The Mighty Rhone River

  Friday, April 24, 2015 / Stephanie / Sailing  

It was 6:00 AM; I can't even remember the last time we'd witnessed this time of day. Midnight blue highlighted the horizon line, the morning sky above remained black. According to the European Waterways Regulations, pleasure craft are not to allowed to navigate in the dark.  We did not have far to travel prior to sunrise at 6:54 AM.  Brian fired up the engine and we made ready to release the dock lines from Port de Plaisance de Port St. Louis.  The navigation lights would not turn on; added to our checklist as a priority, still chasing some gremlins in the electrical system.  A mere quarter-mile away, directly across the basin from our slip, was the Port St. Louis du Rhone Sea Lock; the gateway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone River.  Entering the lock from the sea side, the first scheduled opening is at 6:30 AM.  We had a long day ahead having planned to travel 50 nautical miles.  Dock lines were released and we pulled forward out of the slip.  At 6:20 AM I hailed, "Ecluse Port St Louis," on the VHF and was relieved to receive a response from the lock keeper in English.  The bascule bridge began to lift and we awaited the green light to signal it was ok for us to enter the lock.  Our first attempt to tie to the wall did not go smoothly.  Brian maneuvered Detour farther forward to the next available bollard and I was able to hop up atop the wall and attach the bow line.  Brian secured the stern.The day's first lock was a success!  Ahead lies the Rhone River.  We will travel upstream on the Rhone.It was a chilly morning with partly cloudy skies and a light, north-northwest wind.  We passed through the Camargue Region on this section of the Rhone River.  Below, the photo depicts a pile of salt harvested from Camargue salt ponds.Here come the Americans, traveling not the recommended route!  Although, many pleasure craft do travel upstream it is not the common route through the rivers and canals.  Most cruisers travel south, intending to leave Northern Europe to enjoy the sunshine and warmer Mediterranean waters. Spring was literally in the air; white, fluffy pollen was free-floating bound for wherever the breeze would take it.Giraffe accompanied me for my first lesson on our new instruments.  Brian showed me how to read the AIS displayed on the iPad screen.  It was quite simple, very similar to reading a radar screen but now displaying approaching ships and indicating each ship's name, speed, course, etc.  The AIS provides security knowing exactly what is approaching; although each ship does not transmit, most do and this allows us ample time to adjust our course to get out of the way. I also familiarized myself with the autopilot.  It can change our course by one-degree at a time or ten-degrees at a time toward either direction.  To self-steer, simply put the autopilot on standby.  At first, I was a bit resistant to relying on the autopilot.  But by simply pressing a button we can steer with ease!  No more fiddling with a windvane for minutes upon minutes, tweaking lines this way and that.  This "grown-up" boat continues to astound me!  Our first commercial vessel of the day, heading downstream.  Detour is a little guy, a pleasure craft, which always yields to commercial traffic.  Per the typical rules of the road, get the heck out of the way for big ships!  On the European Waterways, the rules of the road regarding passing are that vessels traveling upstream give way to those traveling downstream; passing port to port unless otherwise indicated by sound signals or VHF radio communication.The Terrin Passage; our first significant current at 3 knots.  This narrow passage on the right bank of the Rhone is clearly buoyed and it is recommend that vessels remain within the channel at all times.  The banks of the rivers and canals are a fixed frame of reference.  When facing downstream, the left-hand bank is to your left and the right-hand bank to your right.   [caption id="attachment_747" align="alignnone" width="700"] Speed Over Ground (SOG) 3.9 knots[/caption] [caption id="attachment_748" align="alignnone" width="700"] Actual Speed 6.5 knots[/caption] What better time for a commercial vessel, moving upstream, to pass but within the narrow Terrin Passage!  
This section of the Rhone was magnificently wide, the banks beyond the treeline were flanked with fields and vineyards.  It is important to note, also, the European buoyage to which we are adjusting.  When coming from the sea, red buoys mark the port side of the channel and green buoys mark the starboard side of the channel.  This is in direct conflict with our United States buoyage when incoming from the sea, "Red Right Returning."  There are kilometer markers along the riverbanks, such as the statute mile markers found along the Intracoastal Waterway in the United States.  These kilometer markers give us an easy chart reference as to our whereabouts, and keep us in check regarding our forward progression.  Traveling upstream the kilometer markers are descending.More to come during day number one...    


  1. From Stephanie Grandjean on Apr 26, 2015
    Maria & Patrick, I'll be talking about locking soon, as we encountered the first doozie on day #1! For now, in the Rhone, it's actually not any more difficult than docking. However the challenge becomes how to rig your lines around only one pivot point, a floating bollard, in order to prevent the boat from swinging too much. We are getting the knack for that!

  2. From Stephanie Grandjean on Apr 26, 2015
    Scott, we've been following your travels also. Thanks so much for your FB posts! We haven't touched bottom yet, but recently were docked with the centerboard UP in only 3ft of water. Love that centerboard! The river depths are quite stable in the marked channel and we've poked outside of the channel a few times to be well out of the way for commercial traffic. At one point, there was a 3-river split and it reminded me of the ICW in Georgia. The split was very clearly marked with navigational signs for "do not enter" and "continue this way." We hardly had to reference the chart book! I recalled in Georgia how many diversions there are from the Magenta Line; all charted you have to carefully look ahead before entering a river to check depth (minding the GA tide of course), to check if the river dead-ends, to check if the river outlets and/or rejoins the ICW. We'd taken quite a few short cuts in Georgia using the tides and charts. Here, none of the diversions are charted but the main route is certainly marked well!

  3. From Maria and Patrick on Apr 26, 2015
    Yep ! Here it's "Red, Right, Returning to Sea". How are you finding passing through the locks with just the two of you? We were warned that it wouldn't be easy with only 2 people.

  4. From Scott Kuhner on Apr 26, 2015
    We are now traveling of the ICW through Georgia. We have already touched bottom 3 times in as many days. Fortunately it was always soft mud or soft sand so we were able to power off. Your inland route sounds like much more fun.