05/20/2012, Bandol, France
While waiting for the Beneteau agent to come to Bandol and fix our bow thruster, much work was done, cruising being the art boat maintenance in exotic places.
The dinghy outboard had its first run and performed easily and well. The passerelle/gangplank was adjusted and the stern light installed. At the ceremonial turning on of the stern light, we needed sunglasses and the power in Bandol dipped. And much washing was done in our on-board washing machine - it is very quiet and takes 5 kilos so quite a boon, particularly as the marina facilities are always a long way away and do not include washing machines.
The beaches here are lovely and topless sunbathing seems to be the order of the day. Haven't they heard of skin cancer? In walking round the Plage Rencros we saw a plaque on a beautiful hotel that said D. H. Lawrence had stayed there at the Hotel Beaurivage in 1929 for about 6 months and wrote "Pensees" his last poems before he died in nearly Vence in 1930.
Sunday was very festive - right outside our passerelle. A flea market went the whole length of the marina, weaving around our passerelle, while the food market was still operating on the other side of the road. And best of all was the "Apres Midi Dansant" - people dancing in the town centre all afternoon to all kinds of music such as "Itsy Bitsy Teensy Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" in French and doing dances like the cha cha and the twist. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon - much better than doing the in-tray! Lots of people sitting in the shade drinking sangrias, rose and whatever, watching the passing parade and the dancers.
Monday appeared to be playing petanque day and working on the pointu boats day, while Tuesday saw another market on the dock. In squeezing past the stall right on our passerelle, the stall owner, after looking at our flag, asked if we were New Zealanders!
Lots of pleasant dinners in the cockpit and some nice dinners at restaurants. Susan had many enjoyable swims at the lovely beaches and visited a school for the day.
Myra left for home and John had a quick day trip to Narbonne to pick up his British passport, kindly held by Jean Isidro. Susan, Rick and John also managed to fit in a day trip by train to the French naval port of Toulon.
And we have now experienced the Mistral, the strong wind in this area. It is much like the Tremontane we experienced in Canet and Cap d'Agde. As one of the locals exclaimed "Mistral infernal!"
It has been a longer stay than expected in Bandol but we couldn't have picked a better spot to have to wait out repairs and weather. Tomorrow we start coasting again - next stop the Porquerolles.
05/09/2012, Port Bandol
Marseille looks its best from the sea. As we sailed out of the Iles de Frouil for Cassis, the water (some 100 metres deep in spots) was a beautiful blue and and the buildings, cliffs and hills of Marseille were a beautiful white with a little green vegetation here and there. The gold Mary and child on top of Notre Dame de la Garde on the hill gaze out at the seafarer, protecting the people of Marseille.
Another fast sail to Cassis and fortunately we had rung ahead and booked, as the small marina was packed. The boats on either side of us were charter yachts crewed by Russians. Life only gets better in Russia. While the weekend saw the defeat of Sarkozy and the election of Hollande, Tuesday is VE Day and a public holiday in France, so we arrived to quite a festive atmosphere.
Cassis was a Roman settlement though there is little archeological evidence to be found. There are apparently underwater caves from when they were land caves and the sea was over 100 metres further out, that contain 20,000 year old rock art, but they are not on display. The town of only 8000 people is a maze of pretty cobbled stoned streets, treed parks and fountains, and high quality shops and restaurants. Local dignatories and old soldiers gathered in one of the squares for a commemorative ceremony for VE Day, with lots of references to the Resistance and the Liberation, and the playing of the stirring Marseillaise.
For the first time American accents were noticeable. One of the industries of Cassis is the quarrying of lime and stone and the base of the Statue of Liberty is from Cassis. The nearby calanques or inlets are accessible by a little train and are worth the trip. They are picturesque moorings for yet more yachts.
And to finish a lovely visit we ate at the Fleurs de Thym, another some-time-Michelin-mentioned restaurant. Three delicious courses for E34 a head. With the other three memorable restaurants in Villefranche, Canet and Cap D'Agde, we have had some excellent food. Before we went to the restaurant, we decided to try some pastis, having enjoyed the Manzana we tried in Catalan. Pastis is the local licorice flavoured anise aperitif, and we did like it though we did notice our unbreakable boat glasses went cloudy - permanently! Imagine what the aperitif that it replaced, Absinthe, would have done.
The famous local poet Frederic Mistral has the last say on Cassis. In his poem "Calendal" about a poor Cassis anchovy fisherman he says "Those who have seen Paris but not Cassis, have seen nothing".
05/09/2012, Marseilles, France
Across the water from our berth on the Ilse du Frioul were the lights of the grand City of Marseille. As the local ferry provided a regular service (15 min) directly to the Port of Marseille, we wasted no time to absorb as much history that the City had to offer.
From the ferry we were able to see the two islands that make Ilse du Frioul. The two larger islands are joined by a causeway and have recently been bought from the military by the Municipality de Marseille. The yacht marina is the first stage of a large leisure complex planned over the next few years. The cliffs above our marina were littered with fortification relics of a bygone era.
Between the Ilse du Frioul marina and the Port of Marseille was a small island, known as, Chateau d'If . It was originally fortified in 1516, then used as a prison and also used as the setting for the novel, Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
The entry to the Port of Marseille takes your breath away, as the size of the port, the buildings that line the harbour, the massive Cathedral and the fortification at the entrance, immediately give a sense of the enormous wealth that came to the City Marseille in the 1880's.
As we only had a day to see it all, our best option was to do 'Le Grand Tour' from a seat on the double decker tourist bus. We also enjoyed giving our feet a rest and having an audio tape explaining the sites during the tour (in English thankfully).
Marseille dates back to 600 BC. The Greeks arrived first, then the Romans arrived in 49 BC. In 1229 the City rebelled against the monastic rule and the bishop was removed. The merchants took power and the Republic of Marseille was born. In 1481 Marseille and Provence were attached to the Kingdom of France. In 1660 Louis XIV visited Marseille and ordered the extension of the City, the construction of a new arsenal and two forts and once it was made a free port the city began to prosper. Disaster struck in 1720 when half the population died of the great plague, and then in 1792 the people of Marseillese marched to Paris singing 'la Marseillaise'... the beginning of the French national anthem.
In the 1830's, Marseille once again became a flourishing Mediterranean port and between 1848-70 it became the 'Gateway to the Orient'. The city expanded and a new trading port was built and monuments / cathedrals were erected. The Paris-Lyon-Marseille railway line was completed and the Suez canal opened. Marseille was prospering with the enormous wealth that flowed in and out of the City. However, during the 1940s Marseille once again saw destruction and decline. During the 1960's the City saw a massive arrival of settlers from it's colonies in North Africa and many blocks of flats were built to house the new arrivals. Around 1995 money went into planning projects that undertook huge urban renewal work in Marseille, including the TGV that links Marseille and Paris with a 3 hour train trip.
The scale of these projects is enormous, and are in complete contrast to the small cobble stone streets of old Panier District located near the port.
During the day we noticed a huge presence of police in Marseille and the reason why became clear after we came out of the restaurant where we had dinner. Cars were sounding their horns, red flares were firing, crowds were gathering holding placards and youth were doing wheelies on their much loved motor bikes. We were a touch perplexed to find oursleves in the middle of the announcement of the outcomes of the French Presedential election! The crowd was obviously pleased that Francois Hollande had won from Nicholas Sarkozy 51.62% to 48.38%.... however I was not!
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.
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.