43° 30′ 39.3696” N 7° 2′ 50.8308” E
July 23, 2016
“Ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling …”
This sounds very much, like the van that once a week runs up and down the suburban streets back home selling ice cream from a blue van.
These same vans are hardly driving on the Mediterranean?
We have anchored in the archipelago of Iles de Lérins; two-three miles southeast of Cannes. The archipelago has two main islands, and we have cast anchor in a strait between the two islands.
On the one hand we have Île Ste-Marguerite, whose fort in the 17th century held “The Man in the Iron Mask” as a prisoner (filmed with Leonardo DeCaprio in the lead role). On the other hand, we have Île St-Honorat, the monks island, which for centuries have been the home of monks. In the seventh century there were 4000 monks, today there are only a small number of Cistercian monks back.
And the sound … ding-a-ling?
It turns out it originates from an electronic horn on a dinghy that sails around selling ice cream to the hundreds of sailing- and motor-boats at anchor between the two islands. An ice boat – complete with freezer, billboards and price list for ice cream, sandwiches, coffee, beer and soft drinks.
A little later also a pizzaboat with a pizza-banner fluttering behind it comes our way. We hail the boat and ask, if we can get one with pepperoni.
“Naturellement.” We have everything assures the girl running the boat. “Look in this brochure and call us, when you have made up your minds about the pizza.”
When we call, we are told to tell the boat’s name, colour and nationality, and tell that we are “right in front of the wall“.
The pizza is baked in a large catamaran nearby, and the sales brochure entices with more than most domestic pizzerias: Snacks, drinks, desserts, oysters, champagne, wines.
As we gain perspective on life between the islands, it turns out that the commercial fleet includes two pizza boats, three ice boats and a single boat selling seafood. We expect more or less, that the next thing that pops up, will be an African immigrant selling straw hats, sunglasses and sarong’s for protection against the sun.
Laughter, happy crying, bathing rings, snorkels, everywhere children and older people are playing in the water around their boats. Beach-trip without a beach. Playing-ground without a ground.
It’s a different lifestyle, than the one we are used to. Not that we do not anchor in a beautiful bays, enjoying the seaside life and spend the night onboard. Of course we do. But usually we have, on our sailing trips in Denmark and abroad, always been en route from A to B to C to D. A large part of our enjoyment is to wake up in the morning and think, that today we are going to a new place, where we’ve never been before.
Many french boat-owners seems to be sailing rather from A to B, then back to A. And the next day again to B.
They live in Cannes or another city, have a boat in the harbour, which they use to sail out to a beautiful anchorage, where they spend the day splashing around in the turquoise water. When evening falls, they sail back home to their regular bed. The next day they return to the anchorage again.
We guess that 400 boats or more in the daytime was anchored in the narrow strait between the two islands. As the light broke up the next morning we counted, that exactly 53 boats were back having spent the night at the anchorage. The rest went back home.
Interesting lifestyle. Just different than ours.
After a brisk morning swim in four meters of water, we expect a dinghy to show up selling fresh bread. However that developed the commercial infrastructure in the strait is not yet.
We pull up the anchor, hoist the sails and set course for the baker in Antibes.
43° 25′ 8.8328” N 6° 51′ 29.1552” E
15th of July
Barely have we anchored Ronja at a vacant anchor buoy in a beautiful, beautiful bay, Rade d’Agay, midway between St. Tropez and Cannes, before a dinghy comes rushing.
“It will be 19 Euro, please,” says the young guy in the boat.
“19 Euro? For what,” asks skippers wife. “What facilities do we get for the money?”
Well, answers the young guy; there’s shops ashore, toilets, and also showers ashore.
But we do not have any inflatable boat. We are not going ashore. We can not, since we are out here in the middle of the bay by a buoy.
“No problem. I’ll come and get you for 3 € per time” the port captain’s enterprising apprentice answers.
It is a wonderful bay. It was used as anchorage already when the Romans ruled the Mediterranean. And in August 1944, the Americans landed 20,000 soldiers in Agay Bay as part of the offensive to liberate France from the Germans. Today the bay is characterized by the beach and sailor life.
Later we read that it is the authorities who have established 123 mooring buoys around the bay to protect a particular species seagrass in the bay (in English called the Posidonia Grass). The grass is vital to maintain balance and animal life in the sea, and by establishing firmly anchored buoys, the authorities prevents that the sailing boats destroys with the sea floor with their anchors.
Oh well. So 19 € maybe is not that wrong.
As we get ready to depart the next morning, we hail a port guard who passes in his dinghy, waving a black garbage bag and asks if waste disposal is part of the port charges of 19 €.
He points further into the bay, where we did indeed wonder about a shapeless thing, moored, almost an oversized teacup from a Disneyland-carousel. We sail there and discover: It is a floating garbage container.
Having deposited the last days of waste and with a clear conscience in relation to the important sea grass, we find that this is what you get for 19 € in the Agay Bay.
Facts: the 123 buoys are built in three different zones in the bay. Those who are more economical than us can anchors outside the zones with their own anchor. It costs nothing. But then there’s of cause the conscience thing.
43° 0′ 3.6612” N, 6° 13′ 18.0048” E
July 8, 2016
Imagine it before you: A soft reclining chair under a huge, shady pine. A bottle of cold water within reach, a crime novel in hand. The distance between the chair and the azure waters is just ten meters of perfect sandy beach, and ten steps to the side is a small restaurant with a daily menu for lunch.
The place is Porquerolles. The largest of the four islands in the archipelago of Iles d’Hyeres, a short distance east of Toulon. Porquerolles is a mixture of a Caribbean island paradise, the Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen and a military barracks. The island offers simple vacation at sky-high prices.
Porquerolles city was built 100 years ago by the French military. Complete with fort, church, officer housing, barracks and exercise tracks. Today, all the buildings taken over by civilians – bicycle rental shops, ice cream vendors, vegetable grocers, ship wrights and restaurants for every budget. Taken together it has created a relaxed, alternative charm, which by mid-July has the additional of a week-long jazz festival.
The island’s focal point is the many beaches. Some have stone beach, others have the finest sand beaches. Everywhere has a sandy surface under the water, which by the way is nicely separate from the many sailors who are anchoring off the beaches. Tourists at foot and by bicycle walking the many kilometers on the way to and from the beaches. It can be a hot journey, but the ride is greatly mitigated by the enchanting aroma of dry pine needles and fresh saltwater.
Plage de Notre Dame is reputed to be the most beautiful of the beaches. Plage de la Courtade is closer to the city. We, however, prefer Plage d’Argent the most – for it is the only one that has its own restaurant, decent toilets and hire of sunbeds.
Facts: Porquerolles is ridiculously expensive. Supply and demand are out of balance. An overnight stay in the harbor, which has few and poor facilities cost 50 € for Ronjas 11 meters, where we are used to paying € 35 per night. A lunch menu at the restaurant cost € 24 for a single right where we are used to get both two and three lunches for € 19 in other ports. The baker is expensive. The supermarket is expensive. Everything is expensive.
A word of advice: Save the port dues and use the island’s many bays for overnight. Bring your own supplies.
43 ° 12 ‘20.16 “N, 5 ° 30’ 55.01” E
July 5, 2016
Until this day we had no idea, what a calanque was. We know that now. And we are excited. A calanque is a bay or – in the most exciting form – a narrow and deep fjord that cuts into a rocky landscape, so the sides are almost vertical and can be up to 100 meters high.
When you’re inside such a calanque, it feels a bit like sailing in a cathedral. Devoutly we look up and on the steep rock faces, enjoying the scent of pine trees and listening to the cicadas anthem. We sailed into them all, right from the first appeared a few miles after Marseille.
After checking all of them, we chose to settle down in – we think – the very most charming: Calangue de Port-Miou. Some calanques are boring, not much more than a wide cove with a blunt beach at the bottom. But the closer we get to the town of Cassis, the calanques are deeper and more characterful. First Sormiou, then Morgiou and later Calanque d’En Vau and Calanque de Port Pin. They are in their own way exciting. But none can compare with Calanque de Port-Miou.
At first glance it seems, that Port-Miou is just larger than the others with more places for mooring boats – with an anchor bend at one end and a rope wrapped around a rocky outcrop or, at best, a ring at the other end. But it is only at first glance.
Pout-Miou has a kind of anteroom, where there is room for 20-30 boats, and where there is a daily cruises from major cities nearby, where guides tell tourists about the calanques. But the trick is to proceed. Even into the bottom of the front room, for here is revealed another room, much narrower, much longer, almost one kilometer long. On either side of this narrow space, there is built a “catwalk”, a slender wooden bridge, on both sides. And here hundreds of locals have their permanent mooring. As in a secret inner compartment.
When we call the harbour master on channel 09 and ask for a berth, he refers us to the anteroom. We have no desire to go there. “We can see that there are berths available along the wooden bridges,” we insist. An inflatable boat shows up and we get assigned a berth. A wonderful place.
It is a small paradise. The water in the narrow canyon’s cold and clean and perfect to cool the body under the relentless sun. It is quiet. Not a sound from the tour boats in the front room. Only the cicadas. Occasionally a few kayakers or a single French man working on his boat.
Fact: It is primitive. But Frenchmen has an understanding for the value of beauty, so the price for an overnight stay in Port-Miou is the same as in Marseille, just over 35 €. And this is without electricity, far to the water connection and a 10 minute walk to the bathroom on the other side of the divide. Shopping is a 25-minute walk from Port-Miou in the town of Cassis. However, there are both bus and mini train, for those who do not bother walking.