10 June, 2011

That’s not a lock, this is a lock

Bollene Lock
The first lock we entered at Vallabregues has a lift height of 12.7 m and is quite long and deep, well yesterday we entered a real lock, the deepest lock in Europe at Bollene on the Rhone.  It rises and falls a massive 26m.  It was completed in 1952 and is suppose to have an art deco style but to me it is just a great big cavern that you enter with the sunlight way above.  It is now not the deepest lock in Europe with one in Portugal at Douro being deeper and of course since 2003 the Chinese have built a deeper one in the Yangtse Gorge.
Floating bollard
We arrived and had to wait tied up down stream.  A large hotel boat came out and we thought we would enter but the red and green lights turned back to red and the doors closed.  Almost two hour later the doors opened and we steamed into the bottom of this massive narrow lock with green slimy sides and tied up against the starboard wall.  At points on the wall there were small leaks into the lock creating a water spout onto the boat - an unexpected shower.  We were the only vessel as the siren sounded and the water started to entre the lock from under the surface.  Relatively smooth and calm but it must be a huge volume of water rushing in because the water level rises faster than you think.  Faster than when you fill a bucket of water from a tap and much faster than when you fill a bath.  You just move up the wall from the bottom of the cavern into the sun light 26 m above.  A seven story building.
In 1998 while a house boat was in the lock the main up river gate unexpectedly opened at speed and a wall of water rushed in filling the lock in an instant.  The house boat was smashed and sunk and the lady owner drowned in the swirl of water.  Thankfully the cause has been rectified and this can’t happen today but the thought did go through my mind what to do if the water rushed in.  You now have to wear life jackets (PFD) in all Rhone locks.
I hope I have captured the feeling in my youtube video here    Youtube video
Having had to wait at both lock we were behind schedule and did not want to rush to reach Viviers so we gently cruised past the Macoule nuclear power station that provide most of France with electricity.  This one was completed in 1956 and is still going strong cooled by the water of the Rhone.  We tied to the banks of the Rhone at two pylons and settled down for the night to be disturbed by a very large barge racing to get to the Bollene lock before it closed for the night.  We rocked and rolled at the wake washed past us.

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