Have you been looking for an alternative to Gibraltar for a long time? Or do you want to get to know “that same France” better? Then French channels are a great option! Not the easiest, but interesting experience - the channels du Midi and Garonne, as well as Des Merces will give you an unforgettable experience.
When it comes to fast passage from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean (or vice versa), most skippers will take the shortcut via Gibraltar. Of course, this is a healthy option for a quick transition. But if you are not limited in time, then there is a more interesting option. Yachts with shallow draft can easily pass through the French channels.
Naturally, this is not an option for skippers who urgently need to get to the Atlantic or the Mediterranean Sea. When passing through the Canadas, you will spend more time due to the peculiarities of navigation on rivers and canals, speed limits and numerous locks.
However, such a journey will be beneficial for the overall development of the skipper. It will update and enrich your knowledge. Traveling the French canals is truly a unique experience for every yachtsman.
What are the main routes?
River navigation is very developed in Europe. Complex networks of canals, locks, rivers can even be intimidating when studying maps. Fortunately, upon closer inspection, it turns out that not everything is so scary. Now there are two main routes that interest us.
The first is the east-west route. It passes through the Canals du Midi and the Garonne. These two channels are called the Canal de Mers. By the way, it is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The De Mers Canal which connects Mediterranean France with the Bay of Biscay.
Another option is the north-south route. It connects the English Channel with the Mediterranean through the rivers Rhone, Saone and Seine. This route also connects a number of smaller canals.
What do you need to know?
There are some very important things to know before choosing either of the two routes. And these moments are in the depths of canals and bridges.
Regarding the depth - as mentioned earlier, you need a yacht with a small draft. There may be uneven depth along the channel. So, when choosing a north-south route, it is necessary to take into account the fact that in the Seine section the depth will be 3 meters, the Sona - 1.8 m. At the same time, in the du Midi canal, the depth will be about 1.3-2 meters.
There are also many bridges on the canals. You can't sail under them. Moreover, because of the bridges, the width of the canal also narrows. Thus, the narrowest part of the Canal du Midi will be 5.45 meters, and the lowest bridge is 3.25 meters above the water. Other channels have, of course, other heights and widths. But something unites them - you have to remove the mast in case you go on a sailboat.
Mast transportation problems
The mast can be removed from local yacht maintenance firms. On the shores of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, prices, of course, vary. On average, you can meet 200-300 euros (both removal and re-installation).
That being said, removing the mast may not be the biggest problem. As you know, the mast is longer than the hull. Keep this in mind when transporting the mast on your yacht. There are two options for transporting the mast.
The first is to hoist the mast onto the deck and secure it securely. This can be done with an A-frame. Local experts will help to create such a frame. Such a frame is usually made of pine beams. One frame is mounted on the tank, and the second on the transom. If you have a bimini, you can use it and not install a second frame.
Weight straps are great for securing the mast. You can add several spacers to the design for reliability. The ends of the mast should be secured with a cloth or other available means. Remember that the ends of the mast are the most vulnerable to damage.
Many people practice this option, but if you are afraid or worried about the safety of the mast, then there is a second option. It consists in the separate transportation of the mast through specialized companies. They will offer for an immodest amount (about 1000 euros) to send the mast to the point of arrival. The amount does not include storage at the shipyard.
Every square meter is your personal marina
Okay, not everyone. But almost everyone. On the channel you have the opportunity to stop and stand almost anywhere. Warning: you cannot “moor” a yacht to trees, it is prohibited by law!
It is best to have a pair of reliable stakes with you. So you will not be tied to a place or time. This is not the only option. There are moorings and similarities of marinas on the canals. Not all, but many have electricity and running water. Sometimes there are piers with showers and laundry facilities. The cost varies from 2 to 20 euros per night.
Most "natural moorings" (poles you can moor at but no other amenities) are free. They are often located on the outskirts of the city. A good guidebook will provide detailed information on the location of all marinas and amenities along the canals.
It is best to have a bicycle with you just in case. So you can quickly change transport and go to explore local cafes, attractions and shops. Keep in mind, however, that most canals pass through the centers of towns and villages. So if you are limited to replenishment of provisions, then you are unlikely to need something more than your two.
Since you are in France, food markets, bakeries and wine shops are often within walking distance. And this is not an exaggeration or stereotypes, this is a harsh reality. Supermarkets are also usually nearby.
Most locks on French waterways are now automated. The Canal du Midi is an exception to this rule. Here, the locks are still managed by a caretaker (éclusier).
Going downstream is very easy: you enter the lock when it is full and moor on the provided bollards. In an automated gate, you press a button on the control panel to close the gate and start the process. The lock is then emptied, and once you get down and the gate opens, you can continue on your way.
You can spend a lot of time in the canals of France, exploring every nook and cranny. On your way you will meet many beautiful cities - Beziers, Carcassonne, Castelnaudary, Toulouse, Moissac, Montauban and Bordeaux. You can also enjoy the local nature, cuisine and atmosphere. And of course nowhere without the famous French castles.
The countryside, from vineyards with snow-capped mountains in the background, to verdant farmlands dotted with church spiers, not to mention the bustling streets of downtown Toulouse and Bordeaux, is as fascinating as it is varied.
Both channels have very different vibes. Garonne will give an unforgettable feeling of peace and quiet under the sprawling crowns of green trees. Canal du Midi, on the other hand, will immerse you in the true atmosphere of “that same France” from pictures in multi-colored booklets.
And this trip will give you something much more valuable - experience. This is a very specific experience that is unlikely to be repeated anywhere else, but it's worth it.
Don't forget to rate the content! You can find other interesting articles on the links below or in the "News" section!
News and articles
The story of the battle between Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Bernard Muatessier during the 1968-1969 Sunday Times Golden Globe round the world has become a legend. The 2018 Golden Globe Race will mark the 50th anniversary of Knox-Johnston's victory on his traditional 32ft yacht Suhaili.Read more…
Motion sickness ... this phrase leads many to a stupor, and sometimes to trembling knees can lead. Everything around begins to stagger. Jump. Legs give way and become wadded. The head turns into a heavy ball stuffed with sawdust, and the stomach feels like an extra organ at all ... In a word, the sensations cannot be called pleasant.Read more…
The war, alas, continues. And continues to affect all aspects of life. Most recently - in May - the Nikolaev Yacht Club in the Ship District of the city suffered from shelling. This Tuesday, the Kharkiv Yacht Club in the village was shelled. Old Saltov, in the vicinity of Kharkov.Read more…