Ship ahoy!

Have you ever been close up to a tall ship, or even been on board one??   I hadn’t but I had seen some on TV, all decked out with full sails.  Remember The Onedin Line??  For those of you too young to have seen it, The Onedin Line was a BBC television series in the 1970s, starring a three masted tall ship.

My chance to get up close and personal with tall ships came the week before Easter, when two of the world’s largest sailing ships dropped anchor at Sete, for a week’s stay.  Driving into Sete I could see the two vessels out at sea, with one of them heading for the entrance to the harbour – a pretty spectacular sight!  I found a car park near the railway station and made my way to the Quai du Maroc on foot.  If you have a look at a map of Sete you will see that there is no end of water – canals run in every direction and there are many bridges!  Just as I was approaching to cross the first bridge, a barrier came down to stop traffic and pedestrians, and then the whole bridge started to move! I’ve seen bridges lifting (think of Tower Bridge in London), but I’d not seen a bridge move like this – it pivoted on rollers in the centre, until the roadway was in line with the canal and ships could pass either side of it.


As soon as the bridge had resumed its normal position I could continue on my way to the Quai du Maroc, and as I rounded the last corner, there it was – the first of the two ships, in the process of mooring up!!  It was a pretty spectacular sight, one I won’t forget in a hurry.  Two tug boats were gently pushing this enormous ship very slowly against the wall of the quay – it almost appeared not to be moving at all, so slow was the progress.  The boat I was watching was the STS Kruzenshtern, whose website you can find here.  Of course the sails were not up, but from my vantage point it looked as though there were people up in the rigging.  A zoom with the camera proved that observation right – the sailors were busy furling the sails!!

Once the Kruzenshtern was docked up I went a little closer, only to be told by one of the stewards that the next boat was about to enter the harbour, and that the best vantage point would be from where I had just come.  As I was about to go off to find myself a spot on the edge of the quay to sit and wait, I saw a rather amusing thing: on a balcony, just across the quay from the Kruzenshtern, were a group of women with a sheet.  They were shouting across at the sailors, saying “Hey guys, this is how you do it!” whilst gathering up the sheet!  Everyone had a good laugh and they got a round of applause from the bystanders.

I then took up position further along the quay, and when the STS Sedov finally entered the harbour I was not disappointed – it was a highly atmospheric scene, reminiscent of JMW Turner’s painting of The Fighting Temeraire (with a bit of imagination!!).  A big tugboat was towing the Sedov, and as they got close enough to the quay a smaller boat took lines ashore, which were attached to bollards on the quay.  Then the winches on board the Sedov took over, slowly bringing the ship to its mooring.  The video below is a little lengthy and at times a bit shaky, but you’ll get the idea of just how amazing it is to watch a big ship like that.  Note: E-mail subscribers will have to go to the blog site in order to watch the video.

With both boats safely moored up I decided to get a little closer once more.  The sheer size of the boats was incredible, with the Sedov being 117 meters in length and the Kruzenshtern a little shorter at 114 meters!


The boats were due to allow visitors on board in the afternoon, so for now I admired them from dry land, and after a while I set off with my friends to find a restaurant for a spot of lunch.  We found a great little place on Rue Gaston Escarguel, which served very nice salads.  It looked as though it had not long been open, and on google maps street view, the little restaurant is shown in its previous incarnation, as a bakery :).

After the salads, a Cafe Gourmand hit just the right spot!

P1090385And then it was back to the boats once more!!

The queue at the Sedov was shorter, so after just a few minutes we were stepping on board the largest sailing ship in the world!

The enormous deck area was open to the public, and we caught glimpses of some interiors, such as the long corridors leading to the cabins.  You can get a virtual tour of both ships via their websites – it’s very interesting!   The Sedov was built by Krupp in Kiel, Germany, and launched in 1921, as a cargo carrier.  In 1945 the ship came under Russian ownership as part of war reparations.  The Sedov carries a crew of 54 as well as  148 cadets and trainees.  You’ll be able to find out more about the history of both ships, if you want to, on their websites.

Once we’d toured the Sedov, we joined the lengthening queue for the Kruzenshtern.  Interestingly enough, the two boats didn’t differ all that much.  The Kruzenshtern was built in 1926 in Bremerhaven, and passed into Russian ownership in 1946, again as part of German war reparations.  Today the ship belongs to the Baltic Academy of the Fisheries and is used as a training ship, carrying 70 crew and over 160 cadets.  The Kruzenshtern and the Sedov also carry paying guests, so if you fancy a trip on one of the world’s largest sailing ships, have a look at their websites.

A lady in waiting and other tales from Languedoc

I’ll start with the last bit first – a visit to Sete last night, so see Stacey Kent in Concert at the Theatre de la Mer.  The Theatre de la Mer was built on what remained of the fort built by Vauban in the 18th century – it was perfect for an amphitheater and the view from the seats beyond the stage is magical.  If you want to find out a bit more of the history of the fort/theatre have a look here.  The concert was due to start at 9pm, with a warm up by Terez Montcalm, a Canadian singer, who’s currently promoting her tribute album to Shirley Horn, followed at about 10.30 by Stacey Kent and her quintet.  The evening was great, the lights twinkling and the occasional boat going by and the atmosphere in the theater wonderful.  Of the two Terez Montcalm got the audience going much more, Stacey Kent was missing that je ne sais quoi that would have turned her performance into something more memorable.  But still….
 We had arrived in Sete in plenty of time before the doors opened, so decided to wander along the port and look for somewhere to have a bite to eat.  The romantic looking restaurant we all wanted to go to didn’t start serving until 8pm, which was too late, so we settled for a small cafe type place a few doors up.  The menu was small and the rose wine came in large bucket full of ice, and our table was right by the water’s edge, perfect for watching all kinds of boats going by!  Here’s the food we had:  an assortment of tapas (cold fish and prawns), and grilled octopus, both very delicious.

The seagull was watching our plates with a beady eye, but didn’t make any attempts at snatching morsels. It looked pretty well fed…. On the way back to the theatre we saw some youngsters training for jousting. They had motor powered boats, and really went for it. If you look closely the second picture you can just about see the splash!  As an aside – if you’re ever going to the Theatre de la Mer, bring some seat cushions with you, and don’t arrive too late.  Seating is first come first served, and it can get very packed.  At the top of the theatre are two terraces, where there are food stalls, so if you want to have something to eat you can take it back to your hard-won seats!

Earlier in the week I met with friends for a picnic along the banks of the Canal du Midi – at Capestang to be precise. There are picnic tables from where you have a great view of the pleasure boats driving by and the magnificent plane trees are still providing shade. With the courgettes starting to glut I decided I would try a Turkish recipe by Yottam Ottolenghi for a courgette frittata, to use up a fair few. The recipe was a little fiddly and lengthy (grating the courgettes, salting and leaving them to stand, then draining and squeezing them out in a teatowel) but the end result was worth every bit of effort. To go with the frittata I made humus and tzaziki, and my friends brought bread, ham and cheese. I could not resist dessert so took some poached rhubarb to be served with custard.

Now back to St Chinian – last Saturday I heard the unfamiliar sound of the clip-clop of hooves coming round a corner.  Luckily my camera was to hand to snap these pictures of a newlywed couple on their way to their wedding breakfast.

Finally, the Lady-in-waiting is Marianne – awaiting her big day on July 14! I think every municipality in France has a bust or statue of Marianne, the national emblem of France.  In the days leading up to Bastille day, our Mairie is beautifully decked out with flags and Marianne takes pride of place on the central balcony. More decorations will be going up this afternoon as the whole park in front of the town hall will be decked out with lampions, which will be lit tonight before a torch-lit procession around town, with a brass band, and all the children carrying flags and lampions.  Tomorrow night it’ll be the same procession, only we’ll end up at the football ground to watch the fireworks!

The park will be scented by the magnolia grandiflora trees, which are in flower now – I’d never paid attention to the perfume, but it is a beautiful smell with a hint of citrus.

I’m sure even the goldfish will have a good time at the forthcoming parties!!