Log #35a South of France to Toulon

June 4, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 35 France, The Logs

Beziers, Canal du Midi, France

June 4, 2005

Hi Folks,

We are in the Canal du Midi now with Tony and Annie Cook, friends of ours from Toronto. The mast is suspended above deck by two goal post cradles, allowing us to go back and forth without much difficulty. This log starts Log series #35 going through the Canal du Midi in France on our way to the Atlantic.

I have added a recipe for a delicious dish of mussels called Mouclade. The food here is lovely and the wines excellent. I may try to include some of our favourite recipes in my logs periodically. We eat well on board and have purchased several cookbooks from the various countries visited to enjoy the local foods.

This log is relatively short as the introductory letter will be a bit longer, since I wish to respond to a few questions friends have E-mailed us about my logs and comment on some recent political developments here in France.

I am a Euro skeptic who believes a European Common Market is a good thing, but that the European Union has gone too far too fast in trying to create a single country out of 25 disparate states. I am happy that the UK has stayed outside the Euro zone. However greater harmony, market co-operation, integration of certain services and of defense policy, are a good thing for long term peace and harmony in this subcontinent after the destructive wars of WW I and II, the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union. I avoided buying an EU flag until recently. I have seen some boats displaying it in addition to their national flags, and others with an EU flag containing their country’s flag in a minor position in the upper left hand corner. However, I relented two weeks ago and bought an EU flag to display on the forward end of the mast protruding beyond the bow of Veleda now that we are in the canals of France. On the after goal-post cradle on the starboard side we have the UK Red Ensign, as that is the flag under which we have entered the EU (Veleda has dual citizenship). On our starboard spreader I have the French courtesy flag, and on the port spreader a Canadian flag to indicate Canadians are aboard. However, since the French rejected the proposed EU constitution in their referendum on May 29th (a decision with which I agree)and the Dutch have followed suit, the EU flag has attracted attention and is not well received here in southern France. When we went into the French Canal Authority at Agde to get our canal permit, there was light-hearted banter about our flying the EU flag, and why the constitution was rejected. I got the message that these people (in Languedoc) are hostile to the bureaucratic constitution and other global market concerns of the EU that they think are being forced on them by an unrepresentative system. So I replaced the EU flag on the forward end of our mast with the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron flag.

I was asked about our friends who visited us, both of whom have some fresh water sailing experience, but had not done an overnight passage. That was one of the reasons they joined us in Sardinia to do the longer passage to the south of France. They enjoyed it and shared night watches, Jacques with me and Andree with Judy. Even though Veleda is only 10 metres (32 feet) long, it can accommodate up to 5 people, two in the very comfortable forward vee berth where Judy and I sleep, two in a “cozy” small double berth which can be set up by dropping a table panel and pulling out a sliding board from under the port side settee in the main cabin. The starboard side settee can sleep another (hopefully short) crew member. Annie and Tony, our present guests, are using a sardine-like position with their heads at opposite ends to give more shoulder room.

Another question was about tailed moorings. What are they? In the Med the most common form of mooring is Med Mooring where the boat does not go alongside a dock or pontoon. Instead it goes in bows or stern to the jetty, with two lines splayed out, one each side to hold the bow or stern close enough to the jetty to be able to climb ashore. Some boats have special planks called passerelles to help getting ashore; others like us just climb over our bow anchors to get off and on. {The term passerelle also means bridge, and in Quebec the Escadrilles Canadiennes du Plaisance (Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons) refer to their executive committee as the passerelle, their bridge.}

We always go bows to on the jetty as we tow Sprite astern of us on the Dinghy-Tow. Mooring in this fashion requires a stern line to hold the stern out at a 90 degree angle to the jetty. In some places we have to use our stern anchor, releasing it as we approach the jetty so that it is well set and will hold our stern off ok. Then we secure the bow lines to the jetty. Some marinas have concrete mooring blocks sunk 20 to 30 metres off the jetty to which are attached strong mooring lines or chains. These mooring lines have to be picked up and attached to our stern cleats to hold our stern off. To help grab these mooring lines there are lighter lines, long enough to stretch to the dock, and tailed (attached) to the heavier mooring line, thus the term “tailed moorings”. The procedure is to nose up to the jetty, secure the two bow lines, then grab the tailed mooring line from the dock with a boat hook, hand over hand take it to the stern, and haul it in until the heavier mooring line can be secured to a stern cleat. Often this tailed mooring line has been sitting in the sludge and mud of the bottom between uses for years, and may be encrusted with slime, mussels, and barnacles. I use a pair of heavy garden gloves to handle this mess, but often get mud splashed on our stern.

Other systems have mooring buoys to which I can attach my own stern line, or which have a floating light line attached from the buoy to the heavier mooring line to pick up. Another system of bows to mooring is to enter between two poles (also known as “dolphins”) to which a stern line on each side is secured, and adjusted to allow the bow to sit just off the dock, secured by the two bow lines. All of these systems, tailed moorings, mooring buoys and dolphins are preferable to the cumbersome evolution of having to use our own stern anchor.

Another question asked of us was in regards to the contact we had with the French navy when we were told to alter our course away from a military exercise area. The communication was in English. We heard on VHF channel 16 a call to “vessel at such and such latitude, such and such longitude, course such and such, speed four point five knots, this is the French navy.” We checked that the lat and long was our position, and responded with, “French navy, this is the sailing vessel Veleda IV.” We were then asked to switch to channel 10 when we were told to alter our heading 90 degrees to starboard and continue 9 miles to a specified lat and long position before heading towards shore. Judy tried to indicate we were on a spinnaker run and it would take some time to douse the sail, to which they replied “Alter NOW”. I told Judy just to say we were altering, and I ignored their NOW order, as I was not going to risk damaging the sail or the safety of the crew and boat in an unnecessary emergency turn. Then we continued on for a couple of minutes while we took down the spinnaker properly and motored ninety degrees into the wind the rest of the 12 or so miles to our anchorage. We did not see the specific guard ship which hailed us, but we did see several supply ships, and frigates in the distance.

I appreciate questions or comments about my logs as then I at least know they are being read. If you have questions about either my logs or about our cruising life, please don’t hesitate to ask.

I hope you enjoy this log, and mussels Mouclade.

All the best,



Log #35a South of France to Toulon

St. Gilles, Beaucaire Branch Canal

Canal du Rhone a Sete, France

May 29, 2005

After a quiet night at anchor in Baie de Briande (43˚ 10.29’N, 006˚ 38.33’E), south of St. Tropez on the Cote d’Azur in southern France, at the end of our 36 hour passage from Sardinia, we left next morning in brisk force 5 east winds. For a change, the winds were in the right direction, as we were heading WSW, and we actually sailed for four hours at hull speed, under full main only while the wind worked up to a strong force 7 (30 knots). It was a good experience for our guests who were impressed with the stability of Veleda under these circumstances, and who enjoyed taking pictures of the overtaking and cresting two metre waves. We did the 21.2 nautical miles to anchor in Baie d’Alicastre on Ile de Porquerolles (43˚ 00.83’N, 006˚ 14.05’E) in less than four hours.

We saw several French Navy ships on the horizon, and overheard them contacting luckless sailors, telling them to go several miles out of their way to clear the military exercise area, as we had been told yesterday. We were inside the outer islands east of Toulon, Isles d’ Hyeres, and thus clear to shoreward of the exercise area. As we approached Cap des Medescorner on the NE of Ile de Porquerolles, the winds were howling around the cape, and gusting over the hills of the point; however the waters of Baie d’ Alicastre were calm with no wave action. This beautiful bay ringed with sandy beaches had a fort on the west side and the ruins of a guard house on the east side, and several sailboats placidly at anchor in the clear emerald waters sheltered by the lee of the headland. Idyllic!

In the afternoon we took Sprite a couple of miles around Plage de la Courtade, another idyllic anchorage, into Port Porquerolles. We were going downwind but were concerned about the return voyage heading into force 5 and 6 winds. The marina at Port Porquerolles is a good full service one, with several lines of buoys in addition to tailed moorings on their pontoons. We left Sprite at the inner end of one of the pontoons and explored the town, eyeballing the restaurants we might go to next night, and the fort we would explore next day. However when we tried to return to Veleda in Sprite, we were soaked in the first 100 metres after leaving the protection of the breakwater, pounding into force 6 winds (25 knots plus), and gave up trying, returning to the marina. We thought at first of taking a water taxi out to Veleda and leaving Sprite or seeing if the taxi could tow Sprite behind. Not a reasonable plan, as the taxi would have cost 70.00 Euros for the two mile trip out to Veleda. Then Judy asked if I could handle Sprite by myself. No problem! They would walk along the coast trail over to the bay where Veleda was moored and I, after taking Sprite back to Veleda, would then come ashore to pick them up. By myself I was able to vary the speed of Sprite into the 30 knot winds and waves and with a lighter bow did not get very wet at all. However, I had to keep my speed low as increased speeds might have lifted the bow so the wind could blow under the hull and flip the dinghy over backwards. I made it back to Veleda in about 15 minutes and picked the three of them up another 15 minutes later.

Next day we took Veleda over to pick up a buoy at the marina, the cost was only 8 Euro. After a superb lunch of Mouclade, mussels with a delicious white wine, cream and garlic sauce (recipe to follow at the end of this log), courtesy of Jacques and Andree, we went up to tour the 16th century Fort St. Agathe, from which there were spectacular views over Porquerolles and the Hyeres and up towards Toulon. We could see the sandy beaches of the surrounding bays, in which many sailboats bobbed at anchor in the clear emerald green waters. The clarity of the waters dramatically revealed gradations of colour from the shallow desert brown sandy shorelines which rippled into deeper waters mottled with light sandy stretches and darker weed beds. In the depths where several sailboats were anchored we could actually see the shadows of the boats on the rippled bottom ten to fifteen feet (3 to 5 metres) below them. It was picture postcard scenery.

Ile de Porquerolles is under the French National Trust Parks, and is a most pleasant island with many bicycle and walking trails allowing one to explore the whole island in a day or so. The sandy beaches and bays allow for much beachcombing, swimming and sunbathing. It is also on the same latitude as northern Corsica, making it the southernmost island of Provence. As it is only 16 miles from Toulon, it is a popular destination for weekend boaters in season (July and August).

The wind had dropped significantly by next day and so we left at 0715 for Toulon. The weather closed in, with lightning flashing nearby and rolls of thunder as we neared the harbour. By the time we entered the immense breakwaters of this major port and navy base it was cool and rainy, but the lightning and storm cells had moved off. I enjoyed the sight of the many moored naval vessels, minesweepers, frigates, destroyers and an aircraft carrier as we went into the old port in downtown Toulon.

More about this large French navy base and up to Marseilles in my next log.

Try this French recipe for Mouclade as translated by Judy below.

Mouclade (for 4)

1.5 kg Mussels, rinsed well and de-bearded

150 ml white wine

2 shallots, chopped

1 stalk of parsley

½ tsp pepper

50 g butter

2 tbsp flour

Pinch of curry powder

2 egg yolks

2 tbsp crème fraiche

½ tsp mustard

Juice of 1 lemon

Put the mussels in a pot with the wine, shallots, parsley, and pepper. Heat on high until the mussels open. Remove them and set aside. Strain the liquid and set aside.

Melt the butter, add the flour and curry powder and cook about 1 minute. Add the strained mussel cooking liquid, cook and stir till smooth. On low heat, stir in the egg yolks, crème fraiche, mustard, and lemon juice. Sprinkle this sauce over the mussels and serve.

(Note from Aubrey – To prepare the mussels, de-beard by pulling the tufts of hair-like growths out from the closed shells, rinse in fresh water, and you might even try scraping off any other growths remaining on the shells. However, this latter effort is not required as the liquid is strained before making the delicious sauce. A couple of variations I might suggest are to use the juice of only half a lemon (I enjoy a smoother, less tart flavour), and you might try some lightly sautéed onion or shallots and maybe even some chopped mushrooms to the sauce after adding the melted butter, flour, and curry powder to the strained mussel liquid. Of course fresh baguettes and white wine complement this delicious repast.)