02 September 2014

Up la Saône From Lyon

On Saturday night, 26 July I had pasted together three CNR website screen shots of graphs showing water flow at the next lock up la Saône. These showed the data from 0700 on Friday through 2300 on Saturday and I figured the graph represented the volumes we would have experienced on Saturday as we ascended le Rhône from les Roches-de-Condrieu to Lyon. There were three days of heavy rains forecast upstream in Macon and Chalan-sur-Saône that would increase the flow in the coming days, so we decided to move on up river before the current increased too much.

On Sunday morning, I walked over to le Capitainerie to find it still closed. I continued along to le boulangerie for breakfast croissants, but it was also closed, so I continued along to the Carrefour supermarket, which I knew was open. After breakfast, le Capitainerie was still vacant, so we couldn’t pay. We slipped and headed out of the port and up la Saône. A couple of kilometres along we saw the flashing blue lights of two police patrol cars and armed police descending the stairs to the river bank ahead of us. We were relieved to watch an apparent drug deal being busted.

A short while later we passed in front of le Palais de Justice and beneath Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvières. 

As we passed through the narrows at Ile Barbe  we were slowed to about 7.5 km/h, down from the 9 we had been making in the hour since our departure. The sky was clear, there was no wind and the day was warming rapidly.

Four kilometres along we passed peek-a-boo glances through the trees at the Michelin three star Restaurant Paul Bocuse. 

Then as we passed the mooring float for the restaurant, I fondly remembered visits in the 1970s and 80s before the dramatic price distortions took places like this out of the reach of food lovers and placed them predominantly in the domain of wealthy status seekers. We carried on past, not only because we had just finished breakfast.

We continued upstream, passing two locks and making a total of 70.4 kilometres before stopping for the night on a float in front of a campground. After we had secured I went up to a small building that looked to be the port office. It was abandoned and the faded sign on its front still listed fees in Francs. The only other building near the float is a restaurant-bar and the staff there knew nothing about the floats. We enjoyed our free mooring, but had to put up with the thump-thump music of the summer night bar scene.

On Monday morning we were away shortly before 0700 with the heavy overnight dew wetting the decks and house.

An hour later we were passing through Macon with the river current allowing us to make around 8 km/h with turns for 12. Alongside the banks in front of Hotel de Ville were two large river cruise ships.

Shortly after 1000 we left la Saône and entered the lock leading to Canal de Pont-de-Vaux. The safety geeks had placed a chain fence at lock side directly over the bollards to make it near impossible for boaters to toss a loop over the bollards from the lock chamber.

Within half an hour of passing through the lock, we came to the end of the canal in Pont-de-Vaux. There appeared to be no visitor moorage and we could see no open spots among the congested crowd of boats in the small basin. Nor could we see anything of the town to entice us to even think of creating a mooring spot along the bank. That it was raining didn’t help matters, so we wore around and headed back down the canal.

It was raining heavily as we reached la Saône and an hour later as we turned into the mouth of la Seille, it was raining very heavily. Edi had long since gone below to stay dry. 

La Seille, a river that rises in the Jura Mountains, had its lower thirty-nine kilometres canalised at the beginning of the nineteenth century to give access to and from the city of Louhans. We arrived at the access float before the first lock, and because it was too small and flimsy to moor Zonder Zorg on, I put the stern against it and dropped the spud pole. 

The locks here are all manual and self-operated. We left Zonder Zorg against the float and went up to prepare the lock for our entry.

While Edi stood by to take the mooring lines, I went back down and brought Zonder Zorg in.

Once in we had to close the downstream gates and close their sluices before opening the upstream sluices to flood the chamber.

However, before filling the chamber there was some important work to do; there were plum trees with perfectly ripe fruit waiting to be plucked. We filled a large bowl.

The rain continued unabated as we worked our way up the river. After thirteen kilometres and two locks, we decided to call it a day at the foot of the hill leading up to the town of Cuisery. We moored and hunkered-down inside as the rain continued.

Mid-morning on Tuesday we slipped and continued up la Seille. We were thirteen kilometres and two locks up from la Saône and had twenty-six kilometres and two locks remaining to Louhans. The current in the river had increased and there were many large pieces of wood floating down.

The steady rain had let-up and we were alternating between fine drizzle and intermittent showers. We were in the heart of the Bresse region of the Burgundy, a region famous for its chicken. We saw flocks of free-range chickens in many places along the river.

We arrived in Louhans and looked for a place to moor between the gap-toothed array of small cruisers that were Med-moored on the floats in the marina. All seemed to have left about three metres space and we needed four. Finally we found a four-metre gap between two ex-rental boats, backed in and dropped the spud pole. The river is too deep at that spot for the pole to find bottom, so we had nothing to hold the bow. The skipper of the boat alongside said there was a mooring wall through the bridges and we looked low enough to pass under them. We dropped the mast and slid under the railway bridge and the road bridge with nearly half metre to spare. We came alongside a sloping stone wall, dropped the spud pole, looped a bollard and pulled the stern in against a large round fender. The top of the sloping wall was about thirty centimetres above our deck and was an easy step up. Above the sloping wall is a narrow walkway and above it, a two and a half metre high vertical wall. Beyond the vertical wall is the main parking lot for the downtown core and directly across the lot is a large Spar supermarket. It is a great location to moor.

The next morning the top of the sloping wall was nearly half a metre below our deck. The river had risen about eighty centimetres overnight and the bridges were now too low for us to get back under. Fortunately, I had foreseen a rise in the river and had let out plenty of slack in the spud pole chain and the pole simply slid down in its caisson as the barge rose.

Even although the rains had stopped, the river continued to rise through the day from run-offs upstream. Late afternoon on Wednesday the level was about five centimetres below the top of the wall.

The sky remained rather clear and we basked in our first hot day in a long time. It was still  warm in the late evening as we dined in the cockpit. We enjoyed dos de cabaillaud with gnocchi in a mushroom, shallot and garlic cream sauce, green beans and sliced tomatoes, accompanied by a wonderful brut rosé.

The river continued to rise, and before going to bed at midnight, it was lapping over the top of the wall. The fenders had lost their effectiveness, so I placed the point of a boathook into a crevice in the stone wall, put the butt end against the side of Zonder Zorg’s house and lashed the pole to the gunwale. With the tiller lashed over to keep the rig in place, this kept our stern stable and outside the line of wall top.

On Thursday morning the spud pole continued to hold the bow and the boathook continued its fending effect with the stern.

The downstream portion of the walkway was well under water, with only the upper portion of the bollards showing.

One of the dogs from the barge moored on the float ahead of us waded along the flooded walkway for a closer look at the situation, and from the expression on its face, it didn’t look good.  

Upstream there was a short patch of dry disconnected from the broader continuation of the walkway, so I lowered our boarding ramp onto it to enable me to make it ashore to the bakery for a fresh baguette for breakfast.

I sidled along the narrow patch of dry and sprung for a leap across the watery gap of flooded walkway. Getting bread had become more difficult than simply searching the town for a boulangerie that was open.

On my way back, I sighted across Zonder Zorg’s highest point at the bridges and figured were now nearly half a metre too high to make it back under.

We were interrupted during breakfast preparations by a uniformed police officer who hailed us from the top of the wall and told us to move on; we had been on the moorage for more than two days and it was meant for temporary mooring only. We pointed to the water level and to the bridges and suggested that he either lower the river or raise the bridges. Also, we pointed out there were no signs to indicate mooring restrictions along the wall. It was then that he realized he had been sent to remove the two boats from the restricted float ahead of us. 

Both of the boats, a luxemotor and a steel kruiser were more than half a metre higher than Zonder Zorg and he was greeted with similar requests to lower the river or raise the bridges. After amiable chats and a sense of duty done, the police officer retreated to his car.

We went back to having breakfast and waiting for the flood on la Seille to crest and then recede.

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