The winds finally decided to let up a bit, so it was time for us to leave Port Grimaud (near Saint Tropez). This was definitely a hard place to say goodbye to, and Dan and I both discussed how we could possibly keep the boat here for an extended bit of time in the future. In the end, it was time to shake off the barnacles and get underway. Our next stop was the Porquerolle Islands. We had heard many great things about this area and were excited to explore the many hiking trails. Unfortunately, the anchorages were still ridiculously crowded (despite it being mid-September). We ended up anchoring for the night in a bay that had a lot of swell, so we left early without really exploring. It will have to be on our list for next year.
We pushed on to our next stop, the Calanques National Park. This was a series of incredible fjords cut into the steep cliffs. Our goal, much to my dismay, was to grab a mooring ball in the main Calanque. Why dismayed, you might be wondering? It was a bit windy when we entered the narrow inlet and required you to tie a mooring ball to the front of your boat while taking a very long line from the back of your boat to tie to the cliff wall. With only two of us on board, this creates a really interesting (and stressful) challenge. In addition, the pictures showed the boats all tied up nice and tight to one another as if you were in a marina. Yeah, my stress level was rapidly rising. Our understanding was to call the port captain, and they would come out to assist you. Okay, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
As we made our way into the entrance, Dan made numerous calls on both radio and phone to which we received no response. Ugh. As we sat in the entrance, trying to figure out whether to head back out and anchor off the town, we got a call from the port captain. He told us to tie up to a ball and free swing, and they would come in a half an hour. Free swing? Are you serious? The other thing we noticed was that many of the mooring balls had already been removed for the season, and there were only a few left. We came in and grabbed a ball that we felt was best suited for free swinging. We still weren’t comfortable with this plan, so Dan launched the dinghy and grabbed a line to tie our stern to the cliffs. This was tricky since the first line we used wasn’t long enough and while Dan was trying to tie our stern, I was having to motor to keep us stern to the cliff, while also letting out some of the front line to get our back line closer to the wall. Fortunately, another boat had come in right before us and had just finished getting their stern tied, so they came over to help Dan get the line secured. It took us close to an hour to get ourselves tied up in a way that we felt secure and comfortable. Later that evening, our very helpful German neighbors invited us over for drinks. We spent and enjoyable evening sharing stories and swapping tips on various places.
This place was truly amazing! The water was crystal clear, and the cliffs towered above you all around. I could see spending a number of days here, but our season was rapidly coming to an end. Along the cliffs and through the fjords were miles and miles of beautiful hiking, and we spent a few days exploring the trials. On our second day, we had the opportunity to watch some military recruits doing training drills right behind our boat. As they ran down the stone steps behind us, they jumped into the water in full fatigues (boots and all) and swam by. From there, they did an in water obstacle course, climbed the cliff and then jumped from high above. It was very impressive to witness. We also did the 1/2 hour walk around the bay to the town of Cassis. This was another very special town that we thoroughly enjoyed exploring. We definitely covered a lot of miles during this stop.
Two days later, we were on our way again. Next stop….Marseille. We were a little worried since many cruisers had warned us that the big city of Marseille was not very nice and had issues with crime. We managed to find a spot at a marina in the old port, well outside of the main city. As we made our approach to the city of Marseille, we were once again greeted with spectacular views. On the point, rose the large walls of a citadel looking out over the sea. The marina was not too far past the breakwater and the citadel and fortress marked each side of the channel leading into the harbor. We radioed the marina numerous times and got no response. We were beginning to get frustrated with the lack of communication we were all of a sudden experiencing in this part of the world. Dan continued to try reaching the marina by both radio and phone. After a long period, someone came out and helped us side tie to the wall. Apparently, they were all in a meeting, so they told us to stay put and come back in 20 minutes.
We ended up staying side tied to the wall but had to move the boat further up the wall as this would be our spot for the next two days. The old port of Marseille was a beautiful old city which we wandered each day to explore. We climbed the streets and a gazillion stone steps (not really a gazillion, but it felt like it) to the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde (translates to: Our Lady of the Guard)that sat perched high on the hill overlooking all of Marseille. It was incredible to see from faraway, but it was even more spectacular up close and personal. This is the city’s best known symbol and sits at the highest natural point (489 ft/149 m). Construction began in 1853 and took over 40 years to complete. It consists of a crypt, in the Romanesque style, that is carved from the rock. The upper church is of Neo-Byzantine style and decorated with mosaics. At the top of the bell tower is a 37ft/11.2 m gold statue of the Madonna and Child which is made of copper and gilded with gold leaf. There is a section of the basilica where you can see the damaged stonework from bullets during the liberation of France during WWII.
Marseille had numerous impressive cathedrals that we explored, as well as quaint, cobblestoned streets. On our last night, we decided to enjoy a romantic dinner in the square. We chose a highly reviewed place to try their Bouillabaise (a fish stew that originated in Marseille). It was quite good. After an enjoyable dinner, we wandered the streets for a bit before returning to Zoe. When we got back to the boat, we were quite dismayed to see that the marina had docked a huge catamaran right behind us and a giant power boat to the front, right of our bow. We were already in a very narrow channel and now sandwiched between several large boats. Undocking the next day just got a whole lot more challenging.
I spent a somewhat sleepless night contemplating our exit and praying that the big cat behind us would leave in the morning before us. As I am sure you can guess…..he did not. In the end, we rigged our lines to help us spring off the dock, and Dan skillfully pulled us out of our tight parking space like a pro. We were now underway across the bay to stage ourselves for our haul out (taking Zoe out of the water and storing her on land) the next day. Our plan was to head up the river to fill our fuel tanks and then go tie to the wall at the shipyard.
As we passed the wall, it quickly became clear that tying up there was not going to be an option. The boats were already rafted to one another! Ugh! We continued on our way to the fuel dock only to discover that it was self-serve. Well, this was going to be fun. Why are all the challenges coming NOW? We pulled up to the wall so that I could lasso the cleats and get Zoe tied up. We soon realized that the gas hose would not reach our far tank. Rather than drop lines and tie up again on the other side of the boat, we just pulled Zoe as far up the dock as depth would allow. We squeaked by with barely enough hose to spare. Then came our next frustration. The pump would only let you pump 70 liters before stopping and requiring you to put the nozzle back in the pump and start again. If you didn’t then get it back to the boat and running quick enough, your payment timed out. On top of all that, the hose had a wicked retracting feature so each time I had to hand it back to Dan on the dock, it retracted with such a force it threatened to pull be overboard. We played this little game about 5-6 times before we finally had both tanks full.
At this point, we decided to call the nearby marina to see if they could fit us for one night. They could, and we happily tied up in the town of Saint Louis de Rhône. We had a rental car booked for the next week, so this location worked the best for us going to pick up the car. Yeah….another fiasco in the making. The port captain arranged for a cab ride for us to the town of Port du Bouc, about 35-45 minutes away. Well, $75 euro later, we arrived to find the rental place all closed up (despite their posted hours saying they were open). We called the numbers posted and of course no one answered. We pounded on the doors. No signs of life. Our cab driver (a friendly old man) looked very concerned about leaving these non-French speaking Americans in the middle of nowhere (and probably no chance of finding a cab back to the boat). After about 30 minutes, another cab dropped off someone who said he had spoken to the girl, and she would be there in 15 minutes. We told our cab driver that we would be okay, and he left (rather apprehensively). By now, more and more people had shown up waiting to pick up or drop off cars, and our girl was still nowhere to be seen. After about 40 minutes, she finally arrived. Dan and I had been standing out in the hot sun for over an hour now before we were finally able to get our car. Arggghhh!
Haul out was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. the next day. Wouldn’t you know, the winds were up and blowing 15-20 knots. Of course they were! We can’t ever seem to have a calm day for haul out! We slowly made our way back down the river, and the marinero had us tie to the wall right in front of the launch ramp. Well, this was going to be interesting. We have always gone into a lifting bay, and a large travel lift rolls over and hoists Zoe out in slings. Here, they drove a tractor and trailer down the ramp and lifted Zoe onto the trailer. Out she came, rocking and swaying. Dan and I were white knuckled wondering if she was going to rock right off the trailer. She didn’t, and all was well. So, we spent the next several days doing the labor intensive chores of getting Zoe safely prepared for our long absence over winter. This was the first time that we were tasked with power washing her hulls. Our previous storage yard always did that for us. It took two solid days to get her clean, and it was a gross job. Also probably not a good idea to put the perfectionist in charge of doing it. I spent most of one day cleaning 1 hull of all the barnacles, hard wormlike things, and other stuff growing on our boat. Did I mention it smelled like rotten seafood, and I was getting sand blasted by it as it came off? YUCK! Needless to say, it is very clear which areas Dan cleaned and which ones I cleaned…haha.
It took several very long days to get Zoe all squared away, and we were off. Our plan was to spend a week or more driving through Provence from the Marseille area to Paris where we would fly home. Our first stop was a quick visit to the town of Arles. We wandered the town checking out the colosseum and exploring the Van Gogh exhibit. We then continued on our roadtrip to the town of Nîmes where we found a really lovely apartment. Before leaving the area, we wandered this amazing little town as well. We explored the many levels of another incredible colosseum….up to incredibly dizzying heights and down to the bowels where the gladiators were staged. We explored the streets, cathedrals and boutiques of the town. We hit the road once more for another multi-hour drive. Once again, we found a great little apartment. We were now in the Chablis region and decided to stop for dinner before checking in. We found a cute little restaurant on the second floor of a stone building. We enjoyed a regional tasting menu, and I enjoyed the local Chablis. At this point, we made the decision that our best shot of getting home (we fly standby and have to try and find flights with our best chance of getting a seat) was the next day. THE NEXT DAY!!! We were still several hours from Paris. Ack….talk about stress! It was disappointing to have cut our trip so short and not get to really explore the countryside, but I was also excited about the idea of getting back home.
To wrap things up, we made it home (there were a few stressful moments) after 14 hours of flying, 3 hours of layover, and being awake for over 24 hours. We covered 1600 miles in our 3 1/2 months, 4 countries, and numerous islands. Various events meant we moved at a very rapid pace, and we really hope to revisit some of our favorites at a slower pace next season. Thank you to all who have joined us on our journey. We will be back soon with some new land based travel adventures!