We arrived into Calais on a Sunday afternoon. All was quiet but there are now huge double fences with razor wire on top that extend for a couple of kilometres along both sides of the road. There is no way that anyone could get through, or over them. Refugees were out of sight except for a glimpse of tents and blue tarps behind a hill. A sole gendarme stood at the roadside overlooking the area.
As this leg would be a serious effort at gaining maximum kilometres, I suggested that we get some paddling in straight away. Trevor was enthusiastic, so we took the van to Le Touquet and headed up to Boulogne where I hit the water at about 5.00pm. With the wind behind me I expected a quick run down the coast to Le Touquet with sunset at 7.45pm. At a distance of less than 20km, a following breeze and the fly kayak sail helping progress what could go wrong, and what a great start to France!
The current was a bit strong off shore so I hugged the shore. Wind turbines broke the horizon which was to be the case all the way down the coast. A sandy beach ran back to green hills until they were broken by a village. Trevor was there and I confirmed all was good to get to Le Touquet just before sundown.
Away from the village the hills returned and the people disappeared from the beach. After half an hour something I had never seen before appeared all over the beach. Thousands of sticks about 150cm high and maybe 20cm apart were set vertically in sand. Because the tide was almost low all of the sticks were exposed. The tide difference for the day was 9m so there was a lot of beach. I think maybe they are for mussels but I don’t know.
With my attention drawn it took me a while to notice that something was happening about 200m out to sea. Small waves were breaking, probably indicating the strong current. After a couple of kilometres two figures appeared ahead on the sand about a kilometre ahead and a long way off shore. That didn’t seem right so I turned away from the land towards the waves. It was a sandbank and the kayak just scraped over it. Another few minutes and I would have needed to climb out and walk. Once out I sailed down past the guys who were collecting some sort of bait but were rapidly becoming difficult to see as the sun went down. The water that I had been on had been a dead end bay.
Before Le Touquet is a big estuary that I should have crossed because the GPS already registered 20km from the start. There was no sign of it though and I couldn’t see clearly enough to be certain that I was looking at the town of Le Touquet. It wasn’t long before the sun slowly sank in the west as they say. Yes, it was a great picture and it would have been quite romantic under different circumstance. Unfortunately I was in a strange country, well off the coast of a strange country in fact, and it was about to get dark.
I reckoned that I could see Le Touquet lights and knew where I had to go but there was no estuary. My experience with 9m tides was increasing. Good for future reference but not all that great at the time. We had not looked at the phases of the moon but we should have. It was a full moon. Saved. As the sun headed west below the horizon the big yellow orb rose up in the east and slowly turned white as it lit the landscape with its pale light. It was enough to see the waves and the sand but still no estuary.
Tracking south I needed to plan an entry into the lights but I was still about 2km west of them. How far to go? Where was the channel? A yellow buoy appeared about 300m away that I thought might indicate a channel because the moon was shining off the water to the north of the buoy. It didn’t look quite right so I discounted it as marking a channel and continued on, albeit a bit more slowly.
A shout from my left, “Steve!” Did I hear that? Another one, and then the yellow buoy moved. I paddled towards it and it raised its arms. It was Trevor in his jacket. What was he doing a mile offshore? It all slowly took shape, there he was on a beach, Le Touquet about 1.5km behind him and a lot of sand in between. What a long drag with the kayak, particularly as the wheels were not it. Who needs wheels in the sea!
Between the two of us we hauled it all the way to the car, checked the paddling distance at 27km, loaded up and headed for the nearest eating house that served beer. Apparently we were in a town popular with the English and met quite a few on the streets who told us the best pub to eat at. I saw steak on the menu, actually it said steak tartare but I thought tartare sauce might be nice on steak. Trevor agreed and had the same.
We now know what tartare means. It is raw. We had raw mince and chips. Surprisingly it was quite palatable. By the end of the pile of mince I was grateful for the experience, but not all that keen to try it again. In fact Trevor had to make me toughen up to take the last mouthful.
Next morning the walk across the beach to the water was just under a kilometre but with the wheels back on it was fine. The bounce down the stairs to the sand was no problem until we got to the water a kilometre away. No lunch box. Off went Trevor at a brisk trot, collected the lunch box and when he returned he had about 150m less to run. The tide was coming in that fast.
It was a bit tricky to get the balance right with the adverse current, enough wind and enough depth of water and whenever I drifted too far off the shore the penalty would be severe. Luckily with the GPS I could monitor my speed closely and rectify things whenever I made a mistake.
This seemed to be Sea Lion coast. A dark shape like a buoy would appear, and as I approached the head of a seal would materialise. Mostly they just watched, not like the shy creatures in England who took off immediately they saw me. Yesterday there had been a few about, but today they were everywhere. There was even a pair frolicking up ahead but when they saw me they swam out to the side to just sit and watch me go by.
Adverse current but favourable winds starting to pick up, temperature rising to about 17 degrees; that was a recipe for some fine gains if I could just keep out of the current. Hugging the coast closely I gradually picked up speed during the day with the sail doing a lot of work. The spray skirt was essential to keep the waves out of the cockpit but it was all very manageable until the first estuary crossing at Berck. The wind was slightly offshore until I headed out across the bay to where there was no shore. It was straight onto my left side which made it cold, wet and hard work. Relief came on the other side where I scooted along the sand as the tide was near full. There were a few walkers there but not many people and soon they disappeared as well as I headed in the direction of Quend.
The town of Quend stretches down to the beach. On the beach people lazed around in the sun, fully clothed of course because it was only about 15 degrees. Just after I passed a couple who had been taking photos with a mobile phone the guy shouted and waved. I waved back and thought nothing more of it but that night I received an email. He signed it Thierry Huet from Earth, and he congratulated me about the trip. I don’t know for sure that they were the same bloke but he said he saw me from Quend plage at 1.00pm which is the time and the place of the shout from the beach.
The buildings disappeared behind me, as did the people but a few hardy souls wandered the beach. There was even a bloke swimming. He walked out of the water and up the beach when I was still a few hundred yards away but as I got closer I could see he was fully naked. With the beach extending a long way ahead I needed to think about the next crossing which was further than the last one at Berck, and the L’Authie River ran into it which should make for an interesting current on the falling tide.
I rang Trevor to tell him that the wind was strong and the last crossing was a bit tough so I would head up the estuary a bit before crossing over. That made sense to him so although he was on the other side and around a curve about 10km he headed inland. The crossing wasn’t at all like I expected. Sand pushed due south and eventually turned into rocks. I was four kilometres from land and still my paddle hit rocks sometimes in the trough between waves. It was then that I noticed the current was really strong and pushing me towards England. It did not seem to be a great idea to let it take me so I crabbed across the estuary at 45 degrees whilst still sliding downstream. Near the other side when I knew I was safe I turned away from the wind, followed the curve of the land and allowed the sail to fill so that I swept along at about 13km/hr.
There were a lot of groins on a shingle beach and the waves dropped enough to call Trevor. He had gone upstream, reckoned the current was way too strong for a kayak, but waited until I arrived. Unfortunately I had arrived at the point that he had left an hour ago but neither of us knew that so confusion reigned. I told him that I could see cliffs in the distance that extended as far as the eye could see in a south westerly direction. That meant nothing to him but I gave him my co-ordinates which he put into the car GPS. Problem solved. I was near Ault, steep shingle beach, waves just big enough to be annoying so I landed on the beach as elegantly as I could and headed up to where Trevor was standing. He had just arrived and the car was over the other side of what turned out to be about a 5m levee.
It was on a rough road a few kilometres out of town but seemed to be a popular spot for walkers and fishers. On the way out we noticed a 2m high bar at the entrance to the road. It was turned out of the way, parallel with the road, which was important for the next day when the caravan would be on the car.
Luckily the bar stayed that way overnight and Trevor was able to drive all the way in, find a space just big enough to turn around and be ready to set off after despatching his cargo. When we got to the water I wasn’t entirely comfortable with what I saw. The forecast was for winds almost parallel with the coast but slightly offshore. “Nope,” I said to Trevor, “See how lumpy the sea is. Something is not right here.” As I sailed and paddled down the coast the wind increased in strength coming more from the north than the weather report had said, making it onshore rather than offshore. It made for a quicker trip but later in the day when it strengthened to 20 knots it certainly was a handful with trying to stay as close to the cliffs as possible to avoid the current and keep out of harm’s way.
At times a gully appeared between the cliffs, green with grass and trees, and even if it ended still 10m above the water somehow the locals had built houses and access to the beach. There is always plenty of beach at low tide but usually none at all at high tide so timing is everything if you wanted to plan a walk along the beach.
We had talked about stopping at Quiberville which was around the other side of a slight bump in the coastline and 48km from Ault. That is quite a distance but even with a slow start against the current and not a lot of wind, my speed would increase during the day to make it manageable.
After setting up camp at a place not far from Dieppe, our first experience of combined gender ablutions, Trevor chose a place close to him and about 10km north of Quiberville to check my progress. By that time though, the wind was blowing strongly and I was whooshing along at better than 10km/hr. It was cold and wet but good progress was everything. There was no phone conversation between us because the phone had to stay in the dry bag in the small compartment in front of the cockpit. It can only be used when there is no chance of capsize or of waves crashing over the kayak.
Peering along the beach at Quiberville I could see no yellow coat. After travelling as far as I thought advisable I made the decision to land on the downwind side of one of the concrete groins. The waves were about a metre high and smashing onto a pebble beach. Following behind the smallest wave I could find the kayak bounced sideways onto what I would call man sized pebbles, about 10cm diameter, slewed the bow into the concrete groin with a bump and I bounced out to drag the kayak out of reach of the next wave.
It was a struggle up the shingles, pebbles, bloody rocks, whatever they are called until I reached a concrete wall about 1m high. Behind it was a concrete path and behind that another wall and a drop of 3m to the road. I called Trevor who eventually drove over the hill, found me standing on the wall, picked me up and drove us back to the caravan park. As was to be the case until we got to Paris, the caravan park proprietors did not speak English. This is no problem to the intrepid Trevor though. Whilst you can’t say that his French is good, he can make himself understood with his vocabulary and gesticulations.
Next day to Fecamp was a similar story on the water to the previous day. Sunrise was about 8.00am so start time on the water was about 10.00am. By then the sun was warming the eight degree atmosphere, the wind was still relatively gentle and it wasn’t too bad putting my wet clothes back on. There wasn’t much point wearing dry ones when they would be wet within a few minutes and there is no-one on the seas to complain about the smell of a bloke with a four day shirt run.
I was a bit down because the COP21 Civil Society area people had rejected my application to exhibit the kayak somewhere. There reply showed that they had not read what I had said and just treated me as someone who wanted a booth.
The General Secretariat for the preparation and organization of COP21/CMP11 regrets to inform you that your proposal for an exhibition has not been accepted.
This decision is based both on the set of criteria set out in the call for projects and on the great number of projects submitted to the General Secretariat.
The General Secretariat thanks you for supporting the success of COP21/CMP11 and hopes to count you among the visitors to the climate Generations areas.
My first response was quite negative I have to say, but it didn’t last long and I started to formulate other plans.
While I was enjoying the spectacular scenery on the water Trevor had his own adventure getting to the caravan park. It is at Caudebec-en-Caux, on the Seine but still very close to the coastal route. The GPS took him up a small road overlooking the park. When it came to a dead end after about a kilometre he had the slight problem of a caravan on the back. Not being used to towing a van, now was his big chance to prove himself, back out all the way to the main road or turn around. Apparently he chose the latter and mastered the art of a ten point turn. In due course he extracted himself, booked us into the park, set the van up, bought some camembert cheese for his lunch and came looking for his kayaking mate.
About 1.00pm the wind would strengthen and I could make up for slow morning progress and I bounced around the corner into the Fecamp harbour after 47km and seven hours. In the harbour there was a concrete boat ramp, a real luxury. We scurried off to the caravan park where a warm shower awaited with the bonus of a small restaurant next to the park office. The food was basic but cheap, there was draught beer and also wine at very reasonable prices, and even I could make myself understood enough in French to fill my belly.
At dinner Trevor said how much he admired what I was doing and that he and Marilyn wanted to contribute what I considered to be a large sum of money. I argued that half that would be more than generous, but we did agree to change the subject after I said that I didn’t want to cry. It really was an emotional moment for me, to have a mate who had done so much already and then want to do more. There is no doubt that I had been through a lot, certainly used up a huge amount of emotional energy to get this far, and it was all there welling below the surface. He almost brought me undone but the conversation moved on and the stiff upper lip survived.
It was nine degrees, woo-hoo, and getting even warmer when we arrived back at the boat ramp. The tide was out another four metres or so which made the boats at the floating marina way below where we stood. These huge tides still amaze me, having spent all of my life with less than two metre tides. I showed Trevor the rolling start down a boat ramp, flicked the wheels back and headed around the harbour and out the entrance to the sea. The wind was from over my left shoulder at less than ten knots but the signs were like the last three days so that I could expect it to build.
High cliffs to my left did not seem to deter the wind as it grew in strength within about half an hour. Large white caps appeared about 500m to my right indicating favourable wind but adverse current. Rocky outcrops marked a broken shore line so it was important to remain vigilant and not be pounded by breaking waves as I hugged the coast avoiding as much current as I could.
It wasn’t just the spectacular cliffs here, there were spectacular spires that I could paddle between. Shags somehow perched on the windward side in what seemed impossible locations. Between the spires and the cliffs the wind gusted to maybe thirty knots so it was a busy time staying upright. Ahead, an elephant shaped bluff signalled a slight turn in the coastline. The elephant must have been angry because near where the trunk dipped into the water the currents boiled fiercely. With the wind from behind and the current from the front the battle raged, but by paddling hard and dancing on the rudder pedals to counter the whirlpools it wasn’t long before I entered calm waters.
There were two guys in a kayak fishing just off the village nestled between the cliffs and a couple of surfers waiting patiently for waves, which I guess did come from time to time. South of the village the cliffs had huge openings and offshore spires which played havoc with the wind and currents but certainly provided fantastic views for kayakers.
In the distance I could see a long wall extending about 3km out to sea. With the current racing up the coast this would surely give me a nice eddy so I aimed for about the middle. The waters slowly calmed and the wind was steady. The eddy pushed me at about 13km/hr towards the end of the wall. I was cold, hungry and thirsty but thought I would push in the other side, pull in out of the wind and fill up.
At such high speed the area of breaking waves ahead rushed to greet me. This indicated current into the wind but the distance across was only about 100m. It didn’t make a lot of sense with the wind behind me but I soon figured out it was all current related. The other side of the waves was smoother with water welling upwards, the clash off millions of tonnes of water on collision courses, melding into each other before settling down again. The end of the wall curved due south for about 500m with relatively smooth going. Approaching the southern extremity I could see the current racing straight out to sea at ninety degrees to where I was going. “No lunch or drink,” I thought, “not even a pee”.
The nose of the kayak spun to the right as I entered the fray. I slowly turned back to where I wanted to go, which was across the wind that was blowing at something over 20knots, dropped the sail and set about getting back near land. It was four kilometres of hard yakka. About 1km ahead was a green buoy that I aimed for and after about 15 minutes I could see the tail of the current, straight towards me. It took an hour of bashing along until I could once again head down the coast with the wind behind me.
It wasn’t possible to paddle because it took most of my strength to hold the kayak from turning sideways into the wind. With a big gust and wave together the kayak would plane at 17km/hr trailing spray. It was exciting stuff and a fitting way to see out the last of the French coastline. The situation stayed like that for 15 km until I rounded the point towards the beach at Le Havre. From the excitement of the rush down the coast the wind pushed me in the face, the seas flattened to nothing, there were small catamarans and kayaks on the water, people sunbathed and some even swam.
There was a call from the beach, a yellow jacket waved and I headed in. It was about 2km before the arranged pickup point but there was nowhere to park down there. The distance on the GPS was about 47km for the third day in a row and each day had been characterised by a slow start, adverse currents, and then a wind that threatened to blow me to kingdom come. After 213km the French Coast was done and tomorrow I would turn left into the Seine.
We loaded up and headed back to camp where we had pre-ordered a kilo of mussels each. Moules and frites, mussels and chips, seems to be a French favourite and it is certainly one of mine.
It was a bit cool in the morning when we arrived back at the Le Havre beach, but a few hardy souls were in the water and two people were walking along waist deep about 50m off the beach. The distance around the harbour wall was about six kilometres so it was about an hour before I entered the Seine estuary. We had read about huge flood tides rushing up the estuary and had planned on making huge gains, but it wasn’t like that at all. Sure the tide was favourable, but only about 3km/hr and there was a strong headwind so again it was a day of being wet and not too comfortable.
A huge suspension bridge, about 2km long, crosses the Seine ten kilometres up from where we drew an arbitrary line to represent the entrance to the Seine River.
There were a few ships about but nothing much to see on the flat grassy shore until the next Pont Suspendu where I was to meet Trevor.
After averaging 47km/day down the coast it had taken what seemed to be ages to get just 29km to where he was, under the suspension bridge with news that I was to paddle to a slipway a few kilometres upstream.
As I approached the bank was a solid 3m high wall with no break that I could see. Ships were tied to it and there were a couple of sailing catamarans up on the hard. The car arrived in the distance and the familiar yellow jacket got out and walked to the edge of the wall. It wasn’t until I was right at the car that the break in the wall appeared complete with a concrete ramp. Trevor had talked the owners of the yard into letting him in to pick up his mate.
At the office on the way out we learned that the yard would be closed for the next three days, Friday to Sunday, so time for plan B. During his investigations into a landing spot Trevor had been told by many “Le bac ferme” The bac is closed. What’s a bloody bac? Anyway nearby was a ferry ramp and with the tide high it looked perfect for tomorrow’s launch. The caravan park was just a few kilometres up river by road, about 25km by river and with a plan for the morning we had it all conquered.
We thought we had it conquered but a new day brought a new light on the subject. “Le bac ferme.” The ferry is closed. That is what Trevor had been told many times the previous day but we didn’t want a ferry, we just wanted a ramp into the water. The ferry ramp was ideal with but one exception. Mud covered it to a depth of over 15cm in places. We prepared for the day, towed the kayak on its wheels to the top of the mud, lowered the wheels, pushed the kayak so that I could just step onto the back from the clean concrete and then set about sliding spectacularly into the water.
It was a fine idea, but lacked in one subtle detail. When I sat in the kayak it squeezed the water out of the mud and sucked the kayak down so that it was nearly impossible to move. Following my bottom jerking procedure with a few added sideways rolls I managed to get about 10m before I could go no further. Trevor donned his wellies and slid down to give me a push. With the added horsepower we started a mud slide that slowly took me to near the bottom of the ramp. Here the concrete had just a smear of mud on it, the slope was negligible and at the end was a sheet pile wall with the water lapping close to its top. I climbed out, set the kayak in the water and then sat my bum on the seat so that I could wash my feet and prepare to paddle.
The current coming downstream was still pretty strong and we were not sure when it would turn but the plan was to do about two hours against it and then hope it turned to carry me up river at a decent rate. We were near an oil terminal with a few large ships. The first one was on a wharf that I could see through so I paddled under the wharf being careful to avoid any areas that might have steam coming down. The next wharf did not have the openings so out around the ship I went. “Shades of the Mississippi with its barges,” I thought as I battled along at just under 2km/hr. It was only one ship though. The next wharf had enough gaps to slip through. It was here that I started to feel sick and at one point there were twin pipes about 30cm diameter discharging some foul smelling liquid into the mud about 5m below top water level and just above where I was.
Eventually the wharves were a part of my history, geese appeared on the water and I was able to paddle along next to the mud with just the occasional clash of the paddle onto a rock. Ships went past in the haze, making waves that seemed to help boost my speed as I lifted gently up and down. After 2½ hours the current slowed to almost nothing and I was able to cross to the other side to shortcut a bend. By 3 hours the incoming tide was making itself known and I was whistling along at 12km/hr after averaging 5km/hr picking my way along the edge of the river.
There was the yellow jacket ahead, signifying the road near the camp site. Less than five minutes later Trevor and I were discussing the plan for the rest of the day. Duclair was another 34km but I was determined to use the tide so we agreed to meet at a ferry in 26km and confirm that Duclair was the goal. With only a light breeze, bright sunshine and favourable tide the day was not bad at all. I could even stop to eat and drink while maintaining about 6km/hr from the tide.
A phenomenon that I noticed on the canals in England is that as a boat goes past it induces a flow going the opposite way due to its displacement of the water. Even on the Seine, a big river, some of the ships were so big that I could see the same effect.
Around the bend came a cruise liner. I had seen river cruisers like you see in the advertisements for Europe but this one was a full on ocean cruiser. The crowd on the fore deck about six stories up waved enthusiastically so I waved back with my paddle and then they were gone.
Two hours after seeing Trevor, there he was again telling me that the next ferry was 8km away and all was good. I kept the pace up all the way and pulled in about 5.00pm after waiting a few minutes for the ferry to depart the ramp. Trevor grabbed the kayak and set off back to the car at a pace that was way too fast for me. I was a bit weary and the day had exacerbated some aches and pains that were starting to appear more often.
We had ordered mussels and chips again at the caravan park café, washed down with a beer and a glass of local red so it was a fitting end to a 54km day. The England Australia rugby match was on at 9.00pm but that was too late for me and too late for Trevor who is flat out all the time surveying contact points, moving the van, and general logistics so we had to give it a miss. We would have had to find a place in a strange village anyway. Perhaps it was best as Australian knocked England out of the cup 33-13.
It wasn’t until mid-day that I put back into the water at the Duclair ferry. The plan was to paddle until late and by starting late I would reduce the hours paddling against the current. I crossed the river easily but still struggled against tide and wind until it went slack at 3.30pm and started to flow at 4.30pm. Through Rouen the tide was giving me a boost but it was cold and windy with small waves slopping onto my life jacket. Across the river someone was playing the bagpipes while another guy stood motionless beside him facing the river. The impressive lift bridge in the centre of the town signified just about the end navigation for large ships because just upstream the first low bridge at less than 10m appeared so apparently no big ones above Rouen.
Once more back in the countryside, with light starting to fade just a little a single skull approached from upriver. There was a container boat coming downstream about 200m from the bank so I angled further towards the left bank to give them plenty of room. As I moved so did the skull. He came really close and stopped so I said hello and we had a chat whereby I tried to explain the trip and where I had been but it was difficult until he spoke a couple of words in very poor English. It wasn’t until I had finished until he said, “Thank you Steve”. I was pretty sure I had not told him my name but it was well after 6.00pm and I was cold and tired. He said my name again and then told me Trevor was about a kilometre ahead and that he had paddled down to meet me. The bugger was from Putney!
The rowing club that we had seen on Google Earth had a pontoon which made taking the kayak out very easy. Jan rowed past and advised that high tide was at 7.00pm which only made 3½ hours of favourable flow. I had thought to start in the dark the next morning to get the last of the tide but that shot my plan. Even starting an hour before sunrise there would be no run in flow.
With the usual start of 10.00am I was well refreshed, much better than if I had come back at 7.00am. The tide was higher by nearly a metre than when I had stopped the previous night and it had already fallen by about 30cm so it seemed that high tide had been between 8.30 and 9.30pm. Never trust what anyone says seemed to apply here as well as Engalnd.
There were a number of heavy showers during the day and it was windy. Paddling against the tide I managed to average 5.7km per hour and which got me to the first lock in a bit over six hours. No more tides to worry about, just the flow of the Seine. Trevor was waiting just downstream of the weir on the right bank. With the low tide the flow was reasonably strong so I was able to impress him with the kayak’s ability to go against flows that he was concerned about.
The first of five locks signified just 200km to the Eiffel Tower. I had just paddled on the last tidal water for the trip. Finally the end was close and I could sense it, feel it all over my body. We were going to do this with a bang not a whimper. Five days at 40km/day.
That night we received an email from Roman Huet. He is Thierry Huet’s son. Remember the bloke from earth who had seen me from the beach. Roman is studying “cinema” at a university in Paris. We agreed to meet when I paddled into the Eiffel Tower and he would make a short video about the trip.
Next day between lock 1 and lock 2 was a good tester for average speed on the non-tidal section, provided the wind did not vary a lot. Speed improved slightly to 5.8km/hr but was dependent on river velocity which was dependent on river depth and width. The water was clear, the showers held off most of the day and the scenery was stunning with white cliffs, a ruined castle, magnificent houses, and at one stage a conveyor belt right across the river. Viking tour boats travel up and down the Seine but not many people were on deck. Some of the windows are floor to ceiling and a woman waved enthusiastically from the edge of her bed. I waved back equally enthusiastically I thought but 10 seconds later she had gone.
The boats that ply the river must fit under the bridges. Containers are transferred from the big ships to long, low boats which I saw moving in both directions. Some sized length gravel boats, about 85m x 9.5m moved one way empty and came back full. Many of the boats had a car on the deck behind the wheelhouse and nearly all had significant areas for accommodation.
In all it was an uneventful but enjoyable paddle and when I reached the next lock where my mate was waiting I had only covered 35km. That wasn’t enough for my real goal, although I had blogged about a mid-day Sunday finish which was easily achievable. In my humble opinion I reckoned I could make it on Saturday but wasn’t being bold enough to say that.
Over dinner we discussed the next day and agreed that the wind would be favourable for 20km along a straight section of river and that I would get the sail up and rocket along. Great idea but the next morning after half a kilometre of fickle winds, sometimes even blowing towards me, the sail came down and it was back to business hugging the bank and trying to keep my speed above 6km/hr.
A strange animal appeared from behind a boat on a mowed section of the river. It looked to me like a beaver. It didn’t appear too worried by the kayak as it walked across the grass, slid into the water, swam about 2m and then dived under the water. Apparently it was a coypu, an introduced species from South America and generally regarded as a pest. It lives in burrows on river banks, feeds on river plants and is a type of large rodent.
The mornings were gloriously calm in most sections of river. The scenery was stunning and paddling was a pleasure. If only I was not pushing so hard and if only the distance wasn’t so great it would be a great river paddle. I’m sure many must do it in summer.
Another ruined castle on the top of a northern bend just like the day before was a bit like déjà vu. There was one incident that bothered me. When close to the right bank I lost concentration and the paddle hit a rock quite hard which sent a searing pain through my right shoulder. “Bloody hell,” I thought, “a bit over 100km to go, surely the shoulder will make it.” Because my shoulder is permanently dislocated from the motor bike accident in 2006 I have a dull pain all the time and I’m often aware of it. For this reason there is always the worry that it will let me down. I know where the referred pain is from the internal injury and this was not there, so I just hoped it was a one off and all would be fine.
The distance from the start of the day to the next lock was 37km which was not enough for the day so we had picked a pontoon on the river near a rowing course well upstream of the lock. It was easy for Trevor to find, until he was redirected by the gendarmes at Rosny-sur-Seine because of some sort of rally, and it was easy for me to see. Trevor sorted himself out of course and was there in plenty of time. The walk to the car was less than half a kilometre and with an easy departure from the river it was a fine place to stop.
On the way back to the caravan that night we pulled into what was described as a pub, but was in fact a nightclub serving food before the clubbing started. The menu was on a blackboard and none of the staff spoke any English. The only other patron at the time reckoned he knew some English so with the three of us we managed to figure out what the menu said. We bought the guy a drink for his help and while chatting in French at the bar Trevor let slip one of his “other words”.
“You finish when you get to the Eiffel Tower?” the bloke asked in French.
“Oui,” replied Trevor, “halas.”
“Ah ha!” the bloke exclaimed, “I know halas. I am from Tunisia. My name is Khalil”.
With another set of vocabulary to choose from the conversation went quite well until dinner was served. I know a lot more Arabic words than French words and even knew the written alphabet a few years ago. Quite a mix it was that night, but a lot of fun.
During dinner a filling dropped out of my tooth. That is the fourth tooth to fail on the trip. “Just another hole,” I thought, but no. By the morning the jagged edge had created an ulcer at the bottom of my tongue. It got worse and was painful when I ate so it was with a conscious effort that I kept my food intake up until the end. Back in the UK Marilyn arranged an appointment for 9.30am on the Monday. It was the dentist there who finally put it in perspective for me after he drilled a bit and popped a temporary filling into the hole. The reason my teeth often fail on these long trips is that I must be clamping down, or grinding my teeth during exertion. Hallelujah, an explanation that makes sense, after all this time. If I ever do something like this again the answer is simple, just wear a mouthguard.
Back on the water on Thursday morning my shoulder was fine and if I just kept my mouth shut and my tongue pressed forwards that was fine too. I had done 48km the previous day and was dead keen to get over forty again. Past a power station spewing brown muck into the river, past a few sewage treatment outfalls all of which smelled fine and past a couple of water treatment plants all combined to illustrate just how the river is used. Recycled water? It is everywhere and has been going on for centuries.
An interesting feature beside a park was a long line of stakes driven into the river about a metre or two from the bank. There were two rows in a wavy line about 15cm apart. Between the stakes sticks had been placed horizontally and there were gaps between the sticks every few metres. On the bank a crude chicken wire fence had been erected from just below the waterline and about a metre high. It could be something to do with fish habitat but maybe birds. Whatever it was for it was obviously some environmental group doing something for some species. How’s that for a vague answer.
The Peugeot factory was about 10km short of where we wanted to finish for the day. Opposite was a weir on the north side of an island and a few kilometres further up the south channel there was lock. I met Trevor near the weir where we pulled out and he helped me to a spot upstream with a plan to meet at Andresy in an hour and a half.
Above the weir the flow was very low until another weir cut the island in two. Still, it wasn’t too bad and I made good time up to the wide area near the lock. As I crossed that a container boat came down the river and turned around into the lock behind me. That was lock number five, the last one. None had provided suitable portage. In one place the only exit point was nearly 3km downstream. Kayaks are not allowed into the locks so all in all they are difficult obstructions for kayakers.
The sun was behind me so I was very glad that the skipper of the boat managed the yellow kayak in front of me as I raced to get out of his way. As I rejoiced in this an official looking boat sped down the river directly towards me. The spray from the bow dropped as the boat slowed and continued towards me. “Shit, what now I thought.” There was something funny about the boat though. It looked very official but the guy in the bow was wearing a yellow jacket. It was Trevor. He had commandeered a fire rescue boat which he then used to escort me a kilometre upriver to the gendarmes’ pontoon. That’s right, the pontoon with a police boat tied up on it.
After we got the kayak out and we were beside the car the driver of the boat came over and introduced himself as Olivier. He was the boss of operations and when Trevor had asked if there was anywhere to drag a kayak out he had immediately decided to embrace the trip and help in any way he could. It was no trouble to load Trevor on board and head down the river to find me.
After an enthusiastic conversation in English we arranged to put in at 10.00am from the gendarmes’ pontoon the next morning and headed for the caravan park in Maisons Lafitte which is 30 minutes by train to the centre of Paris. Trevor had set the van up there and had news that everyone spoke excellent English, that there was a restaurant and that they played the rugby. As it turned out two people we met were from Wales and Essex so there would have been something wrong if their English was no good.
Back on the water Friday morning at Olivier’s mates’ pontoon it was almost certain that a Saturday afternoon finish at the Eiffel Tower was on. The water was glassy and just upstream there was a long island with the shipping channel to the north. It seemed like the flow inside the island was cut off for some reason. Cakes of dark stuff floated on the surface. It looked like cow shit, it smelled like cow shit and the other test didn’t matter. I was pretty sure what I was seeing, especially as the land on that bank was farmland.
A sparkle of white spray raced down the river and within seconds a speedboat materialised in front of it. Barefoot skiing. The guy raced past skiing backwards. It was then that I noticed the lanes marked by yellow buoys. This was some sort of calm area where water skiing was carried out. He didn’t come back so maybe he was on his way back when he passed me. Who knows? Who cares, my mind was on other things, like keeping my mouth shut to help my tongue and paddling hard to get distance.
The river stayed glassy until after lunch when a breeze riffled the surface and slowed the paddling speed. More and more houseboats appeared on the banks and the number of fishermen increased. In fact some of the fishermen had either a tent or a shack set up where they were living rough. Under a bridge along the bank there were about twenty shacks constructed. They looked like they had been there a long time so I guess the authorities just turn a blind eye, or maybe wait until there is a flood and they all disappear.
We had arranged to meet at a bridge about 42km from the start. There was the familiar yellow jacket waving me in. “Go to the eighth houseboat past the bridge,” yelled Trevor. “It is maroon. Go inside it and then stop.” I can count to eight so that’s what I did.
“You can tie up here or we can drag you up the bank,” advised Trevor. The bank was 6m high and at least 45 degrees so it was obvious: tie up next to the boat. Renaud, the boat owner, helped with the mooring. His English is very good and he is an author. With a troublesome seventeen year old son he decided to take him out of school, bought a team of horses and a wagon and crossed Bulgaria with him. They then travelled by car to remote Siberia. He has just written a book, “Step by Step”, about the adventures but there are no plans to translate it into English
That night I was a bit restless. Tomorrow would be a big day. We were supposed to be at Renaud’s boat at 9.30am but were there at 8.45am. The French start the day late in general, and as it was a Saturday morning we thought it best to wait until 9.00am before pressing the doorbell on the gangway.
When we did this, Renaud came out and helped us depart wishing me a bon voyage and I was away for the last time. Just downstream was a good boat ramp we could have used but it wasn’t visible on Google Earth. Had we done so we would not have met Renaud and it had been much easier to just tie the kayak up anyway.
Most of the houseboats, which are huge steel constructions, are used for living in but they are so big that some businesses are run from them. One large white one was a dental surgery. The windows were large and inside I could see what one normally sees at the dentist. Given my tooth situation it was rather ironic to find that.
Being a weekend there were lots of rowers on the river. When I came to an island I stayed on the narrow side which is where most of the rowers were. There was a mix of singles, doubles and fours. Some had trainers in motor boats but mainly they were just by themselves. Two young women were stopped near the rowing club so we had a chat about what I was doing and where I was going. It was in a mix of French and English, more English than French luckily.
They headed off a bit quicker than me but I managed to keep them in view so I used them as something to race and keep my speed up. Another woman in a single skull was ahead and every time she stopped for a rest I would gain on her. Two boats to race and I was hammering along. Unfortunately the single stopped and turned around.
Then I saw the weir. Bugger! A weir. Lock number six, six out of five.
Luckily there were steps out of the river and a muddy path around the weir. Unfortunately the path went behind the lock keeper’s residence and there were right angled corners to negotiate and at the end a barrier to stop bikes. They also stop kayaks unless you lift over them so that’s what had to happen. All my sprinting had given me maybe ten minutes gain and this little detour added over half an hour.
Above the lock the wind picked up and sailing boats zoomed across the water. A wake boarder went past and eventually three kayakers paddled down towards me. We discussed where I was going but they said it was forbidden, no kayaks are allowed near the Eiffel Tower section of the river. I told them that I didn’t care about rules, I was just going to do it. Plead ignorance they recommended. It didn’t need a brain like Einstein to work that out, and anyway it was true. I was ignorant of the rules.
I paddled on against the wind, hugging the left bank, and there it was, the Eiffel Tower in the distance and a balloon framed next to it. Just like when I first saw the Statue of Liberty I thought, “Wow! I am really here. Hard to believe that I had come all that way.”
The tower stayed in view and then another surprise. A mini Statue of Liberty appeared on an island in the river about a kilometre from the tower. For a minute or so the statue lined up with the tower behind it.
My job was to get to the bridge near the tower on the right bank and to stop at the steps. Every bridge I saw I thought was the one but no, there was another just ahead. A yell from the side. Trevor was on a boat moored on the bank, apparently somewhere that he shouldn’t be, but that is Trevor. It was before the bridge and just before the steps. A few paddle strokes later and there were the steps. Trevor ran to welcome me but I stopped paddling. It was a moment, an emotional moment where everything that had happened in the past nine months seemed to flash through my mind. It took just a few seconds and then I was back with it. Trevor had brought a warm can of beer for a toast, Roman was on the bridge filming and his mate was nearby filming as well.
I sat on the kayak at the top of the steps and said a few word while Trevor took a video with the tower in the background. The trip was now very clear to me. It was the same as the fight for climate change resolution, a tough hard slog with huge mental challenges. It will be won not by celebrities, and not by the rich and famous. There will be no accolades for the warriors. It will be by ordinary people determined that the future of the human race is paramount and who do whatever they can in their power to bring about the changes in our society that must come if we are to survive.
PS: The video camera did not record the speech. We took no photo of the kayak on the water with the tower in the background because we were on the wrong bank. The car was parked a few hundred metres away so I walked the kayak to it. We loaded up, headed to a restaurant near Roman’s, about three kilometres away, drank champagne had a nice meal, answered a lot of questions for Roman’s tape, and headed back to the camp site to watch Australia beat Wales in the rugby. The next morning we were up long before dawn, crossed the channel and were in Staines before 3.00pm. The trip was done.
See after the pictures for Trevor’s epistle. It will make you tired just reading what he did
If you are not tired after reading Trevor’s blog there is something wrong with you. His energy was boundless.
Kayak4Earth – The French Connection
Sunday 27nd September 2015
We set off from Blackett Close at 08:00 to catch the P&O ferry from Dover to Calais at 12:05 after getting the car and caravan, lovingly termed “the van”, ready for what would be a great trip and a memorable experience. Arrived in Dover early at 10:15 after a clear trip with no problems and was grateful to be put on the next ferry due to depart at 11:05. In fact it departed at bit early and we were off with a very smooth crossing to Calais. Arrive just about 90 minutes later and drove to the first campsite, Stoneham, just south of Le Touquet. Hooked up the van and Steve then decided to give the coast run a bash while there was a bit of time. Drive to Boulogne and park just north of the harbour entrance on a sandy beach with the tide going well out. Carry the kayak across the sand to the water’s edge and launch off at about 17:10. This was a fair distance to carry and I got wet feet and sand in my shoes, knackered even before we started. Drive along the coast to Hardelot Plage, Le Touquet and wait where we had agreed to meet after about 2 hours, Steve going about 27 km to get there. Parked up at the top of the beach with what was now an enormous expanse of sand down to the water’s edge. Wait there and watch the sun going down with some trepidation. Walked up the sand dunes to try getting a better view up the coast and eventually I could see just a small white sail of the kayak in the distance with the binoculars and what was to become a very welcome sight throughout the trip. Shouts of joy from me and the pathetic little light on the head band blinking a welcome with my yellow HiVi jacket and arms waving like furry and shouting out to Steve since the sun had gone down by now and it was starting to get somewhat dark. Lug the kayak up the beach and tie it onto the car roof. Off to Dinner at a local pub where we met some English guys who said the food was good. Tried the steak tartare without knowing it was raw minced beef. We both eat up but agreed to give that particular delicacy a miss in future!
Monday 28th September 2015
Drive back to the beach where we finished last night and having learnt that the kayak was a bit heavy for the two oldies to carry for a long way Steve had put the wheels on so the trek to the water at what was now really low tide with about half a mile of sandy beach to cross. Just before pushing off Steve noticed that his lunch box was missing and as we had to pull the kayak down a flight of steps at the car park before crossing the beach we guessed that it had dropped out during the descent so I had to run back and try to find it. Yes it was at the steps so turned round and ran the half mile back to the water. Knackered again but at least Steve had the rest! Drive south to Cayeau sur Mer and wait from 12:30 for a sighting. No sign by 14:00 as arranged. Where are you Steve? 14:10 Steve phoned to say that he was not yet at the large estuary into St. Valery sur Somme. It had been difficult to cross the Berck estuary just to the north so he will follow this one closer to the shoreline on the north side before crossing the larger estuary. Drive to Le Hourdel a bit further north to get a sighting earlier. 15:50 Steve phoned to say that he had paddled 40 km that day so from this we reckoned that he must be past St. Valery sur Somme and even beyond Cayeau sur Mer. We agreed that he would call back a bit later when I could get back to the car and record his location co-ordinates. Calling back with co-ords which I entered into the SatNav and drove to that location further south along the coast at Ault just before the start of the high cliffs where I found Steve about 16:00ish on the prom with the kayak ready to lift off to the road and then wheel along to the car. I was very disappointed to have missed Steve and not be there when he arrived. We agreed to make the precise rendezvous location clearer in future.
Tuesday 29th September 2015
Found our way back to Ault to the Ault location OK and launched Steve about 10:05 with the van in tow. Then off to the new campsite south of Dieppe called Camping Vitamin at St. Aubin sur Scie. Arranged to make contact at Dieppe at about 14:30 – 15:00. Go a little distance north of Dieppe to a place called Puys and leave the car in a car park close to the sea front. There was a camera crew there doing a documentary on the unusually high tide that was prevailing at present and the lady spoke quite good English so told her of our trip and wished they could have stayed there until Steve arrived. Walk up a steep side road away from the beach and speak to a lady householder to see if there was any access to the top of the cliff. She said not but I could go to the bottom of her garden, over the fence and across the field to the cliff but to be very careful as it would be dangerous up there. Sight Steve at about 14:00 way up the coast and some way off out to sea. Wave like hell but he obviously not expecting the yellow jacket to be on the cliff top. Race back down the hill to the beach and call out to Steve who wished to go on to the next place just past Dieppe harbour. Drive to Pourville sur Mer at 15:00 and wait there. Phone from Steve at 16:15. Phone call from Steve at 16:15 to say that he was at Quiberville where we did originally speak of meeting some 12 – 15 km south of Dieppe. Drive there and pick up Kayak and return to the campsite for the night. Decide to move campsite further south west tomorrow where we could serve the first part of the River Seine as well as complete the last of the costal section to Le Havre.
Wednesday 30th September 2015
Drive to the new campsite, Camping Barre-Y-Va at Caudebec-en-Caux, right on the banks of the River Seine about 30 km west of Rouen, after dropping Steve back into the sea at Quiberville at about 10:00. Campsite sign which I had seen directed me up a single lane road where I could see vans etc just below me so thought this was right but which turned into a track leading only to a private residence. Fun doing a ten point turn on the track with the van in tow. Hook up the van after chatting with the proprietors in a mixture of English and French but gathered that they had a snack bar there and could serve a limited menu which turned out to be just what we needed. Drive on to the next pick up point at Fecamp where we had seen what looked like a ramp in the harbour on Google Maps. Get there about 14:00 and suss out the marina/slipway to get the kayak out. All very good there and a local guy advised that there would be about 1 m of water in the marina even at low tide so should be great. Drive about 5 km up the coast to Senneville-sur-Fecamp where there was a picnic area on the cliffs with a wooden staircase going down to the beach. Wait there until 15:00 when Steve passed by but too far out to sea to make myself seen or heard so drive back to Fecamp and get there just about 10 minutes before Steve came into view. Wave like fury in the yellow HiVi and guide him into the marina and the slipway in the far corner at 15:50 about 10 minutes before the predicted time. Well done mate – great. Drive back to the campsite for the night with dinner there chez the proprietor.
Thursday 1st October 2015
Woke up quite early as usual and just when ready to leave I pulled out my charger from the socket which gave out a bit of a spark and blew all the electrics. We found the MCB under my bed and reset that to no avail. Decide to get Steve back into the sea and for me to resolve the electrics somehow while Steve continues with the paddling. Drive back to Fecamp marina where the water was about 8m lower than when we docked the afternoon before but sufficient water for boats to be afloat and Steve shot down the ramp and into the water OK. Leave there about 10:30 and walk along the jetty to see Steve out of the harbour entrance and into the English Channel for what would be the last leg in the sea. I took photos here to show the difference in water levels since our landing the day before. Drive back to the campsite to see what could be done with the electrics. During our drive to the marina we had discussed this and thought that the site power take off station should have a breaker somewhere also. Change the power socket location in the site pillar which did the trick and power back on OK. Move the cables under the table and again sparks now from Steve’s pc power cable which blew all the electrics again. Disconnect all the cables from under the table. Reset our MCB after having just remade the bed etc and then change the site pillar plug location again. All good, thank heavens. Drive to Le Havre and find the agreed beach just north of the harbour entrance. Park up about 14:00 and walk along the sea front towards the harbour entrance where the Channel ferries and huge container ships emerged and entered to find the car parks we had seen on Google and where we thought that we could meet up. There was no room at all in the car park so I decided to leave the car where I had parked it by the roadside about half way round the bay. I saw a kayak sail in the distance towards the north at 14:45 but this was more than one hour earlier than we had agreed. Keep watch and see that the kayak sail had been de-rigged and was paddling away out to sea to the north? I then noticed through the binoculars that the kayak was using red paddles and since Steve’s are black this had to be another guy. I could then see that there were in fact two other kayaks in the distance paddling back and forth out to sea. Blast but thank goodness I had managed to see them clear enough to spot the difference. Just about 16:00 Steve’s sail came into view and I called out to him about half an hour later when he was level with me and guided him onto the beach which was very stony there but not too far to the road where I had parked. Drag the kayak out and lift onto the car roof as usual. Great stuff Steve, all the sea done! Celebrate that evening with the campsite host speciality of “Moules et Frites” for which he needed an hour’s notice but we had pre-ordered the night before with great forethought. We had a great feed of 1 kg of mussels each in a huge pot, half full of cooking liquid which we both slurped out of the pot and we were both stuffed. This followed blowing the electrics yet again, now finding Steve’s pc power cable burnt out near the transformer. Make a temporary repair with twisting wires together and tape up. After another reset of our MCB and a further relocation of the socket at the site electrical pillar all was good! Let’s hope it lasts. Early to bed.
Friday 2nd October 2015
Steve had a really good telecom with a press officer at the preset time of 09:00 who will do a piece on the trip and would like photos of Steve at Paris with the Eiffel Tower in view. Return to the Le Havre location after this and at about 11:10 drag the kayak into the sea which was a long way off now that the tide was out. Watch Steve paddle out to sea and along to the harbour entrance and out of view. From here he will be into the Seine estuary so now the entire Channel stuff done and now on to the homeward leg! Drive to Tankerville upstream from Le Havre to reconnoitre for a spot to finish today. Walk about 2 km upstream but no real exit location. Speak to a local couple who say maybe a ramp about 2 km further upstream from there at Le Bac (whatever that may mean?). Walk back to car to investigate this on my iPad. Steve phoned at 13:20, he at Normandy Bridge, against the wind and little current. Guess he would be at Tankerville at 15:00 but at the present rate I would guess maybe one hour later. Drive upstream to find “Le Bac” which everyone I spoke to seems to say that it is closed but find a ramp there and another about 1 km further on past the two blue tanks of Exon Mobil which could be seen on the river side. Again the guy here says that Le Bac is closed but no idea of any place to get the kayak out. Coming back to Tankerville stop off at a quayside industry called “Roll” and speak to the manager who says that they have a ramp which we can of course use to get the kayak out of the river but which has to be before 18:00 which should be OK. Drive back to the bridge at Tankerville and wait for Steve who paddled in at about 15:00. Told him of the “docking” place. Drive back to Roll slipway to wait. Steve got there about 16:00 and what a real treat to just pull the kayak up the slipway to the car which I had parked just a few metres away. As we left Roll we thanked the staff and asked if OK to get back into the river there in the morning to be told that they shut on Saturday and would not be open until Monday morning. Oh dear. We then drove upstream to see the other two places I had found earlier and the ramp which we guessed was Le Bac being a ferry crossing place now not operating there so hence the reason for folk saying it was closed.
Saturday 3rd October 2015
Drive back to the ferry terminal slipway near Tankerville. Tide right out now and the ramp was covered with a thick layer of mud. Oh dear (again)! The river was racing downstream with significant wash at the terminal pillars out in the river but not too bad at the edge. Ponder to delay for a bit while the tide turned but after mention of “being a Man” and not a “woos” Steve was game to give it a shot and hoped that he could slide the kayak down the muddy ramp Eskimo style with a good old wiggle and shuffle of the bottom but got stuck part way down. I donned my wellies and bravely wend my way down the ramp to the kayak. With a couple of good pushes Steve started to slide down the rest of the ramp to the river where there was enough of a flat bit with a gentle drop at the river. Steve got out and plonked the kayak into the river sideways, jumped in with muddy feet and off he paddled. Last I saw of him he was “undertaking” a huge moored ship in what seemed to be fairly slack water and nothing like the torrent in the centre. Drive back to the Barre-Y-Va campsite since he would be passing right in front of the site later on. Do the shopping and treat us to a bottle of St Emillion red wine as a treat. We had arranged for Steve to phone when nearing the campsite and then I would drive upstream to meet him at other ferry ramps there (well it seems likely from Google!) depending on river conditions and progress. The river at the campsite seemed to be slack water at 13:00 and tide turned at 13:30 with upstream current very noticeable which should help with progress. Drive about 5 km downstream of the campsite and see Steve in the distance at the bend in the river so return to the campsite pdq and wait there. Steve arrived at 13:50 and agreed to try to get to Duclair ferry ramp. Drive to first ramp at Jumieges and see Steve there at about 15:00 going well so cracking on to Duclair. Photos in a couple of places and Steve arrived Duclair at about 16:00. Ferry ramp in operation so wait until the ferry pulled out of the ramp then Steve “jetted” out and up the ramp. Drive back to the campsite for a second portion of moules et frites which we had requested the night before. Luverly!
Sunday 4th October 2015
Misty start over the river again like yesterday but OK since we have a bit of a planned delayed start to about 12;00 noon to get the best of the tide. Aim at 18:00 south of Rouen this evening. Moving the van today to Camping L’Ile Adeline at Poses near to the first lock and south of Rouen for maybe 2-3 nights. Drive with the van and launch Steve about mid day from the Duclair ferry ramp, all very nice and a real treat with easy parking nearby. Head off towards Rouen and stop after passing through the town at location 130 km where we hoped to finish today at about 18:00. All great for floating pontoon after finding the boat club gate locked but alternative access by the side down to the pontoon via another open gate (well it was when I was first there!). Drive on to Poses campsite and hook up the van. Drive back to boat club and alternative gate access all OK. Arrived about 16:15 and spoke to a local guy walking his dog to see if the gate was ever locked to which said no! At 17:30 Steve called to say that he would arrive there at about 18:20. Just then a guy arrived at the pontoon with his rowing gear ready to go for a row. He turned out to be and Englishman from Putney in London who moved to France 35 years ago. His name was Jan (pronounced Yan) of Sri Lankan father and Dutch grandfather from whence the name came from – small world. We chatted for a while about the trip and he suggested he row downstream to meet Steve and blaspheme at him in French and “broken” English as a joke. Would Steve be up for it after all he would be tired and may not appreciate it – Yes he would be tired but I know he would be OK with the joke. Crack on Jan. Steve arrived in sight about 18:20 so close to his estimate and got to the pontoon after a “close encounter” with a mad Frenchman! They both rowed back to the pontoon together and then Jan rowed off upstream. Hauled the kayak out of the water just as the rowing club members arrived for a rowing session but they said nothing about us being there. Drive back to the campsite after a double cheeseburger each en route.
Monday 5th October 2015
Leave the campsite at 09:30 not sure what the river would hold but wished to make the most of it rather than face a similar delay start of yesterday. Agreed that Steve would phone at 14:00 to say how things were going with a view to be at the Poses (lock 1) at 16:00, then maybe push on for another 10 km – see how it goes. Drive to south side of the river at the lock by 13:30 and find a ramp OK but a little obscured from the river with trees and shrubs. Steve phoned at 14:00, he was going OK at 5.7 km/h which would give the 23 km left remaining for arrival by 16:15. Walk over the footbridge to the lock and watch the ships pass through. The locks are huge and easily accommodate at least a couple of these huge vessels at the same time. I tried to speak to the lock keeper via an intercom on the access gateway but with our limited knowledge of each other’s language this turned out to be quite futile. I managed to get a local family where the daughter of about 30 who spoke good English to argue the case over the intercom which she did some time before confessing that it was probably impossible for the kayak to pass through the lock. Thank you Madame for trying! Steve arrived at the identified ramp about dead on time and agreed that would be it for the day since the weather was not so good with showers most of the time – Well done Steve. That’s the tidal river completed.
Tuesday 6th October 2015
Drive Steve to lock 1 and launch just upstream of the lock right from the river bank in a nice little gap between the trees. Drive back to the campsite and move the van onto the next location, Les Fosses Rouge just south of Vernon. The site was shut but the gate was not locked so with such a tricky entry I drove the van in and found that registration was from 09:00-11:00 and 14:00 to 17:00 which would not suit us at all. In desperation I decide to abandon the van there and go to meet Steve as arranged when I saw a notice on the office which said if nobody was in reception then find an empty spot and sort the detail out later. Unhook the van at one such spot and then drive to La Garrenne (lock 2) and search for 2 km up to the road bridge where there was a good ramp but very little else right up to the lock. Steve phoned at 14:00 which had now become our usual time to discuss progress and we arranged to meet at the road bridge at about 16:45. I got sight of Steve at the river bend about 1 km upstream and he arrived at the ramp dead on time – what a guy, good stuff. Bright start to today’s trip after heavy rain early on in the morning before we left the campsite, showers on and off in the day but a good dousing at 16:50 just after we packed the kayak on the car – race to the new campsite which closes at 17:00 and we need a key to get access to the ablutions block – Oh Dear (again). Arrived at 17:05 to find in fact the office did not close until 18:00 so the driver was forgiven. We paid for two nights and got the magic key (why do they need to lock the dunny, etc!). Looked at the forthcoming route and past progress and decide probably to stay here at Les Fosses Rouge for 3 nights and then move further towards Paris at the next site for the last 3 nights. Les Fosses Rouge sanitation is very nice with toilet paper and even toilet seats which had been missing from some of the previous sites we stopped at!
Wednesday 7th October 2015
Drive Steve to lock 2 and launch from river bank slipway – good. Drive to Mericourt (lock 3) and again banks just downstream too much to exit. Drive and then walk alongside bank downstream for about 2 km and find a place to exit the river but quite steep bank up to a track, walk further and find a ramp but 700 m from the car! Drive on round and find a road to the track so it should be fine. Drive on 5 km to Rosny with a floating pontoon which we noted on Google but the access gate was locked. We could lift the kayak over the fence at a push but then find a public slipway about 200 m further downstream which will be ideal if Steve is game to do a bit more paddling after the lock. Drive on a further 5 km near Mantes after Steve phoned at 14:00 as arranged, all OK and he anticipates being at lock 3 less the 2-3 km to the ramp by 16:15. The ramp at Mantes is at the Stade Nautique International Didier Simond which is a rowing school with long lanes in a special waterway to one side of the main River Seine which we also saw on Google. He could easily exit at the far end of these lanes where there were numerous pontoons and ramps to the access points but no junction with the Seine at this point. Also on the main river there was a floating pontoon which we noted but with just a little narrow path to it which would not be so easy. Drive back to downstream of lock 3 and wait there for Steve who arrived just about dead on time. Exit kayak and drive to upstream to launch above the lock, all OK. Steve game for going another 10 km so drive to the floating pontoon on the main river just past the rowing school since Steve really wished to keep to the main river as much as possible. Steve arrived there about 17:00, recover kayak and walk it to the car, then on to campsite. Stop at a bar/bistro for dinner and met a guy named Khalil from Morocco who did the menu translation where we struggled with our humble French. We happened to let slip some Arabic words which Khalil picked up on and that’s when we discovered his origin. Chat a bit in 3 languages with him and his mate, eat up dinner and back to the campsite for bed.
Thursday 8th October 2015
Decide to move the van on towards Paris so pack up and drive with the van to the rowing school to recommence the paddle. Meet up with the manageress of the school where they were teaching youngsters to row and they hold major International events there, hence the name and the marked out lanes. Launch Steve at 10:15 then drive with the van to the new campsite, Maissons Laffitte. Get there just after 11:00 and was worried that the office would be closed as the previous one was at that time but luckily it opened to 12:00 so book in and hook up electrics, etc. Drive to lock 4 near the Peugeot factory which stretched out for miles on both banks with what looked like a walkway connecting the factories across the river. Difficult exit to side stream/weir we saw on Google. These turned out to be the old now abandoned locks with just some sort of plate at one end to form the weir. The entry point I found would also not be easy but better than the exit. Drive upstream for a further 10 km to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, just under a rail and then N184 motorway bridge. Here the local river fire brigade have a large moored vessel used as a base and training centre. They had an exit facility which we could use but which would mean some difficult lifting up stairs and ramps to the roadway. The guy in charge spoke good English so I was able to arrange all this without too much difficulty and said that I would return at about 17:00 when Steve should be there. Drive back to lock 4 exit and wait for Steve who arrived about 16:00, exit OK but good lift up 3.5 m stairs on the bank. Entry upstream was down a 2.5m bank which went OK and he was off again. Drive the 6 km back to Conflans and meet up with the guy I saw earlier. He turned out to be the Chief Adjutant of the Services Department. At 17:00 he offered to take me downstream in his riff to meet Steve who was really surprised to see me in the yellow jacket on the boat having thought that he was in some sort of trouble with the river police or something. I could not hear exactly what Steve said at that point but I guess he was relieved only to see his old mate looking after him as usual. “Estcourted” Steve back upstream to the exit location which we had now changed to the pontoon of the adjacent Gendarmerie river boat and was a little easier to extract the kayak back up to the car. All just great! Drive back to the campsite, all very good with nice facilities all round, even an on-site restaurant which was still open.
Friday 9th October 2015
Drive back to Conflans fire brigade. Meet up again with the Chief of the station whose name was Olivier and had a great entry back from the Gendarmerie pontoon with (hopefully) some good photos of him and Steve. I had coffee with him as Steve paddled off into the sunshine. Clear blue sky, sun, 10oC but no doubt will improve during the day. Drive on to lock 5, same old story for exit but lucky to find a place with pathways from the road to the river which made exit easier but maybe 2 km downstream of the weir. Entry back shortly after weir via a slipway with good road access, a local fisherman there having no luck! Milky sort of small discharge entry into the river there which may not have helped. Drive on to mileage 338 km at Saint-Denis. Very little parking there but manage to park on the path near to the first minor road bridge we spoke of stopping at. Walk about 2 km upstream, past the next (motorway) bridge and even further to the next road bridge. I saw a sort of pathway by the river edge and scrambled down a boat access onto the path. Walked along to try and find a better access to it when I came across a couple of local guys with a bicycle on the river side path and try to obtain from them as to how they got the bike there. No joy in French and they spoke no English at all. Pushed off along the path and came to a flight of 28 steps so returned to the two guys and tried to ascertain if they lugged the bike up and down the stairs. Eventually I guessed that they must have done so but that would not be easy with the kayak! They said that there were a number of these stairs along the pathway similar to the one that I had seen but all were similar and only one with any sort of vehicular parking available near the road (on the path/verge). Decide that the last set of stairs with some sort of parking was the best of a bad bunch but not looking forward to telling Steve that at the end of a hard day we had to haul to kayak up these stairs. Walk back towards the car and see some folk on the deck of their live aboard boat which had a small floating pontoon at the back but still well down the bank. They both spoke good English and agreed to help, of course! They were called Renaud and Nathalie and said that we could moor the kayak alongside their boat over night rather than take it out. This seemed a great plan to me but would Steve be OK leaving the kayak there? It certainly would make a great start for the next day. Met Steve at about 17:00 from the minor road bridge and shouted directions to the mooring place. He is getting sore and tired so was really grateful to leave the kayak moored to the inside hull of the boat “Solddad”. Only about 15-20 km from the campsite but leaving the kayak at 17:30 it took more than one hour to get back with very heavy traffic – grid lock at times.
Saturday 10th October 2015
Wake up early and push off at about 08:30. 20 minutes drive back to the boat, great after the time it took last night. Steve did confess that if we were not so close to the finish, he would have had a day’s rest but now keen to complete and we have arranged with Roman to do the filming today. Steve pushed off at 09:15 after a chat with Renaud, gave him Steve’s book since he too has a book being written about his adventures with his son entitled “Step by Steppe”. Agree that Steve would phone me at 12:00 when he should be about 5 km from the Eiffel Tower. Drive to the Tower and find a payant parking spot after about 20 minutes driving around the side streets. Phone Roman and agree to meet him about 11:30. He arrived and we spun it out without paying until Steve phoned at 12:00 to say all on course for about 13:00. Pay for 4 hours parking, 8 Euros, and walk to river to set up camera etc. Steve called to say that he had come across another lock which we had not identified previously and had to haul the kayak around it on his own, including negotiating over the fence as well. Steve arrived at about 13:20 and paddled up to the steps from the riverside although he had met other kayakers downstream who had said that it was forbidden to paddle near the bridge and Tower. Anyway he did it! Landed safely after an epic journey and took loads of film to record the event before driving to Roman’s flat. Treated him to lunch with champagne but his friend who had also done some filming could only stop for the drink. Good lunch, farewell to Roman and back to Maissons-Laffitte campsite.
Sunday 11th October 2015
Check timing yesterday to Calais, 4 hours and 15 minutes on non-toll motorway, 2 hours 56 minutes with toll motorway so agree on the toll. Realise SatNav would work out timings on maximum speed which we could not maintain so need to allow say 3½ – 4 hours to Calais and for 11:35 ferry would need to leave at 07:00 latest. Big effort in dark and forfeit tea in bed but have the tea, tart up and away at 06:30. Exit gate locked so “negotiate” early opening with the security guard. Drive to Calais doing about 70 mph, all OK. Arrive Calais about 10:15 and manage to get on the 10:45 boat boarding in 5 minutes. What luck. Get on board and have a full English breakfast served by Steph from Melbourne in real luxury. Give her the kayak story and see if we can get on the bridge. Boat manager, Bill from Scotland, very apologetic but no way can he get us on the bridge. Try writing into the company and may be more lucky. Anyhow Bill invited us up into the club lounge where he would provide champagne on the company. Very nice way to end the epic journey. Drive home for tea and arrive about 13:30.