Port St Louis du Rhone is the land where the wind rules! When a mistral is blowing, everyone hunkers down and holds fast to not be blown away! When we’d returned to Port Napoleon, a mistral was blowing. It remained for nearly two weeks and the anemometer aboard Detour read between 35-40 knots while the boat shuttered in her cradle on the hard. A mistral is a violent, cold, north-northwest wind that blows from southern France into the northern Mediterranean. The wind accelerates as it passes through the valley of the Rhone River (our exact location). Mistrals’ sustained wind speeds range from 25mph to 62mph; and fortunately, mistrals are forecast so you can plan your cruising around these awful gusty days. In our case, at the time, we needed to plan the boat’s launch after the mistral had ended. Then, kept our fingers crossed and made certain not to whistle so the weather would remain calm enabling us to rig our sails. (Superstitious sailors believe whistling brings forth wind. I had tested this belief many a time aboard Rode Trip during periods of light wind by whistling entire songs, loudly, to encourage a breeze and get us moving. I have also deemed myself a superstitious sailor).
The morning following the boat’s launch there was no hint of a breeze. Patrick, our sail maker, met us at the dock to deliver a new main sail. Brian had collaborated with Patrick since August when we’d purchased the boat. The previous main was not repairable; it had been badly sun damaged having been left uncovered for an indeterminable amount of time. Patrick fitted the boat for a new main, and then outfitted the new main with hardware which had been removed from the previous sail. Patrick inspected several of our other sails to ensure that each would be in working order. And so, we were very fortunate to have Patrick aboard the morning we rigged the new main sail. He had plenty of helping hands, and we had step-by-step instruction for the main’s installation. The main sail looked glorious; both Patrick and Brian were pleased with the fit. Brian and I rigged the genoa afterward. We were anxious to cast off the dock for a test sail. But, in the land of mistral it is all or nothing. That day was nothing. So we carried on with minor projects throughout the afternoon.
Six weeks we’d spent at Port Napoleon on the hard during which time we’d befriended not one single person at the boat yard. Now, it seemed the moment the hull touched the water people began coming out of the woodwork! It was our first day at dock G and suddenly we were surrounded by friendly, English speaking people! That afternoon we began to get acquainted with our dock neighbors. We received a helping hand from Jorge; he handled dock lines to assist us to back Detour into the slip. We learned from Sean, who was still feeling a bit woozy on a Friday morning, that Happy Hour occurs at the Restaurant Josephine each Thursday and Saturday. Happy Hour, honestly we thought he was joking because this was certainly not an advertised event. It was as if life had returned to normal.
The next day, we’d been invited by Jorge to accompany him for a sail along with more new friends, Mike and Shelly. We thanked Jorge and said, “Hey, we’ve got a boat! See you out on the water!” It was test sail day. There was no mistral. There was no wind. That was not a deterrent for us! We cast off the dock lines and navigated out the very narrow channel toward the Mediterranean Sea.
We motored out the channel and into the Golfe de Fos all the while recording our boat’s speed at various RPM’s. Actually great conditions for testing the engine. We raised the main; quickly learned that on larger boats winches are a girl’s best friend. Then, waited and took in the marvelous, industrial views.
The wind at the start of our day was 0-5 knots. With both the main and genoa raised we actually moved forward at approximately 1.5 knots speed. It was not exactly an exhilarating sail, yet it was incredible that a boat could move forward at all with so little wind. What a breath of fresh air from Rode Trip, our solid little tank that needed at least 10 knots of breeze to keep the main sail from flapping. We were instantly impressed. We were also infatuated with the anemometer, wondering how many times we’d underestimated wind speed in our Beaufort Scale guesstimates. And so we rounded the corner of the Plage Napoleon peninsula, carefully minding the navigational buoys and distinctly wrecked sailboat.
The wind built a bit as we continued along the coastline that is Plage Napoleon. At 5-7 knots of wind we were moving along smoothly at 3-4 knots speed. Brian familiarized himself with the autopilot and began thinking in terms of compass courses to plan his next moves. I, meanwhile, was still adjusting to a wheel vs tiller actually steering in the direction I wanted to go. As the day progressed, the wind managed 7-12 knots and we noted 6 knots on our speedometer. Fantastic! We cranked up the tunes on the radio, ate lunch in the cockpit, debated flying the spinnaker just for kicks, and then…
We studied the chart of the Mediterranean Sea to determine just where we could land ourselves within 48-hours. The forecast was light weather, but Detour could actually make progress in light weather. There was a question of food, how many days could we really travel before rationing individual elbow noodles. As for the marina fees, we figured they would take a credit card over the telephone. Checking all the necessities off the list, we continued onward. Onward, for roughly another 45-minutes before turning back toward Port Napoleon. It had been an absolutely beautiful day! Although we wanted it to continue Detour is not yet up to our passage making standards (although we could have probably gotten her ready during the sail by running new jack-lines). Well, there were also minor details such as the main sail hadn’t actually been rigged through the boom as it should be, the reefing lines weren’t run, and we are still in the market for a dinghy so even if we anchored with a breathtaking view we couldn’t actually get to land without swimming. Oh yes, also our two bicycles locked to the rack at Port Napoleon; which we never even acknowledged until the following morning when Jorge asked us where we kept our bicycles while at the dock as he had just acquired one for himself. Oy! Just a bit of wind in our sails and we’d nearly left all of our cares behind!
Fortunately the cares didn’t linger for too long after docking because we had returned just in time for the mythical Happy Hour!