Thursday, 2 February 2012

In Deep Water ! (but obviously not deep enough....)

La Loire, longest river in France and probably the most capricious. Winding it's way north over 1000 km's from the Massif Central to Orleans where it then cuts west and heads out to the Atlantic Ocean. Shallow in summer and often in full flood during the winter she is tricky to navigate in any season.

So the first challenge was to get La Sterne off her winter mooring in the Port of Le Thoureil. A bit of a tight squeeze but with a few reverse thrusts of the engine we edged our way slowly out into the current.

We left the port of Le Thoureil in sun but although the forecast looked good there were ominous clouds on the horizon.

The river was beautiful, calm and as smooth as ice as we made our way past St Maur's and the little port of La Menitré.

"There is plenty of water at the moment" - everyone had advised us before our trip. But still we felt safe knowing we had taken copies of the flow of the river and it's sandbanks on google maps. Cunningly storing them on the iPad we had devised a sort of marine offline GPS!

Safely navigating the waters under the bridge at St Mathurin, always a challenge as the current speeds up here and spits you out the otherside!

Direction La Bohale and pretty clear sailing so far with lowest reading of 1.1 metres on the depth sounder at the shallowest points. We need a minimum draft of 0.60m to clear the sands. So at this point we are still feeling pretty chipper. That was until we hit the sandbank. The 'sonder' had been reading 1.2m ish but it was already too late (And, no, we weren't waving to friends on the shore) as we grounded 6 tons of 'toue cabanée' into the sand at a depth of only 0.20m of water. No amount of pushing with poles and gaffes was going to free her. We were well and truly stuck.

There aren't many boats out on the Loire at this time of year. Usually how lucky were we to find the gabare, La Nonchalante, making her way up stream to her winter mooring in St Hilaire-St Florent. Somehow their noble crew managed to miraculously navigate the shallows and after several attempts holding her off against the current managed to throw us a line. Within seconds we were pulled off the sandbank and floating free. The crew of La Nochalante are probably still waiting in the bar for the drink we owe them but we never made it back that evening.

Hail and dark clouds descend as La Nochalante follows us back up stream. La Sterne was struggling against the current with a blocked filter full of sand and soon an alarm was going off in the cabin signaling engine problems.

Don't panic we'll just take a few photos of rainbows and hope the alarm stops ;) - no seriously it was time to moor up and sort out the problem before the engine completely exploded.

We managed to come alongside the quay in St Mathurin and moor up. Time to take stock and let the adrenalin levels subside for a moment. In fact let's stop here the night and sort the engine out in the morning in a calm manner. We like this idea as there are a couple of good restaurants in St Mathurin and we were ready for a glass of wine!

Took some amazing riverside strolls and watched the sunset over 'La Loire.'

Idyllic place to stop for the night with the boat well protected out of the current.

We were greeted by the most amazing sunrise the next morning over the bow of the boat.

Whilst Sue enjoyed a cup of tea all warm and cosy in the bunk.....

....I pretended to know what I was doing to fix a Yamaha 50cv engine!

Clear blue skies but the wind is getting very cold.

Having effected the engine repairs by un-blocking the filter and adding more oil to the engine (just in case this might help) we decided we would head back to port at Le Thoureil. The forecast was about to turn nasty and we didn't want to risk getting stuck so we started to head for home.

Back in home waters and sailing round the Ile de Baure.

Returning back to the Port waters starting to get a little choppy.

Pheeew just got La Sterne back on her mooring in time for the snow to start falling.

Getting chilly!

We managed to track down La Nochalante in the snow a fews days later and left a case of wine on board. Our thanks go out to the crew for helping us out of what could have been a long cold wait in the middle of the Loire had they not been passing by and willing to help us out.

If you want to experience life on the Loire in warmer conditions then why not join us on one of our Boat & Wine Tours. More details can be found on the link here. Happy Sailing!!