Evening was approaching and the city lights had begun to come on. After sixty-eight days at sea, it looked good. It looked like food, showers, a bed that did not heave all night long, and other people’s voices. Our bowsprit was pointed straight toward the seaside Promenade de la Corniche where people were driving home from work, or out for a night’s entertainment. The houses of the city rose up in tiers on the highlands beyond.
A ninety degree turn to port put the promenade on our right hand and took us under the battlements of Tour Saint-Nicolas, past the breakwater and the entrance to la Grande Joliette, the new ship harbor. The stalk-legged silhouettes of unloading cranes were black against the sunset as we passed, turning sharply to starboard this time and passed beneath Tour Saint-Jean down the narrow entry into the Vieux-Port.
Marseille’s old harbor is famous throughout Europe, even though it is now mostly used by pleasure boats and fishermen. It is a half mile long rectangle of water thrusting itself right into the center of Marseille, and packed with boats of every description. Encircled by broad avenues which are backed by shops and restaurants, it is the heart of the city. As we looked for an empty berth, the cathedral of Notre-Dame de la Garde was etched black against the fading sky high above us.
We tied up next to a rugged but colorful fishing boat. One of the fishermen helped up put out our lines, gesturing and giving orders in flowing French. When I answered him out of my hundred word French vocabulary, his gestures simply became more animated. Between us we managed to get the Wahini secured.
He pointed to the Q flag flying and said something I didn’t understand. After several tries, he simply repeated, “Demain. Demain!” and I got the picture that tomorrow would be soon enough to contact the port authorities. I hauled the flag down.
The other fishermen were lining the rail now. One of them gestured toward our stern and our helper trotted back to see the Wahini’s name and home port. He came back looking impressed and asked, “L’Amerique du Nord? Le Etats-Unis?” I nodded. Then he asked if we had just made the Atlantic crossing. At least, I think that is what he said. I nodded again.
That made us instant friends, or at least minor celebrities. The other fishermen came down to join us and carried us away across the broad Quai du Port to a night on the town.
I never did decide if they were really impressed with our crossing, or just looking for an excuse to celebrate. Or maybe they were just impressed with Raven and looking for an excuse to spend an evening with her. She was in her element. Within minutes she had discovered that one of the fishermen spoke a rough sort of Spanish and the two of them became our translators. We were paraded from restaurant to bistro and presented to every waiter, shop keeper, and passer-by in Marseille. We ate bouillabaisse, which I was told a dozen times that night was invented in Marseille, and other things I could neither identify nor remember. I could not refuse the wine, and by two hours into our night my memory was getting hazy.
It was close to two AM when we got back to the Wahini. After our guides had gone to bed, Raven and I sat on deck looking up at the lights of the houses on the surrounding hills. My head felt like a half-full gallon pail. Raven was enjoying my discomfort. “For a person who doesn’t drink,” she said, “you certainly tied one on.”
I was too far gone to try to be clever. I just said, “That’s why I don’t drink.”
“You seemed to enjoy it.”
She smiled sweetly, like a tigress surveying her prey. “I seem to remember some other things you used to enjoy. Do you feel up to them?”
I looked into her predatory eyes and said, “Would it matter?”
“Then let the games begin.”
As it happened, I was up to them. Within seconds she had my full attention. The rest of the night was not hazy at all. more tomorrow