Life in Santa Lucia Marina while preparing for our Med sailing trip

The world had been still for so long. The once bustling Santa Lucia Marina lay silent, boats tethered to their moorings, waiting for the winds of change. But as the calendar flipped to June 1, International Children’s Day, a sense of childlike wonder and anticipation bubbled within us. The lockdown had been a cage, but the open sea? That was freedom!

With the sun casting golden hues across the marina, we felt the day’s significance not just as a global celebration for children, but as a rebirth of our own adventurous spirits. The sails, which had been dormant for what felt like an eternity, rustled with excitement, echoing our own heartbeats. As I took my position at the helm, the familiar sensation of the boat responding to my touch sent a thrill down my spine. Mathieu, with his innate understanding of our boat, worked in harmony with me, pulling lines and adjusting sails, making the boat dance to the tune of the wind.

santa lucia marina st raphael sailing trip
Mathieu and Mirela Letailleur sailing from Santa Lucia Marina Saint-Raphaël to Sainte-Maxime

Our destination? Saint-Maxime, the charming seaside town where Mathieu’s grandmother had been born. In a blend of the old and the new, we made a video call to his grandfather, bridging the gap between past adventures and our current journey. Through the pixelated screen, we saw his eyes light up, a reflection of the azure waters around us.

The gentle caress of the sea breeze, the rhythmic lapping of waves against the hull, and the vast expanse of the horizon painted a picture of serenity. It was a stark contrast to the confined spaces we had grown accustomed to during the lockdown. As Mathieu meticulously inspected every nook and cranny of the deck, ensuring our vessel was in prime condition, I reveled in the sheer joy of day sailing, a reminder of the beauty of marina life.

Once back in the harbor, we docked seamlessly with precision and teamwork, marking the end of a perfect day. The essence of marina life isn’t just about sailing but also about the stories we create, the memories we cherish, and the community we’re a part of. And as we disembarked, we knew this was just the beginning of many more adventures to come.

demasting boat work bms bateaux saint raphael
Demasting with BMS Bateaux at CNR – Chantier Naval Raphaëlois

The transformation of Puzzle

The sun had barely risen, casting a soft, golden hue over the marina. The gentle lapping of the waves against the hull of our beloved sailboat, Puzzle, was a comforting sound. But today, the boat would undergo a transformation, one that would momentarily strip it of its identity.

A few days earlier, Mathieu and I had meticulously folded the sails, their crisp white fabric now resting in the bow cabin. The boom, a vital part of our vessel, was carefully removed and secured to the deck, cushioned by towels to prevent any accidental scratches. The anticipation was palpable as a representative from BMS Bateaux approached, ensuring everything was in order for the impending mast removal.

June 8th was a day marked with a mix of excitement and anxiety. After a hearty lunch, we made our way to the shipyard. Memories of our last visit flooded back as we docked Puzzle in the familiar spot. But this time, a different crane loomed overhead, its purpose not just for lifting boats but also for the delicate task of mast removal.

The BMS crew worked with precision. One of them ascended the mast using a bosun chair, hoisted by an electric winch. As he secured the mast, Mathieu and Olivier, the other member of the team, worked diligently below, detaching the deck rigging. The crane then took over, lifting the mast with grace and placing it horizontally on a support stand. It was a sight to behold, our Puzzle, now mastless, its silhouette temporarily changed.

But the transformation wasn’t over. Soon, another crane arrived, lifting Puzzle out of her watery abode. She was placed on metal supports, awaiting a fresh coat of paint. The sight was bittersweet: our boat, which had already braved countless journeys, now seemed vulnerable.

Two days later, as we approached the shipyard, an unexpected sight greeted us. Our Puzzle was back in the water, her hull gleaming. But our joy was short-lived. Blue streaks marred her freeboard, a careless mistake by the shipyard workers. Frustration bubbled within me as Mathieu was handed a magic sponge to rectify their oversight. Determinedly, he sailed around Puzzle in the dinghy, erasing every trace of the blue smudge.

diy boat project sanding and treating wood deck
DIY boat project: sanding and treating the wood deck

While Mathieu worked on the exterior, I focused on the cockpit seats. The wood, worn by time, needed attention. By mid-June, with every inch sanded, oiled, and polished, Puzzle seemed to regain some of her lost youth.

port santa lucia sailing community
Discovering the Port Santa Lucia sailing community

Discovering the Port of Santa Lucia sailing community

The Port of Santa Lucia, with its gentle waves and the distant hum of boats, had become our temporary home. With Puzzle stripped of her mast, Mathieu and I found ourselves anchored a bit longer than anticipated. Our days were filled with various tasks, one of the most important being the setting up of a black water tank. The marina’s rules were clear – no onboard toilets unless connected to a tank. But honestly, the comforts of the port’s facilities were hard to resist, especially the showers.

One such afternoon, as steam enveloped the shower room, I noticed another presence – another woman! It was a rarity as the port was usually a male-dominated space. I watched her, a silhouette drying her hair. Our paths didn’t cross then, but fate had other plans.

As I strolled back to Puzzle, I realized she was moored just a few boats away. Her small blue sailboat sat proudly at the end of the pontoon. Settling into the cockpit with Mathieu, I mused: “She’s more boat-ready than I am. She brought her hair dryer on a sailing trip!”. Then, I wondered if I would ever need a hair dryer on our sailing trip.

The universe works in mysterious ways. The very next day, as Mathieu was engrossed with mounting a wind turbine, the woman’s partner, Maxime, struck up a conversation. As I stepped out, he greeted me in Romanian. My response, out of sheer habit, was in French. Laughter ensued, and soon we were reminiscing about Romania, a place Maxime had called home for a few years. The joy of conversing in my mother tongue, after weeks of French and English, was indescribable.

That day was one of serendipitous connections. We also met Julien, the proud owner of Barakka, a sailboat with a unique story. On the brink of destruction before the lockdown, Julien saw potential where others saw decay. His optimism was infectious, and his toolbox was a godsend. Mathieu borrowed Julien’s drill, ours proving inadequate for the task at hand.

Evening descended, and the port came alive with soft lights and distant chatter. Maxime and his girlfriend, Eugénie, returned from the city. Their youthful energy was contagious, and soon they were aboard Puzzle, sharing stories over beers. The night was filled with tales of adventures, dreams, and the shared goal of reaching Greece. As the stars twinkled overhead, we realized that while the sea might be vast, it often brings souls together in the most unexpected ways.

Trade winds and treasures on a day at Santa Lucia Port

The sun was already high when Maxime and Eugénie, with dreams of Corsica in their eyes, set sail. But as often happens on the unpredictable sea, a sudden swell had other plans. The boom of their beloved Rifougnade suffered a blow, forcing them back to the familiar embrace of Santa Lucia Port.

As the day unfolded, Mathieu, with a mission to refurbish our mast, headed to the construction site. Maxime, with the weight of their damaged boom on his shoulders, accompanied him, hoping for a swift solution. Fortune favored them, and by afternoon, the blue silhouette of Rifougnade was once again ready to dance with the waves.

But it was too late to leave again and the evening found us, along with Julien, gathered for a picnic at the pontoon’s edge, nestled between the contrasting figures of Rifougnade and Barakka. The setting sun painted the sky in hues of gold and crimson, casting a warm glow on our makeshift gathering.

Before the picnic, we went aboard to visit Rifougnade. It was like entering a different world. Every inch was a testament to ingenious design and multi-functionality. The living space transformed at will, the table descended from the heavens, and the kitchen emerged from the walls. But what truly caught our eye was the personal touch – photographs of cherished memories, LED strips casting a cozy ambiance, and custom cushions bearing sailor names like Captain Bichou. Yet, amidst all its charm, the curtain-partitioned spaces and the unique bathroom setup were a stark contrast to Puzzle’s spacious interiors.

As the evening wore on, conversations flowed, and an idea took root. Knowing the challenges of not having a black water tank in Italy and Greece, we offered them the brand-new ecological toilet we had discovered aboard Puzzle. In a heartwarming gesture of camaraderie, they reciprocated with a new grill, a bag of coals, and a lifeboat stand. They had bought a smaller gas grill because it took up less space and the lifeboat stand didn’t fit the new model they had recently acquired but was ideal for ours.

As the stars twinkled overhead, we celebrated our unique trade – an eco potty for a grill, coals, and a liferaft stand. It was a testament to the bonds formed at sea, where possessions are traded, and memories are priceless.

sailboat Rifougnade setting sail
The departure of Maxime & Eugénie on Rifougnade, one of the most beautiful boats in the Mediterranean

Rifougnade vs the weather – a departure to remember

June 17 dawned with a sense of anticipation. The air was thick with excitement as Maxime and Eugénie prepared to embark on their next adventure. Their first destination had changed from Corsica to Imperia because the weather had plans of its own and strong winds were challenging their resolve.

As Maxime released the mooring, the wind, like an impish trickster, played its first card. Without the propeller’s guidance, Rifugnade was left at the mercy of the gusts. The neighboring sailboat loomed dangerously close, and in a desperate bid, their hands reached out, pushing against its hull, trying to fend off a potential collision. The scene was chaotic, a dance of desperation as they veered perilously close to Puzzle’s proud bow.

Mathieu, sensing the impending danger, sprang into action. His dual intent was clear – to lend a helping hand and to shield our beloved Puzzle from any harm. Eugénie, poised at Rifugnade’s bow, mirrored his determination. Her stance, resolute against the wind’s fury, brought back memories of our own maiden voyage, where we too battled nature’s whims.

In a masterstroke of navigation, Maxime reversed, steering the boat stern-first out of the treacherous channel. With a swift turn, Rifugnade found her course, sailing gracefully away from the tumultuous port. We stood there, watching their receding silhouette, a mix of relief and longing. How we wished our mast was ready, so we could join them on this journey! But the sea has its own timeline, and we were hopeful that our paths would cross again, perhaps under the warm Italian sun.

Raising the mast at CNR – Chantier Naval Raphaëlois

Of masts and men – a tale of patience and persistence

Two days later, as the hum of activity began at the Santa Lucia Marina, the air was thick with anticipation and a hint of frustration. After much persuasion and a touch of insistence, we finally managed to convince the shipyard to prioritize our long-awaited mast reinstallation. Mathieu, with his characteristic determination, had laid out our grievances, highlighting the delays and the mounting costs of our extended stay.

Initially, our arrangement with Mr. Isnar had cushioned the financial blow of our prolonged dockage. His contract with the port had ensured we enjoyed reduced rates. But as June’s calendar days dwindled, so did the contract’s validity. The financial tide turned, and we found ourselves digging deeper into our pockets, paying premium rates directly to the port. The peak sailing season in the south of France was upon us, and its price tag was hefty.

June 19 was marked with a circle on our calendar, the day our mast would reclaim its rightful place. But as with most things maritime, it wasn’t smooth sailing. The crane’s designated area was bustling with activity, and the wharf spots were occupied. Sitting on Puzzle’s bow deck, I observed the shipyard’s orchestrated chaos, waiting for our turn in the dance.

When the moment finally arrived, the BMS crew swiftly secured the mast, ensuring its stability just enough for our short journey back to our berth. The sea was calm, mirroring our relief as we made the uneventful transfer. Then, back in the marina, Olivier, with his seasoned hands and keen eye, made the final tweaks. He left us with sage advice about potential adjustments in stronger winds, guiding Mathieu on the nuances of rigging adjustments. Though his words hinted at future challenges, for now we relished in the completion of this chapter, eager for the adventures that lay ahead.

cap dramont sailing trip ile or
Cap Dramont sailing trip

Dockside chronicles – adventures in waiting

The golden hues of dawn painted the marina as we prepared for another day aboard Puzzle. With a few more nights secured at the dock and an outboard engine that stubbornly refused to roar to life, our journey was momentarily anchored. Mathieu’s attempts to breathe life into the second-hand engine from Marseille had been in vain. But hope, like the persistent tide, was on the horizon. A rendezvous with a seller promising a better, functioning engine was on the cards.

Our morning was spent slicing through the azure waters towards Cape Dramont, a reconnaissance of sorts for our impending voyage from Santa Lucia. The sea whispered tales of adventures yet to come, and the wind sang of freedom. But as with all tales, there was a twist.

Our return to the port was marred by a moment of haste. Mathieu, in his urgency, beckoned me to leap from Puzzle to the pontoon, a distance that seemed a chasm to me. My foot tangled with a chain left on the pontoon, and I stumbled and fell over a cleat. It was Julien, our neighbor from Barakka, who intervened, his voice steady, reminding us of the importance of calm and logic at sea. His timely advice saved more than just the day.

boat injury sailing trip
The cleat had been so hot from the sun that it had burned my skin. And several days later, while sailing in Italy, I noticed I still had the mark (right image).

Gratitude flowed as freely as the drinks that evening. We invited Julien aboard, clinking beer bottles under the canopy of stars, sharing stories and dreams. As the night deepened, he spoke of Barakka’s transformation and his aspirations to dance with the waves along the coast before setting his sights on Gibraltar and the vast expanse of the Atlantic. I, in turn, shared tales learned from my sailing books, pointing out Spanish ports that could be safe havens for him later.

Julien was an enigma, a sailor who shunned the digital age, preferring the call of the sea to the buzz of social media, so we never learned how his story continued. In stark contrast, Maxime and Eugénie, with their vibrant tales of Rifougnade, even had business cards to share with sailors they met along their journey.

As the night wrapped us in its embrace, I wondered about the paths each sailor would take, the stories they’d gather and the tales they’d leave in their wake.

On June 21st, Mathieu, with a gleam in his eye, made his way back to the dock, the weight of a new outboard engine evident in his stride. Without a moment’s hesitation, he expertly mounted it onto the annex. The hum of the engine came to life, echoing the excitement in our hearts. With a swift pull, he was off, navigating the dinghy through an intricate dance in the channel between the pontoons. The water rippled in his wake, reflecting the azure sky and the silhouette of our beloved ship, Puzzle.

As he maneuvered with ease, I stood on the deck, taking in the sight. The old anti-skid sticker still clung stubbornly to half of our deck. Nearby, the black water tank awaited its connection to the electrical panel, a task Mathieu had been meaning to get to. My fingers itched to finish sanding and treating the wood that adorned our vessel. Each plank and beam held stories, and I was determined to preserve them.

But as Mathieu docked the dinghy and climbed aboard, his grin infectious, I realized something. While there were still tasks to be done, adventures awaited us. The Med’s siren call was too strong to resist any longer. We could continue our work as we sailed, but for now, the open sea beckoned. The horizon, with its promise of new tales and discoveries, was our next destination. And with the wind in our sails and the sun as our guide, we were ready to answer its call.

day sailing adventures
Day sailing with Pauline

Sun, sangrias, and silly swims

The gentle sway of Puzzle beneath our feet was a constant reminder of the adventures that awaited us. We had envisioned our sailboat as a floating haven for friends and family, a place where laughter echoed and memories were forged. The two cabins and two heads on board were a testament to our commitment to ensuring comfort and privacy for our guests. But as the pandemic’s shadow loomed large, we realized that the anticipated visits from our loved ones would remain just that – anticipated.

Mathieu’s mother had been one of the few who had seen Puzzle in her original glory, back when the sailboat was christened Baffi. The rest of the Bagnols-en-Forêt family had graced our deck for sunlit lunches and clandestine fishing sessions in the port after dinner. Those moments, filled with the thrill of catching Doradas and the warmth of family banter, were treasures. Yet, the rest of the family, scattered across Paris, Orléans, and Toulouse, remained distant dreams.

Pauline, Mathieu’s vivacious elder sister, was the only one who truly embraced the spirit of our journey. On one of her free days, she joined us for a sail towards Cape Dramont. The coast, with its rugged beauty, was a sight to behold. But as the wind’s whispers faded and the sun asserted its dominance, the sea’s calm became a deceptive trap.

Seeking respite from the scorching heat, Pauline and I perched on the bathing platform, our feet playfully skimming the water’s surface. Mathieu, ever the gracious host, handed us glasses of chilled sangria. But the allure of the cool water was too tempting. Without a second thought, I plunged into the azure depths. The initial thrill quickly turned to panic as I realized that Puzzle, with her sails still catching the faintest breeze, was drifting away faster than I could swim.

Thoughts raced through my mind – tales of blue sharks in the vicinity, the distant rocky shore that seemed like a potential refuge, and the sheer absurdity of my predicament. But amidst the chaos, Mathieu’s calm presence was a beacon. Swiftly dropping the sails and firing up the engine, he maneuvered Puzzle expertly toward me. The relief of clambering back on board was indescribable, matched only by the exhilaration of having faced the vastness of the sea and emerged unscathed.

Pauline’s brief tryst with the water was more cautious, her apprehensions about the marine life evident. But her laughter, every time she recounts her fleeting swim, is infectious. Our return to the harbor marked the end of her maritime adventure, but for us it was just the beginning. The boat was stocked with food and water for two people for two weeks in case we had to be quarantined later, optimism was in the air, and the promise of the open sea beckoned.

boat provisions for quarantine
Part of our boat provisions for quarantine. (I changed the storage space the next day to provide a better and more constant temperature.)

Our last evening in Bagnols-en-Forêt was spent in the cozy confines of Pauline’s home. The Tarte Tropezienne we brought was a sweet endnote, a dessert that was a rite of passage for anyone from the region. But as I took a bite, I realized that while it was delightful, the true essence of our journey wasn’t in the things we tasted or bought. It was in the memories we made, the challenges we overcame, and the infinite horizons that awaited us.

And they left. On a voyage of several months

The sun was high in the sky, casting a shimmering glow over Port Santa Lucia. The gentle hum of the harbor, with its bustling activity and the distant chatter of families and sailors, was a familiar backdrop to our preparations. Pauline, with our young nieces in tow, had come to bid us farewell. Their presence was a reminder of the ties that bind, of the family we were momentarily leaving behind for the vast embrace of the sea.

As we donned our life jackets, the weight of the moment settled in. Mathieu, with a determined look, took the helm, guiding our vessel out of the familiar waters. As we maneuvered, I caught sight of the island of Lion de Terre, standing sentinel near the shipyard. It was a landmark, signaling our transition from the known to the unknown. With a nod from Mathieu, I took the helm and turned the bow into the wind, feeling the boat respond, ready for the sails to catch the breeze as Mathieu was hoisting them up.

From the shore, Pauline’s camera captured our departure. Through the lens, our boat, Puzzle, seemed to shrink with distance, but the emotions loomed large. Later, when we saw the video, we heard the heart-wrenching sound of Maxine’s voice, her words tinged with the innocence of childhood and the pain of temporary separation. “Tonton et ‘Mila’…” (“Uncle and ‘Mila’…”) she cried, her voice trailing off, filled with a mix of confusion and longing.

Pauline, ever the comforting mother, tried to soothe her, “Ils vont revenir, t’en fais pas. Ils partent faire un beau voyage.” (“They’ll be back, don’t worry. They’re going on a beautiful trip.”)Her words were filled with hope and understanding. Yes, we were embarking on a grand adventure, but the pull of home, of family, was undeniable.

As Puzzle sailed further away, Pauline’s voice narrated our departure, “Et ils sont partis. Pour un voyage de plusieurs mois.” (“And they left. For a trip of several months.”) The finality of her words was juxtaposed with the backdrop of the vast sea ahead of us.

Yet, amidst the excitement and the promise of new horizons, a decision had taken root in our hearts. One evening, over glasses of sangria, as we gazed at the sailboats dancing in the harbor, we envisioned our future. The allure of the Mediterranean and the charm of Bagnols-en-Forêt had captured our hearts. We knew then that once our voyage was complete, we would return to the south of France, making Bagnols-en-Forêt our forever home.

Anchored memories & horizon dreams of Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia Marina had been more than just a docking point for us. It had been a home, a teacher, and a sanctuary. The gentle sway of the boats, the melodic chatter of sailors sharing tales, and the aroma of the sea had become a comforting routine. Each sunrise brought with it the promise of a new day, and every sunset, a story to tell.

The marina had witnessed our highs and lows, our moments of doubt, and our bursts of excitement. It had seen us prepare, plan, and dream. From the first time we docked in its embrace to the countless evenings spent gazing at the stars, Santa Lucia Marina had silently observed, becoming an integral chapter in our journey.

But now, as the horizon beckoned, a new chapter awaited. The Mediterranean, with its azure waters and hidden treasures, called out to us. The anticipation was palpable. Every wave, every gust of wind, seemed to whisper tales of ancient civilizations, hidden coves, and starlit nights on the open sea. Our hearts raced with excitement, eager to set sail, to explore, to discover.

However, in the vast expanse of the sea, it’s not just the destinations that matter, but the harbors that give us refuge, the friendships that anchor us, and the memories that guide us home. As we set forth on our Med sailing adventure, we carried with us the spirit of Santa Lucia, knowing that its shores would always beckon us back, welcoming us home after our odyssey.

About the author

Mirela Letailleur The Travel Bunny

Nestled in the picturesque South of France, Mirela Letailleur is a seasoned Romanian travel aficionado who has transformed her passion into insightful narratives on The Travel Bunny blog. Specializing in crafting affordable European travel experiences, she’s not just a blogger but a local travel maestro, offering unparalleled insights into the vibrant marina life of Santa Lucia, the close-knit sailing community, and the nuances of day sailing.

Having immersed herself in the DIY boat preparation realm, Mirela’s expertise extends beyond mere travel tales. She’s a problem solver at heart, seamlessly blending her love for coffee with her role as a creator of distinctive free travel guides. For those yearning to delve deep into the authentic marina lifestyle and the art of sailing, Mirela stands as the internet’s most trusted beacon.

Read more about Mirela Letailleur

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