To Nice - to be true?

Mon 23 Jun 2014 17:21
Rob & I had discussed the look of the moon whilst we dined in La Napoule. It
had risen full and blood red only softening to the colour of mild Cheddar
cheese when it was high in the night sky but by then it also had a huge
luminescent halo. We both suspected that this was the indicator of a weather
event and were determined to watch forecasts and grib files even more

None the less with La Napoule behind us we had a great sail, tacking beyond
Ile St- Maguerite (Where the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned
in Fort Royal between 1687 and 1698) and Ile Saint Honorat to cross the
Golfe Juan. As we approached the gulf the sky was rapidly darkening, so we
ceased our playful tacking engaged the engine and motor sailed a straight
course towards Point de L’Liette in the hope of at least rounding the point
and heading up towards Antibes before the gathering storm vent its wroth. We
almost made it! The wind not that strong 35 knots or so but the thunder and
lightning was very impressive and getting closer all the time. As we rounded
the Point the almost night time dark sky providing a great canvas for the
lightening, on with our navigation lights just before the torrential rain
reached us, or rather me. For I was on the helm clothed in Musto’s finest
whilst the crew watched on with interest from their sheltered positions
beneath the spray hood wondering if there would come a point when the
skipper would dissolve completely in this tropical torrent. Approaching the
entrance to Antibes Vauban Marina the wind was still strong, the thunder and
lightning overhead and the rain poured on. We lay hove to with just a few
revs on the engine to hold our position hoping for at least some easing
before we entered this huge and unknown (to us) marina. The lightening
illuminating several ships at anchor outside the marina amongst them Grande
Bleu (one of Roman Abramovich’s boats) last seen by us in Britannia Bay
Mustique. She still carried her deck toys – a 72 foot sailing boat, 68 foot
motor yacht, and a submarine!

The wind eased a little the thunder and rain did not. Deciding to head in to
our allotted berth I called the Capitainerie on VHF channel 9 for berthing
instructions again and again but to no avail We resorted to mobile telephone
and eventually receiving a response that instructed us to go to berth 425 of
the 1,500 berths in this labyrinthine marina. My crew now as soaked as me as
they prepared mooring lines and fenders peering about all the time seeking
the elusive 425. A couple more phone calls and at last we spied (through the
still torrential rain) an almost completely faded 425 inscribed on the
concrete between to big motor vessels. No one shore side to take our lines
but the crew were up to it and we berthed neatly. The usual boat tidying,
power, water and internet connections followed. As my water wrinkled,
bleached white hands connected the enormous five pin power plug the rain
stopped. A quick trip to check in at the Capitainerie and then we were off
into Antibes old town, its jumbled four and five storey buildings, narrow
streets and cliff hung waterfront a delight. As were the excellent pizzas we
scoffed at a small Italian restaurant on our way back to our berth but not
before Lynn and Liliane had found the lively, chaotic covered market, full
this evening with dozens of arts and craft stalls and bordered on both sides
by teeming bars, restaurants and cafes that wherever possible spilled their
seating out between the market stalls.
Next morning (Sunday 15th June) the girls were itching to get back to the
old town and the market, which was today a full blown, typically French food
market, with clothes, shoes, bags and yet more arts and crafts. The whole
place bustling and jostling as les Francais made there noisy purchase of
food stuffs of infinite variety both hot and cold. Rob and I purchased
newspapers found ourselves une petite café ordered coffees and settled in to
some serious reading whilst our femmes disappearing into the noisy throng
revelled in the markets noisy diversity. They joined us a couple of hours or
so later excitedly displaying their purchases and assailing us with their
marketing stories. A snack lunch aboard Pamarzi and then back to exploring
this ancient town, wandering deeper into the maze I chanced upon La Marmite
a bijou family run restaurant that just looked ‘right’. We dined there that
evening, what a find! Soupe des poisson, warm fresh baked bread, garlicky
moules, chicken livers in champignon sauce and richly dark chocolate mousse
and a pitchet or two of the vin de la maison – for 20 Euros a head! We
rolled back to Pamarzi feeling like gluttons.
Rob sorted out a hire car on Monday and we drove to Saint Paul de Vence a
stunningly beautiful mountain top village. Narrow, steep stone patterned
streets, ancient dwellings of cream coloured old rock bound together with
lime and draped with bright purple bougainvillea. The inhabitants obviously
keen gardeners for they filled there window boxes, pots and planters with
all manner of multi hewed flora so that the rocks that made up their homes
appeared to be weeping colour. The discreet beamed shops seemed to be
dedicated to art to suit almost any taste. We being particularly partial to
bronze sculpture fell in love with a life size five year old girl sitting
head bowed, lips pouting on a long rustic bench. Her attitude apparently a
response to having been told that she must put her shoes on. It was
sensational one of those sculptures that despite the cold metal seemed
alive, living emotion preserved for all time. And only 67,000 Euros! She had
been sold so we were saved from having to mortgage the yacht.

Stopping off at Carrefour on the way back to Pamarzi to provision, we
purchased a dozen langoustine the size of large kittens for our evening
repast. Delicious they were to, cooked by Rob in virgin olive oil, with lots
of garlic and fresh parsley.
Tuesday another day exploring inland, this time first to Grasse, once the
centre of the perfume industry and still a significant part of local
commercial activity. An interesting museum that was once a major processing
plant where they appeared never to have thrown a machine or silo away for
the last three hundred years. The streets of the ancient centre narrow
ribbons midst tottering buildings many five stories high, perhaps unchanged
in many respects over the last three centuries. Although now this aged
centre on a high hilltop is surrounded by a much less attractive commercial

A pleasant drive to Valbonne followed, recommended by daughter in law Gemma,
the route punctuated by rather nice properties set for the most part in
large and pleasing gardens. Valbonne itself yet another lovely well-kept
village of stone, its central square home to some very good restaurants and
it was to one of these that we repaired to for lunch. On, dans l’apres midi
to Biot a village long known for its production of handmade (blown)
glassware, where we were fascinated by the craftsmen blowing and shaping the
molten silica to fashion delicate and sometimes colourful vessels and

One year ago today (18th June) we sailed from Plymouth, the start of our
odyssey and a new way of life that bought with it excitement and adventure,
new fears and challenges in equal measure. Testing for both of us but
particularly for Lynn who had to (and continues to) overcome her anxieties
and trepidation as we roam the globe.

Rob kindly kept the hire car and drove me around the South of France in
search of a replacement tender, all to no avail. Lots of emails and calls to
Oyster and Pantaenius (our insurers) and to Zodiac the makers of our tender.
Me finally having to accept that we will not obtain a replacement until the
end of July/beginning of August and that by ordering it through Oyster
Marine we will get a boat with a specification that will be identical to
that which was stolen. And in the mean time I will have to purchase another
boat. So I intend to purchase a fully inflatable dinghy and small motor,
meaning that our boat will have a tender and our tender will have a dinghy –
how cool is that!

In the evening we drove to Juan Les Pins and dined at Le Colombier on the
beach at the water’s edge. Superb confit d’agneau and outstanding bottle of
Brouilly, terrific service from a charming waiter whilst we watched the sun
set, Grand Bleu riding at anchor (for she had moved around the headland)
close to Mr Abramovich's latest 530 foot motor yacht (ship!) Pelorus. Taking
a circuitous route back we visited the stunning Hotel du Cap – Eden Roc.
Google it, you’ll see what I mean.

The following morning we left our berth in Antibes and enjoyed a brisk sail
to Rade de Ville Franche, a pleasant well wooded bay in the lee of Cap
Ferrat, studded with particularly charming properties where we spent a
relaxed afternoon swimming and enjoying the scene. This bay however is open
to the south and some heavier weather further out brought a swell into it
that prevented an undisturbed sleep and it was four slightly bleary eyed
sailors who upped anchor the following morning and headed for Monaco.

We had a decent broad reach until we closed on Monte Carlo, when the wind
died and the sea became an unpleasant chop due in part to the comings and
goings of many power boats in and out of that harbour. Clouds hung heavily
over the mountains above Monaco and to be frank the place was a bit of a
disappointment (at least from the sea). It looked pretty dreary and so
crammed with buildings there seemed little room for people but they must
have been there for there was the constant drone of helicopters ferrying the
wealthy, tax avoiding inhabitants to and from Nice airport. It was fun to
see the famous landmarks and with this air of curiosity we entered the Monte
Carlo Marina which as you might expect was packed with mega yachts. There
was a crowding of small sail boats on the far pontoons as Rolex were hosting
a regatta.

Under whelmed we turned around to leave the marina when a MAYDAY was
broadcast on VHF. “Urgent request for an ambulance, position Monte Carlo
Marina”. Given that a MAYDAY is only broadcast when there is an imminent
threat to life it was obviously pretty serious but there was nothing we
could do so we motored out and headed for Nice where I had managed to secure
a berth for fifteen days. We anchored for a few hours in
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat a picturesque bay amidst verdant rolling hills
punctuated with yet more exquisite properties. A swim and a late spot of
lunch aboard and it was time to weigh anchor for the short sail to Nice,
where we arrived around 18.30 passing in the outer harbour on our way in
Rainbow Warrior, the Green Peace ship. Our berth in the old port is in the
heart of the cities ancient port centre and here we lie on Quai Papacino
surrounded by 18th century buildings in muted Mediterranean colours,
decorated stonework surrounding their shuttered windows and as the heat of
the day fades so the shutters open to allow the evening breeze to cool their
beam laden interiors.

The familiar docking routines accomplished decks washed down and
Capitainerie visited we go ashore in search of a place to dine for it is Rob
and Liliane’s last evening with us. Lynn spots Le Marlin and it is there
that we eat. Choosing mussels served a l’escargot, soupe de poisson (again!)
and crème brulee, delicious, reasonable and politely served.

Rob and Liliane fly back to Brussels today, we shall miss them. A late
breakfast aboard of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon and we bid them a fond
farewell looking forward to them joining us again later in the year. Once
their taxi has left the quay we set to work, just three days to wash and
polish the boat, attend to laundry and all the other domestic matters and
prepare the boat for a two week layover. This involves stowing loose deck
gear, fitting covers to sails, winches and pedestals, doubling up on mooring
lines and much more.

Working methodically through our lists by Monday afternoon we are almost
done and I have time to type up this blog. We did slip out on Saturday
evening for another meal at Le Marlin, the food every bit as good as on our
first visit but with the added bonus of a superb jazz guitarist and his
equally excellent vocalist who entertained us all evening with jazz classics
and chanson Francais. Excellent food, wonderful music, a pleasant French
couple at an adjacent table with whom we shared these al fresco pleasures as
the sun sank behind the ancient decorated facades of the waterfront and as
darkness fell the whole historical port elegantly, gently, softly lit from a
multiplicity of hidden flood lights creating a magical scene, for this city
is the “Queen” of the Mediterranean.