A voice from above – welcome to Marseille
July 2, 2016
The name of our boat thunders down upon us.
A voice from heaven?
Or the voice of the harbour-master shouting through a loudspeaker?
We have just sailed in between the two impressive fortresses that mark the entrance to Marseille’s magnificent harbour, Vieux Port. We look anxiously skyward. The voice continues: “Ronja. Keep in the center of the basin. You will be picked up by an inflatable boat! “.
It has been a terrific sailing day. The first real sailing after Ronja for several summers have worked its way through the French rivers and canals using only engines and having no mast (the mast had gone ahead on a flatbed truck with a German haulier). Now Ronja is reunited with her mast, and with a dizzying amount of water under the keel. The Mistral gave us this morning a loving nudge in the back at Beaufort strength 6. Full sail from Port Saint Louis du Rhone. And now we are in Marseilles
… with the voice from on high. An inflatable boat comes rushing with a port captain and two mates aboard. “How long do you plan to be with us”, the port captain asks. When we say two or three days, he looks skeptical. His facial expression makes us understand, that it will be very difficult. An almost impossible mission.
“Follow us,” he says. And here comes the trouble.
Not one of the nearly 1000 boats in the Vieux Port is located with the bow toward the bridge, as we are used to in Denmark. All boats – and I really mean all – are facing aft end toward the dock. They back in! They are crazy, the French. This kind of stuff we do not do.
Intuitively, we are against. Our boat is relatively long keeled and maneuvering clearly worse backwards than forwards. And why should all absolutely be moored cockpit to cockpit in towards the docks, so everyone can follow each other’s dinner menu?
Some beautiful maneuver it is not either. Ronjas bathing platform wedges under the pontoon bridge, and one of the fixed lines, which we according to the same outlandish French tradition must pick up from the harbour bottom and attach the bow with, gets tangled. The port captain shouts, that we must back up, so his line can come free. His aides giggles. Ronjas skipper refuses to back further into the pontoon bridge in the interest of the pinched bathing platform.
It all resolves itself. It usually does.
But there really is something with the french and arrogance. They invent a foolish mooring technique and require all to use it – as if it were a government decree – and so they allow themselves to frown openly about the unfortunate foreigners who can not figure out how to dock at its port.
But what a place. What a view. What a city.
Everyone should try to be in the middle of Marseilles central harbour and enjoy the special light, the beautiful buildings, the amusement wheel, the beautiful church on the mountain, the relaxed atmosphere of cafes and restaurants that surround the entire harbour while enjoying the intense energy, that is being created through daily fish markets, other markets as well as an endless entry and exit from fishermen, excursion boats and yachts.
Marseille is an underrated city. It still has a reputation of mafia, drugs and other crimes over it. But the city has improved itself. There are renovated houses and new ones. It has created architectural masterpieces in the form of new museums and refurbished shopping centers in old warehouses. Norman Forster has created the covering to the metro station at the harbour. Fascinating.
The crime rate here may still be high, but then it is done in suits, and live a more discreet life than the one we know from Gene “Popeye” Hackmann’s troubles in the films “French Connection I and II”.
Marseille is a very exciting city. Large, magnificent, vibrant, charming and French – with a significant contribution of immigrants from North African countries. You meet very few tourists from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia. Marseille is a French city. So far prefered by the french themselves.
There is nothing but good to say about Marseille. … well, that would be the harbour master’s morbid insistence, that all boats must turn the same way at all the pontoons in the port. Either it’s insane aesthetics, or it is a fascist desire that we all must march equally and concurrently.
Fact: It cost € 37 per night to stay in the Vieux Port. Electricity and water just off the boat. Unique location but some noise at night. Toilets and bath almost inaccessible – they were on the other side of the harbour, a stroll of one and a half kilometer. Port captain said that we could just call, he would pick us up in his dinghy, when we had to use the bath. But to be honest: We came from the beginning a little crooked in to that harbour master.