Valence and Cruas – the mistral arrived...

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February 2nd 2011
Published: February 2nd 2011
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We departed before 10am on an overcast and chilly morning after saying our goodbyes to Chris and Phil as we weren't sure we'd see them again. Phil told us with a big grin that he'd learnt more about drinking in the last 3 days than he had in 40 years at Whitbread. He had been introduced to Mike cocktails and Mike was pleased to hear this snippet! We were really pleased to have met them and had such good fun – we hoped we'd see them again.
As we motored down river the sun made an appearance and we took the roof down, bundling up in jumpers to keep warm. Becky and I behaved like tourist geeks looking out for the 'sights' in the Rhone navicarte and photographing them as we passed. We saw the three crosses on a hilltop, put there to mark the place where 3 christians were washed up dead after being thrown into the river by the Romans. These 3 men later became saints. We then navigated our first lock of the day, Fred doing the rope work after I'd lasooed the bollard. I then taught him how to do it with the spare rope as we descended. After the first lock Mike gave Fred some more instruction on driving the boat and Mike and Fred took in turns driving whilst me and Becky continued chatting and looking out for landmarks. On the way to the next lock we saw a famous rock called 'La Table Du Roi' which is where St Louis (then King Louis) was said to have stopped off for lunch on his way to the seventh crusade in Persia in the 12th century. Apparently there was so much civil unrest at the time that he did not want to go ashore so sent for food to be brought to him at the rock. A little history lesson there. Far better than the rock was a bright pink factory not long after it. Becky spotted it and we ran over to the side to get a closer look – not only was the factory pink but all the workers were in hot pink overalls. It would never have flown in England. We loved it.
In the next lock Fred successfully lassooed the bollard and did the rope work on his own for the first time. I couldn't help but notice how slowly and carefully Mike approached the bollards with fred on the ropes – he could actually place the rope over the bollard. I questioned why I didn't get this treatment and was fobbed off with 'Because I know you can do it baby.' I'm not so certain … I think Freddie was getting special treatment. However, we were sharing the lock with a massive hotel barge that only just fit, so I can see why Mike was particularly careful!
We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting, enjoying the scenery and arrived at the final lock of the day about half four. Mike and Fred had been drinking pretty steadily while me and Becks transferred music between our laptops – she had the best selection of Bon Jovi ever and I needed that in my life. We hadn't noticed just how tipsy the boys were until Fred stumbled on his way to do the ropes. I went with him to help – you know, just in case! Once we were on the bollard I left Fred to it (it was chilly!) and went back into the boat. After we'd descended he came back and accidentally kicked the pokey stick we use to hold the dinghy off the wall into the water. Mike reversed back and, with a combination of boat hooking and cunning Fred I managed to retrieve it.
We spent that night at Valence Eperviere marina. Mike did a BBQ while the rest of us went off in search of a shop. Fred took us on a 'short cut' after looking at a map by the marina office and ended up adding a good 20 minutes and a dual carriageway crossing to what should have been a 10 minute walk. When we got back with the meat for the BBQ, the boat that had been next door had moved. Had Mike managed to upset them already?! It turns out that yes, he had. The owner told Mike he didn't like fires on boats then moved his boat when Mike didn't put out the BBQ – if you weren't meant to have BBQ's on a boat, why do they make boat BBQ's?! However, a german chap a few boats along had taken a shine to Mike, given him all the food left on his boat as he was off in the morning and shared a beer with him. You can't please all the people all the time.
Overnight a strong wind blew in and moved the boat around a lot., None of us got an awful lot of sleep. The following morning we ate breakfast out the back and were joined by a little coypu who swam alongside the boat and ate the bread we threw him. Quite a cool little creature! We decided to head for Avignon then try to get to Aigues Mortes while we still had Fred and Becks with us so they could go to the Med on their holiday. As we were getting ready to set off, Chris and Phil came in. we had a catch up with them then made our way out into the strong wind, passing the wreck of L'Ardeche the last chain tug boat of the Rhone, on the way out of the marina.
The wind got worse as the day went on. Fred checked his i—phone and we found out they were northerlies forecast for the next 3 to 4 days, gusting at up to 50mph. Hello Mistral! We did 2 locks in 4 hours over 35 km in the strong winds – which was a real challenge – before deciding to pull in to the shelter of Cruas. The port was sheltered from the wind so we knew we'd get a better sleep, and the town looked lovely. We decided to spend the night there before leaving early and getting to Avignon in one hit the next day to wait out the rest of the wind in pretty surroundings.
Cruas is a strange place – the town itself is ancient and beautiful, but on either side of it are huge power stations. It was very bizarre to see an ancient fortified town through a haze of smoke! We tied up the boat, paid and went off for a walk. We all jumped out of our skin when a dog barked ferociously at us, even the boys made noises that could be described as squeals or screams. Dogs are bloody aggressive in France. I jumped so much I left the pavement, and Fred moved into the road. He could have been run over.
Naturally, we took the longest possible route to the medieval part of town ,ending up at the locked vehicle access gate at the back, squeezing through the gaps in the gate to get in only to discover a gateless entrance at the front of the town and far closer to the marina! The town was gorgeous and after a while we went and ordered pizzas from a little van in the square, It was a quiet town, but really pretty. While we waited for our food to be cooked, we went into a little pub for a beer. The owner was a Scotsman who chatted to us about our trip and advised us of places to visit or to avoid on the South coast.
We picked up our food and headed back – and all jumped out of our skins again as the same dog barked and leapt at the fence. Bastard got us twice. Once back we squashed under a blanket with pizzas on our laps, watched a DVD and had an early night sheltered from the wind before our mammoth trip to Avignon the next day. We were loving having Fred and Becks for company and wanted to get them to the sunny south before they had to leave.

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