Kekova's Passage to the Med

This article records the passage to the med, via the French Canals, of Parker 275 no 17 "Kekova" owned by Anna Johns and John Barber.

Our decision to make a trip down through the inland waterways of France was taken in the depths of winter 2000/2001 and we wanted to combine this with channel sailing first and Med sailing afterwards. You may think it a little foolhardy, (we did), as firstly we didn’t have a suitable boat and secondly I had no idea whether the sailing life was for me as my total sailing experience consisted of the grand total of 3 hours the previous summer. I had however enjoyed a number of holidays on the English canals and had always wanted to do the same in France so we decided to press ahead and I would learn the "sailing" bit as we went along.

In preparing for the trip I read just about everything that remotely mentioned the subject to make sure we knew what to expect. There were a number of books available and a considerable amount of information on the Internet. When should we go? What route to take into France? What sort of licences would we need? Take the mast with us or arrange to leave it somewhere? Holding tank toilet or not? What protection – tyres or fenders? How many warps and how long should they be? How to negotiate the locks? The more I read the more options and opinions there were, and the route in was only finally decided on two weeks before we were due to go!

A couple of months into our planning we found Kekova, a Parker 275, ideal as she was a lift keel. Being able to vary our draft we felt was an important feature for the canal trip and it proved to be so, especially through the very shallow Canal de Bourgogne. We did, of course, also want a boat that was fast and fun when sailing. She has proved to be exactly right, looking after us well and we don’t think we could not have chosen better.

We set off 04.30 on Monday 3rd September and after nights in Newhaven and Rye, and two nights in Boulogne we arrived in Calais had our mast stepped and put onto the wooden crutches that John had made before we left.

Once the decision of Calais as an entry point was made, our route was in part decided for us as there were various engineering closures. Canal de Calais, part of the Liaisons au Grand Gabarit, Canal du Nord, Canal Lateral a L’Oise et L’Oise, L’Oise, Seine, Yonne and finally the Canal de Bourgogne. We planned to finish at St Jean de Losne, at the end of the Bourgogne where it joined the Soane, before any major winter closures towards the end of October.

We took just under five weeks to complete the inland journey, which was reasonably straightforward and as you would expect full of characters. The north was pretty industrial and there were many working boats, "peniche", to contend with. The upside of this was very smooth locks and fast progress so we were able to get into our stride pretty quickly. The second part from Paris onwards was much more rural and we needed to be quite self-sufficient as shops were few and far between in many areas.

Apart from one slightly grumpy lockkeeper, everyone we encountered was very helpful and valued the sight of a privately owned boat making a long journey. The sense of achievement was fantastic, a definite highlight being motoring up the Seine into Paris and locking into the marina at the Bastille.

For us the journey is not over yet and will be continued in late April, early May when we return to travel down the Soane and the Rhone to the Mediterranean. The hardest decision will then be taken, do we turn left or right!

Anna Johns
Parker 275/17 Kekova