Earlier this month, Mission Ocean sailed for the first time on the catamaran that is destined to become our HQ, a platform for oceanographic research, a center of learning to raise awareness of marine pollution, and also our home for the next three years.
She is a 42-foot Fountaine-Pajot from 1994, with four large double cabins, two singles and plenty of space to work, both inside and out. Over the next few weeks, we will be in the shipyard to replace the rigging, carry out osmosis treatment, repaint her, and refit one of the cabins to become our lab and workroom.
Our adventure began on the overnight ferry to Corsica, where we were joined by Henrique’s father, Jose – not a seafarer by any means, but very proud to be part of the crew – and Josh, a South African greenie with sailing experience, freshly arrived in Antibes, who was one of the many that replied to our ad for volunteer crew on Facebook.
A pizza and a couple of rum-and-cokes later, and the boys were snoring in surround sound in our cabin before we’d even lost sight of Toulon.
The next morning, we picked up our hire car and headed down to Figari aiport, where our fifth crew member, Stephane, was waiting after flying in from Marseille. A keen sailor with lots of delivery experience, Stephane would prove to be a valuable member of the team when the going got a bit tough.
As we drove down into Piannotoli, near Bonifacio, where our catamaran was lying, the glorious sunshine that has accompanied us until then began to fade, and we were dismayed to find that the rather picturesque port was possibly the windiest place on the whole island, with a good 10-15 knots blowing us sideways along the quay.
We had planned to spend half a day preparing the boat, sleep and then set off early the next day, but that transformed into a rather long day-and-a-half wait until the wind died down sufficiently to leave the dock, with a helping hand from the harbor master (whose 'assistance' ended up with Henrique having to dive under the boat to cut the ground line loose from our starboard prop…)
The first few hours of cruising went off without a hitch, with light winds and fantastic views of Corsica’s western coastline. A few hours in, Henrique’s father was struck down with terrible sea sickness that would see him alternating between sleeping and hanging over the side of the boat until we dropped him off the following evening.
The rest of the crew were greeted to a fabulous sunset before settling down to dinner and agreeing on the watches for the night. Henrique and I took the first, which was so uneventful that I fell asleep before handing over to Josh and Stephane at midnight. We took back over at 3am, and half an hour in we began to notice that visibility was dropping, and humidity levels rising. Within a very short space of time we were wrapped up in a thick fog and the wind began to increase.
We took the decision to reduce the sails, but by the time Henrique had woken Stephane to help, the wind had risen to nearly 25 knots, and we decided to drop the main sheet. A tense couple of minutes followed but the situation was quickly back under control and Stephane, safely tucked up in his sleeping bag below, leaving us to scour what little distance we could see and listen out for fog horns.
The next morning dawned grey, but with reasonable winds and a slight swell, and we were able to make steady progress towards Porquerolles. Henrique became increasingly worried about his father, who hadn't been able to take his heart medication since we left, and so we decided to make an additional stop in Hyeres where we could put him on a train home and pick up a replacement crew member, Guillaume.
On the way in the boys were busy with various DIY jobs around the mast and Henrique tapped the boom with a hammer. All of a sudden, two dolphins leapt out of the water around 100m from our starboard hull, and made a beeline for us. They were joined by a pod of around fifteen who played off our bows for a good ten minutes, giving us plenty of time to film and observe them and note down the coordinates of our sighting to report to cetacean study groups on our return to La Ciotat.
Henrique took the helm for our arrival in Hyeres which was thoroughly successful and, after a good night’s sleep, with Guillaume safely on board, we headed for La Ciotat. Good south-easterlies and sunshine saw us well on our way in the morning; Josh set to work cleaning and tidying the deck, Stephane and Henrique swapped tips on charts and sailing apps, and Guillaume set up fishing gear (all he caught was a sea snail, but that’s beside the point), while I played around with the helm and electronics. After lunch, I took a nap, only to wake to find the crew sitting on the roof gazing at the horizon, the boat all but stationery.
“We’re out of fuel”, joked Stephane, pointing at the slack sails, as Guillaume stripped down to his shorts and jumped into the water to swim around the boat, then took one of our kayaks and proved just how slow we were going by out-paddling us with ease.
An hour later, with a bit of diesel assistance, we were at the entrance to the Old Port of La Ciotat. The capitainerie was well and truly shut, so we picked our spot and tied up with minimal fuss, under one of the old shipyard cranes and in front of a couple of decent bars. Over the next few hours we were joined by local friends and crew from boats in the yard, to have a nose around the catamaran and raise a glass or two to our maiden voyage.
Our heartful thanks go out to Josh, Stephane and Jose who volunteered their time, energy and, in some cases, their stomach contents, to help us bring our boat to La Ciotat. She is now lying there, awaiting a space in a yard somewhere along the Riviera, where we will begin to fit her out for the Mediterranean stage of our big adventure.
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