Sloggin' Up the Rhone

  Monday, May 18, 2015 / Stephanie / Sailing  

The morning we set out from Port l'Eperviere we had a lovely farewell from SY Kristiane and SY Just 4 Fun.  We sang, "Les Americans, Les Americans!" waving to our new friends as we departed the entrance channel; this happy tune had been sung to us at Viviers by some jovial, retirees ending their walking tour past our boat and we'd shared the story with our friends.  Americans are rarely spotted on the Rhone River.  Our spirits were UP, ready to move once again...but the Rhone was also UP...we turned to starboard, nose into current, our progress stalled. Forty-five minutes later, finally Port l'Eperviere was out of view.  We'd moved from kilometer 112 (PK112) to kilometer 110 (PK110), roughly one-mile, and the Pont de Valence (bridge) was staring us in the face.  Detour's SOG (speed over ground) was a whopping 0.1-0.3 knots as we battled the current beneath the bridge running the engine at 2,500 rpm's.  Not good.  Somehow we made it through, but we weren't sure if we should turn back around.  Just beyond the bridge, however, was the Ecluse de Bourg-les-Valence.  We thought if we could make it through the lock, we'd catch a break in the current on the other side in the derivation.  Thankfully, the current eased and we did continue although only moving SOG 1.5-2 knots.  It would be a very long, short day.We moved upstream in slow motion.  Much debris was coming down the river and Detour dodged logs, branches, and piles of sticks and grass as if playing a game of Frogger, sliding right and left as the debris passed us by.  The auto-pilot, we've named Champ, had difficulty managing the push and tug from the current and often Brian and I took turns hand steering. Watching the riverbanks made us dizzy!  When we'd passed a side-arm river, the Isere, the amount of debris lessened as did the current.  Just beyond kilometer 101 (PK101) we had a mini-celebration as we crossed the latitude line of 45-degrees north; our farthest north! The landscape had changed.  The hillsides were now terraced with vineyards.  As we passed through the town of Tournon, there was much to see and plenty of time to look.  We hoped Tournon would provide a stop (there are few and far between on the Rhone).  Here a famous winery, Tain l'Hermitage, is on the east bank of the river.  Unfortunately the plaisance harbor was not much of a harbor at all.  It was narrow, and potentially shallow as the guide warned, and was not at all protected from the wash of passing vessels.  The harbor was rather a jetty, concrete pillars with wooden boards between just above the water line.  Behind the jetty was a quay.  We were far too large to maneuver between the jetty and the quay, and certainly not during the present circumstances of the river's current.  We passed beneath two bridges at Tournon; the current was running at 6-knots and we were maxing a speed of 7-knots through the water translating to only 1-knot or less SOG.  Clear of the bridges, we wiped the sweat from our brows and scanned the guide once again for potential stops ahead. The King's Table; a rock mid-river that is typically visible was completely submerged.Through the Ecluse de Gervans another upstream derivation cut us a break as the current eased between 4-5 knots.  We shared the lock with a motor yacht, one we'd only briefly met at Port l'Eperviere prior to our departure.  A retired pilot had recently purchased the motor yacht was was taking it north.  He blew past us just before passing through Tournon and threw such a wake that our mast rocked back and forth in its supports.  Yikes!  A wake like that in the Intracoastal Waterway would definitely have received some VHF bad-mouthing!  He was held-up at the lock due to an upstream traveling tanker; which had also passed us, traveling at about the same speed as us and not making such a wake despite a narrow channel.  You cannot occupy the lock with a vessel if it is carrying any hazardous materials, so the motor yacht was at the plaisance pontoon when we arrived.  After a smooth locking he sped off again.   Very relieved to finally find a safe pontoon, and availability for one other vessel for there was already a catamaran docked, we stopped at Saint Vallier and called it quits!  The following morning was equally disappointing.  The mighty Rhone was running strong and from the start we were seeking potential stops.  Debris continued to flow downstream.  Our goal was the town of Condrieu; a Port de Plaisance was listed in the guide and our friends back in Valence had positive reviews about the town and port.   When we reached the town of Andance, we questioned our ability to continue.    Approaching the bridge, a whirlpool caught the stern of the boat and swiftly pushed it aside.  It happened so quickly as if we'd hit a patch of ice and fishtailed.  There was an inviting pontoon, but we'd only traveled a measly four-miles.  If the river was to keep rising, that pontoon would not offer us much comfort or protection.  And if the river was to keep rising, soon we'd not be able to move upstream!   We discovered that the current was not as strong along the banks; but had to be cautious, although the depth enabled us to hug the banks we could not stray from the marked channel due to submerged breakwaters.  At the Ecluse de Sablons, another northbound plaisance vessel eased our discomfort from the day's trials.  If they can make it, we can make it!  We waved hello to the couple aboard a Danish flagged motor yacht (or sailing yacht converted to motor yacht, undetermined).  Atop the Ecluse de Sablons encouragement once again from a derivation.  We were nearing Condrieu.A herd of donkeys was a pleasant distraction, again plenty of time to look as we slogged upstream.  I took about 20 photos with the zoom lens, but I'll spare you my love of donkeys.   A sign perhaps?  Around the bend and beneath the Pont de Condrieu we'd find the entrance for the Port de Plaisance.  As we rounded the corner, that blasted current increased!  So close... We watched as the motor yacht ahead of us fishtailed, stalled, fishtailed, pushed, stalled, fishtailed its way beneath the bridge.  Brian actually slowed down to give more space between our two yachts, just in case the motor yacht was pushed backwards.  Brian steered vigilantly and Detour held steady.  I watched intently from atop the deck at mid-ship as the motor yacht slid into the port's entrance.  All we had to do was make it inside without hitting anything, just make it inside and we'd be free from this awful river!  We did make it through, into the port and had our selection of slips.  This was a great relief because there was also a current streaming through the port, and we made several attempts at two different slips before finally getting backed into a space.  The bow thruster was the savior!  Stopped.  Secured.  PHEW!  We'd made port just before an actual lock-down; that afternoon the locks closed to pleasure vessels.  The Rhone was flooding.


  1. From Mary Marie on May 20, 2015

  2. From Scott Kuhner on May 19, 2015
    We love following your posts. After reading your trials about running against the current, now I don't feel bad about not being able to take Tamure on the same route as you have done..