43° 23′ 16.2492” N 4° 48′ 11.61” E
July 29, 2015
We pinch ourselves in the arms. What is with the French? All craftmen actually showed up at the agreed upon time. We explain what we want done, and they promise to submit estimates on tasks within a few days.
The motor man has a spontaneous laugh when he goes down to the engine room and sees the universal joint, as we have twice had it repaired in northern France. “What happened here”? he asks, as he had finished laughing. He does not believe, it is a viable repair that we had made. We doubt that ourselves, so we ask him to do an estimate on a new installation. New spare part. New installation.
When we receive his offer by mail later in the day, we must pinch ourselves in the arm again. New parts: 4,000 DKK. Wages: 2,000 DKK. Devil and Hell. At the garage mechanic in Epernay the cost of the spare part was 12,000 DKK and the total repair amounted to 23,000 DKK (approximately 3.000 €). Life is full of hard lessons. It is important to learn as much as possible along the way. So we do.
At 10 o’clock we say goodbye to Ronja, leave the keys to Florence at the port office, and put Jørgens car in gear bound for Denmark with a few nights spent in postcard-beautiful Eguisheim in Alsace, where we take two nights to savour the beautiful Alsace wines, to celebrate Hannes’s birthday and to gather strength for the last day’s drive to Denmark.
43° 23′ 16.2492” N 4° 48′ 11.61” E
July 28, 2015
Port Saint-Louis-du-Rhone: It is the day of reunification. After having sent Ronjas mast and boom from Rouen in northern France to the Mediterranean with a german lorry in 2013, today will show whether the mast will be found – or whether, in the two years has been lost or sold to a scrapyard.
It’s there! It is in the forefront of all masts, it has the port’s absolute lowest registration-number, and Florence at the port office looks a second time, when she sees, that it has been here for more than two years.
Navy Service turns out to be a super acquaintance. The company specializes in taking boats out and in the water, and taking masts of or putting them on again. Also, if you want help with inspections and repairs, then the site contains a number of smaller companies that offer their assistance.
We get at time for picking Ronja out of the water at four o’clock. Ronja are ready on time at Navy Service, and at 16:30 she is solid in a winter stand monitored by video cameras right beside the harbour office. Perfect.
We are contacting three companies and ask them to meet us at Ronja next morning between 8 and 9. One company we want to repair the bow thruster and give the engine an overhaul. The second company we want to sew a new spray hood and modify the cockpit tent, so that it works better in warm climates. The third company, we want to make an offer for fiberglass repair, cleaning, antifouling and polishing of the freeboard.
Ronja has marks of her trip through close to 200 locks. Enough marks that we will have to have something done about it. The freeboard has got a few scratches, which hopefully can be polished out. The keel is a more damaged. It has got some damage to the fibreglass at the front of the bottom- certainly from the part of the journey, where we scraped over the channel’s concrete base, because the water level was 40 centimetres below the normal water level.
43° 23′ 16.2492” N 4° 48′ 11.61” E
July 27, 2015
Port Saint-Louis-du-Rhone: Champagne cork pops when, after having sailed 83 kilometres we slip into a berth in the city of Port Saint-Louis-du-Rhone – 80 km west of Marseille – after just passing the absolute last gate.
The last lock was merely symbolic. We have to be lowered – according to the map – between zero and one meter. We wait an hour to get into the lock, and when the gate finally goes up, it turns out to be the most difficult lock to moor in. The wind has increased to 12 meters per second, and at the same time the power from the Rhone River gives us one last push. And this particular day the lock is neutral. As the gate on the Mediterranean opens, we have been lowered exactly zero meters.
It’s great that we finally are here. After four summers boating – together we have been under our way for 13 weeks – we have reached the Mediterranean, a milestone of our adventure.
Many kilometres before Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhone, we could sense the sea. The smell of salt and seaweed announced – together with an ever stronger light – that we approached a large river outlet into the sea.
Rhone has been an exciting but also difficult acquaintance. It is one of many stretches of beautiful rivers with views of mountains and vineyards, and on other parts a rather hideous river influenced by the French tradition of placing nuclear and chemical industries along the river. It is also a pleasure to use the river’s 12 huge locks. Especially when we are on the decline. Here the difference of water depth is not only three metres. No, here it is 12, 18 and even 23 metres in each gate. You feel like you are at the bottom of a cathedral in such a lock.
We had already been waiting to get a half knots of current flow in the river, but there was so much equicurrent we noticed first on the very last day when we had logged up to 9.3 knots. It is probably the many weeks without rain, which has reduced the flow.
The river is deceptive in the case of mooring for the night. The ports are few, and when the water level is low like this year, a big part of them are unsuitable for keelboats like ours. If we are on the Rhône another time, we will probably research a little wider and seek advice about anchorages especially on some of the river’s tributaries. On today’s trip we would have made a stop in Arles, but a storm surge flooded it a few years ago and the city pontoon flooded away, and it has not been restored.
Maybe the small amount of mooring-possibilities can explain, that we arrived at Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône, at the exact same time as the other crews, that we have been sailing with on the canals and on the two rivers. In any case, we meet in the lock and on the quays with several of the Swedish and British crews, that we have been seeing earlier in the trip.
After the champagne we walk in the heat and search for the company, Navy Service. We yearn to see our mast. The office is closed, so we scan the even field, the big halls and the huge open areas, where 1,200 ships stand in racks waiting for their owners to put them into their element. But it is not this day that we will find the mast.
Log book: Today’s distance: 83 km, sailed time 8:00 to 16:00 = 8 hours, locks: 2. Weather: Continued hot. The wind increases and makes the temperature barely bearable.
43° 56′ 57.5412” N 4° 48′ 19.9008” E
July 26, 2015
Rest-day. We are in Avignon. Washing clothes, reading newspapers, eating lunch on Ronja and witnessing the Edit Piaf interpretation as part of the theatre festival. Great experience. Flapping around haphazardly. Looking at the people. The joy, the mood, expectations. We see another performance – a poetic, outdoor performance without words loaded with poetry about a line-dancer, who meets a man, lives with him and struggling with all the problems that can happen when two people from different worlds meet. Beautiful.
The theatre festival in Avignon takes much more time than we have. Next time we will come for longer, read the 400 page program and carefully pick out the things that do not require much French-language skills.
44° 6′ 15.8256” N
4° 42′ 25.812” E
July 25, 2015
If there is a paradise for birds of prey, it is definitely located in a small tributary to the Rhone river. Vi notice that, when we sail from l’Ardoise going on to the Rhone and Avignon. At one point, we can see 20 birds of prey at one time in the air over Ronja. They fly in circles, they do exercises with the young’s birds, and they have nests inside the dense vegetation along the river.
We arrive at Avignon just below the Papal Palace, where we lay outside a boat from Denmark. It turns out to be a couple, that has sailed for three years in the Mediterranean, mostly around Corsica, but also with a detour around Italy. They sail a few months at a time, and then they are in Denmark for a few months. Now they want to put their boat in a winter port, just in Port 2, the port of l’Ardoise, that we just came from. They know it from the past and they find it perfect as a winter port, it is lovely to visit in the car outside the sailing season, because it lies right in the middle of France’s most exciting cities and wine regions.
They also have a winter port in Corsica called Solenzara, which is located on the island’s east side. The downside here is that you cannot use the port as a winter harbour from June 1 to September 1. It was a problem for them, while they were still working. But recently they are – except that the man has some consulting work for Maersk – retired, so now they have time. They recommend us to buy “Bloc Cotier mediterraine”, which is a good marine pilot for the french mediterranean ports.
Avignon has a festival. Virtually the whole month of July, the city is set at the other end of the annual theatre festival and then you get the impression, that every building has been converted into a theatre, and all the world’s buskers and street performers have taken up residence in Avignon’s streets.
It is a great atmosphere. Happy, positive, exciting. We find a relatively cheap bib gourmand restaurant in the Michelin-guide, and get a super three course dinner, and even when we go home shortly before midnight, the streets are still filled with party-goers.
Log book: Today’s distance: 30 km. Sailed time from 8.00 to 11.00 = 3 hours. Locks: 1. Weather: Continued hot. Maybe a little milder than the previous days.
44° 28′ 58.8648” N
4° 41′ 45.3336” E
24. juli, 2015
Now you should expect, that we learned a lot from yesterday’s troubles? Nah. Not really.
We started the day with a clear plan. Kirsten and Per were up early with the intention of sailing Ronja to the town of Viviers, 24 km downstream, while Jørgen and Hanne kept sleeping in the aft cabin. The plan is a common breakfast in Viviers and then a long walk through the country after yesterday’s laborious efforts to find a port.
Viviers was recommended by a sailor from Lyon and we were therefore somewhat surprised, when we reached Viviers and were greeted with a sign saying, that the marina was closed. Porte de Plaisance fermé. Closed? We call the harbour master and ask why they would close an entire port. He explains that the water level is low, and that they would also have a person here to address some problems, but he had not come yet. And a few other things. In short: The port is closed. Our plan is ruined.
The harbour master suggests graciously, that we continue to Avignon. Well thank you. It is a further 72 km on top of the 24, we have just sailed. But on the other hand: What can we do other than follow his advice and then along the way use your eyes and ears to find a mooring-place that is closer. Jørgen and the bike were left behind in a lock, so he can cycle back to the car, while we keep looking for an available mooring-place. It is clearly a major problem in the relationship between Ronja and Rhone, there are surprisingly few suitable ports and boat docks. As there is current and wind, is it not just possible to drop anchor.
We find on the map a port, which is four kilometres inside the bottom of a side-river. It is called l’Ardoise . The card claims, that it is three metres deep. Yes, Yes. We can always try. Along the way we hail an elderly Frenchman in a riverboat. He sticks four fingers in the air. Four meter in the harbour. We called the port captain on our phone, and she confirms: “Come on in. Go for the innermost pontoons, there you will find shade,” she says.
Nice little port. Electricity and Wi-Fi. The female port captain has a Belgian father and a German mother and is now a harbour master in France. We believe that she would have married a French chef, and together they would both operate the harbour and a primitive but excellent little restaurant. Possibly our theory was correct, but we hear later from other boaters, the port captain lives in a small castle in Provence, and that she is the daughter of a famous Belgian painter, and she – when she needs money – just sells one of her father’s paintings. She was the girlfriend of a carpenter for some years, while the port and the restaurant were built. But the other sailors will not rule out, that she may have found a new boyfriend, after the restaurant had been finished.
There are not many boats in the harbour, and we are the only boat coming in for the day. We are also the only customers in the restaurant that night. The food is good, the price ok (170 € for three courses with wine), and when the restaurant does not have the equipment to accept credit cards, we agree that the payment will come tomorrow, when Hanne and Jørgen have found an ATM.
Log book: Today’s distance: 77 km. Sailed time 7:00 to 15:30 = 8 1/2 hours. Locks: 2. Weather: Heat wave. Slow and moderate winds. At night the temperature drops a bit, and we can for the first time in a long time put us to bed in a temperature that feels like only 28-29 degrees.
44° 40′ 28.6536” N
4° 47′ 12.012” E
July 23, 2015
When sailing, you should regularly remind yourself that you can plan as much as you want. But in the end it is still often the weather, boat, locks, port conditions and the waters you are sailing in, that determines your sailing progress.
We planned to sail to Valence, one nice long day sailing 70 kilometres with three of the Rhone rivers giant locks along the way.
As we reach Valence, we see a sign, that warns of a water level in the harbour-opening of just 1.5 meters, but we think it is a mistake, because the card says, it is two meters deep. That is “plenty” to our draft of 1.75 meters.
It is not an error. Right in the port-hole we get stuck. We cannot go either forward nor back. Ronja succeeds, however, under her own power to wrench us free, and we are seeking out again into the river, while Hanne calls the harbour master and asks for advice for a port with better depth.
He recommends us to sail to Cruaz, which is 33 km and two more giant locks further down the river. And when we reach Cruaz our problems begin again. We find it hard to read the signs on the site and it results in a few groundings. We hit something hard, that the card is called Epis and causes the boat to heel suddenly and violently. We have no idea what an epis is but understand very well that it must be some kind of underwater piles of wood or steel (it turns out on the notice boards on the web, that it is some power-absorbing structures of poles).
Worse still: When we finally understand the signs correctly and reach the harbour entrance, we are totally stuck in sand and mud. We are only 20 meters from the first pontoon in the harbour, we can see that there are large ships there. But we cannot get through. And actually we cannot get back.
We are struggling. We let the engine run us forward. We let the motor run in reverse. We turn the steering wheel to move us clear of the ground. Hanne and Kirsten promptly hang out on one side of the boat and weigh it down as best they can. And finally. After several nerve-racking minutes we break free.
We sail back to the last gate and ask the gate attendant for permission to use their small pier for the night. It has enough space for two boats, which is fortunate as shortly after returning the the British boat “Freedom Found” came back to the lock. It extends only 1:40 and could not make it through the port hole in Cruaz. No wonder we could not either.
It is almost nine o’clock in the evening, and we are still waiting for Jørgen to come and meet with us. He left the boat by mid-afternoon to cycle back after the car in Condrieu.
Log book: Today’s distance: 103 km. Sailed time 8:00 to 21:00 = 13 hours. Locks: 5. Weather: Roasting hot. The helmsman has only an umbrella to provide some shade. During the afternoon there will be wind, and that makes the situation more bearable.
45° 27′ 17.9784” N
4° 46′ 22.2276” E
July 22, 2015
We have to get out on the river to get som fresh air. We sail for Condrieu and find an excellent port of Les Roches-de-Condrieu. An excellent port captain leads us into a berth with deep enough water, and he helps us find a marine electrician, who can change one of our batteries. We agree for the electrician to come at seven, and a miracle happens. He actually comes at seven o’clock. A french craftsman, you can rely on. What happened here?
Rhone is a different experience than Saône. Rhone is great and mighty. Majestic but also more deserted. We had just gotten used to the many anglers along the banks of canals and Saône, but on the Rhone we do not see a single one. Our first thought is that it has to do with the high degree of industrialization along the Rhone. Large nuclear power plants replace chemical production plants and other industrial facilities. Rhone is also more wild, as it has branches and entire tree trunks in the water.
On the other hand, we are beginning to hear the cicadas. We did not hear one single one before Lyon. Now the air is full of cicada songs, and though the blast furnaces are disfiguring the landscape, it is still beautiful with mountains, vineyards and charming small river towns. We are in the home region of Cote Rotie – one of the Rhône vallies very best wines – and most expensive.
Last on the day Jørgen and Hanne arrives. They are going to follow us to the Mediterranean, and later we will drive together back to Denmark in their car, with a single hotel-accommodation in Eguisheim in Alsace. We celebrate the reunion with dinner at Restaurant Bellevue right beside the harbour.
Log book: Today’s distance: 41 km. Sailed time from 10.00 to 13.30 = 3 1/2 hours. Locks: 2. Weather: Hot day – more than 30 degrees – but late afternoon thunderclouds draws together. They provide wind but only a few drops of water.
45° 44′ 32.9496” N
4° 48′ 55.9512” E
July 21, 2015
We rent city bikes. Lyon is famous for its city bikes. Personally, we have a hard time finding out why. Yes, there are many bikes. And they are used a lot. But the system is a hassle. It takes to long to obtain a bike through the process and credit cards. When we were in Lyon with Helen and Mikkel last year, we back home got an ekstra bill for € 150, because we – it was claimed – had not handed over one of the bikes in the prescribed manner.
Despite last year’s bad experiences we throw ourselves into the adventure again.
We eat lunch in Les Halles Lyon Paul Bocuse. Charming as always. Really delicious food and good restaurants. We choose a selection of French cheeses, lunch, accompanied by a good Rhone red wine.
The temperature rises and rises through the day. Eventually we do not bother to cycle anymore, and when we are walking, shortly before eight o’clock crossing a square in Lyon a pharmacist’s thermometer shows it is 48 degrees in the sun. When we go back the same way at nightfall, close to 11 o’clock pm, the same thermometer shows 34 degrees. It’s just too much. The French are handling the hot temperature in style. On a small square near the Rhône hundreds of people are dancing to South American rhythms.
Log book: Today’s distance: 00 km. The sail time = 0 hours. Locks: 0. Weather: Hot day. The temperature remains between 30 and 40 degrees during the day.
45° 44′ 32.9496” N
4° 48′ 55.9512” E
July 20, 2015
We sail to Lyon. Starting at 6:00 we are having an enchanting morning. Anglers are everywhere. We also see the herons, swans, storks and the fascinating birds of prey, as they teach their young to fly. The mountains are higher, we encounter more commercial barges, more industry and also more recreational craft as we approach Lyon.
The entrance is beautiful. Not like Paris. Grandiose but in a different way, more natural, original architecture, simple bridges. Nice town. We put Ronja in the new marina in the Confluence district and spend the day sightseeing.
The heat wave is back, so we keep to the shady side of the streets and drink water and Cola in the cafes.
French has an amazing ease with Wi-Fi. We see this again in Lyon. At the harbour office we are informed about the port Wi-Fi with corresponding password. But it works only if you are sitting right next to the port captain’s door, not in our boat. We are told that we can also use the nearby shopping centres Wi-Fi. This works in practice only, when sitting in the centre of the mall. If you chase Wi-Fi in the cafes, you understand that it is something they are ok without (implying that they do not see the slightest reason to have it). When you occasionally find a cafe with a hotspot, the waiter will throw up his arms and tell you, that the Internet is broken at the moment. Even in one of France’s major cities it can be a challenge to get online.
Log book: Today’s distance: 80 km. Sailed time 6:00 to 14:00 = 8 hours. Locks: 2. Weather: Changes morning after morning. But soon the sun takes over and we get back temperatures around 30 degrees.