Monday, September 10, 2012

The 7 hour lunch and other stories

Dear Family and Friends

We left Avignon in glorious sunshine, held our breath as we made our way down the last of the Rhone near Arles and released it once we hit the Petite Rhone and the Canal du Rhone à Sete. One last hurdle – there is a huge lock at St Gilles and both of our navigation references made note of it. So we were slightly nervous but really – after the ‘Day from Hell’ – how bad could it be? So we entered it with trepidation wondering would our ropes be long enough, how fast would the water be released, worry, worry, worry. So once again we moored up, secured Calypso to the lock wall and signalled we were ready. The lock gates closed, the water level dropped – a metre!!!!!! – and we sailed out. Looking slightly confused we asked ourselves – “What the heck was all the fuss about????”
     St Gilles lock – NOT scary!
                                               Back to very narrow canals
The next week was very interesting. Aigues Mortes - ‘Place of Dead Waters’ -  is an impressive walled town, very near the Mediterranean (Med for short), with typical narrow streets and lots of cafes, bars, restaurants and shops. We are now in Carmargue country: shallow lagoons – étangs – lie just inland from most of the coast separated from the sea by narrow sandbars and are semi-salt. This is the land of black bulls, white horses and pink flamingoes. The étangs are also the breeding grounds for shellfish – miles and miles of oyster beds especially. Too bad I hate seafood!
     Aigues Mortes
                                                Carmargue white horses
                                                                                         Carmargue black bulls
We left AM and were heading to Carnon to meet up with British friends Keith and Maureen. They had said there was good mooring and the map showed a lovely harbour just off the Midi. We made good time and turned off into the side canal. Ooooh, this looks very shallow and I don’t see any boats our size – oops, it can’t be here. Back up Captain! No, it’s OK – I’ll just go up to the bridge and turn around and we can go out bow first – lot easier. Which we did and which then became a struggle to counter the current that we hadn’t seen and we were now lodged against a small dock with metal sides (Grrrr). Calypso now boasted a lovely new long scratch on the port side – actually it matches the one on the starboard – no biggy! However, no matter how hard we tried the current was too strong for the bow thruster and motor to overcome so Wonderwoman came to the rescue. Quickly hopping off the boat onto the dock, I gave it a mighty push to overcome the current and then stretched my short little stubby legs as far as they would go and hopped back on as Captain gave the engine a burst strong enough to get us to turn away from the dock. Ho hum -    all in a day’s work!

We made our way to Frontignan in time for the annual muscat festival – what a hoot. You bought a wine glass for 2 euros which allowed you to taste as many of the wines from the producers’ tables as your little head and stomach would allow. Did you know that on a hot summer day, wine goes to your head faster than say – a cold winter’s day in Edmonton?? Good thing we weren’t leaving the next morning.

      Frontignan – traditional fishing boat sail past
                                                 Muscat traditional parade

                                                                                       And jousting

OK– one more hurdle to go and we are seriously home free. The Étang du Thau is a very large, massive pond and the winds can get up to strong gale force readings. So the books and every boater you meet say, “Wait for a nice day with no whitecaps.” Do I look stupid? Of course I’m not going out there with anything approaching more than a gentle breeze. John and Jan, another British couple who live in France permanently, have done this about 35 times so we’ll just follow them. Which we did but we left them just before the end of the étang to stop in Marseillan. What a gorgeous little harbour – right across from us on the other side of the quai is the Nouilly Prat distillery which we toured and then bought a bottle of Amber NP which isn’t sold anywhere except Marseillan.
It was also a great stop as we got talking to an English lady who has a house there and she directed us to a good seafood restaurant. The Captain l-o-v-e-s seafood and I’m sure there’s something on the menu I can eat. So we went and I ordered the local fish special for the night and Phil ordered moules gratinée – mussels topped with cheese. The cheese smelled awesome so I mustered up enough courage to ask to try one – the little one in the corner, please! OMG – it was fabulous! So we went back the next night and I had seafood all on my own – in for a penny, in for a pound! Except the squid – no way in H am I ever trying that!!!!

Since you know me so well, you must suspect there’s more to the story. Yep! We checked the weather before leaving Marseillan and were told – no prob! The idiot must have been on drugs! As you can guess the water was choppy, we were tossed around like a cork and I was not – repeat – NOT calm. The Captain sent me below – no better down there as now I can’t stare Death in the face. Luckily it was only a short distance. After what seemed like hours but was only probably 45 minutes, we reached our destination – TaDa – the Canal du Midi!!!!

     Etang du Thau’s oyster beds
Marseillan harbour
      Noilly Prat distillery casks
We headed for Vias – a canalside mooring in the country but not far from either Vias itself and Vias plage – the beach on the Med. Jan and John were still there so we met up and we asked them to walk down to the plage and join us for lunch. Vias plage has a very gaudy carnival atmosphere - eating places, tourist shops and thousands of holiday makers in string bikinis! I felt I should be wearing a burka so not to compete! J We ate - where else but a brasserie selling moules et frites – it’s really like one word as they go together in France like fish and chips in Britain. We had a wonderful visit with them – talked and talked and drank and drank. Lunch turned wine tasting, into a crepe for a snack, more wine and then 7 hours later (!!!) we all staggered home.
      Vias plage
Jan and John and Phil
Well, I’ll leave the rest for a later blog – I can feel your impatience – “Is she never going to finish this story?” Actually not – there’s lots more to come including our side trip to Perpignan and Collioure! Stay tuned!
Much love to all
Captain Seafood and his Mussel Eating Matelot


  1. Again an insight to what France is like in all it's beauty, charm and history.
    I know it is you telling the story. Your way of saying things, expressions etc. make it so much fun. Your sense of humour is wonderful.
    Look forward as always to the next blog.
    Gosh what are we going to do during the winter months when you're back in Canada! You'll have to come up with something to keep us entertained during the cold winter.
    Take care Sis
    Luvs ya
    Barb oxoxox - Hi to the Captain..... good job!
    Oh yes..... mussels are one of my favourite seafoods.
    I'm such a seafood lover!

  2. Just a little hi from Edmonton We are sure looking forward to have you here with us Phil.