By Brian Anderson - Parthenay, France

So after a miserable winter, the April Sunday appointed to be splash day for the Sprucegoose revealed itself with a miserable cool, gray drizzle. So much for MeteoFrance. Weighing the possibility of a cold drenching far from shelter against the “if not now, who knows when” reality of life lately chez Anderson, I decided to hope for the best and we packed up the gear and headed off to the River Thouet which runs past the medieval quarter of Parthenay.

The medieval city walls have been used over the years to form the backs of houses, and after the walls lost their military use, the people were allowed to cut windows and doors in them, though that must have been a real job in walls about 10’ thick.

Rachel clips Maia into her life jacket on the big day, on the Thouet River in front of St. Jacques’ Gate in Parthenay, France, near where we live.

Light and call her a 10’  boat.

Off we go.

So after the splash and the christening and giving the girls a ride, off I went. About a hundred meters anyway, and then I had to make a portage. Then off I went again, and there was another portage. A couple of hundred meters on, for a change of pace a tree had fallen across the river and there was a layer of brown scum and trash easily 20’ wide piled up against it, and no possible way to get under or, easily, around it. On the one side the banks were pretty high and covered in stinging nettles, and on the other the tree roots had pulled out a giant lump of turf over to a granite cliff face, leaving a scummy pond too deep for my boots.

So I had a cigarette and decided the only way was to fight my way up to the trunk near the first branch, climb on, and pull the Goose over the trunk. Paddling through the scum was instructive. I learned that Bordeaux was the most popular wine among people who tossed their bottles into the river, with Cotes de Rhone a distant second. Thrashing my way through I churned up a dead carp, a very dead tench, a dead thrush and count them, three very dead nutria and a positively putrefying muskrat. After a 20 minute battle to get up to the trunk and get the boat over into clear water on the other side with out taking a scum bath, I think the wildlife had just died from frustration trying to get around the stupid tree. 

And then another hundred yards later there was another portage. Though at least this one was relatively easy, didn’t involve clawing my way through stinging nettles, and the dam provided water for an old string factory that had been turned into a commercial wood shop. The water wheel had been rebuilt and I later learned ran a generator that 8-10 months a year powered the shop and often provided excess electricity to sell onto the grid.

An old mill that had been refurbished and now runs a generator. The building is a woodshop, and the guy sells the excess electricity back to the power company.

So that was how it went mostly. I stopped counting weirs and dams after maybe 15, but there were more in the 10 km or so I covered during the day. I had planned to pull out by the old stone Roman bridge at beautiful little town called Gourge’ but didn’t get half that far.  I will probably head back to the Thouet this summer, as it is close and I would like to explore more, but I am going to have find another river around here where you can paddle more than a couple of hundred yards without having to portage.

The Sprucegoose did pretty well, not that one would expect any problems from such a simple little boat. No leaks, well behaved, very light. And the new spruce paddle did good duty in the rocks on a couple stretches of maybe class II water. I think I am going to have to add an exterior sacrificial chine log in hardwood, as the soft spruce took a bit of a beating, and the length-wise planking leaves little wedges of wood at the ends of the boards that could catch and tear loose.

Pleasant day, it tried hard, but couldn’t quite rain. But no adventures. Just 6 hours of paddling, lots of beautiful countryside and interesting old mills...

So here are some photos:

A little sparkling Chardonnay from Vouvray on the Loire River just north of here for the boat and a little more for Neptune and his daughters the nyads.
Yours truely - debating the weather

Afternoon on the river.

Another pretty old mill that has been renovated and powers a generator. Originally the water wheel powered was a thread spinning factory.

Abandoned mill. This one had almost 2 meters of head, I estimate. Could make a lot of power if somebody fixed the wheel up again.

A ruined bridge, probably about 800 or so years old, if it is as old as the other ones along the river.

This guy fishing with is father, from the village down the road from us, hauled this beautiful carp out the the river just as I was paddling up.


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