Chapter Fifty-Nine     June, 2011

Did we tell you about our friend, Cem?  Cem is a wonderful young Turk we met in Fethiye a few years ago.  We both just love the guy.  He married Tuğba about a year ago and moved to Bodrum.  For a while, they were lost to us, but now are found.  Welcome back, Cem and Tuğba!  Aren’t they a handsome couple?

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Now, back to our adventure.

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Remember the plan was to leave Tunisia mid-April? Well, we did. Three times.  All the usual things went wrong. A) The engine was acting a little quirky, B) we still kept collecting water in the bilge, and C) the weather wasn’t totally cooperative.  But none seemed too serious. Ha!  Four hours into our first passage the engine overheated and we headed for the first available port, Hammamet, where our wonderful friends spent the winter. We had a reunion, fixed the engine problem, saw them through a health issue and were almost ready to leave when John dreamed about the water in the bilge that has been plaguing us for some time.  How could it be getting into the boat only when we were moving and never at the dock? The bolt at the bow fastening the base of the bobstay finally came to John in a dream. Thank goodness for dreams. Fixed that one, too. And off we went, arriving on the west coast of Sicily by end-April.  (Turning back due to gale warnings in the Straits of Sicliy doesn’t warrant any more space than this.)

If you are lucky enough to visit Sicily be sure Trapani is on your itinerary.  Experiencing Italy all over again made us giddy.

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We had a good southerly forecast and headed north for the tiny island of Ponza (featured in the New York Times Sunday Travel Guide several weeks ago).  We didn’t have the time to go ashore but we’ve added it to our “next time” list. We needed to take full advantage of the unusually quiet Tyrrhenian Sea to get to the Italian mainland, so we left early the next morning.

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We arrived in Gaeta ready for adventure. Treks, exploration, gelato and pizza all needed to be packed into our short stay! We did it all.  Old friends from our winter in Sabaudia in 2005 were kind enough to drive down and have Easter lunch with us.  Thanks, Katrin and Hans.  We loved being back in Italy, and Gaeta is a gem.

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During our sweet time in Gaeta things suddenly changed. Sharon’s mother suffered a bad fall, so Sharon flew back to the States to be with her.  She went with the intention of staying a week but it became three; her Mom died peacefully after rallying courageously while surrounded by family.

While Sharon was in Connecticut John needed to keep moving Seraphim west so that we could maintain our target of June 1st for entering France’s inland waterways. With a little networking and patience John found Gianni. Gianni was perfect. He was competent, dependable and a delight to be with, besides being a good cook. They sailed the 300 miles from Gaeta (just north of Napoli) to Nice in three days, arriving just in time for Gianni to catch the last train back to Rome before a general strike. It was a job well-done by captain and crew and kept us on schedule!

Sailing alone, John sailed right past places others dream about:  Monte Carlo, Antibes, St.Tropez, Cannes.  Why stop when Sharon’s not there to share it?

On May 21st  we were finally reunited in Marseilles. And what a reunion it was! Mussels by the sea, a stroll through the splendid streets of Marseilles and an all too quick tour of the city was relished by both of us. We caught up on conversation, sleep and togetherness and then it was time to get to Port Napoleon where we were to convert the boat.  But it was hard to leave such an exquisite place.

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The preparation for pulling the masts was a three-day process. Removing sails, removing booms, loosening stays and shrouds and numbering them all to match up again (sometime in 2012) was an arduous task in the heat. But we got there. We were at the dock precisely at 9:00, as instructed. The mizzenmast came out  smoothly, with a little bit of  help on deck!

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But the mainmast was trouble. The aluminum mast adhered to the stainless mast step after 10 years and nothing could be done to separate the two. After two hours of pounding and sweating, they cut the base off the mast step only to discover that there was a serious corrosion problem at the base of the mast itself.  A new step is on order, the mast will be repaired and we are now a canal boat!

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Floods on the Rhone in 2004 and 2010 have altered/removed many of the places we had planned to use as moorings.  Arles is one of those.  So we decided to go exploring by bus. Dreamy! We loved the bus ride, the rice fields through the Camargue, the architecture and the smell of heather everywhere. Nothing lacked. We were ecstatic.

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And then we discovered Avignon. Avignon feels very medieval with both a big-city and a small-city charm. The alleyways and narrow streets are quaint and there are many mills on the waterways in the heart of the city. The grand Palais des Papes housed 9 popes from 1309-1377.  The palais is surrounded by gardens, all enclosed in massive city walls.  Le Pont D’Avignon was as pretty as you imagined!

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But to get there we had to master the locks. Here’s what happens: There is a set of lights at the entrance which indicates the current status of the lock. If in use, we spend some time enjoying the scenery and avoiding other boats, also waiting. When the lights turn green we enter the lock, which is massive. It feels a little like being behind the big curtain in the Wizard of Oz because it is vast and mysterious and pretty scary initially. All I kept thinking about was what would happen if the water didn’t flow in and we got stuck behind these endless grand dark steel walls? (Fortunately, that didn’t happen.) As soon as we can grab a bollard, we secure the boat with a mid-ship line and secure the boat. The lock man presses the “fill” button and up we go. Yesterday’s lock was 75 feel high. Sit down:  It floods the lock with 8 million gallons of water. We swirl and sway and try to keep the bow and stern from damage. This takes about ten minutes to fill, the light turns green and we’re out.

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Today we sashayed up the Rhone where we discovered the sweetest village of Viviers. Here there is a chateau and many other fabulous sights. Like tree-lined lanes and alleyways, walking paths that smell like only a French parfumerie could, a 14th century cathedral and dozens of boulangeries. Life is good.

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We expect to plot our course along the way and keep you posted of our location as we make our way to Paris. In the meantime, we have family arriving end June for a swap. The men are cruising down the canals while the women sew at home in Landstuhl, Germany. What fun.

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Stay tuned.  A bientot.

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