05/08/2012, Port Cassis
The sail from Port Gardian was actually motor sailing as the breeze was less than 5 knots but again this was delightful as we saw lots of sea life including sailfish and dolphins. The gulls are huge and when they assemble in one area it indicates that baitfish are present in some numbers. It is not long after that the pelagics such as dorado and tuna come in to feed.
Sailing past the immense delta of the Rhone River was also interesting as it is vast and the colour of the water and presence of floating branches etc. declare it is the outlet of a significant river.
As we approached the Gulf of Fos we had several ships to avoid. The AIS (Automatic Identification System) shows each ship on our chart plotter, it's position, course and speed as well as its size, port of registration and where it is bound. This information is really helpful for safety as it takes all the hard work out of navigating for collision avoidance. We also crossed our first traffic separation zone and took an early course change to demonstrate to the pilot of a massive roll-on-roll-off cargo ship that we would not be a problem for them.
We anchored (another first for Trilogy and our formidable Rocna 40kg anchor) in a small cove in the Gulf well protected from the south, and noticed that the water temperature had risen from around 13 degrees to 19. The proximity of a large power station was probably a coincidence.
The cove was also reputed to be a naturist camping ground but tragickly the weather was a bit cold for such activities.
The next day (4th of May) we set sail for a small island off Marseille named Frioul in lovely conditions and anchored in a very narrow cove (Havre de Morgiret). This was quite deep and we decided to relocate to the Port of Frioul on the other side of the island.
The Capitainerie was very courteous and we decided to stay for a few days to explore Marseille as there was a reliable ferry service roughly every hour.
We also encountered our first mechanical problem when the generator (an Onan 7kVa model) shut itself down showing a cooling water alarm. After several hours of checking all that we could without invalidating the warranty we have decided that it needs a seawater impeller so we will have to wait until we are near to an Onan mechanic.
05/06/2012, Provence, France
Our next stop after Port Camargue and the Languedoc region was Port Gardian. We had an excellent and fast sail, getting into the marina at 2pm after only 4 hours on the move. Port Gardian was another surprise.
Firstly the marina was very small and our first effort to tie up at the Captainerie's wharf was rejected as we were too long. We were told to go to a particular berth, where we discovered we were also a tad wide. Fortunately the berth pylons were covered in rubber, as we were exactly the same width as the pen.
The second surprise was that the town of Port Gardian was Saintes Maries de la Mer, recorded in ancient times as having had an oppidum to Ra, the Egyptian sun god. The main feature of the town is the church from the 9th to the 12th century, with an altar from the 4th century. As the town had experienced attacks by Saracens and Vikings, the fortified look of the church is understandable. It is a very high fortification, topped by several even taller bell towers. As the pilot guide said, it is very conspicuous. Pilgrims visit the church to worship at the relics of two Marys, one believed to be the mother of James and John, the other the Virgin Mary's sister. The relics (a few bones) were unearthed from their graves in the 1400s and placed in the crypt. The story of how the Marys got there is even more fascinating. Apparently many of Jesus's friends, including Lazarus and Mary Magdalene and the two Marys and their black servant Sarah, were expelled from Jerusalem and drifted to Saintes Maries de la Mer in a boat. When the two Marys died they were buried there, as was Sarah. There are statues to the three, and each year the Marys are paraded through the town escorted by the gardians - the local farmers who ride white horses and raise black fighting bulls - who ride with the Marys into the sea. The third festival, which we were a little too early for, is when the gypsies or gitans gather to celebrate their patron saint Sarah, who is also escorted round the town by the gardians and dancing gypsies. There is a bull fighting (or should I say teasing) arena on the waterfront. The Camarguais taunt bulls rather than kill them.
The third surprise was discovering that Vincent Van Gogh visited Saintes Maries in 1888, coming down from Arles for his health. He did a number of beautiful paintings and drawings of the church, the white washed thatch houses and the streets, and the brightly coloured fishing boats on the beach. None of these scenes has changed since then.
And the concluding highlight was to see a flock of flamingoes on the etang next to the marina the morning before we left.
05/01/2012, Port Carmague, France
Trilogy's maiden voyage departed Canet-en-Rousillon on 21 April.
We've now been cruising for 10 days along the south coast of France, stopping at Gruissan, Cap d'Agde, Sete and Port Camargue. The crew have noticed these coastal towns (except for Sete) with their extensive marinas have a similar look. Our Pilot book explained that around 1960 the French Government decided to create holiday towns along this coastal region (Spanish border to eastern side of Marseille). Prior to these towns being created, very little was known about this part of the French coastline (known as Languedoc-Roussillon), even to the Francophiles!
However, all this changed when construction was completed of five purpose built tourist cities with huge marinas. Each one, a perfect distance for a day's sail. For the yachtsman, there is now good shelter within short distances along what was once a desolate and dangerous coast. I can't help thinking that the many Jeanneaus and Beneteaus berthed in the marinas, would have helped the French Govt to finance the chain of new nautical towns. As we depart this region, Trilogy has spent nights in four of the five purpose built marinas, with the crew venturing inland to explore the history rich towns lying in the hinterland, however we were slightly disappointed to miss seeing the pink flamingos nesting in the marsh lands behind Camargue.
Port Carmargue happens to be the biggest marina in the World, 5,000 berths in total!!!!!
Our day in Port Carmargue was the first day of spring, May Day. In addition to stunning Spring weather, were enjoyed the company of fun loving French sailors, who were enjoying a May Day Race. They offered us a drink of grapefruit/rose cocktail before we retired to the cockpit of Trilogy, for a magnificent seafood platter.
|Cruising, French Med|
04/30/2012, Sete, France
We set out from Cap D'Agde for Camarge on Friday 27 April but the weather gods decreed that we really meant for Sete to be our next port of call and what a pleasant surprise Sete has been.
Sete does not feature prominently in the tourist guides but in a way that is what makes it so authentic as it is a working harbour and the main connection between the Mediterranean and the Midi Canal.
The Midi Canal was constructed between 1666 and 1681 by approximately 12,000 labourers including 1,000 women and it runs for 240 km between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean to bypass the pesky Spaniards and Barbary pirates who were taking a toll on French shipping in the 17th century. It was the most significant infrastructure project in Europe of that era and has become a favourite for canal barges in modern times.
We approached Sete from the east due to the heavy swell that made the western entrance a bit challenging and once inside the breakwater the harbour opens up to show its industrial heart. Large tanks for oil bunkering are evident as are the huge fishing trawlers and ferries that ply between France and Morocco.
We eventually found a berth at the local yacht club after exploring the various docks and canal entry ways all of which looked unfriendly to pleasure craft like Trilogy. Three locals from the Captainerie guided us in to the berth where we tied up stern to and lowered the dinghy onto the pontoon, so we could get on an off Trilogy, and the formalities were exchanged. This inevitably involves exchanging our original yacht registration certificate for an access key which ensures they get the key returned.
On Saturday we took the opportunity of having the dinghy on the dock to stencil the name on and also to fit the stern light on to the davit so that it can be seen when the dinghy is hoisted.
Sunday was spent exploring Sete and marveling at the several canals that give Sete a likeness to Venice. We also climbed an enormous mountain, Mont Saint Clair, which sits 192m above Sete and provides a panoramic view of this delightful town of about 45,000 souls and its setting (sorry) adjacent to an enormous lake, Bassin de Thau, where delicious oysters and mussels are harvested.
The main street runs along the canal where the enormous fishing trawlers tie up to the dock and various water craft ply the canals including rowing skiffs. Apparently water jousting is still quite a popular sport and it has roots going back to 2300 BC. It involves two rowed craft with small platforms above the stern where combatants use jousting lances to upend their opponent into the canal. They carry a small shield for defence.
Our berth at the yacht club was accessed via the sea wall and as the swell was running fairly high the waves were sending clouds of spray across the roadway - a bit daunting after a lovely meal and a wine or three!
Tomorrow the weather gods are promising more favourable sailing conditions so we plan to set out for Camarge (again).
|Cruising, French Med|
04/26/2012, Cap D'Agde, France
A couple of cold windy days has meant we have sheltered in the 2,400 berth marina at Cap d'Agde. So it was adventuring to the nearby old town of Agde. The name comes from the Greek "Agathe tyche" which the Greeks called the Phonetician settlement they took over in 5th century BC. The buildings are from black basalt so not pretty by any means, but intriguing as the streets between the ancient buildings are so narrow they are for walking only, and when you look up the houses seem to meet overhead. The town is on the Herault River so the old houses on the water have bollards and big metal rings in the masonry that they used to use to secure their boats to. The river leads to the sea or to the Midi canal, where there is the only round lock on the 240km canal. This lets boats continue to Sete on the canal or break off and go to Agde and the sea. It was intriguing to watch it in action. And the highlight was the museum of ancient ship wrecks, and the three bronze Greek statues of a child, Eros and L'Ephebe or Alexander of Agde, a handsome youth. They are all around 2300 years old and Alexander was found on the bottom of the river only a few decades ago. And scenery wise, the fort at the mouth of the marina, Le Fort de Brescou, built in 1586 and refortified by Richelieu and Vauban, is austerely beautiful, but the prisoners must have had a hard time there. See our Agde picture gallery for more photos.
04/23/2012, Gruissan, France
Gruissan, which we had never heard of before and about which the internet and Lonely Planet were largely silent, was a great experience. It was first mentioned in the 700s, and for a lot of its history was ruled cojointly by the Archbishop of Narbonne and the local lord, who exploited its salt and fish. What remains is a tower on the high point of the town which the Archbishop lived in as well as using as a prison. The 13th century church is also very beautiful and is apparently representative of Languedoc churches. The altar is six pink marble columns supporting the Virgin Mary rising to Heaven in billowing clouds. It also tells the history of Gruissan in that there is a painting of Saint Peter, in memory of 32 local fishermen who drowned in 1797, and the sad Honour Board to the men who died in the first World War ~ many families lost four sons. We wandered round the old town, and the old cemetery where heroes of the two world wars, the Indochina wars and the North African wars lie. The town was really tourist free, except for us. We had a lunch of moules (mussells) and pommes frites (french fries) and rose wine for E10 each. And to cap it all off, on our way to dinner we saw two flocks of flamingoes calling and flying overhead ~ were they going back to Africa or coming up?