National Geographic : 1964 Aug
Reluctantly we tossed over a line and were towed back to the spot where our troubles had begun. This time the boy walked the line forward, as he should have done in the beginning, and brought us alongside to make fast for the night. We sat down to eat, everyone talking at once with the release from tension. It was, Irving assured Rog's wife Elsie, a "once-in-a lifetime occurrence." Next day's tow passed without incident. But the day after, Yankee faced the wildest water we have found in any river. Work on a new dam at Charmes forced the Rhone into a constricted passage. With help from shore, Ampere struggled through, then exert ed a strong fresh pull on her tow. Yankee crashed into a wall of water, and with the sound of a cannon shot the towline parted. Like a great rubber band it snapped back at us, all 250 feet of it. Irving, who had been filming the torrent while I steered, raced back to the wheel; Rog and I began pulling the line over the bow. But only a few feet came in. Horror-stricken, we realized that we were in the same predica ment as two days before, only worse. Orders in Two Languages Equal Bedlam The rapids shot us backward out of con trol at 14 or 15 miles an hour. Both anchors went over again-for what they were worth. Then, upstream, we saw a great white V of water coming toward us. It was a high-pow ered boat used by dam workers. It held two men in life jackets and Ampere's skipper. Irving saw that its occupants did not real ize our anchors were down; they risked foul ing their own propeller. He shouted at them to stay clear. As interpreter, I gave a full yell. But Ampere's captain was screaming rescue ideas in French, and the life-jacketed man at the controls was bellowing his own intentions. Irving grabbed the initiative. He jumped up and down, waving his arms, shaking his fists, shouting. Startled, our "rescuers" halted long enough for us to tell them of their own danger. After that, the drifting and towing and pushing and shouting became compara tively sane. With the help of the work boat, we got to shore and made fast to a tree. Again Irving put on swimming trunks and diving mask and disappeared into the Rhone. Loops of line had festooned themselves around the propeller and shaft into a ball bigger than a bushel basket. Irving would surface and blow, gasp in a lungful of air, mutter a few 168 words, and disappear again. After almost an hour he asked us to pull him up, exhausted. We got him on deck, shaking with cold. We wrapped him in blankets and rubbed him till he complained his skin hurt. At last he said, "I'm all right. I'll go down again." Slow ly he put on long woollies I got for him. "These feel great," he said with a small smile. How he made himself get back into the icy Rhone, I cannot say. Aware of his fatigue, we watched anxiously. The same surfacings, haulings of the line, mutterings, gasps, dis appearances. Finally, it was done. We hauled him aboard. Sun-ripened grapes cascade from a pick er's bucket at Chateauneuf du Pape, home of one of the Rhone Valley's most celebrated wines. Avignon Popes in the 14th century established the vineyards. Pushed to full power, diesel-driven Yankee battles a stiff Rhone current at Valence. Steel bowsprit, to which the vessel's 60-pound an chor has been lashed, provided a perch for the photographer. On an earlier trip past this point, the Johnsons were forced to ac cept a tow. Now dams slow the river's flow.