In the first of our legendary reports, having made the decision to ‘sell up and go sailing’ and go through the French canals to the Mediterranean. We leave the UK, cross the Channel in a gale, deal with a toilet problem, crash into a lock, lower (unstep) the mast, nearly lose the mast, nearly lose the boat and eventually get to Paris.

Only going forward, ‘cos we can’t find reverse.

Monday 22nd September

97nm 15hrs (plus). Left Lake Yard 06:40 and got near Poole entrance, but failed to get VHF radio to transmit test, so aborted and arranged to get new hand-held set delivered to nearby Salterns marina. Windy and very nasty rainy all day while we get sorted again and await next optimal departure time. Have to anchor off Brownsea and lower dinghy to take Chloe for a walk – horribly choppy and wet. Finally leave 18:00hrs with weather and conditions much improved. All OK until mid-Channel 24:00hrs with rising following W-NW winds [20-25kts], biggish seas and Ruth unwell. Off Barfleur worse still [30kts+], alternating 1hr sleep watches. Frightening and unpleasant, but Grehan and the autopilot behaving well. Alter sails to reduce and centre main, keeping only moderate genoa, and motoring. Grit teeth.

Tues-Thurs 23-25th Sept

By 09:00 arrive St Vaast in calm, overcast, conditions (later brightens to sunshine), enter through lock and moor up on typical French short wobbly pontoon spur. People enquire what the gale was like. “How brave!” (is that “foolhardy”?). Catch up on sleep. Dismayed that lavatory pump has developed smelly problem, but captivated by amphibious bus that ferries folk to adjoining Isle de Tatihou. Too much time spent fixing loo pump during the next day. Thursday, took Grehan outside marina and beached her at low water to inspect underside, propeller, etc. All OK, scraped off barnacles and moved later in the day to anchorage in entrance bay off Tatihou.

Fri-Mon 26-27th September

18nm 4 hours. Left St Vaast at 06:15 (anchorage by Isle de Tatihou). Caught out grounding at low water during the night even though positioned some way off land – no problem, just raised the keel but should have properly reckoned beforehand. Quiet motor-sail (not much wind) southwards past the Isles de Saint-Marcouf, through estuary channel and into Napoleanic canal. Lovely, and lovely tranquil haven at Carantan. Then spent far too much time and emotional energy at Carantan, trying to get stupid Vodafone to help us connect to their GPRS service.

Sun-Tues 28-30th September

Nice day Sunday, bad ending. 83nm, leave Carantan 10:30 and out through canal and estuary into Baie de la Seine. Lovely sun-filled sailing for hours due East towards Le Havre, past the invasion beaches. Enter the Chenal de Rouen entrance to the Seine off Le Havre at 21:00hrs and finally get to Honfleur lock at 22:00, the upriver tidal current very strong. Lock is unfamiliar, intimidatingly big and dark but with very bright light sources, and we are tired. Muck up mooring to lock sides big-time and Grehan bashes head first into lock side. Very upsetting, arrive in Honfleur basin shaking and somehow moor up for the night.

Monday, morning dawned and damage not so bad (bent guard rails), but – underlying – very shaky. Met nice couple who’d just come thro’ from the Med and were getting their mast re-stepped here. With their guidance, got round to rough and ready type boatyard, spent the night there and got the boat ready. Mast removed following day, laid horizontally onto X-frame timbers brought from UK. Structure a bit wobbly – so added additional support. Moved boat into town basin – middle of mediaeval town with cute tall building all around. Very picturesque. Still worried about wobbliness of mast supports, went back to boatyard (evening) and pinched couple of stout timbers and incorporated them. Much happier, spent evening on new boatfriends boat.

Wed-Sun 1-5th October

Eventful and distressing. 114km, left Honfleur 08:30 and got through Lock without problem, into La Seine and under the impressively big Pont de Normandie bridge. All seems OK and we’re catching the upstream flood tide. Noon near Caudebec, a small ship passes the other way. Medium-size wake, Grehan wallows, the mast lurches to and fro, the forward X support breaks and that end of the mast crashes onto the pulpit (bow guard-rail). Will the whole lot collapse? Into the water? Then what? Heartstopping moments mid-channel in a major river in full bate. Frantic getting out of ropes and tying up everything in sight. Next heart-in-mouth – the next vessel to pass. Wobbly, but we’re OK. Carry on like that for the next 6 hours, which is very nerve-wracking, until we arrive at Rouen and France’s 3rd most important seaport, over 100km inland, past some big big ships. Finally moor up at the Port de Plaisance 18:15hrs. Gee whizz.

Next day we’re visited by Customs who also tell us where the nearest Brico is. Cycle across bridge and along river-front to the BricoDepot where we buy 5 big bits of wood, a saw and some bolts, tie them to the bikes and push the whole lot back to the boat. It’s amazingly hot and tiring. Start sawing to make new sturdy X-frames to replace yours truly’s stupidly inadequate originals. Arrange to use crane next day to lift mast up whilst supports are renewed. Costly.

Next day Friday morning and I’m nearly completing the second frame, the river current flowing past very strongly. Chaps next door are having trouble leaving their mooring, can’t swing into the channel because of the current. Your captain offers them some friendly help, eventually they ask if we could move up a bit to provide more exit-manouevring room. Engine started and ropes prepared, but with everything not ready, without warning and unbidden they uncleat our ropes and Grehan swings into channel. Captain shrieks. Then they actually drop some ropes which are now free, as is our boat, our home and our dream for the future. Leap onto boat and engage engine full tilt to try to avoid slamming into other boats, the pontoon, skating out of control downstream, etc. A rope they have dropped winds itself around propeller and shaft, engine stops, boat nosedives into pontoon. Finally manage to get situation under control. We’re both shaking with fear and anger. This after everything else. Every day is bringing some new unexpected calamity.

Have to arrange for diver to come and inspect and remove rope. However, in the meantime, get help to lift mast manually onto new stout timbers, which goes OK and seems OK. Fingers crossed. Cause-of-our-woes boat “Hiva Oa” leaves for Paris. Next day (Saturday) diver turns up, plunges into icy water and it takes worrying ages for him to cut and disentangle rope. Cost £100+ – very unfair and not our fault. Ruth goes to cash machine. We test the boat but she won’t engage gear. Have to get mechanic from adjoining boatyard to take a look. The selector lever mechanism has a problem. Heart in mouth I take it to bits and get mechanic back. Simple problem takes 5 mins to fix . . in the catastrophe panic I had wrenched it too hard . . but it’s yet another thing . . No more bloody boat things for the rest of the day – visit Rouen, Cathedral, Jeanne d’Arc, etc. Next day [Sunday] take it slowly and sort boat out, Ruth invents excellent fender lashing method. Prepare to leave next day. Let’s hope we leave these so-painful awful troubles, too.

Monday 6th October

40km. Left on the morning flood tide and fuelled up from very smart, very clean, barge (so unlike the picturesque laid-back oilfulness of barge and attendant at Aunt Betty, Poole!). 13:45hrs Amfreville Lock [ecluse] and we enter Middle Earth – no salt water, no tides, and inland water. Moor up in backwater at Poses village, which is pretty and quiet apart from high-volume laughing ducks. Someone’s obviously told them about us. And it being Lundi, the boulangerie ain’t open. Withdrawl symptoms abound.

30km. A very grey and rainy start but arrived happy at destination village Les Andelys – with magical-looking castle built by Richard the Lionheart (a.k.a Duke of Normandy) to fend off the French King. Problem – depth too shallow to get into also nice-looking riverside yacht harbour. Tried, but stuck and sucked up fine silt which caused the engine to sound lack-of-cooling-water alarm. Quick turn-off the motor and drift a bit. Then an emergency mooring tied to a couple of parked barges and gradually sucked out the merde with hand-pump I was glad I had bought. Not too much of a panic, but a disconcerting moment or two. Getting late so travelled a few km into nearby backwater and found a little concrete wharf to tie up to. Very quiet, very small hamlet of Tosny. Cycled along the riverside and Chloe accordingly took the waters . . .

Wed-Thurs 8-9th October

21km, through Garenne ecluse [no probs], to Vernonnet – pontoon alongside the river by a bridge and part of a children’s water activities centre. The kids canoe, kayak and generally have a marvellous time. Approach shallow (0.8m – just made it!) and passing barges create a noticeable wash. Moored behind “Hiva-Oa” [see Rouen calamity, nuff said]. Shopped. Thursday, cycled along ex-railway track path 4km to Giverny where Claude Monet lived and painted. Weather lovely and gardens very beautiful. Glad we’re out of season – must be packed in summer. Lots of Americans even now.

Friday 10th October

Breakfast porridge, taken al fresco on the afterdeck in tee shirts – it’s that warm. 30km, through Mericourt ecluse [fender board damaged], to Port de L’Ilon – a marina set in a woodland lake (ex-gravel working) just off La Seine. Water and electricity and nicer (out of season) than the guides might suggest. We’re nearly halfway between Rouen and Paris and have learnt that one page in the Navicarte map book equals about 1/2hr travelling. Bikes out and cycled to next small village – Guernes – to get baguette, wine and fun-size kit-kats. At last found time and space to start this web-log. Is that the same as a “Blog”?

Sat-Sun 11-12th October

27km, last 6km dicing with rowers in singles, pairs and fours all of whom row like mad not looking where they’re going (backwards). Arrived at Meulan to find annual Cheese Festival in full flow including mediaeval costumed troupe of musician-actors, stalls selling cheeses of all varieties, loads of people, etc. Great fun, especially since we are moored up in the middle of everything! Town so nice we stay 2 days.

Monday 13th October

48km 5.25hrs, through Andresy and Bougival ecluses and with the river almost to ourselves on a lovely sun-bright day. Doesn’t seem like October! We have liked to prepare and moor port side to, but the small lock at Bougival has bollards only on starboard side (going upstream), so we hitched bights of warps to the ladder on ‘our’ side – OK, but we need some practice in this ‘new’ technique. Arrived at Chatou halte de plaisance destination only to be gruffly warned off by group of anglers – although pontoon is there, it isn’t used now. Crossed to opposite bank to very smart Halte at Rueil-Malmaison fronting Docklands type business district piazza – flagpoles, lights, landscaping and a water feature, but no water or power . . ? Opposite an inn where Renoir, Monet, Manet etc used to meet, eat and paint but sadly it’s now considerably revamped and on the tourist-tripper trail. In the evening someone could be seen setting fire to something over at the old Chatou halte, so very glad to be where we are!

Tues-Tues 14th-21st October

46km, through Suresnes and then Paris Arsenal ecluses. The last couple of hours are fantastic. Bright sunshine and we almost have the broad river to ourselves as we sweep past all those landmarks – La Grande Jatte, Maison de la Radio, Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, Louvre, Notre Dame, and of course all the bridges. All to ourslves, except for the amazing array of river craft parked up in various places – from bloomin’ great sand and ballast barge conveys to ‘traveller’ yachts to smart luxury houseboats. And in the last hour, the bateaux mouches that zoom past at a rate of knots. Eventually we moor up in the Paris Arsenal basin, just off the river near the Ile Saint Louis and in the heart of the city in front of the Place de la Bastille and the (new, millennium) Paris Opera. Great!

Over the next week we get to the top of the Eiffel Tower (d’accord); walk along the Seine past Notre Dame to the Louvre, walk round the Louvre for 3 hours, walk around the city and then walk back (phew!); visit an impressive Sunday market; and visit the Pere Lachaise cemetry (where are buried Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Colette, and all the great and the celebrated since about 1850), which is a truly magical place. We are moored (“rafted”) alongside Fred and Kitty from East Virginia, who have been cruising in their yacht Mariah for the last 6 years, and who are excellent temporary neighbours, giving hospitality, tales and good advice.