Agde, France to Pisa, Italy 2014
Kiss of the Wolf* was built in 2008 in a Nazareth, PA backyard. She is a fifteen and a half foot, outboard-powered, flat-bottomed skiff in the Sharpy style to lines drawn by boat architect Jim Michalak (AF4b).
Although designed as a day sailor and occasional over-nighter, KOTW in 2010 logged in excess of 8000 miles circumnavigating the Eastern half of the navigable North American continent. In 2012 she was shipped to Kotka Finland and from there, traveled inland and coastwise through 11 countries before being hauled on Spain's Costa Brava for refitting. In 2013 KOTW was relaunched in Bilbao on Spain's Bay of Biscay and run north to Bordeaux, France, thence south on the Garrone and Canal du Midi to the Mediterranean. KOTW was relaunched in early May 2014 at Allemands boatyard in Agde, France and set about negotiating the sometimes very tricky Med along the French and Italian Rivieras, to Monaco and to Pisa, Italy. This report is a loose chronology of that adventure.
*The boat's name is stolen from the John Irving novel "Last Night In Twisted River".
Getting Three April 29, 2014
Getting to Agde from South Carolina requiers two taxis, two airplanes, one train and a bus. Long hard two days. But not so long or so hard, that I can't treat myself to a beer and pizza at a small cafe at 9:30 pm in Agde, on the River Herault in southern France.
Leaving Charleston at 4:00, in intermittent torrential rains, the sky's were cloudy but quiet to Charlotte, and clear and smooth to Munich. I slept almost the whole way, which is why I'm still almost awake at 9:30 European time. Munich to Marseilles was uneventful, but Marseilles to Agde had me ready to tear my hair out. It's a simple train ride of two hours along the coast, but it took four hours to find the train.
I won't bore you with the details, but I was envisioning arriving Agde after dark, not being able to find a cab, and so findng a place to hide my bag, as it weighs north of 40 lbs., and hiking the 3 or 4 miles to the boat yard at night. But huzzah! Right ahead of me in the dakened parking lot two head-lights popped on, and there was my taxi. With my last 20 Euroes left over from last year, I dropped the bag off on the boat and walked over to the town center to celebrate having arrived.
||On the hard at Allamands boat yard.
DAY 1, April 29, 2014
The boat is in France (Agde) on the hard. I'll spend some time getting her ready for the water: paint, varnish, and patching the many holes in her hull, and then back up a bit on the Canal du Midi to Capestang to spend a bit of time with good friends who live there. Then in late May probably, an attempt at the French and Italian Rivieras. Am hoping for fair skies and flat seas, but you never know in the Med.
DAY 8, May 6
The boat is in fine shape: no water, no mold. I've been here six days, and today is the first day I've felt back in sync.
Painted the hull this morning, and will start on the bottom tomorrow. Right now I'm having a jambon sandwich avec fromage, ausi une tass du café at a cafe in the near Bye Village. The village is right on the Med and has a beach so is very touristy. Surprisingly, most of the tourists are French. It's quiet here during the week, but packed on weekends.
Have made several acquaintances since I've been here as there are many boats getting ready to go back in the water, and most seem to belong to Brits. Lucky for me one of them has a car and I will hitch a ride to the Hypermarché this afternoon for supplies.
DAY 11, May 9
It's 12:30 Friday and I am having a delicious Chefs Salad and Cappachino at one of several cafés within the Hypermarché here in Agde. French Supermarkets are the biggest I've seen anywhere including the US. You can buy pretty much anything you can think of from half a goat to a Subaru.
It's too far to walk from Allemand's (the boat yard) but doable by boat, which would suggest the boat is back afloat which it is. Spent the last few days painting the hull and the bottom and dropped her in about an hour ago. Changed all the oils in the outboard and she started 2nd pull of the cord. This was doubly lucky as I had 5 or 6 of my new friends there to supervise the launch.
Four friends of mine drove down from Capestang the other day just to welcome me back to France. That'll get you over the lonelies quick enough.
DAY 14, May 12
Beziers. Today was one of those perfect Spring days with blue skies and little puffy clouds and shirtsleeve temperatures, and twelve locks to negotiate. It's not the season yet so it is seldom any one is around to take my lines. One old man at a lock pointed out that my water cooling system was not functioning. Sure enough, no stream of water being ejected at any engine speed. Bummer. Can only be the water pump. But first, just in case, remove the hose. Blow through it. Replace the hose. Voila! A fine stream of water. Perfect day.
DAY 18, May 16
It's been so windy here - Capestang - that nobody can move without crashing into another boat, so everybody is staying put til the Mistrals blow through. OK by me, I have friends here.
DAY 28, May 26
Hard to believe Summer is here. What ever happened to Spring? It's been rainy, windy, and cold here in Southern France most of the time. I'm in the Camargue on the canal de Sete a Rhone only three miles from the Med. But the weather has not made the Med too inviting.
This is the entrance to the fortress Aigues-Mortes. I thought I was walking throigh the front doors of a large building.
But no, this was an entire fortified city one mile square. Gave me something to explore on an otherwise chilly and rainy day.
DAY 15, June 5, Sanary-sur-Mer
You can imagine how grungy one can get after 5 days straight on the water. I pulled into Sanary-sur-Mer this morning to escape some big swells that were fighting me for control of the boat, and also to have a little breakfast and get cleaned up a bit. At these times, I get a little trepidatious about entering even a back street cafe, because I think the proprietor may think this bum is looking for a handout. Anyway, as I'm walking along the main boulevard of this small port city, I am passed by two young women
(young=thirties), and one of them stops suddenly and turns around and says "Do you speak English?"
I said yes, and she said "I just had to tell you how elegant you look." True story.
DAY 18, June 8
I'm just now coming down on an interesting island fortress just South of Marseilles.
DAY 20, Jun 10
Crack, bang, plfft. That's the sound of my Bimini failing to clear a low bridge and collapsing on top of me, temporarily blinding me, and making me look ridiculous.
KOTW has sailed under more than a thousand bridges in her short life, and not once have I failed to judge the clearance accurately (6 ft Bimini up, 4 ft Bimini down). Not this time. The bridge was a small one over a very small river close by St Tropez. I was able to more or less straighten the bent struts and to buy some replacement parts the next day from a Chandlery that didn't know they had them. The Bimini is not as good as new but almost.
The French Rivière: A pleasant surprise. I had expected S. Florida with miles of beaches guarded by high-rise condos with every once in a while a Miami or a Barcelona. The Costa Brava is like that.
But this, not at all. The coast is mostly fantastically shaped limestone cliffs, and small beaches, unpopulated for the most part, and the marinas are mostly part of a small port, so tying up to the town quay for a few hours in order to walk about and visit the patisserie, boulangerie, epicerie, is not a problem. The local populace pays me almost no attention: for every MegaYacht in the harbor, there will be a hundred small fishing or sport boats not much larger than mine.
I'm sitting in the cockpit as I write this while thunder and lightning dance around me and a steady but light rain falls around - but because I was able, thank god, to fix my Bimini- not on me.
||Mega Yacht, St Tropez
DAY 21, June 11
KOTW is anchored in a largish bay a few miles South of St Tropez. We are sharing the bay with several MegaYachts who I guess can't squeeze into St Trop. The weather for the last few days has been ideal - bright sun and flat water. This is great for me as the shoreline is rugged and there aren't too many places to duck into.
DAY 27, June 17
I'm a few miles East of Cannes, holed up in a small harbor waiting for the wind to drop a bit. My new current goal is Rome, where I will attempt a rendezvous with American friends. This could change as with conditions changing from one hour to the next, I make very few miles a day.
My year on the du Midi left me so soft and spoiled that now I start whining the moment things start to get uncomfortable. The wind has been out of the S, and SE the whole month which most of the time put it right on my nose; until today when I turned N and so did the wind.
||Mega Yachts when lined up are indistinguishable from high-rise condos.
DAY 31, June 21
I've been in Sanremo for the last three days trying to get my mobile modem to work again so I can email without having to go ashore and track down a hotspot. It worked fine until I crossed into Italy and then it went dead. Had to buy one just for Italy, and they are expensive. I'd just forget about it and write it off but I have too much invested. Meanwhile. I'm missing really good passage-making conditions. Hopefully, I'll get off tomorrow morning.
Have stopped in St Tropez, Cannes, Antibes, Monte Carlo, and with the exception of St Tropez, which still maintains and old world facade despite the plethora of mega-yachts, they all look like Miami writ large.
I'm used to seeing 4 or 5 mega-yachts in English Harbor, and a like number in Monaco during the Gran Prix, but between St Tropez and Sanremo, I'm seeing literally hundreds! The newer ones are very Darth Vadorish.
DAY 33, June 24
My year off on the du Midi has left me as soft as a marshmallow. For the past almost two months the wind has been out of the East so the teensiest bit of white water sends me scurrying for port. The real problem is that for instance here I am in some seaside working class resort, Finale Ligura, looking out on a sea that from my shoreside vantage point looks just doable. However, if conditions deteriorate, I'm 20 miles from the next usable port, which means 4 hours; if things turn sour, I have no place to duck into. So I'll sit this one out and hope for better conditions tomorrow.
||The anchorage at Finale.
In my younger days when I was fit I'd average about 30 miles a day including stops and layovers. Today, I think more like ten.
It's now 4:30 of the same day; conditions from here look not bad. But here's the thing: no other boat has left this port today, and there are plenty fishing boats around.
KOTW is now 6 years old with a small leak, (two tablespoons or so a day) in her bows, and has now bashed, banged, and pounded her way through 11 countries on two continents. She was built with ordinary lumber to last I figured - 2 maybe 3 - years. How much longer she will hold up I don't know. That is perhaps the main reason I'm reluctant to leave port in iffy conditions.
Although, perhaps not: I can remember being too chicken to stick my bowsprit out of the harbor at Las Palmas until I saw a fleet of Penguin dinghies skippered by nine and ten year olds sailing smartly out into the North Atlantic.
DAY 45, July 6
Progress on the Med has been half of what I had anticipated. The weather has been as expected but the size of the sea swells was something I hadn't figured in. The Med was one of my least favorite bodies of water 30 years ago and it remains so today.
I'm about two days N of the River Arno where it emptys into the. Med. I'm hoping to be able to follow it to the city of Pisa with its famous leaning tower.
It's Sunday today and I'm doing nothing but listen to American NPR radio podcasts. I can't travel today even though it's Sunny and there's not much wind because the breakers across the harbor entrance here in Inquale are too rough for my little boat today. Yesterday was laundry day and it does take all day tracking down a laveratia automatica, and then finding someone who speaks a little English to show me how to work the machines. However, I managed and now have a boatload of clean though threadbare clothes and bed linens.
||Man fishing from the rocky cliffs overlooking the Med near La Specia.