Wine run to the Med: Through the canals of France – Sailing Story Parts 3
Our entrance to Paris was sensational. We had by chance arrived on Pentecost Sunday when the banks of the Seine were lined with Parisians in holiday mode. On seeing the red ensign on our boat they were waving and calling ‘welcome to Paris’. There can be no better way to arrive in Paris than to pass under all those magnificent bridges and to see the beauty of the city unfold before your eyes. And then to enter the Paris Arsenal marina right in the center of town – just by the Place de la Bastille, it was marvelous. With all facilities available and Paris on our doorstep, we just had to stay for a few days.
The river above Paris, apart from the few industrial areas, continues to be just as beautiful, we paused at Fontainebleau to see the Chateau and to do some shopping and then continued to our last Seine lock, the Champagne. Locks are the danger points, damage to the yacht or mast can easily occur, and we had a near catastrophe in this one – narrowly avoiding severe damage. It ended with us turning round in the lock and making a quick exit, we then had to wait for two hours before there was space available for us to enter again.
We had chosen to take the Bourbonnais route to the Mediterranean via the Canals du Loing, Briare, Lateral, and Centre joining the river Saone at Chalon and the Rhone at Lyon, so we turned right leaving the Seine at St. Mammes, and joined the canal system for the first time.
The canals form an important link between the major river systems of France. They are a delightful experience, you move serenely between beautiful meadows with white cows calmly grazing. Sometimes you pass between tree-lined banks, long easy stretches where you can enjoy the peacefulness – and always the splendid bird song. But the calm is often broken by frenzied action as you pass through a series of locks. Then in the evening, if you are lucky, you can stop near a country Auberge to sample wonderful hospitality with the food and wine of the region.
Our yacht was far from ideal for the canals, drawing 1.4 meters (4ft 8inches), and it was difficult to get near the banks and this caused problems for mooring, both for the night and while waiting for locks. We found it advisable to stop for the night near to a lock so that we could walk forward to tell the lock keeper when we were ready to start. He would then telephone the next lock to advise them of our passage.