Summer cruise – Week 5 The Mighty Rhone (and the case of the missing mast)

Saturday is a most important day in the weekly handover cycle. In Lyon the outgoing crew left in sunshine and clearly looking forward to a bit of hotel luxury after 4 weeks on Quartette. The Week 5 crew of Jo Fergusson, Jan Futcher, Jerry Jones and Andy Bowerman set off in glorious sunshine for the River Rhone and the first of its 12 rather large locks. We were very grateful to take over a boat in fine form, after its long canal and river journey from Le Havre – the engine was running very well and there was even the odd bottle of wine left on board!
We stopped overnight in Condrieu, Valence, Viviers and two nights in a delightful Avignon.  The trip was pleasingly relaxing and uneventful, with glorious weather and a following breeze. Our main issue was deciding which the nicest smelly cheese, choosing the best marinated olives and of course – which bottle(s) of wine to consume tonight!

Our second night was at Valence were we were joined by the local wildlife, more interested in what we had to feed them with than their offspring. Andy managed to terrorise a helpful German by parking QT a few millimetres from his delicate outboard, at about 5 knots, but everyone’s nerves recovered eventually.
Photos by Jerry – we only had to wait a few minutes at the locks – the HH VHF was very handy.

Quartette does make a superb ‘motor boat’ and is very economical on the flat, with the engine purring away and cruising effortlessly at about 12km an hour, aided by the current, which varies according to the main channel width and barrage/lock locations. The absence of the tall sticky thing in the middle makes sunbathing particularly easy.

The locks were very big – but quite gentle in operation and clearly no worries about water supply, as we had them to ourselves most of the time.

It’s that famous Bridge at Avignon – Jerry is an early riser so caught it minus the hordes of tourists! Avignon was a pleasant interlude in a lovely town and rested us up to deal with the drama to come in Port-st-Louis.

Quartette finally enters the Mediterranean at Port-st-Louis – the lock separates the river from the sea and only dropped us a few millimetres.

As meticulously planned, we arrived in Port-st-Louis, Navy Services yard late afternoon Thursday, with the crane booked for 0930 on the Friday for mast stepping. Andy had everything worked out in detail and briefed all on the various tasks they would need to do. Except one small matter – try as he could Andy could not find the mast anywhere, as faithfully confirmed to have been delivered by Boatload International. A sneaking suspicion formed – as alluded to by the chap on the next boat (sipping his wine and grinning from ear to ear) – maybe it went to Port Napoleon by mistake?

So off comes the trusty folding bike and Andy peddles off into the distance – followed by the comment “isn’t there supposed to be a boom as well?”. Port Napoleon is about a mile away but off the Richter scale in terms of comparative mast stepping costs. So lo and behold, after a brief search, there was Quartettes mast on top (i.e. totally inaccessible) of an A frame, with dozens of others –  and in the wrong yard. Andy’s normally calm demeanour was sorely tested and a series of interesting phone calls ensued.
This is Quartette’s mast ready to go up, it’s the one on wheels, with everything ‘dressed’ and a very thirsty Jerry and Andy!
So Saturday involved a string of profuse (and quite genuine) apologies from the haulier, mild panic over the missing boom (left in Rouen by mistake and allegedly on route by courier) and a concentrated charm offensive to get a crane and rigger booked asap in Port Napoleon. In the event, we persuaded the yard to get the mast down for us (thank you Jan) and we were able to prep it for a Monday 0930 lift, which was the earliest they could give us (thank you to the pretty girl in the office!).
Saturday afternoon our luck changed – the boom arrived, the fuel truck arrived and we were allocated a ‘box’ to put all the spare fenders, bikes and deck chairs in. Jan started to win over the artisans, with her well honed charm and persuasion powers, while Jerry and Andy put the mast together in the searing heat and amid bedlam around the launching dock.
With crane and rigger bookings made, we had no option but to hand over the mast stepping operation to Andy Connor’s inbound crew. However, we did make it to Marseille over an unfamiliarly bouncy sea, so at least Andy’s crew would find the boat where they expected.
Just a minor matter of a missing mast – Apologies to Andy and Crew!!
Postscript: As you can imagine, Andy and crew were not best pleased by having to return the 22 miles to Port Napoleon and get the mast installed. However, we are pleased to report that it’s all done and the crew set sail today, Tuesday the 10th June. You should find them back on AIS again.
PPS from Andy Connor – yes, we were very pleased to get the mast back, but it was a long process as no one in France works on a Sunday and, as it happened, Monday was a Bank Holiday for some, depending on your political point of view (the conservatives abolished the holiday, the socialists brought it back!). Our rigger was Japanese, so he worked on the Monday, but the electrician wasn’t, so he did not turn up until Tuesday! We managed to get back to Marseille on the Tuesday evening and set off on the Med cruise proper on Wednesday morning. More detail will be added on my return to UK!

—  Andy Bowerman

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