Archive for November, 2009

Only 331km to the sea

Posted in French canals and rivers, Fun, Photographs with tags on November 26, 2009 by maidofmettle

I am writing this from the comfort of an actual house, or flat to be more precise.  Pete has friends in Lyon who very kindly welcomed us into their home for the day to relax and take advantage of some mod cons.  As I am writing this via a french keyboard the chances of bizarre spelling increase and my previous Patricia Mayhew school of touch-typing skills are being challenged somewhat with zs and other random letters keep cropping up in unwanted places.  Even as i tried to write this a z appeared and a was mysteriously replaced by q.

Our first night mooring spot in Lyon

As you will have gathered we are spending a few days in Lyon, having travelled quite quickly to get here.  The rivers seem much easier in that respect but more difficult to just stop anywhere so we have had to plan ahead a lot.  The mooring situation was less than ideal to be honest; either too shallow or deep enough but with locals to contend with in the evening.  Thankfully we came across a kind French barge who we are now moored against.  This is much better and despite the cronky ladder they lent us and the big barge wash that batters us a bit ocassionally we are less worried about it now.

Mooring up to barge for our second night

What Lyon lacks in decent mooring space it makes up for with views.   Yesterday we took a walk up to the Basilica via a big hill and off the path route (by accident) The view across the city was pretty spectacular and I got my first mountain view of the Alps.  Clare will vouch for me in just how much I love seeing mountains…needless to say it was great to see the sunshine and a big fat open space with an exciting mountain range just visible in the distance.  We also got our first glimpse of the mighty Rhone which looks quite wide and a little faster than the Soane.  We will see properly when we move off again.

The view from the Basilica

yay! mountains!

On the way back down the hill we discovered the remains of a Roman Amphitheatre.  Well not exactly discovered it ourselves but followed some signs to it.  Anyway, apparently they do concerts there in the summer but we found some people free-running there which was good entertainment especially when they started doing flips and somersaults off of bits of rock.  Chris had fun trying out the sport mode setting on the camera here!

Free running


The history bit

I have found a new money making idea only I will need to get my saxophone.  Yesterday we saw a busking sax player at the traffic lights on a bridge…on second thoughts he didn’t seem to do too well but I’m sure he was enjoying playing through people’s windows all the same.

The busker

Somewhere near the Rhone

We had an amazing meal out last night at a salad restaurant.  Those of you now laughing at the idea of a salad restaurant should be warned that this was not salad for the faint hearted.  I didn’t think it was possible to get full with a salad but it really is.  I think we all wondered whether we should have gone for the 3 course option.  Thanks to Lionel and Caroline for a lovely evening and the biggest, most tasty salad in the world!

Lionel and Caroline

Ahhgh. The salad is taking over the world

Incidentally, getting here was fairly straight-forward; leaving the strange Anglicised St Jean de Losne, with its amazing book swapping service, and calling in at Chalons-en Champagne (lovely old timber frame houses) and Macon which had showers and a horse-drawn bin.

A lot of argee bargee

Posted in French canals and rivers, Fun, Photographs on November 20, 2009 by maidofmettle

Apologies if not all the pictures appear yet…there seems to be a gremlin in the posting by email section.  Will try to sort it tomorrow.

We managed to find a service in St Dizier for Armistace Day. Many people turned up for a ceremony including a local dog who then proceeded to run around during the middle of everything.

French Air Force preparing and random dog (bottom right)

Procession to the middle of St Dizier for a further ceremony

On our way out of St Dizier we were met with a group of local school children waiting on the bridge for us with their teacher. It was fun to answer their questions in a mixture of French and theatrics. Amongst the questions were “Where do you sleep?” (answer “here and here and here”) “Do you eat?” (“Yes, lots…”) and “What’s that?” pointing to my life jacket. The answer to this one was somewhat harder and involved a bit of “if I fall in the water it helps me” and some rapid arm waving to indicate that it would inflate. I only hope they didn’t mistake that for ‘it would explode’.

“Now always wear your life-jacket children” Maybe there’s a career there one day.

Anyone who claims that the French canals are an easy option compared to Biscay is either wrong, or lying! That or by the time they told you that had put on their rose-tints and had forgotten how tiring it all was. Thankfully we have 3 people as a crew otherwise we would be even more tired and stressed after this week. Our time has been particularly barge-full too.

Argee Bargee 1. (pictured below)

We turned a corner to find 2 barges staring at us. There was not much water either side so we had to get as close in as possible and wait for them to pass without getting too pummeled by their wash.

Two barges to contend with…must they take over the whole canal!!

Argee Bargee 2.

One evening we were mooring up rather later than hoped in the pitch black having been disappointed that the promised “halte picnique” mooring never materialised. It was dark and the boys were attempting to find somewhere else to moor and found it was too shallow to get ashore at the bank. There was a barge parking place but we knew there was a barge not far behind so we needed to wait and see if they wanted it. The barge came through the lock and headed towards us on the outside of the bend we were moored upon. They shone big, bright search-lights at us so we knew we’d been seen. Sadly they didn’t slow down which resulted in
quite a lot of disturbance and our boat’s back flinging out towards them. This wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t a mast sticking out 12ft behind that! Thanks to lots of engine usage and probably some good luck we remained about a foot away from them…a little bit too close for comfort though.

Pete rowing out from the boat to the barge mooring place

As the boat was moored up on the unused barge parking place we then panicked as another barge emerged out of the darkness…but luckily it was only the Dutch boat we’d been in convoy with a bit before.

We hit summit level a few days ago and have now begun the big descent to the Med. We had been looking forward to the last up lock so much and when it came we were relieved that the lassooing/ladder climbing would be over. Or so we thought. Perhaps we had already put on our down lock rose tints as it soon became clear that they are not always that straight forward.

Argee Bargee 3.
Less about the barge but interesting none the less. The day didn’t start entirely as planned. There was a slow moving barge that the VNF strongly encouraged that we should not get behind. “You must leave now”, they said in no uncertain terms, which in reality meant an interrupted breakfast and travelling in convoy with a fairly big Swedish boat. So, with this we carried on at a sensible pace (if feeling a little pressure) into the first of the day’s down locks. The first one was ok, we were just finding our feet (or ropes and hands) and reminding ourselves of how it was supposed to work. Once down and the gates had opened we hauled the ropes back around the bollards with reasonable difficulty and then drove out to be faced with another lock only a few minutes ahead of us. Ok, we had known how many there would be so we weren’t all that surprised but it’s hard to think that you will be travelling through as many locks as kilometres in a day! There were a number of locks in a big chain, meaning that once we had exited the lock it would set off the next one to open. This meant we had to travel in convoy to start with or we would break the chain and not be able to open locks.

Caroline ready with the lines

The Swedes seemed to be in a bit of a hurry to get in and pull the handle to set the water moving which was a tad frustrating because it felt like we couldn’t set our own pace. Anyway, during one of the locks there was a bit of a shinnangon when Pete noticed that the Swedish boat had its back line cleated off too tightly. Of course as the water level sank, the back of their boat did not, leading to a potentially quite dangerous situation. Having shouted to them the boat’s helm rushed to the unattended line and tried to uncleat it frantically. Luckily he decided to go and grab a knife and cut the lines. The boat fell to the water, but thankfully not too far and there was no real damage other than to his pride no doubt. In fact he gave up on the back line soon after that and decided to smoke instead.

The Swede’s ‘relaxed’ approach to back-lines

Once the lock doors opened on trying to pull the rear rope back through and onto the boat, I couldn’t move it despite all my efforts. The rope had become caught in a groove in the concrete wall which meant I then had to climb into the dingy behind and then up a tall ladder to the top of the lock. Having descended about 5 metres it was a long way up and just as I arrived at the top and was ready to walk round Chris had managed to free the rope leaving me with a long walk back down the ladder that I then discovered had at least one rung that turned a bit when you held it. I tried not to think about that too much on the way down. All this had taken a while and the lock was beginning to give up on us. We stormed out just as the bleeping was starting for the closing of the doors. Phew.

Things then began to get a bit calmer…we must have been getting used to it all again.

Pete and the ship’s rat enjoying the sunshine and the end of the canals in sight.

All in all quite eventful times…Lucky the French canals have nice scenery.

Yesterday we left the canals and went on to the ‘ever so frightening’ river Soane. First we had to get through another lock. Only this one had a lock dog guarding the way out onto the river. As with other lock-keepers, the dog of the lock asked us where we’d been, where we were going and where he might find a supply of Pedigree Chum locally.

Chris and the dog of the lock.

moving from canal to river actually wasn’t very eventful and the thought of what it might be like was in fact much worse than the event itself. The river Soane is beautiful and especially so when in the fog, which lifted today.

The Saone in full mist

Now we are in St Jean de Losne because we hope to get the outboard serviced again. Yes that’s right getting it serviced for the second time in as many months because it has reached 100 hours already.

Oh look! Another lock!

Posted in French canals and rivers, Fun, Photographs on November 10, 2009 by maidofmettle

Sitting in St Dizier now with cold feet and not having looked in a mirror for at least 3 days. We are not alone…there are a few other sailing boats close by too.

For anyone who is interested our current GPS position is N 48º38.48, E 04º55.70

St Dizier

We left the civilisation of Reims and said farewell to Lynn and Bob who we met there. They were extremely helpful by lending us the keys they had for the shower, loaning us an electricity cable and cooking us some lovely food, not to mention being generally lovely and agreeing to play Chris’ game Jungle Speed with us. Reims gave us the opportunity to entertain via a meal or two as well. Thank you and have a good Christmas in Reims. Good luck with the anti-ice bottles too.


Pete, Bob, Lynn, Caroline and Chris

The last few days have been full of locks, often with only a kilometre or two between them. Armed with a new remote control for opening the gates and starting the cycle, we have now almost perfected the art of the “up” lock with only 2 people. Thanks to some advice we have been trialling a new lassooing technique. We have had mixed results: sometimes being very accurate and sometimes very not accurate. We will have plenty more practice no doubt.


Chris lassooing a bollard

Tommorow is Armistice Day so the French declare a public holiday. This means no locks are open so we get a rest day 🙂 Hopefully we might be able to find a service to go to too.

Really? The Mountain? Looks like England to me

Posted in French canals and rivers, Fun, Photographs, Walking on November 1, 2009 by maidofmettle

Reims is pretty nice, which is a good job seeing as we’re looking like being here for a good few days longer yet.  Seems we may have got it wrong about a barge crashing into lock 10 a little way ahead and instead the VNF just seem to have started the planned work on it a week later than they’d intended.  Personally i prefer the story about the barge but not if it means we’re delayed even longer than the 8th!

We recently went on a little tour around the town.  What follows is the best I can do as a virtual one for you.

You might be mistaken for thinking that we’re in London with this picture (below).  I thought I’d walked into Reims and stumbled across Picadilly Circus when I saw this…maybe I miss London or something.  I doubt it, though there is something nice about familiarity.


Further on we found this lovely dandelion fountain…

I’m sure I’ve seen one of these somewhere before but can’t quite remember where…somebody, anyone, tell me where it was….


Where have I seen one of these before?

Soon after we came across quite a posh on the inside restaurant/cafe where we sophisticatedly drank hot chocolate instead of tea (it wasn’t that English, the French seem to prefer fruit teas)


Pete and his extra gloopy hot chocolate

I was getting a bit suspicious so we took the train out of Reims to a place called Rilly La Montagne (or “Really? The Mountain” as it is otherwise known) about 15 minutes via high-speed train for a bit of a walk.  The French trains have quite a catchy little jingle that puts our English one to shame whenever a train arrives at a platform.

Lo and behold what should we find on arriving at Rilly la Montagne and walking ten minutes…Suddenly I was taking a walk in Bramshill forest!


Yay! Bramshill forest...but where's Marley gone?

Ok I admit the similarities ended there when we saw the miles and miles of Champagne grapes in rows on the hillsides.


Mmmm grapes


more grapes

French maps proved interesting.  We had a map to use but unlike a trusty Ordnance Survey map there was a lot less detail available for us because of the scale.  Despite this we managed to work a short circular route even if it wasn’t quite what we had intended.  The walk was mostly in the forest and quite possibly near to the setting for a famous fairy-tale house.  We really did find a trail of bread on the way…luckily the houses en-route were made of actual stone and not gingerbread…


Anyone seen a gingerbread house?

The forest was so nice that Chris and I decided to go back there for a day or so.  This time we travelled a bit further along on the train and armed with a tent and some food, walked our way from Avernay to Rilly.  The forest is more spooky at night and I think we both jumped quite a bit due to various animals wandering about (we hope) not to mention the barking dogs, owls and disconcerting acorns which fell throughout the night.  At least that’s what we hope they were…


Did you just hear that?!