Leaving the port in Saint Jean de Losne we turned Wanderlust upstream on the River Saône. Not far upriver we reached the entrance of the Rhone-Rhine Canal with its distinctive but little used observation platform. We loitered a short time pointing into the river’s stream waiting for the lock’s gates to open. When they gates did swing open, we moved Wanderlust into the lock. Leaving the Saône we were on our way up the Canal du Rhône au Rhin.
The Canal du Rhône au Rhin connects the Rhône and Rhine drainages, the two largest rivers by volume in Western Europe. Though it is called a canal, in reality much of the Rhône-Rhine is made up of segments of the River Doubs. The flow of the river is constrained by a series of low dams. Boats navigate past the dams using the accompanying locks. In practice traveling canalized rivers such as the Doubs can be unpredictable as rains can quickly increase the flow of the river. That’s a particular concern on this waterway, as the steep-walled canyon sides ahead efficiently channel rainfall into the stream.
Once the Canal du Rhône au Rhin was an important waterway connection between France and Germany. But today the smaller size of the locks on the canal means that commercial navigation is no longer economically viable. For years there has been talk of a building a larger capacity connection between two of Europe’s biggest rivers following the same basic corridor used by the Rhone-Rhine. The proposals seek to replace the existing canal with its 40 meter long “Freycinet gauge” locks with a waterway that incorporates the 190 meter long locks needed to accommodate the large barges that move goods on Europe’s major waterways. But for now a wide-gauge connection between the Rhône and Rhine rivers is merely a dream; there has been no real move to begin construction. Chances are that it will never happen. So for the foreseeable future, the Canal du Rhône au Rhin is left to hire boaters, the occasional hotel barge, and privateers such as Wanderlust. Commercial traffic is effectively non-existent.
Wanderlust has been this way before. In 2017 we made an aborted attempt up the canal. In 2019 we finally back to finish what we started. As in 2017, there were early season rains. The extra water mattered little on the first segment, from Saint Jean de Losne to Dole. Most of this section of the route is manmade canal well separated from the river. Short of a biblical flood the segment from Dole to the Saône is mostly immune to the heavy river flows.
But after Dole things would change, as the canalized river segments of the waterway would become frequent. We knew we might well have to hold ahead at points along the way to let the river water levels drop. We were OK with that. Unpredictability is one of the appeals of barging. For the time being we could enjoy the calm waters on the approach to Dole.
Wanderlust traveled the 24 kilometers and 9 locks from Saint Jean de Losne to Dole on the 7th of May 2019. Her engine ran for 6.4 hours. Wanderlust stayed two nights in Dole at the quay.
A map of the route can be brought up using the link.