Saturday, 28 April 2012

The due date

It came to me this morning. This feels like the last week of pregnancy when a) everything seems to go into slow motion and b) you start to wonder why you haven't been scared before. There's no going back. The birth/launch of Enki is scheduled for next Thursday, May 3, at 10 am, and if there are whitecaps on the Rhone,  as there are today, we'll deal with those too.

The supermarket was selling potted lily-of-the-valley plants today. I missed the clue. Tuesday is May 1 which makes this a four-day weekend (the public holiday came as news to me over the loudspeaker as I cruised the aisles - the supermarket will be closed on Tuesday). That means the batteries won't be here until Wednesday. The French call it "making the bridge" - taking Monday off. Everyone will do it, or try to.

There's a southeasterly wind howling through the yard now, so we've lost the polar chill.  Families have begun arriving in station wagons with northern European number plates, luggage pressed up hard against all rear windows. Flashy Italian and German sports cars are appearing in the car park too, with a different kind of driver.

There are some very big and expensive boats here. I washed down Enki's mast this afternoon with a superyacht from Cowes looming over me. She's been in the shed for 18 months, Marcus tells me, while her three owners squabble over the cost of fixing her up. The quotes have come in at between $800,000 and a million dollars. Or was that euros? Either way, she's a rich man's obsession.

All boats are obsessions, really, even when they're as small as this little blue thing, tucked in between "serious" cruising yachts.  She's something like 22 feet long. Her owner lives aboard her year round, in the yard (there was a light snowfall this year in Port Napoleon). Brian's a little guy, useful for crawling into tight spaces, who works for the shipwrights in the green shed next to the boat. He loves boats, but he doesn't seem too fussed about whether or not they're in the water.

There are quite a few people like that at Port Napoleon. That's why getting the boat launched needs to be our obsession.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Dragging the chain

Who's in a hurry to go sailing? Not me. Too cold for a Sydney softie. A demented icy-fingered wind has been raging through the boatyard since our arrival, making a mockery of sporting intentions. In town this morning for the weekly market, I spotted hands of wisteria falling over a wall, about to burst into flower. At home, the wisteria comes out around the time of Freddy's birthday in mid-September. Season for season, that makes it still early to be out on the water, I figured, conveniently forgetting the plan is to live on the boat year round.

A new Rocna anchor was delivered yesterday - 40 kg of galvanised steel for us to throw onto the ocean floor.  That should hold.  The anchor is a big ticket item. I struggle to think of the small ones. We've  made a decision on the dinghy and life raft. Batteries are next. At the start of the season, it's as much about availability as price. "Life's a game," Alex says, hanging up on Frank in Antibes. In November Frank was competitive on battery price; now he's not. Alex is a born trader, energised by commerce.

French customs on the other hand are reliably deadening. Four boxes of our personal effects and spare parts are stopped in their tracks in Marseilles.  A familiar story. By rights it should have a happy ending, but there's so often a twist in the tail with les douanes.

In the yard, Alex is snapping at heels, and commitments are being made. The ubiquitous Berry family starts work again tomorrow on Enki's mechanical and other moving parts, and Paul the electrician promises he'll be on the boat this weekend (he's a refugee from Queensland). We've booked Enki in for anti-fouling - yes, someone else is going to paint her bottom. Alex's decision. Call it spinal maintenance.

Markus the rigger is ready to go too. Tomorrow we'll clean up the mast which has been in the shed all winter. We're treating Enki to new standing rigging i.e. all the stuff that holds up her mast. She's been around the world once on the existing rig. It may be good enough to go the distance again, but then again, it may not. We're playing it safe. House policy.

Today, as I mentioned, was market day in Port Saint Louis du Rhone. There's nothing not to like about fresh produce in France, but it does pay to be awake when you are buying. We were at the market early, before many of the stallholders had finished setting up. The fishmonger was not yet ready for customers so I went around to the butcher's van and bought two steaks for dinner, the best he had. The meat looked a little different from what I'm used to, but often food does in France, and usually it tastes better too. Only after he'd cut and wrapped my meat did I glance up at the sign behind him. Even if I couldn't read French, my stomach would have somersaulted. I'd clearly bought meat from a horse butcher. 

I can't eat horse meat. I don't know why. It's irrational. I eat pig, and pigs are intelligent animals. I'm not especially an especially squeamish carnivore. I love calf's liver. I've eaten sheep brains (standard fare in my New Zealand childhood). I like tongue - I ordered it recently at a tapas bar in Sydney, and the taste brought back good memories of my mother's tongue press. But do they grow horses for slaughter anyway? Like cows and sheep and goats? Or do they kill their working animals, like laying hens which are passed their best? I can't imagine it, but then again, there's a lot I can't imagine, which is why it's a good thing for homebodies like me to travel often and for long periods. I'm not sure I need to eat horsemeat to broaden my mind but buying it got me thinking. I went back to the fishmonger. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Mind the bumps

My inner housewife breaks out....again

I won't pretend we've had a smooth entry into Port Napoleon. For a couple of days we've been glaring at each other, like cats with their fur blown the wrong way. For me, the diagnosis is simple - like a cat, I hate leaving home, and for a while afterwards I'm tender to the touch, scratchy even. Eventually I adjust. Today is better than yesterday. We've been pottering on Enki, I making small corners of order in places I understand (first, the galley, needless to say), and Alex contemplating the enormity of the chaos both below and above decks (Enki has no mast... and that's the manageable part). He's been printing labels (shower drain, watermaker out) on his nifty label-making machine. I think that helps.

Thinking about which engine spares he needs

He's been pretty disappointed to discover how much work hasn't been done since he left Enki in the hands of the Port Napoleon tradies at the beginning of December. So much for the slow months.  Promises, promises....This place runs on them. The regimental lines of giant wind generators which are such a striking feature of the mouth-of-the-Rhone landscape - the mistral doesn't blow for nothing - suggest that the south of France is a go-ahead, efficient, pacy kind of place. It isn't. 

More mussels than you can eat at the Josephine cafe
Today's Sunday. Nothing happens on a Sunday, which when you've become used to commerce never sleeping brings you up short.  I can get used to Sunday being quiet (in my childhood, nothing happened on Sunday  - nor on Saturday for that matter). The trouble is that not a lot happens on other days of the week either. The English-speaking world's angst over work/life balance simply isn't an issue here. It's all about life. Isn't that why people want to spend a year in Provence? 

We'll come right. We'll stop worrying about how to recharge our iPad on a website which has been down since this morning. We'll stop expecting Paul the electrician to reply to Alex's 8.45 am text message (on a Sunday?). We might consider closing the jobs list and figuring what we can leave port without (there's always Turkey). We'll slow down. We'll start noticing the weather, over and above the fact that the wind never stops howling and another 5 degrees of heat would go down well. We'll start talking about the places we want to go in this boat of ours. I'll order the cruising pilots today. I think we can do better than a 1993 guide to Turkish waters (was that really how long ago Alex began planning this trip?). But then again, I could just read a book. This apartment is really very comfortable, and unlike Enki, it doesn't need a thing doing to it. 

For relaxation, he washes dishes

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Sydney to Burgundy

On the road with 60 kg of luggage

I know I’m somewhere else as soon as I wake. The birdsong in France is sweeter, higher-pitched, more excitable than the sonorous warbling of magpies which wakes me in Sydney. But then again, it is spring on this side of the world, the season of wickedly sudden cloudbursts, fat buds and long evenings. The birds have reason to be excited. We do too.

Yonne's left bank

We navigated around Paris, bypassing its famous spring, and headed south, stopping for the night in Joigny, a small town on the river Yonne, because…..I remembered. This happens when you get older. One week in spring, half a lifetime ago, my parents rented a canal boat to float down the river from Joigny to Auxerre. Nigel and I were young and footloose in Europe, and we joined them. Before the river flooded and we had to abandon the Claude Tillier (such a grand name for a hulk) we had such whale of a time.

April in Joigny
Curiously though, my most lasting memory is of chasing a cat on my bike along the tow path. The cat was terrified, something I was oblivious to in my fiendish state. I remember how ashamed I was when a lock keeper shouted at me, and I came to my senses. The Claude Tillier was a memorably ugly ship. I looked for her on the pontoons near our hotel, The Rive Gauche, but canal boats have changed shape. There were no ugly ones.

Schnitzel anticipation

He learned this from his dad (Dave and Pauline)
To regress, we left Sydney in a deluge of autumn rain (and did I mention tears?). The days before however were as fine as you could hope for. Dave brought us all (the extended tribe) together for a schnitzel feast, which unbelievably we were able to eat outdoors. If nothing else, Alex has passed on to the next generation the schnitzel-making gene.

Sam graduated from Macquarie University with a law degree. My son the lawyer. Ah, mothers. It was his moment, but what pleasure to share it.

Madi and Sam, and Sam's mum

Many text messages, but from Pops, the one which carried me through: “You are starting your adventure, and don’t get caught up in the leaving side if you can….” That girl. She’s lucky she escaped being press ganged.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Perilously close

Quinces just baked

Mike and Alex 

This has been the week we had to have in order to get to where we want to go. It was the week which brought to an abrupt end our domestic rituals and seasonal pleasures, like the slow cooking of quinces, the making of coffee for passing friends, the picking of fresh mint and basil, the sitting about outside with our children, helping them to figure out what position to take next in life.

It was the week when Pops moved down the road to live with her dad, Nigel. The upstairs verandah studio where she has brewed her talent as a painter and sculptor has been emptied, all evidence of her beautiful occupation obliterated with a fresh coat of household grey.

Traces of our artist in residence

Evidence gone - ready for tenancy

It was the week when I didn't cook Monday night dinner. Sam booked a table for ten at a noodle house in Chinatown, and no-one went hungry

It was the week we finally packed our bags and understood that whatever was still left on the shelves, in the cupboards and on the floor after the past month's Great Divestment of personal and household possessions would disappear into storage for the next however many years.

On Tuesday the removalists put our home comforts into boxes and bubblewrap and on Wednesday they took it all away in a couple of trucks. 

Alex dismantles and cleans the espresso machine

On Wednesday night, having given everything we could to its final cleaning, we closed up the fine old house in which we've lived so fully over the past six years and drove to Chippendale where we are parked until take off. 

We're guests of Tony and Gillian who ride 60 km before breakfast and are serious about their wine and the imperative to appreciate it and each other. They seem to understand that we are somewhere in between here and there, and for that we're grateful. No need to shout and holler.

Tony's wine fridges


We're just about done, in many ways, but there's still a graduation and the real goodbyes to come, the ones which will tear us up. Then the life we've been hankering after....if we're ever at sea, as Alex used to say all those years ago. 

Friday, 6 April 2012

Po's last supper (with us)

Clementine and Po
She'll start getting under your feet from about 5 o'clock, expecting to be fed, or even earlier if you're already in the kitchen, I told Susan when she visited about three weekends ago "to see if Po likes me". Po did like Susan, which is good because tomorrow afternoon Po is going to live with Susan  until we come back from our voyaging. But then again, Po likes almost everyone and vice versa. She has the sweetest, most affectionate disposition of any cat Alex or I have ever known. Here she is keeping Pops company during an afternoon "toes up" a while back.

Pops and Po - like a bit of toes up

Po is generally where the fun is happening. She likes people, which is not something I've heard many people say of their cats. She arrived at our house like this, four years ago.

Sam and his new animal

It's not possible to take Po with us on the boat. Or rather, it is possible but we're choosing not to do that. I've read too many books where the ship's cat disappears overboard - and I mean disappears. Gone. Unhappy ending. Because Po loves company, I've also chosen to send her to live with someone who is home during the day rather than with Freddy in Surry Hills. 

Freddy and Po like backyard beer time

Freddy picked Po up from the Gladesville Cat Rescue with me and promised to look after her should we ever go cruising. He's disappointed, but these days Freddy is a young man with great expectations, and that means he's at work all day and often out at night. Po, as I mentioned, likes her supper at around 5 pm, and regular, generous doses of attention. We hope Susan enjoys her company a quarter as much as we have, and that the legend of Po will live on in Leichhardt.