September 20, 2010
Christine’s special night.
Our evening at the Hotel Beau Rivage was special, For those of you who know us well, you will be aware of our fondness for The Hotel the Maes Y Neudd in Harlech, the hotel and food are in our view second to none and given the choice would always opt for a visit over anywhere else, well our visit to the Hotel Beau Rivage was almost an equal.
Our twin room was in the hermitage which is an annex of the hotel, it’s window looking out over the Rhone, it had a modern feel, with bathroom, separate toilet, flat screen TV and Wi-Fi. The accommodation was comfortable and Yes! Chris got her bath.
Apart from a number of mistaken visitors to our door, our time was relaxing and a pleasant change from Fandango.
We were able to SKYPE with both daughters Vicky and Caroline which was special.
Dinner was served in the dining room which overlooked the Rhone; we arrived towards the end of service, but on time. The menu was extensive with a la carte, Connoisseur and a Gourmet menu. The Connoisseur’s menu was an expensive do at 89 Euro’s, but it included the very best local wine with every course, Condrieu is famed for its quality wines. With a bottle of 2009 Van Blanc costing in excess of 30 euro’s it was a good deal., However, Chris does not drink much wine, and as this was her night we elected for the less expensive Gourmet menu.
Starting with an aperitif of Kir, (which is similar to Campari) ,we moved on to the first course, I chose pate frio gras and Chris, had scallops St. Jacques , as a pallate cleanser we were served a glass containing raw tuna cut into dice mixed into a wasabi sauce and topped with a very light mouse of tomato, it was delicious. We both had duck for the main course, mine was served pink, Chris’s was medium, the plate was so well presented small but very filling, the sorbet was pistachio and Mango so light and very refreshing. The cheese trolley was stacked high with every conceivable French cheese you can imagine, all courses were served with a variety of bread… We chose a bottle of St Joseph’s red 85 Rangs 2008 Maurier to accompany the meal. The desert was a pyramid of chocolate and pistachio mouse and brandy snap swirl in the top, beautifully presented it tasted perfect.
We concluded with coffee, I had an espresso and Chris had Cafe au Lait.
We retired full and very relaxed having spent almost 2 hours at the table, a wonderful meal, in a condusive environment and a great experience.
Breakfast was served in the dining room overlooking the Rhone, the sun shone through the windows. A continental breakfast is probably not my favourite but was well presented and comprehensive with fruit, cold meats Croissants and coffee.
I paid the bill and we booked out at 1100hrs and made our way back to Fandango, a German couple who we had met at the hotel offered us a lift back to the boat so with roses and bag in hand we were transported in style in their red Peugeot Cabriolet. Once again a brief encounter with genuine people resulted in the most generous of gestures; we thank them for their consideration and generosity.
Another day in Le Roaches took us to the feast and celebration which the Captainerre had invited us to when we arrived.
A street party, very simple, just people getting together, we do not know the reason for the party but the main street was shut off and chairs and tables erected .We were not greeted just accepted,
The Captainere acknowledged us with a plastic cup of Rose wine, free on the town; it seemed that they were just pleased that we had attended. We missed the performance of the brass band, but I imagine that it was the most auspicious of occasions, to hear the pride of the town sending their musical message. We were proud to have been invited.
Returning to Fandango, early, but timely, we passed a fig tree situated at the top of the companionway leading to Fandango, it had immature fruit on it but I picked two in the hope that they would mature in the sunlight, sadly they just went soft and stayed green so they were reluctantly discarded, a lesson to be learned I think.!
Our arrival back at Fandango was timely as it coincided with the arrival of another of those steel Dutch boats which are so popular in the French canals, the owners were a Danish couple, we helped them to moor and chatted, we introduced ourselves as they did but my memory fails me to the point of frustration as I don’t remember their names. They were sailing north and then flying home they had decided that their maritime adventure had drawn to a close, they were to offer their boat for sale, sad to us, a fear for me, but the completion of their dream, time to go home.
We bid them farewell as we pushed off from the pontoon at the unwelcome hour of 0730hrs and left for Valence distances to travel are now split into 80 k trips so are conveniently timed also. This trip was straightforward, just two locks to do for Valance.
Our trip to Valance was fairly unremarkable just a day to get to the destination at the end of the canals. Valance was a pleasant marina, linked with a campsite nearby and a supermarket within a walkable distance if you discount the roadworks, Walked to it and bought what we needed and made our way back to the pleasance, had a drink in the bowling alley and retired to Fandango for a well earned night’s sleep. Tomorrow was the mighty Bollene lock, the biggest of them all, the one we had looked forward to with some trepidation and anticipation.
We arose early and set off through the bridges which led us downstream to the Bollene, as we made our way we hoped that we would not be delayed, this would effect our arrival at our next location Viviers .
Our arrival at Bollene was matched by a large barge, given priority over pleasances we knew it would result in a delay we hoped it would not be long. We stemmed the tide for about 1 hour as a vessel transited from the other direction, Disappointed with the lock keeper who did not allow us to enter the lock with the large barge, it soon dawned on us that we had not been allowed to enter as it was so large and its engines/prop would have caused us problems, It took nearly 3/4hr to fill the lock therefore our 1 hour wait was relative to that.
Finally the traffic lights turned green and the lock gates opened and we made our way forward. Like so many other locks we had encountered, on the Rhone, the experience of decending in the lock was similar to a lift in a large tower block, once we were secured to the floating bollards all was calm.
The experience of dropping 30 meters into a slab sided, muddy and dark hole was awesome, it took us ¾ hrs to decend into the depths of the lock and when we finally reached bottom, we felt very small the size reminded us of the skills taken to build such a place, a cathedral that would house 20/30 London busses without difficulty.
Finally the gate rose above us and we exited, alone and impressed.
The rest of our trip was insignificant and arrived in Viviers a trip of nearly 80 kilometres,
It was hardly a long trip, but we were uncertain of the conditions of the pleasance, we had heard that this ancient village destination was badly silted and un-accessible to us. Despite numerous calls to a non English speaking harbourmaster resulting in the phone being put down and local tourist information office not being able to help us, arrived not knowing if we could access the pontoons.
Our arrival did nothing for our confidence, with empty finger pontoons visible for the river; it was finally down to us to make the decision to attempt an entry or to move on.
As always the skipper makes the final decision, so I gently edged Fandango towards the ominously empty pontoons, these were pontoons we had not encountered before, projecting from the bank, they hung like locusts waiting to pounce, they were strangely poised, with floats which made them sit high on the water, uncomfortably flimsy all the signs were there to avoid, but we had few other options, so we continued forth ever so cautiously.
A local Ecole Bateaux was leaving but there was no sign from him despite our gestures for information, however he came back to beckon us into a seaward/riverward pontoon.
We gently moved towards the indicated locust, and as we did so, the depth ominously reduced, but not enough to ground us but to finally welcome us to the safety of its haven, all but 0’25meters below the keels, we sighed with relief and submitted to its lure.
The finger pontoon was not too stable as it swayed to and fro as we dared to walk its planks, but we dared and it submitted.
We hooked up to electricity and surveyed the scene, an imposing ruined castle looked over us, beckoning us to its walls, we walked into the village, quaint, with tree lined Rue’s leading to the town square and its cafe, we were lured into it’s clutches and secomed to a drink or two.
Despite several attempts to pay for its hospitality, knocking on the door of the absent Captainiere we left feeling guilty at 0700.hrs bound for the Ancient City of Avignon.
The Gorge was passed without recognising its significance, we had waited eagerly for its arrival but when it came, it passed before us and slipped away into the distance, maybe the approach of yet another large barge masked its passage.
With the final few locks now approaching we relaxed to enjoy the scenery, some of which was industrial, but most was the famed vineyards of the Rhone, oh! To be there to sample its products.
With skies filling, we arrived at the junction of the Rhone and the upstream approach to Avignon, its modern day bridge and one way channel was clearly marked, stemming the strong current we barely made 2 kph, passing hotel barges and local shipping we crawled our way upstream, it reminded us of the pilot information warning of the strong tidal current which existed upstream, and the reason why local bargees make 600 euro’s from yachtie’s who are seeking passage upstream by tying up alongside for the passage north.
We gradually edged our war upstream passing the half span relics of the bridge at Avignon and subject of the French song so often sung in English schools as part of their French curriculum. ‘Sur La Pont De Avignon’,
We finally located the moorings, but were surprised to see that they were alongside quay moorings. All the pilot books wax and wane about a fantastic 140 berth marina, which was completed by public subscription,
The phenomenon of the power of water had prevailed and in 2003 the whole lot had been washed away during a flood, never to be replaced.
The Harbourmaster ushered to the only remaining spot on the quay, a miserable spot between an Ecole Bateaux boat, and its pontoon, a fig tree which had accidentally rooted into the wall and another of those Dutch cruiser, but we gratefully accepted and paid our 18 euro’s per night (for two nights) and sat listening to the evening traffic frantically passing us by nearby.
There were a number of Brits on the quay, some of whom we had encountered previously, and some new encounters. Val and Owen off the Ovni ‘Seren’, Julie and Karl off the Moody 31,. Sat amongst the moored boats was an old friend, we had seen it’s mast in Le Havre and recalled that this was a Moody 36 from Porthmadog, “Eliza B”.
Now owner by Ron and Elizabeth from the South Coast, we introduced ourselves and imparted what we knew of ‘ Eliza B’ we recalled the days when she was owned by Phil Moorhouse in Porthmadog.
We spent an evening with Ron and Elizabeth on ‘ElizaB ’swapping notes on the Moody 36. Thank you Ron and Elizabeth for your hospitality.
Avignon’ s history is notable as its antiquity goes back to the Popes, namely about 8 of them, in the 100 year period between the 13th and 14th Century, when, due to the disharmony and unrest in Rome, the seat of power moved to Avignon.
A Papal palace was established there, and during the reign of two of the Popes the palace developed an austere to a gregarious/flamboyant facade reflecting differing attitudes of the two Popes.
It was during this period that the Avignon Bridge was built, firstly built in wood and later in stone, the origins of the myth suggest that a humble shepherd wanting to get his sheep across the river was commanded by God to build a bridge over the Rhone.
The Rhone at this time was a river which had not been tamed by locks, barrages or man-made contrivances, and had historically swept away any attempt to tame it, even today it is an awesome force.
The shepherd is alleged to have approached the Popes financier at a public assembly, asking for the finance build the bridge, he was laughed at and ridiculed by the crowd, and told by the financier that if he was to lift a large stone which had been left at the riverbank by the builders of the Palace because it was too heavy, and carry it to the river he would be granted the finance.
It seems that there was some divine intervention, as he picked up the stone on his shoulders, carried it to the river and threw it in, forming the first foundation stone of the bridge.
Since this time there has been a bridge on the site, now a monument to the history of Avignon, its fame lives on.
On a wet and miserable day, we visited the Papal palace, the entrance fee was reduced for those over 60.so we took advantage, the visit was well worth the 12.50euro’s paid, with a guided tour around the palace we were able to learn more about the palace.
A good day, well worth the effort and money.
At 0700hrs the following morning(Saturday) we pushed off from the quay and headed downstream, a cold edge to the wind it was hardly light, reminding us that it was Autumn.
One more lock on the Rhone then it’s to Port St Louis and a small lock and a bridge and into the marina basin.
The last lock on the Rhone was Vallabregues, a 15.5m lock, then on the home run, exiting the lock in lovely sunshine, our speed picked up to 15.5 kilometres, we were on our way to the sea, the Rhone was hurrying us to our destination.
We passed through Arles at lunchtime still doing 13 KPH, as we had been told there was no longer a pontoon for pleasances we confirmed the absence of the pontoon, only space for the hotel barges, realising that we would arrive far too early for the St Louis Lock, I reduced engine speed to 800 rpm but we were still doing 8.5kph. The wind started to pick up so that too was pushing us to our destination.
Approaching the entrance to Port St Louis, a car ferry passed in front of us as if we weren’t there, by the time we arrived at the entrance it was approaching 4pm, there was a dredger and floating pipe work in the entrance to the lock as the wind whipped up the water around us it would be ironic if this last lock was to be our nemesis.
The green light at the entrance to the lock indicated that we could enter, as we did so the wind strengthened and howled straight at us, we struggled to tie up, the large ship bollards not really suited to us, there were some stainless steel handles let into the dock side just below our deck line, so we tied up there and held on.
We hardly noticed the lock level lower, less than a meter as the bridge eventually opened and the lock keeper leaned out of his window shouting over the howling wind to get a move on, the wind pinned the bows to the side of the dock as the stern decided to do the opposite, we almost turned round in the lock but managed to power forward with the anchor grinding along the dockside and Chris frantically struggled to release the bows from the headlock. Eventually the bows swung out and we moved under the bridge, there was a small yacht and a power cruiser waiting in the basin to exit, madness I thought.
The visitor’s pontoons were facing us on the far side of the basin, we moved towards them trying desperately to identify a pontoon which would be easily accessed, a friendly face appeared on the dock in front of an available space, we moved towards it relieved that we would be secure and safe.
The occupiers of the German cruiser in the space next to us stood nervously on deck ready to fend off. Quietly with the wind on the nose we pushed into the space, tied up and secured Fandango in the slot, no damage, no drama we were glad to be safe.
The force 7/8 Southerly wind was warm but it blew for the next 3 days ensuring that we were to go nowhere in a hurry.
With an Intermarche supermarket and its petrol station within 100 meters, a bar, creparie and restaurant nearby and power, water and Wi-Fi on the boat we were happy to sit out the hostile wind and collect our thoughts for the final onslaught on the conclusion of our trip for this year.
The showers at Port St Louis are housed in temporary buildings around the Capatainieres office , work on completing new facilities are well on their way, the temporary facilities were not up to much and Chris found the ladies facilities very poorly maintained and preferred to shower on Fandango.
At 19 euro’s per night we found this to be an expensive place.
Wednesday arrived as I paid the bill and we cast off, it was a calm and sunny morning and our transit through the Canal St Louis would take us out to sea, past the causeway, mussel beds and heavy shipping to the buoyed channel leading us to Port Napoleon. We had walked the 3 kilometres to Napoleon the previous day so we had a good idea of the lie of the land, our intended destination was the visitor’s pontoon at the far end of the marina, pontoon ‘G’.
As we rounded the end of the causeway, the wind gently reminded us that we were back at sea for the first time in nearly 3 months, liberated, it felt good to be in Fandango’s natural environment.
As we followed the channel we could see flocks of pink flamingos which are indigenous to the Camargue , but we did not see any of the famous horses.
We arrived at pontoon G 16 to be greeted by Ron and Elizabeth from ‘Eliza B’ they had arrived earlier and Ron took our lines as we gently moved into place.
Our purpose in being at Port Napoleon was to recover our mast, a large marina and technical support for all sailing needs it is the principle winter destination for many sailors including Brits.
Fandango was dwarfed by many of the vessels, we can no longer consider ourselves to be in the large boat market.
We had identified where our mast was and had arranged for it to be lowered from its storage rack ready for us to start work, for the next 2 ½ days, we worked full time cleaning and checking through the mast and refitting instruments, ready for it to be fitted at 1530hrs on Friday.
On Friday morning we were advised by the harbourmaster to go stern to the pontoon, as heavy weather was due on Saturday through to Monday blowing from the North. After the mast was fitted I returned to our pontoon and for the second time reversed up to the pontoon.
Saturday night arrived, the skies were cloudy and dark and the wind was starting to pick up, by Sunday morning the bad weather had arrived, no rain just strong warm wind. I was expecting something more but maybe the Tremadog Bay and the Irish Sea had robbed me of the pleasure sitting out a good storm in the safety of Fandango. Not weather to be sailing in but not what I had expected.
I am hoping that I will be able to elicit the help of the riggers in the next two days, Fandango’s mast is not easy to set and I would rather know that it is done properly than try to muddle through myself.
We plan to leave Port Napoleon on Tuesday or Wednesday and to arrive in Gruissan by the weekend.
One more blog and then this will be the end of our trip for this year, but we will continue the blog with our land based activities during the winter.