We made another early start to arrive before the wind was due to come up, particularly as we keep having to moor dependant on the kindness of strangers for help. So far the welcome we have received at French marinas has been on a par with the one Will Smith gave the alien in Independence Day. Today though this has all changed, thank goodness.
We dragged ourselves up at six and I had lots of time to put away the fenders as we puttered out of the long marina. After scrutinizing the pilot book John had decided to make for La Grande Motte, rather than another huge marina and when he put in a call to them they even had a button to press if you wished to speak English. This seemed very encouraging and he booked for three nights. The sea state was similar to yesterday, but the visibility not so good. We could smell, but not see the shore. First the scent of lavender wafted across on the early morning breeze and then came the smell of wood smoke. After our smoking engine from two years ago this was a bit concerning and John ventured below to look in the engine room, to confirm it was coming from the shore not ourselves. Other than that the trip was uneventful and the marina came into view at around eleven. In the distance we could see a few motor cruisers were out in the bay and two sailboats going across our path in opposite directions. They were going so slowly in the slight wind that it just looked as though they had fallen out and were sulking with one another. We seem to either have no wind, too much wind or wind from the wrong direction and true to form by the time we reached the approach the wind was coming up to force three, just when we didn’t want it.
On entering the marina we saw a long but low pontoon serviced the reception. We needed to approach on the starboard side, which does not have a fender step. It is a while since I have had to ‘hop’ down such a distance and I was not looking forward to it. I held the center rope, sat sidesaddle on Lyra’s flank and hoped for the best. John’s first approach was too tentative, so he came away and tried again further along. I suddenly felt I needed both hands so hurled the line onto the pontoon and myself after it. The landing was ok, I fastened the line to a cleat and grabbed the bowline and put it round another cleat before the wind could catch the prow and take it out. John came up and took the line back from me to fasten it and then adjusted the middle to slip as I put the stern line on and passed him that back too. All in all it had gone rather well. John set off with the paperwork and I hauled myself back onboard in a most undignified manner and waited. Things were about to take a turn for the worse.
As I sat watching a small motor launch approached the pontoon behind me. A middle-aged man was sprawled awkwardly across its’ front holding a line and shouting instructions to whoever was steering. They were travelling at quite a lick and I could not see how he was going to be able to jump off and stop the boat before the metal anchor ploughed into our stern. I bolted from my seat and jumped the drop to the pontoon on pure adrenalin, then hurried down the pontoon to take the line before they reached us. Gratefully he threw me the line. All of it, both ends, and the boat carried on coming towards me. Horrified I fastened one end to the pontoon and by this time he was close enough for me to pass him the other back and he looped it on a cleat. The boat was still heading towards Lyra and I exclaimed and pointed and dragged in on the line all at the same time. To give him credit he scuttled across the front of his boat pretty snappily, sat on the bow and fended off with both feet. I fastened the line in more tightly, so the front could not move forward, reasoning that I could let it back out once they were safely on. The little man scrambled back to the side and took a mass of white chord from a woman inside the cockpit. She thanked me in very crisp English and I was relieved to see she was hanging on to a loop at the end of this line. There was also a huge black man on board at the wheel, but at this point I think he was just holding onto it with both hands rather than steering. My accomplice hurled the bundle of line at me and I failed to catch any of it. We both apologized as he gathered it back in and tried again. By this time the stern had drifted off, pivoting around the bow and the line fell into the water. I had visions of the wind spinning them right round and their stern clunking Lyra. On the third attempt I caught the line, we both pulled in on it and the boat came back alongside. I tied my end on further down the pontoon and by then the little man had emerged onto the back of his boat with the other end with the loop. He then struggled to reach round the side of his stern to catch a small cleat there. I reached across and helped him and then went forward to loosen the bowline so they sat properly alongside resting on their two little fenders. There was now a comfortable gap between them and us. They all thanked me again and I said no problem, remembering to smile.
Rather than labour back up onto Lyra in full view I stood leaning against her. I could hear the three of them discussing the landing, how they needed to have been more prepared and that it had been lucky I was there. It had not felt very lucky to me. The little man came past with his jacket, shrugging on his cool, he thanked me again in accented English and headed off into the reception. It was just as well I had not climbed back up onto our deck for a small yacht now approached with a man who looked like Buffalo Bill at the stern, aiming at the space in front of us. There was nobody else about so I went forward to take his lines. Thankfully he knew exactly what he was doing and would have managed well enough without me. His lines were on ready fed back to the center, so that as the bow approached I could lift the front rope from the guardrail and tie it loosely to the pontoon before taking his stern line from him and fastening that on too. He thanked me in French and I said you’re welcome in English and left him to sort out how he wanted the lines. As the pontoon was now full I heaved myself back onto Lyra and sat down praying John arrived back before our neighbour astern. My prayers were not answered. The little Frenchman came wandering back and I steeled myself for what might come next. “Shall we have a glass of wine?” he asked his companions brightly as he climbed aboard and I gave silent thanks, though heaven knows what they would be like after a drink.
I have never been so happy to see John coming back. He climbed onboard with the words, “It’s poles, but we’ll have help.” Help duly arrived in the form of an attractive young woman standing in a small tender. What is more she spoke English and said if I passed her one front line she would do that if I could do the other. She also asked John if we were all right astern and he said yes. I had put both stern lines on and assumed that after looping the front on she would scoot off in the tender and come ashore to take the stern lines. I was busy tying loops in the two front lines and feeding them down either side. John told me to take my time. This is code for don’t make a mistake. There was no way he was going to keep this young woman waiting and sure enough, by the time I had finished he had already taken off the midline and we were drifting out. I let go the stern and we were off. Fortunately she asked us to wait for the tripper boat, a huge catamaran to pass before we set off across the marina, so I had time to reposition the fenders and raise them up. We followed her to a gap between two large poles and she stood in her launch holding onto the top of one. As John reversed in, I dragged the line that side as far down Lyra as it would reach and stretched to pass it to her. Her knuckles on the post were white and she was at full stretch reaching for the line, balanced on the seat of her tender. I recognized the grim expression on her face as the one I often wear when docking. It looked better on her. As her fingers closed on the line she looked relieved. I hurried off round the other side to drop the loop onto the starboard pole and carried on astern. By this time we were coming alongside another boat and a worried looking man was out on its’ side ready to fend us off with his boat hook. I was quite concerned myself. It had suddenly become clear to me that there was no way our assistant was going to be able to come ashore to take the lines, she was still doing her bit with the pole. I was going to somehow have to clamber over the guard rails at the back, swing round the passerelle and jump onto the pontoon taking one stern line with me before worrying about the other.
Relief came in the form of the anxious man’s wife, who came steadily off their boat and stood to take my line. She exuded calm. I threw her the line and caught it when she threw it back. I made it fast and called to John that the line was on only to look across and see him taking the other line back from the same lady. It is always a bit disconcerting to see him out from behind the wheel, when I think he’s steering the boat. He asked me to take over from him while he went forward to sort out the front. I think the young woman in the tender was still holding us on there. With a bit of pulling and tying we were there and I breathed a sigh of relief. We thanked the marinera and the couple next door, who were very pleasant about it. The lady asked if we had come from Spain. It was tempting to let them think we had just arrived exhausted from across the Gulf of Leon, but I had to admit that we had been in France some time and had just forgotten to change our courtesy flag. John immediately set about putting that right and we raised the tricolor. He has been humming strains from Les Mis ever since.
So today we have received a warm welcome here and a lot of help and have given aid to others. I am ready for a lie down in a darkened room.