Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Towards and On The Mighty Rhone

Well, my crossed fingers regarding air con clearly worked!  Alex has bought a domestic air con unit which will be fitted during the winter: pity, as the heat is merciless at present.

We stopped briefly at Gergy, which now doesn't have any limitations as to length of boat allowed to moor, but rather stupidly, we decided to forgo the restaurant for lunch and eat on board.  We met up with DAISY and Ian and Nicky kindly helped us to moor to difficult cleats.

Our mooring that night at Chalon wasn't the prettiest, being on a high commercial quay, but was quiet - something we wished for a little further down the Saone.  

Louise says "She never could take a good photo"!!

We love those abandoned quays – they offer a good solid mooring, even if the bollards can be a little far apart sometimes, being more suited to the old Frécinet size barges -  bollards at 40m+.  Chalon itself is a few kilometres downstream and as we had 'done' the town 9 years ago, we stayed aboard overnight.

We ate lunch on the outside of the former lock at Gigny because the lovely little restaurant with terrace was closed for a private function!    The capitaine came round to 'advise' us essentially to be off as mooring on the outside wall was unsafe, despite the fact that there was no sign to say so and we were outside the marked channel.  We decided not to argue but just to go.

So on to Tournus.  On arrival, this being a Sunday afternoon, we found no room at the inn. Every single space was taken, and not wanting to beg to breast up (no-one was offering) we opted for the old riverboat quay.  We knew there was a chance a hotel boat might want to moor there, so to be on the safe side, Alex radioed the two cruise ships we knew were around and checked that they didn't need the quay.  So – all well.  Yes, until 4.15am when we were woken by blazing searchlights shining into our bedroom.  We knew what that meant, AVALON POETRY 2 (135m x 12m) was wanting the quay, so we quickly got dressed, spoke to the captain, and untied ourselves.  The captain agreed for us to moor alongside till 8am when they wanted to be off themselves, so at 7am we were up and moving.  Regular readers will appreciate that as our normal set-off time is 10am this was some change!

Moored up against POETRY 2 - 4.30am

Moored up against POETRY 2 - 4.30am - see tables set for breakfast!

Moored up against POETRY 2 - 4.30am

Dawn breaks and it's time to cast off

And there she is in all her glory!
Passengers completely unaware of the night's happenings

And so to Macon.  We had few memories of Macon, but reminded ourselves with a cycle tour around town, and the obligatory ride for stocks to the outskirts, near to the Port de Plaisance. We needed a laugh, so called into the port to ask for prices, should we ever want/need to stay.  With 400+ boats, it is the biggest inland port in France and Cyrille, the Capitaine, was very proud of that fact.  However, at €165 per week, mooring there will have to remain untried!!  Incidentally, an annual mooring would have been well over €3,800!!  We did however, manage a more than adequate lunch away from the tourist trail.

Macon itself offered a good space on the 84m quay – once the Sapeurs Pompiers had finished trying out their water hoses!  And we got in easily enough with a bit of offered help from two barges – GRETIGE HENRIETTE and HELIOX.  BUT – Macon mooring is sadly not as good as it looks!  We had two nights of loud talk and yelling from youths who placed themselves not 5 metres from the boat and proceeded to do so till 1am the first night and 5am the second night.  In despair, we have written to the Mairie outlining the problem and offering some suggestions. But on the plus side, we had seen an army of even younger people, complete with gloves and bin bags, picking up litter for a good 2 kms stretch of the river bank and quayside.  Their haul, when they finished close to our mooring, was quite something – including large jars full of cigarette stubs, numerous bags of assorted bottles, cans and litter, and some quite large items – plastic chairs and pallets!!!  And we did congratulate the town in our letter for that project.
Macon - wonderful house of carved wood

Macon - Romantic garden

Macon - Romantic Garden - just lovely

Macon - Romantic Garden - just lovely

Macon - another hotel cruise boat turns

ZOFIA came onto the pontoon late in the afternoon and we enjoyed aperos with Rudi and Nadia before they went off for a special evening meal.  They had apparently seen RICCALL twice before, but ashamed to admit, neither Alex nor Louise could really recall the occasions!   After our second impossible night of disturbed sleep, we gave Macon the cold shoulder and set off for a little, calm not-quite-wild mooring we have used before.  There is a wall with (we know!) one ring on it and plenty of fencing to tie to.  

Once moored up, Alex got the metal detector out and discovered that there was indeed the remains of a ring at 40m distance from the first one!  So the detector really does work!  We had a pleasant enough evening and night, though got to watch two hotel cruise ships travelling downstream and two travelling upstream.  We have been amazed by the number of cruise ships plying this Saone route and the Rhone will probably be just as bad!

We had moored at Belleville -

Belleville pontoon - empty when we arrived and empty when we left!

travelling both up and downstream before: the last time, we were the third barge on the pontoon with another small boat, so we were naturally nervous that it would be full this time as well.  EMPTY!!   We couldn't believe our luck.  Further downstream we were amazed to find a number of Haltes Fluvial installed by 'Grand Lyon'.  

Grand Lyon mooring - just look at those flood levels

Although each pontoon was only 15m long, they were installed between two huge ducs d'Albe which had bollards for our ropes.

Lyon itself was another matter.  Although the town quay was available for us, we decided to get fuel in the afternoon, as the next day, Sunday, the fuel barge would be closed, and on our return up-river changed our mooring to the right bank, under trees and shade.  This may have been a bad idea as, since our last visit, the trip boat, dining and event boat and hire power boat scene has completely transformed Lyon as a mooring destination, for the worse.  We won't be mooring in Lyon again and we are currently hoping for a quiet overnight mooring sometime soon!!

Hooked up to the wall - another ring to tie too at the stern

Possibly the worst boat on the whole river

Lyon likes to make it's mark!

Views on the Rhone
All kitted up for the big locks - gilet de sauvetage obligatoire!

Robert suggested a drug deal gone wrong!!

First sight of the terrace vineyards in this area - Cotes du Rhone

Former bridge support

Onward to an ex-sand quay – our favourite type of mooring – deep water, high quay, good bollards.  This particular one is directly opposite the little Ampuis mooring.  The Breil guide gives info about the Ampuis mooring, saying that during holidays etc, when a jousting match is planned, no mooring would be possible.  And so it was, on the last Sunday of the summer holidays.  So while we got our 'wild mooring' we were well within earshot of the tannoy announcing and commenting on the action.  It was just great!  Each time the two teams faced up to each other, the band began to play rumbustious tunes designed to get everyone going!  And it went on, and on, and on until we left the back deck and went below and they were still at it, not the jousting now, but the general bonhomie no doubt fuelled by a glass of good old Cotes du Rhone.

Another day, another sand quay, this time near St Vallier.  And by now we were really getting into a region with a different style of domestic architecture – more Mediterranean in colour and feel.  The Rhone here was a good 60m wide and the depth under the boat at times 13m: without doubt The Mighty Rhone.

Another stop downstream of Beauchastel Lock.  Louise could remember going into the town in 2012 and finding it deeply decrepit!  But in our Rhone guide 'Beauchastel with its picturesque streets is very popular with artists and photographers'.  Well clearly something was missed on our last visit so we decided to give the town another try, and on a little half-hidden sign were the words 'vieille ville'.  So we followed the sign and found to our great delight the much beloved picturesque streets climbing upwards towards the ruin of a 13th century tower.  

Don't you just love the Stannah stairlift?!!

We've seen quite a few of these mostly ruined towers along the last fifty or so kilometres of the Rhone: presumably they were watchtowers as all have been much too small to live in!
How dreadfully blingy is that?!!!

 General Rhone scenes follow

Tarascon - no moorings here

We'd had no problem in mooring up at locks for lunch or overnight so far on the Rhone.  It had always been after 3.30pm and the lock keepers have been universally happy for us to stop. Mind you, we are virtually the ONLY plaisance on the river at present, so there's unlikely to be any battle for space on the 25m pontoons above and below each lock. In any case the lock keepers know precisely where all the boats are as there is a computer system in place on the Rhone for just that purpose.

On approach to Logis-Neuf Ecluse, we were just congratulating ourselves on the seamless journey in and out of locks so far: we'd never had any delay and in most of them we had had the lock to ourselves.  On this occasion however, although the green and red light didn't change immediately, we did very soon get a green and were in!  However, after about half of the expected descent, the floating bollards stopped and the lock was at an eerie standstill.  Questioning lock keepers in French is not our strong point (and in any case they had more important things on their mind than us) so we just went about our business and waited.  Eventually, after about half an hour, the lock began to lower again, but VERY slowly, almost as if the lock keepers were manning the windlasses personally!!!  We wanted to moor up for lunch and asked to do so: the reply was long and complicated, possibly explaining what had been wrong but we did understand that YES, it was OK to moor up for lunch.  And so it was for overnight at the next lock – a long complicated reply but Yes it was OK.

Moorings from this point south are going to be very few and far between.  We are not welcome in many of the few ports which do exist – being too long, too heavy, too deep: most ports restrict space to boats under 15m.  So it's lock moorings or nothing!  One exception to this is Port 2, Ardoise.  Regular readers may remember that it was here that Alex discovered he had an inflamed appendix and was unceremoniously carted off to Bagnol hospital.  The port captain Ariane, was very helpful during that difficult period, and we think she's still at Port 2.  So that's where we're headed, but before that, we moored up downstream of Bollene Lock (the deepest in Europe at 23m) for lunch and while there the forecast wind wound itself up to 45kph (gusts of 80kph) so in the interests of safety we decided to stay put, well moored on the plaisance pontoon. 

Bollene Ecluse

Normally these pontoons are for waiting for lockage, sometimes for overnight mooring with permission from the lock-keeper but in winds such as this, it would be unsafe to be told to vacate – so there we stayed.  The high wind turned into the feared MISTRAL and caused us some consternation, but after a restless night as RICCALL was bumped into the pontoon, and a very early awakening, the captain decided that we'd 'make a dash for it' and get as far down the Rhone as possible: we wouldn't make it to the Petit Rhone in one hit (90kms) but to Vallabregues Ecluse might be possible at just 75kms!!  followers of this blog will know that this is WAY outside our comfort zone, but then so is white cap waves and winds of 35kmp+ with gusts of 58kph+. 

Alex had earlier described the locks further upstream and before the Mistral, as sounding like an orchestra tuning up as we entered:  the bassoon first, then the oboe, the flute then the piccolo as the floating pontoons were gently nudged by the water, but this time, when we entered they now sounded like bongo drums as they were bashed around inside their outer casings!

The weather continued to be fine – no rain forecast for the foreseeable weeks, but strong winds for at least a week, so we made our plan to get onto the Petit Rhone and into safe waters as soon as possible.

We achieved this after four days on board – no hope of getting ashore because of the incredibly high winds and no reason to want to go ashore anyway, as there is nowhere to go!!!  Two of our flags were destroyed in the Mistral and we lost our doormat! which blew overboard at some point!!  In addition, from Louise's point of view, there was an element of anxiety too.

So then onto the Petit Rhone, with calmer winds and an altogether different feel to our voyage.  The last few days (week) have been a challenge which had to be overcome, but overcome it we have, and now we shall move on with an eye to the weather, yes, but not the concern

Our ensign shows evidence of a very hard few days!!!

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Summer on the Saone

Last time we trekked south from Toul we took the Moselle upstream and then the Vosges, but this time we decided we wanted to cruise the Nancy 'embranchement' en route to the Vosges, so we headed off downstream on the Moselle to Liverdun for our first night away from Toul. This is one of our favourite moorings, having the most wonderful away-from-it-all feel when moored on the ducs d'Albe outside the little port area. We've never ventured into the little backwater off the Moselle, always a little nervous of depth, but we love the mooring on the river itself.

As we left our mooring in the morning we could see there were a few rowing pairs and fours on the river. Two were well in front of us near the left bank so we gave them plenty of room as we set off down the river. Then one pair started to move out towards the middle so Alex gave a hoot on the horn and instead of making for the bank again the pair started to try to get to our right basically heading straight for us. We had to do an emergency stop or we would have run them down. What an idiotic pair, but no apologies from them as we set off again.

Then, into Nancy itself. Lunch topside of the lock just off the river, and then we stopped at a double red bridge light. Of course, we telephoned VNF and were given the answer that it would open at 'dix-neuf heures'. This of course was nonsense as the canal itself closes at 6pm!! But, difficult to argue with limited French so we accepted defeat and stayed put. In fact the mooring we eventually backed up to, at Malzéville, turned out to be one of the best in Nancy so we were content enough. Eventually a German couple on an English Fairline cruiser came along and we explained the position. The lady wife spoke good French so she managed to discover that the reason for the unexpected closure was that there was to be a 'feux d'artifice' display later that night and the bridge was closed for safety reasons: VNF's Health and Safety policy didn't allow any random boats to pass while the fireworks were set up. So all was explained, or at least we thought it had been explained, but when there turned out to be NO fireworks later that night, we were all left a little perplexed!!

So onward the next morning towards the embranchement canal, 

Almost hidden from view
which we enjoyed doing, even if it was thirteen 'uphill' locks – each 3.15m deep, which caused some hilarity when we tried to get our ropes on way above our heads! You might think we would have got our act together, at least by the time we'd got to the top lock, number one, but NO – we were still taking three and four attempts to get the blasted things on! We thought that despite those slight delays we had done the flight in a pretty good time, but of course, pride comes before a fall, and the top lock was showing a double red – i.e. not operational. Now that would have been OK if there had been anywhere to moor, but no. We were flailing around immediately below a major road bridge with nothing to tie to save a VNF railing. So eventually, Louise climbed down the bow using the forecabin porthole, clambered up to the lock and eventually discovered the intercom to alert VNF. They came very quickly and we were through onto the summit level. Now 10 years ago we were unable to cruise this canal because it was closed because of a landslide on the summit level, which we were able to pinpoint on this trip because of the lack of any tree cover whatsoever! Then there was a narrows to negotiate, controlled by traffic lights, and then a slightly unwelcoming mooring for the night, but it was raining and a bit miserable so it was a TV night!

Then off bright and early to tackle the 5 downhill locks onto the Vosges, the canal we've been looking forward to re-doing for ages. It is a lovely canal, especially after its summit level, which we would arrive at in about a week's time, but before that we had another lock failure to contend with, another climb down the bow for Louise and another intercom call to VNF.

The next couple of gentle days passed by without incident, and then we arrived at northern Thaon, and moored up on a splendid concrete quay, complete with fendering and good bollards which was under construction 10 years ago. 

Thaon mooring - strange but great!

Well, it looks much the same now, adjacent to a wilderness area with Super U and Aldi 500m away on poor paths. No-one knows quite what this mooring is about as there is a strange jutting-out section between two good quays which seems to have no use, except to attract fishermen or bathers, but even they were sparse on the ground. This mooring is just into the rat-run for the 4 specially-built sand and gravel commercials which ply backwards and forwards over 5 kms and through 4 locks all day every day. The gravel barges load up at PK 76 and offload at PK 81 and start at 6am. They stop, seemingly wherever they are, at 7pm.   (We were hoping that they didn't work on Sundays as that would be our day for several ROFFs - roof off the wheelhouse for low bridges - as all-day sunshine was forecast.) 

Lovely Thaon conference centre

The barges' constant trundling makes mooring up in, and looking round Thaon a little problematic, but a bike ride from the outskirts with or without rain should sort that out!

Thaon was a nice little place with all sorts of independent shops (plus the ubiquitous Lidl), but more importantly, for us, a post office as we had an urgent birthday card to send for little Jasper coming up 6 years old. Then we set off to encounter a double red light at the first lock! A Dutch boat similarly stopped had rung VNF who said it would be a 2 hours delay while the engineer was called. We managed to reverse and moor up on one of the commercial gravellers and Alex went off to investigate. Between the engineer and Alex, the gate problem (a sheared bolt) was fixed and Alex had saved the day!!!!

Although we had seen Epinal by bike some years ago, we had never dared to enter the 'embranchement' as it was marked just 1.4m deep years ago. This time we were assured by VNF that it was 1.6m so we cruised in to meet up with EMMA (Paul and Jacky) and ETTIE again (Richard and Julia). 

A lovely port and so nice to be able to visit by BOAT!!
We stayed just the one night and set off bright and early to attack the 14 locks of the flight up to the summit level. All went pretty well according to plan and we achieved the whole lot in 3 hours despite having two hold-ups which required VNF presence.

Les Forges mooring was empty and we moored up in full sun perhaps not realising that we were in for a full fortnight of dazzling sun and exhausting heat! That was the first day we were badly affected, not by mosquitoes, but no-see-ums, those devilish little biters which you literally CAN'T see.

The descent of the Vosges from the summit is one of the loveliest on the whole canal system and we had been looking forward to it hugely. It was just as lovely as the first time we had done it in 2010, and we were able to moor in all the out-of-the-way places we had hoped for. In one of them, we had a storm to beat all storms in the late evening which was brilliant, and at another, we moored up with and met M-J and Michael on OLIVIA ROSE and enjoyed drinks and nibbles on RICCALL while chatting over boaty stuff.

EMMA had overtaken us on the summit and arrived in Fontenoy-le-Chateau ahead of us so was able to keep us informed regarding space (or not) on the quay. 

Excellent, if ruined chateau at Fontenoy

Moving bird of prey at Fontenoy

If you fail at Fontenoy, it is a long way and several locks before you could find a decent mooring. The mooring at Pont du Bois, while lovely, can only house one barge and when we did arrive, it was fully taken up by a strange looking craft called WILCAT skippered by Fred and his wife Francoise.  Alex was fascinated by it and had a long discussion with Fred, who had kindly helped us moor up on a tricky bank. The boat is entirely electric, powered by PV panels over the whole roof,  and was built by Fred from scratch.

WILCAT - congrats to Fred

The heat continued unabated while we were at Corre, (nice supper in the shade with Mike and Randi of GLISTENING STEEL – a shared boat). Now the temperatures soared to 44C, and France apparently had its hottest day ever recorded, and how we knew it without being told! It was impossible to keep RICCALL even vaguely comfortable despite our best efforts with shade cloths and regular wetting of our white sheets laid on the deck!

We managed to find a nice pontoon with shade, not for RICCALL, but for us to sit under, so we moored up and spent the afternoon under the bamboo bushes in reasonable comfort. 

A relief to find this mooring with afternoon shade for us
The adjacent house owner, however, decided to mow his lawn – all of it – twice, taking much of the afternoon to do so. Then the farmer, doing something noisy in his far-off field, decided to do the same in the field on the opposite canal bank. This went on until Alex finally came to bed at 10.30pm! We set the table for breakfast next morning on the back deck to take advantage of the cool of early morning, when a 10-year old boy arrived with his remote-controlled Tonka toy and started roaring it round the pontoon and adjacent grassy bank. Louise, in her best French managed to ask if he could possibly play with his vehicle somewhere else while we had breakfast! He left, wishing us 'bon journee'!

So to Conflandey, with its shady quay. EMPTY!! Amazing! 

RICCALL be-decked with her shade cloths
We had been there just a short while when the house owner came down to ask if we had any rubbish to get rid of. Also amazing! We said no, we were OK thanks. Then he explained he had to mow his lawn and was it OK? Of course, we said yes, and so out came the ride-on mower (2 hours) then the electric hand-push mower (1 hour) and then finally peace. 

Householder on his blasted mowing machine!
And then - Oh no! A hire boat arrived with 9 people on board, who proceeded to throw themselves off said boat for the next two hours, then have a barbecue on the pontoon, and then by some miracle, set off into the distance! You couldn't make it up!

Still  suffering from intense heat, we managed to get onto a part-shady pontoon next day, almost under a very smart new footbridge, which turned out to be rather noisy particularly when skate-boarders crossed. But that was the least of our troubles. 

Mid-afternoon there arrived three early twenties, one girl and two boys. They were DETERMINED to go swimming and we had taken their pontoon, but that didn't deter them. They came down onto the pontoon, not a metre from our back deck and two metres from Louise's chair, laid out their towels and proceeded to sunbathe and throw themselves off the pontoon, climbing the footbridge and throwing themselves off that!! And you just CAN'T concentrate on reading when all this is going on. Eventually our vibes must have had some effect as they gathered up their gear and took themselves off.

Is it just us?!!!

Having been disappointed by the lack of space at Soing village moorings, partly by too many boats, and partly by lack of depth (even outside a moored cruiser which kindly offered to have us alongside if there had been enough depth) we moored up on a fantastic 'private, but please respect this place' woodland location. This gave us good depth alongside, shade all day and into the evening and total peace and quiet!  Perfect!  One of our best moorings ever, but we have not been able to find out just who it belongs to, who takes care of it, etc.


So we decided as moorings were pretty rare in this district, we'd just use ducs d'Albe at locks for the night and did just that at least three times. In Gray, which is a very nice town and the first place for weeks where real food shopping can be done, we moored on the VNF quay, with full approval from VNF. It was a Friday night, they were all getting off home early, and they clearly didn't give a toss if we moored there or not! So we did. For two nights and had another peek at the town, a meal out and re-met Sean and Lynn who we'd met 3 years ago in Namur. A meeting like this is just great. We had a coffee on RICCALL and chatted about our last 3 years cruising. It's great!

Sean and Lynne of ELLE - nice meet-up
Surprisingly, as we left Gray and came to Mantoche, we discovered it had space on the quay and though we expected it to be too shallow, it was actually fine and we managed a good mooring. The same cannot be said of Pontailler, our next stop. We DID stop, but were so anxious about the underwater shelf that we cast off an hour later and moved on, to find another duc d'Albe.

So our next mooring was at Auxonne. Despite tales of the pontoons being totally empty, when we arrived they were of course totally full, so with some trepidation we motored down to the 'steps', which boaters may know are downstream of the road bridge. Although there was a hotel barge moored up, DANIELE, there was plenty of room for us. The steps are 17 risers high and 80 metres long and there are 4 bollards on the very top, so another down-the-porthole descent for Louise. 

And here we stayed for 2 nights to investigate Auxonne, which we've never managed to visit before - a very nice town with a very handy railway station for collecting the car from Toul.

Our stay on the steps was pretty good, if a lot of gongoozlers around, but a couple of youngsters arrived and placed themselves on the steps right next to the boat with blasted RAP playing loudly!! - our least favourite music!  So we had no option - we closed ALL the wheelhouse windows and doors and put Elbow on the CD player at the highest volume setting! Well, sometimes you have to suffer to escape suffering!    Then that evening at about midnight music started to blast from a parked car.  After about half an hour of this Alex went up to the wheelhouse and shone his laser pointer into the car. One of the occupants got out and walked along the quay to see what was what. Alex glared at him then took fright and disappeared back down the stairs. This seemed to do the trick as they then drove off.  To cap it all we could see they were setting up for a festival the next day so we cast off and headed south.

Clearing of the steps for the festival

So then it was to a mooring in the Saint Jean de Losne old lock for our month's return to England. 

It's been a lovely first half of the year, despite the heat. The intensity of the heat however, has encouraged Alex to look again at air con!! I can only keep my fingers crossed. 

The route we've taken, probably like much of France, seems obsessed with cycles!!  Here are just a few of the strange, but clever structures we've seen over the last few weeks.