Sur Le Pont d’Avignon, La-La-La, la, La-La-La

Getting to France was a connect-the-dots operation — from Vero Beach, to Orlando, to Detroit, to Paris to Marseilles to Avignon.

Our favorite limo service did great. We landed in Detroit mere minutes before our next plane was to leave. We got to the gate three minutes before they began boarding. The flight to Paris was only seven and a half hours. Charles De Gaulle Airport was a bit of a puzzle, but a young woman near the shuttle station sorted out the connection for us. It helps to have been in this airport before (which we hadn’t).

The terminal for the connection to Marseilles was a mad-house (boarding lines here are merely theoretical), and an equipment switch put us on an airplane which could only have been filled fuller if they had stacked us. Fortunately, Marseilles was only 70 minutes south, and a nice Frenchman surrendered his window to us so we could see “his beautiful country and Marseilles.”

The Viking Rep at the airport was friendly and efficient. The charter bus to Avignon took us  by Salon-de-Provence, the home of the French equivalent of the Thunderbirds/Blue Angels. We watched them practice for a few miles as we made our way to the ship.

We arrived at the ship feeling like we had been “at it” for 22.5 hours, which we had been. The suite was so inviting. The balcony would have to wait.

After a light snack, we napped until dinner time and declared ourselves no longer jet lagged.

We skipped the wander Avignon tour, knowing we had one booked two days hence. Instead we watched the river world well into the summer twilight from our balcony.

The post title refers to the childhood song [You Tube link] most of us know, though it should be Sous not Sur since  the dance now occurs beneath the remains of the bridge not on it.

France with Viking River Cruises

We have just returned from France and wish we had arranged to stay longer. In the course of our visit we toured Provence region via the Rhone River and then made our way by high speed train to Paris. From there we toured the Isle de France and Normandy regions via the Seine. On our return to Paris we stayed extra days to see even more. Over the next few posts we will report on the trip with pictures. But in a few short words it was simply the best cultural trip we have ever taken.


With Festiva in St. Maarten, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Bart’s

Last Fall, good friends (Caliber 40 Owners) invited us to share a charter with them and another couple (now new friends) on a crewed Festiva Sailing Vacations catamaran sailing out of St. Maarten. “Yes,” was not a hard answer to come up with! With all three couples having been involved in project management during their careers, the plans and details came together quickly, and then we waited for the date.

The 0500  hrs start was painful (even having practiced for it for a couple of days ahead), though the pain was eased by Devon, our excellent limo driver.  The travel went smoothly — for modern travel — and we stepped aboard the boat, a Lagoon 44, “Smitten Kitten,” crewed by Patrick and Pascale at 1730. We were actually moving toward the boat in Simpson Bay Marina for five hours and thirty-five minutes. The other ~ seven hours were spent in some form of waiting — queued or otherwise.

Patrick & Pascale

Patrick and Pascale, a multi-decade, husband & wife charter team from the SW of France, quickly showed themselves to be in the top drawer of their profession, and they reinforced that view throughout the charter. We particularly appreciated their willingness to answer endless questions (more about the food a bit farther down). They were a major part of our most excellent experience.

Our first night on board we stayed in the marina surrounded by high quality cruising boats similar to our own boats and grander. Quite a few were there to race in the 37th Annual Heineken Regatta. Dinner (more about the food a bit farther down) provided a clear demarcation between travel and charter. Light squalls provided a lullaby. Lights were out early…

Our Lightest Breakfast

OK, about the food. Janet and I felt we were continuously dining at a Michelin Three Star* Auberge. Pascale’s menu took full advantage of their culture and the Caribbean context. Patrick’s grilling revealed a kindred spirit. [* “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage.)]

Typical Lunch

Pascale’s willingness and inventiveness at working around food allergies and dislikes was most welcome. Our meals were plentiful, creative, wonderfully seasoned and playfully plated. Dining starts with the nose followed by eyes and palate. Pascale and Patrick addressed all three with skill and aplomb — especially on the days when we were on a rolling reach in 25 knot winds with 10 foot swells [11-12 sec period] topped with three foot seas.

Mid-morning, we left Simpson Bay for Anguilla and were sad to watch Symmetry, a 96 foot German Frers apparently lose all power in a crosswind and current. Even with the help of a swarm of inflatables, she rammed the bridge at the Bay exit channel. The delay bothered us far less than it did the land traffic that couldn’t see what was happening. Symmetry almost went on the rocks before the Coast Guard arrived. Instead, it appeared she might have gotten away with just a new anchor and roller ($$$$$).

Putting the excitement behind us we headed for the Prickly Pear Cays off the SW  tip of Anguilla for the first snorkeling. By rule, the anchorage we used is only accessible to captained yachts — bareboats are prohibited. After seeing the sinuous, shallow, swell-full passage we know why.

From there, it was up to Small Bay with its cactus-covered and bird-filled cliffs and then south to Crocus Bay for the night. It was very quiet and quite calm. The Tradewinds were pushed up by the cliffs and soared over us, leaving only intermittent post-midnight sprinkles. We noted that not having the concerns of boat operation and meal preparation left us all chillaxin sooner and more thoroughly than usual. Will we ever go back to bareboating?

Monday morning (already?) found us back at the cliffs of Small Bay for a snorkel before leaving for a sail back through the Prickly Pear Cays and up to Rendezvous Bay. The wind — absent the week before our trip — was coming back with authority! We were sailing! …and what sailing!

Rendezvous Bay was nearly vacant, gin clear, and had maybe six inch swells. We swam to the beach and chatted pleasantly with some folks who needed more sunscreen… The sun here, even in great 76-80 degree day temps, was merciless when it came to UV. We slathered on 70 and 30 and wore SPF 50 long-sleeves when diving or up at the more exposed steering cockpit.

From Rendezvous Bay we sailed to Marigot, St. Martin. The anchorage probably had 20 times the boats we had seen here at the same time of year in 2007 & 2008 (the economy perhaps?).

On the way in we saw Casa Blanca another Caliber 40 with a crew known to our friends. Patrick and Pascale offered to host them for cocktails and appetizers, and they joined us for a while once we had anchored.

Typical Dinner

The nightly routine was settling in. Generous cocktails, generous, tasty appetizers, tropical breezes, NO bugs, generous memory-making meals, inspired desserts, intermittent short-lived squalls, hours (upon hours) of boat talk, and quiet sleeping ended by scrumptious aromas to go with Bonjour

We wandered Marigot the next morning and said hello to our friend Christophe, the Maitre d’ at Tropicana, our favorite bistro from 2007 & 2008. From there it was watching the world go by from a harbor bistro til Patrick picked us all up in the RIB for the next lunch and sail.

Grand Case was our destination, Carnival (Mardi Gras) was the day, and fortunately our first choice for dinner was booked. Pascale took care of Plan B.

We asked Patrick and Pascale to join us, and we made our way to Le Cottage which translates with some difficulty to “The Cottage.” This was an exceptional dinner. The menu was similar to Pascale’s and Patrick’s — French with Caribbean grace notes. The service was like theirs as well — attentive, but unobtrusive, and they did together what four took care of here. All the while, the Carnival marchers drummed and paraded along the street fronting the restaurant. Thankfully, we were seated at the very back in a semi-banquette that allowed for air flow but kept the parade noise down enough we could converse. The food and wine (a light and fruity Pouilly Fumé) and company were excellent. Bravo, Le Cottage!

Bravo, Grand Case! — It was so jammed Gendarmes were turning people away at the highway turn-in. Leaving Le Cottage, we joined the marchers as far as the dinghy landing to head back out to Smitten Kitten before the next line of squalls put a damper on us.

Again, squalls sent us to sleep, and the edges of tradewind swells rocked us gently.

The next day, it was clear if we didn’t bolt for St. Bart’s we wouldn’t be going there this trip. The wind speed would be manageable but waiting a day would put it on the nose. Catamarans like this one don’t like wind on the nose. So, it was up, eat, and away for Anse Marcel and the marina there where we took on ice and water. Going in and out, we watched and were cautiously regarded by dozens of iguana of two species. It was interesting the way they segregated themselves by size but not by species. They were on the rocks and in the trees and moving slowly between one and the other.

Even with a favorable wind direction, this was sailing you need to be a sailor to enjoy. It was pitchy, rolly, sometimes wet and a blast. We reached along at 10 plus knots the whole way. The cat had a motion unusual to us monohull folks, but we adjusted pretty quickly. It might have been a bit more comfortable in a monohull, but it sure would have been slower and a lot less level. It changed my mind about the sailing qualities of a catamaran.

We reached Gustavia in time for our appointed tour of the island with taxi driver Florian. We saw far more of St. Bart’s this time. It’s much more developed than we realized — perhaps the magazines that advertise the high-end watches (you know the ones) tell the story in just a few words. When were were here last, they were in French and English. Now they are in French, English, and Russian. The tour was really worthwhile.

For comfort’s sake we moved the boat around to Anse Colombier (Columbus Bay) where the Rockefeller’s first Caribbean mansion decays. The swell all but disappeared but the trade-winds squeezed between two peaks and strengthened and eddied. This was our most restless anchorage yet — for the boat. It moved to and fro in the gusts, and we scarcely felt a thing.

Come morning, however, it was simply too agitated to snorkel safely along the rocks, so up anchor and off we went for St. Martin. with a stop at Isle Fouroche for snorkeling with turtles, snapper, blue tangs, angelfish and lots of fire coral.

From this volcanic cone we headed for Isle Pinel. Patrick offered me the wheel, and with a little instruction for the differences between catamarans and monohulls, off we went. My large catamaran (a Rudy Choy) experience from Hawaii started bubbling up bringing a lot of memories with it. With the freer and stronger wind we were clipping along at 12+ for most of the way. Yeehaa!

The first reef entrance was too confused and so Patrick opted for the second, and we were in a scenic lee in quiet waters in mere minutes. Some of us toured Isle Pinel.  Janet and I opted to veg aboard, watching the kite surfers in the adjacent bay.

Here the night squalls came earlier.

The plan for the next day was to ghost the 37th Heineken Regatta Round Island Race fleet which ever direction they were going.

too close

Overtook us half a boat length to windward then demanded we change course — direct course to mark was to leeward of us

This ended up being clockwise, and we hooked up with the last third of the fleet largely among the bareboats chartered for the race. Some of the seamanship we saw was a bit dodgy. I don’t think some of the crews had a feel for the sea conditions or the boats they were sailing (or the rules of the road for that matter). With our speed few boats passed us, so it was a scenic return to Simpson Bay. With one exception.

screaming cat

Doesn’t do it justice. It was smokin’

A catamaran around 36-40 feet came slashing up through the fleet under plain sail at around 25 knots. We could hear the rigging humming. The spray from the wave piercing hulls flew fifteen feet into the air to be misted off to leeward — and then they put a Code Zero or Screacher? up, and they were g…o……n………e! Patrick was actually grinning! We got a pic, but they were gone before we could manage getting a vid.

When the former Volvo Ocean Race boats came by on a reach, they looked slow by comparison. Notice the reefs.

It felt funny to slip back into Simpson Bay Marina under conditions nearly identical to our arrival evening. Not deja vu (we had been there before), but still it had a familiarity almost like returning to our own slip. Racers chattered around us. Other charterers headed up the dock as if escaping. We lingered till we had to go to dinner. We ate at Lee’s Roadside Grill. No place would have fared all that well after Smitten Kitten and Le Cottage.

Breakfast the next morning had a tad of regret mixed in with the juice. Even so, as Patrick and Pascale move on with their lives we will be looking for where they crew as Polynesia calls to them again.

Smiles all round!

One thing which worked especially well was the Atrium hotel has a financial relationship with Festiva, and so we could kill time there until we got caught back up in gears of modern travel. We ate lunch at the Greenhouse, next door where the sound checks from the Heineken party musicians kept our food hot with mere acoustic energy — very good food actually — better than Lee’s? Perhaps.

Our cab driver proved the power of his brakes at least fifty times during our 12 minute trip to the airport. Where, after the high tech-low stress process of getting to the boarding gates was done, things became old fashion Caribbean again — jammed, hot, loud, delayed, multiple gate changes, passengers ignoring boarding order…  We found a cooler slightly quieter place to hang out til time to board. When we returned to the meelee, we were told the plane hadn’t even arrived yet (but they had just called it for pre-boarding).

And the plane pretty much ran out of food the row behind us. Man, when did Pringles get so thin?

All told, I think I shed a couple of years even as my birthday awaited just after our return. We remembered something this trip. We may be boaters, but we are first and foremost, sailors. That’s important as we go forward.

It’s about the sailing.

Back At It Again, Cruising, That Is

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Seeing Us Off

It’s amazing how a “few months” can turn into nearly two years.

We moved ashore this time of year (or so) in 2014. The plan was to get moved in and sorted out in time to return to the Bahamas in the Winter of 2015. OK, it wasn’t a plan so much as an idea. As ideas go it was butter sculpture. Things melt faster here.

What we hadn’t counted on was an underlying layer of burnout when it came to the boat. It was mostly driven by frustration with weather windows and the excessive amount of time spent in marinas. The local natural limitations on sailing (water depth and channel width*) and the lousy Florida attitude toward cruisers didn’t (and still doesn’t) help. *[Last year, we took the boat for a haulout and bottom job some 15 miles north of here. We ran aground in the marina channel five times. Inside the marina, we had to plow the keel through muck to get to the haulout slip which we couldn’t enter for several days. This was with the cruising guides and the marina owner assuring us six feet were available to the slipway.]

We almost went to the Bahamas this winter. We almost went to the Keys. Weather thwarted one and water depth the other. We talked about catamarans, centerboard boats and powerboats. None of those do anything for the Florida attitude which became legislatively worse this winter. Florida has criminalized anchoring in several locations and will, no doubt, add many more.

But the sailing itch was returning in a big way. The house and its surrounds are pretty much the way we want them. The boat is subjected to the Florida climate, day in, day out. We are still healthy and vigorous, but for how long?

So, We decided to give the Keys a look see for ourselves…and then friends with a sister-ship returned from there with a report that left us ambivalent (-). So, we decided we’d check out the Indian River Lagoon — where we learned to sail and race 43 years ago, where we live, where I volunteer. Kind of like taking a Sunday drive to see what’s changed.

We set a departure date. Hah!

The air conditioning cooling pump failed the day before we were to leave. I yanked the old one out and made some wiring changes dictated by the new one I had ordered online with premium shipping (ching, ching) which arrived on the same day non-premium would have. Of course, the mounting pattern didn’t match the old pump’s.

Then it was oops. We need to charge the bluetooth headsets we use when anchoring/docking. They failed to recharge, and three calls later I was told by the manufacturer “if they fail in warranty we replace them, if out of warranty, no repairs are available.”  They were about two weeks out of warranty. The dealer made good on this though. But they didn’t arrive in time for our departure, so we were back to hand signals.

A few nits and noys popped up and were dealt with in the longer wait for the pump.

Finally, off we went.

late spring 800 (3)

Perfect Conditions

We sailed from Wabasso all the way to our Eau Gallie anchorage half the way north toward our destination — The NASA Causeway to watch a Falcon 9 launch. Janet refused to relinquish the helm, and the wind was perfect for a staysail and full main all day.

And then the anchor windlass failed. I would press the toe switch and maybe the anchor would go down (or up) and maybe not. Maybe waiting half a minute made a difference and mostly not. I got out the hand crank and discovered cranking a couple of links of chain almost always solved the problem. So it seems as if the motor has developed a dead spot. This would become problematic in a few days.

The Falcon was scrubbed, and we bid The Oehler’s on OUR DREAM (another sister-ship) adieu as they headed back north into what would become tropical storms Bonnie and Colin.

The next evening we watched the launch from a semi-sheltered spot farther south.

So far, the weather had been wonderful. Sailing breezes, warm days and open hatch nights with only a sheet needed from 0400 on.

late spring 800 (1)

Not So Perfect Conditions

Then we anchored near Melbourne for our first squall line as daily thunder was back in the forecast at 80%. The anchor was well set, but the wind shift was 180 degrees and jumped from zero to 30kts. We gained enough momentum in the 200 feet we traveled on the shift to pop the anchor out of the bottom. Gorged with mud, it could not reset, and we were headed for causeway rocks. With the windlass unreliable, I jumped topsides and fired up the engine and motored us into the squall, balancing between over-riding the anchor chain and the damage that can do with not drifting into a field of crab pot floats and the possibility of getting caught up…all this while under a barrage of lighting, the closest about 500 feet off our bow.

It lasted 20 minutes. When done, the plotter track looked like a drunk had been playing with an Etch-A -Sketch. We put out more chain, a lot.

For the remaining days, the Florida Boomers went either north or south, and most evenings were punctuated with lightning flashes and distant rumbles.

late spring 800 (2)

One of a dozen or so that rode our wake.

And so we spent 10 days out and about. We stayed north of Vero Beach because there is no there there for sailboats to the south in the Lagoon.

We are back to planning for the Abacos, and with no schedule it’s so much easier.

Did I mention the eleven year old microwave oven died on the first attempt to use it? (…and none of the replacements we can identify fit the space the old one went in.)

Or that something large and avian landed on our masthead wind indicator and destroyed it?

It’s a boat…


When I was in college 45 years ago, we had an Argentine student in our department who ate his mess-hall steaks with the strangest green sauce from home. (He got a bottle once a month.) Being an adventurous eater, I tried some, and Wow.

Years later, I found a bottle of the green stuff in a gourmet deli (= $$$). It didn’t hold a candle to my memories of piquancy, herbaceousness, and unctiousness. The Argentine restaurants that popped up here and there serving meat, meat, meat offered it, but it still wasn’t what his family had sent him (and thus me).

Last Sunday, I made a Cuban Pork Roast for Easter dinner, and we had enough left over for two more meals. We decided a sauce was in order, but I didn’t want it to compete with the rub and marinade I’d used. So we prepared the following and realized after the fact we had made Chimichurri. We “pulled” the pork before adding the sauce. It’s not strictly Argentine, but it is GOOD.

1 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1.5 tsp roasted garlic
1/4 cup fresh finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup fresh finely chopped basil
Splash Rice vinegar
Splash Agave syrup
Lime juice
Double splash Olive oil
Tbsp Melted Butter

Mix well and heat in microwave to release spice oils. Allow to sit for a half hour.  Adjust the acid-sweet balance. Makes enough for 2-3 five ounce portions of meat.


First, Badia “Redfish Blackening Spice” has been re-labelled (here, at least) “Seafood Seasoning Creole Blend.”

Second, we have gone for more nuanced heat by mixing one measure cayenne with one ground chipotle with one smoked paprika which we call Smopacachi

The recipe is now:


*7 Badia Seafood Seasoning Creole Blend + 1 oregano + 1 ginger + 1 basil +1/4 Smopacachi

Works great on veggie chips and popcorn too.