Brian and I LOVE sailing; absolutely! Why, then, did we take down the mast of our fabulous new yacht?? We want to re-position ourselves for the summer sailing season so that we can explore an area which we find most intriguing – Northern Europe. “But what about the Med!?!?” you exclaim in bewilderment from behind your computer screen. Our new sailing friends at Port Napoleon were asking us that very same question. We were tempted to travel along with Jorge (s/y Wollombi II) and Mike & Shelly (s/y Flying Fynn). We’d even learned about many promising Mediterranean anchorages from seasoned, Captain Richard. However, (for quite possibly the first and maybe only time) we were sticking to our plans. We were excited to begin our new adventure, and the first move…a one-hour motor from the Port Napoleon dock to the Port St. Louis du Rhone Municipal Marina. “Dock to dock, SERIOUSLY!?!” you are now shaking your head in disgust. Ok, here’s the good news. Brian and I are about to embark on a fascinating venture through the European Inland Waterways. To get ourselves north for the summer, we’ll cruise the extensive river and canal systems of France, Belgium, and Holland. This will be an entirely new boating experience for us; along the way we will have the opportunity to experience the splendor of Europe, it’s culture, gastronomy, and history.
Across the breakwater, fishermen hope for a plentiful catch. Sailing school is underway.Port St Louis du Rhone is the gateway to the European Inland Waterways; the primary southern route to either enter or depart France from the sea. Hundreds of pleasure vessels, commercial ships, and commercial barges pass through the port year-round traveling north from the Mediterranean or traveling south from various nations of Northern Europe.From Port Napoleon via bicycle, Brian and I had frequented the area you see pictured below on the port side shoreline. A ship’s chandlery, FluidElec, is located here (red/white striped building). FluidElec had nearly everything we needed while outfitting Detour. The chandlery is stocked with fishing gear, motorboat gear, sailing gear, navigational equipment, electronics, hardware, etc. and has a catalog from which orders are received promptly. The staff were extremely approachable and helpful, despite our language barriers. FluidElec does also remove masts and re-step masts with an on-site crane for a very affordable price. There was also a ship’s chandlery, Store Marine Service, located on site at Port Napoleon. While the manager there was equally helpful, spoke English well, and orders were promptly received the price difference between the two chandleries was tremendously different. Store Marine Service had higher prices but each store was a dealer for differing companies. Once we’d learned how to shop between the two, we were able to get what we needed in a moment’s notice (except before 9:00, during lunch 12:00-14:00, or after 17:00).Our views approaching the basin at Port St. Louis du Rhone. In the first photo below, the line of white buildings with blue doorways houses various marine services; a secondhand chandlery (low turnover of items, high pricing, fun to sort through), and Promo Sails (our sail maker, Patrick). In the background, what looks like a castle tower is the Port St. Louis Tourist Center.Facing downtown, the colorful waterfront buildings are comprised of apartments, shops, and restaurants. With the warming weather, the waterfront was becoming a popular location. We docked to the far left-hand side; backed into a slip. The Municipal Marina, Port de Plaisance, is located in the far right-hand corner. The marina has a Capitaineire Office and spectacular facilities; clean restrooms, showers, lounge, and laundry room.Once docked, Brian and I got straight to work so that we were move-ready because the following morning had an open weather window that we did not want to miss. Most importantly, Brian had to install a new VHF radio and VHF antenna. The antenna had been disconnected once the mast had been removed. So a new antenna was installed mid-ship attached to the mast support and wired directly down the mast base plate. A new VHF had been purchased because the current VHF, although top quality and functioning (Simrad-SD68), had been previously programmed with an MMSI. (Here the lingo gets a bit thick for some readers, the explanations of which will require another post to explain how these newfangled communication systems work.) In order to reprogram the VHF with our Ship’s Station MMSI the entire radio needed to be shipped to a dealer. That would leave us without a radio. We priced hand-held VHF’s, intending to purchase a hand-held that was DSC equipped so that it would work with our AIS. As it turns out, a hand-held DSC was either the same cost or more expensive than purchasing a basic, mountable VHF radio. So we purchased a Navicom RT-550. The Simrad was removed, for future shipment to a dealer, and the Navicom was installed in it’s place. Of course the shape of the new radio didn’t fit exactly into the pre-cut hole, but this is a temporary fix and that is a normal problem of temporary fixes. In the long-run, we gain a spare antenna and VHF. We had a very similar radio on Rode Trip, so getting familiarized with the new radio was a breeze. And since the Navicom was brand new and had never been programmed, we were able to program it with our Ship’s Station MMSI.
The Port de Plaisance at Port St. Louis is located so near the local grocery, Intermarche, that I was able to provision the boat by filling an entire shopping cart and walking the cart directly from the store to the dock to unload. Provisioning was additionally interesting because I now have a refrigerator and can plan several meals which include meat, cheese, and fresh produce without worrying that food will spoil. I did of course purchase a few old standbys. Just in case any bad days arose, I was stocked with flour, sugar, butter, and chocolate chips. Canned salmon, mayonnaise, and capers would whip up a nice salad for lunch in a pinch. Of course I bought saltine crackers, it would be silly to travel any waterway without those! And yes, cases of beer and many bottles of wine were strategically added to the boat to prevent listing and ensure daily cocktail hours. Finally, I was able to exchange two empty butane tanks (fuel for our stove) at the Intermarche for two full butane tanks. Try walking into an American grocery store with two propane tanks and see what kind of response that stirs. Around here it’s perfectly normal to cart around highly combustible tanks in public areas.
Finally, Brian and I made one more trip to FluidElec to purchase additional fenders for the boat. We’ve been warned that we need sufficient protection from lock walls. We had a lovely visit aboard from friends, Lynn & Lan, who shared with us a world of knowledge from their extensive cruising. They had rented bicycles for the day and found our boat re-positioned at the municipal dock. That evening we bicycled back to Port Napoleon to say farewell Jorge, Mike, and Shelly. We are all quite certain we will meet once again on the water.