Saint-Valery sur Somme to Amiens


(Comments in italics from the silent one)

Up early (groan from one member of crew) bearing in mind we had moved forward to French time, to be at the sea lock by 0730 as instructed for the one 30 minute slot of the day to pass through. An éclusier appeared through the morning mists and half light, opened the lock gates, and we were in, up and through in. Despite several phone calls and messages left for the PCE (who manage the rest of La Somme) to say that we were moving up river there had been no reply. Captain Carr therefore looked for somewhere to moor so that we could make contact and arrange for an éclusier to open swing bridges and locks for us along the river.


We saw an old jetty with bollards and managed (just in time) to secure Calliope against the strong downstream current and outgoing tide. Stewart set off to find the éclusier or someone at the marina in order to get more information. He returned with welcome fresh bauguette and croissants – but no information. It was Saturday. Maybe they would not pick up our messages until Monday, so it was decided that we would ‘Carry On Up The Somme’ to Abbeville.

((i) The river was falling rapidly and we were on Neap tides (ii) Ray and Hilary needed to get to the railway station at Abbeville (iii) We have a dismountable wheelhouse (iv)It was 21Euros a night at St Valery and free on the Somme)

IFIt was an interesting journey! Calliope has an air draft (height) of 2.8m and we had been ‘reliably’ informed by many Piper boat owners and experts that she was built at just the right height to go under all the bridges on the navigable waterways of France.

So no problem going under the 8 bridges between us and Abbeville then?

Bridge 1, no problem; Bridge 2 looks a bit tight – Ray on foredeck and Lesley on Back deck guaging and re-guaging whether we would fit under as we got closer and closer …….. aaah …. phew … just squeezed through. Checking the Guide Fluvial we noted that the bridge had an official clearance of 2.7m, and was a turning bridge that the éclusier would have turned for us had we managed to make contact.


Never mind; no damage done. What about bridge 3, growing closer by the second?   Oh no! An official clearance of 2.4m!!! Too late to turn round or back – we are half way through already and the wheelhouse roof is … is not … maybe is …. Whoops, slight graze to the canvas cover, stern digging in as Captain pushes the boat through with full throttle, and double phew, we made it again!

(Bags of room . . . . )

So no worries at bridge 4, with a clearance of 2.5m – a full 10cms higher than the last one! And the last four are all well above us 2.9m, 7.93m plus, plus.


With all the excitement not a single photos was taken of those few kilometers.


And so we arrived at the outskirts of Abbeville, slowing down as we passed the canal to the lock entrance to check out our course once we linked up with the éclusiers – only to see it blocked by a working boat and barge. Hmm – could be here for a while!

We turned the bend onto the old town wharf wall – a very high wall left from the days
IMG_7943 of big trading ships coming in to tie up. We had an interesting minute or two finding a suitable mooring for us, with unreachable huge ancient rings atop the wall, and sparsely spaced modern steel ones along the side of the wall.



And then we were tied up fast, safe and secure, and could relax and enjoy our surroundings.


Abbeville town wharf mooring

After enjoying a farewell supper in a local restaurant (except for those who chose andouiette) it was time to get a good night sleep. Next day, Sunday, we were up and off to ‘la gare’ to say goodbye to our essential crew – Ray and Hil – who were off back to England.



We like Abbeville – it’s a typical little French town with quirky ancient corners, a couple of nice bars (with pinball machines!), a selection of shops and a few good restaurants.


IMG_8479.jpgWe got to know it quite well, staying longer than expected because on Monday when we finally made contact with the éclusier team – (two of them called round in their bright orange van) we discovered that we had caught them on the hop.


Although all the info says that High Season starts on April 1st, they were going to be working on the canal for another 10 days or so, and that was when it would ‘open’ with éclusiers to operate locks, swing bridges etc.

That gave us a small problem. Where we were moored there was no water or electricity supply; round the corner just after the lock there was a mooring with both these facilities. In halting French we explained all this, and our friendly men went off to find a solution.

The solution was that they could let us through Abbeville lock on Wednesday to the other mooring, where we would have to stay until April 15th. Excellent.

In fact we were able to move on Wednesday. Those few hundred meters were an adventure in themselves.

  • Calliope is 20m long. The river at this point is about 22m wide, partly obstructed by branches.
  • There is a very strong downstream current.
  • The town wharf juts out a couple of meters just downstream from our mooring, narrowing the river.

broadside onto the current

So, a difficult turn!

Let’s just say it was exciting, and we made it without hitting anything more than a few branches ….








… and temporarily lowering the French courtesy flag.




After that, turning into the canal cut, going through the lock and onto the new mooring were all relatively simple manouevres.


We plugged in to electricity ………….. and discovered that there was no water!



Our very helpful Somme amis were onto it immediately. One van after another came to try and sort it out and by next day we had super water pressure.






The new mooring was great and it gave us a good opportunity to get to know Abbeville. We had many pleasant walks round the town.




There are lovely buildings (many very very old)


Interesting parks and open spaces


Friendly bars and restaurants



We also went travelling by train to Mers Les Bains and Le Treport on the coast- a grand day out.

Belle Epoque extraordinaire at Mers Les Bains

(The Banksy half way up a cliff walk was an especially astonishing discovery and very powerful, sprayed over an WW11 German gun emplacement.)

The old fishing and commercial ports of Le Treport


We were in Abbeville for both of our birthdays, and each enjoyed being Queen or King for a Day, feeling decidedly rosy as night fell on 12th and 13th!



Finally, on April 14th, the canal opened for 2016 business. So good bye Abbeville and the beautiful sunsets and reflections.

We cruised upstream, meeting the éclusier, right on 11am as arranged, at Pont-Remy lock, and stopping just after for lunch. We moored opposite a ruined chateau – elegantly dilapidated some would say.

It was a beautiful sunny day with plenty of normal river birdlife – heron, ducks, coot, moorhens, Greylag and white geese etc. There were surprisingly strong swirling currents on the river (would have been ‘yellow boarded’ on the Thames), but Stu coped well. (It was nothing . . . )


After lunch we carried on upstream to Long, where we again met the éclusier, locked up, and moored in a lovely location by the Hotel de Ville and bridge.

Overnight mooring at Long


Long has some interesting heritage – a chateau called Folie de Buissy, with an amazing run of pergolas and glass houses next to the river …….

Folie de Buissey, Long

… and a hydroelectric power plant built in 1900, providing electricity to the town until 1968. – but no bars . . . .

hydroelectric system, Long

Next day we said goodbye to Long, and a local goat.

We continued towards Amiens, this time having lunch soon after La Breilloire lock, at a pleasant pontoon next to Pont de Bourdon.

The sun shone, the birds sang, and the water flowed, through a canalised river between huge lakes of Somme water, apparently created in part from digging for peat..

moored up waiting for Picquigny lock from downstream

Our target mooring at Picquigny was reached early and we moored up below the lock waiting for the éclusier to arrive.

approaching Picquigny lock

Entering the lock at Picquigny




It was the first time this lock had been used since winter and the poor eclusier had to remove a huge load of debris, twigs, small logs and boughs (and a dead cat) [poor thing] from the lock gates before we could come through to our mooring.




Picquigny is another interesting town. Walking up the hill towards the church we suddenly discovered that it is effectively placed on an inland cliff, with old fortifications built round it. I must discover the history!

We walked along the bank to Samara Ancient Village Museum one afternoon, and although we did not go in we did enjoy more wildlife and riverama.

Samara mooring

The mooring at Samara is longer and tidier than we expected; we did not stop there as our course was set for Amiens.


Picquigny castle and church on the hill


We left Picquigny on a green, blue and gold Spring day, passing a good view of the castle and church on the ‘cliff’.




The Captain was alert to every bend in the river, with navigation buoys to negotiate and wicked eddying currents to manoeuvre.

We went through locks at Ailly-sur Somme and Montière with the help of another great eclusier.




Approaching Amiens from downstreamAnd after the Montière lock we came up a lovely straight stretch towards Amiens, with the Notre Dame silhouetted against the sky

(apparently twice the size of the one in Paris; it were ’uge).


Calliope reached Amiens lock a little early, but the èclusiers had opened the gates before their lunch so we cruised right in. From the depths of the lock it was almost impossible to see the little green bollards set back from the edge, but by standing on the roof, and very lucky rope throwing, we got a bow and stern line attached and waited, having lunch, for the èclusier to return.


the mooring at Amiens, Port amont

Then we came through lock, round the canal, and into a ‘pleasant’ mooring at Port Amont, opposite the park on one side – and the ‘English Pub’ on the other!



[It became less pleasant at night, with happy local young making their way home from nightlife at 2am – no harm done, but a bit noisy!]




Amiens cathedral is truly magnificent, and the story of its protection during the world wars shows great dedication from a team of civilians and soldiers.








IMG_8433Amiens has many lovely ancient buildings, old streets, characterful bars and a whole network of small canals giving it the name ‘Venice of the ~North’.

It also has hectare after hectare (how big is a hectare? Very big I hope) of Hortillonages – small market gardens surrounded by a maze of tiny channels, about 4′ wide, navigated by special narrow punt like boats. Individual bridges, built to their owners spec, link paths and gardens.


We enjoyed Amiens, but after two days and nights we were ready to set forth for waterways new, and headed off towards Peronne and to complete our voyage of La Somme.


(Apologies for all errors – have to leave free wifi in library now as due on another boat for drinkies!)

The voyage from Portsmouth to St Valery sur Somme


(Comments from the minimal one in italics)


Having mastered six months winter berthing at Haslar marina bouncing up and down on 10 foot tides twice twice a day we felt ready to face the challenges of la Manche.


moving astern from our Haslar Marina mooring



Pilot Ray and super-lookout Hilary joined us at 8, stowed away their kit and after a cup of tea we slipped our moorings at 9 o’clock.


Spinnaker Tower and Old Portsmouth recede into distance

We bade farewell to Portsmouth for a few months – “a thousand times adieu” with friend Pam waving her Pompey flag from the Round Tower.




Setting off eastward along the coast we set our course following a sunlit pathway across the sea – plus of course Ray’s navigation lines on the chart.


We rounded Selsey Bill with less turbulence than expected and motored on towards Beachy Head. Calliope pushed forwards through the wind, waves and spray, eagerly seeking her port for the night at Eastbourne





Speeding life boat astern to port!

Our main excitement during the day was being overtaken by a high-speed lifeboat whose wake set us tossing and pitching to such an extent that two partially filled mugs of tea leapt onto the seats and a tumbler in the kitchen flew to the floor.




As we got closer to our destination another of nature’s navigation aids appeared – a rainbow pointing to the harbour entrance and guiding us towards (today’s) journey’s end.



Sovereign Harbour Lock, Eastbourne


Phoning ahead, as instructed, we found a lock ready for us to enter, shared with a fishing boat, its crew and catch.







After a celebratory drink and good supper we had a superbly calm night moored in Sovereign Harbour and awoke ready for action. The forecast force 3-4 winds, with possibility of force 5 later, was a little concerning, but with trust in ship and crew we joined day-fishing boats in the 8.30 lock …..





….. and by 8.45 were leaving the lock behind them ….








….. to find another sunlit pathway cutting through gentle seas to guide us towards France.




It may have been 1st April, but we were not a ship of fools, or April poissons. We were ready and able to undertake our Piper Boat odyssey to France.



Using both our ‘Raymarine’ systems (technical and Mr Pilot Ray Graham) we steered a steady (relatively steady) course south towards the sun.


I felt a Mock Turtle moment as England slipped from view, “The further off from England the nearer is to France”, and after a while we were became coastless. This was a strange sensation for the Captain, who was more used to land he could almost touch on each side when cruising down rivers and canals (Indeed).


Some hours later we met the first shipping lane.


The northerly shipping lane, for vessels moving East to West

It has to be said that we had been a little anxious about little Calliope weaving in and out of gigantic tankers and cargo ships hell bent on reaching their destinations, but in fact we saw few ships and it was simple to steer behind any that were ‘close’, ie quarter mile away!




The second shipping lane, West to East bound, was even emptier than the first, though we did get closer to this one. Captain Carr took us skilfully behind the huge dredger (Oh it was nothing).





‘The Marseille’ time


Soon after this we realised we were now in French waters, a moment recorded by the raising of the tricolour (courtesy flag).


Time to change the clocks too.






Blurry gannet


Sea birds sat serenely on the surface – yellow headed gannets, horned grebes, greater black backed gulls etc.





SO calm – unbelievable!

Far from the winds increasing to their forecast strength they decreased to an absolute millpond calm as we gradually approached the Baie de Somme.




We shared the waters with few other boats, most of them fishing and trawling in various fashions.





But we did have a moment when a (petite) French warship (Border Patrol vessel) hove into view and we wondered if we were to be boarded and searched for whatever constitutes contraband these days.


We obviously looked innocent and law abiding enough to be left alone and we cruised on.


Keeping on course we looked out for hours for the famous ATSO buoy marking the start of the labyrinthine channel into St Valery.



After a couple of false sightings we spotted it and made a lengthy, stately approach. Phew!






Between the first pair of many marker buoys


There was still an air of apprehension in the wheelhouse. Ideally we would have reached ATSO two hours before high tide. In fact we were about 90 minutes late ….


winding round to two more sets of buoys





…. so anxious to follow our winding course as quickly as possible, but without any errors of the running aground type.



The combined efforts of Captain Carr, Pilot Graham and a Look Out Girl (not me!) ensured safe passage between over twenty sets of buoys, posts and beacons (spelled ‘buyos’ on the Port St Valery web site reminding me of daughter Hollie’s days at Cardiff Uni).


(Navigation note for those interested: we arrived on a Neap tide and, despite only drawing 3’ we were very short on water on a couple of occasions – is essential reading).



Seals, seals, seals


We could even enjoy a quick glimpse of the basking seals on the fast emerging sand banks.



The final turn into the start of the Maritime canal du Somme was unexpected and sudden, but by adding Google Maps satellite images into our armoury of sextants, charts, GPS, sun, moon, stars and the human eye, we made it. We made it!


Before long we were moored up on a hammerhead at the marina, champagne was opened, and the crew rewarded for efforts. (Thanks to Den and Linda for the bubbles – they didn’t last long.)


Our welcome at the marina included a booklet about cruising on up the Somme and, in our limited French understanding, an explanation that if we wanted to go up through the sea lock into the canal the next day we would have to be at the lock for High Tide at 0756, so an early night was the last order of the day.


Across the channel from our mooring at Saint Valery – 0700 hours 2nd April

A good nights sleep was enjoyed by the crew, who awoke to a beautiful Saint Valery scene, and ready to tackle the next phase of the journey towards Abbeville and Amiens.