Archive for October, 2009

On to Reims – France seems very big when you look at it

Posted in French canals and rivers, Photographs on October 23, 2009 by maidofmettle

Chris wanted to say a particular hello to his family reading the blog. Hope you are all enjoying it.

We are now in Reims having now negotiated a great number of locks. We have a new state of the art tracking system to show you. The blue arrow on our map shows where we are.

We are here!

We are here!

I think there still must be over 150 locks left but we’re getting more practised at them and I have been gaining confidence with the outboard motor so driving in an out of them is not quite as scary as it was to start with.

We now have a bit of a system going for the locks. Depending on which way they are going i.e. up or down. Down locks are reasonably easy in some ways and we have mostly mastered the art of locking with 2 people and in some cases Pete has skillfully done all of it by himself; including driving into the lock, looping the bow and stern ropes around bollards, pushing a heavy lever up to make the lock gates close and then letting the ropes out as the water level lowers so as to make sure the boat stays close to one side of the narrow lock. Very impressive. Up locks still seem much easier with 3 people because we can drop someone off on the bank to catch ropes leaving the two on board to look after ropes and the engine so that if any part of the boat moves too far from the side we can move it back.

Somewhere between St Quentin and Seraucourt we found the biggest congregation of French fishermen ever seen. I think there must have been some kind of competition going on. Just as we got past the first group of about 20 we turned a corner to find another group of the same number.

Just some of the fishermen - there are even more round the corner!

Just some of the fishermen - there are even more round the corner!

There were several fairly small towns to explore and buy baguettes from on the way to Reims including Quessy, where we had quite a big storm.

Quessy

Quessy

The tunnel in Braye-en- Laonnois that was supposed to be closed until the 25th November was in fact open so that meant we were able to move a bit further down the country towards our ultimate goal. This particular tunnel was about 2km long and quite drippy in places.

Braye-en- Laonnois

Braye-en- Laonnois

It looks like the other closure we were aware of might be a bit longer than the VNF (people who run the canals) were hoping for so we might have to wait until around the 8th November for a lock to be re-opened. That means there should be plenty of time to enjoy the countryside and take our time a bit. The canals on this stretch seem much nicer than the earlier ones so it’s not a bad time to be delayed.

In search of “the lost facility” St Quentin

Posted in French canals and rivers, Fun, Photographs on October 15, 2009 by maidofmettle

We are now in St Quentin and our epic search for the elusive “facility” continues.

N49 degrees 5.316 E003 degrees 16.997

St Quentin

St Quentin

It’s been a slow but lockfull introduction to going downhill.  We were towed through the Riqueval tunnel (some 5.7km long!) yesterday but not before Chris managed to fall in from the side whilst looking at lines!  Whilst falling in Chris spent most of the time worrying that his lifejacket was about to burst into action…fortunately due to a pirouette, some cunning line holding and a bit of dragging in from the side this didn’t happen and he escaped with only a bit of a scratch and some embarrasment, especially as we found out soon after that the people towing us through the tunnel saw it all.

Wet

Wet

The tunnel was amazing and had some big chasms above our heads and some impressive brickwork.  We also saw two eggs and an aubergine…apparently they live there despite the poor light and cold conditions.

5.7km tunnel - somewhere in the middle?

5.7km tunnel - somewhere in the middle?

Once we emerged we were treated to some sunshine at the highest point of this canal (“summit reach” 🙂 even if we weren’t allowed to park up to enjoy the lovely views.  The benefit of having a speed limit of around walking speed – 4km/hour is that you get to look at things for a long time…

summit level

summit level

More of the summit

More of the summit

We stopped in Lesdins last night and found a pile of random vegetables…anyone who knows what these are please let us know as I for one would love to know.

What are they?

What are they?

It was cold last night…below zero!! The solar shower was an experience but we’re glad we didn’t wait until the morning as we woke up to ice on the shower curtain and everywhere else.

frosty morning

frosty morning

This morning we at last found the one and only “facility” (maybe) in the whole of France…St Quentin delivered a shower and some real toilets so we are no longer able to say “bring me a facility” in a Monty Python style…yay!

Au Cambrai

Posted in French canals and rivers on October 12, 2009 by maidofmettle

Left Douai to the Bassin Rond, home of Mr Euroboat, the “Bridge of imbeciles” and the noisiest ducks in the world.  Mr Euroboat, who it turns out owns the Bassin Rond serviced our outboard having nicely driven round in his swanky car and directed his minions (one in a long leather trench coat) to pick the motor off the transom (back) and plonk it (very easily) into their boat.

Had a lovely relaxed few days there waiting for the motor to be returned.  French time is different from English time…when someone says “maybe tomorrow afternoon or the next morning” they probably mean the latest possible time.

The promised “facilities” did not materialise in the Bassin so we all had lovely solar showers powered by the paraffin cooker due to a lack of sunshine!

Slightly concerned by a previous slight grounding earlier, it was with mild trepidation that we continued today along the canal de St Quentin 12km or so towards Cambrai.  This proved to be the least of our worries.  Armed with our newly aquired remote control for the lock doors we entered one lock that proved to be a bit more feisty than the one preceeding it!  All seemed fine, it was my first go at driving into a lock which went well.  We tied up as normal and pulled the “go” lever.  The lock gate shut and then the sluices opened unleashing a relative torrent of white water, much more than we’d seen before.  Chris tried to hold on at the stern rope but the currents made the stern go to the other side of the narrow lock whilst the bow moved toward the other side, wedging us somewhat across it at about 45 degrees.  “Oh dear” we thought.  The water stopped rising and we began to drift back thankfully but only after snapping the life bouy in two with a loud crack and scraping off a bit of paint.  In all the excitement the mast must have been knocked.  On the way out of the lock we then noticed that the support had shifted so the mast was then a bit less secure.  After a bit of shifting it was back in place even if our nerves and pride had been a bit wounded!  The french man on the bank probably enjoyed the show.

We are now safely in Cambrai, having had much smoother lock experiences after this.  Lesson well and truly learnt, always use the cleats when in locks!

Douai?…I don’t know!

Posted in French canals and rivers, Photographs on October 7, 2009 by maidofmettle

We are now about 110km into our French canals part of the adventure and it has been interesting so far.

View from being towed in the tender

View from being towed in the tender

We have had some success with our French and I’m sure this will improve.

So far we have travelled through Henuin, Aire sur le lys, Bethune and now we are in Douai.  Aire sur le lys was a bit well…’interesting’ especially feeling a bit like “I wonder who hangs about here”.  That day was particularly eventful because we ran aground where two canals met!

Pete pulling up the anchor after we used it to free us

Pete pulling up the anchor after we used it to free us

It took about an hour to free ourselves from the mud.  Around the same time the wind picked up and sent our yellow washing up bowl and marigolds flying into the canal.  These were later salvaged but we lost a scrubbing brush in the process.

Bethune had a much better mooring even if we did anger a few fishermen trying to go down a channel that it later turned out to be too shallow for us!  We didn’t go aground this time.  On the way into the town we were greeted with something  that wouldn’t have looked out of place in lord of the Rings and I felt like a contestant in the crystal maze as we had to use boat hooks to move our ropes up as we were lifted some 13 meters in the biggest lock I have ever seen!

Crystal maze

Crystal maze

The weather has proved challenging…everything is wet from sitting outside all day and so much of the boat is full of drying waterproofs.  Finding fuel in Bethune proved to be a mission as the Navicarte (book detailing places to stay etc) is a little lacking in up-to date information.  The fuel station detailed in the newest version of the navicarte has been turned into a farm shop…not very helpful when you want fuel.  After we had walked quite some way finding an illusive petrol station on intuition alone, Chris and Pete ended up carrying the fuel some 20 mins using two oars and some rope!  The navicarte is also optimistic on where pleasure boats might moor so we have been relying on mooring up to the bank and approaching slowly so as not to run aground!

However the bread is good as are the pain au raisins!