France - Port St Louis to Leucate | Distant Shores Sailing Newsletters

France - Port St Louis to Leucate

September 18, 2012
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.
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.
French Customs
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. 
Port Leucate
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
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