Roses to Lavender

1Toulon 1Toulon 3CannesToulon 2 Cannes 2  Ile Ste Marguerite 2 Ile Ste Marguerite 3 Ile Ste Marguerite Nice 2 VSM 3 Nice 1  VSM 1 VSM 2  VSM 4 VSM 5  Monaco 1Monaco 2

After our harrowing experience in hurricane-force winds in Puerto Roses, we hunkered down for a week waiting for our weather window to cross the Gulf of Lyon to get to France. During that time we were able to fix the exhaust hose for the generator (meaning, I – Jennifer – worked with the chandlery to get all the parts ordered in Spanish, while Darold did the actual labor.)

Dante also made a local friend, the 11-year-old son of one of the port’s marineros, Camiel. He was even invited over to their house for lunch one Saturday – lucky kid. Camiel is originally from Kosovo, but married a Spanish woman. The son spoke a little English, though who needs a common language when you can play Minecraft and soccer? We also had a great conversation with Camiel one evening about the war in Yugoslavia.

With a weather window finally open, we made an overnight crossing to Toulon, France. It was the coldest crossing we’ve done so far.  The winds got up to gusts of 35 knots, but only briefly. The bigger problem was that the seas were on the beam and would roll us occasionally and scoop up water into the cockpit. This soaked our sleeping bag, some blankets and sadly, Darold’s iPad (despite the fact that it was in a waterproof, ruggedized case). Fortunately, we have two more iPads aboard. Another casualty was our mail halyard, which snapped off near the shackle. “Oh shit, what do we do now,” I said to Darold, as I watched our sail drop in a heap on our boom.  “Don’t worry we still have two other sails,” Darold says.  “But we have NO main and we still have to cross the Gulf!”  “No, not true,” Darold says “we still have a main, just think of it as a very deeply reef main.  You’re always wanting to reef …. voila!”  he say.  Didn’t help that he was laughing when he said this to me.  In any event, we had a spare main halyard on board and were able to route the new one easily enough once we got to France.

We anchored our first night after arriving in Toulon and got a good night’s sleep. Dante made us spaghetti with tomato sauce for dinner, which was nice because we were absolutely beat. We motored a few miles the next day into the old port (Darse Vieille) of Toulon.  Toulon is a large port (originally built in the 1500s) and also the main port for the French Navy on the Mediterranean. We checked into France without any issues, despite our poor French. Toulon itself is a nice town. Darold and I found a bar for a “date night” and chatted up a few locals, including the bartender. They tried to explain the meaning of the French phrase “oh lalalalalalala” but it seems there is no English equivalent. It is somewhere in the vicinity of “oh boy” and “oh well, whatcha gonna do?”  Later, in speaking to someone else about this phrase, it was explained to us that the meaning can change depending on the situation. It can be positive as when you come across a beautiful sight, or it can be negative when you lock your keys in your car.

Since the port was relatively inexpensive (21 Euros a day) and there was a direct TGV train into Paris, we decided to take an impromptu side trip into the City of Lights.  Less than 24 hours after making this decision we were on our way at almost 300 kilometers an hour (180 mph) toward the country’s capital.

We loved Paris, even though it was cloudy and cold the entire time we were there. It is such a beautiful city, even in the dead of winter. We hit all the typical spots: Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Seine, Pantheon, Musee d’Orsay, Arc du Triomphe, the Pere de Lechaise Cemetery and quaint neighborhoods like the Marais. We spent one day with a friend of mine (an Englishman living in Paris who I met while working at Philips) and on another night we met a group of young Italians living in France. (See Dante’s blog post for more details about our Paris trip.)

We spent a little time exploring Toulon, which was also nice. They have a great outdoor fruit and vegetable market (there was always someone selling lavender!), and you can also see vestiges of their colonial past through their North African and Vietnamese restaurants littered throughout the city. We sampled their bread and pastries (absolutely amazing), their cheese (also excellent), wine (delicious and inexpensive) and their coffee (sorry, the Spaniards and Italians have the upper hand on this one).

We left Toulon and anchored off the island of Porquerolles just off the mainland near Toulon.  We had a very nice and relaxing and warm day.  Unfortunately, the next day was rainy so we didn’t make it ashore.  And the following day we woke up to 20 kts. and the boat hobby horsing on some significant chop in the anchorage. The wind had picked up and put us on a lee shore. I hate waking up and having to put on foul weather gear first thing in the morning! It wasn’t yet light but we got everything ready to go and pulled up the anchor as dawn started to break and headed to Cannes 50 nautical miles away.  Uneventful, but cold and a little wet.  Hate getting saltwater all over the deck after having just washed the boat.  No big deal when you are coming back to a marina, but when on the hook for weeks at a time you either use precious freshwater to wipe off the salt or cringe as you go on deck.

We anchored off of  Ile Ste. Marguerite, a small island very close to Cannes. The island is famous for its fort – Fort Royal – where the Man in the Iron Mask was held. We took our dinghy to the island and tied it up to a concrete wharf near a closed restaurant. We took a tour of the fort and the island and the next day we took the dinghy into Cannes for a few hours.  We enjoyed Cannes, with its nice views from the hilltops.

Next we left for Nice, 18 nautical miles away. It was a very cold sail, cloudy and dreary. We anchored in a small bay around the corner from Nice, next to the town of Villefrance-sur-mer. We had been wanting to anchor near a quaint French town and we’d found it. The cobblestone streets of the old town run higgledy piggeldy up and down the town, making for a fun exploration around.

One evening a paddleboarder came by the boat and started talking to us. We invited him aboard for a drink and had an interesting conversation.  Interestingly he prefers whisky to vine…. voila… we obliged.  He’s from Nice (works at the airport) and is an avid sailor himself. He said that cruise ships will anchor off the town in the summer and inundate the town.  So even though we have been cold for the last few months, the up side is that we have towns like Villefrance-sur-mer to ourselves – plus it was sunny and warm here! Oh lalalalalalalala!!!  In the 4 days we stayed anchored in the bay, we were usually the only boat anchored and there were very few tourists around.

We also took the dinghy around the corner into Nice one day. We took an impromptu scenic trolley tour around the city, walked through the open air market and went into an old church (guess that is redundant …. they are all old).

By this time, our French was getting a little better.  We had a phrasebook specifically for people sailing in French-speaking countries.  However, there is nothing that makes you feel more American than speaking French to someone, thinking you’re doing it correctly and the French person giving you a blank stare back.  The French aren’t rude, they just don’t understand you!  What’s more humorous is that when they finally figure out what you are trying to say, they repeat it back to you pronounced correctly though it sounds exactly like what you just said!  Oh lalalalalalalala….

Our third day anchored we took the bus to Monaco.  For a 10 Euro entry fee you can tour the casino …. but you can’t gamble.  This is because the casino is actually closed!  That’s right closed!  Could you ever image a casino only opening for the evening in Las Vegas.    Nope … time is money.   We would have loved to put a euro into one of the slot machines just to say we gambled in Monte Carlo.  Nevertheless, the casino itself is absolutely beautiful and recently renovated to its original Belle Epoque charm.

Our last night in Villefrance-sur-mer was bittersweet because we knew we’d be leaving France the next day, and who knows when we will be back? Darold and I dinghied into town and had a glass of wine and some “frites” (French fries) with mustard.  Au revoir France!


To see our pictures go to the following Flickr albums: