The return of The Snake in St Tropez

From les Voiles de St Tropez your slytherin correspondent provides his tips for petanque and picking up femme fatales

Monday October 6th 2003, Author: The Snake, Location: France
The dignified, official motto of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez is 'ad usque fidelis' (faithful to the end); a sentiment echoed in the introduction to the 2003 regatta by Dr. Jean-Michel Couve, Mayor of St. Tropez: "Come storm, flat calm, rain or heatwave you return…" The mayor, whose doctorate may well be in meteorology, wisely covered all possible weather conditions likely to effect the regatta and accurately predicted the following week’s varied conditions. On Monday the racing fleet experienced heavy rain, Tuesday saw a total lack of breeze and the 28-32 knots wind strength on Wednesday accompanied by 2.5 metre waves caused the cancellation of all racing….

Many inshore sailors will scoff and carp at the tendency of French regatta organisations to cancel racing when winds reach 20 knots or above. However, in France a racing authority’s hand is often forced by powers greater than the individual competitor’s enthusiasm and a devotion to yacht racing. Every region of the country has a local Préfecture; a hydra-headed body administrating and advising on every aspect of French life from keeping the public parks free from dog merde, to overseeing local elections. At every sailing event the Préfecture will post a warning next to, or on top of, the regatta’s Notice of Race. This serves as a reminder of the life-threatening and dire legal implications of allowing boats out in windy conditions. It is a sad legacy of the tragic accident during the 1995 Nioulargue Regatta in St. Tropez and not a faint-hearted or coude à la portière (literally: elbow out of the car window…i.e. very relaxed) attitude by a race organisation; just another example of the burgeoning French bureaucracy.

Had the sailing conditions failed to improve there may have been some grumbling from a few of the competitors, but the spirit of this yachting fête is impossible to crush. As the eloquent Mayor Couve commented; "Every year you bring us brand-new racers or masterpieces of the past, new born from restoration. This is a joy…a gift." In a similar style, while sharing a bottle of wine with The Snake, a local yachtsman remarked; "To the victors, the ecstasy of triumph; for the vanquished, a time to drink deeply from le pot de l’amitie"…the cup of friendship.

Wednesday evening saw the first, major social event of the regatta. After a day during which the racing was cancelled, the affair was appropriately competitive. All crews were invited to play in the traditional pétanque tournament at Place des Lices. For those unfamiliar with this sport: Pétanque involves a challenge between two teams of three people (or two or one person) throwing a number of canon ball-sized, metal boules at a single, smaller cochonette ( a wooden ball). The distances involved must not exceed 10 metres (the width of two horse-drawn carriages and, therefore, the breadth of the average, provincial French road….or something like that). Simple, you may think, but not when it involves The French and a large amount of alcohol.

Twenty of the yachts racing fielded teams for this confusing and highly amusing knock-out contest. As night fell, the merry and random chaos was softly illuminated by lights suspended in the rows of trees, while the volume and excitement was rapidly increased after the provision of freely distributed quantities of the dangerous apéritif, Ricard. This aniseed-based spirit, often known simply as jaune for its yellow hue before dilution with water, is deceptively potent. Four glasses of this intoxicating liquor can provoke an out of body experience and more than six can result in a voyage to distant astral dimensions. Maybe the Ricard, combined with the general atmosphere of bonhomie, left all those present at the tournament ignorant and uncaring as to the winning team’s identity.

Although The Snake is currently midway through a course of some fairly potent, prescription medication he firmly believes that the Place des Lices, on the edge of the old town, is one of the few places in the world where one can take the pulse of the universe. All of life’s drama is played out in this leafy town square. In one gloomy, late-night corner a bearded, filthy derelict urinates against one of the stout maple trees and frets over the source of his next morsel. Across the square, 300 metres away, in the superb La Renaissance restaurant, a polished millionaire struggles through a plate of Parmentier de canard et sa salade à l’Ail while agonising over the forthcoming, surgical removal of his third chin and whether he should increase his mistress’s botox allowance. Simplistic parallels? Maybe. The Snake is not developing into a sans culottes, socialist revolutionary, but the wine does begin to sour with the curdling aroma of the human condition.

Pseudo-intellectualism aside….a fundamentally important feature of Place des Lices is the anti-clockwise, one-way road system that girdles the square. Formed by Boulevard Vasserat on the seaward side and Avenue Paul Roussel, Rue du Temple and, completing the circuit, Avenue de Marechal Foch; these roads provide the perfect route for publicly showing-off in expensive vehicles. Throughout the early evening a procession of luxury cars constantly lap the square as though attached to a continuous, looping belt. This custom, known medically as Automotive Assisted Reassessment of Sexual Equipment (AARSE), requires that Lamborghinis, Porsches, Aston Martins etc., be driven around in low gear shattering the twilight calm. One of The Snake’s favourite, pre-cocktail, Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez pastimes is to dawdle around the pedestrian crossing at the junction of Rue Francois Sibilli and Boulevard Vasserat, then unexpectedly launch himself in front of a Ferrari, causing an instant stall, swiftly followed by an indignant and effusive flow of abuse from the super-car’s pilot. Childish, perhaps, but intensely satisfying.

In France, car licence plates numerically indicate the region from which the vehicle originates. Normandy, for example, is 23, Nice is 06 and 83 signifies St. Tropez. Most importantly, central Paris is 75. This, The Snake is convinced, enables the rest of France to identify and harass, or to loath and avoid any Parisians on the country’s highways. The inhabitants of Paris are arguably the worst drivers on the planet challenged only, perhaps, by the entire population of Caracas, Venezuela.

Thursday was a day off for the classic yachts and a chance for many of the crews to watch The Wally Challenge in demanding, irregular and shifty wind conditions. The sight of 12 of these monstrous boats in such close proximity to one another on the start line off the Portalet Tower was an extraordinary sight. After the two prior, fruitless days for the Wallys, the; 1) Y3K 2) Annica 3) Tikétitan result left few observers willing to gamble on which yacht would walk away with the silver wear at Sunday’s prize giving.

For those who could resist the big boat racing, a twenty minute drive would take the adventurous south to the famous, 6km strip of beach between Cap du Pinet and Cap Camarat; the Plage de Pampelonne. The quite…er…breathtaking scenery can be viewed from a number of fine bars and restaurants strung along the pale sand; Bar du Soleile, Bora Bora, Le Club 55, Les Bronzes……all of which have seen some legendary, lay-day performances by regatta yacht crews over the years. On Pampelonne one can also innocently view young women practicing and honing their skills in The Mediterranean Marina Stroll; the casual, twilight saunter usually adopted when walking along a quay lined with super yachts and witnessed in St. Tropez, Cannes, Monaco, Porto Cervo etc. This unique, highly attractive, rolling walk suggests that these beautiful females have had the lower three vertebrae removed from their spines and replaced with thick, soft, rubber washers.

Thursday evening provided the two main party events of the week; the crew parade, swiftly followed by the crew party. The parade is the most famous shore based tradition of the regatta and draws visitors to the town from nearby Grimaud, Cogolin, St. Maxime and from as far as Nice. Disappointingly, only 8 of the 160 yachts racing in the regatta managed to join the parade, resulting in a really embarrassing and feeble turnout.

The crews mustered for the parade at sundown in the tented regatta village, forming-up behind a local pipe and drum band dressed in multi-coloured cloaks, silver buckled shoes and tricorn hats, before setting off on the 800 metre route around the quay of Vieux Port. The crew of 1928 Fife sloop Cambria snaked their way along the dock behind a massive Chinese dragon headpiece, trailing the crew underneath a retired and elongated spinnaker. Closely following this predominantly Australian crew were the team from classic yacht Pamyra Ben who managed to prove that Belgian sailors can have fun. The eight crew, disguised as TV cartoon characters, The Smurfs, were dyed blue from the waist up and white from the waist down, naked but for traditional Smurf hats and (disturbingly) adult incontinence pants. Confusingly, the sole female crewmember from the yacht was dressed in a furry animal suit. The Snake is unfamiliar with Smurf culture and is curious as to why the cartoon features a RayBan wearing ferret?

The most striking British presence was provided by the Girls for Sail team. The crew of nine waved magic wands at the crowds and performed an impressively choreographed hula along the entire length of the quay, suggesting that the Pacific dance quite possibly has its roots in Hampshire rather than Hawaii. The following morning’s front page of local paper, Var-matin, described the girls as; “Les fées Clochette fushia” (the pink fairy Tinkerbells). However, if a prize was awarded for the most impressive theme, it should have been presented to the French crew of the classic ketch, Eugenia V. With brightly painted hats in the shape of tropical fish the crew followed behind a silver-tailed Mermaid Queen on a mobile throne (a cleverly disguised supermarket trolley) drawn along by pirates and protected by bikini wearing handmaidens…..the French really do some things very well.

The parade disbanded quickly as all teams headed for the regatta’s crew party and, presumably, the Belgian Smurfs went to change into something less obviously linked to bladder malfunction. The party was held on a small promontory off the old town. A mini peninsula with a beach to one side and a small fishing harbour on the other accessible by the narrow, steep, safety rail-free Rue de la Rampe directly overhanging the water; a treacherous path that claimed a number of guests leaving the party. 500 people partied and danced under the stars to the sound of The Carnaby Street Band (unsurprisingly, very fond of The Beatles).

The personal goal of many sailors at a crew party is to drink their own body weight in whatever free alcohol is on offer. In France, though, the prioroity is given to food. With numbers at the party far exceeding expectations, the overstretched temporary kitchen was unable to meet demand and when trays of omelettes and pizza did appear the ensuing frenzy produced crowd behaviour unseen in France since The Storming of The Bastille.

Eating is at the very core of French culture. For this reason one should never attempt to achieve anything important in the country during the middle three hours of the day….unless, of course, it involves going to a restaurant. Food is a serious business; duels have been fought over badly cooked steaks, divorce can spring from peeling an artichoke in the wrong manner and asparagus is a famously tricky dish that can cause social death. Sharing food is a principal element of French family and domestic life as well as an important component of courtship. Should any of The Daily Sail’s readership be considering a relationship with a Frenchwoman it is essential that you take your intended to a restaurant before considering anything remotely carnal.

The Snake will now share a brief and personal tale of how a French restaurant quite possibly saved his life:

Some years ago while loitering around France, The Snake became obsessively attracted to a beautiful French lawyer from the city of Rennes. Choosing a decent restaurant in the centre of town, your correspondent spent that awkward, initial fifteen minutes entertaining his highly intelligent date by murdering the French language and putting on an impressive display of bread-stick snapping. This highly charged atmosphere was worsened by the sound of the headwaiter suffering a thunderous attack of Torret’s Syndrome behind the swing doors of the kitchen.

Ordering food in a French restaurant is an intense, formalised ritual. On this occasion it became disastrous; for while smouldering seductively on the opposite side of the table the para-legal bird of paradise ordered that gastronomic abomination of Northern France, andouillettes. Now, The Snake is not a fussy eater and for a number of obscure reasons has tucked into beetle soup (Guyana), roast dog (Philippines), guinea-pig (Peru) and has even drunk his own urine (a near fatal map reading error in Patagonia), but he cannot tolerate andouillettes or, for that matter, anyone who eats the filthy stuff. For strangers to French cuisine, this dish rivals tripes `a la mode de Caen for sheer offensiveness, smells as though someone has left the slaughterhouse door open and will send the more discerning hyena running for the neighbouring time zone. It contains an assortment of anatomical debris including nostrils, lips and the more unpleasant parts of the back-end and undercarriage from a broad range of farm livestock.

Sadly, any thoughts of romance and Rennes-based real estate evaporated before the crème brûlée arrived. Recent research has shown that The Snake’s sultry savage is now happily married to a vegetarian and has taken two lovers….which probably says something quite profound, but possibly not.

Finally, The Snake would like to thank members of the regatta’s press office, in particular Maguelonne, who provided your correspondent with a superb roost in the town. The Snake’s neighbour, though, was an English teenager who chose dawn as the preferred time to run through her cellphone’s entire ring tone repertoire (croaking frogs, La Bamba, fog horns, Eminem’s Christmas carol remix….) in prelude to a hectic day’s text messaging from the weather rail.

Avec les doigts dans le nez, The Snake.

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