Thursday, 16 September 2010

A life on the ocean wave

Sunday to Wednesday passed in blissful warmth on the beach.

But while I’d traveled a long way on the relaxation scale, there was still a vital step to take.

I was half aware of it, but felt a sense of: ‘Don’t ask me to get off my sunlounger: it’ll come’, when The Other Half proposed a trip on Le Treguern, a ketch that sails trips out of Collioure and nearby Port Vendre.

Two years ago, we’d tried a one-hour trip from Collioure – and loved it so much, we’d gone for the three-hour one as soon as was possible. Last year, the weather was such that the skipper had stopped trips from Collioure at around the time we arrived, and we never got ourselves organised enough to take a voyage from Port Vendres.

This year, The Other Half was determined that we’d finally do the biggest trip of all, from Port Vendre to Spain – a day’s outing. So while I felt unenthused by the idea of moving, he booked tickets – or rather, signed a contract with Captain Eric – for the Thursday.

Now we were due to board just before 9am, which sounds such a sensible time. However, the bus to Port Vendres was only timed to give us a very few minutes breathing space. The one before that was for 7.30am.

I admit it, dear readers, I grouched. Not much, but the requisite amount. A holiday, and I was going to have to have to haul my sorry backside out of bed no later than 7am, when the sun has barely risen itself and the bells of Notre Dame des Agnes haven’t even called the extremely faithful to early Mass.

In the event, this left us with time to walk around a very quiet harbour, stopping for coffee and croissants, before ambling on to Le Treguern’s berth. There, although still early, we were beckoned aboard, welcomed by the delighted barking of Aggorah, our old sea dog’s sea dog, who was relishing her role as hostess with the mostess.

When we cast off, there were just three couples, Cap’n Eric, a friend of his who was due to help with lunch later, and Aggorah. With nary a sail in sight, on an overcast morning, we motored out of the harbour and turned right – sorry, something like due south.

Past Banyuls and Cerbere, an absence of cloth tautly fluttering above did nothing to dampen the soothing pleasure of the trip. After passing Cap Cerbere, we learned that there was a tiny patch of coastline that is a sort of no man’s land. Nobody is sure whether it’s French or Spanish. And frankly, it seems as though nobody cares. Which seems like an eminently sensible response.

Rounding the rocky coast, we dropped anchor opposite a tiny, rocky beach. Now we had the option of an hour’s visit to this strip of pebbles, via the ship’s dinghy, or we could stay aboard and wait for lunch.

Everyone was quick to opt for the former – although I was probably least able to see the charms that it offered at that juncture.

Once we’d been landed – Aggorah’s mortified woofing followed us – my five traveling companions slipped off outer clothes and headed into the water, The Other Half with snorkel, mask and flippers at the ready.

As much on the basis of not wanting to appear a complete and utter wimpette and let the side down, I dropped my shorts and shed my shirt soon after, edging myself into the water and sitting on a large rock while the waters tugged at all of me that was submerged.

Once back fully on land – well, stones – and at least a bit dry, I realised that this barren landscape was fascinating, and spent the rest of the time trying to photograph the beauty of it, at one point, dropping onto my belly to set up a particular shot I could see, and feeling all eyes swivel in my direction to see what on Earth I was up to.

And then, as the sun started really burning off the cloud, Captain Eric came back to collect us for lunch. Sat around on the back of the boat, we waited while our host brought out a metal bowl of crisps, together with two bottles – one of water and a large, refilled one of Banyuls, the regional dessert wine – and explained that these were the only options for our aperitif. Nobody opted for the water, as he passed around plastic cups and Aggorah begged crisps from everyone present.

Then came the second course – a salad. This was actually a large platter of largely tinned veg (sweetcorn, beans and white asparagus), with freshly sliced tomatoes, which proved perfectly enjoyable, plus a basket of bread, bottles of white wine and rosé.

We barely noticed our host disappear to the front of the boat, but only the terminally dead could have missed his return, carrying a large plate of sardines, straight from the little fire he’d set up. Then he proceeded to show us as the Catalan way to eat them: pick up by tail and head, suck off the flesh and then chuck the skeleton in the sea.

I have the typical English problem with fish bones, and that includes sardines. But this way worked perfectly for me.

And oh my god … it was a food orgasm. By the time I’d managed to stuff down six and we’d discovered that, when you throw the corpses overboard, beautiful blue fish dart from all around to feast cannibalistically on the remains – and it’s so clear that you can see them from several feet above – another plate had been delivered.

Oh no, I really can’t … oh goodness, if you insist!

Aggorah had her share too, before cleaning up the remains of the salad.

Not that we were finished. Now Captain Eric produced more bread and some cheese; something like an Emmenthal together with a dripping, oozing Camembert. And then there was a choice of ice cream, served in plastic cups.

As coffee was put to brew, my five traveling companions stripped off again and dived off the boat or clambered down the rope ladder into waters that, under the sun and clear blue skies, were now a dazzling, shimmering display of topaz and emerald.

Aggorah, deciding that she wasn’t being left out again, dived in too, despite the skipper’s best efforts. She had to be helped back on board, since nature has not evolved dogs’ paws with ladders in mind.

The Other Half had donned flippers and snorkeling gear again, and was puttering around near the back of the boat. At which point, Aggorah went completely potty.

Barking wildly, she dived in again and swam rapidly toward and then around him, yapping away and eventually, as he lifted his head, putting paw to forearm and not letting him out of her sight until he was back on board (and she’d been hauled up again).

Now since he was the only one doing the snorkel thing, it seems clear that she deeply disproves of silly people putting their faces in the water – well, it is dangerous, as any fool knows – and feels a compelling need to come to their aid.

Thus was The Other Half rescued from a non-certain fate by Aggorah the brave sea dog of Le Tregeurn.

And believe you me, I’m dining off that story for some time to come.

As coffee scented the air, we started back, the fores’l unfurled this time.

It was a languorous trip after the ambience and loquacity of a lunch that could barely hope to be beaten, with sardines to die for.

When we got back to Port Vendres, we stopped for a coffee – and then found that, at just gone 6pm, we’d missed the last bus back to Collioure. So, at my ridiculously relaxed suggestion (and without a single, solitary gripe), we started to climb up to the coast road.

And that was when we met Bernard Franck and embarked on a mini art saga – but that’s the story for another day!