"We didn't do too well," said 39-year-old Martina Deering of Dunkirk, N.Y., the ship's cook.
Still, the crew's linguistic forays endeared them to the natives, who began inviting the homesick sailors for dinners of prawns and lobster on the decks of their own boats and for day sails. They quickly made friends in the community with people such as the carpenters doing the repairs, who double-kissed the sailors every morning when they came to work.
Their friendliness touched the Americans, some of whom were making the tough decision whether to ride out the repair process or abandon the ship (about half stayed; new crew members flew over to replace the rest).
Although the sailors were used to toughing it out in the middle of the ocean, life in Saint-Nazaire was trying in a different way. Communications remained a problem: "Can you turn up the heat, please?" somehow was mistaken for "I'd like to buy two shots of alcohol."
There was also a strange period when a rash of bird corpses on the waterfront led to the suspicion that Pride's part of the port was harboring avian flu, until the captain informed authorities that local kids had been killing pigeons with slingshots.
But the most persistent trouble was getting certain products common in America: 1,300 pounds of galvanized steel to repair the rigging, for instance. A crock pot to warm tar in. Good tofu for the vegetarians onboard. Visine for wind-seared eyes.
The steel and other repair items eventually were imported from home -- though the crew gave up on the whole Douglas fir for the mast, opting for smaller pieces of wood glued together. And Doritos-laden care packages from family members and the office of Pride, Inc., the local nonprofit that runs the ship, provided other supplies, although tofu remained a problem.
So did boredom below decks, which the sailors, used to working seven days a week, were unaccustomed to. French DVDs, it turns out, often don't work in American DVD players, and for about five months the only English-language film playing at the local cinema was Bill Murray's Broken Flowers. Crew members, some of whom have now been away from home for almost a year, thought about all they were missing: loved ones' birthdays, home improvement projects now stalled.
"And we missed sailing," Deering said. "You're on land, and you've been in one place for so long. Sometimes it just seemed hopeless."
To pass the time when they weren't working, they read voraciously and trooped to a nearby Internet store to write e-mails. They bought bicycles and toured the countryside.
With Charpy's help, they went on a group trip to a seaside abbey and took two-hour train rides into Paris; one crew member, 31-year-old Josh Rubin of North Carolina, traveled as far as the Mediterranean coast of Spain.
Wine and cooking
They also found a favorite haunt closer to their new home: a beach a few minutes' walk away, where the crew members liked to go even on cold evenings with a bottle of cheap wine to talk and watch the sea.
And they cooked. Oh, how they cooked. Used to living on casseroles, and without fresh vegetables, the crew sampled tripe sausages, a local dish with tiny, unpeeled shrimp and -- their new favorite -- frogs' legs in a creamy garlic sauce. They ate venison and rabbit instead of beef.
And so what if they couldn't figure out how to request extra ice in their McDonald's sodas? The bread was fabulous -- "insane, beautiful, delicious baguettes," as crew member Sophie Deler, 41, of New York City put it -- and chocolate had its own aisle at the grocery store.
The Americans also stayed true to their own traditions. On Halloween, they dressed up in their rain gear and called themselves a ski team -- "I think we just looked like a bunch of dirty sailors, though," Deering said.
An American expatriate in town invited them to his home for Thanksgiving dinner, and the captains' wives -- Pride's other captain, 48-year-old John Beebe-Center of Rhode Island, had joined the ship after the accident -- flew over for the Christmas celebration, which centered around a pine bough adorned with electric lights and a rubber duck.
"Somehow we've survived and had some pretty hilarious times," said sailor Dave Castle, 23, of Rochester, N.Y. "I'll always remember being here, and all the people we've met. And I think I'll always remember leaving, too."
That could happen any day now. The gold-leaf lettering of the ship's name has been refinished, and the sails are almost ready to be raised. Wood from the old mast has been donated to a French sculptor, who plans to make something beautiful with it. And sometime in the next couple of weeks, Pride will depart for Lisbon, Portugal, then make the long sail across the Atlantic to return to Annapolis by late spring.
The crew now will start to bid adieu to their new friends: Tomorrow, the mayor of Saint-Nazaire is throwing an onboard send-off party for the ship.
For his part, Charpy will be sorry to see them go.
"They are different from us," he acknowledged. "They don't say `please' and `thank you' as much, and they are more direct." But "they are nice people, very courageous, and good sailors," and he's glad they came.
"They would never have asked to stop here," he said, "but I think they've had a pretty good time."