harbour is now closed to yachts. It's a busy entrance and even crossing it about a mile off (on the direct course from Cabo de la Nao) we had to wiggle to avoid large scale traffic and the fast Balearics ferries.
The southern breakwater is well marked with a red buoy (we're sorry, we don't know the flashing) on the breakwater itself, and one below it in the water. We don't know whether there is an obstruction between the two, although the 'party cat' that does regular harbour trips cuts between them. There are also eight tiny, dimly lit red and green buoys marking an entrance channel. This runs on 190º straight into the harbour mouth. There is a slight roll in the mouth itself.
Inside there is a very obvious fuel berth and then a reception berth outside the officina. Outside office hours, if there are no marineros about, tie up there and move in the morning. On the pontoons, berths are generously spaced and have two lines tailed back from the quay. Water and electricity on all berths.
We are paying ?'?31.32 per day, including VAT. This excludes water and electricity which are charged on usage and probably (this is Spain, with massive water shortages) not cheap. This is far from our cheapest stop (even excluding the privileged ports in the Straits, and anchorages); Cartagena was only ?'?24 a day, including water and power. However, it's also not the most expensive; compare Portimao at over ?'?50 in August and Smir at ?'?36. If you want to visit Valencia, which is a fascinating city but has no anchorages except the open beaches, then this is your best option.
Showers and toilets are okay, though not brilliant. There is no wifi but there are two PCs with free internet access in the office. There is a little wake from passing boats, though there are few of them at the moment. Also we could feel a little swell when the wind got over 16 knots. But decent snubbers on your lines have dealt with anything we've experienced here. There is no hardstanding, and we haven't found chandlers etc, though there must be very good super-yacht support somewhere here. There is a good hardware shop right by the bus stop.
If you walk through the Port (or cycle), opposite the distinctive Veles y vents building there is an exit which takes you the tourism centre outside Hotel Neptune. They have good maps of the area. You can buy a bonobus (10 rides, ?'?5.45) in the tobacconists on Carrer de la Reina. Many different buses or the tram+metro get you into the main city centre.
The marina can be contacted between 0900 and 1900 on 00 34 963 542 169, or firstname.lastname@example.org. The office staff speak excellent English. This is a good stopover if you wish to stay in the area, and there is certainly plenty of room.
The real catch, at the time of writing, is that there has been no decision about what will happen to the marina after the end of September. At that time ACM (who manage the Cup) hand it over to the Spanish government. The staff have no idea what happens then (including, presumably to their jobs). You are invited to contact them above, or use the form on their website www.portamericascup.com, to register any interest in a berth. They say they will be contacting people who have expressed an interest in wintering over.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
This is an excellent natural harbour. You can see in this picture, taken from the top of the Castillo, that you come round the first post breakwater, past the second starboard one, and then almost straight ahead to enter the marina. The only hazards are other vessels, including dinghies racing between the second breakwater and the marina.
When you come in through the breakwaters, call up the marina. They will have a marinera on hand to assist. If you are not bows/stern to on the pontoons, you end up alongside on the quay round the edge of the marina. This is not as secure, but more convenient for facilities and the town. (You can't quite see our pontoon; there is one more to the right of the photo.)
On the outer edge there is quite a bit of swell in a southerly and wash from the tourist boat. Snubbers or springs on the mooring lines make you and the boat more comfortable.
Prices are mid-range and include power and water. There is a large washing machine in the ablutions block. No wifi, but there are cyber cafes in town.
|Life on Roaring Girl||