As it is still early in the season John managed to reserve a berth at the tiny marina of Sausset Les Pins. It is nearly forty miles away, so we set off early after returning our gate key when the office opened at seven. We very much enjoyed our stay at Le Grande Motte, everyone there was most friendly, the bars and restaurants were good and the food shops superb. Though we had to motor in the light breeze, it was not an uneventful journey.
The shoreline had receded to nothing, but on the chart screen we could see the lacy fretwork of the Rhone delta that we were passing. At around eleven thirty John spotted our first dolphins of the season, a pair swimming side by side off to port. A short while later we were startled by the influence of the mighty Rhone. From the low shore to the far horizon stretched a line in the water. On our side of the line the sea was deep blue and smooth, on the other side it was a milky green and choppy. We crossed over into the green and the air smelled differently, though it is hard to say how. The current from the river seemed to be drawing us in rather than pushing us away, and John adjusted our course. A floating branch alerted us to the difficulty of spotting debris in the small waves, we kept a close watch and had to swerve to avoid a larger log. As we came closer to the actual mouth of the Rhone the silt in the water gradually turned it brown.
Our course took us across the traffic separation zone for Port Napoleon. This is a sort of dual carriageway of the sea. It is indicated on the chart, traffic using it must conform to the lanes in and out and those wishing to cross must do so at right angles, get on with it and give way to bigger less manoeuverable vessels. To either side of the zone we could see big cargo ships at anchor, with corresponding stationary AIS darts on the screen. Nothing had been moving all morning, then just as we approached two darts started coming out, one behind the other. Looking out to port we spotted them, the first a big red cargo ship, the second slightly lower, but just as big and black. John called up their data on the chart. The closest point of approach for both given our current speed and course was about half a mile. This meant we were due to pass between them. Half a mile sounds a lot, but I can tell you it’s a bit daunting when vast steel hulls are bearing down on you. I sat by the screen calling out distances of closest approach as they changed on the chart. John stood at the wheel, nudging our speed up to find out the effect on the two distances. He throttled up to eight knots as the first ship passed by and we were easily through the gap before the second arrived. There were acres of space, but it was not something we do very often and we both breathed a sigh of relief afterwards. The rest of our journey passed without incident, even the change back to blue water was gradual.
Sausset les Pains looked very pretty, with what looked like a chateau ashore. We called up on the radio and the marinera came out and waved us past the reception quay and straight to a berth alongside a smaller yacht. He took our stern lines and passed us a lazy line, which John fed along Lyra. I asked the marinera if there was just one line just as John discovered it ended in chain rather than rope, a new wrinkle. The marinera explained we needed to thread a rope through the chain and tie off. Luckily I had put a bowline on, so I went up and helped thread that through. This was not a stress free experience, but is much easier than poles and the chain is very secure holding. We headed off to the bar wondering what new torture awaited us tomorrow in Bandol.
That sounds quite scary to me!