Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Au Fond de la Cour - 48° 27' 43" N 07° 29' 02" E

It is always fun to discover multiple connections with people.

In 2018, we had decided to spend the summer in Europe.  Kate and her sisters were meeting their mother for a milestone birthday and the four of them were going to go to Norway to see as many fjords as they could.  As Sean didn't want to be left behind in Canada, he decided to create a base camp in France - nice and central for European visitors and very handy to the bike paths that spider-webbed the region.  The total time in Europe would be ten weeks - too long to be a house guest ... and with Susan, Wendy and Nancy all planning to spend time there, we couldn't take over Florence's place in Bischoffsheim.

Sean found a place in Obernai (a 4 kilometre walk from Florence's home) that was central in town and had extra room for visitors.  The owner seemed quite pleased that we were renting her spare apartment for the whole summer and she wouldn't be required to move guests in and out as they changed over.  

When we arrived in June, we found the owner, Véronique, to be a lovely, bubbly soul.  She was happy to have us.  When we mentioned her name to Florence, it turned out they had worked together years ago.  Hooray!  A connection!

On this visit, four years later, we decided to revisit Veronique's home.  She has now opened a café and serves coffee, tea and desserts from the house and courtyard where she lives.  It's a beautiful space and being over 400 years old, full of history.

Sean and Florence at Véronique's café

Inside the café

When Véronique spotted us, she came over and chatted and briefly explained how the café had been built and opened.  She also invited us for aperitifs in a few days when she would have more time to visit (the café was quite busy).  Her cousins "from America" were coming and we could meet them.  We happily accepted the invitation on the spot.

On the night of the invite, we arrived after 7:30 (as requested).  We had drinks and met Mike and Rob from Ohio.  They were indeed (second) cousins and were visiting for a week.  After an hour, Véronique sheepishly admitted that she still had some café business to attend to - she needed to prepare a large order of samosas.  We all immediately decided to volunteer at the café for the night.

Work parties bring a sense of camaraderie to a group - we are all focused on a task, it gives our mind that little bit extra to do while we drink and visit. The kitchen in the café was modern, well laid out, bright and easy to work in. There was room for everyone.  We learned the fine art of making Au Fond de la Cour Samosas - luckily, the fillings were waiting in large bowls in the commercial fridge.  We folded, drank and laughed our way through the evening.

A well laid out kitchen - great space!

Folding lessons ... with wine

One tray, ready for the fridge

Samosa filling and lots of chatter

 We filled and folded and filled and folded and filled and folded and ... what do you mean we are out of filling?  What do you mean it is nearly one o'clock in the morning?  It was such fun, I can't wait to go back and work for free again.

Time to go!  Florence, Véronique, Mike, Rob and Véronique's sister and husband
Kate, too.

Thanks, Veronique, for a lovely evening.  Bonsoir!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Le Perréon - 46° 03' 43" N 04° 36' 07" E

With kids around, the passing of time is much more obvious.  

A week ago, we landed in Bischoffsheim at the home of with our friend, Florence, and her not-so-little-anymore kids, Thibaud and Lou.  Thibaud is a year away from finishing his studies at a communications and media college, and Lou is in her tenth year of Lyceé.  They've both transformed greatly from the original waist-high French waifs that Sean met on his first visit in 2015.

While we are alllllll the way over in France looking at boats, we thought Florence would enjoy a visit from us.  When we come, we don't come for the weekend - we are planning to be here at least a month.  As we were with them for such a long time, we encouraged them to do as they normally do, and we would see them between work, school, scheduled activities and time with friends.  The Theron-Bouvier family decided to treat us as part of the mob and we were to be included in all their extracurricular fun.  They had planned a get-together in the Beaujolais region with old friends from Florence's home town.  We were invited, so of course we came along.

The model is called "Saxo", which means "cavernous".

When Florence's red Megane station wagon succumbed to fatal engine trouble a few years ago, an uncle offered to sell his car to her.  As it was just Florence, tiny little Lou and a-bit-bigger Thibaud (who was away at school and no longer in need of daily rides), she pronounced the 2001 Citroen Saxo a perfect car for her.  A small diesel engine meant reliability and good fuel economy, and a small wheelbase would be handy on the narrow roads and small spaces of the region where she drove.  Little did she realize at the time that in a few years she would be loading her family, bedding, food for the weekend, two old friends with long legs, her VERY TALL teenagers and enough wine to see us through a long Easter weekend into this wee workhorse for a six-hour drive to Vaux-en-Beaujolais.

Room to spare!

A six hour drive from Bischoffsheim took us as far as Lyon, where we took the afternoon to look around (Sean had never been).  We sent a few hours tromping through the old city and across to La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviére.   

Bridge across the Saône River to the Lyon Courthouse,
with the basilica on the hill

Narrow, winding streets shared by vehicles and pedestrians

Beautiful, abandoned bits - an old, no-longer-used fountain

Great spot for a late lunch!  Looks authentic.

Sadly, no time for a proper look around this shop

Up the stairs to the basilica.
Good thing we live where there is lots of uphill!

Great view of the red roofs of Lyon

We arrived in Le Perréon in Vaux-en-Beaujolais on Friday night to discover that we were staying at a scenic and grand Gîte Mairie Le Perréon, opposite the church/town centre.  There were flags and bunting criss-crossing the main street -  this weekend was host to the Fête du Conscrit!

A lovely outdoor space at the Mairie Le Perréon

Originally a chance for one last kick-up of the heels before the young men of the town did their obligatory military service, Fête du Conscrit had morphed into a evening (which flowed into the whole weekend) of a parade around the town themed around colours.  There were floats themed in yellow, orange, blue, black, purple and finally a multicoloured float.  Each float had an oversized music system blaring the theme song of their "colour." The float was festooned with local rowdies who had concocted a mixed drink that they encouraged the adults in the crowd to imbibe and had bonbons to give out to (and confetti throw at) those that chose not to drink.  Add to that liberal use of firecrackers and actual fireworks - launched from and around the floats - and you've got a recipe for a party.

The aperitifs for the First Night Frenzy

The French don't mess around when they serve cheese.

This was right outside our Gîte.

We had our own celebration going on, as group after group arrived at the gîte and were properly welcomed by those already there.  A large table of aperitifs had been prepared and bottles of wine were quickly produced out of the arriving luggage.  

Outside, the parade continued.  What we thought was a parade running from one end of the tiny village to the other turned out to be a loop ... right around the block where our Gîte was.  'Round and 'round it went, into the night.  After much merriment, music, young hoons revving their engines and just when you thought things were calming down ... CRACK CRACK of some previously-unexploded ordinance ... we managed to get to sleep.  Lucky thing, as a vineyard tour and hike had been planned for the next day.

The french word for cellar is "cave" - very appropriate!

The tasting area

The group for the vineyard tour

Bounty from the tour

Organizing this many people takes time.  After getting everyone up, organized and fed (lunch, by this time), we were only able to do the vineyard tour.  The hike would have to wait until tomorrow.  As all the old friends had booked out the Gîte in Le Perréon, Kate and Sean relocated down the road to their own gîte.

Our own Gîte!

The next day, we reconvened at the Mairie, had breakfast and started off on our hike.  Every time we reached a crossroads, an ad hoc committee was formed to decide which way to go.  The consensus was usually "up."

Just feet from the main road were these type of houses.  How scenic!

Fairly steep uphills, but great views all around.

The vines are quite gnarled and dry at this time of year
and give the fields a desolate look.

Trails through some bush between the
open rows of vines.

Farm equipment tracks at harvest, hiking trails the rest of the year

Friends for a long time

What great timing - the flowers were in bloom!

Enjoying time together

A junction - time for a committee meeting

The best part - lunch at the top!

Post-hiking stretch in the courtyard of the Gîte Mairie

Gil and Sean bring post-hike refreshments!

Each evening, everyone would gather for a communal dinner that went on for hours.  Kate and Sean didn't always follow the fast, accented conversation amongst this close-knit group that had known each other since before they had had and raised their children, but we could see that this annual reunion had been sorely missed during the last two years of COVID.  We felt privileged to be part of the fun, good-natured jokes and camaraderie that bubbled forth.  

True joie de vie!

Friday, April 8, 2022

Cherbourg-en-Cotentin - 49°37'48" N 1°37'12" E

COVID be damned, we have gone to see an actual Garcia Exploration 45.

Someday, someday, one of these beauties will be ours!

After months - no, wait, YEARS of Internet research, discussions with other sailors and wanna-be sailors, marina-pontoon-walking and long-term planning, we decided that a Garcia Exploration 45 was the boat that we needed for our next Grand Adventure.  It was all based on hearsay, as neither of us had been close enough to one of these mythical vessels to evaluate it first-hand.  We longed to stand at the helm, to open lockers, to run our hands along the decks and gunwales and generally crawl all over one of these pretties so we could see if we were satisfied with the quality and design, or decide if putting a deposit down on one of these had been a BIG MISTAKE.

COVID had made international travel a difficult proposition.  Up until a month ago, it was cost- and hassle-prohibitive ... never mind the personal dangers involved.  Now, as both of us are quadruple-vaccinated, we decided to chance a trip to Cherbourg to visit the boatyard where the welded hulls were fitted out.

The drive to the Calgary airport had us both excited for the familiarity of air travel, but unsure of what obstacles would be presented in our journey during the new pandemic-altered world.  We were lucky to have a direct flight to Paris from Calgary.  After an uneventful flight on a half-full 787 Dreamliner, disembarking and making our way through Duannes (Customs) was smooth.  We decided a rental car would give us more flexibility for this first trip to Cherbourg, so into our Skoda we climbed and drove the 4 hours to our rented apartment in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin.

Not a long drive ... by North American standards

We made it!

Cherbourg came into being as a small Norman fishing village as early as the 1st century and has always been a strategic port, but it grew by leaps and bounds in the early 1810's when Napoleon Bonaparte decided to make it into a major naval base.  A great ship-building industry grew in the area and generations of ship builders learned and perfected their trade.  Two of these shipbuilders, Jean-Louis and Jean-Pierre Garcia, started a company in 1974 to build metal boats designed to withstand any type of sea conditions and be sturdy enough to encounter strong gales, dangerous obstacles such as ice, whales and other floating and submerged obstacles, and would able to carry enough supplies and fuel to cross oceans and there would be (as their company tagline states) "Nowhere you can't go."

The boat is hard to spot amongst the ice, but it's there - safe and sound.

We had arrived in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin on Tuesday evening and we had an appointment at the Garcia boatyard on Wednesday morning.  We couldn't wait to see a Garcia yacht, so we walked the short distance to the marina.  During our prolonged wander of the marina, we came across the exact model of yacht we have ordered  ... and were happy to find that we knew the owners - our friends Rick and Carolyn!

Rick and Carolyn (the couple in red) are visited by us and Marissa and Adriano
(from Voyager, another Exploration 45)

Finally, the Garcia/Allures boatyard!

The next day when Kate and I arrived at Garcia's main office, there were several large monohulls and a catamaran outside, further confirming we were at the right place.  We met Cothilde-Marie, the Garcia engineer who will advise us on customizing our boat.  We have found out that it will be Hull #48 (not #47 as we were initially told).  The timelines had not changed but the numbering order (we were told) did not mean that much.  We would still be able to take possession in May, 2024.

Sean finally touches a Garcia yacht.

Cothilde-Marie took us on a tour of the factory, where we saw many hulls - Allures, Garcias and the magnificent Explocat - in the process of being fitted out.

Hull of an Allures 45. The deck is made of fiberglass and fitted
on top once the interior is built.

One of the things that makes the Exploration different from the other boats
is that the whole structure (hull, decks, coach house ... everything) is welded 
aluminium, making it very solid. 

One of the woodworking areas at the boatyard

Sean having a careful look at a detail of the port helm station

An Explocat 52 in progress.  What a monster!

We think Garcia has a great logo.

Kate and Cothilde-Marie watch a mast being stepped onto an Explocat 52 out on the yard.

An Exploration 45 is in the early stages of completion 

On our way to the paint shop

Kate and Cothilde-Marie looking at materials

Just one part of the factory ... and it is huge. Eight hulls are being worked on in this area.

Being able to climb on, look inside, handle materials and ask a barrage of questions was extremely comforting.  We must know this boat intimately - where every cable starts and finishes; where every thru-hull, switch, pump and motor are; what is attached to what (when something needs to be repaired or replaced); how things open, close and what lies behind each panel ... these could literally be the difference between life and death.  Although Kate and I would love to be hands-on involved in the building process, we don't have the expertise or skill to create one of these vessels.  Watching and learning about our specific build is something that we CAN do from a distance, via pictures that Cothilde-Marie offered to send to us on a weekly schedule (once the build starts).

The forward cabin in the process of  being built.

Standing in the galley, looking forward to the navigation station.

A finished boat, in the galley looking forward.

To our great relief, the Garcia Exploration 45 exceeded our expectations.  It feels roomier, more solid and far prettier than we imagined.  The sole is robust and completely squeak-free, you can do chin-ups off the fiddles without a millimetre of movement and there is ample headroom wherever you need it. The fully-integrated arch is actually welded to the hull, as are the hard pints for tethers and many of the grab bars. 

The biggest issue with the boat....









...is the wait!