Log #18p Saone to the Rhone

January 20, 2001 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 18 France, The Logs

Log #18p Saone to the Rhone

Jan. 20, 2001
Covers the period Dec. 5 to 10, 2000

We were weathered in at Tournus with high southerly force 7 and 8 winds for two more days. It was a bit bumpy alongside those floating pontoons at the edge of the river with the waves washing upstream. However, we were glad we made the decision to stay alongside.

The next day, Dec. 6, as it was still blowing force 7, we caught the train down to Lyon to tour it for the day. This way we didn’t need to stop there on our way past later. The old part of Lyon is on the west bank of the Saone River. The major part of the central city is on a slender peninsula bordered by the Rhone on the east and the Saone on the west, joining at the southern tip to form the lower Rhone which empties into the Med 310 km downstream, past Avignon and Arles, near Marseilles.

We bought a convenient day pass for the subways, which included the funicular up to the Fouviere Basilica, and the Gallo-Roman amphitheatre and museum which of course we had to visit. There was a fantastic view from the Basilica over old Lyon and the entire peninsula across the Saone to the Rhone River. Before going over to old Lyon, we visited the Occupation Museum which gave an interesting presentation of Lyon as the main city in Vichy France. That era must be a painful memory for the French and Lyon in particular, considering the extensive collaboration the Vichy regime, the police, and some of the citizenry of Lyon gave the Nazis during that period.

We enjoyed wandering through old Lyon, down Rue Saint-Jean, enjoying the ambience of the aged narrow cobblestone streets, their boutiques, artist workshops, restaurants, and especially the ancient passageways culminating in small distinctive courtyards with fascinating arched balconies and staircases. We enjoyed a lovely meal in one of the many colourful quaint hole-in-the-wall restaurants before heading back to the train station and Tournus.

The next day was still blowing force 7 to 8, so we did the tourist thing in Tournus, sent E-mail from the co-operative tourist bureau, did some shopping for supplies, and left the third day, Dec. 8, after lunch, to head down to the Port de Plaisance at Macon 15 miles downstream, a straight no locks run averaging a little over 7 knots all the way. The Port de Plaisance was relatively large and well equipped, but a bit remote from town. We had a shower, were plugged into shore power, and had a quiet night alongside.

Dec. 9 we left early at 0745, before sun up at 0811, hoping for a 50 or 60 mile run downstream. We passed Lyon and entered the Rhone by 1430, enjoying speeds of over 9 knots in places. We went through four large shipping locks of only 3 to 4 metres height, and one high one of almost 12 metres. These all have floating bollards, and are large locks for ocean going barges and measure 11.4m wide by 190m long. Veleda, a 10m sloop, was the only vessel in all of them!

We stopped at the halte beneath the bridge for Autoroute A7 just before St-Romain-en-Gal at PK 26.5 (54 32.3N, 004 51.3E). It was a bit tricky getting in as we had to go under the bridge, around a point of land on the west bank, and back up under the bridge in a tranquil sidestream sheltered off the main Rhone. It was a good location, but no electricity was available. We were too lazy to walk the two kilometres into Vienne, which is an ancient town with a Roman amphitheatre, the site of the Roman Rhone Flotilla, of 5 monasteries and numerous churches, and still-standing town walls. We were tired after doing almost 60 nautical miles and five locks that day.

At this rate we should be into the Med and over to Barcelona before Christmas.

We left at 0800 next day, Dec. 10, hoping for another good day with over 50 miles distance. By noon we had cleared three locks, although we were held up for over half an hour at the first one, Ecluse de Vaugrais, because of large amounts of flotsam which had to be cleared away. Upon leaving the third one, Ecluse de Sablais (height 15.3m) we heard a loud thunk as we hit a submerged log. I hope we didn’t do any damage.

At Ecluse de Gervais the lock keepers started talking to us, more than normal, and we had to ask them to repeat their message several times before we understood what they were saying. They were asking where we were going to spend the night. We finally realized they were saying the next lock was closed, and did we want to stay there instead of going on. We quickly checked the charts, and saw the only halte before the next lock was at Tournon, but indicated a depth of only 1.0m, and we draw 1.5m. Decision time! I said let’s go for it and see if we might get in at Tournon as the levels were still high. So we went through, and down the 5 kilometers to Tournon.

The opening to the halte faced downstream. We crabbed our way over to it heading upstream against a four knot current. Keeping an eye on the depth sounder, I edged upstream into the opening. Boaters already alongside signaled me to come alongside a trawler yacht “Van Hoff”, as they said there was not enough water forward of it. However, my depth sounder indicated I had almost two metres of water, I eased forward of it and came alongside in 1.8m of water. When lines were secure, I sounded around Veleda with a hand lead and line to verify the depth sounder. We were OK.

Our friends astern of us were surprised. We enjoyed the company of Mike and Carrie Hoffman from the trawler, a knowledgeable couple  who have spent several years cruising the inland waterways of Europe. Mike informed us that it wasn’t that the next lock was closed for repairs as we had thought, but that it was closed because of a lock keepers strike, and had been closed for almost two weeks by this time. They had no idea of how long the strike would last, a few more days or a few more weeks.

We also found out from them that the original route we were going to take through the Canal du Centre and the Loire valley was indeed closed for lack of water, but not because of lack of rain. Apparently the maintenance was so poor that major leaks developed and there was not sufficient water in the reservoir lakes to operate the locks. Now these damn eclusiers were striking because of a form of privatization the government was introducing, and they wanted to ensure all their government perks were still in place, so they were out trying to force the big shipping companies to put pressure on the government. Our hopes of getting to Barcelona were fading fast!