Overcoming the lockdown in France & French sailing restrictions

As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a warm glow over the tranquil waters of the Mediterranean, we sat aboard our beloved sailboat, Puzzle, anchored in the serene harbor of Santa Lucia. The gentle lapping of the waves against the hull was a soothing melody, a stark contrast to the whirlwind of emotions we were experiencing. The date was March 16th, 2020, a day that would forever be etched in our memories. It was the day before the unexpected lockdown in France, a day that marked the end of our freedom to sail and the beginning of an unprecedented journey.

We had been preparing for this sailing season for months, meticulously planning our route, stocking up on supplies, and making necessary improvements to our boat. Our dreams were filled with visions of azure waters, sun-drenched coastlines, and the exhilarating thrill of harnessing the wind. But as the saying goes, Man plans, and God laughs. Little did we know that a storm was brewing, not at sea, but on land. A storm that would keep our sails furled and our anchor dropped for much longer than we could have ever anticipated.

The French lockdown, a measure taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, came like a bolt from the blue. As the world around us retreated into a shell, the bustling shipyards fell eerily silent, and the once-busy harbors became ghost towns. The sailing prohibition was a bitter pill to swallow. Our sailboat, once a vessel of freedom and adventure, was now confined to the harbor, mirroring our lockdown on land.

This is our tale of how we navigated the turbulent waters of the French lockdown, how we adapted to the post-lockdown sailing restrictions in France, and how, despite the odds, we found a way to keep our sailing dreams alive. Join us as we recount our journey, our maiden voyage not across the sea, but through a time of unprecedented change and adaptation.

The unexpected lockdown in France

The day before the lockdown in France

The morning of March 16 dawned bright and clear, a typical day in the South of France. The air was crisp, filled with the scent of the sea and the promise of a productive day ahead. We were scheduled to take Puzzle, our faithful sailboat, to the shipyard for a hull repaint and re-rigging, a task Mathieu had meticulously planned with the shipyard back in February, right after the boat inspection.

As we drove to the shipyard, we noticed the car garages were still open, their mechanics busy at work. It was a reassuring sight, a sign that life was carrying on as usual. We held onto the hope that the shipyard would also be open, ready to welcome Puzzle and us.

However, as we approached the shipyard, our hearts sank. Instead of the usual hustle and bustle, we were met with an unexpected closure. The shipyard was in the process of shutting down, launching all the boats they had kept on land. The sight of the almost deserted shipyard, its gates closing, was a stark reminder of the impending French lockdown.

What stung more was the lack of communication. Not only had they not informed us about the closure, but they also couldn’t provide any assurance about when they would reopen. We were left in limbo, told to contact them in a month to reschedule, without any guarantee of priority. It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially since we had booked our slot so early in advance, anticipating the rush of boat owners eager to get their vessels seaworthy for the summer.

With heavy hearts, we made our way to Puzzle, collecting everything we could take with us to wash back home in Bagnols. From dishes to sofa covers, we stripped her bare, leaving behind only the essentials.

Our journey home took us past a pharmacy, the first place where we saw a social distancing poster. A stark reminder of the new reality we were stepping into. Another poster informed us that only one person per family could enter. So, I waited in the car, watching as Mathieu disappeared inside, a surreal end to a day that started with so much promise.

This was our last day before the lockdown in France, a day filled with disappointment and uncertainty.

french lockdown inventory
I think we were well prepared for the lockdown in France!

The first day of lockdown in France

The morning of March 17, 2020, arrived with an air of uncertainty. As the clock struck 12:00, France officially went into lockdown. The bustling streets fell silent, the lively cafes closed their doors, and the once-crowded marinas stood empty. It was as if time had come to a standstill, the world holding its breath as we braced ourselves for the unknown.

At home, I found solace that morning in the familiar routine of cleaning. By 12:02, I had already finished cleaning the entire house, the rhythmic motion of scrubbing and dusting providing a much-needed distraction from the chaos outside.

Despite the lockdown, a glimmer of hope remained. Perhaps we could still go on the boat, I thought. After all, sailing was a sport that didn’t bring us too close to others. Out at sea, we would be isolated, surrounded by nothing but the vast expanse of the ocean and the endless sky. It seemed like the perfect escape, a way to retain a sense of freedom amidst the restrictions.

But alas, it was not to be. The sailing prohibition was a harsh reality we had to face. Sailing was prohibited until March 31, a decree that felt like a personal blow. Our beloved Puzzle, our vessel of freedom, was to remain anchored, just like us.

So we stayed home, our world shrinking to the confines of the small house in Bagnols-en-Forêt and the view from our upstairs window. We watched the boats on Santa Lucia Marina’s webcam, their stillness a stark reminder of our own. The once lively harbor was now a tableau of deserted boats, a silent testament to the impact of the lockdown in France.

This was our first day of lockdown, a day of dashed hopes and harsh realities.

Santa Lucia Marina's webcam
The boats seen from Santa Lucia Marina’s webcam

Life in the Var during the French lockdown

Life during the French lockdown was a study in contrasts. Nestled in the south of France, our experience was far more relaxed than if we had stayed in the bustling city of Bucharest. We were fortunate to have a small garden, a patch of green that became our sanctuary. It was a place where we could escape the confines of our small house, breathe in the fresh air, and not have to endure the cacophony of our Bucharest neighbor’s children or his heated arguments with his wife.

Despite the lockdown, we weren’t entirely isolated. Two days a week, we had the joy of looking after our nieces, their laughter and innocent chatter a welcome distraction. These days would culminate in a family dinner when their parents got home, a small semblance of normalcy in these abnormal times.

Mathieu took on the task of shopping, braving the outside world to bring back our necessities. He rarely had to wait in line and almost always found what we needed, even yeast, a commodity that had become surprisingly scarce in other places. There were a few exceptions, of course. For a brief period, milk in plastic bottles and sliced bread were nowhere to be found, and on another day, eggs had vanished from the shelves.

On March 21, as Romania recommended its citizens to stay at home, our medical coverage for the coronavirus in France expired. It was a stark reminder of the global nature of the pandemic, affecting our lives in ways we hadn’t anticipated. We couldn’t help but compare the responses of the two countries. It seemed to us that Romania was reacting much better than France, even though the measures taken by the French were being replicated in my home country.

To stay connected with our friends and family, we turned to technology. We organized virtual aperitifs via Zoom, played online games, and found ourselves communicating more frequently than we did under normal circumstances. It was a strange paradox, feeling closer to our loved ones while physically being miles apart.

Adjusting to life in France during the pandemic was challenging. Our internet access was limited, and everything on TV was dubbed in French. The language barrier was a hurdle, with Mathieu not knowing enough Romanian to converse with me in my mother tongue. It was a constant reminder of our foreignness, a feeling that was exacerbated by the lockdown.

To keep myself occupied, I turned to reading. Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year became a favorite, its depiction of the British response to the plague in 1665 eerily mirroring our own experiences with COVID-19. We also found solace in humor, recreating a scene from Tangled where Rapunzel sings When will my life begin? in her tower, a sentiment we could all too well relate to.

And of course, there was the sailboat puzzle. Since we couldn’t work on our Puzzle sailboat, we channeled our energy into completing a puzzle with sailboats. Each piece we fit together was a testament to our resilience, a symbol of our determination to weather the storm and sail again.

sailing puzzle completed
We kept our sailing puzzle together by gluing on its back all the forms we had to fill in to be able to leave the house during the French lockdown

This was our life during the French lockdown, a time of adaptation, resilience, and unexpected connections. It was a journey we hadn’t planned for, but one we navigated together, holding onto the hope of brighter days and open seas.

Overcoming the post-lockdown restrictions in France

Taking action after the French lockdown

The end of the French lockdown was like a breath of fresh air, a glimmer of hope in the midst of uncertainty. As soon as the announcement was made, we sprang into action, our minds filled with plans and preparations for the days ahead.

Our first call was to the shipyard in Santa Lucia Port. We were eager to schedule a time to take Puzzle out of the water for her hull repaint and discuss the changing of the fixed rigging with another company. However, the post-lockdown rush had already begun. No longer having priority and with the shipyard bustling with activity, we were postponed until June 8. It was a minor setback, but one we were prepared for.

Next, we reached out to BMS, a company that was no stranger to our sailboat. They were the ones who had replaced Puzzle’s engine back in the winter of 2017. Their familiarity with Puzzle and their kindness had always been a source of comfort for us. Olivier, in particular, had always gone the extra mile. I remember the time when he was rigging the sails on a neighboring boat and took the time to find out why the power supply to Puzzle had suddenly stopped working. It turned out to be a button I had accidentally pressed while cleaning, a button even the old owner didn’t know about!

However, their kindness and expertise also meant they were in high demand, especially after the lockdown. To ensure they could take care of the rigging change on the day we were taking the sailboat ashore, they explained to Mathieu how to remove the boom by himself before showing up at the yard. It was a task we hadn’t anticipated, but one we were willing to undertake for the sake of Puzzle.

In the end, their kindness shone through once again. Because they didn’t perform the operation of removing the boom, they offered us a discount of over 1000 euros. It was a generous gesture, one that spoke volumes about their commitment to their customers.

This was the end of the French lockdown for us, a time of renewed hope and activity. It was a testament to our resilience and adaptability, a reminder that even in the face of adversity, we could find a way to move forward.

mathieu letailleur working on sailboat during sailing restrictions in france
Mathieu working on our sailboat during sailing restrictions in France

Navigating post-lockdown sailing restrictions in France

Navigating the post-lockdown sailing restrictions in France was like charting a course through uncharted waters. The freedom we had once taken for granted was now replaced with a set of rules and regulations, a new normal that we had to adapt to.

The restrictions were stringent, a necessary measure to ensure the safety of everyone. Sailing was no longer a spontaneous activity but one that required careful planning and adherence to the guidelines. It was a stark contrast to the freedom we had once enjoyed, the open seas now replaced with invisible boundaries that tied us to land.

Yet, in the face of these challenges, we found resilience. We learned to adapt, to navigate these new waters with the same determination and tenacity that had seen us through the lockdown. We learned to appreciate the beauty of the sea from afar while we kept busy in the marina.

We learned to work within the constraints, to make the most of the opportunities we had. We learned to appreciate the small victories – at least now we could go to the marina and be on the boat after a month away.

Navigating the post-lockdown sailing restrictions in France was a challenge, but it was also a journey of growth and learning. It was a reminder that even in the face of adversity, we could find a way to sail forward, to chart a course towards brighter horizons.

first night aboard sleeping on a sailboat
Our first night aboard: sleeping on a sailboat is amazing!

Our first night aboard

May 11 marked a significant milestone in our post-lockdown journey. It was the day we drove to the boat and spent our first night sleeping on board. The anticipation was palpable as we made our way to the harbor, the familiar sight of Puzzle bringing a sense of comfort and excitement.

We chose the aft cabin for our first night. It was more spacious, offering us the room we needed to stretch out and relax. The cabin also had the advantage of having two windows, one of which we could open even in the rain, as it was protected under one of the cockpit seats. And on May 11, it rained at night. The soft patter of rain against the window was a soothing lullaby, a gentle reminder of nature’s presence.

As night fell, we were cocooned in the comforting embrace of the cabin. The wind howled through the forest of masts surrounding us, a symphony of sounds that was both eerie and beautiful. It was a stark contrast to the silence of the lockdown, a reminder of the world that was slowly coming back to life.

That night, we fell asleep to the rhythm of the wind and the rain, the gentle rocking of Puzzle lulling us into a peaceful slumber. It was a far cry from the uncertainty of the lockdown, a moment of tranquility amidst the chaos.

Working on the boat post-lockdown

As the lockdown restrictions began to ease, we found ourselves with a newfound sense of purpose. Our focus shifted from surviving the lockdown to improving our boat, Puzzle. The sailing prohibition had given us an unexpected opportunity to work on the boat and make it better than ever.

mathieu letailleur hoisting up the sails on puzzle
Mathieu hoisting up the sails on Puzzle. I helped, too, don’t worry 🙂

We had removed the sails before the lockdown, anticipating a quick return to the shipyard. But with the sailing restrictions in France still in place, we decided to put them back up. It was a small act of defiance, a way to keep our sailing dreams alive while we remained anchored in Santa Lucia Harbor.

Our next step was to replace the old lines. We had washed them in fresh water, following the advice of the marine surveyor, but not all of them had recovered. A trip to the harbor shop provided us with new lines and new fenders to replace the ones that had exploded during lockdown storms. We also bought some emergency flares, a necessary precaution for any sailing journey.

The old flares were a problem. They were expired and too numerous – a whole barrel! If we were found with them by the coast guard, we would have faced a hefty fine. Fortunately, the store was able to recover the same number of old rockets as they sold us. They also advised us to contact the fire department to dispose of them, and we were able to do so that very evening, thanks to my brother-in-law’s best friend, who is a fireman.

We also ordered a new life raft from the same store. The two we had on board had expired long ago, and it would have cost us about the same to recheck one of them. We got rid of them and the old life jackets through the boat broker, who planned to give them to a sailing school as teaching material.

sanding the deck and making a gangway out of a ladder
Woodworks on board: sanding the deck and making a gangway out of a ladder

With the boat improvements underway, we made good use of our time on board. Mathieu built a gangway out of a ladder, sanded the teak on two cockpit seats, and took care of removing, cleaning, oiling, and refitting all the winches. He even tried twice to fix the compass, which had destabilized after our first sail, but it never remained in working condition for long.

how to grease a winch on a boat fixing compass
Mathieu after learning how to grease a winch on a boat. And one of his attempts to fix the boat compass with distilled water and glycerine

Together, we cleaned everything that was stainless steel on the deck, using a solution that had proven successful for cleaning the faucets inside. I did this on a cloudy day without wearing sunscreen and ended up with sunburns on my knees, thighs, and in the middle of my back that lasted for months. I still have a slight mark from it to this day.

I also managed to finish cleaning the inside of the boat and re-stitch all the cushion covers on the sofas and mattresses by hand. I even replaced a few zippers in the process. Then, I moved on to repairing the UV cover for the mainsail, which had been almost torn to pieces by the strong winds. Mathieu had tried to fix it with the sewing machine during the lockdown, but the material was too hard and ended up damaging the machine’s mechanism. But slowly, with the help of palm protection and a thimble, and while reusing the existing needle holes, I was able to fix it.

how to replace the deck on a sailboat
How to replace the deck on a sailboat with cork

One day, I managed to pull off the anti-skid sticker on the port side completely. Mathieu then thoroughly cleaned all the glue residue from the whole port deck and the bow bit. Fortunately, during the lockdown, we received our order of cork boards mixed with non-slip rubber that we would use to replace the outdated anti-slip sticker. Mathieu was able to get straight to work on this while I was working on our sewing projects aboard.

We also ordered and received a wind turbine and life jackets for visitors. We already had two light life jackets for us, which inflated in contact with water. Now, we also added lamps to them to make them visible at night.

The post-lockdown period was a time of hard work and dedication. But as we worked on improving the boat, we also improved ourselves. We learned to adapt, to persevere, and to make the best of the situation. And as we looked forward to the end of the sailing restrictions in France, we knew we were ready for whatever came next.

afternoons spent in the cockpit mathieu mirela letailleur
Our afternoons spent in the cockpit

Anchored in adversity – our sailing story amidst a global crisis

As we look back on our experiences during the lockdown and post-lockdown periods in France, we can’t help but marvel at how much we’ve adapted to the new normal of sailing during a pandemic.

The unexpected French lockdown had thrown a wrench in our sailing plans, but it also gave us an opportunity to work on our boat, Puzzle. We spent our days improving it, making it better than ever. We replaced old lines, fixed the winches, cleaned the deck, and even replaced the anti-skid sticker. Each day brought a new challenge, but also a new opportunity to learn and grow.

But it wasn’t all work. We also found time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. We had neighbors who came to work on their boats or just to enjoy the harbor. We savored our beer or sangria breaks in the cockpit, watching the sunset paint the sky with hues of orange and pink. We got used to sleeping on board in the marina, nestled closely in the warm blanket. The gentle rocking of the boat and the soft lullaby of the waves became our nightly serenade.

When the sailing restrictions were finally lifted, we were ready. We had prepared for this moment, and we were eager to set sail and embark on our journey. But we also knew that sailing during a pandemic would be different. We had to navigate not just the waters, but also the new rules and regulations. It was a challenge, but one that we were ready to face.

In the end, our sailing journey amidst a pandemic taught us more than we could have ever imagined. It taught us resilience, adaptability, and the importance of preparation. It showed us that even in the face of adversity, we can find opportunities to learn and grow.

As we continue our journey, we carry these lessons with us. We know that there will be more challenges ahead, but we also know that we are ready to face them. Because in the end, it’s not just about the destination, but also about the journey. And our journey is just beginning.

About the author

Mirela Letailleur The Travel Bunny

Mirela Letailleur, a seasoned travel blogger from Romania, now calls the picturesque landscapes of Southern France her home. With her profound expertise in crafting affordable European travel experiences, she has become a beacon of knowledge for avid travelers. Her platform, The Travel Bunny, is a treasure trove of unique, free travel guides, each one a testament to her deep understanding of the locales she explores. Mirela’s knack for problem-solving and her status as a budding coffee connoisseur add layers to her vibrant personality.

In the wake of the global pandemic, Mirela’s insights have proven invaluable. She navigated the unexpected French lockdown and the ensuing sailing restrictions with resilience and adaptability, transforming these challenges into enlightening experiences. Her firsthand account of sailing during these unprecedented times offers a unique perspective, making her the go-to expert for those seeking advice on navigating travel during a pandemic. Mirela Letailleur is not just a travel blogger; she’s a trusted guide in a world where travel has taken on a whole new meaning.

Read more about Mirela Letailleur

After learning about the French lockdown and sailing restrictions in France, check out these articles
From dream to reality: Med sailing during the pandemic in 2020
Our sailboat search in France: finding the right sailboat
Used boat inventory discovery before sailing the Mediterranean Sea