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.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Over the Continental Divide.

Day 33. Monday 16th July. Sun 30 degrees. Rowed 19 Kms to wild camp at pk 108.5 Chaumont. Now rowed 458.9kms Driven 605.1 miles Cycled 171 miles.

Day 34. Tuesday 17th July. Sun 30 degrees. Rowed 21 Kms to wild camp at lock 14 Pommeray pk 130. Now rowed 480kms, driven 623.5 miles and Cycled 184 miles.

Day 35. Wednesday 18th July. Sun 30 degrees. Rowed 19 Kms to pk 149 and drove around tunnel Balesmes. Now rowed 499 Kms, Driven 653.6 miles and Cycled 190 miles.

Day 36. Thursday 19th July. Sun 30 degrees. Rowed 12 Kms (15 locks) to Camping pk174 Dommarien. Now rowed 511 kms, driven 665.9 miles, cycled 190 miles.

Day 37. Friday 20th July. To Martigny. Sun 30 degrees then thunder storm. Rowed 18 Kms (12 locks). Now rowed 529 Kms, Driven 690.8 miles, Cycled 196 miles.

Day 38. Saturday 21st July. Cloudy 20 degrees. In Martigny campsite (No WiFi) rest day.

Today is Saturday 21st July and we are happy to be installed on the remote, run down campsite of Martigny. The weather broke yesterday morning with a half an hour of thunder and vicious squalls ( but thankfully no rain) the wind strong enough for me to put full weight on the oars and barely make way. Knowing more was to come I kept pulling hard and for the first time since we started helped by a small bit of current so was able to pull out and tow Oggi to the camping by 3pm. By early evening we were sitting out torrential rain/ice, constant lightning and all the trimmings of full on storm.

That said, far too much has happened since I last had time to update our experiences to be covered in this necessarily brief update. Suffice to say considerable progress has been made with the most important being that although not yet reached the halfway mark we have finally crossed the Continental divide where water flows South rather than North. Haute Marne connects into Cote d'Or by way of the 5 km plus 6km approach of the Balesmes Tunnel through which it is considered too dangerous for me to row so unfortunately we must add another 11 Kms to the distance to be made up when possible.

The last few days to the tunnel were strenuous but fast, commencing with an interesting contre temps with an irate eclusier who suggested that we had broken his locks. We think it turned out to be some sort of electrical fault so once it was sorted out in true French fashion, he directed that we should be accompanied by a VNF worker for the rest of the time in his area of command. We feared the worst, but the next day we were introduced to a charming group of students VNF had taken on for the holiday period. They were a joy to be with and worked enthusiastically to give us an easy passage. Some, though willing, gave every indication of being unused to the heavy manual labour involved in opening sluices and gates by hand. My rowing was also tested to the full keeping up with two motor boats between locks for some of the journey. Fortunately they were both understanding but their exhaust fumes at the bottom of the locks were choking.

From the exit of the tunnel it is 64 Kms to the Petit Saone river, passing through 42 locks and dropping overall 153 meters. The first eight locks drop 41 meters in just five kilometers. Quite an experience with fantastic views over open countryside.
Sara is kept very busy dashing back and forth activating sensors at each end of the locks, taking my lines and using the operating handle in the middle for much of the time. On other occasions I do it myself when access is difficult for her, she is shopping for supplies or performing some other essential service. I then have to make sure I leap back in to Oggi before she sinks down into the void. At least half the sensor boxes are home to colonies of wasps which can make life very interesting!

We have to keep the canal control informed of our location at start/ stop/ finishing times, as do all other craft. Again, what a nice co operative bunch they are. We are immediately entered into their computerized systems and if everything goes according to plan chains of locks can be programmed to be prepared for your arrival once Sara has telephoned them. For the most part everyone complies, but there are a few like the German gin palace yesterday which ignored the red light from the lock I had just left and only a desperate hard astern saved him from being crushed by the closing doors. Then there was a Swiss 40 footer who made a dash for the lock I had already set in operation and it's wash pushed Oggi away from the lock side just as I was getting in.

It is not all laughs though. In one lock I was asked to help the frantic resident of the lock house to search around for her 3 month old Boxer puppy, missing for the past couple of hours. Sadly I did not find him.

We should be into the Petit Saone river by Monday and still don't have permission to use the locks or any response from our email so it could get challenging next week. I am sure we will find a way around it somehow!!

Uploaded on 3g. Pictures will follow when we have WiFi.