Our journey keeps moving at a fastly slow pace. We cover an average of 30km per day.

We left our story in Cambrai, on the Canal De Saint Quentin: The city is nice and rich in history. Funnily enough, here in 1508 Pope Julius II created the League of Cambrai, an alliance between the greatest european powers of the time against Venice, my adoptive city. Too many cooks spoiled the broth and the League faded like snow under the sun, with intrigues and sudden changes in alliances.

Whilst our companions set sails, Fine and I stay in Cambrai to update the website, a very difficult task now because there are very few villages along the canals. We agree with Bruno, Francesco and Sandro to meet again in the evening, just before the Riqueval tunnel.

Thanksfully we manage to get a lift by a very kind friend, met the night before in the beautiful Port of Cambrai, where Captain Jean Luc granted us free mooring. Julien Debut, that’s his name, is very helpful and takes us to the meeting point just after work (in an italian pizzeria, by the way).

Our deepest thanks to him.

In these days we get through wo tunnels, the most important of them being the Suterrain de Riqueval, 5.671 metres long, that leaves us breathless. An electrical towboat, equipped with a long chain and connected to overhead lines, called “Toeur”, pulls a convoy of six boats. We are at the tail end. This is one of the two French tunnels using this system: The other one is located in Mauvages, on the channel connecting the Marne to the Rhine.

Rock, bricks, a dreadful endeavour to get past a little hill. In 1801, Napoleon wanted it built: For the next ten years, thousand of desperate people dug it into the rock almost by sheer hand . You can still see the signs of chisel and pick’s cut. In the following video you can see the tunnel through our eyes.

Inside, the tunnel is very cold: Bruno and I, on Clodia, lay under a sail and sleep for a long while, until we get close to the exit.

In the evening we reach Saint Quentin, towered by its awsome Cathedral: beautiful city. In the nice and little Marina, unlike what happened in England and in Cambrai, a little generous captain doesn’t help us much, but you can’t have it all…

The next day Francesco and Sandro leaves us to get back home after their share of the “Man on the River” adventure.

Francesco heads to Plymouth, in the UK, where currently lives, while Sandro gets ready to walk once again on the campi and the calli of our beloved Venice.

They’ve been wonderful mates in very harsh travel conditions. For now, we’ll stick to the original plan: Two rowers over a nutshell.

We row for about 35 km in ten hours, up to Fargniers, taking turns every two hours against a weak wind. We enter the Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise. We stop for the night on the banks, close to the next lock. As usual, we meet new friends: Two nice Dutch, who don’t speak English but, after seeing us very tired, are so kind to offer an excellent beer.
The next day the winds gets stronger and we can’t proceed any more than 22 km.

We soffer and tow the boat from the bank with a lace, but eventually we enter the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne.

French Canals are so many! If you want to take a look, you may find a full list here.

The wind fades off because it now blows at right angles and the trees offer us a very efficient and most appreciate shielding.

We cross the first suspended bridge, better still the first “suspended channel”: We’re rowing 15 metres over the Ailette river! Reached Guny, we sleep in a gorgeous area dedicated to sailors, and equipped with haulage slipway, bollards, etc: An example to be followed. The night is cold and windy. In the morning we decide to visit the boulangerie for a croissant and a baguette, honouring local traditions…

A nice cathedral stranded in nowhere, the City Hall, a school with gender-separated entrances for boys and girls, lots of silence. Wonderful!

I like this simple landscape, wild nature, hills, rare glades, untouched by man.

We keep going with the wind blowing over us, but our protector trees provide us a great barrier.  Silence, trees, birds, water: And Clodia sliding.

We have no chances to get any food from local farmers, because we simply can’t find any. The wood is almost continuous and when the first shades of the evening begin to fall, we stop for the night.

From Guny, by rowing (very little sailing) and getting past many locks (we already conted more than 50 of them), we cover about 21 km to reach Pargny-Filain, where we find again a very cool mooring area equipped with electricity and water too. In the evening, looking for a bar, I see a funny sign: “Compagnie Isis”. My instinct brings me there, looking for the “mad men”, the nice and useful ones.

As expected, we see two big tents and we get to know that, 15 years ago, a few guys have founded a Circus Company.

There’s also a Cambodian company getting ready to move on. They invite us to eat tasty crepes with them, in a beautiful old stone house once belonged to their philanthropist grandfather and actress mother.
The two young sons, helped by their lovers and some Swedish friends, decided to give life to this little big dream.

We have a good time, talking about the future in front of a big fireplace (in the evening it still gets very cold here) and listening to great music. Tonight they invited us to watch a show: We’ll tell you more very soon.

We’re 58 km away from Reims, capital of the Champagne. We’re a bit tired, but the mood is very good indeed!

A big hug. Giacomo

P.S.: Thanks to Bea and Dieter for suggesting the title of this post

 

Arques to Cambrai

I’m back on board.

The leg from Arques to Bethune was completed by Bruno and Francesco Cappelletti, our guest sailor. Fine followed at short distance aboard Serena, the support boat that, so far, is travelling with us.

Bruno and Fine are doing their best: He’s an extraordinary skipper, knowing every secret of navigation, she drives Serena and is in charge of taking pictures, updating her blog and solving little emergencies.

I joined them in Bethune along with Sandro, a dear friend from Venice that is now our second “sailor for a week” (or even more…)!

Before arriving, in Lille, we  interviewed a few officers from VNF, the company managing the french channels.

We leave from Bethune very early in the morning, heading to Douai: Sandro and I take over from Bruno and Francesco.

We’re waited by a 41 km row under the rain and against the wind! A very hard leg that, however, gives us great satisfaction.

 

We spend the night in a beautiful Marina before Douai: It’s placed in an artificial basin surrounded by secular plane trees. Here, by chance, we meet a few english sailors, friends of some other people that we had the pleasure to meet in London.

The next day Clodia flies over the water for hours with Sandro and Francesco, at the tiller, aboard.

The “Grand Gabarit”, a canal running from Bethune to Douai, is rather dirty, full of dead fishes and lots of commercial boats raising annoying waves. Fine and Bruno collect two bags full of rubbish: From now on we’ll try to give our contribution to the environment. Thanks to them for this simple yet effective idea.

After 40 km of navigation, we stop for the night in Etrun, close to the access to Saint Quentin canal. We moor in a nice basin illuminated by a mediterranean light. Here we rejoin our new English friends, waiting to offer us plenty of wine and beer. For dinner we have a tasty rice cooked by Sandro. We squeeze aboard Clodia: five people in five metres, we’re strong and happy.

The night is very cold: We wake up amidst a thick fog, that soon vanishes. Just before entering the canal of Saint Quentin, Serena gets stuck in a sandbank and Clodia comes to rescue. Thanksfully Bruno sorts out the question very quickly by using a rope.

Saint Quentin canal is wonderful: There are many locks, but very well organised. Passing is easy and fast, I wish I could say the same elsewhere.

In Cambrai, Captain Jean Luc, director of the “Port de Plaisance” grants us free mooring after listening to our story. Every time it happens I’m moved: Thanks Captain!

All people want to talk and sail with us. In the port of Cambrai I carry aboard six mad kids. Douce France indeed.

Tomorrow we’ll take the notorious “Souterrain de Riqueval”, a tunnel 5670 mt long, not aerated. To get through, we rely on the electrical ferry that goes forth and back twice a day: At 9 in the morning and at 5 in the afternoon. My travel mates are fantastic in a very tough condition. We covered 170 km in four days, very little by sail.

See you soon. Giacomo

 

After hours from Jasmine Lane

The travels of a bottle

“Dear Sir,

Today monday 16 may we found a bottle on the beach with a letter.

We found it, during a evening walk with our dog, at the beach of Dishoek near Vlissingen in Holland. We already visited the website Man on the River and we wish this project a lot of luck. Also thanks for the t-shirt offer.

Good luck, Anita en Ton Pas”

We get this message the 16th of may, very late at night. As soon as possible, we ask Giacomo for information about it, getting to know that midway through the English Channel he had thrown into the sea the evergreen “message in a bottle”! And now it was found in Holland!

In the videos below you can read the letter: the map will help you discover the rather surprising itinerary of the bottle. Last but not least, above left we’re pleased to present the beach where the message was found and Ton and Anita Pas.

 

Gravelines to Arques – Douce France

After leaving Gravelines we have now arrived to Arques.

This passage in the Nord Pas de Calais was a journey over the first French River, in alphabetical order: The Aa. And the first obstacle was overcome thanks to the help of David, Maurice and all the friends from the Jean Binard nautical base in Gravelines.

Due to a misunderstanding with the lock-keeper, I thought that the lock dividing Gravelines from the Aa river would open with the hight tide. Inspections, words, gestures: It all seemed to be OK. Then, just before leaving, we get to know that the tide isn’t high enough to get past the lock, and the wait could be as long as a week. All of that for just a handful of metres!

Lots of mucking around, requests for help, phone calls by Linda from the harbour, Mathieu ready to lend us a dolly (but we don’t have a car): Eventually we get sent to the Jean Binard nautical base where, as true seafarers do, we quickly devise a plan with David and Brigitte, arranging to meet the next day. A great example of solidarity and kindness.

They help us without asking for anything in return or spending useless words, gentleman to gentleman. The morning after we sail for a couple of km, up to the end of the canal: Maurice, a big man with a smiling face, is waiting for us with his farm tractor. He tows Clodia out of the water for a few metres and then in the slipway beyond the lock. We’re even escorted by the police (thanks to Stefan and Jean Claude) but  free once again!

A new lesson learned: Tides are always so important.

Paolo films the wonderful landyachts running in the huge Fort Philippe’s beach. David tells us that, in competitive races, the landyachts reach an average speed of 110 km per hour and the speed record is currently of 237 km/h!! Without a drop of fuel. They seem so graceful from far, like butterflies playing to chase each other.

Thanks to David and to all the guys from the nautical base. We get going with Paolo as third sailor: He’s now in charge of filming and holding the tiller. The first passage under the bridge is very close to the edge: However we keep passing this way to avoid having to open the bridges. Putting off and on the mast on Clodia is a matter of seconds.

We sail and row through a sweet landscape, very rich in birdlife af many species, especially ducks with their offsprings that run away at our passage, often leaving behind a lone duckling that cries fearfully. The land is very neat, the water seems clean with many water lilies along the rivers. A fisherman has just caught his  fish: It could be a Sander.

Crossing the canal from Dunkerque to Watten, we get to meet the first Peniches, local big barges running at considerable speed. Thaey raise waves that can’t be dangerous but are a little annoying, so we slow down.

After eight hours we reach Arques, where the support boat is moored. The little port is lovely, nestled in the bend of a secondary canal and surrounded by nature. Silence and peace.

We’re welcomed by Pierre and Jannique, very kind people. Pierre is 60 years old (but looking 40), a teacher of Qi Gong. He crossed the English Channel aboard a pedal boat and sailed the canals from Arques to Paris with a Velo Surf, a sort of water bike. We feel very well here.

The culture of water is awsome. Boats and canals leading everywhere: We could head to Denmark, Moskow, Germany aboard our boat, with no need to touch land.

In Saint Omer, we look for help: I have to get back to Venice for my health check-up and we pay visit to a few travel agencies to get tickets with our scarce resources (Paolo will get back to Bologna too). In the Aquatour agency we have the luck of meeting two angels, Edwige and Fatima: Beside finding cheap tickets, they give us a lift to the train station, since we’re overloaded by filmmaking equipment and bags. The Saint Omer train station is beautiful, surrounded by lakes and canals.

Three days after, Edwige and Fatima will also come with a wonderful gift: Free return ticket from Venice to Saint Omer! Thanks!

On the way back, we arranged a meeting in Lille (very nice city of the Flanders) to see the kind representatives of the VNF, the mighty company managing all the fluvial navigation network in France.

A very important issue here, boosting the economy. I’ll get back to that very soon.

Bruno feels well, strong and happy.

Francesco Cappelletti, our first guest (booking through this website), will join us shortly. For a while we’ll be four “Men on the River”, since Josephine too is on her way to Arques to take control of Serena, the support boat.

A special thanks to Malcolm from Gravelines for his wonderful and very tasty gifts, especially the Jean Bart beer, named like the vessel under construction.

Just a few days for my health check-up, then we’re off to Bethune.

See you soon. Navigare necesse est

 

Ramsgate to Gravelines – The Channel!

We did it!

Crossing the English Channel is something special: To make it real we had to rely on many friends and on our best commitment and effort. Not to mention lots of luck.

I thought to all those people who lost their lives in these cold and troubled waters, even in the best weather conditions as we were so fortunate fo find yesterday.

Streams, sea beds,shallows, big ferries and commercial ships: A lot to worry about for a nutshell like Clodia.

We could never have done it without the help of Chalky, a sailor friend, who escorted us all the way from Ramsgate to Gravelines.

A support boat is required by maritime regulations to cross the Channel for a small boat, engine free, like our Ness Yawl.

This is the report of our day: We leave from Ramsgate at 6 o’clock after a rainy night that didn’t seem like a good omen. Chalky already offered us a good coffee.

We get out of the harbour by rowing, under a bright sun: In the meantime Paolo is filming us from the top of the pier.

To cross the shopping lanes at 90°, Chalky asks to tow us, because the wind is contrary and he wants to get to Gravelines before 4.30 p.m. for the high tide. We can’t turn his offer down, even if it doesn’t stick to our values: We could have easily made it without any help, but not following the regulamentary 90°.

We need to get out quickly from the routes of the big ships, that need many miles to stop, so we accept to get towed for what is strictly needed.

When the shipping lanes are at our back, the wind calms down. The green power of Bruno comes very handy and we row for a couple of nautical miles: Then, when we have to cope with an opposite stream of nearly 2.5 knot (faster than us!), the wind comes to our help at about 12-16 knot, keeping constant for the following hours.

We can now swiftly sail for hours: The day is beautiful and Clodia doesn’t seem to care much about the sea, running fast toward the French coast.

The last 12 miles are fantastic: We literally fly over the waves caused by streams and shallows, and by a stronger wind, reaching 6.3 knot speed.

We enter the canal of Grand Fort Philippe al 4 p.m. local time, after 9 hours and 35 nautical miles of navigation from Ramsgate. A little thrill: The gaff jumps over the peak of the mast, hit by a naughty wave. I quickly turn down the mainsail and leave the lacing, avoiding any further trouble. Everything goes well, but it could have been very dangerous.

The access to the channel leading to Gravelines is a bit difficult, but we enter quite well, then we sail for the last 3 miles and dock in the wonderful Marine. Fantastic!

Gravelines welcomes us with all its peace and beauty. The fortress of Vauban is very nice.

We also discovered a 57 metres vessel, replica of the 18th century original, under construction: Impressive! Here you can find more info.

Thanks to all of you for support and help, we felt your presence every time. We dedicate a special thought to Roland, Silvio and Jacopo that should have been aboard with us.

Shortly, we’ll set sails to Saint Omer. A big hug.

Giacomo and Bruno

 

Channel Crossing Completed!

Cheer up! Read the report of the successful navigation from Ramsgate (UK) to Gravelines (France) through the English Channel. We used the CET time zone (France time).

16.00 – ARRIVED Giacomo and Bruno aboard Clodia just reached the french shores of Grand Fort Philippe (Gravelines).
Giacomo’s first comment: “It’s a great emotion, we had a fantastic sail all day through, much smoother than expected and under a bright sun. We’re a bit tired after the 9 hours, 35 nautical miles Channel crossing, but seeing the bell towers around Gravelines is a wonderful reward! Tonight we’ll moor in the small harbour of 16th century’s Fort Philippe but tomorrow we’ll be on the move once more to reach Saint Omer.”
Thanks from Giacomo, Bruno and the entire team to all the people who supported Man on the River so far.

14.27 – 7 nautical miles to Gravelines (about 13 km, 8 miles). Sunny, sailing a 4 knot speed despite an opposite stream of 1.3 knot.

13.02 – 11 nautical miles to Gravelines (about 20 km, 12 miles). Still sunny, sailing a 3 knot speed despite an opposite stream of 2 knot.

11.07 – Halfway through the English Channel. Sunny and little windy. Everything fine so far.

6.45 - Clodia has left Ramsgate, 3 knot speed, weak wind.

 

Faversham to Ramsgate

We’re in Ramsgate again, a year later. A great emotion!

Here, last year, I could have passed away: I had the pleasure to meet again Pat Corby, who literally saved my life by driving me all the way to the Heathrow, to catch the first flight to Venice. In the meantime his coffee shop, specialised in serving delicious homemade cakes, has won a prize.

Yesterday we towed Clodia to Ramsgate thanks to Alastair, that being a true sailor, went out of his way to help us.

I initially planned to sail downstream the Stour river from Canterbury to Sandwich, however the recent experience and an unfavourable weather forecast (a North-Easterly wind over 35 knot against us) suggested me to come back where the project was interrupted in 2010.

Last night, at ramsgate harbour, the boat was wobbling a bit, but we enjoyed a good sleep: Moreover the angelic food by Alex and her magic kept us in good shape.

Clodia is happy: Sails hauled down, very high waves (often going well over the barrier of the dock, 8 metres high), we still could sail at about 3 knots!

As usual, last week was full of surprises and interesting, sometimes bizarre, people.

Margy and Noel hosted Fine and Bruno (and me too, for a while) in their wonderful and very warm house. They used to own an Art Gallery in London, so they still kept all their curiosity and an extraordinary capacity to get together people, talent and creativity.

We also met the guys from the Abbey Physic Community Garden, an association that takes care of a beautiful vegetable garden where everyone can create and cultivate, even by using Permaculture (a technique respectful of the nature, banning fertilizers and pesticides).

One evening we have been invited for dinner at Margy and Noel’s place, where we had the pleasure to meet Henry Dagg, former BBC sound engineer, composer and creator of very unusual musical instruments, such as the Shapsicord. Henry’s abilities will soon be discovered by the thousands attending the upcoming Bijork concert in Manchester.

A good way to understand Henry’s talent is visiting his own house, where you can play the entrance gate. Sheer musical genius applied to simple things. I was honoured to listen to the sound of Shapsicord and other instruments: An experience that I’ll soon share with you by mounting my next video. Bear patience, my time is very little and the journey intense.


In the last few days I’ve also been so lucky to meet  Alastair and Elisabetta, two friends that live in a gorgeous 16th Century house in Boughton, a few miles away from Faversham: As I previouly said, they helped us in towing Clodia to Ramsgate, which was a fantastic gift.

Reluctantly, I had to choose to take off from Ramsgate after a celebrative start in Faversham on Sunday May the 1st, from the Standard Quay.

A nasty wind over 30 knots from NE could have stopped us for a week or more, and we can’t afford to waste too much time: We need to cross the Channel as soon as possible and we’ve got to catch the right window.

Before leaving Faversham, we received a marvelous gift from Lena: A food heater that has revealed of great help. Last night the temperature nearly reached 0°C and the wind eventually calmed down.

The English Channel yesterday was still scary, especially over the Goodwin Sands in front of Ramsgate where I thought to see strange, huge cliffs. I said to myself: “Don’t worry, French coast is much flatter”, however I soon realized that they weren’t cliffs but ground swells, rather terrifying.

In the evening we’ve been invited aboard by Silvia, Argentinian living in Australia, and by Glyna, Australian of Welsh origins. We share a common sea life, and we spent a very good time together.

Bruno can’t wait to set sails and I understand him, I wish to leave too. Today the wind is about 10-15 knot and the weather is good, but we’re waiting for Paolo, the producer of our documentary and director (along with Nicola Pittarello) that wants to film our departure. Last year he was of great help and this year, despite the lack of funds allocated for good projects, he decided to keep following our journey because he believes in us.

Thanks Paolo, once again. This time, it may be the right time to cross the Channel.

Thanks to Alex, Lena, Bob, Alaister, Elisabetta, Frog, Moray, Simon, Tony Boughton and Alan from the Iron Wharf Boatyard, that hosted us generously. Also, all the people from the Abbey Physic Community Garden. If you are around Kent, don’t’ miss Faversham, it’s full of angels.

A big hug to every body.

Giacomo



On Riverside Stories
Enjoy Fine’s report about the Physic Community Garden in Faversham and the Royal Wedding.