Follow Us On Twitter - Image

GMDSS A User's Handbook

By Denise Bréhaut

GMDSS A user's handbook








The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) provides a fast and efficient way of calling for assistance at sea, whatever the size of craft or its geographical position. Since it was first published, this book has helped explain the system for anyone using GMDSS and has been excellent pre-course reading for students.


Jerry & Kathy

South of France - Sete to Herault

Table 3

Day 3
Sète (Mont St Clair) - Hèrault

We set off after a hot, sticky night towards the ancient town of Sète which sited on the Mont St Clair, half way between Montpelier and Agde to the south-west. This is a traditional fishing port, the largest on the coast, with secure yacht berthing facilities tucked away inside the large stone mole of the ‘old’ basin. It is the second largest commercial port on the French Mediterranean, a ferry port with services to North Africa and a cruise liner stopover; Five maritime industries co located in a busy harbour with plans for modernisation and expansion!

What comes with a busy harbour? Well quite a lot actually - noise, flotsam and swell to be precise! The fisherman race into the port at 3 o’clock in the afternoon to catch the fish market, discarding their boxes, crates and fish waste as they go and then race out again at 3 in the morning to be first at the fishing grounds, creating a swell as they leave. The marina is managed by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Sète and Frontignan, and is undergoing gradual improvement to moorings and general safety. The yacht berths are traditional ‘med’ moored using ground chains and therefore not constrained by posts or mooring buoys. The lady in the Capitainerie spoke fluent English and was extremely helpful; she didn’t try to hide the fact that the harbour was not the most popular with yachtsmen, explaining about the potential conflicts between the industries.

Therefore one could assume that this is not the ideal place to berth your boat considering what is available nearby at Frontignan and further along the coast. However, in our case we liked the idea of interacting and cohabiting with the locals. The town was alive with activity from everyday life and tourists alike - market day can cause havoc with the roads! There is a main line train service and access to the airport is much the same for Beziers as it is for Montpelier.
Some local facts: It was interesting to learn that in 1710 the English and Dutch fleet laid siege on the town, bringing terror to its citizens. The purpose for this act of aggression was to create a diversion on the coast and thus relieve the military pressure against the Protestants in the Cévennes. Fortunately for us the French army drove them out within five days so hopefully the locals no longer hold a grudge against the English! On a more recent note, the region is allegedly becoming overrun by jelly fish due to warmer seas and declining predators. Many of the beaches now have a warning system to indicate the presence of the Blue Jellyfish which can cause a nasty sting which can cause anaphylactic shock. There is a local annual magazine called ‘Cabotages’ or ‘Coastwise’ which is available in English - Visit











Day 3
Cap d’Agde - Hèrault

Table 4

The penultimate visit of day three was 16 km down the ‘plage’ to the Port of Cap d’Agde which lies close to the hills of St. Martin and St.Loup. The marina (3000 berths) is another large complex of smaller ports and basins with modern facilities, including video surveillance, full marine services, wifi, etc. To be believed it should be viewed from an aerial photograph - see if you can spot the fairground!

We are over towards the west now so the Costa Brava and Spanish ports are only 50NM away, the Balearics some 200 NM to the SW and Corsica 230 NM to the SE. The port has a dedicated multihull pontoon with typical ‘med’ mooring to buoys. It is surprisingly ‘out of the way’ and out of site of the hoards of tourists that walk the quayside during the high season. We found the port slightly overbearing and estimate that it would take an hour to walk its perimeter! That said, the greater seclusion offered for cats gave us hope.

Nearby is the smaller Port Ambonne (300 berths/27 visitor) which can accommodate vessels up to 11m but no multihulls.














Having been overawed by Cap d’Agde we decided to finish the day with a quick visit to Valras Plage about 25 km further down the coast and just south of Beziers. A friend had told me to check it out as it was a place he liked to visit when he was out-and-about from his holiday home nearby. We were hopeful that it would be smaller than the previous marina and surely it was (240 berths/limited visitors). However, the sight of quayside shops selling beach balls and fast-food immediately put us off. This is clearly a holiday destination for those spending their summers at the beach and not for us - it is probably manic in the summer and dead in the low season! Not too far away up the river L’Orb is the slightly larger marina of Serignan. It has 400 regular and 80 visitor’s berths for vessels up to 11m but we declined to backtrack and have a look.

We decided not to waste an opportunity so drove for a few minutes out of the port to the municipal beach and took a well deserved swim in the Mediterranean surf - our first break from pounding the docksides! Thereafter, a short trip up to Beziers for another sticky night in the hotel - we thought the weather was normal but were later informed that southern France was in the middle of a heatwave. Most days it was around 34 degrees C but hey, who’s complaining?

The next day we planned to back track via the motorway up towards Nîmes and if time allowed, stop over at some of the marinas we may have missed. It would have been nice to go further west towards Perpignan but this would have thrown the itinerary and left us no time to catch up with friends later in the week.

The South of France - In Search of Blue Seas and Warmer Climates

Kathy and I own a Dean 380 catamaran based in Southampton but have for some time now been nurturing a serious desire to relocate abroad. We live aboard so wherever we end up has to be suitable as a base and offer similar facilities to what we need now. Unfortunately, I am not ready to retire yet so our new home has to be reasonably accessible by air so that I can commute to and from the UK. Discussions with friends and a hefty amount of research has led us to believe that the Mediterranean coast of France is the most favourable place to settle, at least for the next few years until such time as I can make the move permanently. Thereafter, who knows where we shall head for? Why France? Well, it is served well by the ‘budget’ airlines and relatively quick to get to from the South Coast of England. We have heard tell that the annual berths, if you can acquire one, are a fraction of those in and around the Solent!

In July we took ourselves on a weeks ‘fact-finding’ mission to explore as much of the med coast as we could fit in. Our itinerary was to fly to Marseille, pickup a car and head off west, returning via the same route seven days later. The outline plan was to get as far over to the west into the Languedoc-Roussillon as practicable, visiting ports and harbours along the way, then return back to the east to see what the Provence Alpes-Cote D’Azure region had to offer. Now the bright readers amongst you will recognise that the smart thing to do would have been to arrive in the west and fly back from the east, or vice-versa, thereby saving road miles. However we were governed by flight and hotel availability in what was peak season for travel to and from the area so took what we could at very reasonable prices.

 I started my research by scanning the whole coast from aerial photographs to identify those ports which already had catamarans berthed in them. We knew we couldn’t visit them all so we filtered out those which seemed unlikely to be able to accommodate our boat. In all we took in 22 marinas/ports and travelled some 1300 km. This was quite easily achievable because of the wonderful road network and ease of motorway use. Even the tolls didn’t put us off. Our observations are purely based on our own needs and in no way allied to the French Tourist Board! And whilst I consulted the Reeds Western Mediterranean Almanac for relevant port details I cannot guarantee all the data I have provided to be 100% accurate. That said, we did speak to as many ‘Capitainerie’ as possible to get the ‘low-down’ despite some translation problems; some of the staff were typically reluctant to converse in English and quite rightly so as we were the visitors. I have provided the important data which should be referred to when considering each port or marina.

 The Mediterranean Coast

The Mediterranean coast of France is conveniently divided into two sections, west of the Rhône (Languedoc-Roussillon), and east of the Rhône (Provence - Riviera). Languedoc offers mile upon mile of sandy seashores - though the Mediterranean being non-tidal, these sandy beaches are not generally as broad as those of the Atlantic coast. On the other hand, the water is usually warmer. Around the Rhône delta, between the Camargue and Marseilles, the coast is not particularly touristy; with the proximity of shipping ports - Fos and Marseille, and the water coming from the Rhône River.


Map of the south of france









Area of France that we visited.

Arrival in France and Martigues

On arrival at Marignane we collected our car and drove the 22 km to Martigues to get an evening meal and find our pre-booked hotel. We were delighted to find this enchanting port which nestles at the eastern end of the Canal de Caronte which separates the Mediterranean 7 km to the west from the Etang de Berre - a huge ‘salt lake’ formerly known as the Sea of Martigues. We ate at a street café overlooking the yachts moored alongside, soaking up the atmosphere and planning the next few days events. Martigues is known as The Venice of Provence because of its charming canals and bridges. It is also renowned for its regional wines.

Essentially there are three marinas in Martigues: Port Maritima (1000 berths), the largest, is a dry port situated on the south bank of the canal. The main afloat one, and most glamorous is sited in the Bassin de Ferrières (334 berths/10 visitor) with unrestricted access to the sea via the canal. Jonquières Harbour (400 berths) is sited around the corner within the Canal de Marseille au Rhône and is inland of a lifting bridge which crosses the Passe de Jonquières. The latter marina showed signs of where the ‘liveaboards’ are berthed and although looking a little tired and pale in comparison to the former it is close to the old town in Port Abri with it's shops and restaurants. The berths are shared between a yacht club, sailing school and ‘wet’ area for Port Maritima. Although we didn’t get to speak to the Capitainerie we did manage to catch a glimpse of the berthing charges for Port Maritima. As of 2008 an annual berth for an 11m monohull would cost €1782 including one lift, or €271 per month inclusive of VAT. There is also a additional daily tax ranging from €0,2 per day to €73 per year.

Note that the Etang de Berre is navigable and has at least seven more inland ports, none of which we visited.

martigues 1

 Martigues 2














Day 2
Port Napoléon - Bouches Du Rhône

 Table 1


On that first full day we ate a hearty breakfast, switched on the car’s AC and set off for Port St. Louis du Rhône, some 30 mins or so around the Golfe de Fos. We planned to visit Port Napoléon Marina (350 berths/20 visitor) which lies at the end of the Grand Rhône, and to view a Privilege catamaran which was for sale. The marina is relatively new and benefits from modern pontoons, rather that the traditional ‘med’ mooring of bow/stern to and extensive hard standing. Whilst the marina offered all the facilities we would need: large hoist, shore storage, marine services, power and water on the pontoons, it was a little out of the way with Port St. Louis being the nearest civilisation. The marina is situated at the end of the Canal de Saint-Antoine which leads to the Port de Fos, and perhaps some 40 minutes or so from open water. Port St. Louis itself was idyllic but restricted by a maximum berth size of 8m and a waiting time which would see me collecting my old age pension first!

Port Napoleon










Port Napoleon Marina

We spent an hour or so looking around the marina and at other catamarans for sale, enjoyed a café-au-lait in the restaurant, then set off for the longish journey towards Port Camargue around the Parc Régional de Camargue - a massive nature reserve full of salt lakes and wildlife. There is no ‘through’ road in this region so the only way is to head up to Arles, cross the Rhône and then west to Montpelier. We chose to stay as rural as possible and took a district road through to the nature reserve and the Petit Camargue. The whole trip was around 101km but well worth the drive.

Table 2

Late afternoon saw us arrive at Port Camargue Marina (350 berths), the only ‘Port de Plaisance’ or Leisure Marina on the Gard coast. It is situated just south of the Le Grau de Roi, a fishing port at the mouth of the Vidourle River which connects with the Rhône to Sète canal (Grande Roubine) from Nîmes. This marina is huge by comparison to those found in the UK and very much based on the ‘marina village’ layout with apartments spread throughout. It boasts 4860 berths between the public port and marina along with yacht clubs, numerous hotels, cafes and restaurants, and is typically a Mecca for the tourist. The berth sizes are restricted by mooring posts as opposed to ground chains therefore vessel beam determines where you go, although multihulls were med moored to an open quay. The Capitainerie staff although busy at the time, were helpful and spoke English.

I can see the attraction of this marina. It is immediately accessible to the Golfe du Lion and the Mediterranean and has everything one might need, including thousands of tourists in high season! Whilst this sort of marina doesn’t appeal to us as a long term ‘home’ it did have some charm and we thought that it could be a possibility, providing the price was right. The waiting list is quite daunting so I would expect to negotiate six month contracts. Our only concern was that it could be a little bleak when the season ends and some if not all the tourist facilities close down!

 Port Camargue









Port Camargue Marina

From Port Camargue we settled down for the night in the F1 roadside hotel nearby in Montpelier. Simple and cheap, the hotel offered enough for the weary traveller except for air conditioning!

Joomla Template by Red Evolution web design UK