France 2011 - Rhone
20 June 2011
The river Rhone is the major waterway of southern France and has in the past a mystical violence which fortunately has been tamed by the weirs of the hydroelectric plants and the wide and deep canals that bypass the major river rapids. Having said that it does require some respect if only for the planning of the stops to be made while traveling up stream. In some sections the river can run at 5 to 6 km/hour which for a small underpowered yacht would be a challenge. The Rhone is not of the proportions of the Dardenells when we were making less than 2 km/h 1 knot over the ground while streaming at 7 knots. The traffic is very manageable with nothing to fear. The locks while daunting in their size are just a challenge to be addressed with little fear of damage to your vessel.
I have attempted to learn the most useful phrases to request entry to a lock "ven bien le passage de lecluse" and "bateu de plaisance" and "moutant" I do not understand a word after that except I listen out for a number of minutes we may have to wait before entry. Going through the lock is very simple because it is controlled by the lights. Red is no entry, red and green is they are preparing the lock for your entry, green is enter. Always let a commercial vessel enter first. Give them lots of room at the entry point and wait till they are well in before entering due to their wash. Then enter and tie up. On the chart it indicates which side the yacht waiting point is and we have adjusted our fenders to be low to the water on that side , we tie up with a single line around the midships cleat with a spring to the stern if the current is strong which it is rarely is.
On the green light we enter the lock and tie up on the starboard side where we have arrange the dirtiest and largest fenders amidships and two springs from the bow and stern with the ends coming back to the initial cleat. I bring Malua up to the bollard in the wall inlet and stop the vessel, Denny attached the forward spring. I then go and attach my aft spring to the bollard and pull it as tight as I can. The boat is now close to the wall attached with just these two lines. If we are the only vessel we go to the second bollard from the exit door away from the middle of these large locks. If we are with a long hotel boat as soon as I enter I head for the first bollard after the entry door as far away from the stern of the hotel boat. The siren goes and the water starts to rise in the lock. I have a boat hook ready to push off the sides if we tend to swing in the modest wash. Make sure your fenders are secured well because they are dragged against the wall as your vessel rises. We had a fender line break but we saved the fender before it floated away.
When the exit siren goes if alone wait for the lock door to open and the barrier to open and the green light to go on before untying and motoring out. If you are behind a hotel boat wait until they are well out of the lock before you untie. I engage the engine and use the springs to keep me away from the wall as the inevitable wash passes your bow. Then off you go out the lock - no problems. You will see the depth drop from 17 - 22 m back to the normal 1 to 3 m under the keel as you exit.
Looking at the Guide Fluvial - le Rhone one gets the impression there are a number of places a yacht can stay. This is not the case. The average daily distance is about 40km which is not a lot but at every turn in the river you expect to find a lovely place to moor but you will be disappointed. There are designated spots that one has to follow especially if you have the draft Malua carries. A friend dropped his anchor in a shallow bend in the river right out the channel to wake the following morning drifted with the current down stream into the soft mud. The holding was not good at that spot. We have stopped at all the free sites and moored at pylons where we can but in general if someone has been before you you will follow in their wake. Now if there is another vessel in your planned spot at the end of the 40km day you may have to go on or back down. It hasn't happened but in the season you may find more boats traveling. Not that you will be traveling in the season if you just want to spend the summer in the French canals.
Our Route on the Rhone
As stated above this is a well traveled route so there is little variation to the stopping spots. It depends on your pockets how long you stop in a marina and how interesting the free spots are. We tend to get a feel for the place at the end of the day when we tie up then mount an expedition the following day to see the sights to return to Malua that evening for a quiet drink on board before setting off the next day. If the place deserves a few extra days we stay. The PK refer to the kilometer marks shown on the banks of the canals and in the cruising guide.
Port St Louis Lock PK 323
The light goes green about 0620 and you enter the lock and tie up either side to a bollard set above the lock. The water is not going to go up or down so take it easy. The lock man wants to know if you have been through before, if you have a peage Pass from VNF, the name of boat and master and their nationalities. In our case all done in perfect English. We exited with a commercial vessel behind us who soon over took us as we kept close to the starboard bank known as the left bank (as seen from going down river). The trip to Arles is very similar to the one you get while sitting in the bus which is rather dull because the banks have been built up quite a lot above the surrounding county side. Stick to the channel as per the red and green markers and take the bends wide as the silt is deposited on the outside where it flows slowly and the channel is deep as it erodes the inside of the bend. Sounds complicated but once done it comes naturally until your concentration wains and the depth sounder indicates you have 1 meter under the keel.
Arles PK 282
The old timers will tell you there use to be a pontoon but it was washed away in the last great flood. In fact there is only one place to stay and that is the restaurant barge. I have seen it three boats abreast but when we arrived we came alongside and tied to his forward cleat and the railing. Later in the day a yacht with two couples and two babies came and tied up along side us. No worries but I feared I would be kept awake by screaming babies all night. Not a chance these less than one year olds are old hand at this boating story. They each have a bath tub and in the evening after a stroll round the sites of Arles have a bath then adjourn to the restaurant for the evening meal and then retire to sleep like contented babies. If you tie up alongside you can get water and electricity. You are expected to eat at the restaurant which we did and had a very pleasant meal with wine for less than E40 - great value.
Arle is Picasso and Roman ruins land. The famous bridge Picasso painted is some way south of the town not a long bike ride but more than a walk. The Museum south of the town is very good and well worth a few hours looking at the history of the area. It is well presented and show how the Romans lived during that period. Purchase a Picasso book about the area and do the walk indicating the locations of his paintings in the area. A bit of imagination is required but if you have seen the originals the image will remain with you for ever. We didnt, but people say it is worth going to a bull fight.
Avignon PK 241
Avignon is reached after experiencing your first deep lock at PK 265 at Vallabregues. Waiting area is on the port going upstream, then you go in and before you know it you are 12 meters high than when you started. No problem. Off to Avignon which is up a side stream and under three bridges. You pass the famous bridge which doesnt span the river any more and tie up at the "public" wharf on the starboard side. Choose a place close to an electricity point because they are few and far between. We didnt use either the water or the electricity. At the capitanirre which is across the road down stream we paid for a 11m boat E18 per night (23 for 12m). It has showers a washing machine and dryer. The town is the home of the Popes around 1330 when the factional rivalry got too much in Rome they moved here and built a Palace. Well worth two days to wander round the town but you must make it to the market before 1300 to get fresh produce. Restaurants look good but we did not try one. We did make a large purchase at the Palace wine tasting room just before the exit. It is good value to purchase a glass of wine E2-5 while selecting what you are going to buy. We settled for a range of six bottles from E30 to 5 . They are put in a box with a convenient handle for the short walk back to the boat where the wine will settle and mature in the bilge for another day when friends arrive.
l'Ardoise PK 214
At PK219 where you turn up a side stream which has more than enough depth you find a small marina which has place for 30 or so boats. The lady owner is very helpful and runs the restaurant within the marina. We did not eat but a fellow cruiser told us as we where about to leave that he had a very good value meal which was the best they had had in weeks. The town which is a good bike ride away has nothing other than a cross roads, a pub and a store for the bread. There is also an army base on the outskirts but nothing else. Not worth the ride. Back into the canal and onward upstream as you expect to stop at Roguemaute but the moorings are missing.
l'eluse de Bolliene
No book on the Rhone canals would not have a picture of this deep lock which was once the deepest on the planet! In fact it is no different from any other large Rhone lock except the sides are higher and it may fill faster but standing on your yacht you just dont notice.
See my Blog, here, on the subject and the youtube video for the rise in water level, here.
PK 178 Pylons
We decided we wanted some quiet not in a marina so pulled alongside two pylons set about 10m apart. The current is quite fast which helps manouvre the boat alongside. We got an aft spring on the stern pylon which kept us from going astern, then a bow line to keep the bow from swing out into the current then set about putting enough fenders and barge boards to keep us off the black pylons. Both smooth so no damage could be done but not something one would like to scrape against all night. A barge came by just after we had settled down to our evening drink and the boat rocked but it had little effect. Less than a large charter motor cruiser coming into an anchorage just before dinner time!
Nice little town with a dock to take vessels. As you enter the larger ones are on the left and the small on the right - the higher numbers. We took 12 right in front of the entrance between the red and green and in front of the 2.0 depth sign. Short pontoon at a different height but lots of securing points. When we where there there was no water only electricity so no charge. A short walk up an avenue of old plain trees you will find the second centre of the town. Good bakery and nice pub - Ginger. We spent a very enjoyable evening listening to a touring Spanish band and wondered if we had made a mistake missing Spain and Portugal in this trip in the Med. We still may make it if the draft beats us. Great bike paths all along the canals and byways, just stay out of the wind if it is blowing in your face as you ride along the canal.
Port de Cruas PK 145
We did not make it past the entrance because we ran aground in soft mud but yachts with much less draft than 2.0m should get in. Friends enjoyed there time in this rural setting.
La Voulte PK 129
Small town with a place to tie up at a single white bollard. The sides of the canal have a slight slope but the water alongside is deep. We floated our finders horizontally alongside as we tied up to the bollard. The depth sounder went from .2 to 4.5 as the boat rocked. It is OK for a yacht but a straight sided vessel may have to stay a half meter off the waterline if a large barge goes by. The town was hosting a go-card derby which made quite a noise for the locals but went right over the top of our heads behind the canal wall. The walk to the top of the town castle is worth the effort but there is not much more. There is defiantly no water available at the canal side.
Valence PK 112
This has the blue flag best marina on a river in France. You could fool me. It is on the starboard side with a fuel dock down river and pontoons running east west. I chose an finger on the downriver side between the first pontoon and the fuel dock. We hit the soft mud just at the end of the pontoon. Luckily some people on the dock indicated that we should try the upstream side of the same pontoon and found .3 m under the keel to tie up to a very short pontoon. We filled the tanks with water and connected to the electricity then headed off to the local large supermarket over the motorway and on the right. A good walk but better with bikes to carry the large quantity of food and grog from this very well supplied store.
The town is also over the motorway but up the same road until you hit the main drag into town. Nice place with many shops with high quality cloths and goods. We stopped for lunch in a small restaurant and had a very good meal of steak, salad, veg and wine for E26. The town has a good feel about it and deserves more than the two day we spent there but the charge of E26 a night did not want us to spend the extra day. Greener fields lay ahead, so we thought!
Tournon PH 91
This has a harbour which is very shallow. We could not get near the first pontoon and tried to tie up against the jetty which unfortunately has a high overhang above the life lines so if the boat went up on a wave it would be crushed under the jetty overhang. After a frustrating few minutes trying to rig a pole to keep mus off the overhang we threw in the towel and went astern out the entrance to find another spot further up the river. This turned out to be quite a challenge. We came alongside a floating pontoon at PK75 but decided to make a better approach so looped round. On the second attempt we hit two hard rocks which rocked both Malua and my confidence because you could not see them nor could I decide to go forward or back from where I came. Indecision saw us float away from the bank and danger. Not a place to visit although it is well setup close to a campground. Onward and upward.
Andancette PK 69
With options running out we chose to go alongside the floating mooring on the starboard side just after the first suspension bridge built over the Rhone. This time I inched my way sideways into the pontoon as the depth came up to the panic range of 0.0 as we touched the side of the dock. We has soon secured Malua for the night and Denny had a double Cotes du Rhone to settle the nerves. the small town of Andancette is nice while the adjacent town of Andance has a little history to make it a one day stop. Tomorrow we leave the dock.
Sablons Lock PK 59
This lock has to get a mention because we tied up on the starboard side near the exit alone. The water started to come in very slowly then the rush. It was swirling around Malua which was forced up against the side of the lock with such force I could not push it away with both my feet. We rose up the lock at a great speed. The fenders attached to the top lifelines were pulled down and flattered. They had no where to go but pull the life line down. The result is a slightly bent station and a slack lifeline. The lesson learned is to attach the fender to the stansion right at the base. Not a good experience.
Charvanay PK 47
A loverly floating dock in the middle of nowhere but unfortunately a French boat had taken most of the space. Did the crew come and offer to help or move there boat back to give us some room - not on your file. Dont disturb a Frenchman's lunch. After lunch when we had secured ourself observed by the crew they pulled in their lines and motored away. Not unexpected.
The town has a great feel about it. Not that we rode around because both Denny and I have soar muscles from the last expedition. It was raining so only a short stroll before dinner. We got disturbed at about one o'clock with Malua being tossed around as a large empty barge sped past a caused a huge wake. Always happens at night. We will stay here a few days before moving on.
Condrieu PK 40
Only a few km up the river and round a bend and we have arrived at the Marina of Les Roches de Condrieu. It has great dept inside and we tie up at the end of the Pontoon. The following day Forever arrive and tie up. The town has not much to recommend it with three main streets running away from the river. After lunch we set off on our bikes and the gas bottle to exchange it at the local supermarket. One takes the empty cylinder into the store, collect a full cylinder the when you go to the checkout you hand the empty one over and they charge you. Simple. We also stocked up on the normal essential.
The next day we set off on the bikes on the west side of the river towards Ampuis after riding through the town of Condrieu. All along the river bank is a bike path. The first section passes through a nature reserve well set out with bird hides to watch the water birds plus seats and side paths down to the water. Great but no birds while we were there. We came out of the trees into the fruit and vegetable growing area on the river bank. Vast areas under cultivation watered by the river. In addition to the open air garden there were hothouse tunnels with the biggest tomatoes you have ever seen. Back onto the path along the river and we came upon the Chateau of Ampius, a former fortress transformed into a rather lovely residential chateau home of the Maugiron family who make outstanding wine from the syrah and voignier grapes. No cellar door sales here but we did purchase a bottle of the lesser famous voignier from the local wine cave. This was a great place to ride and enjoyed the area very much. After two day we left to return to Ampuis.
Ampius PK 35
There is a jousting area and a floating mooring which we tied to with ample depth. The wind had been blowing up the Rhone for two days and it was rather cold with a bit of rain but not much, just this chilly wind. We did not even make it to the town to walk around. The next day was market day so we had to go but it was very average. All the wine shops were closed, nice place not not what we were looking for. Next place please.
Vienne PK 29
We tied to a lonely pontoon on the down river side of the town. The nearest walking bridge was closed for repairs so we had to walk further upstream to cross the river. The instant I walked into town it did not feel good. We headed straight for the Tourist information only to find it closed but never mind we can wait, which we did for 1 1/2 hours during the French lunch "hour". At the office we booked two seats - unreserved at the local amphtheter for a performance of Beethoven 9 symphony in three days time. Now we had to stay. The Roman amphitheatre is set on the side of Mount Pipet above Vienne overlooking the Rhone. That evening a lovely wooden yacht tied up astern of us with a couple and their 16 year old son on board. They have sailed the seven seas and were on their way to Holland for the winter and to visit their third offspring who had outgrown the boat as had the previous two. A great family.
The Beethoven experience is recorded in my blog here so I will not go through it but it was wonderful.
The next day we left and tried to get into Givors it got shallower and shallower as we went in but we made it. A relief but that was shortlived, being a Sunday the jet skies were out and we had to endure a whole day as a few louts roared up and down the river in front of us. We got off the boat and walked over the bridge to the other side then upriver to be confronted by a major highway to Paris. Luckily there was a walking path so we braved the fumes and crossed back to our side and the noise of the jet ski. Thankfully they left towards sundown. Next stop is Lyon and the end of the line for the Rhone.
We arrived at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone and took the port bank into the Saone. A few km up on our right is a new marina. One enters under a bridge but we are too high to get underneath so we just motored up and down until someone indicated that they would lift the bridge for us. We found out later you call on VHF Ch 18 and they will answer. A great spot with good security and a few new facilities unfortunately no wifi.