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A Report on Port Napoleon located at Presqu'Ile du Mazet, Port St Louis du Rhone

By doina — last modified Oct 23, 2005 02:34 PM

Published: 2005-10-23 14:34:58
Countries: France

GENERAL

The Mediterranean segment of our world cruise began in 2003 as we completed a northbound passage in the Red Sea. We departed Port Said and made our way to Turkey where we left ARGONAUTA I to winter in Kemer near Antalya. We wanted to spend a second season in the Med and initially thought of leaving the boat in Spain the following winter. But we were put off by reported high prices there and the possible lack of space. This was yachty network rumour but we like France so it seemed reason enough to seek out a spot there. We sent a few exploratory e-mails, some of which drew a response, but nothing appealed. Eventually, as we made our way westbound we encountered several cruisers who had wintered their boat in Port Napoleon near the mouth of the Rhone River. The facility was highly recommended as a technical and storage yacht centre but given its out of the way location, it is perhaps unattractive to those planning to live aboard. To us, this was not a factor as we planned to winter away from the boat. I shot off an e-mail to the resident manager, Marc De Schutter who responded quickly and positively. So we opted to head for France and Port Napoleon became our end season destination for 2004.

PORT NAPOLEON

Upon arrival, we found state of the art slips with adequate ancillary services such as a restaurant and ablution facilities. A Laundromat has recently been added, although it is not inexpensive. Wireless Internet at no cost was another benefit. One of the main attractions is price which was significantly lower than nearby St Raphael. Incidentally, dry storage is much cheaper than lying to the dock. Staff were very accommodating and there are regular taxi runs to nearby Port St Louis. Bungalows (portable modules) are also available to rent and once hauled out, we managed to have our boat conveniently situated near them. The actual haul out is done with a 150 Tonne travel lift and the boat is moved about by tractor using a trailerable cradle. Water and electricity are both available on the hard stand although some locations are too far from an outlet.

The yard offers a one day per month electrical plug-in to keep batteries up. Normally, I leave a small solar panel for this purpose connected in the cockpit. We opted for the plug-in offer. This was a mistake as upon return our batteries were flat. The plug in person evidently failed to ensure power was getting to the boat. In our case, the outlet power source circuit breaker popped upon plug-in. Presumably, this went unmonitored as that is exactly what happened when we first tried to connect upon return to the boat about 10 months later in June 2005. It is better to save the Euros and use solar. The only unexpected charge was an arbitrary fee for estimated electricity used in the course of maintenance. We did have maintenance done but it was not possible for the Marina to quantify charges against usage. There has to be a better way for this issue to be dealt with. Otherwise, billing and communications posed no problem. Security within the complex is excellent.

Port Napoleon is perhaps the main start/end point for those yachts undertaking an inland canal cruise. Mast removal/replacement is available and crews appear highly competent in this exercise. Marc told me that he organises transportation of masts at a highly competitive rate. We did meet one yachty though who told us that full re-rigging including proper tensioning of the rig is not included in the price. For those unfamiliar with this highly important process, it might be worth ensuring the work is included; better that than experiencing a collapsed rig first time out in this Mistral prone area.

YACHT SERVICES

There are several maintenance facilities available in Port Napoleon. All are resident but separate entities. We engaged Yacht Services (YS) for some pre haul out work. The company is owned and operated by Neil Burton and there is a mix of French and British technical staff. Incidentally, Neil was one of the developers of the Marina. The YS standard of work was good so I decided to continue with them for follow on jobs. Up to this point in our world cruise, I had never been in a boat yard where I felt confident having work done unsupervised by myself. Yacht Services was an exception. I entrusted them with a long list of maintenance tasks. Most of the jobs especially those involving systems maintenance were done well; external finish work less so. Perhaps the greatest weakness was lack of job supervision and quality control. Moreover, as things got busy at Yacht Services, it became increasingly difficult to monitor progress of work. Too many long distance phone calls were necessary as often, e-mail went unanswered. Nevertheless, once we returned to the boat, Yacht Services pulled all the stops to get us afloat and underway.

Perhaps with better quality control and greater attention to communication, there would have been fewer anomalies requiring remedial attention. A big hold up was the anchor winch which needed service. Unfortunately, this item was overlooked by the yard and it turned into a bigger job than expected. It took about a week including 5 days awaiting a seal. On balance though, I was satisfied with all systems maintenance and thanks to the outstanding skills of a Norwegian cruiser working temporarily for Yacht Services, all technical anomalies as well as external finish ie; gelcoat work were eventually corrected.

So has the work withstood the rigours of cruising? Yes it has and that is after some 2000 NM. We do have a small problem with the hydraulic ram for the autopilot which has developed a slight leak. It was refurbished for the same problem by the manufacturer, this was arranged by YS. Disappointingly, my initial e-mail queries to YS for some advice went unanswered. Fortunately, the French hydraulic manufacturer, LECOMBLE ET SCHMITT SA, was very responsive and new seals await us in Las Palmas.

My relationships with Yacht Services and Port Napoleon were entirely satisfactory but once away, do not expect any post maintenance follow up support by YS. Incidentally . . . stay away from the Yamaha Outboard dealer! Yacht Services referred me to them perhaps with tongue in cheek. In any case YS were not surprised to see me back asking for them to deal with this customer-hostile facility! Eventually, my outboard was serviced albeit badly; specifically, a housing screw was missing, motor was left grimy, and the old prop cotter pin was still in place. On the plus side, it runs! As an alternative, try the Yamaha dealer in Port St Louis.

CONCLUSION

Given the tremendous variation in quality and service one finds at marinas worldwide, Port Napoleon ranks as one of the best and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone. The resident maintenance company, Yacht Services, which performed most of our maintenance can also be recommended as a highly competent full service facility albeit with a caveat to monitor personally the quality of work . . . . but what else is new?

Hugh Bacon, ARGONAUTA I, Sebo Marina, Graciosa Island, The Canary Islands

October 20, 2005

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