Two days before boarding our flight to Marseille for week 6 of the Summer Cruise, I received a text from Cruise Co-ordinator Supremo, Andy Bowerman, confirming that QT had arrived on Thursday 5th June on schedule at the mouth of the Rhone after a speedy decent of that fast flowing river and was lying alongside the crane dock in Port St Louis. Unfortunately however, the boat would still be mastless when we picked her up 22 miles away across the Golfe de Fos in Marseille on the Saturday afternoon.
As explained in Andy’s report “The Mighty Rhone (and the case of the missing mast)”, the mast – and boom – were nowhere to be seen in Port St Louis when he arrived and only after exhaustive and exhausting peddling on the boat’s folding bicycle to the next port was the mast located. The boom was elsewhere – being hastily transported by fast lorry from Rouen, where it had been left behind. Fortunately the boom arrived on the Friday (and, I believe, in a better condition currently than the one on Spellbinder!)
Andy found QT’s mast in Port Napoleon which is some two miles away by road from Port St Louis – much further by water – and so, with crane and rigger in the wrong place, there was no chance that the mast would be stepped on the Friday or indeed the Saturday as no one works at weekends in France unless they have a Papal Decree or a charter signed in blood by a trades’ unionist. (This is by no means all bad if you are a cleric or an employee – it is just a different approach to the one we are programmed to accept as Anglo-Saxons.)
Apparently the lorry driver delivering the mast to Port St Louis had found the entrance to the boat yard too difficult to get through, so the easier option was to dump it, and a dozen others, in the next port where he could get his lorry in. It was a shame that he didn’t tell his boss that he had done this!
Andy “a Bicyclette” still peddling between the sun drenched dockyards of Ports St Louis and Napoleon did his best for Club and Country by negotiating a crane driver and rigger for 09.30 am on the Monday morning – remarkable because Monday 9th June is “Pentecote” and a holiday in France for some – not through religious inclination, but political: apparently the conservatives abolished the holiday some years back, but now that the socialists hold sway, tuning up for work on that Monday is a right-wing statement of intent. Fortunately our crane driver supported Marie Le Pen and our rigger was Japanese. But the electrician was neither.
By late Friday afternoon Andy had all the arrangements in place for the Monday, and pointed QT out into the Mediterranean for the first time. There being no mast, the French burgee was pinned to the danbuoy. A brisk wind was blowing, the sea was building up a good swell (called an “houle” in French which suggests you might throw up at the very thought) and it took a good five hours to arrive in the dark in the old port of Marseille. Andy and his crew had trains and planes to catch on the Saturday, so my arrival with Leonie, Deborah and David later that day was to a crew-less, mast-less QT lying in the heart of down-town Marseille. Andy redeemed himself by providing a cold fridge well stocked with white and rose wine for the first party of the cruise – drinks with my son, girl-friend and her Marseillaise parents, who I was to meet for the first time.
Fortunately they know my son to be of sound mind and not an eccentric Englishman like his father, who travels to foreign parts with a mastless sailing boat. By sundown Andy’s wine had been drunk and thoughts of fun and games ahead with the mast were left until the morning.
The crew with Marseillais friends:
Leaving Marseille on a bright Sunday morning required strong nerves as everyone in the city seemed to be heading out to the nearby Frioul Islands for a day in the sun. After being chased by a giant catamaran, I handed the helm to Leonie.
While David kept a sharp look out from the bow…
Once out of the Marseille harbour we had a clear run for 5 hours over the gulf back towards the mouth of the Rhone. We hardly saw another craft until we joined one or two tankers heading for the refineries at Fos, from which flames and fumes spumed in the distance. Not quite the beaches and rocky coves we had seen in the brochures! Thanks to Andy’s hand drawn chart, we knew exactly where to park our mastless boat for the 09.30 am appointment on Monday morning.
The remasting procedure was not without interest:
We had the mast on board and upright by mid-morning and then our Japanese rigger spent several hours adjusting and tightening all the stays and lines to his and our satisfaction. Then we tested the nav and tricolour lights; the former were OK but not the latter. The radio was also temperamental. The rigger was not an electrician, so could only advise that we wait for the electrician to put these things right; unfortunately he was taking the bank holiday and would not be on site until 08.00 am on the Tuesday morning. Having come this far, we did not want to leave with the job incomplete, so we settled in for another Napoleonic night.
On the button at 8 o’clock the electrician arrived the next morning and soon had the lighting problem identified as a top of the mast issue. For this he needed the “cherry-picker” which required the crane driver. There was only one such man on site and he was remasting another yacht that had come alongside. We had to wait for this to be done, so our electrician went away to do another job. By 11am the other boat’s remasting was done, but our electrician had not returned (it was an extensive boat yard!) and, by the time he did, the crane driver was on another job with another massive four wheeled crane using it to put a large yacht back in the water. We had to wait.
By midday our turn came around and loose wires at the top of the mast were connected and everything worked. Bills paid and we were off back to Marseille – Pointe Rouge which we reached late in the afternoon to squeeze backwards into a 4m wide slot between others. QT is 3.7 meters wide.
Pointe Rouge is perhaps the least agreeable marina along the French coast, but its saving grace was “Les Trottoirs de Marseille”, a restaurant where excellent fish soup and other local dishes were outstanding. This was the turning point of the trip; we now put behind us the “delivery” motoring, the engineering upheaval, the uncertainties of staff availability and the relentless heat of the Mediterranean sun in the dockyards.
We were now on holiday and early on the Wednesday morning we set out for the delights of the Riviera coast, albeit we had to leap-frog the “Callonques” and the renowned blackcurrant flavouring of Cassis, which would have given us a Kir Royal had we had Champagne aboard. Instead we headed towards the ancient village of Bandol, famous for its Impressionist artists and its rose wine. Wednesday night saw us sipping that wine in a quay side restaurant, enjoying luxuriant flavours and commending the skipper on the choice (until the bill came when he was summarily dismissed as sommelier and we reverted to the 3 Euro varieties.)
En route we passed the “Eagle’s Beak” near La Ciotat and crossed the bay to a well sheltered cove called “Port d’Alon” where we anchored for a late lunch and took advantage of a refreshing swim in the clear blue sea around the boat.
Leonie and David do not need one of these:
First into the water, once the anchor was down, was Deb, followed by David.
While Leonie chilled with Oscar…
We were not alone, but it was still magical anchorage.
As we left Bandol on the Thursday we noticed some unusual aircraft activity and then suddenly they were sweeping down just behind us. Three bright yellow fire-fighting aeroplanes that pick up sea water and drop it on forest fires were exercising their skills around us.
They were so close that I wondered whether we really were the stand-on vessel or whether we had strayed into a no-go area! (The chart confirmed that we had not, but it was a water pick-up bay.)
After a while we took them for granted; they were just part of the background!
Once the aircraft activity had died away we found that we had a submarine on the starboard bow, but not so close…
Our penultimate day ended at anchor off the Iles de Porquorolles where Deb’s powers of persuasion regarding the merits of the sheltered bay over the gin-palace packed marina won the day. She was right – the sandy beach with ice cold drinks at the bar had great advantage over the busy marina. We turned on the anchor light – it worked, we had a delicious meal afloat and settled down to a quiet night gently rocking on the waves.
After a slow start and a swim on the Friday morning, we ventured out into the bay for the last 5 miles to Hyeres-Plage (Toulon’s beach) and enjoyed a Force 4 for some sailing. This was one of the few times that there had been enough wind to put the sails up and we had plenty of time to sail around on all points of the compass. Finally, we headed for Hyeres-Port marina to be told that there was no room because a regatta was coming in overnight. This would have been most inconvenient for our change-over and, after a bit of pleading, Monsieur Le Capitainerie understood our predicament and allowed us in. Once ashore, we found a most agreeable restaurant, but also that there was a rail strike and trains to and from Toulon were severely disrupted. More of this in the Week 7 account.