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Remembered Today:

Sailing the Western Front today


John Gilinsky

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Please do NOT throw archies, flak or any other unpleasant stuff at me due to this post. I am serious. Has anyone ever

a) plotted how it might have been possible to SAIL the Western Front from end to end or almost so during any time of the war in a keelboat rather than a houseboat towed or barge

and

B) plotted to sail the Western Front TODAY again in a keelboat NOT a houseboat or barge?

Is this is a doable thing? Of course this last question does NOT mean is this a reasonable, economical or practical thing!

Come on mateys, RYS members, ....! Here is your opportunity to demonstrate true grit, resolution, determination....

John

(sitting safely on shore)

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Are you aware of the nature of the front line at a height of a thousand metres in the Vosges mountains?

Gwyn

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What an odd question. I'll give it a thought after I've finished planning my cycling tour of Dogger Bank and Jutland.

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John,

I think you would have more sail time if you headed to Gallipoli.

That would be a trip.

Scott

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Dragon: In general, yes I am aware of the mountainous nature of this part of the Western Front - however there must be rivers of some sort in this area n'est ces pas? Also my question is serious - just very very curious about this prompted by my intense research into the Eastern front river systems.

Centurion: initial commentary response is so so but your contributed graphic is very funny! Thanks.

Sydney Australia contributor: Yes sailing the Med is a time honoured tradition etc...however my interest is in sailing the main Western Front and if this is physically possible.

Where are all the good navigators, sailors, yachtspersons, explorers, risk-takers on the GWF?

John

(sitting safely on shore)

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Centurion: Great idea for an environmentally friendly nature powered (wind/solar?) land cruiser! Maybe you could patent this(probably has already been done though).

John

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I can't believe I'm answering this.

Yes, of course there are rivers. They tend to start towards the top of the mountains or begin in lakes, and run downhill. I can't think of any that interconnect in a manner which would allow continuous travel. The Rhine is way behind the front line.

The front in the Vosges consists of high mountain terrain, rocky outcrops, vast forests, steep drops, rock cliffs, crevasses, grassy hummocky meadows. There are parts where you can't even walk along the exact front, let alone use a boat. I am giving you a serious answer.

Anyway, good luck.

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You might be able to do something with a narrow boat with a lot of use of canal systems but no way could you use a keel boat as specified. You could do even more with a canoe (I once, as an academic exercise, plotted a route across North America from coast to coast with only about 20 -25 miles portage in total but a hell of a lot of lengthy detours)

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Very good idea, John.

France possess a large system of rivers bound up by a lot of canals. For example look here

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canal_de_l%E2...%C3%A0_la_Marne

You only need a useful boat and a bike.

You will find a lot of offers to rent a boat by Google.

Fritz

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You might be able to do something with a narrow boat with a lot of use of canal systems but no way could you use a keel boat as specified.

You're thinking of the tiny canals of the UK. Western European canals are plenty wide and deep enough, as they're built for heavy commercial barge traffic. There is a new one planned that will split the old front line near Havrincourt and has been the subject of a thread in the GWF. But as Dragon has pointed out they don't go through the Vosges. I suppose you could roughly parallel the Western Front by sailing down the Rhine :unsure:

Found this site which might help

cheers Martin B

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John

If you decide to do it, I will happily act as crew. As mentioned you should be able to navigate much of the Western Front via Canal or River. It should be quite easy to stop off and visit the land locked parts (no river or canal) and cycle to them.

SteveM

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Fritz, Martin and Steve: Thank you for your contributions and positive thoughts. Remember the book "The Accidental Tourist...?" It was written by a Torontonian who had the idea of walking the entire Western Front from north to south. This thread should serve as a challenge to those historical geographers, battlefield archaeologists, cartographers and chart people, rear lines and logistically oriented historians amongst others. IN short there is plenty of fascinating and quite probably undiscovered and/or to be rediscovered little known features of what the REAR areas that included communications such as canals, rivers and their tributaries looked like (then and now of course would be great for documentaries/books). So I throw out this a challenge to any group of people (it would require a group ideally) to do this!

John

(sitting comfortably in front of his computer)

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Dragon: Thanks for your view of my request. I respect your view by the way and of course there would be many many people who would share your view but think of it this way: why bother exploring or discovering frozen wastelands in the Arctic or Antarctica, or climb thee world's highest peaks, or explore the deepest depths of the oceans and risk limb and possibly your life? In part it is the challenge to do something different, offbeat AND it is also the challenge to view history from the modern perspective highlighting the geographical hurdles and problems faced by large armies' logistics on the front(s) compared to modern technologies (eg. GPS, satellite photos related to aerial photos, local knowledge of the time).

Thanks again,

John

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By the time you've sailed your keelboat across the North Atlantic, John, navigating rivers and canals behind the Western Front will be a pushover ...

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You're thinking of the tiny canals of the UK. Western European canals are plenty wide and deep enough, as they're built for heavy commercial barge traffic.

No I'm not, I'm thinking of the narrow canals, many of which formed the basis of defensive lines in 1914 -18. Even the large canals (which run the wrong way for this purpose) are designed for flat bottomed craft (such as commercial barges) with vertical sides (as are the locks). It's the keel boat that's the problem

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John, I've been challenging myself by climbing up and down the front line in the Vosges two or three times a year for 21 years. The rivers are small, fast, down-flowing mountain rivers. If there are no canals, there are no canals. It is possible to cycle quite a bit of the front, but at times you'd just have to get off and push your bike across terrain.

You could get to the Nancy area by canal; but that is a long way from the front line.

I feel it's somewhat patronising to suggest that this area can only be truly, finally, discovered by someone who is trying to do it by water. I accept that you probably didn't intend it to come across this way.

Gwyn

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If John were to use a canoe instead of a keelboat it would be entirely consistent with early Canadian tradition and the portage between bodies of water would certainly be easier.

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Hiya John.

Ive done the canals of Northern France for many years but all powered as Yatchting is pretty much impossible unless you want to 'eat fender'.

I could sail under power from Dunkirk via Arras,if I wanted,all the way to the Russian coast but,if you want to do the whole route of the trench line,you cant do it by boat.

Submersible Zeppelin,maybe :D

Dave.

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As any sailor will tell you at least historically, the most dangerous waters are those at home (somewhat akin to airplane accidents: takeoffs and landings being the most dangerous). Thus inland waters that appear "safe" may have uncharted obstacles, unfriendly locales etc.... unlike the long big waves which an offshore sailor should be well prepared for. I am not downplaying the North Atlantic at all especially in the winter storm season - one person years ago told me when I said to them that I would like to cross the North Atlantic for sentimental reasons that I would get the *.....* knocked out of me! Oh well!

Also what makes you think that I would sail over on my own boat? I might simply charter, buy a local boat, or be sponsored.

John

Toronto

[ close-hauled, batches tightened and firm grip on the tiller ]

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Dragon: Of course I don't intend to patronize anyone. I simply cannot from this distance despite sat images, and modern maps (but NOT charts) actually comprehend how one could physically do what I asked about. Sailing is a very different mode of transportation and investigating areas that would be mostly in the rear areas - in my humble opinion an area of the western front that is somewhat neglected.

John

[ steady as she goes! ]

Pete: A CANOE! Are you kidding me? Sailing is the name of the game not paddling. You must have been watching that early 1960s famous NFB film about that little aboriginal boy and his toy canoe eh? :lol:

John

[ tightening the sheets and hoisting the battle flag! ]

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59165: Thanks for relating your motorboat experiences through Northern French areas. "Eat Fender" is NOT apt in my judgement. Yes canals and rivers are narrow with restricted navigability - however careful pre-voyage planning and prudent navigating should avoid any serious fender incidents. I am not claiming that one would SAIL through the ENTIRE voyage: clearly there are long stretches of canals and rivers that due to nearby elevated areas, forests and built up areas now would have greatly diminished or even NO winds. Auxiliary power of course would be used but ONLY in such cases (and of course for emergency and probably docking and undocking). No ONE has yet been bold enough (though I admit I did just start this thread) to actually come up with a plotted or at least sequenced itinerary. One can sail the inland seas, the Great Lakes in particular here in North America and one can also sail the Inland Coastal Waterways system of the Eastern USA and go from say the Great Lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Getting back to fenders: again a wise skipper will have plenty of good materials on hand AND properly train ALL his crew in what to do if situations where a "minor collision" may ensue.

John

[ sipping his rum and coke at the stern while a gentle westerly breeze ... ]

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So a man walks into the local pub called the "Ole Ypres Better Head Yachting Pub" and plunks himself down. A comely barmaid politely asks what he'll ave. So the man says: "May I please have a pint of your best stout ale?" (note please typical give away that the man is probably from Canada eh?) and the barmaid happily complies. The man politely plunks down his 4 Euros (note: would have been a guinea in the ole days eh?) and begins to sip getting white foam on his shaved upper lip. Just then 3 locals enter with their hunting rewards from that morning: each man with a slung over their shoulder pheasant. Spying the stranger they greet em with: "Good day sir, just passing through these parts?" to which the man responds "Yes, I am on my way to prepare my boat for sailing the Western Front." At this point the three men suddenly turn pale and looking very seriously at one another then look at the man seated at the bar and come over to him and ask him to repeat what he just said. The seated man does this and then one of the three hunters chimes in: "Sorry mate but there was another chap who tried to do what you are planning to do. He was in 'ere last year, he was. We tried to tell me not to do it but he wouldn't listen. I wouldn't do it if I were you." Puzzled the seated man responds: "Why, what happened to the man?" Another of the hunters responds: "He was run down by an Iranian tanker carrying secret munitions for North Korea. They found his boat at the bottom of the Channel. He had lashed himself to the wheel."

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Oh, I see. You're sailing the Vosges front line, in a yacht.

Do post photos.

Gwyn

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