It was a fabulous day on the Rhone River! We departed Avignon at 7:32 AM and spent the next eleven hours slogging upstream for 55.3 nautical miles; lifted through three locks, traversed a gorge, and configured our own Med-mooring at a closed marina. Many highlights throughout the day and great scenery along the way.One-hour after departure, nothing like a lock to get your blood pumping first thing in the morning! Ecluse d’Avignon with a max lift of 10 meters (32 ft). This lock happened upon us before coffee. We’d forgotten to wear our life jackets but once inside a pre-recorded in French, English, and German announcement loudly and politely reminded us that life jackets are mandatory inside of the lock. Breakfast just afterward by a riverside chateau. Nice to see some traffic on the Rhone today. Many passenger vessels passed between Avignon and Viviers; the town of Viviers is a stop along several cruises. Actually spotted four pleasure vessels, traveling downstream of course.
Along the right bank, Le Chateau de Montfaucon. Ooh and just ahead, lock number two! Ecluse de Caderousse with a max lift of 9.5 meters (31 ft).The quaint town of Saint Etienne would prove a nice stop to take advantage of the wine co-op and fill our empty nooks and crannies with bottles. However, Saint Etienne does not have any pontoons available at this time in order to secure the boat for a safe stop. So we continued past, carefully avoiding much debris that littered the water through this stretch. Various sizes of logs, branches, and wood drifted downstream. Good thing we’ve had some practice avoiding lobster pots in Maine! The approach to the Ecluse de Bollene; once the deepest lock in Europe. This lock is MASSIVE having a max lift of 23 meters (75 ft)! We tied to the plaisance pontoon to await our turn for locking while a passenger vessel squeezed itself out through the lock.Entering Ecluse de Bollene was as if we’d transported ourselves into a rain forest; dripping wet, slimy walls, dimmed light, cool air, cavernous echos. We would lock through alone. Detour was secured to a floating bollard with a breast line and stern line; this configuration has resulted in less swing. The gate closed. Up, and up…Halfway up, this is starting to look like a usual lock of only 10-15 meters lift. The lock creaked and moaned all the while it filled with water. Eerie sounds echoed all around us. It was a smooth locking aside from some turbulent water forcing our bow away from the wall. Brian kept the bow thruster down to manage swing rather than play with the lines. The bow thruster worked beautifully, but the incessant, shrill, “BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!” to remind us that is is down simply has to go! It did it’s job, turning our attention away from the lock’s moans and focusing us on the fact that the bow thruster was indeed down. I think a flashing red light would work just as nicely. At the top of the lock, the fabulous view of a nuclear power station. One seems to lurk behind every lock wall. And we’d been lifted above the level of the roadway, seeing the top halves of a shopping mall just beyond the canal knoll. Quite the first highlight of the day, but not the last! Break for lunch. I prepared one of our classic underway meals, salmon and caper salad, which we spread on little toasts. This had always been a simple and fulfilling meal when the seas were rough. Today, we were just hungry!The second highlight of the day was traversing the Donzere Gorge. This was another horror section, as presented in cruising guides, but the caution here is truly current. The Donzere Gorge is the narrowest natural gorge on the Rhone. Water levels on the raging river are managed by flood gates at the southern end of the gorge. When the Rhone River is manageable, however, the serene beauty of the gorge does distract from the fact that your end destination lie just at the northern end of this 4 kilometer (2.4 mile) stretch; even though a 3 to 4-knot current consistently slows your arrival. The Rhone’s flow rate on the date we traversed the Donzere Gorge was roughly 1,000 cubic meters per second. The grande finale of the day’s trip upstream was our arrival at Viviers. We’d anticipated a small pleasure boat harbor yet ample space for maneuvering and docking based on the photograph in Jean Morlot’s Carto-guide Fluvial Le Rhone. The harbor is located behind a passenger vessel quay, and the carto-guide provided specific instructions for entering the harbor between the navigational marks (because that is, after-all, the purpose of navigational marks). Everything was very evident upon our arrival except for one tiny detail – each and every slip at the pleasure boat harbor was raised out of the water. Had we arrived too early for spring? Brian and I debated continuing upstream to spend the night at the plaisance pontoon of the next lock. But we really wanted to visit Viviers; the passenger vessel quay full of cruise lines confirmed this would be worth the stop! So we improvised, and created our own Med-mooring style slip between two raised finger piers by tying off to the cement wall and to a starboard side cement piling. We were thrilled with this particularly because we had just enough water with a completely raised centerboard to stay afloat in 0.9 meters (nearly 3 ft). As we learned the following morning, the pleasure boat harbor is closed so that it can be dredged to maintain 2 meters (6 ft) of water below the slips; so as not to endanger any boats the harbor will remain closed until it receives permission to dredge which via French bureaucracy could take a very long time. But, “Since you are here,” we were told, “it is ok to stay, no charge.”