On Thursday, 24 July we had secured to a masonry wall in Tournon after three days of travel and 209 kilometres against the current up the rivers Petit Rhône and Rhône from the Midi. We had paused for three days in Viviers to await the passing of a spate of fast current from heavy rains in the drainage basins of le Rhône and l’Isère. If we had opted to run against the heavier current instead of waiting in Viviers, we would likely have reached Tournon at the same time, taking three days, burning much more fuel and needing to refuel along the way. As it was, our fuel tanks were getting low, showing about 80 litres remaining. At 0710 on Friday we slipped and continued.
Our goal was to reach the fuel dock in the marina in les Roches-de-Cordrieu 50 kilometres upstream before running out of fuel. Zonder Zorg burns about 3 litres per hour at 1200 rpm, which in still water gives a speed of 8 km/h. She burns about 7.5 litres per hour at 1800 at a speed of 12 km/h. With the expected current running around 6 km/h, 1200 rpm would take us 25 hours and 75 litres to make the fuel pump. Upping the engine speed to 1800 rpm would give us a speed over the ground of about 6 km/h, which would require 8 hours and 20 minutes and burn 62.5 litres. At 2000 rpm our speed over the ground would increase to a little over 7, taking us a little under 7 hours of motoring and burning just shy of 70 litres. I calculated that the sweet spot for time and fuel with the prevailing current was around 1900 rpm, so that’s where I set it.
Écluse Gervans was ready for us shortly after we arrived and we made a quick passage up it. The bypass canal is short and we were soon out again into the broad river and making good speed. As we passed the ruins of Tour d’Aras, we met a down-bound klipper tjalk. We continued to use the slower current in the lee below the bends to increase our speed. At times we were making close to 11 km/h.
As we approached Andance we found a stronger current, which slowed us to just above 6 km/h. Upstream of Andance, we were foiled in our desire to find slower currents at the edges of the river and in the lees of the bends. A six kilometre stretch here has groins not far underwater extending well into the river to train the channel down its centre. We were forced to remain in the full force of the current. Shortly after the end of the section of groins, we entered the canal leading the next lock, Écluse Sablons and the fast current continued.
Fortunately, the diversion canal below the lock is short and the lock was being readied for us as we arrived. Out of the lock there is a nine kilometre canal, where the current allowed us to make 7.5 km/h. As we broke out of the canal into the wide river, our speed increased to near 10.
We continued to meet down-bound traffic, this one a deeply laden bulk carrier as we approached the vineyards of Condrieu.
Condrieu and Château Grillet are planted with Viognier and winemakers around world have long used the wines produced here as their benchmark for that variety. Fortunately for consumers, Viognier wines of equal and better quality are now regularly produced in vineyards around the world at substantially lower prices, leaving these Rhône ones to the label drinkers.
At 1516 we arrived in the marina in les Roches-de-Cordrieu with no diesel left visible in the sight glass on our fuel tanks. We had motored a total of 7 hours 35 minutes and had spent 31 minutes with the engine off in the locks. I figured we had burnt about 67 litres and had about 13 remaining.
We refueled at €1.45 per litre, about 12 cents above the road station price, but the cheapest waterside pump we had seen since a tanker truck delivery the beginning of April in Carcassonne.
It was still early when we had finished fueling, but there were still 41 kilometres and two locks remaining to Lyon. The final lock was 37 kilometres along and there was insufficient time remaining to make it through before it closed for the day at 2100. We took a mooring on a T-head in the marina and, while I walked to le boulangerie for a fresh baguette, Edi prepared a nibbling tray for a late lunch.
After a leisurely breakfast, we slipped at 0925 and continued up le Rhône. Above Condrieu, the river bends so that the slopes above the Right Bank face south-east. The vines change from Viognier to Syrah as we approached the town of Ampuis, where we were looking up at the vineyards of Côte Rotie, the Roasted Slope. Like with the Viognier in Condrieu, winemakers around the world looked on the wines of Cote Rotie and Hermitage as the holy grail of Syrah wines. Again, fortunately for the wine lover, Australia, California and British Columbia, among other New World wine regions are now making as fine or finer Syrah wines at lower prices, leaving these Old World examples for those who prefer to drink fame and reputation instead of quality and appropriate pricing.
Our luck with the locks continued as we arrived at Écluse Vaugris just as a large commercial began entering. We followed it in and rode up the 6.7 metres.
Out of the lock we quickly rejoined the broad river and were making good speed against the current, which seemed about 5 km/h. Upstream of Vienne we were quickly overtaken by a full lock length convoy of two barges and a pusher. Fortunately the next lock was sufficiently far ahead that it would be well through and clear before we were anywhere near.
As we approached the final lock, Écluse Bénite, we were overtaken by another commercial.
This one was only 130 metres long, so there was still 60 metres left for us to settle in astern.
At 1540 we passed the bifurcation beacons marking the confluence of le Rhône and la Saône. We bent our course slightly to port and started up la Saône into Lyon.
The creative, colourful and highly unconventional architecture along the banks of the mouth of la Saône was as startling when we viewed it heading upstream as it was when we first saw it on our way down last year.
I had emailed Place Nautique de le Confluence and had received no response. I had been phoning as we came up river and as we neared, I called them on VHF on their listed CH18, all with no response. We arrived, entered the port and saw one open spot. We backed into it, dropped the spud pole and at 1600 secured the stern to a five metre finger. I went looking for le Capitaine, but the office was closed. Remembering the huge Carrefour supermarket in the shopping centre off our bow, we grabbed our shopping bags and headed across the passarelle. In the wine department we saw some representative bottles from the vineyards we had been passing. Remembering the days when I drank these for a tenth of the price, we decided to continue passing.
We stocked-up for our planned continuation up la Saône then went back to Zonder Zorg. In the evening we enjoyed a fine dinner of seared dos de cabaillaud with a sprinkle of cumin, crisply sautéed pleurottes, steamed green beans and sliced roma tomatoes with shredded fresh basil. Accompanying this and to celebrate our ascent of le Rhône, we had a bottle of Rebmann Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé.
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