Captain's Log, Stardate:
Arrived Catana Boatyard
Greetings to all!
Mary and I have made it back to "the barn" where Escape Cay was born (Canet en Rousillon in the S. of France near the Spanish border). Our plan always was to circumnavigate the Mediterranean Sea and then bring the boat back to the factory where they could fix all the things I broke during the summer. A lot of things are broke so that part of the plan has worked out well. But now we will have to see about the repairs.
When we arrived in France after our passage from Italy, we anchored off a neat town called "Villefranche." It was a well protected and fairly large anchorage just 3 miles from Nice. The town itself was "way cool" and off the beaten track a bit, the way we like it.
While just relaxing one afternoon, a couple from an adjacent boat swam by and the man said the magic words always worth a free beer: "Nice boat." So as Robert and his wife Angie were enjoying a beer with us in the cockpit, we found ourselves getting acquainted with a most remarkable and charming couple. He was born in Jamaica, became a successful naval architect designing Windjammer cruise ships and she was born in Fiji and is now an executive with Star Clipper lines. Robert used to design big sailing cruise ships and now she is responsible for getting them filled with passengers. Today Robert designs larger cruise ships. When I asked him if they lived in Villefranche, he said they had an apartment in Monaco but their weekend residence was right . . . and he pointed up the side of the mountain. It took our 18x50 stabilized binoculars to reveal their gorgeous villa built out of the side of a steep slope and shimmering in the afternoon sun. What a life: They have an apartment in Monaco, a beautiful villa in Villefrance, three beautiful children, and a boat. Who could ask for more?
After Teri flew out of Nice, France, in mid August, our daughter, her husband, and two of their friends. Tara and Eric's friends, Bill and Tina, chose this cruise of the French Riviera as something of a honeymoon since they were recently married. (They would have been married on the boat but I was forced to disclose in advance that marriages performed by the captain were valid only for the duration of the voyage.) So they were married in the US before arriving.
Our guests had flown into Paris and then took the TGV to Nice. This is the new French bullet that whisks you in air conditioned comfort with lots of leg room at 180 mph! I was envious.
After they got caught up on their REM sleep, it was off to the famed Monte Carlo in Monaco. Monaco is very small, essentially a small city, and is home to the rich and famous mainly because they have no taxes whatsoever! Robert says a lot of the Monocans like to get in their new Ferraris, drive the 100 yards from their flats to the casino, and have a valet park them out where all can see. While we were having a drink outside the casino entrance, we saw a guy drive up, get out carrying his shoes, put them on, hand the keys to the valet, and walk into the Casino. Of course the valet got in avec shoes on and drove 40 feet where he parked this Ferrari next to three others (and a Bentley, Rolls, etc.). In short, Monaco is one of the great people-watching places of the world.
After touring Monaco, our new crew visited Nice and then we sailed down the coast to Cannes (pronounced "Can"). No we didn't; the Film Festival is in the spring. But we saw lots of fancy movie theaters. On the way, we got a call from Robert, inviting us to a "barbecue" at their villa. We couldn't wait to see it, nor were we disappointed either! To get there, Robert navigated the narrow, steeply inclined roads in his new Mercedes SUV. I think its elevation was something like 2,000 feet. Anyway we all enjoyed a beautiful view of the hillside not to mention the harbor below where only hours earlier we had resided ourselves.
But then came the most elegant meal we have probably ever had. Robert had already determined that some of us were vegetarians, some were meat eaters, and some, like me, liked seafood. Hence Robert and I enjoyed fresh tuna steaks grilled to perfection while the others ate lesser foods like steak and grilled zucchini. Even the conversation was unique at the "barbecue." I asked how fast super tankers cruise and Robert replied, "Depends on the price of oil." What? "Yes, if the price of oil is low, they cruise at their most efficient cruise speed. If it is high, they go full out to get the cargo to its destination quickly."
But what about the bulbous bows you see on so many ocean going vessels now? They must be a really clever invention, huh? "Not really. They only work if the ballast they are designed for remains more or less constant. If they are designed for a ship loaded to the waterline with cargo, then when the ship returns empty for another load, they actually provide reduced efficiency neutralizing any gain. They work better for a cruise ship that remains loaded basically with the same amount of cargo for every passage." Such was the conversation around the Weber Cooker between a naval architect and retired engineer.
Dinner, as you might expect, was a tough act to follow. But this family measured up! Ashton (13) had two twin sisters who were both four years younger than her (Nicole and Fiomi). They donned costumes and put on a dance show to their favorite "contemporary" music. It was wonderful and capped off a most memorable evening!
From Cannes, it was on to Toulon and then Marseille. Light winds plagued us again so we would motor in the morning and sail slowly in the afternoon. The good thing was there were never any waves and, with excellent visibility, the scenery along the coast was spectacular. Often, we'd have lunch on the "veranda" which was simply at our cockpit table while the scenery slowly passed by. It reminded me of when I was young, my parents took me out West from Minnesota on the Empire Builder, only this was at 7 mph with a 360 degree view.
Arriving in the Marseille area, we anchored off as is our preference before going into a marina the next day to facilitate crew changes. We had spent a full month on the south coast of Italy without "checking in" with customs. After arriving in France, we again tried to make life easier for customs agents and had been succeeding quite admirably for the past two weeks. While technically improper, most customs agents would agree that it makes their job easier. But not all! That afternoon, we were approached by a gunboat-like vessel that slowed to a stop near where we were anchored and launched a dinghy manned by three men in uniform. More excitement! However, after looking at our USCG documentation and our six passports, they left without ever leaving the cockpit to go inside for a closer look.
In Marseille, we said "goodbye" to our crew, after a memorable 10 day cruise. They again hopped on the TGV (at 6 a.m.) to be whisked back to Paris where the great white bird waited to usher them back to America . . . where all toilets worked magically with the push of a button! (On most boats, the "heads" need to be pumped manually after every use.) Later that same morning, we had another close brush with trouble: Less than 24 hours after being boarded by French customs, we were accosted once again by their shore bound brethren. But again, they just checked our ship's papers and our two passports. It must be that clean living!
The marina in Marseille was big. How big was it? So big there were actually two other American flagged boats there. Now that's big! Ildiko and Joseph Gonda from Singer Island, FL are in their mid 60's (we think) and have been cruising for the last 7 summers. They had already been up the hill to see the cathedral--Notre Dame de la Garde--and suggested we join them for another look-see. No one present mentioned the modern convenience of a taxi and I was too proud to do so. Big mistake! As we kept going up and up, I slowly ran out of excuses to stop. First there was the shop window with the interesting gizmo. Five minutes later, we rounded a corner with a nice view including our two boats below so a picture was in order. A few more shops and then the dreaded residential area! Luckily, a shoe lace came untied. But like the Energizer, this 67 year old man just kept on climbing!
The climb, however, was worth it--all 672 feet. The chapel was built in 1214 with the rest of the mammoth structure going up much later. It was built like a fort. In fact, it was a fort! Here, for all those interested, is the Bakewell "Cliff's Notes" course on history in Europe during the Middle Ages: As near as I can deduce, the medieval system worked like this: A bishop would build a church. Peasants would attend where they would be asked to contribute to the building fund. The more they donated, the more likely they were to get to heaven and the prettier the church. To make a church impressive enough to attract even more donors (and make the local prelate feel really good about himself), you had to include riches like gold and art which you would then proclaim as monuments to the glory of God. This would be similar to today when CEO's claim they need really nice offices to impress their clients when, in fact, they're more for CEO's own aggrandizement. The trouble was, there was a surplus of bad guys during that time and, if you weren't looking, they would steel you blind. It got so that even if you WERE looking they'd do it anyway using any force they could muster. Soooo, you had to have an army to protect the riches as well as a fort to house them. Hence, the churches had to be enclosed inside--or in this case on top of--a fort. The fort not only protected the riches but protected the lives of the people dwelling inside. This was no different from today when life-safety inspired building codes add greatly to the cost of construction.
Topping off the structure like the bride and groom on a wedding cake is a statue of the Virgin Mother, gilded in real gold, towering above all of the surrounding area. It is 32 feet high and weighs 9.5 tons. A smaller statue of the "Virgin Mary with the Monstrance" was cast of pure silver and placed in the Basilica in 1661. However, it was stolen in 1794 and sent to the mint where it was melted down! So much for the separation of church and state following the French Revolution!
From Marseille, we experienced headwinds for the three daysails to the Catana boat yard. Head winds are the nemesis of the sailor. But not here and not with this boat. Not here because the summer winds in the Med are usually very slight and not with this boat because we are able to beat into them better than most other boats including monohulls (normally credited with pointing into the wind better than cats). Another disadvantage of the Med over the Caribbean (except the Virgin Islands) is that it is more crowded with other pleasure boats.
These disadvantages all combined to produce an advantage. With the higher afternoon winds rarely topping 6 kts, for instance, most other sailboats would be forced to motor being capable of only 2 kts of headway otherwise. But Escape Cay points into the wind and is fast. Hence our own speed has the effect of increasing the wind just as when you are walking against the wind, you feel more wind on your face than when you are walking away from it. The result is that we turned 6 kts of true wind into 8-9 kts and, with the higher "apparent" wind, we were able to make 4.5 kts, a respectable speed for the short distances we needed to travel each day. By late afternoon, the true wind was usually "gusting" up to 8-9 kts and we were making 5.5 over the bottom.
How does the Med being crowded add up to an advantage? Well, by late afternoon, there were many other sailboats out there and invariably, one would be going the same way we were. I've never been much of a sailboat racer but I have to admit, being 1-2 kts faster than most of the other boats we've ever come up against is causing me to take an interest. I think Mary is getting into the racing "spirit" too a little bit. And all this speed without having 20 years' experience in sail trimming!
Now that we made it to the Catana boat yard, and tied snugly up to the dock, we were hit by a "Tramontane." This is a special wind that blows out of the NW from the Pyrenes, usually without much warning. With gusts up to 30 kts in the anchorage, we felt a little like we were getting gypped by having two solid months with no significant winds only to see this nice wind blowing right over our heads. Europeans are pretty creative that way. They give names to their winds: Tramontane, Mistral, Sirocco, and like that. They do the same with their pizzas. A Marguerite has only cheese and tomato sauce no matter what pizzeria you are in. A Rheine has tomato sauce, mushrooms, ham, and cheese. A Sicilian has, among other things, anchovies. None of this, "Give me one with cheese, onions, and anchovies" stuff. Just order a "Sicilian" and be done with it. Almost like the guy who kept re-telling the same jokes--he numbered them all and just called out the numbers whereupon everyone present would break out laughing because they already knew the joke and the punchline. But this is a very efficient system, getting the pizza to the palate slightly quicker than in the US, an important element for those of us who are overweight . . . like me for instance.
I hope all is well with you and your family,
Lee and Mary