July 27-August 5, Chalons-en-Champagne. As I mentioned in my last post the Canal Entre Champagne et Bourgogne had a bridge closure, stopping all traffic for about 10 days and so we tied up on one of the pontoons in Chalons to wait it out. There didn’t seem any point racing off up there and possibly not having a decent mooring and having to queue so we stayed put and enjoyed the port.
I’ve written earlier this year about Chalons so I won’t go on other than to say it’s a lovely spot with an excellent capitainerie. Damien and Matthew do a stellar job and are very nice guys with excellent English.
August 5th. Saturday. I have to say we were ready to move on, however nice a time we were having, so on Saturday we were up early and quietly slipped out of port at 7am. Apart from some black clouds threatening rain it was a really nice morning to cruise. We did catch up to a commercial barge at the 2nd lock but they stopped to pick up a baguette and chat to another commercial bargee allowing us to overtake them and we had a lovely quiet run into Vitry-le-François, some 29kms and 8 locks later.
At Vitry we picked up a remote control for the automated locks to come. The Vitry port didn’t look great, just like 2 months ago when we came through in the other direction. Its small and looked full so we decided to just keep going, through to Orconte, another 14kms away. That’s 8 1/2 hours total for the day and 45kms. Too long really but sometimes it just works out that way.
Arriving through the Orconte lock we saw 2 boats already on the small quay so put in stakes and a long power cord and settled down to relax for the evening.
However. One commercial barge came past us and into the lock and our boat was fine but later on, when we least expected it, another commercial approached the lock quite fast, sucking our rear stake out of the ground, swinging our back out, hitting the barge. We got quite the shock. They didn’t even blink an eye, going into the lock without a backward glance. To be fair their attention would have been on squeezing their large beast into the narrow lock. Meanwhile we ran to grab our metal stake before it fell into the water, check for damage on our boat (only paint lost, yay for steel boats) and then move onto the end of the concrete quay, without the need for stakes! Dramas! A lovely Belgium man helped us re-moor and told us he had sailed around New Zealand years ago and knew it very well. He also confirmed that barge was going too fast but there’s not much you can do. Lesson learned, if possible tie up into concrete bollards. I guess with the bridge finally fixed today after 10 days closure, there will be a backlog of traffic coming through.
August 6th. Sunday and a day of rest for us. The canal was quite busy and by the evening there were 4 more boats moored. It was a gin clear day, not too hot, perfect for me. Alan did a few jobs on the boat and in the afternoon we walked down the canal and up the other side. The internet coverage was rubbish so it was a very restful day reading books.
August 7th. Monday. On this canal the locks open at 9am for pleasure craft (7am for commercials) so we headed off at 9am and started our day’s journey. Another gorgeous day and we were entertained by the air exploits of jet fighters from the nearby Robinson Airforce base. The locks along here are activated with our télécommande (remote), except for every now and then when the lights are out and you wonder if the lock is broken but then it miraculously opens as you near it, presumably it’s a part of a chain or perhaps there is a sensor. Or did our Open Sesame work? We were given some excellent paperwork with our remote control but it didn’t mention that scenario. Just keeping us on our toes.
We arrived in St Dizier at lunchtime and decided to eat out for a change. We chose Le Commerce in the town square and it was very good. Entrecôte for Alan, hot goats cheese salad for me. Later we caught up on emails etc with the good 4G network in St Dizier.
August 8th Tuesday. The forecasted rain hit during the night and early morning so it was a late start as we headed off up the canal at 9.30am. The lockeeper at the first lock warned us the water levels were down 25cm at the moment, the depths about 2m which is fine. We travelled in convoy with a US barge, us in front of the locks which were like washing machines. The second lock was closed as they were clearing weed from the lock and river. It only took 30mins of waiting so that wasn’t too bad. We stopped at Chamouilly to have coffee and buy a baguette then continued on towards Joinville.
The locks along here are full to overflowing making for fun times when your fenders all pop out. We had a sudden gust of wind departing a very full lock and grazed the side of poor old Silver Fern and then lost one of our non-floating fenders which sank. Sigh.
Then we encountered a lock with no lights but it did have an eclusier who we saw later on as he came to rescue us from another broken lock, this time we were stuck inside. I had to climb out and call VNF with my best French to send help.
However things turned a corner in the next lock when a dad and his 2 children were watching us lock through so we gave them a couple of little toy kiwis that we hand out to any littlies we see. They were so happy that grandmere came out of the lock cottage and presented us with a teddy that she made. How sweet is that. Another Goodwill Mission completed. Viva La France et La Nouvelle Zealande! Pierre le Bear is our new mascot.
The next few locks and lifting bridges were a mixed bunch, lights on/off/red/green/blacked out. A bit of a shambles really. But the rain held off with just a few spots during the day and by 5pm we had blue sky and the sun came out.
By 5.45pm we pulled into the excellent hotel mooring space in Joinville. We had barely tied up when a sudden storm hit us with crazily strong winds, rain and thunder. I was worried our Bimini would buckle in the gale. 30 minutes later the storm had passed through and then the sun came out again. The weather has been incredibly unsettled this year.
August 9th Wednesday. We decided to stay two nights in Joinville. The setting is lovely, treed and reasonably quiet and €7 for mooring, power and water. Also there is an excellent Brico (like Bunnings) and Super-U supermarket, both large, nearby. I picked up some new boat gloves as I’ve worn through this years pair already. And some waterproof Blackfox wool-lined boots for when my feet are sore (50% of the time). Very excited about those. We had a look at portable aircon units for when the weather is very hot which lately hasn’t been very often. I’m very happy with these mild temperatures. The bug bites don’t itch as much, you can sleep better at night and cruising is more comfortable especially since we are travelling with the Bimini down due to one or two low bridges.
In the evening I cooked a classic, duck a l’orange. Very 70’s dinner party. And delicious if I say so myself.
August 10 Thursday. There was a big black cloud following us as we cast off from Joinville. And I mean that meteorologically not metaphorically. But ahead of us the sun was shining so we tried to stay ahead of the weather. Not easy at 8kms an hour and locks to pass through. The air was cool and we were adding layers then taking them off again all morning. Good exercise! Makes me think of home (Christchurch, NZ). Four seasons in one day.
The countryside here is fairly rural with lots of agriculture, lots of cornfields, with hills on both sides in the near distance, a few herds of cows here and there. The vineyards of Champagne are long gone. It’s very peaceful, we only saw one boat ahead of us and one that we passed.
After a couple of hours we arrived at Donjeux, a small four boat mooring. The French barge that left Joinville just before us were moored and we pulled in behind them. It is a rural setting with lots of biting bugs but the power works so that’s a bonus. After lunch the French carried on up the canal but we stayed the night first having a walk around Donjeux on one side of the canal and Rouvroy-sur-Marne on the other, any commerce at either village has shut down.
Later on a VNF guy came by and asked where we were going and what time we were leaving.
August 11th Friday. 9am we were off up the canal, through the locks and under the lifting bridges. It was quite chilly, especially in the morning when we woke to mist on the water and 12°. My new wool lined boots are coming in very handy as by 11am it was still only 13° with heavy cloud. We had no problems with the locks today and tied up in Vraincourt by 1.30pm, between two rusty old commercial barges that don’t look like they have moved for a while. Power and water are available and I think we will have to pay when someone from the Maire comes down around 6pm.
The sun is trying to come out but the temperature has stayed cool at 17°. This summer has been so patchy and the waterways seem generally to be very quiet. Quite different to previous years.
So that’s it for another week.
Here’s the stats:
Chalons-en-Champagne to Orconte:
Engine hours: 7.1
Orconte to St Dizier:
Engine hours: 2.9
St Dizier to Chamouilly to Joinville:
Engine hours: 5.6
Locks: 13 plus 7 lifting bridges
Joinville to Donjeux:
Engine hours: 2
Donjeux to Vraincourt:
Engine hours: 3.6
Locks: 8 plus 2 lifting bridges
Year to date:
Engine hours: 154.7