28 May 2013

Which Way to Go?

There are over 45,000 kilometres of navigable rivers and canals in Europe. That is more than a circumnavigation's worth of inland waterways to explore. In France alone, there are over 8,000 kilometres. We are faced with many decisions in taking Zonder Zorg southward from Harlingen toward our planned wintering port in Carcassonne on the Canal du Midi.

Our initial intention after we have moved aboard and settled-in, is to spend some time doing a thorough shake-down of Zonder Zorg by wandering around the canals of Friesland. Once we are satisfied that all systems are working properly, we want to take a meandering route through Noord Holland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Limburg to Maastricht and then head into Walloonia along the Maas.

Our experience, and that of so many before us, tells us to quickly make our way through Belgium. The Maas is the shortest route through and is also reputed to be the most pleasant. Once we enter France at Givet, we will be faced with many choices of routes to take us through northeastern France, but it is a rather safe bet that our first destination will be the Champagne.

Onward from the Champagne, we can opt to continue via Paris, with the decision of whether to go by way of the Marne or the Aisne, Oise and Seine. From the Seine above Paris we can choose to continue on the Loing, Briare, Loire and Centre to the Saône, which entails 554 kilometres and 157 locks; or possibly take the more scenic Yonne, Nivernais, Loire and Centre, which is a bit longer and has a few more locks; or we can take the Yonne and Bourgogne to the Saône, which is shorter at 401 kilometres, but has more work with 214 locks.

Alternatively, if we decide to give Paris a miss on this trip, we can follow the Aisne a la Marne, the Lateral a la Marne and the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne to the Saône, or we can do the Marne a la Rhin and Canal des Vosges to the Saône. An additional eastern alternative is to continue along the Marne a la Rhin into the Alsace, then southward and take the Rhône au Rhin to the Saône. The route we take will depend on many factors: how much time we have, how many locks we feel like doing, what history and culture we want to see, and what we want to eat and drink. Whichever route we take, we have to get to the Saône. Six different routes meet at or near St-Jean-de-Losne on the Saône, and the town is rightly considered the centre of the French waterways system. I had based my previous canal boat there between 2000 and 2006.

Southward from St-Jean-de-Losne, there are no alternatives. We will follow the Saône until it empties into the Rhône at Lyon and then follow the Rhône to just short of the Mediterranean, where we will branch off into the Canal du Rhône a Sète, which will lead us to the Canal du Midi and along it is Carcassonne.

However, first we need to get from Vancouver to Harlingen, and that is less than a week away.