Planning to Go Down the Saone and Rhone, thru’ the Canal du Midi to Gruissan 2010

In June 2010 we plan to move Tempus Fugit, with the help of our good friends Lucie and Georges, from Saint Jean de Losne to a new moorage on the Mediterranean at Gruissan. If all goes well, we will moor the boat there for several seasons, having  her in the water during the summer months when we are aboard and putting her up on the land for the winter, while we are back in Vancouver. Our thought is to use Gruissan as a base from which we can explore by boat, bike, bus and train all over the south-west of France.

The journey south from Saint Jean de Losne (near Dijon), where Tempus Fugit rests now, is downstream on the Saone River to Lyon, where we join the mighty Rhone. We follow the Rhone past Valence and Avignon until just before Arles, where we turn west onto Le Petit Rhône, which connects through the St. Gilles lock to the Canal du Rhône à Sète. At the town of Sète we cross the lagoon of the Étang de Thau to the beginning of the Canal du Midi and shortly reach the town of Agde. Here we exit the third gate of an unusual circular lock to  follow the Hérault River south 3kms to enter the Mediterranean at Grau d’Agde. A 30 kms run south-west along  the coast brings us to the port of Gruissan (south of Narbonne). Altogether from Saint Jean, it will be a trip of just over 500 kms. Watch the video of Grehan’s cruising in France,  which shows some of what we have already enjoyed so much during our 2007-’09 cruising and still more of what is to be savoured as we head down the Rhone and into the Canal du Midi.

How long the journey will take us depends not only on where we choose to stop and explore but on the winds and the stream flow in the river. About half-way between Lyon and Avignon, we enter the section of the Rhone Valley where the Mistral can blow all the way down to the coast, frequently for 2-3 days and upto as long as a week, with average wind speeds of 50 kms-an-hour and reaching upto 95 kms-an-hour. Mistral winds occur about 18% of the time during the summer months and twice as frequently during the winter and spring. If a Mistral starts to blow we will want to find a mooring along the riverbank as soon as possible and wait it out. The Mistral is not the only wind of concern once we are on the Med. See how it can blow Force 12 in Gruissan.

The other source of excitement on the Saone and Rhone is floods. Even when not in flood, the average river flow increases 10 times between the Saone at Saint Jean de Losne and where we leave the Rhone near its mouth. Both the Saone and Rhone are notorious for large flash floods. We were surprised by one during our first summer (2007) when the water rose 3 metres in 3 days at Chalon and the level took as long going back down. In this upper part of the drainage, such floods often result from heavy rains in the Swiss headwaters of the Doubs River. The following summer we were up the Doubs at Dole when it rose suddenly almost as much again. Others tell exciting tales of being caught in a Rhone flood at Avignon.

The last two parts of the trip present new challenges and so  we have developed pages providing information on each of them: Getting from Agde’s circular lock on the Canal du Midi via the spur canal and Hérault River to Grau d’Agde on the Med coast and Travelling down the coast from Grau d’Agde to Gruissan our first sea trip on Tempus Fugit.

In preparation for the trip from Saint Jean de Losne to Gruissan we have begun to identify below the web sites that can provide information on the weather, river flows and moorage locations as we are traveling.


Weather Online

French weather forecasts by town

Weather Online Pressure Maps and Forecasts

Mistral forecasting Lyon Avignon Gruissan South of France


Saone River heights and flows: Saint Jean de Losne to Lyon

Rhone River heights and flows: Lyon to Arles

Lyon Saone

Lyon Rhone


La Voulte








Voie Navigables de France (VNF) chomages

Companie Nacionale dy Rhone – Navigation, Hydrology and Moorage

Moorage on the Rhone from Nigel Orr on the Dutch Barge Waterman

France Afloat by Grehan



Le Petit Rhone

Canal Rhone à Sete

Canal du Midi

Sete – Frontignan

Agde – River Herault

Aigues Mortes – Grau du Roi

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