Sailing Mediterranean France - Port Saint Louis to Port Leucate
We're a sailing yacht again and have been cruising along the Mediterranean coast of France! After having the mast down and being a motor yacht for most of the summer as we travelled through the inland waterways of France, it's great to be in open water and under sail once more.
Casting Off from Port St. Louis
It was late in the day on Monday September 10 that we finally got away from the dock at Navy Service in Port St. Louis saying our farewells to the wonderful staff there and with all jobs completed - the main ones being the installation of a Mastervolt isolation transformer; the addition of a Lewmar 54 Ocean Electric winch to handle the main, jib, and genoa sheets; the installation of a new IC-M802 Fixed mount HF marine SSB radio well under way; repairs completed to chafes in the mainsail cover, and a new window in the sprayhood/dodger which made a huge difference to our comfort at sea.
We weren't going far that first night - just around the corner to anchor out in the large natural bay off Port St. Louis - but we find it's always good to get off the dock and get sorted before heading out to sea. Moving out to the bay was literally a breath of fresh air since it's always quite hot and dusty in boat yards (you want them to be as protected from wind as possible) and Port St. Louis is quite marshy, so being at anchor meant we got away from the mosquitos. Ahhh! We had a very very calm night "on the hook" and set off early next morning relaxed and ready to sail east along the coast to Port Camargue.
It was a lovely warm sunny day with a gentle breeze so we were able to ghost along past the Camargue, the vast marshy delta of the Rhone River along this stretch of coast, which is rich in wild life and has long sparkling white sand beaches along its shores. These looked brilliant against the clear turquoise water we were sailing through and we felt so happy to be back in the Mediterranean. We sailed for many years in the Mediterranean from 1998 to 2006 which we documented in Distant Shores Seasons 1-3 so feel very at home in the Med.
We savoured this day since we knew that a Mistral (strong cool northerly gales) was in the forecast for the next few days and we'd be in port for a while before moving on. From what we'd heard, Port Camargue would be a great place to spend some time for a few days. With berths for 4,800 yachts, it is the largest marina resort in Europe, and second in the world after Marina del Rey in California. (This world record may soon be broken upon completion of the Dubai Marina.)
A nice thing about a Mistral is that although the wind is strong and cool, it comes with clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine, so if you're in a protected harbour it can be quite pleasant. This is what we experienced in Port Camargue. Although the marina is big, it's cleverly designed. There are lots of lagoons with groups of boats so you're not looking at a huge boat parking lot. There are lots of restaurants, take-away places, food stores, boutiques, 2 large beaches and every type of marine service and supplier that you can imagine so we were in heaven while the winds blew!
New Protectors for Dorade Vents
One of the jobs we had done for the boat while we were there was having stainless steel protector cages made for our dorade vents. On previous cruises a sheet would occasionally get caught on one of the dorades and although it always came safely clear we just felt it would be prudent to have them more protected, especially with a transatlantic passage coming up. We "dock-walked" looking at the designs of these cages on so many of the yachts in the harbour and Paul created a model for Distant Shores II out of cardboard and plastic wiring conduit. Then he spoke to Sun Marine's stainless expert who did careful measurement, made suggestions, and before we knew it they were done.
Shortly after our arrival at Port Camargue we received a visit from French Customs (Duane Françaises). The 2 male and 1 female officer were very friendly and efficient. They spoke English but appreciated our efforts to speak French as they checked our ship's papers and passports. Whenever we receive a visit from Customs or Immigration officials I always ask for a badge number or stamp or some sort to record their visit in our Ship's Log Book. (In Brest the officials had a paper receipt they gave us when we asked. In Camargue they used a rubber stamp.) They always oblige but rarely offer this information/proof of visit yet when the next crew come on board and ask where we were last checked it's easy to say and prove that the previous team had already approved us. Needless to say, this always makes the new team more relaxed and friendly. It also shows you're organized with your paperwork.
While we were in Port Camargue we had a visit from cruising friends, Dave and Fiona from MV Warrior, an historic Dunkirk Little Ship. They’re restoring the boat and plan to run charters on it in the future. They were wintering the boat up the coast in Aigues-Mortes a medieval town and harbour famous for it's pink salt flats, and drove down to see us, then helped us stock up the boat with provisions using their car.
Walled City of Aigues-Mortes
Our friends then took us up to Aigues-Mortes to explore the amazingly well-preserved medieval walled town there. We were quite protected from the Mistral winds blowing overhead the ramparts.
We wandered the narrow streets within the old town and enjoyed a lazy afternoon chatting in a cafe in the town square, a very Mediterranean activity, before going back to Warrior for dinner. New friends are one of the gifts of the cruising life.
It would have been easy to get stuck at Port Camargue. If we're ever back in this region again we would definitely consider it as a place to "winter" or store the boat and recommend it as a very nice place to stop for a while to do maintenance or upgrades.
But we were itching to get back to sea and get sailing again so when the Mistral finally blew itself out we cast off on September 16. The wind was up and down throughout the day but we got in plenty of sailing and the atmosphere was festive since there was every type of boat out on the water that day, their crews enjoying a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon.
We were so keen on sailing that we resisted the temptation to turn on the engine even though we risked arriving at our next destination Port Leucate, in the dark. The entrance there is a bit tricky. We sailed on and arrived a bit after sunset but had enough light to make our way into the harbour.
All the local sailors were heading for port too so we had company making the entrance.
There is a very large Waiting Pontoon there so we tied alongside with a few other transient yachts and had a nice evening on board, our last in France.
Next, on to Spain.
Sheryl and Paul
SY Distant Shores II
It was so good to be home for the month of August after a very enjoyable 10-week voyage through the canals of France in the spring.
Where We Are
It's hard to believe that it's just been over a week since we got back to the boat where we left it hauled out in the Navy Service boat yard in Port St. Louis on the south coast of France. We're just west of Marseilles at the mouth of the Rhone River. The area, called the Camargue, is a large dry but marshy river delta where there are salt flats and lots of exotic birds such as flamingos, and wild horses, and a type of bull fighting in pens where guys get chased by bulls and try to jump out of the way, and unfortunately at dusk there is an abundance of mosquitos.
What We're Doing to the Boat
But Port St. Louis is a great place to prepare a sailboat for sea since it's a large port commercial as well as recreational port with 3 good chandleries and 3 boat yards with all related services - sailmakers, canvas workers, machine shops, carpenters, etc. so the week has flown by as we complete projects, repairs and new equipment installations.
This week we have installed a new Mastervolt isolation transformer so we can handle 110V power when we reach the Caribbean and North America (our British-built boat is set up for 220V power), another Lewmar electric winch for the main and jib sheets so now we have 2 in the cockpit and we’ve started installing a new ICOM marine SSB radio. Repairs have been minor - replace a plumbing fitting in the shower that snapped when we turned the water pressure on, replace snaps on the spray hood, have new plastic installed, and the patch the mainsail cover where it had developed holes from lines chafing.
The weather has been hot, dry and calm which is great for the work we're doing on the boat. If there's any wind it can be pretty dusty in the boat yard. We've been using our folding bicycles a lot making runs to town and to the chandleries, so haven't had to rent a car which is usually necessary when we're working in a boat yard. The town is really set up for this as there is a very nice 2-way bike path out to all the boat yards and marinas and right through town. It's a great way to burn calories! There's an excellent restaurant on site which we have been enjoying since when we're out of the water it's too hot and awkward to cook on the boat - well that's our excuse :-)
Fans of Distant Shores
The atmosphere in the boat yard is super nice since there are lots of other international cruising sailors here preparing for a season in the Med or getting ready for a transatlantic passage like us. The other day a young Russian couple stopped by the boat to say hello. They had been watching Distant Shores in Russia where it airs on Travel Channel as inspiration for their dream cruise. They have just bought a new boat and are on their way to the Greek Islands so were really surprised to see us here at the start of their adventures! Our programmes are dubbed in Russian versus subtitled so Konstantine and Anna had never heard our real voices until now. We have also met Distant Shores fans here from Belgium and South Africa. It is so nice for us to learn that so many people around the world enjoy our TV programmes!
Launched on Saturday
By the end of the week we'd completed all the jobs we needed to do out of the water - grease the AutoProp feathering propellor and add a new thruhull for the watermaker we're planning to add later for remote cruising in the tropics - so launched on Saturday morning. Wow! It feels good to be back in the water and floating again! It's much cooler too so we've enjoyed cooking on board again and eating out in the cockpit in the shade of the bimini.
Where We're Going
The mast was down for most of the summer while we travelled south the canals of France which have very low bridges. The mast is now back up and we are checking and re-tuning the rigging, putting the sails back on, and generally getting the boat back in shape for all the passage-making we'll be doing over the next few months as we leave the Med to cruise the Canary Islands and then do a transatlantic passage to the Caribbean.
This Coming Week
All going well, we'll stay at the quay here at the Navy Service boat yard until Tuesday morning when we'll head west down the French coast for a 50 mile shake-down sail to Port Camargue, one of Europe's largest marinas with berths for 4,800 boats and all services. Should be interesting! Our friends from Warrior, the Dunkirk Little Ship featured in our first 2 shows about France, are there so we'll be having a rendezvous with them. There's a Mistral (gale from the north) forecast for Wednesday night until Saturday so Port Camargue will probably as far as we'll get this week but at least we'll have moved on and we will be in a good place to fix any problems that arise from our shake-down sail.
We'll try and write when we can. We're also posting stuff on the Distant Shores website, Facebook and Twitter.
Have a great week everyone!
Sheryl and Paul
Aboard SY Distant Shores II
Voyage through the French Canals May 13 to July 21, 2012
The Distant Shores Season 9 voyage will take us from England through France to the Mediterranean, then transatlantic to the Caribbean for Christmas 2012. We have now completed Leg One – a fantastic 10-week trip through the French Canals!
We began the season in Chichester Harbour on the South coast of England where we had stored the boat for the winter at the yard at Northshore Yachts.
On May 13 we set sail for France from there with light winds for a gentle sail across the English Channel to the large commercial and recreational port of Le Harve on the north coast of France.
From Le Harve we travelled all the way through the country on inland waterways to Port St. Louis on the south coast.
During the 10-week voyage we travelled 1,344 km or 726 nautical miles (835 statute miles), negotiated 179 locks, and crossed 3 amazing aqueducts.
Routes and Resources
There are 8,000 km of navigable waterways in France so there are numerous options for routes to the Mediterranean from the north coast of France. A good online resource is the website Aboard in France http://www.french-waterways.com/practicalities/medroutes.html
We referred to this website extensively for determining what the route options are and which ones were best for us taking into account our starting location, our boat (considering depth, air draft, width and length overall) and our schedule.
The Cruising Association (CA) based in the UK and the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) based in the USA have good reference guides and cruiser updates in bulletins/forums.
The CA has a special publication called “Cruising the Inland Waterways of France and Belgium” written by members which is great. (You need to be a member to purchase but membership is worth it.) We downloaded it as a pdf onto our iPad. We also purchased a pdf version of the Aboard in France website for our iPad. Both were excellent searchable guides to use in the cockpit while en route.
We're using more ebook versions of cruising guides these days. They're searchable, less expensive, take up less space, and reduce weight onboard.
The series of chartbooks/guides we and most boaters use are Fluviacarte guides to navigation which you can order online through the Aboard in France website under the Resources section http://www.french-waterways.com All information is given in French, English and German in each guide.
Books we used were:
“Inland Waterways of France” 8th edition, by David Edwards-May, Imray Pilot Guide
“Cruising French Waterways” 4th edition, by Hugh McKnight, Sheridan House
“Through the French Canals” 11th edition, by David Jefferson, Sheridan House
Here's a brief summary of the route we took:
Preparing Your boat for the French Canals
Paul has written several New Boat Blogs about setting up the boat with fender boards and fenders and options for taking your mast down so I'll direct you there for this technical information.
We had a mixture of very wet weather and lovely sunny spring days in May and early June but after spending previous summers in the cold wet climes of Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavian countries we were so happy to be warm that we didn't mind the rain!
Late June and July, as we moved further south and were further inland away from the cooling effects of the sea, we had quite hot weather – up to 32ºC (90ºF) – but we didn't dare complain about the heat after moaning about the cold wet weather we had experienced in the UK and Scandinavia the previous summers. Here's a link to average temperatures and precipitation for various cities in France: http://www.weather-and-climate.com/average-monthly-Rainfall-Temperature-Sunshine,Paris,France
When to Go
The spring shoulder season was a good time to be in the canals since there weren't a lot of recreational boats. We mostly went through the locks on our own during the first part of the trip. Once school got out, traffic really built up in the smaller canals with charter boats and summer vacationers. This meant lock delays and a high percentage of inexperienced boaters on the canals. However, with patience and awareness and being careful to give everyone lots of space and encouragement, this didn't at all affect our enjoyment of the voyage in high season.
Hiring/Chartering a Boat in the French Canals
Hiring/chartering a boat is a wonderful way for people to be introduced to the joys of the boating life and we definitely are great supporters of this! There are a variety of styles and sizes available in various locations throughout France as well as hotel barges with captain and crew. For more information check out www.french-waterways.com.
In my next newsletters I'll write more about details and highlights of each section of the trip through the French Canals.
Hope you're having a great summer!
Sheryl and Paul Shard
SY Distant Shores II
Season 9 - All 13 Shows available now for HD DownloadJoin global adventurers, Paul and Sheryl Shard, on one of their most diverse voyages ever starting with small historic canals, a Mediterranean cruise, a transatlantic passage and island-hopping in the Caribbean. The voyage begins on the north coast of France as they sail up the River Seine to Paris then transit the inland waterways through wine country south to the Mediterranean Sea. Leaving the Med they sail out into the Atlantic Ocean down the coast of Morocco to Rabat to explore the charms of this medieval port as well as Fez. Then offshore passages begin as the Shards sail out into the Atlantic to the Canary Islands which becomes the jumping off point for a transatlantic crossing where they join the Atlantic Rally for Cruising Sailors (ARC). 2800 nm later they arrive in St Lucia and begin a winter sailing to tropical Caribbean Isles. Includes the British Virgin Islands, a voyage to Saint Martin for Carnival, lush Dominica and dealing with a tropical storm in Martinique.
The season includes 13 Episodes.
Season 9 - Visit the Page on Vimeo for HD Digital Downloads
It is very strange to be so far up in the air in your boat!
Not much clearance - the aqueduct is 6.2 meters wide. I was worried it might be hard to keep the boat centred but it wasn't difficult. Crosswinds are a concern and we wouldn’t go if winds were high. We have been getting better at close quarters handling. The wind makes it more difficult but you do need to have the boat well protected by fenders anyway. I did a blog on our fendering system and so far that has been good. We spent about another $200 on extra fenders plus the boards as "insurance".
You look down the canal to see if anyone has started in from the other end then you head out. Obviously there is no room to pass on the bridge.
Sheryl took the tripod and HD Video camera down to get shots from the river bank.
Its was the longest aqueduct in the world for over 100 years - over 600 meters long. In 2003 it was eclipsed by the Magdeburg water bridge in Germany at over 900 meters long.
Why would Eiffel make the entry point so narrow. It it just 5.2 meters but the aqueduct is 6.2. It makes it difficult to get started. But once underway it was quite simple - and a big thrill!!
Th nearby town of Briare is very nice as well!
Paul & Sheryl
SV Distant Shores II
Paul & Sheryl
SV Distant Shores II
Arsenal Basin - Bastille - Paris
Up the Seine
The seine is tidal until up past Rouen. Tides flow up to and above 3 knots and tides of a few meters make anchoring and mooring difficult. This part will be our last couple of days with the tides to contend with.
Then we lock through into the Canalized Seine river. There is still a strong current - we saw 2 knots and sometimes 3 knots...
Passing Chateau Gaillard
Richard the Lionhearted built this castle to defend against the French... Normandy was controlled by England at the time.
Not the most direct route
The Seine winds quite a bit from the sea at Le Havre up to Paris... luckily we had gorgeous weather. You can do cruises on this river and we passed quite a few large river cruisers (100 pax)
Wow - from your own yacht entering Paris you see the Eiffel Tower for the first time!
Paul is obviously so excited!
Sheryl and Paul Shard
SY Distant Shores II