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Crew: Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon

Tokomaru2 circles the world

The canals and rivers of France summer 2009



Arrived back in port Napoleon via Ryan air and hire car on Monday 4th of may. we had a bit of a tour about bird watching for a couple of days and managed to spot bee-eaters at Salimandre and the elusive lesser kestrel at le Crau. At the weekend we went to Canet en Rousillon to visit Kay and Derek Moore who we haven't seen for 12 years. we returned the hire car on Monday the 11th taking the opportunity for a final visit to Marseille.


The we set to with our fitting out which we completed in time for launching and de-masting the following Monday. After entrusting our mast to Wolfgang Graf to deliver to Honfleur we motored the few miles to Port St Louis to stock up and prepare ourselves for our cruise up the Rhone - 300 km of contrary current!


we set off on Saturday 22nd with a fair wind and a sunny day. to begin with the current was fairly gentle but it soon built up to 3 knots by the ....... shoals and again as we approached the first lock at Beaucaire. we finally parked up on some pontoons at Vallabreges 10 hours and 60 kms latter. we spent sunday here were the pretty town was "vide grenier" literally empty the attic, where many small stall holders tried to sell off their junk.


on Monday we continued another 20 kms to Avignon passing the "pont Avignon" to reach the quai de la ligne mooring spot. on the previous 2 days of motoring we had twice needed to to up ATF in the gear box. This was quite unprecedented on Tokomaru2 so after consultations an engineer was arranged. removing the gear box is quite a performance since the gear box "bell end" forms part of the flywheel housing and incorporates the rear engine mounts. Thus a crossbar had to be fitted above the engine and a strap organized to support the engine while the gear box was removed. It was finally removed on Thursday fixed on Friday and reinstalled on Tuesday - Monday being a public holiday the 4th in the past month!


Liz's son Tom and girlfriend Melissa arrived by TGV on Sunday and they had to be entertained while waiting for the gearbox to be fixed. by lunchtime on Tuesday we were almost done, unfortunately while manipulating the engine the stop cable had been broken and diesel return pipes loosened so both these had to be fixed. After some negotiations 1800 was agreed for this mighty effort. We refueled and finally departed at 4 pm for L'Ardois. Shortly into the trip we could smell diesel and we discovered that the repaired diesel return pipes had become loose and hot fuel was being pumped over the engine. Tom held on to these while we found a place to anchor in the river and stop the engine to make repairs. We were soon underweigh again and onto the next  lock. We went through this without much delay and anchored for the night in the L'Ardois embranchment. We had a very pleasant night and set off promptly the following morning for Viviers 60 km upstream. The Bolene lock with its 22m rise (2nd largest in the world) was our next obstacle but we transited without difficulty. We arrived in Viviers in time for supper but had some fun finding a slot in the small marina with enough depth of water.


Tom and Melissa left us here and after a couple of days rest we continued to the delightful little marina ar Cruas adjacent to one of France's largest nuclear power plants. Cruas like Vivier is a small medieval town with narrow cobbled streets and old churches. Our bike again came in handy for exploring them.


Our next stop was he large marina at Valance. We had quite a strong southerly wind for this making a bit of a chop against the current which continues to flow at an average of 1.5 knots. The marina is a bit out of town so we did not visit dedicating our time to a Geant Casino hypermarket which was close by. In the wifi room of a nearby hotel we met up with motorboater and former seadog owners Brian and Joan. We had a fine evenings chat with them about river cruising. Another Conway moored alongside but they were obviously on a mission to get home and left at 6am the next day so we did not have time for much of a chat. They are following the same route as us - Rhone, Soane, Loire, Seine - and had come that way to the Med previously so we felt more confident that we would fit.


It was only a short hop of 14k and one lock to Roches de Glun. This is a small free pontoon on an offshoot or derivation as it is called. We had to raft up as there is only space for 2 alongside. It was very pleasant to have a chat to the friendly Swiss couple who were heading to the Med. We spent 3 days here and it became very popular with local boats over the weekend. Our next stop was Andancette on a halte fluvial big enough for 1. The bridge here is nicely lit up but we did not stay long continuing to Roches de Condrieu the following day. This is a charming marina attached to a dull town. Many boaters leave their boats here so there are not many transients to bring business to the town. We again had a jolly chat to a couple heading south. In Vienne we moored again to a halte fluvial this time with an Aussie couple Pete and Pam as neighbours. Vienne is a quaint  old town popular with the hotel boats which need  the whole width of the river when they come to moor up. Our fiinal stop on the Rhone was Lyon where we parked in the middle of town underneath the willow trees. Reaching here was not without its difficulty as the final canalized section off the Rhone produced a 3 knot counter current for the last 5 kms.


We enjoyed 5 days here including a town wide music festival on Sunday. It is quite animated on the quay which is wide open to the public but nothing too terrible seems to happen. Here we joined the Soane whose current is much more gentle so our next hop to Neuville was quite relaxing. Here the town quay provided free electricity and a handy nearby laundrette. We next moved to a small halte fluvial at Jassans-Riotier where they also provided free electricity. The weather has become consistently more warm and sunny. With less current to push against we no longer need such high revs to maintain 4 knots so we also have less engine noise altogether making life more pleasant. We went on a 45km bike ride to Lapeyrous were we had a fine 10 3 course meal and then went bird watching and were treated to some fine sightings of purple herons.


We spent another day at Jassans to recover before continuing on to Creches sur Soane just 7km short of Macon. This halte fluvial is attached to a small campsite. An adjacent ex gravel pit has been turned into a fine swimming beach. On monday we continued to Macon and got ourselves sorted for guests Suzie and Jean-Claude who were coming to visit with their campervan. In the following days we made enjoyable visits with them to Cluny, sight of a vast 12th century abbey complex, and the rock outcrop of Roche Solutre made famous as a soujourn location for former president Mitterand and his faux regal entourage. On Friday we returned to Creche to enjoy some relaxing swims and laze on the beach for a couple of days. Next stop Tournus which turned out to be a very popular Sunday lunch spot and the pontoon was full. Fortunately a friendly German on a motor boat offered a rafting up arrangement and latter in the day we were able to gain our own spot. Amazingly this free mooring also provides free electricity and water. It is quite a quaint old town with another 12th century, smaller, abbey.


After a couple of days we continued to Chalons with the heat wave undiminished. Chalons is another fine town with a small marina on an island in the Saone. A giant Carrefour right next door provides all requisites. Just a mile north of here we joined the canal system proper on friday the 10th of July. We had planned to go just a few kilometres but our encounters with depth problems put pay to that. The first occurred a few hundred metres before the first lock where we touch bottom in the approach channel. We managed to get round this and moor up at the waiting pontoon where the lock keeper explained that with 1.8m draft we would have to stick to the middle. Once through the lock which raised us a further 10m we quickly motored to Fragnes where we soon found that the canal was shallower than our draft at the halte fluvial. We probed around and did several tight 3 point turns before giving up and continuing to Chagny the next town 11 km further on. We found this uphill section quite a stuggle compared to the Saone and Rhone where only one or two locks are encountered each day this afternoon we had to transit 11 more. The 13 kms took about 4 hours. The locks are automatic one pulls a string and the lock cycle whirls into action one you are secured. With up locks however you have to reach up tp hook a bollard and then climb up to operate the mechanism as the automation means there is no lock keeper. We did find that the locks are nevertheless supervised by vnf officials who wizz up and down the towpath in Renault Clios. We arrived at 6.30 at Chagny where we were joined by Chris and Gill the following day. Our next stop was the wine town of Santanay where we visited the Chateau and purchased some fine wines. On Monday we continued another 20 km and 14 lock uphill to "les sept ecluses" where we were forced to have a rest day since it was July 14th - Bastille day. Even in France public holidays can be a wash out and it certainly tipped down like the tropics and with the canal full to capacity the excess was rushing out of the culverts. The next day we continued up the final 5 locks to the summit at Monchanin 301 metres above sea level. Unfortunately there was no suitable place to more so we started our descent ending up at Blanzy were with a bit of fendering we had a snug berth complete with free electricity and water - amazing.


and so on downward. Curiously there seems to be less water on the "ocean" side than the "med" side and in several places on the way down to Digoin we had to plough through the silt on the bottom of the canal and prod around with a pole to find the deeper water when we became really stuck. A notice at Paray le Monial said there was less water around but we thought it was faulty lock gates letting the water out. Paray le Monial is a very attractive town with a fine Basilica which in summer hosts a pilgrimage to the church of recently canonised Mary-Margarite who apparently saw apparitions but we never discovered the nature of these. Chris and Gill left us here and the next day we "ploughed" on down to Digoin where a friendly Dane helped us to moor up. His yacht is also 1.8m draft and he assured us we woild have deeper water further on - we shall see. 


Nick and Maria joined us on Friday. A day later than expected since their train from Paris broke down and was delayed 3 hours thereby missing their connection so they had to spend a night in Moulin. After a day’s rest we started off down the canal lateral de la Loire. The first item was the 300 metre long a aqueduct over the Loire immediately followed by lock 1. At 9am there was quite a crowd for the first operation of the day. CA info suggested that the aqueduct was a bit silted but this seems to have been cured over the winter. On this canal things stop for lunch so this we did by grounding a couple of metre from the bank. And so we continued completing 9 locks and 40 kms to the small village of Garnat and its splendid pontoon halte nautique. Some of the later sections were a bit touch and go including the sill of lock 9 so we were very glad to find a mooring with good depth.  We had no such luck at Decize the following day were we had to moor nearly 2m off the quay and use a plank to get ashore. The town is quite pleasant and we stayed several days so the crew could enjoy swims in the Loire. Nick and Maria left us here and on Friday we headed north. This turned out to be more of a epic than we anticipated - 52 kms and 8 locks with a lot of touch and go especially in the wide sections were the silt seems to spread itself out. The aqueduct and double lock an Guetin were very spectacular. At last we were able to raft up to a friendly "yacht barge" at Cours les Barres for a comfortable night in charming surroundings.


We spent the weekend 5 km further up at Marseille sur Aubigny. Just before we arrived someone had driven their car into the canal.  Much entertainment was provided by the efforts to retrieve it. There should have been fireworks but again rain stopped play. We took a walk by the Loire which is close by to go bird watching but did not see much of interest. Next stop Herry 18 km and 6 locks further on. We were joined by Peter and Wendy at Chatillon sur Loire who had come by Eurostar and an sncf connection from Paris Bercy. I biked to meet them at Briare station which was just as well as it was completely closed up. Some friendly Gendarmes produced a phone book with a taxi number so all was well. Helen and Phil came the following day so we all had lunch together - very nice at the reduced rate of VAT. The new lavac pump was fitted that Peter brought out. It does not seem to be more effective -  the inlet must be blocked - but at least it does not leak. The following day we motored across the 600 metre long aquaduct over the rive Loire to Briare. Peter and Wendy were well settled in so we continued on Saturday to Rogny. Formerly there had been a staircase of 7 locks here but they have now been bypassed. They are preserved as an ancient monument. on subsequent days we visited Chatillon- Corbigny, Montargis and Dordives. This last one was a very rural halte with only bird sounds to disturb us. It was only a 1 km walk to a station from which Peter and Wendy could take their leave.


Our final halte in the canal system was Nemours where the tourist office provides free electricity and water. From here it was just 10 miles to St Mammes on the river Seine and back into deep water at last, thank goodness. This being a holiday weekend (bvm day) there was a small fun fair on the quayside in the evening and a market on Sunday morning. On Monday we biked to the quaint small town of Moret sur Loing in the evening we were treated to a firework display. As luck would have it we were moored in pole position to enjoy it.


On Tuesday the 18th we made our first foray on the Seine - just 10 km and one lock to Valvins. This is a convenient stop to visit Fontainbleau. This we did by bike on one of the hottest days of the summer. In the forest is was actually quite cool. Our expedition in search of Woodpeckers, which are supposed to abound hereabouts, proved fruitless. on Thursday it turned out to be cooler so we had a pleasant motor for 40 kms and 3 lock to the semi derelict small marina at Saintry. Unfortunately they could only accommodate yachts of less than 8m so we had to move on to a conventional quay just before the lock at Evry.


In the morning we carried on to Paris. In our first lock we joined a barge called "Yacht" we anticipated being with him for the remaining 2 locks but as it happened he stopped for lunch and we had the next lock to ourselves which was just as well as it was sloping sided. Who invented this pestilence? Anyway we could not moor up in the usual position but just had to hold position while the lock keeper gently emptied the chamber. All turned out well and we continued the 30 km to the Arsenal basin waiting pontoon. We had to wait a short while while sightseeing boats used the lock into the basin as they have precedence. However watching the various boat and barge movements in front of Notre Dame was fascinating.


We had a fine time in Paris making bicycle excursions up the Champs Elyse to the Arc de Triomph and along the left bank to the Eiffel tower. Helen and Phil joined us via Eurostar on Thursday and on Saturday we motored down the Seine through central Paris passed Notre Dame and the Eifel tower to the posh banlieu of Reuil-Malmaison. They left us here to return on the Eurostar on Sunday and on Monday we visited La Defence the futuristic business district on the NW edge of Paris - Canary wharf on steroids, amazing.


On September 1st the weather dramatically changed to Autumn mode and we motored 40 km under leaden skies and a gusty wind to a rickety marina also called Port St Louis and again 40 km the next day to a rather smarter one at Mericourt. This trip had no locks our first such day apart from a couple of very short hops. This is a very isolated marina built in a disused gravel pit. The area is being developed as a nature reserve. As we went through the narrow entrance from the Seine it started to rain and we saw a rare, for these parts, Great White Egret being harassed by 2 swans. On a walk next day we had our first good sighting of Great spotted Woodpeckers. The weather improved after this which wss just as well as we had and 80 km stretch without stopping except for 2 locks. We had hoped to be able to moor up at Les Andelys as it is an attractive town in an attractive setting but unfortunately there was no suitable spot. To add to the interest there are several places on this section of river where you have to "drive on the left" these are not always correctly indicated on the chart. We finally came to rest at Poses a couple of kms before the last lock at Amfreville. This turned out to be much better than our information had led us to believe and we spent 2 quiet and comfortable nights here.


Rouen, our next stop, was also very pleasant. The old part of town has quaint and narrow streets. On  Monday evening the tourist office arranged a display of impressionist paintings projected on the front of the cathedral.  The gallery of beau artes had a fine selection of impressionist and other artworks. We spent a lot of time srudying the tides here which we have not had to do for quite a while. By the weekend a big high had formed over England and with a neap tide making life a bit less dramatic we had a pleasant run to Caudebec even though it required a dawn start. Stopping on the Seine between Rouen and the see can be problematic but the tourist boat haltes here have worked for us. At Caudebec we met up with "Rheinaart" with crew Deeter and ? they were on a mission to reach Honfleur and had come all the way from Poses in one go. We both left early as soon as it was high water. Taking the whooshing ebb down to Honfleur. Even at neaps it reached 4kts bringing us to Honfleur in time for the 12 noon lock opening. We spent 2 days resting in the outer harbour and then on tuesday the 16th of September proceeded to "tecocean" in the Carno basin where we were reunited with our mast. It took about a day to re-rig it and on Wednesday up they went. Another two days to sort out sails and arials and we were done - a sailing boat again. On Saturday we did some of the tourist sites of Honfleur which is a great honeypot.


Then on Sunday our first sail in almost a year. Well a motor sail in misty conditions across the Seine estuary to Le Havre. Everything seemed to work fine which was very pleasing. There is not much to say about Le Havre so after a couple off days we moved on. The trip to Fecamp started well with a good wind, a favourable spring tide and a sunny day. However it became very bouncy as we whizzed round cap d'antifer at 7 knots especially with the wind dropping to leave us motoring in a lumpy sea. We were pleased to get into the shelter of Fecamp. We had another fast tide enhanced passage to Dieppe on an entirely cloudy day. Again mostly motoring with such wind as there was directly from behind. But you can't complain when 30 miles is completed in just 5 hours. Friday produced another drive; this time the 50 miles to Boulogne. We had a beautiful autumn day for this but again little wind. The big spring tides have dropped away but we nevertheless completed the trip in just 9 hours. Just before arriving we were accosted by French customs in a big rib. They had a look round, filled in a form and were suitably impressed when we told them we were about to complete a circumnavigation.


On Monday we had another motor sail in light NEly winds across the Dover strait to Ramsgate. Ship dodging in the separation lanes was not too difficult and we passed two cross channel swimmers coming in the opposite direction which added to the interest. The tides worked well and we managed to work our way up the inside route at low water neaps without difficulty. A night out for fish and chips and a proper pint was our first activity. For our trip across the Thames estuary to Harwich the forecast NWly had enough west in it to allow us to sail most of the way in a F3. The chart plotter making it easy to navigate the swatchways such as Foulgars gat which connects Knock deep to Black deep. 7 hours for the 40 mile trip to Harwich entrance we thought was a fitting end for our circumnavigation. We spent the night anchored in the Stour before rejoining the hurly-burly of shoreside life.



Website © Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon 2008