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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Messing about in boats
01/08/2008, 43.41.89N 007.19.34E

One of the pleasant surprises about this coast is that actually it is possible to live quite cheaply. The marinas as so expensive that you avoid them like the plague, the bars and restaurants are terrifying. So you find the anchorages (of which there are zillions), keep a sharp eye on the weather, shop sparingly and in fact spend remarkably little. (Unless you go the Jazz Festival!) And it is obvious why it is so popular with yachties, as it's beautiful, the weather is very gentle, and there are lots of places to go.
On Sunday we decamped to the bay just east of Nice, called the Rade de Villefranche. The eastern headland is Cap Ferrat, and the bay is overlooked by the little town of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
This is essentially the cruise-liner port for Nice, with some very large liners anchoring in here. That still leaves lots of room for yachts, however. There is a swell which comes in every now and then. We are going to stay for a couple of weeks, for Sarah to write and Pip to do some design work. Plus a bit of enjoying Bridget, and jumping into a delightful clear, cool sea when it all gets too hot.


Life on Roaring Girl
Harbour and anchorage
01/08/2008, Rade de Villefranche

The Rade would not be a bad place if looking for a wintering spot on the hook. It is open to the south and you'd want to create a pretty firm quasi-mooring. But it's obvious that a number of boats have done just that, and are liveaboards. You've got Nice just over the hill, the comforts of Villefranche, and wonderful weather. (Pretty tempting, but we wouldn't want to leave Roaring Girl unattended at anchor. At the moment Toulon looks like a good opportunity if they can confirm a space.)
This picture is taken looking south east from the northern end of the old town. The boats in the foreground are on moorings; we don't know what permissions might be required for this. You would need to anchor fore and aft here if you squeezed into a space here, as there is no swinging room. They are obviously the closest to the town.
Most visiting yachts (save the super variety) anchor over on the east side. (This is where we are; magnifying this picture a lot reveals Roaring Girl at the back, almost in the middle.) You are a little more exposed to the prevailing south westerly swell here, though actually the biggest rolls tend to come from the liners coming and going, and maybe the ferries going past the headland into Nice. This the Anse de l'Espalmador. The area most tucked into shelter on the east is now buoyed off, preventing anchorage.
The holding is good. There is weed, but quite a lot of sandy patches too. We have had much less trouble here than elsewhere, and between two trips out to sea to empty our holding tanks, and our determination to edge over to the east, we have anchored at least six times this week. It does get very crowded; we haven't used a chum as there is so little wind, but plan to put one down once fully settled. Almost all the boats vanish again in the evening; as on most of this coast, everything is very quiet from about 2000 to 0700, but there's loads of activity during the day.
You can dinghy ashore in the town. We have tied up to the quay, where there are lots of rings and bollards, without any problem. On the wee pontoon that serves the tripper boats (about 100m north of Port de la Sante, or North Harbour, the small fishing port), there are water taps. The liners send their lifeboats to and fro as tenders, and there are tripper boats and small ferries zipping around, as well as the fishermen, but we have found most of them pretty courteous to small dinghies. The least considerate are the large RIBs used as tenders by the superyachts. All these go in and out of the tiny Port de la Sante.
South of the old quay, and also south of the conspicuous citadelle, is the marina of Villefranche-sur-Mer. We would be at the top end of its size range, assuming we could get a berth. Unsurprisingly, this is an extremely popular harbour, with a 15 year waiting list for long term berths.

Life on Roaring Girl
To the Festival
26/07/2008, Nice

You always find things easier the second time round. If you ever go to Nice Jazz Festival, especially to see the big names, then take heed of the following. The 20 bus route from the Port goes directly to the Jardins Cimiez. It takes about half an hour and costs one euro. The gates open at 1800 (or maybe a bit later, but it's on your ticket). Be there a bit before that to be amongst the very first into the gardens. Go straight to the Arene Jardin (the biggest stage and stake a place as near to the stage as you want to be. One of you goes to the little café set up by the Arene Matisse and pinches as many chairs as you need. (Or carry folding chairs with you, but they're rarely as good a view.) Keep one of you always on station to protect space, chairs, picnic or whatever. Wait three hours.
It works. And it's why we only heard English and American voices for Leonard Cohen: the French fans already knew all this and were sitting comfortably at the front.

Places and people
The Old Town
26/07/2008, Nice

A lovely morning wandering the streets of old Nice and investigating the market. It is pretty touristy; all too often the result of regeneration of such areas is to create a service and retail economy but not enough else. But it is really lovely, with narrow streets opening onto lovely squares or the sea. You can't get really lost, partly because the Vieux Ville isn't all that big, but also because you can always see the hill of the castle or the sea itself.
We got some jobs done too, including at last installing the windex that Paul brought out from England. The new blade screw had arrived from Marlec too, for our big wind generator; however there was no thread left on the blade so Sarah took it off and Pip epoxied in new thread. Sadly, on the Sunday we found that still wasn't enough and there may be a new blade in our near future. In the meantime we'll have to manage with the Ampair and solar panels.

Places and people
Chapelle Matisse
24/07/2008, Vence

The pretty hill-town of Vence is home to a gorgeous chapel designed by Matisse in the last years of his life. It is the white building with the vertical windows on the right of the picture, next to its parent, the Dominican convent with the spire. (This pic is taken from the far side of the steep gorge, in the pretty old town.)
Matisse was persuaded to take on the design by the Dominican sisters who nursed him when he convalesced in Vence after a serious illness in 1943. Some people (including the young monk who gave a talk in French while we were there) cite the beauty of the chapel as proof of Matisse's late life spiritual flowering. There seems little evidence for this. The painter himself said, on this subject: "My only religion is the love of the work to be created , the love of creation, and great sincerity."
The chapel is a distillation of the drawing and visual articulacy that Matisse worked on all his life. There are three large black line drawings on white tiles, one a large St Dominic, and one a very beautiful outline of a woman with, in front of her, a child's figure standing with arms outstretched: a crucifixion and a benison. The third shows the Stations of the Cross, angry sketches that portray the collapse and pain of carrying the cross up the hill and the grief of the followers cutting down the body. All in a few spare lines.
On the north wall are two large stained glass windows, cut from the outside into the vertical strips you see in the picture, but inside they are whole. These are a curved and gracious pattern of green (for growth), blue (for heaven) and yellow (for the sun) through which the light shines chevrons onto the grey floor. In the east wall is a large window with the sorts of curved shapes that you know immediately are Matisse, but cannot easily describe. This is the window of the bees, and lovely.
Matisse designed everything (with a little architectural help), including the chandeliers, floor tiles, the spare and tortured crucifix on the altar and the candles which surround it. He even designed the silk vestments which are still used for Mass. He had major battles with the Abbot and it took five years, but he was pleased with it when it was done.
Really worth a visit, it must be said that Vence should improve its signage. We ended up parking at the wrong end of town and making another route march to get there before closing.
This blog is being written up on Friday night in Nice. Tomorrow we have some more boat work to do (mostly up the masts again!) the market to visit and then the Festival to visit. Nice is great place and we will see more of it, as we intend to spend some time anchored in the Rade de Villefranche just around the corner. The hunt is on for a winter berth, and we hope we might manage to stay in this area. If not, we might have to head back west.

Places and people
The other Alps
24/07/2008, Col de Bleine

At 1439m, this is one of the higher passes hereabouts, the beginning of the Alps. That's both northern and southern Alps we've seen this year!
Up there, the grass grows thinly but there are tufts of lavender everywhere, scenting the air, and flaunting their purple toughness. The wind soughs across the rock and a few birds are hunting. There are few trees that high, though some make it. We took photos, but of course we have neither the skill nor the equipment really to convey the grandeur.

Places and people
Tiny roads
24/07/2008, Route des Crêtes

The D10 is said by the Rough Guide to require 'concentration and nerve'. That's true. You can see it winding along the cliff face behind Pip. Yes that's it, underneath the overhang. It is stunningly beautiful though, and empty. We barely saw another vehicle along its (roughly) 25 miles.
It is much better to do it (as we did) from Sigale to Le Mas; this puts you on the cliff side of the road, much easier on the passenger than the sheer drops on the other edge.

Places and people
Boundary river
24/07/2008, River Esteron

This deep gorge, or clue as they are called here, was the boundary between France and Savoy for 100 years. You would need to feel pretty tough to launch and assault across here.

Places and people
Villages Perchés
24/07/2008, Sigale

We took our car up to look at some mountains. All across Haute Provence the land is astonishing, fractured and twisted into tiny valleys, cliffs too steep for anything but the thinnest grass and lichen, alternating between blasting heat and thick winter snow.
The perched villages of the region hang on to the outcrops. The residents get amazing views and probably develop very strong calf muscles. For centuries this has been marginal subsistence agriculture, based on goats, olives and nuts. Some still live like this, but many of these villages inevitably depend on second-homers and commuters, or people who can earn a living from a distance.

Places and people
Melted stone: scented town
23/07/2008, Grasse

Having read Patrick Susskind's wonderful book, Perfume, the old town of Grasse was a must-see. Also, an old New Scientist that Sarah had finally finished reading, had a wonderful article about a scientist who is exploring how smell works, arguing that is about the shapes of molecules. Using his theory he is successfully producing new perfumes in this very competitive market. By contrast, the Grasse approach relies on the professional 'noses', of whom there are only about 60 in the world, who can distinguish and judge thousands of different aromas.
The town has sprawled over what used to be the flower and herb fields. These are now often grown overseas, in places with cheaper labour, though some, such as the Provencal tuberose, rely on being grown in specific situations. You can visit lots of the perfumiers, and in some places even do a workshop to mix your own scent. We went to the historic factory of House Fragonnard, run by the Fushs family who named their business after the famous painter who came from the town. It was very interesting, with the ancient alembics, the principles of cold maceration and hot distillation. But this is very much an historic overview; the real work is now done in their state of the art factory down the road.
In addition we visited the twelfth century cathedral, which has the austere nave, very high in proportion to its other dimensions. After the revolution, there was a major fire inside this building, which melted the stone, causing the roughened, melted look you see around the arches. The flowing stone makes a beautiful contrast to the precision of the roof, the carvings on the pulpit or the large, devotional oil-paintings hung along the walls.

Places and people
All that Jazz
22/07/2008, Cimiez

We wouldn't have called Leonard Cohen jazz, but were delighted to have the chance to see him on his first world tour in 15 years. His London gigs had got rave reviews, so we took a deep breath and lashed out for tickets. (The jazz purists don't count him either, with sniffy comments about too mainstream a line-up. Of course, they don't have to balance the books!)
Cohen was boot-shiveringly good. Hallelujah sung the way it should be (compared to the wimpier versions currently popular), an amazing In the Tower of Song and many others. The park was packed; even though we got to the stage nearly two hours before he was due on, we were too far away to see much. So we retreated even further and sat on a high wall. We couldn't see him much, but watched the darkening sky, swung our heels against the stone-work and sung along.
After Cohen, we made our way to another stage, to see the Maria Schnieder Orchestra, an American combo led by a woman, and a lot of brass. We arrived at the start of a fab trumpet solo, also by a woman, which was great both to see and hear.
We're going back on Saturday to see Joan Baez.

Places and people
Bassin Lympia
21/07/2008, Pontoon G4

From our final resting place we have nice views, both of the formal building at the end of the harbour, and of the wooded hill of the Citadel. (The fort itself is long gone.) It's all lit up well at night, and, given we're in the middle of the 5th largest city in France, it's not too noisy.


Life on Roaring Girl

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