Saturday, November 20, 2010

French Gold

Day 19:

This morning I woke up in the middle of a swamp (43.364961,4.584661).

Ok, to be fair I wasn't in the middle.

After my morning chores I walked from the lighthouse to my boat, maybe a five minute walk that involved getting my feet wet a number of times.

I had a new addition to my deck.  The day before, Jean Pierre had
given me a lure of his that he assured me would catch fish.  When I
had asked him what its name was, he told me what kind of lure it was.
I named it Josh.

I put my boat on the little shallow beach bay that came from a break in the rock wall facing the sea.  As I sat there ready to pull out, I watched extremely challenging surf, with one ferocious breaking wave after another hurtling towards the shallow hole in the wall I occupied, to collapse into nothing just a few feet from me.

I pulled out into it.  There were some tricky moments, when a strong hip snap saved me.  At other times, while trying to get through it, I would kiss my deck to reduce the force pushing me back as the water rushed over me, and when it had passed I would try to make some progress with desperate pulls forward before I would have to kiss my deck again to pass beneath the next collapsing wall.  Finally I was free.

The last wave was behind me and I had kept on paddling for another 50 yards or so.  I had managed to make it through without going over once, which was good.  (It's nice to be able to roll, a good kayaker never has to.)  Josh had left the secure place on
my deck that I had left him, with his hooks in the cork reel and held down by bungees, and secured a solid grasp on my spray skirt.  I tried to unhook him from my skirt.  While his need to be closer to me in the wild rush of the wave was touching, it was not appreciated.  Finally I gave up and tore him free, the damage to my skirt was minor.

A big wave was coming and breaking.  I grabbed my paddle just in time to give myself  the necessary support skull, only my paddle hit the water at a bad angle, and I went over.  I came back up with an offside upwave roll, annoyed that my successful launch in the rough surf was marred.

The beach faced the west, and the surf was so rough because there was a strong west wind.  Which was a wonderful tailwind the whole way.

I had found on Google maps a port just on the other side of the Gulf de Fos which was a good distance and about 10 miles from Marseilles. I had been warned about the mouth of a particular river I’d be passing.  I was told it was dangerous.  When I approached I attached my emergency quick grab bag to me instead of the inside of my cockpit, and turned my radio on just in case I needed to call for help in a hurry.

I knew that I had arrived at the place when a clear heavily rippling line of demarcation ran across the sea, coming from an outlet in the shore.  After the line the sea was mostly flat with occasional giant humps of waves moving across the flat surface in different directions.

A couple of them hit me but I was pushed along not vary far and then they had passed beneath me. After that I was crossing the bay.  There was heavy shipping so I
pressed the broadcast button on my radio.  “Securitay, Securitay, Securitay” I began in a slow clear voice.  “Single kayak crossing the Gulf of Fos from West to East.  Estimated crossing time: three hours. Repeat ...” I said it again and ended with an “End message.”

I managed not to get run over by any of the tankers.

Finally, as the sun began to set, I pulled into the port I had hoped for.  I pulled my kayak up on the dock and went about my business. Someone noticed that I kept jumping over the dock's fence so they unlocked it for me to save me the trouble.

I found myself in a very small town, Carro, with no internet cafe that anybody knew of.

I was a little desperate to connect to the world because I was hoping a friend of mine could get me a place to stay for the Sabbath in Marseilles.  I was told there would be a place in the next town over, and while there were no buses, maybe I could hitchhike.

As I walked along trying to get a ride, my computer was open and eventually I found a weak connection. I got great news from my friend Shani, her parents had made her a
little brother, which was very exciting since I'm close with the family.

Later, I found a shower, but there was no soap.  The bathroom was next to an RV site (43.330438,5.039699), so I knocked on a couple of the doors of RV's and both times the conversation went exactly the same.

“Parlez-vous anglais?”


“Shampoo?”  I would rub my hair to make sure they understood.  They did.

“No.”  This came with an ugly face that said they would rather I stank, and somewhere else If I don't mind.

Jean Pierre had told me that people were nice and that all I need to to was to ask.  He told me that I should have asked if I could sleep on his boat the first of the two nights I was in the marina also, instead of just the second.

These people couldn't lend a guy some shampoo.  I don't know if I would let somebody I didn't know sleep in my home, but I would certainly be willing to give shampoo out at my door to anybody who asked.

Maybe in France shampoo is really expensive.


  1. So one needs more than a towel when travelling the galaxy. One also needs soap.

  2. what are the Jewish communities like that you are encountering ? do they seem beleaguered ?

  3. Yes. They are much smaller then those in the NYC area and have a larger portion of older congregants. There are also a lot of people who have left israel so it's easy to find hebrew speakers. In every community, fulfilling the old adage, their were at least 2 synagogues, though not always a daily minyan.