UP THE SEINE TO ROUEN – MAY 2015

Departing at 7.30 on Sunday, we hoped to catch the tide going upstream, but this was not to happen. The lock gate jammed. Two hours passed. The fat controller arrived in his suit, and stood on the balcony of the control tower smoking. We have a little competition for spotting French smokers. An extra drink for seeing someone puffing on a Gauloise or a Gitane. There were no prizes yet on this trip.
At last a workman arrived and he would, we hoped fix it. No spanners or wrenches were carried. He was a man of slight build, in jeans, who I decided must be an electrician. The management on the balcony smoked away, and told us nothing. The small French yacht with two toddlers on board was also stuck in there with us. They would be having a long haul, in the opposite direction from us, to le Havre . “This often happens here “ they said. Having expected to go downstream, this was not to be…. Because for them the tide was already turning. For us, the tide was the last of the ebb, 2 knots against us for a few hours. After this , it became a few knots in our favour for a short while. Generally, all day, the river flow would be against us, as we expected the passage to take about 10 hours.
The Seine wanders in huge bow shapes and for short periods we had the genoa up, a gentle breeze was adding one knot to our 4.5 knots. The landscape was verdant green with the flush of spring growth, and sprinkled along the way were old villages, with an occasional small chateaux near the bank – in a French Imperial style, like small versions of Fontainbleau.
There were no quaysides for a yacht. This journey had to be made in one go. A big freighter coming down rocked us so much we could understand why people warned us that sometimes a mast on deck could be thrown overboard. Moving to be near the bank while a ship bore down on us dead central in the waterway, we hit something underwater with a tremendous bang. Although we were in 5m of depth we worked out that it must have been a broken off steel mooring post for barges. They always come in pairs. At this spot, we saw with the benefit of hindsight, that only one was showing. Quickly we checked that there were no leaks, for along the Seine there are no slips for a sinking yacht, just the soft muddy banks that would have tipped us sideways as the tide fell. The hull was thankfully found to be good – we speedily checked it with torches while lifting the floor boards. One man, I read, lost his yacht because he could not find a working torch in order to locate a leak. Sarah makes fun of me for having torches in various parts of the boat. “ Why have we got so many,” she says. Later on the voyage we found a hand sized abrasion at the front of our iron keel. Such a jagged steel post would have poked through our fibreglass boat like a pencil through paper if we had been hit a little to either side of the keel.
“How fast does a yacht sink, with such a hole,” asked Parrot. Once in Bristol, while on a small yacht called Kes, while leaving the lock to go into the River Avon at high tide, I heard a similar “clunk”. As we got under Brunel’s suspension bridge the power seemed to be failing and the water level became knee high in the cabin within a few minutes . The propeller had hit a log, and sheared away taking the shaft with it. We hung the owner upside down overboard so that he could stuff a rag into the hole. By working hard with pump and buckets the flow of water was stabilised. Otherwise we would have sunk in less than half an hour. The Avon, like the Seine, is devoid of quaysides for a yacht to lean on at low water. Luckily, that day Kes was saved because the last boat to enter the Avon’s big lock , passed us going upstream, and towed us back into it. Ropes were lashed to the cleats on the side. “That’s no good, “ said Parrot. “ I’ve seen them pop out like milk teeth when a boat fell away from the quay in Dartmouth. “
The crane man was phoned to get him out of the nearby Nova Scotia pub. Still low in the water, Kes just made it to the Bristol quay and was lifted out.
I did not see any slipways or cranes till we got all the way to Rouen, the journey being 65 miles. In the last of the second ebb tide, slackening to be just the current of about a knot against us, we docked at 8pm . Lost in translation was our new canal guide, for it told us to go further up the river, and yet that was impossible because of a new bridge. Bought this year, in spite of being the latest version, the “Fluvicarte” guide was 10 years out of date. “Nice maps, shame about the lazy re-printing”, says Parrot. “Give it away when you meet another yacht.” ( we did later, in exchange for even older Greek Pilot books .) This was something to think about as we planned our future stops for fuel and to find each night a safe quayside. In both cases….. several times, they were non-existant.
A sense of achievement set in at Rouen. We had not suffered any set-backs bad enough to stop us…. Not counting the engine cutting out in mid-channel, the adverse tide outside Cherbourg, or the lock gates stuck at Honfleur long enough to nearly miss the passage window to get up the Seine… We were tied up on a safe pontoon, surrounded by clouds of cranes, most of them ancient, derelict relics which hovered over the big ocean going freighters. Beyond them must be the cathedral with cascades of gothic carvings that we would explore. And above all…. For the first time that spring I felt that comfortable glow of being warm. Mediterranean life, here we come.

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