400 KILOMETRES IN SIX DAYS BETWEEN BREST AND NANTES ON AN INFLATABLE 14’ RACE STAND UP PADDLE BOARD

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A friend from my course, Clovis, and I had been talking about a SUP touring trip for a while. We had considered the possibility of doing a section of the canal between Nantes and Brest, but that was just one of several ideas. 3 weeks before we were due to leave, we finally agreed on what we would do. We would leave from Brest. Clovis lives in Sables d'Olonne and I live in Brest. This would make it possible for us to leave from one of our homes and arrive almost at the other one’s home, but we knew that if we wanted to get as far as Nantes, we had some long days of paddling ahead of us. We loved the challenge!

If we wanted to cover the distance on the canal in the time available, we had to do between 50 and 60 km / day. In addition to this, we also had to add in passing through the locks (238 between Brest and Nantes). We knew that would take a lot of time and considerably slow our progress. 

Unlike with a bike, with our Stand Up Paddles, we would be forced to stay alongside the canal. We therefore needed to be autonomous because we would travel through very few town and villages."

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#1 Sunday 2nd June, the big day of departure

Because of the weather conditions, we decided to leave from the lower stretches of the roadstead of Brest. We set off on the rising tide, so we were with the current to go up the River Aulne to Port Launay where the canal really starts. It was the first time we had been on our Itiwit 14’ inflatable SUP with such a heavy load. Our load weighed between 15 and 20 kg. We were pretty relieved to find out that we were actually able to stand on our boards! We paddled for about thirty kilometres before getting to the first lock. The moment had arrived to test the little wheels that would allow us to go through each lock using the tow path. The aim was to get out of the water, climb up the bank to the tow path, turn over our paddle boards with our belongings all sufficiently well strapped on that they stayed on the board, put the front of the board on our shoulder and wheel the whole lot to the end of the lock before getting back into the water. We needed to make a few minor adjustments to get it just right, but our technique works! The day ended with rain and we spent out 1st night a few kilometres beyond Châteaulin in a shelter that allowed us to stay dry. A big relief!!
 

#2 Monday 3rd June, first complete day

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Departure at 8.30 AM for our first complete day. The morning light is stunning! We paddled for six and half hours before stopping to eat on the bank. Then we set off again and completed our day at about 9.30 PM.
We are somehow getting better at dealing with the locks and often meet bemused lock-keepers who ask "where do you want to go like that?" They suddenly become very sceptical and look at us in surprise when we say we want to get to Nantes before the end of the week. 

The following day, our bodies responded well, they are getting used to paddling all day. We covered several kilometres before reaching a series of locks with a distance of 200m between each of them and we had to get out of the water and walk for a good hour on the tow path. We have bare feet in our shoes and I only realised when we stopped that this stretch of walking really didn’t do my feet any favours. Luckily Clovis’ feet are in a better state. 
We stopped in the early evening and our student friend, Thibault, joined us for the night. He brought everything we needed to have a great barbecue, a really welcome treat!

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#3 Wednesday 5th June, taking a break for foot maintenance

Clovis set off at 5 AM; And I planned to go to the nearest village to get hold of the whatever I needed to help look after my feet until the end of the trip. A short pit-stop later and at 10 AM I was dropped off at the start of Lac de Guerlédan, where Clovis was waiting for us. He’d already covered 25 km since dawn. It was such a pleasure to do the 10 km in Lac de Guerlédan. What’s more, we went through a few locks without even seeing them as they were submerged under the waters of the lake. We reached the barrage at the end of the lake. So we had to get out of the water and head downhill to rejoin the canal below. We made the wrong choice which meant a long walk of about an hour on the road before getting back on the canal heading towards Pontivy. For the last 2 days we have been in the Côtes d'Armor and the locks in this area are not particularly well cared for. Each time we get out of the water, the banks are overgrown and it’s a real nuisance.

#4 Thursday 6th June, Hurricane Miguel approaches

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The night was very damp, there were lots of storms all around us. It was difficult to force ourselves out of our hammocks this morning. We paddle at 7km/h on average but getting past the locks has slowed us down to about 5km/h since the beginning of the week. We took a break in Josselin, a beautiful town that is full of character, before setting off for Malestroit. The day varied between heavy downpours and brighter patches. We heard people talking about Hurricane Miguel, which would soon hit the Breton peninsula and head our way. 
At about 8.30 PM, 2 kilometres from Malestroit, we got to a lock with an old barn next to it. The lock-keeper kindly agreed to us spending the night in the shelter of the barn. It rained all night long. Surprisingly, when we woke up, the weather wasn’t as bad as forecast. We made the most of it to cover the 2km to Malestroit where we planned to have breakfast. Finally we set off in heavy rain with wind that was increasingly strong. Sometimes we had it behind us, sometimes against us, but we knew that it would be blowing from the west in the afternoon and down into and along the canal in the same direction as we were paddling. A big storm meant that we had to stop all of a sudden. Luckily, we had arrived at a lock just at that moment, which meant we could take shelter and enjoy the company of the lock-keeper and a couple of walkers who were passing by. 
When we got to Redon, the wind was at its maximum and we came across several trees that had fallen across the canal. The end of the day was just like a real downwind and we ended the day feeling exhausted, but pleased that we had been able to cover 50 km in spite of the storm. In fact, we have covered the Breton stretch of our trip, and are now heading into Loire-Atlantique
 

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#5 Saturday 8th June, we will be in Nantes tomorrow

We set off with our arrival in Nantes in mind. It was a long day so that we could make as much progress as possible and reach our final destination tomorrow. We have 85 km to cover in 2 days. The storm had passed and the weather was lovely, a sufficiently rare fact that it is worth highlighting! We paddled for several hours before arriving in Blain. Personally speaking, my upper body is fine but my legs are becoming much weaker and are starting to be really painful. The last kilometres of the day are really tough and I have to draw on my last reserves of strength. Clovis seems to be faring better. The Dordogne Intégrale event covering 350 km in 3 days which he did a month ago got him in great shape!
We spent the night under some apple trees next to lock n°5. Yes, that’s right, only 5 more locks before we get to Nantes!! 

Wake-up at 5 AM; we packed up camp and set of at first light. We wanted to finish quickly and arrive in Nantes in time for lunch. We had 30 km left to do, more than 10 km on the canal before reaching the Erdre River and travelling 20 km south to reach Nantes city centre. It was 8 AM when we hit the Erdre, we were alone on the water to enjoy this magical moment! The canal landscapes that we had been travelling through suddenly changed. 
Everything went smoothly, I don't think we have paddled so hard since the first day. In the excitement we forgot all about our little aches and pains. We stopped for breakfast in Sucé-sur-Erdre and then headed off to finish what we set out to do. We really made the most of the final kilometres; the closer we got to Nantes, the more traffic there was on the water, which made a change from what we had become used to.
 

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#6 Arrival

12h37 : Arrival at quai Versailles in Nantes city centre. We jumped for joy, bursting with happiness, we gave each other high fives and hugged each other, the people around us must have wondered why we were so happy! But I can assure you that we knew exactly why ;)
12h45 : A delicious, well-earned beer!
 
It took us 6 days and 23 hours and 46 minutes to cover the 400 km and 238 locks  separating us from our starting point. 
 
Throughout our trip we often asked ourselves why we had chosen to do this canal. In fact, all the locks mean that it isn’t ideal for navigating on a SUP. We definitely don’t have any regrets about what we did, but I don’t think it’s the kind of route we would do a second time.
For the next trip, we’ll plan a route with far few locks, but one thing is for sure, we’ll definitely be going on another trip
 

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