Captains Blog 36 – Petanque? in the Calanques?

Having enjoyed Porquerolles, it was time to head off and we were keen to keep moving towards Barcelona, where a lovely Bowman 45 was for sale.

We sailed into a cracking little anchorage in Toulon Harbour. There were stiff Westerlies forecast and we were ideally positioned to get some protection. After anchoring overnight, we headed into Toulon marina for a night or two. We explored the town, which boasts a large naval base and cracked on with a boat job or two, including the acquisition of Nana (an old biddy shopping trolley) before we were set to go. 

We left Toulon once the weather improved, but didn’t go far. It was a steady sail to Anse de Fabregas, just around the headland. Unusually, there weren’t many boats and only a handful stayed overnight so it was a nice peaceful spot.

Next day the First Mate swore that she could see someone naked on the beach. Sure enough she was right, there on the beach was a fella, hands on hips, scanning the horizon, fishing tackle deployed. This could scupper my plan to walk up to the old fort and lighthouse located on the headland at the far end of the beach. I considered motoring over in the dinghy, stripping and striding purposefully amongst the throng of nudists towards my target footpath, head held high. Instead, I crossed to a less busy section at the opposite end, faced forward and went for the nearest footpath in the hope that I could cut across higher up.

I found a road overlooking the beach that appeared to head in the right direction. A mini bus had parked and around 10 Police officers were surveying the beach for ne’er do wells. Well actually, not all! A female officer appeared to be more interested in her phone than providing the committed vigilance of her male colleagues. Shameful!

My trip to the lighthouse and fort highlighted how little ascent I’d done over the preceding weeks. My muscles stiffened for a couple of days afterwards and I realised how much I missed walking in the hills and mountains. Best thing for it, head to the mountainous La Ciotat. Well maybe not mountainous, but still a real place.

There’s a great anchorage not far from La Ciotat marina where we based ourselves. I had no preconceptions about the town and was pleasantly surprised. There was a large colourful market spread along the sea front leading to the attractive harbour surrounded by cafés, restaurants and bars. It was bustling, despite Covid restrictions, as you’d expect for the beginning of the French holiday season.

We discovered that this was home of Jules Lenoir, the man who created the game Petanque, which seems ever popular in France. A walk up onto the headland provided spectacular views across the town and bay, and along the coast towards Cassis. It also served as a great vantage point to watch divers plunging from cliff ledges into the busy cala below.

We sailed on to Port Miou, a favoured stomping ground of the pre nautical dynamic and charismatic duo we now are, having spent many happy holidays climbing in and around Parc National des Calanques. Port Miou is a long narrow Cala with moorings running its entire length. It’s just along the coast from Cassis and leads to some great walking trails.

As you enter, moored sailboats line one side of the cliff. The plan was to moor here, but vying to get in, between the conveyor of day tripper boats soon quashed any appeal. We headed further in and things improved significantly. We moored about 3/4’s into the Cala and were facing bow to shore for the first time. It was worth it just to see the joy on the first mates face as she teetered on the pulpit, while weighing up the potential for catastrophe, before gliding gracefully onto the rickety step and the sanctuary of land.

I was a big fan of Port Miou. It was very, very busy in the day, but at night was incredibly peaceful and still. We took the opportunity to visit one of our old climbing haunts, the beautiful bay of En Vau. It has gorgeous turquoise water, a lovely beach and is enclosed by huge cliffs and some fantastic rock-climbing routes. We opted for the round about scenic walk in, which was beautiful. My chin hit the floor, or beach, or more accurately the slither of beach between the mass of bodies that we faced when we arrived. I couldn’t believe there were so many people crammed onto every conceivable section of beach and beyond.

I wanted to see if we could find our old access route, which ascended rapidly up the enclosing cliff face and was more a scramble/climb than a walk. We negotiated small patches of sand between the flesh that quickly took us to our ascent start. Looking back towards the beach made me realise how lucky we’d been in the past to enjoy such a gorgeous setting without crowds. We managed to slowly pick out the route, climbing rapidly until reaching a vantage point overlooking the bay. We were alone on a cliff face looking down on a mass of people in what we’d previously considered to be one of the most beautiful and secluded places we’d visited. It is still beautiful though.

Cassis hadn’t changed much, but with vast numbers of people, the opportunity to explore and enjoy it wasn’t really an option, so we decided to move on to Marseilles. We motored out of Port Miou into a significant swell, which became a following sea as we turned West. Sails deployed; we enjoyed a steady 5 knots before turning again towards Marseilles. This put us side on to the wind, on a beam reach, taking our speed up to between 6 and 8 knots as we flew towards Vieux Port.

Vieux Port is huge with a constant flow of vessels in every direction. We entered and managed to locate the club we’d booked with and sailed in circles for the next 20 minutes waiting to get some instructions on where to go.

Eventually we were instructed to follow one of the staff in a small rib who’d show us to our berth. He gestured to a mooring between 2 large motor boats. I acknowledged and turned Gianti ready to reverse in. As I did this, he cleared off. “whoa, hey, what, where” I called, but he was gone.

As I reversed, 20 knots of wind blew the bow towards one of the motor boats, so I abandoned the attempt. I’d have to motor past the mooring, then reverse, bringing the bow into wind at speed to keep control, then stop, very quickly. Manoeuvring between boats can be unnerving at any time, but when you have such little room for error, a strong cross wind and only two of you, it tests your bottle. Thankfully we made it without incident.

Now then, way back when Fou and Rea from Koru had headed to Switzerland, we’d ordered a new raw water pump and had it delivered to them. I’d hoped we’d meet up along the French coast somewhere and grab the pump, but this didn’t happen and the leak was getting worse. Time to implement plan B and message Eric and Annie who we’d met in Licata and who live in Marseilles. Eric did a blinding job ordering what I needed through a local Chandlers, so that I could overhaul the existing pump.

Next day I found the Chandlers. “Umm bonjour monsieur, umm Eric parlez vous?” His response was rapid and he could clearly speak French well. I smiled and nodded ‘knowingly’ as he continued to speak and when he nodded and raised his eyebrows, I knew it was my time to speak. “uummm, arhh, uumm oui umm?”. Pity overcame him so he asked in perfect English “the bearings are a standard manufacture, are you okay with that?”. “Ahh, oui” I responded, nodding with confidence.

Bearings and seals fitted; it was time to explore Marseilles. We only really touched the area surrounding Vieux Port, though there was plenty to get to grips with, most impressively the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde. The whole area surrounding the port was bustling and our favourite spot was in the old artisan area adjacent to the Cathedral.

We started contemplating our next destination, which would be Barcelona, or so we thought. Funny how things have a habit of changing rapidly when there’s a worldwide pandemic.

Thank you for your attention.

Captain Mac

And here’s a little video from us to showcase the Captain’s drone skills

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