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Through the canals

Most people use the canals to get to the Med, not the other way, and I had delayed my trip from June to July to make sure the Rhone would not still be in spate. In fact the speed of the river was generally around 1 knot (2 kph), though in the centre it often reached 2.5knots (5kph). Using the GPS to measure speed over the ground was very useful, until I left it out in a rainstorm and it stopped working (and so did the backup) when I had just reached the canals. Nowhere better to encounter that problem!

I picked up a friend at Arles so I wasn't alone, and had company all the way through till Paris which helped with the locks. The Rhone locks are huge but a doddle to use on account of the floating bollards and good design which does not cause turbulence. The largest rises 23m (75') and can take boats 180m long and 11m wide. The locks in Saone come as something of a shock after this as they only have a sequence of fixed bollard and the turbulence is awful.

There is a choice of canals to go through and I had planned to use the Bourgogne, which is the shortest but highest. But when I got to Lyon the grapevine reported that it was out of action and a visit to the VNF office confimed it, though the lady had to phone to find out.

The best alternative was the Canal du Centre, which is the most westerly option. This goes into the canal alongside the Loire and then hops over a small hill into the Loire valley via the oldest summit-level canal in the world, the Briare, finished in 1643. I changed crew in Paray le Monial and later encountered the heat wave which hit 40°C in the shade for several days. I was very glad of the mast over which I had hung a large canvas for shade.

Going through Paris by boat is great: the marina at the Arsenal is totally central and gets one out of the wash of the bateaux mouches. Then down the Seine to Le Havre where the mast went up again. There were several bits damaged as is almost inevitable going through the canals, but mercifully nothing serious and then I was ready to set out for England.

It's quite a change getting back to tidal waters, but I made it to Cherbourg in 2 days as a high pressure system swung past. I had asked another friend to help me across the channel but he was non-committal until the day I arrived in Cherbourg when I got a mobile message asking where I was. The next day he was on a ferry and I was glad of the company.

We left at 10:30pm on the peak of the tide and a force 6 NE'erly which couldn't have been better. In the first 7 hours we covered 50 miles, which is the best I've ever done in this boat. By 4:30pm the next day we were in Plymouth.

I hadn't got a mooring fixed up though I was hoping to get one at Saltash Sailing Club. I should have enquired earlier as they were full. However, the helpful secretary passed me on to the organizer of the Coombe Creek Mooring Association right alongside and I was lucky to pick up an unused mooring.

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