Thursday, 16 August 2018

Decision time rowing through Lyon

Decision time rowing through Lyon

Decision time - what do we do about Lyon. There are VNF regulations, CNR regulations, Police regulations and certainly an heap more, they love their regulations in this part of the world. Throughout the confluence, the approach, the lock and the departure channel non-motorised craft are prohibited as a norm. During our negotiations with the VNF we were given a firm list of 'don'ts'. Although in many previous circumstances we knew that we were probably skating on thin ice, I rowed through in a state of blissful ignorance, misunderstanding of French and an attitude of if it is not on the 'don'ts' list then I can 'do' and so far I had bluffed my way through. Lyon is however very different as it is closely monitored by all 3 services. 

Although we have advised them of our intentions several times by email, sending copies here, there and everywhere (as per their original instructions) asking for permissions and guidance we have, as usual, received nil response. From previous experience we doubt that would impress any minor jobs worth who wants his piece of paper.

The lock itself is on an island with power stations at each end and bordered by a motorway and flyovers leaving Sara no access to assist. Although not clear, it appears that the 10km exit canal is CNR property which could classify it as a 'dont'. If so, from our maps and charts there appears no other option than to portage some 7km to a safe entry into the old river which would certainly test my gammy leg to destruction.

An alternative which from signage appears to be a kayac route commences with a violent Weir into the original river and has several white water rocky sections along it's length. I am sure that it is great fun for paddlers facing forward but definitely not recommended for a rower going backwards.

Of course, the newly introduced Crit-aire certificate to reduce pollution in many French cities provides an additional complication. We do not yet have one so Sara would have to drive to the moon and back to get around Lyon. From what we hear, another 6 months police pounding will go a long way to paying off France's Nation Debt so it is better not to take the risk.

With all the previous in mind and having gained a firm impression that any deviation from the rules could easily jeapodise the whole venture, we are very reluctantly slowly coming to the conclusion that perhaps plans should be adapted accordingly. The major prize for us is to reach the Mediterranean and dip our toes in salty water, any further delays will make us later in the season lower down so if it is better to put Lyon on hold for a bit and do the last 300kms or so first then so be it.

I still have another 2 days of rowing to complete the River Saone to Lyon so there is always the outside possibility of receiving the necessary guidance and permissions but we will definitely not hold our breath. Meanwhile we will drive back to Drace lock, where we lifted out, tomorrow and wild camp ready for an early start for the row to Villefranche-sur-Saone on Saturday. On Sunday I will row to Couzon lock, which at 17km north of Lyon unfortunately is the closest practical slip to lift out and stow Oggi.

At present my good leg is still in a bad way but if it survives the row and locks to Lyon and then the demands of the Rhône locks (with Sara's assistance) we may possible attempt the Lyon section on the way home if the route has been clarified by then. It is more likely though that the distance not rowed due to this enforced deviation will be added to the 12km we owe to the charted distance due to VNF prohibition of my passage through various tunnels.

We already had it in mind to pause on the River Somme on our way home to catch up these missing kilometers. Providing we remain in good working condition to enjoy it this most pleasant of rivers would provide a satisfying conclusion to a very testing and memorable experience for us.

If we are not --- Well there is a very good restaurant and campsite in Long, overlooking the river and I still owe Sara both a birthday and a 34th wedding anniversary dinner!!!

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Wise decision to R and R, we avoided the storms and flooding in Southern France

Wise decision to R and R, we avoided the storms and flooding in Southern France.

Day 60. Sunday 12th August Sun 28 degrees Still R and R in mountains

Somebody must be watching over us! I expect you have heard of the severe storms, flooding, devastated campsites and gushing streams of Southern France. Had we continued the row we could well have been in some of the worst affected areas. Any doubts we had about taking the break were washed away as we watched the torrents hosing down and lightening striking surrounding mountain tops from our lounge windows.

Now our main concerns are the effect it may or may not have on the Rhone river particularly with the potential dangers and complications of the Rhône/ Saone confluence where the waters descending from Lake Leman pour into the free flowing River Saone.

Two kilometres after the confluence is the major commercial port of Edouard Herriot. Apart from the many coasting ships and barges a fleet of 4400 tonnes craft run a regular daily service between Marseille and Lyon carrying all manner of cargos. Particularly though, agreement has been reached with all the major supermarkets and other suppliers to use this service, each load replacing 220 20 tonne lorrys on the roads. Lessons to be learnt?

One kilometre below this is the Pierre Benite lock which, as with all the Rhône locks, we are prohibited from using under oars. Local signage is very confusing and books and charts leave us in considerable doubt. We have sent emails to the VNF and CNR requesting directions, but unless they change their ways it is unlikely that we will receive any response. Further research is therefore necessary and when we know a definite date of arrival we will attempt to make verbal contact and consider our limited options.

At present we are considering what that date might be. The meteo now tells us that foul weather is expected for Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday is a bank holiday with Fêtes and festivals going on everywhere. Enquiries reveal that campsites are probably fully booked until the next weekend. So watch this space.

For us though the break has been very good.The cooler weather, magnificent alpine scenery, beautiful green of trees and meadows and above all meeting up with good friends was just what we needed. It was a lovely holiday for Sally too to have a good run in the countryside and a rest from the limitations of a small campervan. 

Unfortunately, although I have replaced a few pounds and everything else fitness wise is good both of us it has done nothing for the serious problems I have in my one good leg.

Sara has been brilliant helping me in any way she can. I should be able to manage the rowing part of the project. Indeed, knowing that the leg had problems had influenced my choice of rowing as being one of the few seated challenges I could think of! The locks of the Rhône however will involve a lot of climbing, lifting and portaging which will provide an extreme test for me and now for Sara as well.

As they say " there is no fool like an old fool" so just shut up Chris and get on with it.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Preparation of boat and body for traversing Lyon and rowing the Rhone

Preparation of boat and body for traversing Lyon and rowing the Rhone.

Day 46. Sunday 29th July. Sun 30 degrees. Rowed 18 Kms to Chatenoy en Bresse ramp at pk 148.5. Now Rowed 669 Kms and Driven 801.4 Kms

Day 47. Monday 30th July. Sun 32 degrees. Rowed 30 Kms to pk 118.5 seawards side of Ormes lock. Now Rowed 699 Kms and Driven 838.5 miles. Cycled 212 miles.

Day 48. Tuesday 31st July. Sun 34 degrees. Rowed 29 Kms to pk 90  Asnieres Sur Saone. Now Rowed 728 Kms and Driven 874.8 miles

Day 49. Wednesday 1st August. Sun and clouds 36 degrees. Rowed 30 km to Port De Thoissey. Now Rowed 761 Kms and Driven 894.9 miles ( + drive to Alps)

Unfortunately the threat of thunderstorms did not come to fruition but we did get a bit of cloud and a blessed one day temperature drop to 30 degrees. Certainly I revelled in the following day off by doing next to nothing.

On Sunday though it was back into the upper 30s but as I launched at 7am a thick mist was swirling about. My parting words to Sara were '' I'll row directly across the river to my channel on the starboard side". I safely found the red marker pile but as I swung to it 200 tons of peniche (barge) steered straight at me out of the fog, way out of his own channel. I woke up in a hurry!

The fog cleared as the sun rose but I quickly learned that on a hot Sunday on a tourist river at the height of holiday season is not the best place to be in a tiny rowing boat. Speed boats, water skiers, novice coxswains in newly hired cabin cruisers, children in uncontrolled cheap plastic dinghys and fishermen, fishermen, fishermen.

Fishermen by the dozen everywhere, on shore and afloat, which I classified into floating fishermen or fat fishermen. All the floating fishermen are it seems oblivious to the rules of navigation, anchoring in the channel or creeping up in their aluminium boats with silent electric motors. On the whole these are the younger, more sophisticated of the two but are all dressed uniformly in the camouflage fatigues of the military wing of the ''Saone homeguard'' and armed with short aggressive looking rods. There are a few older specimens of the breed but they are invariably slumped over their rods in the shallows in a gnome like position devoid of movement and had probably died several years ago and nobody has noticed yet. 

The fat fishermen are altogether more dedicated to their military calling, not only wearing similar fatigues to the floaters but also living in heavy duty camouflage tents ( often with flags flying) driving camouflaged vehicles and for the most part boasting the same body shape and hair cut as the pride of football hooligans anywhere. They line up a minimum of 3 longer sparkling rods at a time on a frame like so many rocket launchers pointed at the enemy doing the same on the other side of the river. There are hundreds of these squads in every clearing along each bank and often they holler advice at me which perhaps could have been useful if I were able to decipher it?

I have never actually seen anyone catch anything but I suppose, from the number of floating decomposing dead ones with their heads half ripped off it must happen sometimes. Suffice to say that although I have not seen it myself, something dramatic must happen around midday between the two sides. By afternoon there appears to be heaps of bodies lying around some still with their throwing grenades in their hands..... Or are they bottles?

After Mondays 30 km row to Ormes lock rocking back and forth on the rowing thwart for almost 8 hours without the breaks of handling Oggi through the multiple locks of the canal system, my right leg from pelvis to foot was hurting badly and completely seized up with very painful cramps lifting her up the 20 or so steps to get ashore. Top marks to Sara who looked after both me and the boat until I was able to stand, lift her on her wheels and pull her 1.5 Kms to the well shaded wild camp Sara had prepared.

Partially recovered after a nights sleep on Tuesday I pulled another 29 Kms through Tournus and then past several old walled villages which looked spectacular from the river making me regret not carrying a camera.
Not now having had any precipitation for a couple of months and severe water restrictions having been implemented all over France, together with temperatures approaching 40 degrees and the sun blazing down all day rowing is hard and any current is dead. It is surprising how much it lifted the spirit when many people on moored boats came out and loudly cheered me through Tournus. Thanks!

Rowing through Macon on Wednesday morning it finally entered my dulled and aged brain that with the nearing big challenge of Lyon and the potential dangers of the mighty Rhone river I needed to be in better physical shape than I am at present.
My right leg is hurting badly restricting the length of my stroke. The left one is okay but with no feeling below the knee from the ski accident 9 years ago (see "about my challenge"). It therefore causes me to favour that side resulting in my bum, which has now lost any benefit from any cushioning fat, to become bruised and sore. Above that level everything works and is in fine fettle. I've also nearly worn out the sleeve collars of my oars and having stretched 6 of the 8 rowlocks I carry I could do with replacements before future hazards. 

With all that in mind and perhaps enhanced by a very strong cross wind constantly trying to blow me off course I rang Sara. She endorsed my decision to recover with some proper R and R in our hidey hole in the French Alps. We decided I would complete the 30 odd Kms we had planned to Drace lock, lift out there and drive to Bourg st Maurice.

From way off we could see impressive towering cumulus over the mountains. When we drove through Albertville it was still showing 36 degrees but as we started the final stretch up the mountain temperatures fell rapidly. The storm broke as we reached home. Thunder, lightning, running rivers of rain and 26 degrees greeted our arrival..... Bliss!

Our scales showed that my 12 stone 2 lbs that I left home with had fallen to 10 stone 10 lbs. In the mirror I am seeing bits of skeleton I haven't seen for years and my skin is too big for me. Sara is in superb condition having reverted to the shape and weight of her early teenage years! Best of all though the metro is predicting a break in the Canicule (heatwave), reverting to normal average temperatures for the time of the year. By then I will be fully recharged and capable of leaving our mountain Basecamp to make the final descent through Lyon and down the Rhone river to the Mediterranean and a huge celebration!!!

Sally is enjoying the break too!!!

Friday, 27 July 2018

From the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne to the River Saone!

From the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne to the River Saone!

Day 39. Sunday 22nd July. Sun and clouds 28 degrees. Rowed 20.5 Kms(+ 3kms!) 10 locks to wild camp at pk212.5. Now Rowed 552.5 Kms. Driven 714 miles. Cycled 196 miles.

Day 40. Monday 23rd July. Sun 30 degrees. Rowed 14 Kms to Pontailler Sur Saone pk 251.5 Saone. Now Rowed 566kms. Driven 724.7 miles. Cycled 203 miles

Day 41. Tuesday 24th July. Sun 30 degrees. Rowed 27 Kms to wild camp at pk 224.5. Now Rowed 593kms. Driven 762 miles. Cycled 196 miles.

Day 42. Wednesday 25th July. Sun 33 degrees. Rowed 37 Kms to pk 187.5 Seurre. Now Rowed 630 Kms. Driven 778.6 miles. Cycled 196 miles.

Day 43. Thursday 26th July. Sun 36 degrees. Rowed 21 Kms to Verdun sur le Doubs. Now Rowed 651 kms. Driven 790.1 miles. Cycled 204 miles.

Day 44. Friday 27th July. in Verdun sur le Doubs. Sun 37 degrees 

It really is a very satisfying feeling to have completed the whole of the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne and to have entered the Saone river for the next and very different stage of the journey. The last couple of days went very smoothly but not entirely without incident. How daft is it that at one stage, I think possibly whilst phoning, Oggi must have swung through 180 degrees without me noticing and I rowed the complete lock distance only to arrive back at the lock that I had left half an hour before! This canal really must be put down as one of the highlights of the route to the Mediterranean. The scenery is stunning and varied and different one side of the tunnel to the other. Most of the time, it is more river than canal winding it's way through the hills and forests, passing the quaintest picture book farms, villages and Chateaux. If you are a cyclist there is an excellent paved cycle track along the whole length apart from the tunnel in the middle. Certainly the Dutch have discovered it but we barely saw any cycling Brits on this enjoyable easy flat ride South.

At the end of the canal where it meets the Saone river there are two locks after which the cut is high sided and impossible to drag Oggi ashore. Having started early I arrived there at 10.30 but had still not received any response to the email requesting permission to pass through the first Petit Saone lock. Sara was installing the van on the campsite at Pontailler Sur Saone, having phoned the VNF office in Gray earlier. As with all the VNF staff we have met she received a polite and friendly response and a promise to be rung back when he had found and read my email. An hour later she still hadn't been, so I put Oggi on her wheels and lugged her 1.8 Kms meeting Sara and Sally along the way. On arriving at the lock the eclusier told us he had been told permission had been granted an hour ago!! Never mind, I expect the exercise did me good!

Enjoyable though it was, let me stress though that this canal is definitely not for the inexperienced rower. Winds can be gusty crossing the aqueducts and un expected cross currents can easily catch one out. Special permission must be granted for transit by any non motorised craft and it is necessary to notify the control daily on start stop and general movements. I urge anyone who has ambition to follow my route to follow the proper procedure which are there for good reason. You will however find all the canal workers helpful and efficient and we were particularly impressed by the bright and enthusiastic students VNF had taken on for the summer season who would brighten anyone's day.

The upper reaches of the Saone river are known as the Petit Saone until it reaches Seurre. It is wide and winds at a gentle pace through woods and pastures on a generally flat terrain so the current is rarely strong. Unfortunately for me though the absence of rain this summer means no current at all so every stroke has to be pulled. With the temperature in the 30s and the sun blazing down from a clear blue sky it is certainly very wearing for both Sara and me and definitely not comfortable for poor, panting Sally.

We are therefore up very early so as to be on the river in sufficient time to be able to lift out by early afternoon and hide in the shade somewhere. Nevertheless with the sparsity of locks to hold me up I made my best day Wednesday at a very sweaty 37 Kms. The muscles are really feeling the punishment though and so is the bum and thighs so just a shorter run of 21kms to Verdun Sur le Doubs on Thursday morning and a day of R and R today. Oh how much I enjoyed a proper shower after several nights of wild camping!

Thunder storms are forecast tonight and tomorrow so I may possibly enjoy the luxury of a second days rest.