Week 7 PYC Summer Cruise: Sailing The Riviera – Hyeres to Menton via St Tropez, Antibes and Monaco
This was the skipper’s day off – crew change-over day on Saturday 14thJune in Hyeres-Port St Pierre near Toulon. Leonie, Deborah and David arose (not much earlier than usual!) to take their 10am taxi to Toulon and then on by train to Marseille for their return flight. The new crew was due to join me about 5pm that day by train from Nice. I made my way to the capitainerie to negotiate as much additional time in the marina as possible, given that the day before they had only allowed us in for a quick crew change so that they could keep the berthing slots available for very important regatta yachts that were due to arrive throughout the weekend.
The young man in charge of the capitainerie was not the same person to whom I had spoken on the radio the previous evening. Instead of a rather gruff French only speaking official, I found a pleasant well traveled gentleman who knew Kensington and some of the pubs that I may have frequented when I worked in that part of London. We discussed them and the warm English beer that had both drunk there. Rapport was established and another night in the marina was no problem, but I would have to move off the regatta berths to tight corner of the town quay if i wanted to stay longer. Being able to stay the extra night was a considerable relief as I did not relish any enforced instruction to sail single-handed out of the marina.
Farewells to the departing crew complete, I headed to the laundrette to wash and spin a few socks, shirts, towels and trousers (too much information) and then to a cafe for breakfast, where there just happened to be a large TV screen showing the second test of the All Blacks vs England. We lost by one point, but the score did not do the All Blacks justice as we were outplayed in the second half. I was joined by a jovial group of English students, who were not too distraught by the result, adding to the pleasantness of the morning.
Then there was a text from Leonie. Did I know that there was a French rail strike and that only one or two trains were running? There was nothing in the papers, so I asked the waiter who confirmed this was the case and nobody had any idea whether trains would run or not! Fortunately Leonie, Deb and David had found a train to Marseille and piled aboard with 10,000 others and succeeded in getting to the airport in time for their flight home.
So far so good, but the new crew, Richard, Jenny and my wife, Kiki, were due to take the 2 pm train from Nice to get to Toulon, then on to Hyeres. Internet searches showed it was not running. There were no buses. There were some taxis, but they were charging Euro 400 or more for the relatively short journey; and the train had been booked and paid for. From this moment on I followed the story by text from Kiki.
Arrival in Nice at midday went as planned and, forewarned, they proceeded to the central railway station. There was good news: one train was running to Toulon leaving at about 5pm and the pre-booked tickets were acceptable. An extended lunch therefore got underway, but not too extended and the party returned to the station a good hour before the announced departure time. This was fortunate because boarding of the train, a super fast TGV to Paris via Toulon, was just beginning and there were 20,000 others seeking to ride in it. The English group just made it to a corner of a carriage and, surrounded by their luggage, set up a bastion for the expected 1 hour 45 min journey.
It was a little late leaving as hopefuls were cleared from the train roofs, fingers prized off window ledges etc… doors closed with all arms and legs shoved inside… and good speed was made down the line; then after an hour and a half the train came to a halt just as the suburbs of Toulon were becoming apparent. There was a power failure; it should be fixed soon; an hour passed; it began to get dark; it would be another two hours; midnight approached; everyone for Paris had to get off and take another train back to Nice and wait for a trin to Paris the following day. Camp bastion stayed firm; but no, the instructions were reversed; everyone for Toulon had to get off and another train would come; it was 2am; our group moved onto the platform corralled behind their luggage; back on Quartette, the stress was too much and the skipper went to bed. (He did however phone a taxi company and arranged for them to standby all night for further instructions.)
At about 3am a rumour went around that the train had been sabotaged and there were men with guns on board. Out of nowhere the gendarmerie appeared; no shots were fired and, instead – apparently a Gallic tradition – emergency sandwiches and crinkly tin-foil blankets were handed around. Conversations abounded; new relationships were established; the English group were comforted with explanations and much shrugging of shoulders then, at about a 5am a diesel engine with empty train carriages pulled into the platform with invitation to all to climb aboard. By 6am the crew was in Toulon and in the taxi heading for Hyeres. By 7am they were aboard QT and excited to be on holiday. By 7.30 am they were all asleep in their bunks and did not awake until after 2pm! So much for an early get-away.
Bleary eyed, there was work to be done in the afternoon and the skipper’s boat handling skills were put to the test (not for the first time!). We reversed around to the new allotted berth and took stock. Our sailing would start the next day.
Most Sunday afternoons in Hyeres-Plage are peaceful sunny occasions made for long lunches when elegantly dressed holiday makers walk their poodles along the quay-side tipping their hats to others of similar inclination. Not so the 15th June 2014. This was French Air Force Day – and it was cloudy with a hint of rain in the air. For a good three hours we were bombarded, flown past, flown over and dived upon by the French equivalent to the Red Arrows who gave it all they had.
The “Blue Arrows” give it all they’ve got:
Once the excitement had died down and the last jet had cork-screwed away, a bonne cuisine was found with even bonner wine. Would we have an early start on the Monday morning, as we had now lost a day?
Une bonne cuisine
Monday broke grey and overcast with heavy cloud dominating the Massif des Maures inland. A check of the Meteo on Channel 63 assured me there was no “Coup de Vent” on its way – maybe a Coup d’Etat with the rail strike still rumbling on, but no gale warning, although it would remain grey and probably rain. This was is stark contrast to the previous week when the temperature had climbed into the 30s while we were enjoying the dust of the dockyard.
No gales forecast, but crew donned water-proofs for the impending rain.
Despite the “houle” (swell) spirits were good as we headed for Bormes-les-Mimosas.
The rain caught up with us:
Richard was taking no chances with the weather…
And Kiki took cover under the spray hood…
Before long the sun came out again….
A planned stop in the Baie de Pampalonne near St Tropez was ruled out as not tenable, and nor did they let us into St Tropez harbour because of some Rolex Regatta which had turned the place into a Cowes Week equivalent. Instead we had to slum it in the more upmarket old town of Ste Maxime across the bay, where they were very welcoming and friendly.
There, we also met a most friendly high-speed gin-palace owner and helmsman, Geoff, whose lines we took when he arrived and who offered us ice to go with our G & T. (One of QT’s failings is the fridge’s inability to make ice.) After drinks, Geoff and friends showed us over their Sunseeker – a really impressive lounge, two massive double bedrooms, a galley to match and an electronics system that allowed Geoff to navigate and manoeuvre the bow and stern thrusters in port by a single remote control. Geoff has passed RYA day-skipper, but it was only on his second day out in the Med. He had brought the motor-yacht all the way from Southampton on the back of a lorry, not being short of a bob or two. He said he had made his dosh selling flower pots to the garden centres of England and now needed to spend it.
By now it was Wednesday morning and we had a fairly long hop to do to catch up with our lost day. We thought Ile Ste Marguerite off Cannes would be fun and set off early so that we could get there for a late lunch. When we arrived nearby, it seemed a bit busy with other boats at anchor, so we went on around the Cap d’Antibes so a sheltered bay called La Garoupe.
Richard and Jenny settle down for the evening at anchor off Antibes
The skipper also settles down…
And the ladies (no risk of sun-burn)…
We were now much closer to our destination and allowed ourselves a swim and a leisurely breakfast.
Rather alarmingly a local fisherman drops his nets not far from our anchor. He seemed to know what he was doing…
Our next stop was Cap d’Ail marina on the border with Monaco, its beach apparently used by Prince Albert for a morning dip from time to time. He was not there when we reversed into our slot with the sky-scrapers of the principality behind us.
We arrived early enough to enjoy a stroll up to the old town of Monaco where the palace is located and found a reasonably priced restaurant run by Italian speaking Monegasques. (Or perhaps they were speaking in Monegasque!) Our young waiter explained that he had been born in Monaco, but that did not automatically entitle him to become a Monegasque. He had to marry a Monegasque girl before he would be so entitled. It’s a small place and he said he knew them all! Obviously there are exceptions – Prince Rainier marrying Grace Kelly and, more recently, Prince Albert marrying Charlene Wittstock, who was a South African Olympic swimmer. That’s different of course.
The Port of Fontvieille, Monaco (where we didn’t dock)
Fontvieille again – there was room!
And we didn’t dock here either – the main Port of Monaco
The skipper does Fontvieille
No visit to Monaco is complete without seeing the Aquarium founded in 1910:
A short hop to Menton in France, wedged between Monaco and Italy was all that remained of our week. We arrived as planned on the Friday evening in the Garavan marina to be provided with a sumptuous picnic on board by Ian and Sev, my son and his girl friend.
The best view of the marina is from above, taken when we set off for a leisurely stroll after we had handed the boat over:
Our stroll took us ever higher until we found the cemetery where the one and only William Webb Ellis, pupil of Rugby School, and inventor of the game of rugby football lies buried. Menton used to be, and to some extent still is, a town favoured by the Englishman abroad for its therapeutic climate and life-style. It is said that The Rev Webb Ellis became a curate in Menton in the 19th century because of his poor health, not to bring the game to Provence, where ironically it is now very strong.
The grave of the inventor of rugby in Menton.
The exotic gardens in Menton
And the coldest beer in Menton
The hand over to the new crew took place on schedule. Skippered by John H with Alice, Sue, Robert and Andy B as his crew, they had come separately by car, train and flight to rendez-vous with Quartette.
Unlike ourselves at the start, there were no train strikes to delay them, and as they were raring to go, they set out that very afternoon to reach Corsica overnight, which they then circumnavigated.
Andy and John got the AIS going again, so there is some evidence of their voyage, but it is patchy and we will have to await their passage report for the full story of their week around that mountainous island from which the word “corsaire” originates (or was it the other way around?)