Departing Nemours was a little too exciting. Overnight the rains had continued to push the River Loing deeper into flood. As we readied for departure the river was churning along off Wanderlust’s port side.
Before we untied I measured the river’s flow by tossing a stick in the water and timing the time it took to get from the bow to the stern. The stick took 14 seconds to reach the stern 20 meters downstream. From this I calculated that the river was flowing 5 kilometers per hour near Wanderlust.
Usually the bridge, Pont de Nemours, a half-kilometer downstream of our overnight mooring on the town center pontoon, would be no big deal to navigate. But now with the heavy flow it would come up fast even at low throttle. Once pointed downstream stopping Wanderlust’s forty tonnes of momentum in the fast flowing river would take considerably more distance than was available. There would be only one chance to make it through the arch cleanly. And once we were past the bridge, we would have to spin the boat around and ferry against the current to make it to the lock where the Canal du Loing continues.
In river conditions like this Wanderlust’s less than sporty handling is not confidence inspiring. Ever present was the knowledge that if we screwed this one up we’d do serious damage to both the bridge and to our barge. If we were unsuccessful making it through the bridge, Wanderlust and her crew would be featured in shame on the front page of Nemours’ newspaper. In the worst case, we could end up with our home wrapped around a bridge support.
As we left the mooring it was quickly clear that the river was flowing much faster at the center of the channel than 5 kph measured at the pontoon. For a moment I tried pointing Wanderlust into the current and letting the river push us back through the bridge. In theory, we’d have more control that way as a barge maneuvers best as the propeller pushes water past the rudder. In practice, it was quickly clear that being pushed backwards through an arch would be a very challenging maneuver. There was no choice but to turn Wanderlust around and head through the bridge bow first at high speed.
Turning a 65-foot barge around does not happen fast. Inevitably the current washed Wanderlust well down river as we pivoted 180 degrees. At the start of the turn we were 500 meters from the bridge. When we were finally facing downstream we were less than 200 meters from the bridge and moving closer every second. At the speed we were traveling there was just 30 to 40 seconds line up on the center of an arch.
This time we didn’t miss; Wanderlust made it through an opening at warp speed. Once past the bridge, I tucked the nose of the boat into the eddy behind the arch support. With her bow out of the flow, Wanderlust spun quickly around into the current, and we ferried over to the calm waters of the lock approach. It’s almost like we practiced the maneuver.
It wasn’t until we exited the lock that my heart rate dropped. Becky took the wheel as I went down below to recover. Further ahead the Loing returned to the side of the canal. We could see that the flooding waters of the river were at times higher than the canal level. But it no longer mattered. Wanderlust was safe on the controlled conditions of the Canal du Loing.
At the end of the day we tied up on an idyllic quay near a farmhouse gîte just past lock 9 on the Loing Canal. We would not encounter high water problems again during our summer’s cruise. Indeed, little did we know at the time, but it would be the absence of water that would define our 2015 cruising season and not the presence of too much water.
(Wanderlust left Nemours on the 4th of May, 2015.)