Our second night on the pylons was not so pleasant. As predicted the Mistral came up in the evening and started to blow quite hard, with gusts up to 40kph (23knots) and we were stilled tied to the pylons. Add to that Martin was absolutely exhausted after the rescue the day before and a 8 km walk into town under the hot sun plus tones of stress – he fell asleep immediately we went to bed. I was still running on adrenalin and found sleep elusive as I listened to the creaking noise of the lines as they tugged against the pylons and boat.
At around 2:00 I asked Martin to drop the anchor – it wasn’t much additional security but every little bit helped (my mind anyway). Martin jumped up and felt his old self again as he went on deck stark naked and dropped the anchor. He said it reminded him of the old days on the sail boats when the anchor would break free or drift in a rocky bay and he had to secure the boat at 2:00 am. I remember one of those occasions on Middlenacht Island in the middle of the Salish Sea, when the anchor broke free at 2:00 am and we surrounded in the rocky bay by snapping seals looking on us a fair game. Again Martin in his all-together secured our anchor in a more sheltered spot out of the Force 5 winds. We survived that night and we survived this one.
The next morning our rescue party turned up. Mer Sea Navigation Marine Assistance; Chris Medico and his daughter (both Navy trained) arrived with two craft – small boat with a powerful engine (100hp) and a zodiac with a 50hp. With skill they attached themselves to Skookum – their boat at our starboard side and the zodiac at the back. We then drove north against the current and the mistral, which was still blowing. It was a two hour journey to Viviers.
After the barrage the river narrowed into a gorge, and the river speeded up. Luckily our 150hp were enough to continue plowing through. Chris was a super guy who gave instructions in French with some English thrown in for good measure. He spoke French well, so even I could get what he was saying given the context. High above we saw statues on the hilltops, one to St Michael the Archangel and one to the Virgin Mary. We were in devout Catholic country and I felt somehow quite safe, as I said a little prayer to both of these icons to take care of us.
We arrived in the small port of Viviers. Chris has been instrumental in getting the pleasure boat port restored after it had been ravaged by a major flood. We tied Skookum up securely and went for a well deserved lunch with wine followed by a relaxed afternoon as we were off the river in a safe harbour. Chris put his boats away and told us he would return the next day with the local welder, as he felt confident the prop-shaft could be fixed without taking Skookum out of the water.
The next day he arrived early with the welder. Welders seem to have a particular look in France – long straggly hair, small tight statue, smokers with a look that says ‘ I may look like a scruffy loser but I am actually the answer to your dreams.” Martin was impressed with the work, the precision and the dedication he showed to fixing our prop, but Chris – a marine engineer type was not so sure that the prop-shaft was as fixable as he thought. They worked most of the day Friday but had to come back on Monday to make sure it was all working as it should as the weld was still hot.
Viviers is a pretty little French town with the smallest cathedral in the country set on a hill above the river with a population of around 3100. It was founded in Roman times, became a strategic hill top settlement overlooking the Rhone. After the Roman Empire fell ( around 303 AD) it became an important ecclesiastical centre , a major centre in the Holy Roman Empire ( until 1032). As a bishopric it enjoy immunity from many of the conflicts within the France but was involved in others.
The narrow streets of town bear witness to the hundreds of years of life and occupation. The seat of the bishops is well preserved and this tiny enclave of Catholic life bears witness to the religious challenges in France. Today it is a delightful, but sleepy town full of ancient streets, houses, churches and church buildings. Walking around the central part of Viviers allows a visit to get a sense of the well trodden pathways that have survived until today.
Streets of Viviers
It was a lovely place to be for the weekend but we were not alone. Our first couple of nights in Viviers we shared with the crew of La Flaneur who waiting out the Mistral. Another great evening of chat food and wine with Mark E his family and a couple of friends who had joined them in Avignon. There were also quite a few river cruises that used Viviers as a visiting port or to meet a variety of tour buses.
We also had visitors join us. Malcolm and Patricia were scheduled to visit around the beginning of September , but our prop-shaft trouble meant we were not going anywhere, with the boat or by car (which was still in Avignon) . So they rented a car and drove down from their friends place in the Alps and visited on our stationary boat in Viviers. It was a great couple of days spent exploring the local area. We walked the narrow car-free streets of Viviers (Vivieraise) to the tiny Cathedral, the ancient market and the abutted houses and they hiked up to the statue of the Virgin.
The next day we took a drive to the town of Grignan, another hill top fortress on the east side of the river in Provence (Viviers is on the west in the Archeche). It was a delightful town with the narrow streets, churches, statues and a couple of interesting stores. The town was made famous by Madame de Sevigne a woman of letters who remained in the castle for many years.
Lunch in the country and a visit to a small town with a castle in a car was followed by a trip to the supermarket where we could pick up heavy goods like bottles of water, wine and milk.
Viviers and Rhone from above
When we came back from our day, the boat was ready so we tentatively took it out for a short spin around the bay in front of Viviers. Everything seemed to be good to go. Phew!
Our visitor left on Tuesday morning – they took another long walk in the town. When Patricia and Malcolm returned they told us they had been in the local Cathedral renewing their wedding vows as it was their twenty fifth wedding anniversary. We had no idea and could not celebrate as they left shortly after that.
Martin’s sister Carol and partner John turned up a hour or so later and we had lunch in the marina restaurant said our goodbyes and boarded Skookum to go up river. We took it very easy and made 20km and one lock before arriving at the tiny port of Cruas on the Rhone. Safely tucked up for the night and no mistral in the forecast we slept soundly.
Next morning we set off to our next port Valence – 30km up river plus one lock. We gently putted along and made good time, thinking maybe it was all OK. Then within sight of the Valence marina (1km away) cluck – we no longer had propulsion. Martin checked the shaft, it had sheered on the welding line and we were again in the middle of river needing to be rescued.
We called the CNR river authority – no-body home – it was 3:00pm on a Wednesday. Then we called the Valence marina told them of our circumstances and they gave us the numbers of two rescue boats. The first one answered and told us we would have to wait until 5:00pm. I was a bit panicked because we were in the middle of the shipping lane. Martin put the anchor down and it held (this was real river not canalized). We hailed the oncoming cruise ship ( sleeping 150 people so it was big), told him of our plight and asked him to warn other ships in the immediate area. Again we were sitting ducks in the river – help was on the way in a couple of hours.
Our rescuer must have felt bad because, within half and hour, a big pleasure cruiser was motoring towards us. We were in luck this was our rescue boat. The big boat tied us to his starboard side and we were in safe hands motoring into Valence harbour. Safer hands than we thought as Martin recognized the captain – Marcel, as the guy who had helped him paint the bottom of Skookum in 2016. Marcel is a jolly fellow, skilled and independent who makes a living working on boats in the yard. We parked for the night at the end of dock, safe again. The next morning Marcel towed us into the boatlift Skookum was hauled out, a new story began and the fates continued to f**k with us.