Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that there hasn’t been any reference to us taking summer holidays. It’s partly because we seem to have been rather too busy to take them, partly because we are going to the UK for eight or nine days sometime in autumn and partly because with the post-Brexit drop in the value of the pound, going away would be a bit of a luxury that we couldn’t afford. Now if you happen to be Boris, Nigel or Michael then contributing to our holiday fund would be very nice but in all honesty the money you promised for the NHS probably ought to come first. In case you’ve forgotten – and rumour says that you have – here is a helpful site to jog your memory.
Of course living as we do on the edge of the French Riviera we can hardly expect sympathy for missing holidays. And actually last week, having been tipped off that the America’s Cup was coming to Toulon, we decided to take a day off and go and see what the fuss was about. Our ignorance in this area was enormous and required a reading of the Wikipedia article to clarify matters. So for instance it has nothing at all to do with America: that was simply the name of the schooner that won the first prototype race in 1851. The present – the 35th America’s Cup – is sailed in 50-foot foiling catamarans. For the uninitiated these can go twice as fast as the wind and can get up to speeds of nearly 60 knots which is around 60 miles an hour.
So we drove the 45 minutes to the edge of Toulon – in the usual perfect summer weather with brilliant blue skies and temperatures heading upwards to 30 degrees – and took the very cheap bus to the beach area where the event was being held. You’ll not be surprised to learn that security was very tight, but we’ll blog about that next week.
There was a big exhibition centre with some very fascinating science exhibits and Chris had a long and interesting chat with a French researcher on Mediterranean pollution which hopes he will be able to continue. The Toulon Port area is very busy marketing itself as the new hub for science, particularly marine and defence science, around the Mediterranean and we decided that if we were in the business of basing a new company somewhere you could do far worse than Toulon.
After lunch several thousand of us began to line the coast to watch the catamarans, as the racing was due to start at 2 o’clock. We sat out on hot rocks and soon got pretty baked ourselves. One fascinating feature was the presence of a replica 18th-century sailing ship La Grace, not dissimilar from those which the Royal Navy used when, having taken Toulon in 1793, they were bloodily evicted by French Republican forces led by a young and almost entirely unknown captain, Napoleon Bonaparte. It was a name they were going to hear a lot of.
Eventually six catamarans looking more like aircraft than boats assembled. They performed what we assume were practice manoeuvers, and sailed along the shore for the crowd to clap them.
Then with all the spectators feeling the heat and the race ready to start…. the wind dropped. Nothing happened. After about three quarters of an hour of waiting and increasingly feeling like fried eggs, we slipped away and walked back into the centre of Toulon. It turned out in the end that racing was cancelled for the day. If you want to see what we should have seen, then try this YouTube clip.
Still Toulon is a pleasant place and even if we didn’t get to see the racing proper, it was a fun visit.