The French Canals
17th September 2005

Gale bound in Cape D’Agde, (arggh). South of France.

A brief catch-up. Whilst we were at home in the UK, Moonshine, was on the
hard in St Davids, Grenada. On 6th September she was seriously damaged in
a hurricane Ivan. So began an ugly seven month insurance battle with GH
Insurance and Yachtsure which eventually we settled with a lawyer ironing
out the final, hidden details. After numerous post mortems with fellow blue
water cruisers we are now with Pantaenius insurers.

Jack our precious son was born at 9.39am on 7th November 2004. See the
latest pictures on Jack’s Pictures.

With the farewell to Moonshine, John found a mission. Find a new boat.
Regardless of my contractions on pontoons, or still recovering from the c-
section, the viewings continued.  At only ten days old Jack viewed his first
boat, appropriately “Blue Dawn”.

First For Dufour

Whilst negotiating with insurers, becoming a father and searching for a new
boat, John passed the ABYA (Association of Brokers and Yacht Agents)
certificate and worked for DUFOUR yachts, becoming their joint top sales
man at the London Boat Show in January 2005. Whilst we’re away he may
punt the odd yacht. I have several articles I’m working on for magazines in
the UK and US, in addition to writing a children’s story. All in the fervent
hope that Jack will not be sporting last season’s dusters in the Med.

Ta to the CA

As a thank you for their encouragement before we left in 2002 “we” gave a
talk to the Cruising Association in London on the Intracoastal Waterway in
the US. As I was about to begin I was struck with the thought “What am I
doing here, I have milk brain. I can barely form sentences let alone a
paragraph”. Jack and my mother had rehearsed with me and were in the
back row. Unfortunately Jack’s three month old cheering became a little too
enthusiastic and they retired. He was more interested in the interval
refreshments, his “Jack snack”. Even so the talk with John projecting  our
one hundred odd pictures on a screen behind us, was well received. It was
afterwards I discovered they’d paid, money to hear us.

Splashing Cherubim and Seraphim.

In 2002 we combined (!) buying and prepping Moonshine with our Wedding
preparations. Keeping with our high stress tradition along with prepping the
new boat we combined a gathering on Sunday May 15th in my mother’s
garden to celebrate Jack John Arthur William's christening. Jack wore his
Great Grandfather’s christening robe. Reverend Michael baptised Jack in a
joyful service in Salisbury Cathedral, where we were married almost three
years to the day, by Reverend Michael. (Those in the US and Canada may
have (finally) read the Wedding list article in July’s Blue Water Sailing. First
published in November 03’s Yachting Monthly as For Wetter or Worse. Look
out for “Why Rally” in November 05)

As the clocked ticked down to our departure at the end of June, the strung-
out days of prep-fever intensified. As before my mother, Shore/Sure
Support weathered numerous swings in our barometers.

Moonshine was sold as a wreck. As part of the deal our belongings were
shipped home on a Geest line banana boat in a container. Thankfully all our
wedding presents returned. A sour taste was left when we gradually
discovered that equipment which would only have been stolen by other
cruisers was missing such as John’s oil extractor and my pressure cooker.

What’s in a name?

Having very much felt in peril on the sea, and mindful of Neptune’s wrath
we performed a complex ritual to de-name the new boat. All papers and
items relating to the previous name were re-moved. Neptune and the Gods
of the Wind were thanked for their favour thus far, and the boat de-named.

After waiting twelve hours for the old boat to clear, we celebrated by re-
naming our new home SERAPHIM. In a blatant effort to curry favour with all
the necessary powers that watch over us expensive champagne was poured
over the bow in both ceremonies however, saving a few glasses to celebrate
the renaming.

Blessing Seraphim

As ever Reverend Michael, “our” Vicar, brought his gift of insight, dignity
and humour to the official ship’s Blessing during which prayers were said
and holy water sprinkled around our new home. An intimate, profound and
moving Service after which a jolly lunch.

Gear we go again.

Seraphim’s first shake down sail, (after the renaming) revealed a gear box
anomaly which ended in our arrival at Ocean Village, Southampton powered
by a friend’s rib. Ahh, memories of our engine failures with Moonshine.  
Seasons of fixing Moonshine (in exotic, but sticky places) left the Skipper
resigned, almost blasé. Disabled we sailed up Solent water, Moonshine’s
gear lever failures in Torbay, Raz du Seine and Portosin (Spain) left us with
an add-it-to-the-list-attitude.

On our first sail with Jack I discovered that breast feeding with Jack in his
bulky lifejacket is a problem.

Our grand ambitions to go to the movies, swim and relax whilst in Ocean
Village, Southampton bit the work schedule as we sorted through
Moonshine equipment, ticked off the list and kept calm in the face of self-
imposed deadline. The aim to reach Paris by 14th July, Bastille Day at the
Bastille didn’t quite happen.

Jack and The Queen

The intrepid family Rodriguez and Granny anchored overnight off
Portsmouth in preparation for the Fleet Review by the HRH Queen.  It was a
remarkable two days of memories. Sailing out from Southampton past over
forty ships from around the world anchored in the Solent. On the day the
Red Arrows, helicopter squadrons and World War II spitfires gave displays
overhead. In the evening the fireworks were followed by the breathtaking,
lighting up of the Fleet. We thought that was the Finale, but, not quite.
Thousands of port and starboard lights speeding through the dark waters
was impressive. (Similar to the crazy race after the 4th July through
Charleston.) John stood on the stern  with a two million candle power torch
to ward off the hundreds of Solent vessels powering for home in the dark
under the influence. The next day bathed in sunshine Seraphim sailed
home, calmly. Predictably the two day shake-down “cruise” issued up all
kinds of glitches requiring creative solutions.

7th July 2005.

Jack was eight months old and we crossed the English Channel. Skipper John
had top crew in friends Adrian and Marcus. I cooked and Jack-ed, literally on
mother watch, during a thankfully uneventful trip across the busiest
shipping lanes in the world.

Sea to Seine

Seraphim was de-masted by Stephan in LeHarve. Mast less we motored
down the Seine to Rouen a picturesque one day chugging with the tide. It
was peculiar seeing bridges looming, and remembering, we have no mast.

Three days to Paris to arrive for Bastille Day was too tight. Having re-
adjusted to a more realistic time frame, we slackened the pace, and
remained in Rouen where we tourist-ed and were wowed by the spectacular
feu d’affiche lighting up the sky on the 14th July one bridge down from our
prime patch .

Our guests that evening were the Sel family who rescued us on a hot
afternoon when not only were workmen drilling to China through the tiled
floor of the supermarket, but on seeing our three groaning trolleys Rouens'
taxi drivers refused to drive us the one mile “home”. The Sel’s insisted on
piling our mega-stock up and the tear stained Rodriguez-es into their van.
More, that evening they invited us to supper at their home followed by pre-
14th July fireworks in their village. Then, back to Rouen to see the
extraordinary Son et Lumiere in which Monet’s various paintings and other
patterns were superimposed on the front of the Cathedral, mesmerising. We
give thanks for the Sels, indeed, the salt of the earth.

The five days to Paris included a tranquil stop on a suffocating hot day in a
lake just off the Seine. Blissful calm before the locks ...

As we approached the capital the buildings crowding the banks increased in
size and affluence.

Paris Arsenal

Bridge by bridge, Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, “sailing”  into Paris
in Seraphim has to be in our top five. Not just from a boat, but our boat,
gives you a kick but before it went to our head, there were thrills and spills.
Bow to bow with bateaux mouche and a peniche , neither giving way, we
decided being washed in their wake was the better part of boating valour.

Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe

Twenty minutes trundle with Jack to Notre Dame, the Paris Arsenal is near
all the sites and provides a colourful garden for boaters and picnicking
Parisiennes. (Being Paris, and having re-visited the naked lunch painting, we
give picnicking its widest interpretation.) All this fffffauna and flora ten feet
from our boat …

Shattered after two long days in the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay
we accepted the wisdom-warnings of others by further slowing the pace,
and avoiding glares in hallowed places. Jack’s happy songs (on awaking in an
echo chamber) such as the quiet of Sainte Chapelle, means that gardens and
parks are more our path. And pretty, enchanting, it is.


Seraphim is surrounded in fenders to protect her in the locks. My fender
shape, in spite of the Brie, pastries and vino, has changed.. Pushing Jack
(and John) up and down the streets of Rouen, Paris, Meaux and every
crevice of France I could find,  plus working the locks shifted the baby-
flobber, but much there is to go. Remember “Do’ in the belly” in Junkanoo
celebrations in Nassau, December 03? (See the Bahamas  newsletter).

Yoga baby Jack’s "salute to the sun" was more of a rocking, downward-
facing-dog, into an all fours which combined with a highly effective pull with
the fingers, push with the toes got him places, fast. This has developed into
crawling. Already his favourite haul up point is the companion way from
where he makes a triangle tour to the table and seat. Out of necessity we
have devised all kind of safe-fun. Holding onto what ever is at hand our little
matelot is stepping out. Entertain and contain are the watch words on the
boat, and as long as we keep agile and think five steps ahead …. we might
keep up.

Jack, otherwise known as Squawk-bucket or Squirmal is enchanting France.
“Mignon,”. “Beau” and “Jolie”

Heading South (and back again).

There are three routes south to the Mediterranean. One was too shallow for
our 1.5 metres (five feet.) The depths of the canals is crucial , however the
French canal departments do not seem to communicate. Gallic shrugs and
opinions that both ways were “tres beau” left us researching and
questioning veterans. One of the two routes took us through the Loire
mostly on canals and over the longest navigable aqueduct in the world, the
Briare designed by Eiffel.  The Marne route winds through Champagne. Both
routes join the Saone River heading south to meet the Rhone at Lyons,
then, down to Avignon, Arles, and out at Port Napoleon where we would
rejoin our mast, and become a sail boat, again.  Finally we opted for the

Two days motor from Paris, unfortunately, or fortunately, at  Moret sur
Loing and St Mammes, (eight miles from Fontainbleau), we rafted next to
Gerhard and Erica who had just completed our up-coming route. Gerherd
gave us dire warnings concluding that if we took that route it would be the
end of our boat. Amongst the technicolour horrors: the depths were
particularly low, and with out five feet draft we would smash our keel on
the bottom and/or on the rocks at the edge; an overgrowth of river weed
clogged his propeller, and in the south they were experimenting with the
automatic locks’ pressure systems which was extremely dangerous.

The return trip to Paris was no hardship. It was frustrating that despite all
our efforts, we found ourselves back at square one. But, we were being
watched over. On our arrival back in the Arsenal we met other Moody
owners who had just completed the Marne route. In addition to confidence
they gave us their reference book full of two trips worth of annotations.
The River Marne, the Canal a la Marne, Canal de la Marne a la Saone, the
Rivers Saone and Rhone. 709 kilometres and 155 locks or “ecluse” to go.

The turn around was worth it. The journey through Champagne was
breathtaking. From Paris we had been ascending, lock after lock, into the
mountains varying from way too turbulent white water rafter, to a sedate
rise. After fifteen locks the regular howls from Jack, stopped. He figured we
were busy pulling on ropes, and would come back, more or less frazzled for a

5th August. Three years since we sailed out of Dartmouth on our
circumnavigation on Moonshine. And here we are, three, in Meaux, the
capital of a Brie region, on the River Marne.

Charly sur Marne in Champagne is written up as being isolated, which it is,
except for the high speed trains (in the distance), the (adjacent) road
bridge, and minor road running alongside, and the bonus, braying donkeys.
In April, we thoroughly delighted in the loan of a cottage in the New Forest
where Jack became fascinated with the owners, the Keens, donkeys. The
refined New Foresters nuzzled and frolicked, whereas the French peasants
gave Jack an explicit display of rutting. We re-named the stop, Donkey Bonk.

Le Canal Lateral a la Marne to Canal de La Marne a la Saone to the Saone River

A predictably named canal takes over where the Marne River becomes
This is where the real lock work began ....

In this stretch of the Canal between Champagne and Bourgogne, there are
locks every three or so kilometres. In the face of utter exhaustion and
serious discord, but most importantly scratching the precious boat on the
stone walled locks, we gave up trying to get to the Med in time to visit
friends at the end of August, and adopted the idea that if we get there, we
do, if we don't, we don't.

Let’s twist again, like we did last ecluse ….

Yes, the cynics eyes will turn to slits, once more. Our silly lyrics are back.
But, it’s not nightwatch but locks. As we travelled on we came across
different types of locks. Some automatic for which we twisted or pulled
levers to start the water. They were a fiendish game of narrow to enter and
exit, hard work hauling on ropes against the torrent of incoming water, and,
finally, a balancing act as the top of the lock walls became submerged in
overflowing water. The exercise routine has been further up-ed with the
crew, i.e. me, climbing the rung ladder to join the lockman-woman often a
student pulling and pushing the lock mechanisms whilst John holds the boat
in place. No easy task with cross winds sweeping the exposed boat across
the top of the lock crunching against the hull on the stone lock sides. It all
added to the mental strain of negotiating locks.

Climbing we gave out bursts of the Sound of Music, it was more Heidi by the
lock. Jack in his seat in the cockpit received many adoring “coocoos” and

In the Haute Marne, high Marne the lockkeepers were particularly good. A
keeper would work up to eight locks in a row buzzing (literally) on a moped
or in a tiny car along the towpath to the next lock. Oliver studying English
and French took us through six locks, and met us the next morning for the
last two in his “sector”.  John could not resist school boy jokes when I told
him Fanny was one of our lockkeepers.

Once the system failed. The vital details that we would be  at the Joinville
lock at 8am were not passed on. What to do? It was only by fortunate
chance that “ecluse”  boss Jean-Jacques was passing.  By the time he
arrived we had phoned our way through the lock keeping hierarchy of
France prompting Jean-Jacques keeness to lock us out of his area.  He even
worked through his sacred lunch break.

The lock-girl who had forgotten to pass on our details was scolded high and
low when she finally moped-ed up.

The Summit

After over one hundred and twenty one locks, 172 kilometres, nearly 1000
metres from sea level, up to sixteen a day in the final approach to the
summit, I had wondered if we would ever reach this point. It is remarkably
claustrophobic being literally land locked, without a mast, in the canals
hundreds of miles from the sea. The  hilltop town Langres, just before the
summit, was a favourite stop. Jack had his first bicycle ride around the

Balesmes Tunnel

Two more locks took us to this 4820 metre tunnel which is controlled by
traffic lights. Seraphim was lit to go. One kilometre in we heard deep
rumbling. It was a heart stopping moment. A peniche. Over one hundred
tonnes of wall to wall barge … But it was slowly chugging away from us.
Relief. Then, at two kilometres in, the lights failed. As soon as we were out
of the tunnel we faced a downhill race of eight locks with no stopping
places. Tension and weariness provoked spats.

We continued to scrap and scrape our way through the Napoleonic ecluses
finally escaping the canals with shouts of exhilaration as we entered the
River Saone. Although still in-land we were in a river.

Chalons sur Saone

During our Blessing Reverend Michael encouraged our Wedding guests to
honk their horns as they drove through Salisbury’s sober Close. Over the
several Saturdays of our incarceration we waved to hooting motorcades
decked out in coloured ribbons. I snuck a few shots and even “wooshed”
the rumpled train of a bride whose feckless bridesmaids had headed off at
the first chord.

It was in this medieval town we crowded into a real traditional market. One
in 14th century streets not stuck out in a car park on the edge of town.
And in the retail park beside the marina we bought bicycles. An extra
dimensional has been adding to our journeying … hills. But, also, the treat to
discovering more …


An unexpected delight was this village in the north of the Rhone. Not only
an excellent lunch at La Plaisance  but a fun fair to celebrate the coming of
age of the local youth. And Le Mot Passant, a pun on the writer’s name,  
the passing word which was run by Elsa who had monthly exhibitions.
September’s were painting channelled by a local psychic artist.  Les Roches-
de-Condrieu is special because of the old bargemen’s houses. Ironically, the
village has been preserved because no expansion has been allowed, because
of the monstrous petro-chemical plant two miles away.

4th September

Some will recall our gastronomic indulgences in France and Spain, and most
places on our last voyage. Predictably along the way we have indulged in
some excellent cuisine. Steak and chips in Paris. Cheese Fondue in Avignon.
Le Terrise (fish, potatos and prawns in a cream and ginger and wine). From
subcutaneous to sub-aqua.

Despite tracking down almost every fishing tackle shop in France the results
of Challenge Fish weighed heavily towards the scales.  However, towards
the end of the trip John began to even the score.

As the Rhone grew, so did the locks. The Bollene lock, the second largest in
Europe, is 26 metres deep. Once on the Saone and the Rhone the locks
were much more sophisticated and gentle.

Sur Le Pond D’Avignon,  On y danse tous en rond ….

Not on the bridge as the song goes but at the celebration for the Rhone
Harvest (Vendage) where Mantequilla, a Latin American group played into
the night. Picnicking on local food and wines of the Rhone we overlooked
the Rhone valley stretching out, far below the gardens of the ramparts. The
various wine growers resplendent in their gowns and hats chatted and
quaffed. Munching on our succulent ham, just-made chips and smooth rosé,
I asked my neighbour about this annual event.  She was a “new” local who
had just moved from her apartment near the Arsenal in Paris. A chemist she
was researching how to contain radioactive waste in glass. In-between the
medieval castles, the Rhone is cluttered with hydro-electric and nuclear
reactors. Old and new uses of the waterway.

Orconte, Vieville, Donmarien and Montmerle were enchanting villages where
we moored and briefly explored, four in over forty overnight stops. The
freedom of the sea was replaced by enclosed water surrounded by concrete
sides or  rocks submerged in mud with an “nth” of granite tip above the
brown waters, with rocks hidden in the weeds and mud. It was beautiful
and breathtaking in places but compared with our West of Europe voyage in
02, it lacked adventure, which initially we wanted for Jack. But,we began to
miss. Several times we tried to re-energise ourselves and be enthused but
gradually the canals and locks and the energy sapping regimented nature of
the travel, one way, or the other, got to us.


Avignon to Arles where we encountered the Fiesta de Riz, the latest rice
from the nearby Carmargue. A display of “bullmanship” we had booked to
see in the Roman Amphitheatre was cancelled. The show of macho and
taureau could not go on, soggy sand. Hemingway would spit. From the town
of winding streets and strange sunlit corners where Van Gogh committed
suicide to Port St Louis, a dying town, slowing being further shut-down by
the silting of the Rhone delta

The Rhone is too silted up to sail out into the sea. The long journey is
dragged out by a detour out of the Rhone through another canal. Our long
journey was then dragged out tortuously by a lock keeper who insisted on
keeping to the timetable knowing that we had a baby on board and aware
that we were rolling around in a force seven with Rhone and sea splashing
over the spray hood.

Having flogged through the locks, and yes knackers and dead horses come to
mind we found ourselves in Port St Louis, the end in all ways. Seraphim
chugged to the sea, and thence to Port Napoleon in the Gulf de Gos where
the mosquitoes chew on a choice of petrochemical waste, for breakfast.

Initially our worst fears seemed confirmed when the girls in the Port
Napoleon marina office could not find, nor seemed much interested in
finding our much-missed- mast. The manager put down the secretary with
whom he was flirting, and pointed to a map of the marina shrugging, “It
should be there”. Titters from the gigglet.  John hunted it down. It was a
huge relief to be in the “yacht” orientated establishment.

The Costa Brava is now on our horizon where the The Bay of Roses has
captivating anchorages galore, and then, Barcelona, Ibiza, and on. Off from
Cape D’Agde on the edge of France. If the world is round we’ll be in Spain
by the weekend.

With love John, Nicola and Jack.

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