Canoeing the Herault

Another trip to France and another chance to canoe on some livelier water than I get back home on the Lower Wye! As before at Tarassac last year, we hired sit on top kayaks at one of the numerous local rental spots (Canoe 34 / Canoe Pont Suspendu) at Saint Bauzille and got taken up river to a put in near Ganges (pronounced Gonj).

Like the Orb that we paddled last summer, the Herault was placid water with a decent current with some grade 1 or 2 rapids at regular intervals. The guys at Canoe 34 were a bit vague about the course and explained it all in rapid French to Ashcharjya, but I peered over his shoulder at a sketch map that showed a "barrage" early on, some places where we had to take a left hand channel, some rapids represented by a single V and some later on represented by a double V - I guessed those were the bigger drop or the grade 2? Like I said, all a bit vague! The others took tandems which were super stable and easy to barge through rocks and rough water, I went solo as we were an odd number so I had a slightly more manoeverable boat but more tendency to spin slightly to one or other side in the rapids.

After easy paddling for a few minutes we were on to our first rapid and it was quite lively! I'm only a novice paddler and I had forgotten the feeling of being taken by the water and not really having control, so I was nervous over those first few splashdowns, but enjoying it all the same. I was leading, being the most "experienced" in the bunch, but if anything that made me more nervous than the others seeing as I knew I was a bit above my grade. After a few minutes we came to an obvious horizon line like a big weir. I thought this might be the point where we had to shoot left so I paddled across and found Prabala by the riverside enjoying a waterfront coffee! He was surprised to see us but made it clear the previous canoes had all shot the weir in the middle. Now I'd never shot a weir so I was apprehensive but I went for it and found the slope much gentler than it had looked from above. It was easy and the turn left into the rough water at the bottom was straightforward, no chance of tipping over. Here's a shot of someone else on that same "barrage".

After that fun we carried on to the more serious rapids, the Grand S and Petit S, which were challenging but we all stayed upright in our boats.

It was an awesome course, just challenging enough to keep your concentration intense but not with that feeling of danger when you're too far out of your zone. The water level was high so we had less trouble with rocks than expected but more water pulling us down the main channel making it hard to steer at all in the rough sections - you just went with it! All in all great fun for the novice canoeist, with amazing nature in the form of circling kites above and rock pinnacles and forest lining the exquisite gorge section towards the end.

As last year, I only nearly lost it once, on the final rapid where I hit a stopper and felt the boat go up at 45 degrees nearly sliding me off, but I took a hand off the paddle and grabbed the side of the boat and it soon righted itself.

Thanks to all the guys who came along and made it great fun!

The girls' party took a supposedly easier but longer route downstream from us and ended up missing in action, heading for a dangerously high barrage, but they were all recovered safely in the end. That's a story for Kokila to tell some time!

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