Thursday, 30 August 2018

Dangers of navigating the Rhône river

Day 72. Friday 24th August. Sun 28 degrees. Rowed 29kms to pk119.5 Charmes Sur Rhône. Now Rowed 922km Driven 1379 miles.

Day 73. Saturday 25th August. Cloudy!! 25 degrees. Rowed 25km to Cruas ok 144.5. Now rowed 947km and Driven 1397 miles.

Day 74. Sunday 26th August. Sun 25 degrees, mistral gusting 65km/hr. Rowed 7km to Barrage de Rochemaure and wildcamp. Will launch into white water... Need calm! Now rowed 954kms. Driven 1414.3 miles.

Day 75. Monday 27th August. Sun 30 degrees. Rowed 28.5kms to pk180 Bourg st Andeol. Now rowed 982.5kms and driven 1434.9 miles.

Day 76. Tuesday 28th August. Sun 33 degrees. Rowed 33km to Caderousse Barrage wildcamp. Now rowed 1015.5km and driven 1463.4 miles.

Day 77. Wednesday 29th August. Sun 34 degrees. Cloudy and light showers pm. Rowed 27km to Avignon.pk240. Now rowed 1042.5km  and driven 1492.5 miles.

Day 78. Thursday 30th August. Sun 28 degrees. 50km/hr mistral. In Avignon.

Dangers of navigating the Rhone river

Only 100kms to go now and I will be able to boast of being the first recorded person to have rowed, unassisted by the authorities north to south across France. Probably also to be the first recorded person to have rowed the route of the original Rhone River, scrambling over the massive barrages and portaging to the water beyond rather than the easy, shorter route along the constructed navigational canals and through the locks from which I was prohibited  by the VNF and CNR.

No doubt about it, the river has done and is doing it's best to stop me making this claim. At present she is throwing a 50km/hr mistral wind at us which is far too dangerous to row in. As such it is keeping us confined to a campsite in Avignon. In truth my body is crying out for a day of recovery and Sara needs a clear up and do day after several non stop days of providing necessary support in many diverse ways.

To get here I have had to face rapids, calms, shallows and huge problems hacking our way through dense vegetation to get Oggi in and out. Sara has been tested to the limit searching out a safe, shaded overnight stop accessible enough to drag Oggi to under the blazing sun and more than 30 degree temperatures, but somehow she achieved it.

The Nautiraid Coracle has proved herself to be amazing. Three times she has been totally thrown on her side in white water and been swiftly corrected by her inflatable beam bouancy without which it would certainly have been a life threatening capsize. She has collided numerous times with rocks in tumbling water, clawed around whirlpools, bounced and scraped over river stone whilst I just hang on, roped to her in case I was thrown out in the rough and tumble.

On one occasion I tried to pull myself clear of a huge whirlpool spinning like a tumble drier where the 200 metre wide river shoaled to a mere 20 metres due to a build up of large river stone. I lost the battle and was spat out into the white water tumble of a narrow rocky gully. I thought this must be the adrenaline high Sara and her crazy skiing mates talk about when they launch into a couloir, knowing that if they don't make the dangerous dogleg 10 yards ahead "Oh dear"!

I had to make 5 of these dogleg turns and then bounced 200 metres through rocky shallows in white choppy water jabbing this way and that to avoid the big rocks and grounded tree trunks faster than Nigel Farrage could down a yard of ale. In other years there would probably be sufficient water to float across these shoals, but this year is exceptional.

I could go on about similar situations such as shooting the old bridge at Pont St Esprit, the barrage which provided an impassable blockage where by sheer chance I interrupted a fully armed team of the French Army engaged in energetic war games who willingly helped me carry the boat up a steep bank, the hairy launches and recoverys, or the plod, splash, plod in dead still water of wider deeper stretches past numerous castles and defences dating from Roman times onwards, but then I would have nothing left to put in the book.

At present the weather forecast predicts the wind to drop to about 20 km/hr tomorrow so I hope to jump a bit further before big winds come back on Saturday. I need lighter winds for the final stretch through the Carmargue when I turn into the narrow, shallow, winding Petit Rhône river at Arles. Then it will be into the Mediterranean and around to the east to the small port of St Marie de la Mer.

So, if all goes well, I need 4 more decent days of rowing before I write the epilogue. However I am sure the river Rhone will not have given up on me yet so no predicted ETA. I hope that when I come rowing in to the beach from the sea in my little rowing boat the Customs/Police don't mistake me for an illegal coming in from Africa and arrest me. I am sure our friend Guillaume from Nautiraid will sort it out for us as he has in other ways before!

Thanks Guillaume and please pass on these thanks to Veronique Flambard, Nautiraid's charming boss for producing such an unbelievably robust craft which still remains barely marked despite the punishment it has taken.

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