06 August, 2011

Return to Base

Many great expeditions have had to turn back before reaching their stated goal because of lack of water.  For Malua’s 2011 trip up the French canals to Paris that decision was made when the water ran out at Langres in the middle of the French country side.  We had reached the Champagne district, the locks where all “avalant” or downhill and we could almost taste the salt of the sea but the water under the keel was just not enough.
We left the mooring at Langres soon after the sun came up and headed down river for the first time.  We had not gone more than 50 meters when Malua came to a sudden and abrupt halt.  No amount of power would move the vessel, not ahead or astern.  We were hard aground.  Luckily we were still in reach of the mooring quay and I was able to throw a line to our departing guests to secure it to a large boulder.  With the help of the Anderson electric winch and the grunt from the 50 hp Yanmar engine Malua slowly came off the sandbank in the middle of the canal.
Two further attempts close to the left and then the right bank gave the same result – 2.0 m draft will not go over a sandbank estimated to be 1.8 below the surface.  There was no immediate alternative, the result of removing weight from the boat has little effect on her draft and the thud when we went aground clearly indicated that the bottom was hard and not about to give. The water level in the canals was almost full so the dry summer that stymied Sundancer II passage to Paris was not the immediate cause.  The extra weight of the wine, cheese and champagne acquired on route could have played a part but the fact that the canal is rated by the VNF as 2.2 deep doesn’t mean that it is always that depth. Some guide books rate it at 1.8m!
We have travelled many kilometres in the “ Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne” with only 100mm under the keel and in places the depth sounder indicating 0.0 as we steamed along at 7 km/h parting the mud knowing that if you stop you may not restart and if the mud turns to sandbank your expedition is over.  It takes nerves of steel to keep that up day after day.
When the thud finally came we realized that we were not going to reach Paris in Malua this year.  We set our compass for the Mediterranean appreciating that a boat built for the Southern Oceans is not meant to travel through rural France – c’est la vie.

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