Cote D’Azur, France: Sailing away….

5 Aug

We succumbed to nostalgia for our sailing holidays out of Le Lavandou, Provence, France, thirty-two years ago. London friends Liz and Jean Louis introduced us to the area when we stayed with them at his parents’ holiday home there. We loved the coastline and in the folly of youth hired a sail boat for a week two summers in a row. No experience, no licence, no sense, just dumb luck. We hugged the coast, prayed the Mistral would treat us kindly and docked in marinas next to million dollar yachts. The second year we had Cameron with us. He took his baths in a bucket on the stern deck and loved being in his baby jumper lashed to the boom. Happy days.

This time we agreed litigation was an issue and it was time to take the stress out of the experience by hiring a local skipper along with the yacht. We could sail in the ‘World’s Playground’ to our heart’s content but the skipper would know the waters and marinas and give us confidence to go further. Our London-based son Tristan would fly out to join us so we’d be four on board. This is our ship’s log.

Saturday July 28, 2012: Golfe Juan Marina, France
Handover 5pm. Located rental office on public Golfe Juan Marina. Met Rudolf, yacht hire contractor, and our skipper, Gregory, immediately renamed ‘Greg’. Our home for the week, the forty foot Hanse 400 yacht called U Ficcu (fig in Corsican), is ready to board but first we need provisions. Bareboat rental is exactly that. No sheets, towels or any supplies, not even detergent or toilet paper. Walked up to closest decent-sized supermarket and confirmed they would deliver to the boat before stacking the trolley with several days’ food and drink. Craving home cooked food. Quick aperitif in smoke-filled waterside bar before meeting grocery delivery. Dinner on deck and getting to know Greg. His ‘a little English’ is good for boating but he’s going to get a crash course in Australian and English humour this week.

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Sunday 29 July, 2012: Golfe Juan to Saint Raphael
Greg went to music gig after dinner. Returned boat 2am, slipped on deck while boarding, crashed back onto marina and grazed his elbow. I slept through it but Stuart heard it. Stu had trouble switching off his brain and sleeping after translating all evening. Greg fine in the morning. Motored out of harbour soon after 8am as forecast force 6 to 7 SSE winds in the afternoon so had to make our next marina before they hit. Rental insurance voided by sailing in winds of that strength with or without local skipper. Alternated between sail and motor to scoot along coast west of Golf Juan passing Cannes. Boats of all sizes, jet skis and divers around. Tris and Stu both took turns helming. Quick stop behind Lion Rock outside St Raphael so Tris and I could dive from the boat for a swim. Current so strong we needed a rope off the back to stay with the boat. Tris took a tow for a bit of a ride. Flawless mooring technique and teamwork in the marina even with side wind coming up strong. Buffet lunch on board and nap. Dry and hot 33 degrees. Wind howling through the rigging of hundreds of boats in marina. 1.5K walk each way to downtown shopping for a hat for Tris and people watching. Lovely domed church. Circus is in town. Three sad camels. Topless women of all shapes and sizes amongst crowds on beach. Others sit in chairs on grass by promenade. Stu and Tris swam while I sorted boat. Delicious dinner cooked by Tris then watched sunset from the marina wall. Greg had dinner onshore with his girlfriend, Amandine.Tris invited to join Greg and friends for a drink on neighbouring boat. His lack of French no problem and he had a great time.

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Monday 30 July, 2012: Saint Raphael to Le Lavandou
Bright day with Force Three Mistral and 1m waves forecast. Sailed to bay just beyond St Tropez. Content to stay out of that human zoo. Trouble getting anchor to hold in muddy, weedy bottom but enough time to swim off boat and lunch in front of Brigitte Bardot’s mansion before it starts dragging. Afternoon Force Four with gusts of Force Five and waves grew from one metre to two. Alternated between two sails and motor. Twice Genoa blew out. Once a shackle pin broke then sheet broke. Greg fixed shackle with ring from the guard rail and retied sheet. Then section of mainsail came out of its track. Boat obviously at its capacity. She’s in her seventh and probably last season of chartering so things go wrong more regularly. Six and a half hours to reach Le Lavandou Marina. I check-in with the Capitanerie with Greg and they are singularly unhelpful for my 63 euro. We can stay tied alongside for one night. Dinner on board is Stu’s special chicken. All exhausted so early night.

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Tuesday July 31, 2012: Le Lavandou to Hyeres
Walk into Le Lavandou to get supplies, coffee and try to get taxi to revisit Bormes Les Mimosas but no taxis. Given traffic situation no wonder. Chockers. Local publicity ship, an 80 footer motor launch, comes in too fast to moor and we watch her bump off the edge of the quay gouging side above the water line. Expensive mistake. Tris has quick swim, we lunch on board and depart for Porquerolles. Easier sailing today with Force Three but lots of tacking to get across the strait and head on waves. Pass Ile de Port-Cros fortifications at 4pm. Greg radios Porquerolles Capitanerie. Full. Investigate achoring in cove but again our anchor fails. Head to Porte de Hyeres with sail and motor. Reach port 6:30pm. Gusting side winds and lots of boats entering narrow passage simultaneously makes for tricky manouevre. End up moored bow to quay but we are in no danger and pose none. Capitanerie complaining about ‘Crazy expletive Italians’. My dinner is melon, spag bog salad and choc mousse. Appreciative diners. Boys stay up on deck to play strange French card game Greg teaches them while I try to publish previous blog. Wifi horrendous. Live music concert on quay reaches us on the far side. Mozzie attack when we go to bed.

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Wednesday 1 August, 2012: Hyeres to Ile de Porquerolles
Millpond sea and no wind. Bright sun and 33 degrees. All day forecast is no wind. Motor back to Ile de Porquerolles. Call ahead to reserve berth. Told plenty of berths and to come in. Met by two red rubber duckies from the Capitanerie who instruct us to wait until boats leave to get our berth. Stuart and I go to Capitanerie on quay and join queue of 15 boaties already lined up in full sun at the door at 10am. Sign says places allocated from 10:30am. Tristan and Greg cool their heels circling outside marina waiting for our call. They blow up our dinghy in case we have to anchor. At 10:30am the first couple of people are let into the air-conditioned office. We continue to swelter outside. Occurs to me there wouldn’t be too many occasions when these well-heeled ‘boat people’ queue. Our turn comes at 11am. I have heat stroke. No berth with electricity and water available so we accept a bare berth for one night. Costs 53 euro for the privilege of being able to step ashore rather than moor at anchor and take a dinghy into the beach. Our berth occupied by Dutch boat waiting to move to berth with facilities.This is where I nearly lose it. I understand July is a busy month in Porquerolles but haven’t these people heard of hotels? Don’t hotels manage exactly the same situation without requiring guests to line up and stand in the sun for more than an hour? Greg brings U Ficcu in and we tie up temporarily in spare berth while Stuart explains to chap from Capitanerie on quay about our berth still being occupied. Amazingly he allows us to stay there and at 11:40am we can get on with our day! Straight to beach to cool off. Lunch on board, nap then hike to a calanque on other side of the island through vineyards then back for another swim. Best beaches on the mainland side. Dinner onshore at pleasant restaurant on the Place. Adults play petanque and kids football. Porquerolle is paradise for children. Waveless, shallow beaches, no scary sea creatures and very few cars. Boys enjoy the topless beauties. Olympics screening in bar behind us and we can see some of the swimming. Only TV since Friday.

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Thursday 2 August, 2012: Porquerolle to Cavalaire
Forecast Force Two wind and 0.5m waves. Into village at 8:30am to use marina toilets and get bread and take away coffee. Cleaner has blocked entire women’s shower block and tells me to go away until she’s finished. I paid 53 euro for nothing really as the showers were too busy to bother with last night so we showered on board. I stop into Capitanerie to provide my constructive feedback about inadequacies of the marina. Sweet young summer staffer called Julie speaks some English and listens patiently to my story then translates to head of the Capitanerie, Monsieur Castel. Monsieur turns away from me, shrugs his shoulders, throws his hands in the air and says loudly, ‘Ici comme ca!’ (That’s how it is here. In other words like it or lump it!) I ask Julie to explain to me the formal complaints procedure so I can lodge a complaint. Clearly this has rarely happened as it provokes much discussion. I’m told to write a letter in French to Monsieur Castel and given the address. What an expletive joke. Easy sail via Cap de Bregancon, an outcrop with an old fort, where President of France has summer house. Francoise Hollande in residence so boats have to keep well away. On to bay just before Cap Negre to anchor 75 metres off rocky shore. Carla Bruni has a holiday villa here. Very few boats around. Colourful sabot sail school groups strung out behind rubber duckies file by. We swim ashore and take dinghy leaving Greg on board. I begin to doubt whether he can actually swim. Water beautifully clear. Greg rigs up shade on stern deck for long lunch then nap. Stuart and Tristan take turns sailing to Port Cavalaire. Access to check-in quay simple and staff are a dream to work with. Check-in takes two minutes and is done with a smile. They even have a Facebook page. Free wifi instructions in three languages. Two more staff guide us to our berth and assist with tie up. Am I dreaming? Stu and Tris ashore for supplies and shower while Greg hoses decks and I jump on wifi that actually works! Tristan’s couscous delicious. He and Greg head to Le Rhumerie after dinner. Live music as usual and very loud. 1am some deranged Frenchman start yelling on the quay. Tris and Greg back 2am. Drunks start singing, very badly. Time for ear plugs.

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Friday 3 August, 2012: Cavalaire to Golfe Juan
Another gorgeous sunny day. We expected Mistral to blow us back to Golfe Juan but got the opposite and not much of it. This would be our longest distance in one day so we left at 9am under motor until wind picked up enough to put up mainsail. Lunch on the go. Most boats heading in opposite direction. Felt like a motorway at times. All sorts and some stunners. Helicopter buzzing super yachts taking photos for owners to order. Didn’t come near us! Enough wind to sail last couple of hours. 4pm reached St Marguerite Island off Cannes. The Man in the Iron Mask, said to be the Dauphin, purportedly incarcerated in clifftop prison here. Anchored and swam off boat. Put motor on dinghy to explore cliffs and coast. Some highly covetable yachts anchored around us. Young woman in zodiac zooms around selling icecreams, juices and coffees boat to boat. Only in the French Med. All swim except Greg. Time to put the skipper in the drink! He gave in gracefully and jumped off. 5:30pm set off for home port, Golfe Juan. Petrol pumps fully occupied so we have to hold until a space is free. Lots of boats are coming through and it’s a bit crazy. It’s times like this I am relieved to have a professional skipper. Only 56 euro to refill the tank. Cheaper to run than a car. Final manouvre to back into our berth and our sailing is over! U Ficcu is in the same condition as when we boarded her except Genoa has to be repaired and a fender went missing in the big seas on Monday. Amandine joins us for the night so we are five for dinner of honey dew melon, pan fried tuna, aubergine and tomato pasta and salad.

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A little about our Skipper
Gregory is the same age as our eldest son, Cameron, 31. (Missed you heaps Cam.) He’s a professional charter skipper and qualified sailing instructor based in Frejus. Greg has the most even nature I’ve encountered in a long time. The only tell tale sign he might be the slightest bit annoyed or frustrated is when he compresses his lips slightly in a rather fixed smile. We tested him mightily. Whatever is thrown at him he responds with ‘No problem/Good/Perfect’. Stuart and Greg have an agreement that when it’s just the two of them they’ll speak French but when Tris and/or I are present they’ll use English. Makes for a good language learning environment but can be frustrating for Greg. Coming in to berth first time he instructed Tristan to pick up the ‘wood’ on the quay. Confusion.There was no wood to pick up! I realised he meant the rope that led to the chain used to secure the bow of the boat. As a shipmate he’s simple to feed and water. He lives on cigarettes, black coffee and ‘coca’ (coca cola), doesn’t eat before lunch, consumes whatever food is put in front of him appreciatively and sleeps soundly. As a skipper he is ideal. He is safety conscious, resourceful, calm, good humoured and thoughtful. We were extremely lucky to get him.

Merci beaucoup Monsieur Gregory. Best sailing holiday yet!

Some Skipper Gregory sayings:

‘One hand for me and one for the boat.’ Accompanied by gesture of right hand over heart. Meaning always keep one hand to hold onto the boat in rough weather.

‘The sea always wins.’

‘There are no problems, only solutions.’

‘We can never know what time we will arrive, only what time we leave.’

This is the Skipper off duty;

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4 Responses to “Cote D’Azur, France: Sailing away….”

  1. Amandine August 13, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    What a lovely family 🙂
    Thanks again for your generosity and the good diner!
    I like very much your description of Grég which I find very just and subtle 🙂
    Congratulations for your blog, very nice pictures and comments.

    Best wishes,
    Amandine

    • Sharon Tickle August 13, 2012 at 11:20 am #

      Bonjour Amandine!

      How nice to hear from you. I hope the summer job is going ok and Gregory is getting some days off.

      We miss the sailing and are scheming to come back for the Sardinia sailing next summer. Or perhaps you and Gregory will visit Australia to test our beaches.

      Nous esperons de vous revoir un jour!

      Sharon and Stuart

  2. Tom January 20, 2017 at 2:15 pm #

    Dear Sharon,

    great travel report. I very much appreciated it.

    Please, can you tell me more about the charter company? Did you rent the boat from a private person or a “regular” charter company? Did you have the feeling that this yacht was chartered out regularly?

    You might wonder why I ask those questions. The reason is, I’d like to clarify U Ficcu’s history because we might buy this ship in order to live our gap moments.

    Your input is very much appreciated.

    Kind Regards

    Tom

    • Sharon Tickle January 20, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

      Hi Tom, My husband (who arranges our boat charters) said he used Nautilus. Hope that helps and all the best for your sailing adventure! Sharon

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