Voyage through the French Canals May 13 to July 21, 2012
The Distant Shores Season 9 voyage will take us from England through France to the Mediterranean, then transatlantic to the Caribbean for Christmas 2012. We have now completed Leg One – a fantastic 10-week trip through the French Canals!
We began the season in Chichester Harbour on the South coast of England where we had stored the boat for the winter at the yard at Northshore Yachts.
On May 13 we set sail for France from there with light winds for a gentle sail across the English Channel to the large commercial and recreational port of Le Harve on the north coast of France.
From Le Harve we travelled all the way through the country on inland waterways to Port St. Louis on the south coast.
During the 10-week voyage we travelled 1,344 km or 726 nautical miles (835 statute miles), negotiated 179 locks, and crossed 3 amazing aqueducts.
Routes and Resources
There are 8,000 km of navigable waterways in France so there are numerous options for routes to the Mediterranean from the north coast of France. A good online resource is the website Aboard in France http://www.french-waterways.com/practicalities/medroutes.html
We referred to this website extensively for determining what the route options are and which ones were best for us taking into account our starting location, our boat (considering depth, air draft, width and length overall) and our schedule.
The Cruising Association (CA) based in the UK and the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) based in the USA have good reference guides and cruiser updates in bulletins/forums.
The CA has a special publication called “Cruising the Inland Waterways of France and Belgium” written by members which is great. (You need to be a member to purchase but membership is worth it.) We downloaded it as a pdf onto our iPad. We also purchased a pdf version of the Aboard in France website for our iPad. Both were excellent searchable guides to use in the cockpit while en route.
We're using more ebook versions of cruising guides these days. They're searchable, less expensive, take up less space, and reduce weight onboard.
The series of chartbooks/guides we and most boaters use are Fluviacarte guides to navigation which you can order online through the Aboard in France website under the Resources section http://www.french-waterways.com All information is given in French, English and German in each guide.
Books we used were:
“Inland Waterways of France” 8th edition, by David Edwards-May, Imray Pilot Guide
“Cruising French Waterways” 4th edition, by Hugh McKnight, Sheridan House
“Through the French Canals” 11th edition, by David Jefferson, Sheridan House
Here's a brief summary of the route we took:
Preparing Your boat for the French Canals
Paul has written several New Boat Blogs about setting up the boat with fender boards and fenders and options for taking your mast down so I'll direct you there for this technical information.
We had a mixture of very wet weather and lovely sunny spring days in May and early June but after spending previous summers in the cold wet climes of Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavian countries we were so happy to be warm that we didn't mind the rain!
Late June and July, as we moved further south and were further inland away from the cooling effects of the sea, we had quite hot weather – up to 32ºC (90ºF) – but we didn't dare complain about the heat after moaning about the cold wet weather we had experienced in the UK and Scandinavia the previous summers. Here's a link to average temperatures and precipitation for various cities in France: http://www.weather-and-climate.com/average-monthly-Rainfall-Temperature-Sunshine,Paris,France
When to Go
The spring shoulder season was a good time to be in the canals since there weren't a lot of recreational boats. We mostly went through the locks on our own during the first part of the trip. Once school got out, traffic really built up in the smaller canals with charter boats and summer vacationers. This meant lock delays and a high percentage of inexperienced boaters on the canals. However, with patience and awareness and being careful to give everyone lots of space and encouragement, this didn't at all affect our enjoyment of the voyage in high season.
Hiring/Chartering a Boat in the French Canals
Hiring/chartering a boat is a wonderful way for people to be introduced to the joys of the boating life and we definitely are great supporters of this! There are a variety of styles and sizes available in various locations throughout France as well as hotel barges with captain and crew. For more information check out www.french-waterways.com.
In my next newsletters I'll write more about details and highlights of each section of the trip through the French Canals.
Hope you're having a great summer!
Sheryl and Paul Shard
SY Distant Shores II
Season 9 - All 13 Shows available now for HD DownloadJoin global adventurers, Paul and Sheryl Shard, on one of their most diverse voyages ever starting with small historic canals, a Mediterranean cruise, a transatlantic passage and island-hopping in the Caribbean. The voyage begins on the north coast of France as they sail up the River Seine to Paris then transit the inland waterways through wine country south to the Mediterranean Sea. Leaving the Med they sail out into the Atlantic Ocean down the coast of Morocco to Rabat to explore the charms of this medieval port as well as Fez. Then offshore passages begin as the Shards sail out into the Atlantic to the Canary Islands which becomes the jumping off point for a transatlantic crossing where they join the Atlantic Rally for Cruising Sailors (ARC). 2800 nm later they arrive in St Lucia and begin a winter sailing to tropical Caribbean Isles. Includes the British Virgin Islands, a voyage to Saint Martin for Carnival, lush Dominica and dealing with a tropical storm in Martinique.
The season includes 13 Episodes.
Season 9 - Visit the Page on Vimeo for HD Digital Downloads
It is very strange to be so far up in the air in your boat!
Not much clearance - the aqueduct is 6.2 meters wide. I was worried it might be hard to keep the boat centred but it wasn't difficult. Crosswinds are a concern and we wouldn’t go if winds were high. We have been getting better at close quarters handling. The wind makes it more difficult but you do need to have the boat well protected by fenders anyway. I did a blog on our fendering system and so far that has been good. We spent about another $200 on extra fenders plus the boards as "insurance".
You look down the canal to see if anyone has started in from the other end then you head out. Obviously there is no room to pass on the bridge.
Sheryl took the tripod and HD Video camera down to get shots from the river bank.
Its was the longest aqueduct in the world for over 100 years - over 600 meters long. In 2003 it was eclipsed by the Magdeburg water bridge in Germany at over 900 meters long.
Why would Eiffel make the entry point so narrow. It it just 5.2 meters but the aqueduct is 6.2. It makes it difficult to get started. But once underway it was quite simple - and a big thrill!!
Th nearby town of Briare is very nice as well!
Paul & Sheryl
SV Distant Shores II
Paul & Sheryl
SV Distant Shores II
Arsenal Basin - Bastille - Paris
Up the Seine
The seine is tidal until up past Rouen. Tides flow up to and above 3 knots and tides of a few meters make anchoring and mooring difficult. This part will be our last couple of days with the tides to contend with.
Then we lock through into the Canalized Seine river. There is still a strong current - we saw 2 knots and sometimes 3 knots...
Passing Chateau Gaillard
Richard the Lionhearted built this castle to defend against the French... Normandy was controlled by England at the time.
Not the most direct route
The Seine winds quite a bit from the sea at Le Havre up to Paris... luckily we had gorgeous weather. You can do cruises on this river and we passed quite a few large river cruisers (100 pax)
Wow - from your own yacht entering Paris you see the Eiffel Tower for the first time!
Paul is obviously so excited!
Sheryl and Paul Shard
SY Distant Shores II