Upper Saone (Petite Saône)
Information about the 365km long Petite Saône
The Petite Saône is fully canalised over a distance of 365km from Corre, where it is joined by the Canal des Vosges (Canal de l’Est, southern branch), to its confluence with the Rhône at Lyon-La Mulatière. It also forms the backbone of the French waterway network, being joined by four major canals linking with the other main river basins: the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne (PK 127), the Canal du Rhône au Rhin (PK 160), the Canal de Bourgogne (PK 165) and the Canal du Centre (PK 221). In terms of navigable characteristics and standards, the river is divided into two sections:
1. Corre to Auxonne, (150 km).
2. Auxonne to Lyon (215 km).
Corre to Auxonne
Although forming part of the important link between the Rhine/Moselle basin and the Rhône, this section of the waterway is completely unspoilt and ideal for cruising. The river winds lazily through charming pastoral landscapes, the longer meanders being bypassed by lengths of canal incorporating standard 38.50m locks. These canal sections cut almost 30km from the natural length of the river (407km from Corre to Lyon). Because the kilometre posts are still in place, the original distances are retained in the route description below (with a note each time the route is suddenly shortened). There are two tunnels: Saint-Albin (PK 48) has a length of 681m, a width at water level of 6.55m and a maximum height of 4.10m, while Seveux-Savoyeux (PK 76) has a length of 643m, width 6.50m and headroom 3.60m. In both cases, the restricted wetted cross-section of the tunnel is retained for some distance beyond each entrance and one-way traffic is enforced, controlled by lights. At certain other locations identified in the distance table passing and overtaking are forbidden. The right-angle junction with the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne is controlled by lights from Heuilley lock (17).
History – The Saône has always been the most navigable of French rivers, with a very gentle gradient and regular flow, albeit subject to floods which can make the broad valley look like an inland sea. The Roman general Vetus envisaged a canal from the Saône to the Moselle. Natural navigability made merchants an easy prey for local lords and tax collectors, and chains were laid across the river in many locations, to collect tolls. Colbert declared them illegal in 1664, but it seemed to Delalande – writing in 1778 – that ‘the easier the navigation, the more its natural advantages have been abused by exactions of all sorts’. Navigability in the industrial era was introduced, as on the other major rivers, after the movable weir was invented by Poirée. By 1847 there were five weirs and locks on the Saône. The canalisation as completed above Auxonne has not changed, while development of the high-capacity waterway downstream meant the replacement of 12 early weirs and locks by only five in the 215 km. The last, at Seurre, was completed in 1980. The entire waterway remains in the national priority network, and may one day be adapted to form the high-capacity Saône-Moselle waterway (Vetus’ dream!)
Key Waterway Dimensions
- Max Beam: 5.20m
- Max Height: 3.50m
- Max Draught: 1.80m
Local Waterway Links
Locks – In this section there are 19 locks and flood locks at Cubry-les-Soing and Ferrières-les-Ray, which are normally open. There are also flood gates protecting most of the lock-cuts. The first 15 locks (Corre to Gray) have a length of 38.50m with a width of 5.20m. The remaining four are 40 by 8m. Many of the locks are electrified and equipped for automatic operation. Users are handed a leaflet of instructions at the last manually operated lock.
Navigation – The river above Saint-Jean-de-Losne features occasional fallen trees and branches, on the banks and in the river itself. Branches can be seen floating on the surfaces; there are also waterlogged ones just below. Keep a good look-out.
Draught – From Corre to Auxonne lock the maximum authorised draught is 1.80m.
Headroom – The minimum headroom in this section is 3.50m.
Towpath – There is a good towpath throughout.
Regulations – The maximum authorised speed is 15km/h in river sections (although there are some local restrictions), and 6km/h in the lock-cuts. The entrance to the lock-cuts from upstream can bedelicate during floods.
Authority – VNF – Direction interrégionale Saône-Rhône Méditerranée
– 2, quai du canal, BP 2, 70170 Port-sur-Saône (PK 0-62)
– 5, quai Vergy 8, 70101 Gray (PK 62-127)
– Avenue Pierre Nugues, 71100 Châlon-sur-Saône (PK 127-150)
SELF-DRIVE CANAL BOAT VACATIONS
Hiring your own cruising boat is an ideal way to explore and experience the pleasures and treasures that the French waterways have to offer. Hire boats come in different sizes, to suit a couple, a family or you and your friends, and your ‘hands on the wheel’ holiday can be arranged from start to finish by any of the reputable companies to be found on french-waterways.com.