Log #18o Waves and Wind on the Saone

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

Log #18o Waves and Wind on the Saone

Jan. 19, 2001
Covers Dec. 5, 2000

We left the pleasant Port de Plaisance at Seurre shortly after 0800 Nov. 5 to try to get down to Macon, about 55 nautical miles downstream. The marina at Seurre called H2O was a good one, with all facilities, close to the town, and cost only 50 Ff, including electricity, for our 10 m boat. Macon, our destination was within a day’s trip of Lyon and our entrance into the Rhone River, the last leg of our trip to the Med.

It was a cold (+5 C) grey day with a bit of ice fog drifting off the water. By 0930 it was sunny and we cleared Ecluse d’Eculles (height 3.2m), accompanied by a muskrat on our way out. Just before noon we passed the junction where Canal du Centre entered the Saone just above Chalon-sur-Saone. This canal was our original planned route from Paris, before we found out the canals on that route were closed in October and November. We passed a couple of peniches and a plaisancier (a peniche converted to a pleasure boat). There were several barges and peniches along the docks near Chalon, as it is a barging centre.

The sky was clear, but we were going into a strengthening wind from the south. However, we were making good time, going along at 7 knots. We actually overtook a peniche, a long slow operation as we were only going about a half knot faster than he was. The land on both sides of the river was flat marsh and farmland. The river was about 100 to 150m wide as it gently wound its way south. No trees along the shoreline provided any kind of wind break.

Shortly after we passed the peniche, the river straightened for long stretches and the increasing wind of 25 to 30 knots created higher steeper waves over a metre in height. Whitecaps were frequent as we pounded into these increasing waves. This was the situation amplified, of wind against current, which causes the waves to become higher, steeper, and closer together, causing the boat to have short jerky movements as it goes into them. Water was spraying over the bow and drenching us in the cockpit. We closed the front window on the dodger. Then as we continued to pound into it, we noticed the mast swaying fore and aft in increasing movements.

We added more fore and aft lashings to try to reduce the movement. It still moved, and we were afraid the whole structure would collapse either forward or backwards. We slowed down, but that didn’t help. There was no sheltered area or dock in this stretch, so our only alternative to reduce the pounding was to reverse our course and go upstream with the waves. This we did, except that the 30 seconds to a minute broadside to the waves felt like an hour as the rolling was even worse and we feared the whole structure going over the side! Finally, we got around and heading back upstream, against the current but with the waves, reducing the motion considerably while we continued to put on more lashings fore and aft and athwartships. Then we encountered the peniche we passed a half hour earlier, and had to contend with his wake. However, it was not too bad, as we were able to go close to the shore to keep our distance from him.

We went upstream about a kilometer, beyond the Pont d’Ouroux bridge hoping it would bend around sufficiently so we didn’t have the wind howling straight up the river. It helped a bit, and we were able to get into the lee beyond the bridge, but now what? There was no place to go alongside. Chalon-sur-Saone was another 8 kilometres upstream. We got our breath, checked the lashings, and turned around once again to go downstream into the wind. I quickly learned that by hugging the more leeward shoreline the wave action was reduced, as opposed to our calm weather strategy of staying centered in the river to maximize the current carrying us down.

Although the river was 100 yards or more wide, the channel itself was less than 50, marked by red and green posts or buoys. Outside of those markers where I was manoeuvering no depths were indicated, so I had to keep a constant eye on the depth sounder. As there was so little traffic on the river, I was not worried about staying on the starboard side of the channel. I switched over to whichever side provided a bit of a lee and reduced wave action. The heavy waves in the centre as I crossed were worrying every time I changed sides.

The wind did not let up, and the next two hours were nerve-wracking as we edged our way downstream, through Ecluse d’Ormes #4 towards Tournus. The river went due south, with very little deviation left or right, right into the teeth of the force 7 wind from the south. Just before Tournus there were some marshy areas that intruded into the river, marked as shoal areas on the chart, just to increase my anxiety level.

As we came up to Tournus, we had to cross once more over heavy one and a half metre waves, and at an angle as we had to turn upstream again in order to make an upstream approach to the pontoons. This put us broadside to the waves for a perilous minute or more as we crabbed our way across. The pontoons were extended out on arms so that boats could moor on the inside as well as outside. I elected to go inside to reduce the amount of wave action experienced, as the pontoons were right on the river, unprotected by any breakwater, bend, or bridge abutment. Of course no one was there to take our lines, and we had to negotiate around another boat on the end of the pontoon to go in ahead of it. When we finally got our lines secure at 1500, after only 42 nautical miles and 2 locks, we gave a big sigh of relief.

This halte at Tournus (46 33.7N, 004 54.8E), PK 112, is located right downtown, less than a five minute walk from the central pedestrian precinct, the Tourist Bureau, churches, abbeys, and the train station. There was no electricity operational from the pontoon power boxes. It appeared as if another river yacht charter branch used these pontoons in season, as several charter vessels were tied up alongside. It was a very pleasant spot to stop, even with the services shut down for the winter, and in these worrying wind conditions.

The winds raged for two more days and we didn’t leave until they subsided on Dec. 8. More about our stay at Tournus next log.