Log # 18n Floods on the Saone

January 16, 2001 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 18 France, The Logs

Log # 18n Floods on the Saone

Written at Barcelona
Jan. 16, 2001
Covers the period Nov. 24 to Dec. 5, 2000

Pontailler (47 18.3N, 005 25.1E, PK 252.5, now measured from Lyon) was OK, but we didn’t want to get stuck there for the 10 days that we were. The night we arrived the water level rose over a metre, blocking our exit under the bridge into the Saone. How long it would stay that high, no one knew. The banks of the Saone and the Vielle Saone which meandered behind Pontailler were awash, fields inundated, pontoons and docks at cockeyed angles and semi-submerged, fence posts and trees sticking up surrounded by acres of water. The bridge abutments on the Saone held entire trees angrily against the torrents washing past, catching additional branches and flotsam, submerging them in the relentless currents creating vortexes impatiently trying to suck them free to cascade further downstream. It would have been a great ride downstream had we been able to get into it, white water rafting on a 32 foot sailboat! However, we were secure inside the marina, off the main river behind the low bridge which was now our jailer, with the only inconvenience being the planks we had to put down to get ashore from the pontoon.

Our German neighbour, Jurgen, in Navarin ahead of us on the pontoon, had been there for a few days and told us about the facilities of the semi-closed marina and the town. We had electricity on the pontoon and hot showers at the marina across the bridge. The marina was a site for Les Canalous, for charter canal yachts and houseboats, one of four locations in this area of Burgundy on the Saone and Loire rivers and adjacent canals. The friendly staff there were involved in preparing the boats for next season, but were helpful and permitted me to use their phone line to send out E-mail.

The pontoon was right beside the town, with the main square, bus stop, marketplace, fire department, local elementary school, and church about 100 yards away. There was a large supermarche about a kilometre up the road at which we could resupply Veleda and were also able to replace our empty propane “cube” with a full one.

I launched Sprite to explore the swollen Vielle Saone that flowed behind the town, and went several kilometres downstream until it joined the Saone. There was a swift current in the Saone, but the 10 hp outboard on Sprite was able to handle the current easily, returning upstream to enter under the low bridge back to Veleda. I then loaded Sprite up with three empty jerry cans and dinghied over town to a local garage where I was able to fill them with diesel (gazoil). There was no water on the pontoon, so I took several short trips in Sprite over to the marina docks with two 5 gallon plastic water containers to fill up our tanks and then a few more to help Navarin fill his.

Our original plan had been to get to Lyon, where I was going to catch a plane back to London for a few days to keep appointments on Dec. 1 & 2. As it looked as if we would not be able to get that far, we caught a bus from Pontailler at 0630 to Dijon, arriving there at 0745, had breakfast in a city centre brasserie, and took an economical pension near the train station for me to catch the train at 0730 next day. This allowed us to tour the beautiful cathedral and churches and stroll through the central pedestrian precincts of Dijon for the day.  Next day, I caught the train to Lyon while Judy returned to Veleda in Pontailler. From Lyon, I took the airport bus to catch my 1000 flight to Heathrow. I made my appointments OK, and had a good time, staying with Frank and Jill on Den Njord at Limehouse Basin for two nights, and with Brian and Irene at their home for a night. Next day Brian and Irene took me to Heathrow, after a stop at Marlborough House, Churchill’s home. Another interesting aspect of this area is that it was also the home of General Wolfe, who died victorious at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, defeating the French at Quebec, paving the way for a British North America, at least until the American revolution, and Canadian Confederation a century later. Thanks Jill and Frank, Brian and Irene for your hospitality.

I flew back to Lyon, caught the train back to Dijon, arriving at 2300. Rather than staying there overnight, and since Judy had called me in London to let me know the water level had dropped sufficiently to get out, I took a cab back to Pontailler so we could leave the next morning. Judy in the meantime had completed a list of chores on Veleda, including greasing of all our winches and getting Veleda ready for our continuing trip downstream.

However, good old Murphy was still working on Murphy’ Law. Fog! This was only the third time we had experienced fog in the two and a half years since leaving Toronto. I didn’t want to wait as it was now Dec. 4. We had been in the French canals and rivers for over two months now, and we wanted to get to Barcelona for Christmas, so out we went at 1000.

The visibility  was less than 100 yards, so that we could not see from one side of the river to the other. We hugged the starboard bank, keeping a careful watch on our depth sounder as the river was still high, and we were uncertain as to where the original shoreline was. The fog and mist cleared by noon hour, and we made good time going along at 7 and 8 knots, covering 27 nautical miles including three large locks,  in 5 hours, stopping at H2O, the Port de Plaisance at Seurre, PK 188,  (47 00.2N, 005 08.6E) at 1500. The locks were large, fast and efficient, and  easy as they had floating bollards to secure to. Now we were making good time, and should have no problem getting to Barcelona for Christmas.

We had an enjoyable walk around this ancient town, that has as one of its claims to fame the fact that the young Napoleon visited it often as an officer cadet to woo a local lass. We enjoyed a personal tour of the medieval church, conducted by the aged sexton who delighted in Judy’s French as he guided us through the history of the church, told us of the nuns from area convents who come to take their vows there, and serenaded us with some familiar hymns on the organ. He was also in the French Resistance, the Maquis, and was awarded the Croix do Guerre. An interesting man, and an enjoyable experience.

We left early next day hoping to make well over 50 nautical miles now that we were being helped down this wide fast flowing river, and through their large efficient locks, with very little traffic, only one or two peniches a day. But, nothing is ever simple, and Murphy struck again.