Our exit from all things BREXIT couldn’t come soon enough! Little did we know when booking our tickets that we would still be in no-man’s land the day before ‘B Day’. And so, with our country’s future still undecided, on 28th March 2019 we departed Portishead heading for another season on board Ocean Rainbow. This time it’s definitely going to be a sailing season! After an amazingly swift trip we arrived in Port Napoleon to find OR safe and sound but so, so dirty. The disadvantage of being right under the yard workers’ noses (but therefore easily spotted if something’s going wrong) is the heavy volume of traffic churning up dust on a daily basis. However a bit of dirt is easily washed away and, as everyone already knows, cleaning boats is something James loves!!
We can’t recommend the bus service in France highly enough. Not only does it run to time, it is exceedingly good value at a cost of €12 each (door-to-door). We caught the No38 bus from the airport to Martigues, then a quick hop across the bus station to catch a No2 bus to Port St Louis where we phoned for the local bus to pick us up at the ‘Douane’ stop and take us to Port Napoleon.
It took a couple of hours to organise ourselves and then it was off to the Restaurant for Moules and Frites. We’d left the basics like milk, jam, muesli, mayo, tinned tuna etc on board so we didn’t have to rush off to the shops. In fact we didn’t rush to the shops at all as we tried the Intermarché on-line shopping and had an order delivered to the yard. What a result! It’s definitely the way forward as all the heavy and bulky things like tins, bottles, milk, wine & beer can be ordered and delivered, leaving the fun shopping like cheese, ham, fruit and vegetables to be done at a more leisurely pace and with far lighter backpacks for the return bike trip.
The first day had us hard at work cleaning topsides and the brightwork, then came the sides and getting the hull ready for antifouling. We were going to pay for the antifouling to be done but decided that we’d do it ourselves as normal, and that next year we would have a ‘professional’ scrape back, prime and antifoul the hull. We found that we had finished a day earlier than anticipated so, knowing bad weather was coming in, we asked if we could splash early. Not only did the yard fit us in but they also gave us the lunchtime slot which meant we had lots of time to apply antifouling to the bottom of the keel and the spots missed because of the cradle supports. Brilliant.
So we’re now on the water, moored bows to with a lovely view of the Camargue from the cockpit. We managed to bend on the sails in the dry but then the heavens opened and the predicted thunderstorm arrived! Useful though as it meant we could sort out all the lockers and stow everything sensibly and ‘to hand’. Now all we need is for the weather to cheer up a little and we’re ready to set sail for one of the many beautiful anchorages we have read so much about!
Small disaster though - a puncture in James’ front bike tyre revealed a shortfall in our toolbox. No plastic tyre spanners. Two sets back at the house but none on the boat and the new Schwalbe tyres fitted when we had our bikes serviced last year require really strong tyre spanners. James is currently on a tyre spanners hunt!
Update to 24th April
Well the Brompton tyre saga was interesting, James ended up catching a bus to Fos with the bike tucked under his arm. A lady on the bus showed him where the bike shop was, the chap running the shop dealt with the puncture immediately, another lady took James back to the return stop for the bus to Port St Louis and James made it home in under two hours. Not bad going and all for a €2 bus fare.
Considering the time that has elapsed there isn’t a lot to report. Puddle, our dingy was blown up, checked for leaks, had Tommy the outboard mounted and went for a spin around the marina before being packed way again until needed. Silent Wind has been remounted. The winches have been serviced. The engine oil has been changed. Our Mikuni heater has been serviced and is running efficiently. The bow light has been replaced and is working. Some damaged canvas has been repaired. The shopping has been done, the laundry done and we just had to sit and wait for the weather to calm down. We really hadn’t anticipated such strong winds and miserable weather - but nor had anyone else, so we are a cheerful crowd despite being held captive by natural forces. Tutunui (Janet and Horst) and Tartaruga (Sharon and Tim) have been regular company and made for some very jolly evenings.
Finally the weather broke and we saw our opportunity to escape, so on Thursday 18th we paid our bills and left for the Frioul Archipelago, purportedly one of the driest areas in France. The wind was rather brisker than anticipated which made for a lively sail but it did mean that we could test everything out. Ocean Rainbow never fails to delight us with her ability to transport us dry in the cockpit in the bumpy, spray filled seas. With the wind from the East and rising, we found shelter in Morgeret Bay where we spent a few more nights than anticipated!
But, first things first. We pumped up Puddle and made a foray to shore. The island is covered with lovely spring flowers despite the dusty, rocky environment.
We walked around to the harbour and whilst enjoying our first ice cream of the season, found Tutunui about to move her mooring to a more sheltered corner of the marina. We helped with the lines and made mental notes about what we needed to do when we were faced with stern-to Medi-mooring. In high winds, without a bow thruster or neighbours to line oneself up against, it is very difficult without the help of the harbourmaster’s rib. The Marina is totally open to easterlies so not a nice quiet mooring. However, with the sun shining Frioul is a lovely place to stay.
On Easter Sunday the winds were due to abate and it looked a good day to move on to Port Cassis so we set off at 9am. Needless to say it was an upwind sail but the trip was only 20nm and we had all day so we didn’t anticipate any problems. Unfortunately, we were putting in our first reef when plastic fatigue struck our sliders and a handful of them snapped leaving the main bagging in all the wrong places. Nothing for it but to drop the main (and in doing this the lazy jack on port side snapped!) and motorsail onwards. The seas became very lumpy and the wind was increasing making our progress so slow we’d have needed another 4 hours to reach Port Cassis. The decision was made to turn back and so we returned to Morgeret Bay for another night at anchor. Ah well, plenty of time to fix the main and we also dropped the boom to reposition the rams horns (yes, we’d managed to put the boom on with the rams horns below the boom, not on top!). As it was blowing we decided to delay going up the mast to fix the lazy jacks. Not exactly the Easter Sunday we’d anticipated but we still had time to enjoy a really delicious roast duck with all the trimmings and we had our own little service on board.
On Monday we fixed the broken lazy jack. The wind did not drop. Instead it got stronger and stronger (34+) but once up the mast and secure in the Banks Bosun chair, James was quite happy and managed to reattach the line. We had intended to spend the night in the bay but with rocks all around us and a holding in sand and weed, plus a wind that was predicted to get stronger in the night we’d had enough. We weighed anchor at 4pm, pulled out a scrap of Yankee and romped downwind at 7.2 kts for most of the 7nm to Carry le Rouet.
A great sail but oh my goodness our entry into the harbour was a tad more exciting than we needed. With surging swell into the harbour the water below the keel was rather less than we’d anticipated and we entered far faster than would normally be considered polite! A hand brake turn to starboard and we were in more protected waters with a nice quay to moor alongside. Despite the squeaky lines and bump of the fenders, we slept like logs! We moved to a pontoon in the morning and here we shall stay until we find a weather window big enough to allow us to sail to Port Cassis.
Tuesday 24th - Tuesday 30th April
Carry le Rouet is a little village with restaurants along the harbour and private residences along the coastline. It’s very much a French holiday town with none of the ‘touristy’ shops selling plastic souvenirs. We found the most wonderful fruit and vegetable shop - ‘Citron et Vert’ - where we could have spent a fortune on the most delicious looking produce. To add to the attraction they had a delicatessen counter with superb cheeses, pâté and salamis. We bought all we could reasonably store on the boat and enjoyed every last morsel! Their French beans were divine!
The weather has been very windy but only a little rain, so we were able to get out and about on the bikes and we even went for a walk. There is a coastal path which is a rather wet and windy affair when the wind is blowing but a nice way to get some fresh air. We initially tried to take the bikes but the path is rough and we spent the whole time carrying them! One afternoon we set off up hill and down dale to the only landmark in the area, the Chapel of Notre Dame du Rouet. Built in 1653, the chapel stands on a promontory with magnificent views over the blue, blue seas from which this part of the coast gets its name - Côte Bleue - and the impressive coastline with its ochre coloured cliffs hewn by wind and sea.
On Friday we woke to calm seas and a gentle breeze. It was time to make our escape before the weekend’s predicted Mistral! We had a wonderful sail across to Port Cassis which is a harbour on the western edge of the Côte d’Azur famous for its limestone. It is a very picturesque town with tall, colourful terraced houses situated around the harbour. The place is absolutely stuffed full with restaurants and tourists but it is still charming.
The poet Frédéric Mistral immortalised Cassis when he declared that ‘He who has seen Paris and not Cassis has seen nothing’. The side streets of Cassis are narrow and cobbled with artisan shops and plenty of character. Very difficult to capture in a photo unfortunately.
We went on a couple of energetic bike rides with a fair bit of pushing the bikes up hills before free wheeling down the other side. We were curious to see Port Miou which is located in a calanque (creek) just west of Cassis. The guide book says it’s a 25 minute hot and sticky walk. Not one word of exaggeration there! It was a nice outing though. We watched one boat come in and saw a major case of ‘bumper boats’, we asked another yacht owner about the routine for picking up the ‘slime lines’ and he was less than convincing in his explanation so after a fairly rigorous inspection of the moorings in the ‘Port’ we decided we would give the Port itself a miss but, if occasion arose, we would take a mooring ball near the entrance to the calanque.
On Saturday night we went out and had some really delicious moules and frites at ‘Huit et demi’, which is a very friendly little restaurant. Sunday we went to the local Catholic Church. We had hoped to hear the organ which looked rather magnificent, but no organist. Instead the singing was led by a cantor which worked really well with the singing enhanced by the excellent acoustics in the church. And on Monday, with the winds abated, we set off to sail again.
Our plans to head further east have been scuppered by a mysterious fresh water leak. The water appearing in one of the bilge lockers by the galley has been getting steadily more apparent. We have searched high and low for a leaking pipe or joint and failed miserably. We’ve had everything out of the lockers and bilges, we’ve run experiments to see if the leak is worse when we run hot rather than cold, run water in the heads or the galley, whether on port tack or starboard. You name it, we tried it. Finally we decided we’d return to port and seek professional help as it looked as though we might have to lift the water tank to get at a couple of pipes that run behind it so that’s why we set off west again back to Port Napoleon!!
Needless to say there was another Mistral on its way so we’re quite happy to be tucked up in a marina for the blow. We did stop for one night in the anchorage on the other side of Frioul for one night. James went into the water to check our anode! Madness! All OK with the anode too so he froze for nothing!!
Then two calm nights in the Mouillage de Carteau before it was into the marina. During our stay we managed to find a potential source for the leak and it wasn’t under the water tank! But, it was behind a fixed panel of very beautifully varnished wood. The next challenge was how to remove the panel with the minimum amount of damage.
We’ve mentioned our friends Janet and Horst on Tutunui before. Luckily they were also back in the marina and Horst, an engineer by trade, likes nothing better than solving boat problems! He came on board and after using his endoscope through the ventilation hole we managed to track down the water. All we needed to do was punch another inspection hole nearer the water source in the bottom of the panel. That’s exactly what we did. To cut a long story short, the problem was solved by fitting the new accumulator!! We’d removed the old one last year as it had broken and we made a temporary fix. The fix seemed to be working brilliantly so no great hurry to fit the new accumulator (in fact we rather forgot about it!) but one of the consequences of not having an accumulator turns out to be undue pressure on joins between hoses and a resultant drip! Heyho, you live and learn!
We are now back to normal and just looking for a break in the weather to make another escape to visit new ports and calanques along the Côte d’Azure.