St-Valery-sur-Somme + Canal de la Somme : Cruising in Detail
Information about the 156km of navigable river and canal from Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, an entry port into the French waterways system from the English Channel (la Manche), east to Saint-Simon (via a 20km section of the Canal du Nord) at the junction with the Canal de St-Quentin.
The canal passes through Abbeville and Amiens. Except for the Canal du Nord section, the course is often quiet, pretty and richly rural in character – commercial traffic is light to non-existent. The Canal de la Somme is frequently bordered by lakes that are the result of extensive peat-digging in the past and that are very popular with anglers. Although the approach from the English Channel is a little difficult and demands care and preparation, the rewards from visiting St Valery and using the Somme route into France’s river and canal system are substantial. St Valery is the kind of place that people talk about, often in terms such as “don’t tell too many other people, we want to keep its charm to ourselves”.
De- (or re-) masting will also benefit from some preparatory work. The marina at St Valery, whilst helpful and able to provide craneage, will not be as familiar with the techniques as (say) yards at Honfleur or Le Havre, so don’t rely on them knowing and doing, everything. It might be advisable to talk to an experienced UK yard about the practicalities and the sequence – for example, disconnecting electrics; the order in which shrouds and stays and their bottle screws should be loosened and released; how and where the lifting strop on the mast should be attached (to avoid the wrongly balanced mast tipping end over end); and how the mast should actually be unstepped, lifted and laid down. Most probably laid down on your supports, see ‘Masting and Mastering‘.
See also general notes (foot of page).
- Approximate TE minimum depth 1.80m, TA headroom 3.5m, width 5.10m. These are the ‘book’ values and may vary according to conditions. Latest (winter 2010) indications are that 1.8m may be optimistic, particularly towards the end of summer – 1.5m may be more realistic. There are 25 locks (ecluses) open from 09:00 to 12:30 and 13:30 to 18:00. There are a number of lift bridges, operated by eclusiers.
- VNF contact telephone numbers 03 60 01 52 14 (Amiens) or 03 22 84 74 40 (Peronne). The sea-lock at St-Valery is opened around HW – 03 22 60 80 23. Locks are operated by travelling eclusiers and boats may need to travel together – contact 06 74 83 60 69 to make arrangements.
- Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides.
Bay of the Somme – The estuary channel approach
The approach from the English Channel must be made in the correct tidal, wind and weather conditions because of the extensive shoals and drying areas of the Baie de la Somme. The access channel twists and turns and is well marked with buoys but the channel’s route changes so charts may not be completely accurate.
Inward bound, be at the ATSO safe water mark around HW-2, preferably not at Neaps if your draft is more than 1.5m and not in an on-shore breeze greater than F4. A piece of advice from the harbourmaster was to keep close to the red port-hand marks. A keen look-out and a depth-sounder are vital. There is a subsidiary small-craft channel north to Le Crotoy. Time from sea to St Valery is approximately 2 hours. In the lower (final approach) photograph (by Dick Holness – East Coast Pilot) the marina/river channel (photo below) is just ahead, turn to starboard.
View above is looking east towards the river’s sea-locks that open approx. 1hr either side of HW. Telephone 03 22 60 80 23
Port Saint-Valery : VHF #09, telephone 03.22.60.24.84 or 03.22.60.24.80, Email snval©wanadoo,fr (snval©wanadoo,fr) Moorings for boats up to 16m length, 2m draft, 30 visitor places – non-drying. There is also a canal pontoon beyond the sea-lock gates.
The village grew during the 10th and 11th centuries and was historically significant as the site where William the Conqueror assembled his fleet before sailing over to England in 1066. During the many wars between the French and the English the village passed between French, English and Burgundian ownership. The English destroyed the abbey and cloister in order to strengthen the nearby St Valery castle. In 1431, Joan of Arc, captive of the English, was held prisoner in the local prison where she was then conveyed to Rouen and burnt at the stake. The cell in which she stayed can still be found near part of the old village walls.
Saint-Valery has a station (and out-of-season terminus) of the narrow gauge “Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme” (Somme Bay Railway), which is now largely a tourist attraction. Running around the entire length of the bay, this railway connects Le Crotoy with Noyelles-sur-Mer, and Saint-Valery; in the summer season trains also run from Saint-Valery to Cayeux-sur-Mer and the sands at Brighton Plage.
Pontoon Halte: telephone 03.22.24.27.92 (Tourist Office), moorings for 3 boats, water and electricity.
Port d’Amont quayside Halte: telephone 03.22.71.60.50 (Tourist Office), moorings for 10 boats, water and electricity, near: Amiens Cathedral(a world heritage site) is spectacularly the tallest and ‘purest’ of the large ‘classic’ Gothic churches of the 13th century; it is the largest in France of its kind.
At PK52 Froissy there are good informal moorings near the ecluse and bridge and also immediately adjacent the light railway.
Hire-boat Halte: telephone 03 22 76 12 12 (Locaboat), moorings for 19 boats but many may be occupied, water and electricity. The final section (‘bief’) up to the Canal du Nord is narrow, due to overhanging trees, and may be shallow due to relative paucity of feed coming downstream from the canal.
PK36 Peronne – Canal du Nord
Port de Plaisance: telephone 03.22.84.19.31, moorings for 20 boats, water and electricity. Photograph shows the Canal du Nord with the Canal de la Somme junction just visible on the left. Whilst not a ‘full’ Grand Gabarit (the large-size equivalent of a canal motorway) the canal still carries a fair amount of commercial traffic. The PdP is in a spur off the main canal, about 1km beyond the junction – but passing peniches (especially the empty ones, which travel faster) can still cause wash and movement.
PK16 (Somme) – Upper Canal de la Somme branches east. This section is currently (early 2010) closed.
Upper Somme section currently closed to navigation – re-opening date is unknown:
PK15 Ham – Canal de la Somme
Spur just east of the village centre, pontoon. Remaining 15km of rural, wooded, canal to the junction with the Canal de St-Quentin at St-Simon. You may well choose this route if by-passing Paris to or from the Marne-Saone (Eastern) route to/from the Rhone and the Mediterranean.