23 August, 2011

Rain and River Levels

This spring has been the driest in living memory here in the French country side. It got so bad during June that the VNF authorities closed the Lateral Canal to vessels drawing more than 1.6 meters. It was a great blow to Sundancer II who where just about to enter the canal when they were turned back. We heard of this restriction and passed it on to a few other yachts heading to Paris. They heeded the advice and rerouted through the Canal de la Marne or Champagne et Bourgogne. Because of our draft we had no option but to take this latter canal. It has a published depth of 2.2m but during the summer people say one can only take a vessel with a depth of less than 1.8 through this canal Our friends Forever and Isis draw more than that and they got all the way to Paris so our setback at Langre was not entirely dependent upon the depth of the canal but in the height of the water between the locks. Sounds strange well as a lock opens the water flows down hill drains the water, a lockfull at a time from the upside of the lock. Now the more opening and closing of the locks the more water flowing down hill. You may well ask where does the water come from at the top of the mountain. In the case of our locks there are three large reservoirs supplying water to the canal system. The authorities have to monitor the flow and the levels all the time. We just struck it on an unluckily period when we where in Langre in that the pond was empty because so many vessels had passed through the system. But it happened to us again with far greater consequences.

On our way back to the mouth of the Rhone while in the Saone we stopped at St Jean de Losne and tried to tie up against the stepped mooring place. We could not get close enough to come alongside so we put our nose in and ran aground with about 1.5 meters from the bank. No problems we put the ladder down and stepped shore. This is a free mooring place so we decided to spend a few days relaxing and walking to the marine up the Canal de Bologogne. This is a major stopping place for charter boats and for the sale of barges plus the repair of others. We walked around a got a feel for the price of old barges suitable to travel up and down the shallow canals.

After three days we decided to leave after breakfast but to my horror during the night the water level had dropped more than 200 mm. We here high and dry. Malua would not move on here keel and the water was at least 50mm below the normal water line boot top. I pulled on the mooring line but Malua would not budge. We had breakfast and contemplated the situation only to realize that the water was rising around us. Someone in the VNF had gone to sleep on the job during Saturday night and forgotten to turn the tap on to let water into this section of the river. On waking on Sunday morning he must have realised his mistake because the water was rising before my very eyes. Now we all know that a kettle takes longer to boil if you watch it and the tide doesn't rise as high if you watch its, the same can be said for the water level in a canal pond, so we took our bikes of the foredeck and went for a ride up the very shallow and narrow Canal du Rhone au Rhine.

It was a lovely experience cycling along the canal knowing we would not have the challenge of the locks.

When we returned to Malua she had risen from the mud and was now afloat in a few centimetres of water. Not wanting to challenge the gods again we moved away from the bank and came up alongside an Australian barge Matilda who let us moor up against then with .400mm under the keel. That night I rocked and rolled to sleep to the gentle movement of the water in the Saone. What a great feeling.

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