Wine run to the Med: Through the canals of France – Sailing Story Parts 2
From Cherbourg, we sailed to Le Havre via the charming port of St Vaast-le-Hougue. We got held up in Le Havre – the regulations for the river compelled us to make the 70 odd mile trip to Rouen in the hours of daylight, and there is no stopping allowed on the way. In the early spring, it means there are only two or three days each fortnight when the tide makes this possible.
Keewaydin safely berthed in the marina at St. Vaast de Houge in France
Gales was blowing hard, and we were not able to cross from Le Havre to the mouth of the Seine. We thought we were going to miss the slot, so in desperation and against all the advice in the guide and pilot books, we asked for a passage to the Seine via the docks and entered the Tancarville canal. It worked very well, all the bridges opened for us as we passed along. We spent a rough night moored between two dolphins by the Trancarville lock gates in company with a very large car carrying barge which arrived late and ran his diesel engines all night.
Next morning we were ready to lock out into the river Seine and enjoyed the most magnificent passage, pushed along by a near spring tide. At times we made 12 knots over the ground, past wonderful scenery. The banks of this majestic waterway are mostly well wooded, but we also passed high chalk cliffs. We shared the river with several ocean-going ships, and, according to the pilot book, this stretch can accept vessels up to 80,000 tons wt»0t 0 feet. It certainly pays to keep a good lookout astern, as these monsters catch you very quickly – and leave a great deal of disturbed water when they have passed.
We carried the tide most of the way, and to our great surprise and relief, we arrived in Rouen at 1830; comfortably within the hours of daylight. In fact, we had taken only seven hours and ten minutes to make the 60-mile journey. Next day we were joined in Rouen by our friends John and Dagmar in their 9 meter Catalac ‘Kiwanis’. They had also taken the passage by the Tancarville canal.
In the photo, Keewaydin passes the cathedral at Rouen
Rouen is an interesting city and the facilities are adequate so we stayed three nights before moving on. The tides above Rouen are not strong and cause no trouble unless you wish to enter the small marina of Elbeuf. Then you must get your timing right to cross the sand bar.
Soon we arrived at Amfreville and met the first Seine lock. These locks are very large, 180 meters long by 11.4 wide (590ft x 36ft) designed for ships rather than small yachts. After the first lock, the river changes its character and becomes more tranquil and passes through beautiful countryside. Gently sloping banks and beautiful houses alternate with thickly-wooded stretches, and we passed beneath dramatic sheer cliffs on which stood chateaux, castles, and churches.
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The nearer you get to Paris, the more difficult it becomes to find attractive stops for the night, but one beauty spot that must not be missed is the marina in the nature reserve by the Mericourt lock.