Going down the Vilaine River on a compact Stand-Up Paddleboard

Every year Guillaume and his friends take a trip on a stand up paddleboard. This year, Guillaume is taking us on a trip down the Vilaine River in Brittany; "not a bad trip", he says!

Going down the Lesse on a compact Stand-Up Paddleboard

After the first two paddleboard micro-adventures down the Loire River, from Orléans to Angers (video preview right here), we decided for this 3rd edition to tackle the Dordogne River.
Unfortunately, since an adventure wouldn't be one without unforeseen events, 5 days before the start, Météo-France announced thunderstorms throughout France.
All of France? No! Brittany was spared from the bad weather, so we changed our plans at the last minute. This year: we will tackle the Vilaine River!
Armed with our paddles and all our Itiwit gear, we, a band of 5 friends with the lovely name of "River Beavers", set off in the direction of Rennes with the port of La Roche-Bernard in our sights.

DAY #1

At last, it's time for the big start of this third edition!

Here we are, gathered together in the city of Rennes on the banks of the Vilaine River. Once we inflate our paddles and strap on our waterproof bags, we are ready to attack our first kilometres.

Our progress is immediately slowed down by the first of the 11 locks that we have to pass through to reach La Roche-Bernard. Fortunately for us, the lock keeper allowed us to pass, enabling us to save both time and precious energy.

The following locks were not as easy to pass through, because paddleboards are not allowed for safety reasons. We had to go ashore, unload our paddleboards, and carry them across to the water. The manoeuvre is tedious, taking its toll on our strength from the start of the adventure.

The almost non-existent current, at close to 0.4 km/h according to a native of the area, did not help either. Each kilometre was completed with the strength of our arms. We began to realise that this journey would be nothing like the previous ones. In one of the worst passages of the Vilaine River: a channel that seems endless, in which algae clings to our paddles and fins.

Fortunately for our team, when we arrived at the third lock we met a local elected official on the bank who, after a few minutes of discussion, took it upon himself to help us. He then contacted all the lockkeepers, authorising them to allow us to pass through the locks despite the original ban on paddleboarders!

Fully invigorated, we set off again, finally enjoying the beauty of the locks, most of which still operate by the strength of the lockkeeper's arms.

The Bretons we met along the way were mostly surprised because, for the vast majority, it was the first time they had seen paddleboards on the Vilaine River. Encounters were made along the way. We continued to eat up the kilometres through an increasingly wild landscape. The winding stretches of the river followed one another, and the discussions were as lively as ever, despite the declining sun. After 7 hours of paddling, nearly 35 km completed, and 7 locks crossed, we finally decided to set up camp on the bank next to a cattle farm.

Day #2

We begin the day fresh and the sun is shining; the day is off to a good start!

After a quick breakfast, we set off again on our paddleboards for a busy day with 45 km and 9 hours of rowing on the programme. Our goal is to set up our second camp in the vicinity of the village of Langon.

The first blisters were already starting to appear on the hands of the less hardened members of the group. Our muscles were sore from this first day of recovery, but the paddling was still dynamic in a now completely wild environment.

After several hours of paddling under a blazing sun, a break was needed! After a lunch quickly devoured, the morale of the troops was negatively affected. Without a current on the Vilaine River, the day's objective seemed somewhat unrealistic.

Nevertheless, for every problem the River Beavers came up with a solution. It was when we saw one of the few boats passing that the idea came to us: the next one, we stop it and ask it to give us a tow!

This was how we found ourselves one behind the other, connected by our leashes, being pulled by a boat. After roughly ten kilometres we shared a beer with the crew to thank them, then set off again. Once again, by the force of our arms!

After a few more kilometres of rowing, we managed to find the perfect place to set up our tents. As usual it was on the riverbank. For this third time around, we are starting to get the hang of setting up our camp and everyone has a role to play: gathering wood in the forest, setting up the tents, taking pictures for the video, preparing dinner, etc.

Like every evening, we go through a debrief of the day around a Camembert roasted on a wood fire. A real treat!

DAY #3

A gentle wake-up call for the team. We scan the direction and strength of the wind on the river. There is a light east wind that pushes us, just a bit, towards our destination. We are still moving along at the same pace of 5 to 6km/h on our loaded paddleboards. The landscapes are changing and getting more untamed. The Vilaine River widens out to show us its most beautiful aspects.

We are not the only ones who are enjoying it. On the way we pass dozens of fishermen who appreciate the calm of the place. We even saw one of them reel in a "small" catfish of 1m50 after 1 hour of hard struggle. We also could hear in the distance the bells of the church of Brain sur Vilaine melting in the surrounding silence until suddenly appearing at the turn of an umpteenth bend.

The river becomes smooth and gradually the sky becomes overcast relieving us from the nagging heat of the sun. We make good progress for 4 hours and the GPS point lifts our spirits.

We passed all the hairpin bends at the beginning of the route and finally feel as if we have made real progress towards our destination. This gives us wings and "Redon the unattainable" finally seems to us to be at the end of our paddle.

After a well-deserved lunch in a local tavern 5 km from Redon, we set off again with confidence. There was no further question of being towed! As a token sign, we pass the first boat to have towed us on the way, which is itself being towed by a barge. This shows that we were not the only ones to suffer from the lack of current on the Vilaine.

Once we got past Redon, our spirits were high. We decided to continue paddling as late as possible to make as much progress as we could. We still had some long and wide stretches to go. This reminded us of the previous years on the Loire River... but without the current!

The paddle strokes followed one another during the whole afternoon with few breaks. We were highly motivated. We continued our journey until dinner at another riverside tavern, where we booked a table by paddling past on our paddleboards.

The traditional Breton dinner of galettes-crêpes-cidres revives us. We set off again with gusto for 3 hours of paddling. The Vilaine River started to show its best side, with a sunset reflected on the water like a mirror. What a pleasure to be paddling under these conditions, each of us enjoying the show to the fullest. At the stroke of 10:30 pm, we managed to find a perfect spot to camp on the shore. The decision to leave the next morning with the sunrise at 6 am motivated all of us and the "good night everyone" were soon to be heard.

day #4

Waking up at 5:30 am is more complicated for some than for others, especially after the 9 hours of rowing the day before. The time to gulp down our breakfast, to tidy up our campsite, the sun rises and here we are again for this last day of rowing.

We calculate that it would take us 4 hours to reach La Roche-Bernard, our final destination. The easterly wind continued to push slightly at our backs and we made our way through an increasingly rocky landscape.

The Brittany cliffs start to surround us. We took the opportunity to take our first swim in the rather warm water. We quickly spotted the first masts of the boats crossing the port of Foleux. No doubt we were getting closer to the mouth of the river! This was confirmed a few kilometres further on as we passed under the two imposing bridges indicating the entrance to the town. The approach to La Roche Bernard is truly majestic. We were greeted by an old two-masted ship, the Bora Bora.

What a pleasure! Once ashore, we will enjoy a well-deserved coffee at the port.

A final challenge awaits us: once the material is packed up, we have to take a series of buses and trains to get back home.

And it is marked by these 4 days of rowing between friends, these meetings with the lock keepers and the inhabitants of the various villages bordering the Vilaine that we fall asleep in our cosy beds on Sunday evening.

We hope to see you next year, and that the Dordogne River will not elude us for this 4th edition!

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