Aramon is a great little port but as it’s only a set of pontoons in the river it is exposed to the wake of passing barges, cruise ships and any passing pleasure boat. The Rhone is not hugely busy at this time of year but there is enough traffic to mean you are frequently rocked about and at one point our beloved tiffany-type wheelhouse lamp fell over. Luckily, I was there to catch it and it is now safely stowed for the rest of the journey to Auxonne.
We hadn’t seen anyone from the Capitainerie to take our fees until about 6pm on day 2 when a guy sheepishly came out from his very large barge moored on the inside of the pontoon, asked how long Thirza was and then pointed to the appropriate nightly rate on his fee matrix. €74.50 per night!! HOW MUCH??? We were outraged – we only paid €30.00 to stay in Avignon on the way down – a historically important city with a very safe and comfortable harbour, not a backwater one-horse town where you are woken at least 4 times a night with passing ships!! He was very embarrassed about the cost, said that everyone complains about it and offered for us to stay 3 nights for the price of 2.
This was still extravagant in our view and we declined his offer. I then said that Thirza was only just 15m – couldn’t he see his way to dropping us into the category below so our nightly rate was €40 instead. He readily agreed to this and I took €80.00 out of the ships purse and told him we’d decided to take him up on his 3 for 2 offer. He hesitated a moment and I thrust cash in his direction saying I didn’t care what he put on his paperwork about when we arrived, when we intend to leave or how big our boat is, it was up to him.
That swung it, he took the cash and recorded us as staying just 2 nights in our now 14.5m boat. Peace was restored.
We spent a relaxing few days in Aramon during their festival weekend (eating the most amazing pizza from a mobile van!), grooming the dogs and playing with the new dinghy .
We headed off first thing Monday morning……in a Mistral. For the uninitiated, a Mistral is a very strong Northerly wind that blows consistently for about 2 days. The skies are always azure blue without a cloud, a real defining feature of a Mistral.
We had the dinghy fastened to the handrail of the scooter platform to try and keep it in the lee of Thirza’s stern and for a few hours everything was fine. Then, as I watched, the dinghy rose up at the bow, took off and flipped over. As soon as I saw this happening I called to Frank to stop and he pulled Thirza’s throttle into neutral. It was enough to take the pressure off. Inflatable dinghies go through the water lovely when they are the right way up. When they are the wrong way up the amount of drag is tremendous and it wouldn’t take much to snap the ropes.
The trouble was that now Thirza was no longer underway her bow was being pushed round by the force of the wind so Frank had to quickly get back to the helm to straighten her up, leaving me with the task of righting the dinghy myself in 40 odd knots of wind. I managed it thankfully and we soon had it alongside, away from the wind where we could keep a closer eye on it. Despite that, twice it lifted again with the threat of taking off and when we were held at the next lock for an hour (Ecluse de Caderousse) we used the time to deflate the dinghy and pack it away. It is a good safety measure having your dinghy inflated whilst on the big rivers, and certainly on the sea, but when it becomes its own hazard then you have to make a judgement call.
When the weather improves we’ll re-inflate it and tow it again but until then it is on the back deck out of harm’s way.
We had left Aramon at about 9am (Monday 2nd Sept) and decided we didn’t want such a long day but mooring possibilities on the Rhone are dire. We are members of the Dutch Barge Association and they have long been appealing to the VNF to do something to improve this but so far they have done little. We aimed for Port2 about 4kms up the river l’Ardoise off the Rhone and arrived there at about 4:30pm. We had tried to call ahead but the Capitanerie appeared to be closed and all the way up we wondered if there would be anywhere for us to berth. With the dinghy now deflated anchoring was out of the question – there’s no way Bosun would lower himself to wee on the deck although Brody certainly wouldn’t have such reservations!
As we battled current and wind I secretly wondered why on earth we were putting ourselves though this and my anxiety grew apace with the increasing wind when Frank joked that there would be an empty hammerhead pontoon waiting for us right next to a bar and a boulangerie that would open at 8am the next morning. Yeah, right!
As we approached the port I strained to see through the binoculars what opportunities there might be for us when a woman appeared on the end of what was increasing looking like an empty hammerhead pontoon beckoning us to moor there. What luck! She introduced herself as the harbourmaster, in excellent English, and said she would be in the Capitanerie after 5:30pm. When I took the dogs for much needed shore leave I looked into the office built on a large pontoon and saw not only the office but tourist information and ………… a bar!!
After dinner we went to pay our €20.00 for the night (come on Aramon, get with the programme!) and decided to put some money over the bar and have a couple of bevvies. There we met Benjamin, the partner of our lady harbourmaster and an ex-pilot. Ben was an interesting guy and also had an excellent command of the English language. Good job really or it would have been a quick natter about the weather rather than an hour or so of conversation. And to top it off, after he’d explained that the nearest town was several kilometres away, he offered to pick up some bread in the morning and drop it to the boat between 8 and 8:30am. Ok, so now this really was looking like someone from above had intervened and made sure we were looked after. Thanks Mum!
At 8:30 sharp the next morning we left the port in similar weather that we had arrived in. Again, we vowed to stop as soon as we saw a viable mooring but as the day wore on and the wind continued it’s relentless blow we came to realise that it was going to be Viviers or a holding pontoon for the lock. If you are going to use a lock holding pontoon your timing has to be perfect. You have to get there before another boat takes the berth and after the locks have closed to pleasure boats, 9pm, otherwise they will simply lock you through and insist you keep moving.
As it turned out we snuck beautifully into a berth in Viviers at 8:30pm (well done Frank!) just as the light was fading and immediately set off in search of food, which we found in a lovely little restaurant called Le Ginger. Frank had steak and I had a burger – both flame grilled and cooked to perfection! Perhaps it was just the long day, but we both devoured our meal and the accompanying carafe of wine!
Wednesday morning, Frank walked the dogs and paid the harbour fees (€20.00 again) while I headed to the supermarket to stock up before heading out on the next leg. We are currently in 38C heat, no wind at all and getting a wonderfully impressive 7kms up the Rhone. We really didn’t think we would get that speed so we are delighted.
We were held up for an hour at both the Chateauneuf and Logis Neuf locks and we were unable to use the holding pontoon at either of them as other boats were already there. It makes for a longer and more tiring day when that happens but there is nothing you can do about it.
We passed a new marina at Port de Cruas because it didn’t look viable for us – small and tight spaces that would have been challenging with a bow thruster so not worth the risk without one. The next possible stop was at Le Pouzin where I had marked the chart on the way down to say there was a potential overnighter up a small tributary. It worked out great with us being just off the main drag of the Rhone and next to the town’s sports and activities facilities, which meant we were nowhere near traffic. The dogs could get off and run around to their hearts content and we sat on deck enjoying the last of the sun on what had been a scorching hot day.
As we sat there a few cars arrived, some parking next to the canoe shed and some next to the music hall adjacent to the quay. A guy got out of his car and came over to compliment Thirza and to say it was good to see a boat here. We conversed in simple french and then he asked if we liked figs. Yes we do. He went back to his car and brought out a tray of figs from his garden and presented it to us. I went to take one and he pushed the whole tray towards me and said “non, tous” and I accepted all of the figs with thanks. He suggested that I put them in the fridge to cool down, wished us a “bon soiree” then headed off with his trumpet to make a racket for the next hour and half. It was actually lovely sitting there listening to the brass band practice in a beautiful setting.