I’m off sailing this coming weekend on the Somme Canal. I will certainly also have a lot of rowing, because the wind on inland waterways is usually behind your back or in your face. I will be launching “Sarum” at Saint Valéry sur Somme and I hope to get to some point between Abbeville and Amiens before turning round to head for base.
I prefer sea sailing, but round these parts of Normandy it is all cliffs and open sea with the sever waves and swell to accompany a moderate wind. Rather than drive all the way to Brittany, I decided on a canal sail, which will be interesting. I have equipped the boat with a system for lowering the mast to allow the boat to go under a low bridge without unrigging. I can then row the boat under the bridge and then raise the mast again with a single rope and get the usual tightness for my standing rigging.
There will be some locks to go through. I already had that experience at the Route du Sable, which was in the company of many other boats. On the Somme, I will be on my own and will certainly meet people in other pleasure craft and in the various villages the canal crosses. This video with the hauntingly beautiful music of Mozart gives a general idea of this peaceful canal:
As I discovered on the Aulne last year, rowing isn’t that bad on calm water with little headwind. The only question is calculating my average speed using a watch against landmarks on the map. I plan to go at least to Abbeville, a town with a beautiful church but which was badly damaged in 1940. That will certainly involve lowering the mast and rowing, and tying up in some nice place opposite a bar where I can drink a beer and read a book. The way between Abbeville and Amiens, where the cathedral is glorious:
will be interesting. The canal goes between a number of lakes and bits of marshland. The landscape is open and flat, so there should be enough wind to sail instead of rowing. A beam reach would be helpful to get more headway. There will be plenty of villages to tie up, get something to eat and visit a church and say some Office.
The adventure begins tomorrow night and I will camp in the van or my little tent, and launch the boat on Saturday morning. I have everything needed to sleep on board Saturday and Sunday nights, or pitch the tent on the bank of the canal – depending on what is allowed by local by-laws and appropriate for the place.
It was ninety-nine years ago that the Somme saw one of the bloodiest battles of history, and I will certainly have a thought for the many young lives sacrificed among the poppies of the Somme. The actual battlefield, some thirty miles to the east of Amiens is much further than the extent of my little weekend voyage. Nevertheless, this word – the Somme – reminds us all of those whom we will remember at the going down of the sun.
Why alone and not with my wife? We would need campsites or places to sleep with some comfort. Also, I need some time alone, something women often find difficult to understand about their menfolk. It is something I share my my father – a need for solitude and silence. I also love the chance to be a young boy again on some Swallows and Amazons jaunt! And it will cost very little too…
I have much to discover in my little boat.
Bon voyage, mon pere!