Back to Sailing the French Riviera

Sailing Northeast up the French Riviera Coast from the mouth of the Rhône to the Porquerolles

On June 9th we were finally on our way.  What a joy to have the boat “ship-shape” and to get back to sailing.  It was a bright, sunny day in the mid 70s.

View from my window

For most of the day we had nice winds (10-14 knots) from the southwest – perfect for our trip northeast towards Nice.  As the winds lightened, George got a chance to try out his new gennaker (code 0 asymmetric spinnaker) – he is always his happiest when he is engaged with something new and this beast is new to us.

On our way we saw two more mola mola (ocean sunfish).  These two were tiny compared to the one we saw last summer with our children and grandchildren.  George drew our attention to it and we all tried to figure out what we were looking at.  Resembling a dolphin of enormous proportions that lost the back third of its body – I recall saying quite sadly that it was a dolphin that had been horribly injured.  At that moment George and Marilla simultaneously recognized it as a mola mola.  The rest of us were astonished that they both knew what it was and a bit about its behavior.  Mola mola are the largest bony fish in existence and can grow to over 2 tons.  In the following National Geographic description ocean-sunfish it is referred to as both a floating blob and a swimming head.  You will most likely first see them as one of their fins sticks up out of the water,  They typically live at great depths, but come up to the surface where cleaner fish and seagulls pick parasites off of them.  A real oddity and exciting to see in the seemingly barren waters along the coast of the Riviera.
Mola mola (Ocean Sunfish) borrowed from
Another first for us – we were hailed by a French Customs vessel and questioned about where we had come from, where we were headed, the history of our sailboat – just routine.  They took us at our word and did not request documentation.
One of the most exciting events of the day was that after sailing for 6 hours, our batteries remained fully charged.  George was able to observe the electrical input and change dramatically as a wisp of cloud passed over the sun.  Having solar power to replenish the batteries without running the engine, or staying in a marina to recharge, is going to give us tremendous independence when we sail in the Caribbean.  The solar power also gives us the ability to have a small chest freezer.  This will predominantly be used to keep us in ice (what a luxury) and to freeze fish when we get back to waters that actually have some.  Our fishing gear will remain under our bed for the duration of our time in the Mediterranean.

Fishing isn’t always about catching

We can say for certain that the French are the most optimistic fishermen we have ever met.  We have seen hundreds and hundreds of people fishing along the banks of the French canals, rivers, beaches, et al.  We have only seen one, approximately 4 inch fish, reeled in.

We are uncertain if this gentleman walked out here or was dropped off.  There is no boat in sight.

 While the fish may be scarce for those who want to fish themselves, there is no shortage in the markets and grocery stores.  There is always a wide assortment of both fresh and frozen seafood and meats.  We keep our provisions stocked with several of the cured sausages and hams that do not require refrigeration. And the cheeses – such variety and so wonderful.  We are very fond of freshly cooked rotisserie chickens and occasionally purchase fresh meats or fish for near-term consumption.  The fruit and produce is almost exclusively local and in season.  Local generally equates to France or Spain and the origin of produce is always specified.  We are already enjoying fresh apricots, peaches, and strawberries – Yum.
Donut peaches (our name for them)

We were never quite certain about these “donut” peaches when we saw them on supermarket shelves in the US.  This entire box, including the empty spaces was for sale at 2.70 Euro so we decided to take a try.  They are absolutely delicious.  The next best thing to that is, you can bite off a mouthful without peach juice dribbling down your chin.  This morning we had peach pancakes.  We are sold!!  Whoever conceived of and/or developed these is a genius in our book.

We anchored out in a lovely calanque (a fiord-like cleft in rock cliff), Calanque de Morigue),and enjoyed a bottle of a local, slightly sweet sparkling wine, made from muscat grapes.  At the right season, you can sample many varieties of grapes that we have never seen in the US.  The muscat grape is a delicious, aromatic white grape which we imagine is used principally for winemaking.  Dinner was pork chops, potatoes, and zucchini.  There was a gentle swell of waves and we fell asleep to the rhythmic rocking of the boat.

Approach to our evening anchorage in Calanque de Morgiou
June 9th – George had us on our way bright and early with the wind now out of the north and tempered to single digit knots.  We motored half the day but in the afternoon the winds shifted favorably and gave George a perfect opportunity to see his gennaker perform.  The jib that we purchased with ICE FLOE was great for sailing into the wind, but was inefficient otherwise.  The gennaker is just what we needed to optimize our sailing versus motoring time.
Toulon water treatment plant

As we made our way to our evening destination to anchor near the Porquerolles, we sailed by a building tucked into the mountain.  When we first saw this enormous, modern, building last summer, we pondered what it was and how it was accessed – we thought surely, by someone with great wealth seeking privacy.  Perhaps some evil nemesis of James Bond.  We were intrigued to learn it is a wastewater treatment facility for the city of Toulon and surrounding areas.

Our anchorage Saturday evening was not as private or quiet as the evening before but we found a beautiful spot.  There were many people enjoying the start of their weekend, with boat parties and music.  Quite a few stalwart people were swimming and just hanging out in the water that was 75o degrees (a little too chilly for me unless the air temperature is 90o or hotter).  We fell asleep long before things quieted down entirely – at the end of a day sailing there is little that will deter our sleep.
Anchorage in Porquerolles

Winter and Spring Boat Chores

It took the Queen Mary, Brittany Ferry, two rental cars, 3 hotels, and one taxi and we are finally here.

I came down with a nasty cold shortly after our Ferry ride to Saint Malo.  As such we did not do much site seeing as we drove through France.  We arrived in Port Napoléon on May 27th.  We are about to set sail tomorrow, June 8th to meet Margaret and Burt in Nice.  We are so looking forward to their visit with us.

Individual homes in the town of Port Saint Louis Du Rhône near Port Napoléon

A recap of the last 11 days – short version – work, work, work

Port Napoléon is a full service marina in the town of Port St. Louis Du Rhône, located at the mouth of the Rhône where it meets the Mediterranean.  If you need something done on your boat, you can get it done here.  It is also a marina that is highly recommended for keeping your boat over-winter.  It offers inexpensive rooms where you can stay when it is no longer tenable to stay on your boat.  Most sailors who are at Port Napoléon in the spring are prepping to get away.  In the fall, it is prepping to store the boat.
There is a saying that sailing is 90% boredom and 10% terror.  We have yet to experience the terror part – there have been a few rough sails, but nothing akin to terror.  I can’t think of a time when we were bored.  It is peaceful and relaxing and George will tell you I am prone to napping, but never bored. I recommend this saying be amended to say “Sailing is 89% pure pleasure and 10% working on your boat” – I will leave 1% for the terror as I have heard enough stories to be sure it is real.
Pretty much any time you have work to do inside a boat the size of ours, it gets pretty uncomfortable to carry out acts of daily living.  Things like making a meal, or simply walking from the galley to the salon, or from the cockpit to the cabin can be a challenge.  Tools come out of storage and occupy the limited space on every surface.  Hatches are opened creating leg-breaking hazards.  Beds are dismantled to put things away.  All of this is part of the package – if you don’t have at least one person on board who likes to fix things you are going to spend a lot of time and money paying someone else to do so.  These are momentary pauses in the otherwise idyllic experience.  When you are prepping a boat for storage, or for sailing after storage, it is a week plus of long days of hard work.  If at all possible, plan stay somewhere other than the boat while you are still dealing with sails on your bed.
Last Fall we prepared ICE FLOE for her winter storage on land.  This entails lots of tasks including:
  • Taking the sails down and storing them in the boat cabin.  This lengthens their life as exposure to sun is damaging.  In addition, in the event of a storm, the less you have up on deck for the wind to catch, the better.
  • Winterizing the sailboat engine, dingy engine, and the water system.
  • Getting all food off the boat
  • Washing and waxing the outside of the boat
  • Taking down the Bimini and Dodger and storing them in the boat cabin for the same reasons the sails are taken down.
  • Cleaning the inside of the boat and wiping walls and ceilings with a dilute vinegar solution to prevent mold from growing.
  • Cleaning out the composting toilet.
  • Cleaning the accumulated algae and barnacles off the bottom of the boat and repainting it with antifouling paint.
  • In the US the boat would be shrink-wrapped or covered with a canvas tarp.  In France she would remain exposed to the elements.
When we arrived this Spring our bright and shiny new boat was quite a site.  She was very dirty.  As if 7 months open storage exposed to sun, airborne debris, and dust was not enough, the south of France experiences (rather frequently) “dirty rain”.  It was explained to us that the rain brings with it sand from the Sahara.  In addition, ICE FLOE had been moved to a particularly dusty part of the yard.  We had hired out the work of repainting the bottom and replacing the water line stripe with hard paint.  This area of the yard also strips off bottom paint and while efforts are made to limit the drift of this paint dust, ICE FLOE got more than her share.

Thankfully, the inside of the boat was as we left it and the cleaning of a boat is one of the more pleasurable tasks in spring – so no big deal.  Of course, everything we did to prepare the boat for storage needed now to be undone to prepare her for sailing.  This too, was routine and we were happy to get to it.

In time we will learn to expect and be ready for some additional unexpected issues to be ladled on top of the known.

Unexpected issue number 1.

A problem we encountered early on after we purchased ICE FLOE was a malfunction that caused the boat to speed forward when put into reverse.  Imagine my reaction when George approached a dock with me on the bow to lasso a cleat.  As we approach, instead of slowing to a stop, George suddenly speeds forward driving me straight into a patch of thorny blackberries.  

We inspected the propeller to see if something was obstructing it and found nothing.  The propeller continued to malfunction in this manner.  Each time, when using reverse to slow down, the boat would speed forward.  It consistently took 2-3 repeated attempts of putting the boat back into forward, then neutral, and then into reverse until the boat finally moved in reverse.

We contacted the US J-prop representative and they responded that it would be impossible for the propeller to cause this problem and suggested the sail drive was the possible cause.  We had a Volvo mechanic complete a very thorough inspection of the sail drive, but he found no cause for the issue.  

The problem remained unresolved for the balance of our sail in 2017.  When we had the boat hauled out in Port Napoléon we engaged the port’s Volvo mechanic to identify and correct the problem.  He informed us that the propeller could cause the boat to speed forward if it became stuck midway between the forward and reverse position.  It was concluded that this was the cause, as when manually rotating the propeller, there was a position midway where the propeller did not rotate without exertion.
Having now identified the cause, the US J-Prop distributor indicated we should have the propeller inspected by the manufacturer.  We asked our representative at Allures to arrange for the propeller to be examined by the manufacturer and a response to the following be provided:
  1. How this failure could occur with only 6 weeks of use?
  2. Was any damage done to the propeller over the remaining four months it was used while not functioning properly?
  3. A guarantee that the warranty remains valid.
After repeated requests for this action and finally escalating this issue to the highest levels within the Allures Company and her Mother Company (Grand Large Services) we were informed that the Head for France’s J-prop distribution had inspected the prop, found no damage, re-greased the prop, re-instated the warranty, and assured us the prop was working perfectly.  We were satisfied with this response.

Sadly, and maddeningly, when we checked the prop on our arrival in Port Napoléon, it was frozen solid.  George used all his strength and could not move the blades.  George pulled the propeller off and we took it to Grand Large Services in La Grande Mott.  The response there was everything we could have hoped for.  Our experience when working directly with the employees at Grand Large Services has been uniformly positive.  We were immediately sent a replacement prop and our malfunctioning prop has been sent back to the manufacturer.  We lost 2 days removing, transporting, and replacing the prop, but we were happy campers.

Unexpected issue number 2.

The offending antifreeze

Winterizing the water tank involves adding anti-freeze.  It takes quite a number of tank flushes to remove it and restore normal taste to the water but it is a necessary evil if storing where the boat might experience freezing temperatures.  This year’s experience was a nightmare.  Whatever is in the anti-freeze we purchased in France formed white chunks of a soapy, waxy substance that clogged the faucets and the foot pumps.  We exchanged water in the tank more than a dozen times and white chunks kept coming.  George opened the water tank and found precipitated globs of this material.  He spent the better part of the day laying on the floor, reaching in to pull this stuff out and using a jet of water to dislodge this material and suck it out.  This, another dozen flushes, and a tank treatment with baking soda, a half dozen more flushes and the water looks and tastes fine.  He spent another half of a day disassembling, cleaning and rebuilding the foot pumps.

One morning I saw a great deal of white clumps near a boat on our dock – sure enough, they were dealing with the same issue.  Previously, we had inquired of the marine store owner where we purchased the anti-freeze if there was some trick to dissolving and flushing it out.  He read the label and explained it simply indicated the tank should be flushed several times.  The other sailor was a bit more boisterous in speaking with the store owner and George happened to be there.  He was happy to second the man’s complaints.  Hopefully, he will pull it from his shelves.
Soooooooo.  No use trying to make a long story short – we are finally ready to have some of that 89% pure pleasure.

French children taking turns jousting