Living in the Moment

The year 2020 will be remembered for a litany of events we could not have imagined. Our decision to remain in Grenada for its entirety offered the opportunity to live completely removed from the pain and suffering around the world.

Our personal lives oscillate minute by minute, day by day, month by month, between the opportunity of “Living in the Moment” and the depths of despair for our fellow humans, the world, and our country. How is it that we remain so personally protected amid such suffering? Our hearts break at the thought of how much has been damaged and lost.

New Beginnings

Today is January 19th. The inauguration of the 46th president of the United States will take place tomorrow. Vaccines to protect the world from Covid 19 are being manufactured and distributed. It truly is the beginning of the end of this nightmare.

Living in the Moment

Our interest in the lives and habits of hermit crabs on Sandy Island has not waned. We have written previously about these beautiful and interesting creatures Footprints in the Sand on Sandy Island. We continue to learn more.

Hermit crabs need fresh water and carry a supply around within their shells. After a rain they generally appear much earlier in the day and you may see them replenishing their supply from vegetation and objects that have accumulated it.

Two hermit crabs accessing water after a rain from a coconut shell

Hermit crabs are the primary reason almost all coconuts found on the ground in Sandy Island have holes in them and are eaten out. It is remarkable that they can tear through the thick outer hull and into the coconut inside. No doubt, the coconut water, in addition to the meat, provides additional motivation for the crabs, especially during the dry season.

We never saw them without the holes and thought it unlikely they could work fast enough to always get to them before we visited the island (at least once, and often twice a day). We knew the hermit crabs can climb the trees. We have seen them apparently sheltering in the burlap-like material that is wrapped around the trees towards the top.

We were fairly certain the crabs must drill and eat out the coconuts while they were still on the tree. We went in search of hermit crabs eating coconuts up in the trees.

First, let us confirm that there are many hermit crabs in the coconut trees. Once we started looking we found them climbing the trees and eating the coconut flowers, as well as the immature coconuts.

And they can climb pretty fast.

Hermit crab climbing coconut tree

And we also saw immature coconuts still in the tree that had already been eaten out.

This concludes our chapter of Living in the Moment – “Mystery of the Lack of Mature Coconuts on Sandy Island” – SOLVED.

2021 Déjà Vu?

Back to Sandy Island

We returned to Sandy Island shortly after a new outbreak of Covid 19 cases were reported on the main island of Grenada. Overnight, Grenada went from being categorized as low risk, to high risk; the immediate consequence of which, was that restrictions put in place for visitors from Grenada, made travel between island nations no longer feasible. If the outbreak was not quickly controlled, travel restrictions between Grenada’s own islands (Grenada, Carriacou, Petite Martinique) could also be put in place. In the event we need to stay put for a prolonged period of time, Sandy Island off the coast of Carriacou is where we needed to be.

At first sight, we were reminded of the beauty of Carriacou, Sandy Island, and the waters between these two islands. These waters are part of a protected marine preserve (Sandy Island Oyster Bed Marine Park).

Moored off Sandy Island during Covid 19 lockdown (March-June, 2019)

Sandy Island and the Marine Park Have Much to Reveal

During our prior stay at Sandy Island (March through June, 2020) the skies were constantly full of seabirds. Initially, flocks of laughing gulls, shortly joined by Brown Boobies, Royal Terns, and small flocks of pelicans. Mixed groups fed upon enormous schools of young fish. These fish were continually assaulted from below the water, as well. Small groups of jacks would arrive like torpedos in formation attacking and gorging themselves on the young fish. Feathered predators would simultaneously attack the disorganized schools until, they too, had their fill.

Having now arrived at the end of December, we found large flocks of pelicans, no gulls, and, on occasion, small numbers of boobies and terns. The jacks and other fish predators are extremely active. We are entertained from sunup to sundown with what appears to be a small underwater explosion followed by a larger plume of the small fish launching themselves in the air.

In addition, individual jacks and occasional barracuda fly out of the water with such force they land 20-30 feet beyond. The most beautiful behavior we enjoy is when schools of small fish, presumably startled by a perceived threat, emerge in unison, fly a short distance, and upon re-entering the water, startle fish from the same school ahead of them who launch themselves, repeating what appears and sounds like small waterfalls over and over again. We have observed this behavior before, both here near Sandy Island and in other locals, but never as often, with schools of fish so large, and the repetitive waves.

Boobies are demonstrating a different fishing behavior. We have routinely seen them fly straight down, fold their wings, and like olympian divers, plunge into the water without disturbing the surface. Moments later they bob to the surface like a cork. We now see them skimming the surface of the water while retrieving a snack. On occasion, they sit upon the top of the water with their heads under water eating fish in conjunction with the assault of the fish from below.

Flora and Fauna on Sandy Island

The island’s hermit crabs that had almost entirely moved underground when we left Sandy Island last June, were now more apparent; but nowhere near the population seen previously. Duhkxy was delighted to find that the white ghost crabs that build burrows at the water’s edge remained plentiful.

Referred to as Ghost Crab – Aptly named as they are virtually invisible when remaining still on the sand.

He has become more persistent and accomplished in his pursuit of them. Guided by smell, he digs following the tunnel entrance until he unearths the crab. When he gets one out, he delights in chasing them. His play is invariably brief as they are amazingly fast and nearly invisible when they stop moving. In addition, they head for the water and can bury themselves in the sand within a second in wet sand. On occasion, one takes a stand, refusing to move. Duhkxy will bark and howl in dismay which translates to “Cmon, play with me.”

Duhkxy digging for a Ghost crab.
Duhkxy has startled this Lined Shore Crab (aka Striped Sea Crab) who decided to stand his ground.

The Sandy Island rats have not revealed themselves, thus far. Perhaps they have moved on (who knows where or how) or Duhkxy has been too busy terrorizing the crabs to hunt for rats and flush them out.

The island vegetation is lush as it is now nearing the end of the rainy season. We enjoy observing blooms and seed pods that were not here earlier.

While examining the sea grapes for hermit crab activity we spotted several beautiful spiders (Yellow and Black Garden Spiders) and what we believed to be egg casings.

Several days later our suspicians were confirmed as one of the egg casings had released hundreds of newborn spiders. The following day they had all dispersed.

Sandy Island itself, had also changed. The beaches are frequently transformed depending on storms, and are now wide and shallow in slope. We often observe many small fish in a line at the last reach of the waves, having been left to die on the beach to the delight of the ghost crabs.

We are sharing this idyllic spot with as many as 24 sailing vessels in comparison to the few (2-5) during the 3 month lockdown earlier in the year. Our coveted mooring that we learned some sailors refer to as Ice Floe’s mooring, is occupied. We find it desirable, as it is the closest to a beautiful shallow reef perfect for snorkeling, as well as to the beach for us to swim ashore without the need to launch our dinghy.

We are safe, our days are full, interesting, and pass all too quickly. We miss home and our family and friends and hope to return in April. 2020 has been a year bearing no resemblance to one we have known or might have imagined. The human suffering weighs heavily and our hopes for 2021, are for Americans like ourselves who have thus far been spared the worst of 2020, to open our eyes and take action to alleviate this suffering and to address its causes.

May this new year be the beginning of the best and most well spent year of our lives.

A Hike from Grenada Marine

My brother and sister and I spent a great deal of time over the many recent months in a three-way text chat. Margaret and I could vent, and Michael would regale us with his humor. We were in the middle of such a chat and I needed to break off. Our fresh fruit and vegetable stores were decidedly weak so I texted my brother and sister “Off on a Hike to find some fruit.” Margaret texted back “Are you two reduced to foraging for food again?” Michael responded “I don’t think she means traipsing through the jungle.” Well actually…..

Grenada Marine

Grenada Marine

Grenada Marine is a nice quiet marina that has recently made some significant improvements, but one of them is not, a decision to no longer permit some food vendors (mobile bakery and seafood, in particular) inside the gates. There is a very nice restaurant, but sailors are a stingy lot and eat relatively few meals out.

Cruiser’s Reef Restaurant

Our hike for Fresh Produce

George, my better half, recalled a fruit and vegetable stand that was only two mountains and a couple of miles away so off we went. Largely unbeknownst to me, as I have an exactly zero sense of direction, George strayed a bit here and there to take in a few other sites he was interested in checking out.

The yellow line is the track of the hike we embarked on to purchase food from “nearby” fruit stands

The hike was absolutely delightful. Along the way we got a look at the progress being made on the construction of the Six Senses Luxury Hotel Resort to the west of La Sagesse Bay while Duhkxy played hide and seek in the tall grass.

We also passed through a region of farmland that had sufficient water resources from a large stream to supply an irrigation system. There were thriving fields of “local spinach”, cherry tomatoes, lettuce and seasoning peppers (in order below).

As well as many fruit-bearing trees.

Key Lime

Soursop trees with maturing fruit, and buds.

Soursop fruit – opening buds, below

Trees bearing a local nut called almond. We purchased a bottle of these nuts at one of the fruit stands – they are less than a fifth the size of the almonds you are most likely familiar with and do taste quite a bit like an almond.

Local nut called almond.

A couple of cows and some beautiful flowers we have not seen before – a special plus for residing and cruising in Grenada during seasons we have not been here for previously.

Lastly, we stocked up on passion fruit, oranges, grapefruit, bananas, avocado, mangoes, coconuts, cucumbers, pumpkin, “almonds”, peppers, cabbage, ginger, and sorrel. It was a successful and thoroughly interesting day.

A Recent Sample of Michael’s humor for your entertainment (spoiler, not flattering with respect to our soon to be ex-President).

Trump reportedly considering sending Melania on an extended tour of campaign-like rallies, promoting hs current conspiracy theory of extensive voter fraud. Confidantes and advisors hint that this is part of a well laid plan that the President has outlined to reverse the election results in his favor. When asked for comment on these rumors, Melania replied “Well laid? Well, I guess there is always a first time.”

Grenada Hash

Grenada Hash

The Grenada Hash is not a local culinary dish or mood enhancer.  It stems from a long history of Hashes, first imagined and initiated by a group of British soldiers in Malaysia in 1938, who were looking for a fun way to stay fit without foregoing their penchant for beer.  The playful slogan for this Hash Club, and subsequent Hash Clubs is:

Some seasoned hashers sport tank tops featuring the sport’s slogan.

A trail is created by a club member referred to as a Hare and and the Hash is on. The Hares, in our experience, take devilish delight in creating trails through challenging terrain and incorporating false trails.  The concept took some time to catch on, with the interruption of World War II, but today there are almost 2000 chapters all over the world.  

The first Hash in Grenada was held in 1985, and with limited interruptions is held on each Saturday.  The Grenada Hash Club is purportedly one of the largest in the World with 150-300 regular participants http://grenadahash.com.  This season the Hashes, which ordinarily occur on each Saturday in Grenada, were interrupted for several months while restrictions on gatherings were in effect to stem the spread of Covid 19.  A handful of long devoted hashers were so despondent on Saturdays that they formed an interim Bird Watchers Club until the Hash started up again on September 26.

The Grenada Hash, garners a lot of participation.

Prior to the Hash beginning, members of the Hash Club circulate throughout the participants looking for those sporting new sneakers or running shoes.  These may be confiscated in the guise of testing their integrity for the rigorous trail. (SPOILER: The true reason is for a customary ceremony that entails the unsuspecting, unfortunate, owner drinking beer from the shoe.)

Separate Hash trails are laid out for Runners and Walkers.  Some Hashes include two walker trails – one easier and / or shorter than the other.  The trails are identified by periodic deposits of shredded paper (in Grenada) or flour.  You must be vigilant to ensure you keep track of these markings as there are false trails that can lead you astray. There are invariably some parts that are steep, some wet and muddy, and some bushwhacking. More often than not there are some remnants of shoes that fell apart.

George and I participated in our first Hash on Saturday, January 23rd, 2020.  It was Grenada Hash Number 1122 and was laid out by the Hash Hare “Sex Problem”.  As first-time Hashers we were referred to as Virgins.  Before each Hash begins, all Virgins are called to the front of the crowd for instructions (mostly lies and obfuscations).  You are also informed that at the end of the Hash Virgins will be reconvened for a short ceremony to commemorate your loss of your Virginity and receive your certificate. You will want to make sure you show up for this fun ceremony. One Hash in which we participated had an extra closing ceremony for a pair of Hashers who had just received their official nicknames and another for two dedicated Hashers who had announced their intent to get married.

Dogs are welcome and when the University is in session, many Vets in training bring theirs along. All the dogs must stay on a leash and are very well behaved.

Many doges participate, particularly when the Vet Students are on island.

The dogs are even better behaved at the end of the Hash (see below).

Of the eight Hashes we have participated in so far, my favorite brought us through an interior part of Grenada with large and small farms and homes with vegetable gardens and/or vegetable and fruit plants tucked in wherever there was a bit of room.

Each Hash is different and they are all fun. They offer you some great exercise while you are introduced to parts of Grenada you might not otherwise see and people you might not otherwise meet.

Celebrating Biden’s Victory in Grenada

If you could see it through others’ eyes

As the United States Presidential election approached, conversations in Grenada frequently strayed into opinions about the candidates, and speculation about who would prevail. We have not met many American cruisers who support Trump, although they do exist. When we spoke with a like-minded American, various outrages were voiced and then someone would suggest the unpleasant topic be dropped. The most interesting discussions were those with Grenadian citizens and people visiting from countries other than the US.

The electoral college was a frequent topic when speaking with non-Americans, and many people were incredulous that the presidential election would not be decided by the popular vote. My explanation was that the electoral college was intended to give a fair share of voice to each state. Many would concede that they could understand some value to the process, but still far preferred their country’s use of the popular vote as the sole determinant.

As to the candidates and who would win – the great majority of non-Americans thought Trump to be without morals and foolish. They were confounded by his continued popularity in the Unites States and judged the US harshly, as a result. A disappointing number of opinions shared were that Trump would win. Disappointing, in that the view expressed was a condemnation the intelligence and morality of Americans.

Ice Floe and we are back in the water

Ice Floe was returned to the water bright and early November 2nd and we spent most of the day stowing things we brought back from our apartment, and otherwise getting her ready to sail. To be truthful, George spent most of the day in this pursuit. I made contributions when I could tear myself away from the pre-election news and texting with my brother and sister.

George and I slept well on the boat on the eve of the election with near certainty that Biden would win. The following day and for the balance of the week I was consumed by the need to follow the frequent changes in who was ahead in key states, and fretful over how close the vote was turning out in key states.

Saturday – The Grenada Hash and a new president is elected.

George and I hopped on the bus taking us to the Grenada Hash (a rigorous run or walk through the hilly interior of Grenada) with light hearts as shortly before, the results in Pennsylvania had just been called for Biden, thereby securing his successful run for president. We completed the Hash, and if not for a very steep slope toward the end, we would, for once, not have come in last. George had tied Duhkxy’s leash to a stump at the top of the incline that helped getting down the embankment and those that followed were pleased to use it, as well.

We took the bus back to Whisper Cove for a lovely dinner to celebrate the outcome of the election. We could not help but notice a young woman (American), who we learned is a full-time cruiser, dressed in such a way as to leave no doubt to the joy she felt in Biden’s election.

The lovely, lively, delicious, restaurant at Whisper Cove Marina

As we shared our happiness at the outcome of the election I mentioned that I had told George we would not put up a new American flag at Ice Floe’s stern until we had a new president. The young woman said she had made the same pronouncement to her shipmate.

We saw no cheering crowds, no dancing in the street, fireworks, or other displays of celebrations. Just a quiet sigh of reiief, a joyous sense of hope, shared by a couple of Americans who found themselves in Grenada for this historic election, It was more than enough,

Cassis

09-August-2017

We left off on our last update in the Pourquerolles on June 27.  Early the next morning we headed out to Cassis.

We visited Cassis briefly on our sail with Marilla and Mitch from La Grande Motte to Nice to pick up Allison, Mike, Riley, and Tristan in. Marilla described Cassis as the quintessential French seaside village.  We all wanted to return there for a more relaxed visit. 

Cassis, viewed from the eastern bluff we hiked up to explore a restored 14th century castle.

Confused Seas

Along the way, the winds picked up to 25 knots with gusts up to 30 knots and consistent 5-6 foot waves amid “confused seas”.  You may recall, when we sailed in the English Channel from Cherbourg to Le Havre, we described that there was no pattern to the waves that assailed us from multiple directions.  As such, waves will periodically merge with one or more waves and with little warning, you can get a really big wave.  This is referred to as “confused seas” and this type of disruption in wave pattern arises when tidal changes / current clashes with wind;  when waves reflect back off land masses;  when there are leftover waves from winds in a previous direction;  and likely lots of other factors.  Our experience in the Mediterranean is they are pretty much the norm unless it is dead calm.

We described the Channel sail as topsy turvy – this sail to Cassis, was more of a roller coaster; and once, when both a gust of wind AND a rogue wave conspired to give us a thrill, we were indeed thrilled! It was COLD, too.

COLD and rough passage to Cassis

George brought us in closer to land where it was a bit calmer and we motor-sailed the balance of the way to Cassis. 

Cassis

We spent 3 lovely days in Cassis.  Riley and Tristan braved the chilly waters below a seawall with waves crashing over it.   Riley stuck it out for a great big wave. 

Restored, 14th Century Castle – currently a hotel, The Chateau Cassis.

Jousting Competition

We enjoyed a close up view of a type of jousting on boats.  Until this time we were left to wonder what these odd boats with long ramps out the stern were.  Most seaside villages had a number of them and we learned that towns have periodic competitions.  We were observing what we think were lessons/practice.

First photo – competing boats approach each other, with combatants on ramp, armed with long poles and a wooden box strapped to their chests. The box is the target and has divisions in it to capture the opponents pole. Second photo – combatants engage with the objective of forcing their opponent into the water. Third photo – Gentleman in the yellow shorts leans to far in effort to unseat opponent – the best that could be achieved is both men being knocked into the water. Final photo – gentleman in the black shorts, having maintained his steady perch, wins the contest.

Market day

We were lucky to be in Cassis on Market Day.  All villages of a reasonable size have an open air market one or two days a week.  They can vary in how large they are and what is for sale.  Often, it is a combination of fresh (in season, local) vegetables and fruits; cheeses, fresh meat and seafood, eggs, dried sausages, rotisserie meats, olives, olive oil and tapenade, bread, clothing, occasionally a “euro” stand with hundreds of different items for 1 euro, some crafts like soap, or jewelry, and pretty much anything someone wants to sell who is willing to rent a booth.  They are always lively, colorful and fun to peruse.

The produce is of the highest quality at prices not dissimilar to the village store or supermarket.  The produce in supermarkets, for that matter, is also of exceptional quality – in season, local – and the fruit, consistently DELICIOUS.

Massif des Calanques

A short boat ride from Cassis, are the Massif des Calanques.  These white limestone cliffs have deep fissures similar to fjords. This area is part of the 10th French National Park.

The water was frigid, but Allison and Riley swam to the shore.  Tristan was kind of pushed in and had barely touched the water when he levitated up and scrambled onto Allison, protesting loudly.  He decided to pass on swimming, as did the rest of us. Water temperatures in Cassis in June are historically a bit less than 70 degrees F.

They were rewarded for their bravery when they arrived at a small, secluded, albeit nude beach. The people on the beach did not appear to be delighted that clothed people had arrived. Riley and Allison were not delighted either, but balked at getting back in the frigid water. Mitch and Marilla rescued them with the paddleboards.

Tube ride

Mike and George took Riley and Tristan for a bumpy ride.  Marilla went later but, according to George, she is a lard ass and he could not get the dinghy on a plane.  

Back in the beautiful town of Cassis, Riley was  rewarded with the puppy dog she fell in love with and she named her Cassis.  

And then, all too soon, it was time to start heading back towards Nice.

First stop, St. Mandrier

The first evening the old folks did some necessary tasks, including finding a burger place for dinner, while the younguns walked a trail that included an  exercise course (so sorry to miss it). 

The following day in St. Mandrier we (including Tristan) swam off the pebble beach.  It was COLD, but I expect a few degrees warmer than in the deep waters of the calanques.  There was a steep bank into the water and between that, the rocks, and some waves, I found it relatively easy to get in (I fell).  George and Mike were last in (inching in is the worst!!).

We all climbed a hill to an old fort that had no access but did afford a beautiful view. 

Marilla and Mitch pitched in to finish the masks Tristan had been working on for a family picture.  Is it just me or do Marilla and Mitch look like they are copying off of Tristan?   

We enjoyed one of the best dinners of our trip at a restaurant Mitch and Marilla picked out.  Fabulous duck, carpaccio de boeuf…  We had previously dropped off a cake for a belated (Mitch) and early (Marilla) birthday celebration.  Sadly, Riley was not feeling well and she and Allison left early to get a good nights sleep so we took the cake back to the boat and saved some for Riley.

Birthday cake for Mitch (late) and Marilla (early).

All too quickly, we were back on our way the next day, dropping Marilla and Mitch off in Toulon to catch a train to Nice for their flight home.

Goodbye Marilla and Mitch

Allison, Mike, Riley and Tristan stayed on for another week with us stopping at La Lavendou, St. Tropez, and Antibes.

How did we become sailors?

Interestingly, it all began one Christmas. For over 20 years our Christmas Day tradition consisted of doing absolutely nothing other than opening and playing with presents, eating lots of our favorite foods and snacks, almost all of which had been prepared the day before or brought by Santa, and napping. We cherished this day, that like no other, we lived almost entirely “in the moment”, without distraction of chores, work, or any outside influences.

As Christmas of 2007 approached, our younger daughter, Marilla voiced her feeling that Christmas was no longer fun. Our older daughter, Allison, and her husband Mike now had two families they shared Christmas traditions with and the truth is, George and I had been feeling guilty knowing we were no longer enjoying the holiday as we once had.

We began looking for a vacation we could enjoy during the Christmas Holiday, excluding Christmas Day, itself. We knew we wanted to go somewhere in the tropics with warm turquoise waters and beautiful. beaches. Our search led us to an adventure in the Exumas where we rented a houseboat. George’s Mom and Dad had a large houseboat that had left us with indelible pleasant memories of lazy summers on the Long Island Sound. We knew it would be a perfect vacation to share with them.

This three generation vacation included George’s Mom and Dad, our two daughters, our son-in-law, and George and myself. It remains one of the most enjoyable family vacations we have ever had and set us on a path we did not recognize at the time.

Several years later we decided it was time to take a second houseboat vacation. Sadly, we discovered that the Bahama houseboat business had folded. We could find no other houseboat rentals offered on open water in the tropics. Our fruitless search for a perfect houseboat vacation led us to advertisements to rent sailboats. Hmmm.

We appreciated the slow, almost silent manner in which canoes transported us across lakes and along rivers. Canoeing complemented our interest in observing nature without leaving footprints. We felt certain we would love sailing. Our son-in-law was becoming quite interested in sailing and was taking lessons. We decided to take sailing lessons and get certified to bareboat charter a catamaran. The idea was not far fetched as George had grown up boating and was (is) very knowledgeable about boating and the sea. We completed xxxxxxxxxx and, while I barely passed the exam, George got a perfect score and was pre-qualified to Captain a catamaran under a wide range of conditions / locations.

Our younger daughter left for college and our weekends were now our own. Soon-after we were proud owners of a pre-owned Flying Scot that we could trailor to the north end of the Chesapeake – just two hours away. We also got busy planning our next family vacation that would now be a four generation vacation in the Virgin Islands on a catamaran.

Our home in Pennsylvania was not close to any significant body of water and with our children’s busy schedules we never considered owning a boat other than canoes and kayaks. Looking back I can see a number of influences that collectively moved us in the direction of sailing.

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French Homes

17-June-2017

Almost every village, town, or small city we have visited has at its center, tall connected buildings with similar architecture that date back to the town’s beginning.  There is often little adornment on the building’s side facing narrow streets and walkways, although the doors are often quite attractive and container plantings soften the appearance.  Windows are customarily shuttered.  Our visits are often in early evening and the inhabitants are in their homes with family having dinner.

In larger towns, as you move out from the ancient centers, the homes are more commonly one or two story and surrounded by walls and hedges. With few exceptions, homes are of brick or stone; stucco is common and color is consistently a pale grey or beige. Roofs are clay or slate tile. While most homes share these properties, each remains unique in its character, details, patios, and gardens.

Homes viewed from the waterway represent many of the most lovely we have seen (this may be because we have spent most of our time sailing, and possibly because they tend to be less hidden behind walls and shrubs). The two homes below have thatched roofs.

Thatch can be made of many types of grasses, but those that are the most durable and masterfully sculpted are made from the hollow stems of grasses. Along the Rhône we saw farms of of phragmites and recently harvested bundles beside the river bank.  Phragmites is a grass commonly used in France and roofs made from this type of material will typically last 60 years!! 

Groups of homes are common.   

Contemporary architecture is uncommon outside mid to large cities, and is typically restricted to large buildings.  These two homes sit alongside more traditional neighboring homes on the Seine.

Along the Seine there are hills with white stone cliffs. We understand this is the type of stone quarried for many buildings in France.  We observed a number of homes and buildings where the back portion of the roof or the side walls join the cliff.  In some cases, garages for an existing home were carved into the stone.  In the most unusual cases, the only parts of what appears to be a cave-home within the cliff are windows and doors.  We understand that these cave homes were initially built and inhabited to hide from danger – subsequently for cheap living – now most are uninhabited, but there are still cave-home communities in France.

I have been unable to learn anything about this specific group of cave-homes along the Seine, shown here.

I cannot finish my impossible attempt to describe the many types of homes we have seen without including these last two.  The first, home or church, because it is so fanciful with a tree growing out of its foundation. 

The second are representative canal and river barges that have been retired.  When barges are operational, carrying loads through the intricate waterways within Europe, there is a fully equipped home built within.  The boat captain and often spouse, et al. live in the boat – cars and other types a vehicles are carried on the barge which has a crane to lift them off. When these boats are retired, many continue to serve as peoples’ homes.   Most are permanently moored along a canal or river bank (including up to and within Paris).  They have sources of water and electricity.  They range from old barges that have seen years of post-functional neglect to lavish, imaginative, beautiful homes, with lovely patios and container gardens.  Some have also been converted to high end “waterfront” restaurants and some as fueling stations and stores.  I only have room left to show you two – there are many hundreds.

 

Pont-Canal de Briare

09-June-2017

Today is the 45th day of our visit to France and the Mediterranean.  If you have been following us via https://share.garmin.com/georgelamb, you will have noted we have passed through the canal system, joined the Saône River and started down the Rhône River.  We should reach the Mediterranean within the next several days. 

We have climbed a total of 1000 ft and descended a little less than half the way back to sea level (527 ft).  The transition between watersheds to the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea were identified on the lock signs for Canal de Centre as Océan before the peak and Mediterranean after.  We have just 10 locks of the 179 to go – one notably 23 meters.  Our record for number of locks in a day is 24 – it was a busy day.  

The canal system took us over rivers via canal bridges or aqueducts – 3 of which were particularly noteworthy in their expanse and height.  The photo below is of the Pont Canal de Briare (Briare canal bridge) which is 662 meters long and crosses over the Loire River.

Ice Floe entering Pont-Canal de Briare (Briare Canal Bridge) crossing the river Loire.

George commented, that Ice Floe barely fit within the aqueduct. He had to concentrate on steering to avoid scraping the sides and did not have an opportunity to see anything else. You can get a better sense of the tight fit in the next photo taken off the starboard side of Ice Floe.

Midway across Pont-Canal de Briare

While waiting for an opening to cross the aqueduct, a group rowing shells asked us to allow them to slip in behind us as they were finding it difficult to get their turn.

They, too, had to be careful to not extend their oars too far.
Boats traveling the canals and aqueducts are of uniform width and height to match those of the canals.

After we arrived on the other side, we moored Ice Floe in Châtillion-sur-Loire and crossed back in our dinghy to let George get a better look.

New found appreciation for wine

What better place than France for someone to disavow their belief that they did not like wine? George began to embrace white wine after tasting a particularly fruity Sancere and is even appreciative of a Beaujolais red, in small doses. Neither he nor I had previously had these types of wine.  We also fell for a sparkling white wine (champagne-like, but you cannot call it champagne).  We are fairly well stocked up with and we still have the Rhône valley.

Why are sparkling wines made by the “Champagne” method, not all called Champagne?

My limited understanding is that each specific type of wine (Chardonnay, Burgundy…) must adhere to the specifications of a unique appellation.  The appellation specifies the geographic region in which the grapes must have been grown, which kind(s) of grapes can be used, the yield of grapes per hectare that can be harvested, the pruning method that must be used on the vines,  the percent alcohol content, et al.  A particular vineyard or estate that meets these specifications for a particular wine is said to be part of a “village” for that wine.  Of course, there are specific estate “recipes”, good and bad years, the age of the vines, the type of soil, and many, many other details, that introduce endless variety, notoriety and cost.  Luckily for us, French wine is quite inexpensive in France.

Vineyard in Loire Valley
Loire Valley
Vineyard on the River Rhône
Vineyard on the River Rhône with particular wine estate identified

Lots of Locks

Day 18 through 35 13-May – 27-May-2017

I feel it is necessary for you to understand locks if you are to understand this journey. Altogether there are 179 locks we will pass through.  On the canals, the locks can be very frequent with less than half a km between them.  Our record for a day was 19 locks (yesterday).  The change in height has been as low as 2 ft and as high as 28.

The canal system, locks, and aqueducts are several hundred years old.  We have passed through 65 locks, 56 of which collectively carried us up 541 feet in elevation, and the last 9 of which dropped us back down to 446 feet elevation in the Loire Valley.  Many locks have been modernized to be automatic, some still have a lock tender to assist you.  How the lock will operate is often a mystery – the availability of places to tie on, whether you will need a lock tender, whether you will need to call the lock tender.  In principal, all the locks accomplish the same thing.

Our current location

We are currently at Châtillon-Sur-Loire, about a third of the way through France’s Inland Waterway.  Châtillon is term used for a facility run by the most proximal municipality.  Châtillon-Sur-Loire means a facility to “park” your boat on the River Loire.  Technically, we are on the Loire Canal, but the river is close by. The cost per night is 9 euros, but many are completely free.  Some have water and power, bathrooms and showers, and one had WIFI.  Sometimes there are restrictions for length of stay or prohibitions against using potable water to wash your boat.  The individual rules are not always apparent.  Sometimes there is a sign, sometimes a policeman comes by your boat to collect a fee and check your papers.  Often, especially when there is just a tie up, no information is available.

At a Châtillon with facilities there are often other boaters from all over the World.  People often stop by to ask where you are from and where you are going and frequently invites are extended to “take a drink” on their or our boat.  George once invited 3 couples to join us and with luck I had humus, cheese, strawberries and olives to share.  We were rewarded with wonderful stories and practical advice on what to do and where to stay on the canals.

Lots about Locks

The locks on the Seine all had a lock tender who you called on a specified VHF frequency (different for each lock).  The following photos and their captions provide a description of how locks work and enabled us to sail up and down the foothills of the Alps en route to the Mediterranean. The first photo is of a large lock system on the Seine with three separate locks. 

On the left is the spillway for the river. There are three separate locks to the right of the spillway, The first 2 locks were undergoing repairs so we will use the third lock (all the way to the right).
The lock on the right is closed as it is occupied by a boat that is headed downstream so we will have to wait. There is a red signal light indicating we should not approach the lock.
The water level has been adjusted and the doors opened so the boat is exiting the lock.
We get the green signal light that the lock is ready for us to enter.
We are entering the lock

The next two photos are taken from the bow looking back towards the stern. 

Once inside the lock, we secure lines from the bow and the stern to one side of the lock. These lines will be adjusted to keep Ice Floe in place as the water level is adjusted. The doors at our stern are closed and water begins to enter the lock. Note the position of Ice Floe on the concrete wall.
The water level has been raised so that it is the same as the water where we will exit the lock.

The next two photos are taken from the bow looking forward.

The lock doors begin to open.
Ice Floe heads out of the lock.

This next photos is of an ancient flight of locks (left in photo) that was replaced centuries later with 6 separate  locks, each only 0.4 km apart.

On the left, you are looking at an ancient “flight of locks. It could only accommodate a single boat. If a boat was moving up this flight of locks, a boat needing to move down the locks would need to wait until the other boat had completed all 6 locks in the continuous series. On the right you see the doors to the first of 6 separate locks that replaced the original lock. Each can accommodate boats heading either up or down.
Closer view of ancient lock system

As the tourist season warms up we have more and more people watching as we move  through locks.  Even for many people for whom the locks are an integral part of their lives, many stop to watch, particularly those with small children who are often bicycling along the path beside the locks with their parents.

I am certain you now know more than you ever thought you needed to know about locks and are wondering what else we have been up to these past several weeks.