15 September, 2010

Toulon, French Navy and the Mistral

Toulons all round anchorage has long been the harbour of choice to shelter from the winter storms or as in our case the strong Mistral wind. We entred after a night at the open anchorage on the Porquerolles and looked at an anchorage recommended by a fellow cruiser but it turned out to be too shallow for us so we headed off to the Darse Vielle marina to find a safe spot. As we entred the port we were greeted by nine warships on the horizon doing naval exercises plus inumerable others tied up at the naval dockyard of Toulon. It has been a harbour for centuries but the navies refuge since 1610. In 1793 the young Napoleon Bonapart, an artilary officer who forced the British to withdraw from their fort on the hill. After this success he was made brigadier general which started his military career. The harbour has been expanded since those times and now is the centre of the French Mediterranean fleet. We saw them loading white UN amared personel carriers and light tanks onto a large transport ship just outside the marina entrance.

The Old port marina is rather run down but in the best part of town so we checked in and tied uo stern too next to a British Moody 38. It turned out they and a similar vessel in the marina had just traversed the French canals this last summer and had their masts stepped at Port Napolion where Malua is to spend the winter.

I was woken on the first night as a thunder storm came over us and heavy rain started to fall. Fortunatly we had closed all the hatches and portlights before it started. I was standing in the companionway listeming to the thunder when I heard a freight train approach. It was only seconds away then Malua, and all the other boats around us lurched to starbord the jumped to port. Our rail was almost under the water. Malua was throun backwards and hit the dock with a thud. The wind then changed direction and came from the north west with 35 knots strength. It was awsome. People say whenyou hear the train the wind is over 50 knots. Well the way it tossed Malua about I would say it was well over that measure. Fortunatly Malua was not badly damaged so we just took in a few more inchs of line and wated for the rain to stop which it did soon afterwards however the wind continued for two days at well over 25 knots. Good decision to come into the marina.

While the wind was still blowing we visited the naval museum, the markets and rode the buses back and forth around the city. Not much to see but a great feel to the place especially the fountains and the markets. We stocked up on food at the Carrefour for the last stretch of our journey before hauling out for the winter.

01 September, 2010

Big Towns, Big Names and Big Numbers

Summer in the French Riviera has just big towns, Monte Carlo, Nice, Antibes, Canne, Frejus, St Tropez (the last four are in fact in the Cote D'Azur) associated with the big names of the film stars and celebrities. We saw the towns but not the big names. The town each have a certain charm about them and each have some unique feature which makes it worthwhile to visit them but when all is said and done they look very similar and the retail section repeats itself time after time. We tend to stay out of the marinas with Malua and anchor in a bay nearby and take the RIB into the marina or to a beach on a bus route to the centre. The museum of Henri Matisse in Nice was very good indeed because it showed his work during his stay in this particular villa Cimiez with is muse. The Antibes museum of Pablo Picasso also covered the period of his live while he lived in the area also with a muse Francoise Gilot. I liked the painting of The Goat and the large collection of plates with faces painted on them.

Iain visited Canne to see the film festival site and the hand prints but we justed stayed away and took a long walk on the Ille Saint Marguerite. It is a beautiful island which has been retained as a nature park. The water around the island are shallow and afford good anchorages so the Sunday night we arrived it was filled to capacity however as they left to return to their home marinas we moved closer in shore and a better location. The next day we walked the perimeter of the island and stopped off at the Fort Royal. It housed "the man in the iron mask" I must say its bare courtyards and cold cells must have made it a very unpleasant place. Today it has a maritime museum which has a relics of a Roman galleon very well preserved and presented. It well worth a visit.

Tomorrow we visit Port de Fejus but like the other famous names John is not in town to meet us so we will have to cruise down to St Tropez to see if we can catch the last of the big names before everything shuts at the end of summer for September is upon us and the chilly winds of the north have started to blow and the last bus leaves at 6:30 pm. Winter has arrived.