A Few Short Trips  
By Brian Anderson - Cologne, Germany
also author of "Small Boats on Green Waters"

I was looking through my photo files and stumbled across some photos from a few river trips I have taken over the last year or so. Never got around to writing up a story about any of them, but there were some nice photos of some good times, so I thought I would whip something up.

Last summer I spent an afternoon paddling down the Sevre Niortaise. This is a smallish river that runs through an area of South-western France called the Poitou Swamp (it sounds better in French, le Marais Poitevin). It is basically an ancient bay, dotted with limestone islands that has been silting up gradually over the years. Starting about 1,000 years ago, the locals started accelerating the process, digging channels, building dikes, and filling where they could. Today it is known as Green Venice, because of all the tiny little channels that spread out like a net through the small islands and the villages perched on the old limestone islands. It is a pretty place.

click to enlargeMagne’ : Nice little town, lots of old stone. The first couple of mile of paddling was pretty tough, plowing through weed. If one got a good running start, one could probably run across the river in this part.

(click images to enlarge)


click to enlargeA wooden chain ferry, built to take livestock or whatever across the river to the big, artificial island built up with dirt dug out of the canals around it. I have seen a couple of these getting built, and they are usually oak covered with hot road tar.


click to enlargePaddling down through the middle of Coulon. Nice little town, built on the trade up and down the Sevre Niortaise, it spent many years in the doldrums after rail and road transport eclipsed river transport. Now it is a pretty quiet little country town that attracts a fair number of tourists and wealthy outsiders who own second homes there.


click to enlargeOne of the local swamp boats carrying tourists through the canals around Coulon. There are still lots of wooden ones around, but now they are mostly made of fiberglass or steel, with more than a few reinforced concrete ones. They are interesting boats, a scow front with a canoe stern and are always paddled -- an adaptation to the need to carry heavy loads, timber or even a cow or two through narrow waterways where the bottom is too soft to pole, I guess.


click to enlargeMy buddy Caleb and his son Rafael and I spent a day on the Sieg River, a tributary to the Rhine River near my home in Cologne. I hauled out my folding pirogue for the trip. Beautiful day, a lovely river, but it was rocky and a little too shallow for the heavily loaded pirogue. We ripped up the 6 mm ply on the bottom pretty good, even cracked it in places. It didn’t leak (I don’t understand why) but I am either going to have to fiberglass the bottom, or just retire the boat. Normally it lives in my living room as two shelves (see Rhine Kanuen), so I have been thinking of spiffing it up a bit -- a new paint job, some more shelves, and adding spacered oak inwales to dress it up a bit.


click to enlargeI got a chance to take a couple of days in my folding kayak to camp along the Vienne River near the in-laws’ place in Western France. My daughter Rachel decided she wanted to try Papa’s canoe, and was absolutely not happy to see me paddling away alone...


click to enlargeI got a chance to run some rapids, easily Class 3 on the right side, in my folding skin boat. She held up pretty well. I broke the paddle off when it got caught between some stones (Next project is to replace the plywood paddle ends with solid wood) as I was coming down this bit, and hit a couple of rocks pretty hard. But when I pulled the boat out on the rocks to check for damage, and line my way through the next bit, I couldn’t even tell where I had hit. Chalk one up for polyester reinforced PVC.


click to enlargeAn old abandoned mill and the remains of the weir. The Vienne was lovely, but there was a weir every 3-6 feet of fall in the course. Some of them were easy to run or portage, but there were a couple of awkward ones along the course. I lined my way past this one.


click to enlargeAn old, maybe 12th century castle, with a Baroque chateau tacked on to one side.


click to enlargeOn my third day out, I was getting a little fed up with my leaky tent, and the weather showed every sign of settling in for a good long rain. I paddled into the happily named village of Bonnes with its weird and wonderful 12th century Romanesque church and called my wife to come pick me up. It turned out she had some stuff to do that morning, so we agreed to meet at the next town, about 5 miles downstream.


click to enlargeOne of the local river boats. They are made of local pine, almost 2” thick and just sort of nailed together and then coated with hot tar to seal them. One interesting thing was the way they let the bottoms overlap the sides, bow and transom. I asked a couple of people I met along the way, but was told it was just the way it was done along the Vienne. I suspect it was for two reasons. The bottom would tend to rot in through the endgrain, and so if you left an inch sticking out, it would take just that much longer before it started loosening up around the nails. Secondly, the Vienne is pretty rocky in places and the exterior “chines” would tend to protect the hull a bit better. Though the things were built so heavily that this might be a pretty minor consideration.


click to enlargeAlong the way to the next village, I passed by Touffou, a castle first mentioned in the 12th century. It was extensively rebuilt in the 17th century to change it from a primarily defensive castle into more or less a palace. Today it is owned by the widow of the advertising magnate David Ogilvy. It is really something else, see the ariel photo:



click to enlargeLast winter, the Rhine came pretty close to overflowing its banks, and somehow the idea of being able to just walk down to the river with my canoe on my back and step off the quay into it proved irresistible. One more day of rain, and it would have been over the banks, but in the event the day dawned clear and relatively warm. I live in Koln (Cologne in English) in the village of Mulheim just north of the city center.


click to enlargeI crossed the Rhine, which was flowing fast, something like 6 - 8 knots with the high water, and made my way upstream toward the old city in the slack water along the banks. The steel structure is a floating dock. The gangplank normally slopes steeply down to a floating double-ended barge that river boats tie up to. But this day the river was about 19 feet above normal, and the quay was about 3 feet underwater.


click to enlargeOn the way home I took a detour through the park where I go with my girls to kick a soccer ball around and let them throw stones in the river. It was something else to see it all 6 feet underwater.


click to enlargeAs I was pottering my way through the park, I met my friend Andreas on the bank of the river and he took a couple of photos of me from the foot bridge over the mouth of Mulheim Port. There is a peninsula in the middle -- to the right there is a port for the boats that maintain the channel markers, ferries, dredgers and other working boats. To the left there are a couple of pleasure boat shops, and a big maintenance railway that can take all but the biggest container boats on the river for bottom jobs and general repairs.


click to enlargeHeading back in to the quay in front of my house. The buildings on the right front, a miniature neighborhood, were purpose built for the outdoor set of a soap opera made by WDR, the national television company. It is called Die AnRheiner -- the people who live on the Rhine. I keep meaning to watch it, but never seem to get around to it somehow.

Other Articles by Brian Anderson: