Continuing upstream on the Rhone River, we approached the town of Tarascon at kilometer marker 270 (PK270). River traffic remained light and we proceeded beneath the first of a series of three bridges. Jean Morlot’s Carto-Guide Fluvial (published by Vagnon) for Le Rhone forewarned us to anticipate strong current between the next two bridges at Tarascon. Additionally, log notes contributed to the Euro Canals online guide (to which we’ve subscribed) from an upstream cruiser for this very same section of the Rhone mentioned, “Largely a good trip. …worst spot at PK267.7 [second Tarascon bridge], the old railway bridge, huge whirlpools pulled the boat around big time, otherwise not too bad.” Sometimes reference guides are just plain scary! Yes, the current was increasing as we approached the bridges. As we got a first look ahead my response to Brian went something like, “Umm, which do you prefer? Spin through a huge whirlpool or challenge those rapids!?” Some whirlpools were spotted between the bridges, but none large enough to toss us around much. The current maxed at about 3 knots. We have been monitoring the river flow rates on the Compagnie Nationale du Rhône website www.inforhone.fr. This website was found through french-waterways.com; an excellent, online source for all aspects of travel on the European Inland Waterways. On the day we passed through the flow rate was 1254 cubic meters per second at Beuacaire-Tarascon. There is no direct conversion from cubic meters to the current, just a general trend that more water means more current. We have been tracking the water levels for several weeks and this was the lowest level we had seen so far. At the beginning of April the flow rates had been as high as 3200 cubic meters per second. Brian steered steadily through and just afterward had a moment to glance at the port side landscape where a group of 4-wheelers went whizzing past castle walls that stood tall beyond the trees.That scene would have been impressive, except that the next bit of landscape to our starboard side was actually a waterfront castle; that of King Rene in the town of Beaucaire. Sliding through current (just a sliver of the centerboard is down), gawking at a medieval castle, talk about action! We were not even prepared for the next sight; ahead a wall abruptly ended our river route. This is the view from downstream of the Ecluse de Beaucaire, our second lock of the day. I hailed the lock keeper on VHF 20 and received an immediate response. However, the French/English communication was very muffled over the radio. I panicked! What exactly was he speaking? I could not clearly decipher the words. I tried all of my limited, maritime vocabulary. “Plaisance Detour, oui? Ehhh, plaisance Detour, no?” The lock light signal was a red and a green light which means stop, but get ready to get underway. The lock gate, once finally spotted just beyond the bend (far left of the above photo it is hidden by a tree), was closed. Over the VHF the keeper’s muffled yell, “Pontoon! Pontoon! You understand?” Huge sigh of relief, I deciphered the word pontoon! “Oui,” I replied, “pontoon, oui.” Against the 3 knots of current, with a bit of help from a starboard cross wind, Brian briskly docked Detour at the pontoon available for waiting pleasure craft. At the pontoon we waited; all the while pondering what our next instruction might be. The light signal on the lock changed from a red and a green to just a red. This means stop. There was a commercial vessel waiting also just ahead of us. How big was the lock? Would we both fit? Commercial vessels have priority, would we continue to wait until it locked through? Did the lock keeper need to know any details about our boat? How do we tie to a vertical wall? We rigged the boat with fenders on both sides and a dockline at each cleat. Then, inhaled deeply, sat down, and awaited the lock keeper’s call on the VHF. Sure enough, he hailed us and through the muffled transmission I heard, “10 MIN-OOTE! 10 MIN-OOTE!” I confirmed. We were ready, on standby while we watched as a passenger vessel traveling downstream crept out of the lock.As the passenger vessel pulled away, the light signal on the lock changed once again to a red and a green. We prepared to cast off the docklies and the commercial vessel ahead of us proceeded. We were already making way toward the lock when the light signal changed to a green. Inside we found a floating bollard on the wall. This was an, “Ah Hah!” moment. That’s how we tie to a wall! Our previous lock experience in the Dismal Swamp Canal on the Intracoastal Waterway was miniature in comparison; our lines were run to two bollards atop the lock and we adjusted lines as our boat was dropped. Inside the Ecluse de Beaucaire, however, there was no reaching the top! After multiple, lasso-style attempts were made between us both, we managed to secured a breast line and then bow line to the bollard. Note to selves: must search the boat for a boat hook or register for the nearest cowboy training course ASAP. We had ample space between us and the commercial vessel ahead. Boat secure, we took a moment once again for a deep breath…and looked UP!
The Ecluse de Beaucaire has a max lift of 15 meters (45 feet). Water rushed into the lock and Detour steadily moved higher and higher along the wall. We had to keep a close watch on the bow; it wanted to turn into the wall, and so to avoid the mast crashing into the wall we’d give a gentle push against the wall every few moments to push the bow back out again. It is difficult to keep the boat from rotating when tied to one single bollard. After this lock, we’d found that a breast line and stern line helped to reduce the boat’s rotation. Locks, sure we can do locks! The process went smoothly and as we exited the lock I hailed the keeper, “Merci Beaucoup!” and received a very clear, “Au revoir, bon voyage,” in response. It was a very short trip just ’round the river bend to our stop that night at Vallabregues Halte Fluviale. There was not an available slip for us, in fact one section of the docks was roped off completely. I would describe the status of these mostly motorboats as “liveaboard” in a Floridian style although much less sinking. The docks were well maintained and backed against a beautiful public park and river trail. Those boaters who were at home aboard came rushing dockside to help us. We tied fast to the unprotected (lacking fenders and open to weather) side of a long dock. The curious helpers asked from where we had traveled, from where we are from, and confirmed that for just one night there was no need to contact the Capitinaire. They opened the gate for us at the shore end of the dock, warned us not to close it because it does lock, and directed us toward the town. Boaters at the aid of boaters seems to be universal! And so the end to our first, 11-hour day upstream on the Rhone River. We took a stroll through town, ate supper, and slept soundly (until a giant wake from a passing commercial vessel awoke us at about 1:30-something in the morning)!