Thursday, June 29, 2017

Barge Date:  29-06-2017

Further south on the Canal St. Quentin

We continue south through the canal and pass a number of small villages. In some cases, we want to stop and explore but there is no easy mooring site. We are looking for interesting villages that might have a grocery store and a place to eat, but for the most part we are disappointed. Many of these villages are now commuter towns and they don't even have a bread store.

We are able to moor at a lock that will give us access to an old abbey. We tie up and walk to the
abbey and we are the first visitors for the day. The abbey of Vaucelles goes back to the 12th century
(1145). It was abandoned by the Cistercian monks after the French revolution and fell into disrepair. Fortunately restoration work started in 1971; the abbey features beautiful fruit and flower gardens and offers a location for events. The abbey had a library in 1760 of 40,000 volumes and manuscripts. During the revolution all the books were transferred to Cambrai for safe keeping.    All were destroyed by the 2 world wars.

The countryside that we are passing through next is gently rolling hills but normally decorated with wheat and potato plantings. This time of year, it is a pleasant sight. I am surprised at the large size of
the fields thinking that in Europe these would be smaller. It is these hills that will necessitate our travel through a very long tunnel (over 5 kms long!) that is coming up soon. We can view the area with Google Earth but it does not tell you the elevation contours so the picture looks rather flat when in fact there is a large obstruction for a canal which necessitates tunnels.

Along the way, we have to turn in our lock control and receive another type. It is much larger and you would think it would be more sophisticated.  Maybe. It occasionally "talks" to us. Regardless, it works well for us but does fail once; a lock door fails to close as we are tied up inside the lock.  We try the interphone above the lock (no answer), the phone number we have listed in a book (no answer), and finally the main number for lock programming. Eventually, someone shows up to get the lock working (took 15 minutes).

We have been given a phone number to arrange our transit through the tunnels as these are one-way-traffic-only areas and you must depart with a group of boats going in the same direction. Our transit will be around 9:30 the following morning, we hope. Marianne makes the call but has to leave a message and we do not receive a confirming call. So we are up early the next day to travel through several more locks to arrive at the assembly area.

In front of us are two commercial barges (one loaded, one not) and a cruiser boat from Holland. The captain is German and his two crew are Americans from California. We will meet with them later in the day.

Travel through the tunnel is done with the use of a tug. Through the tunnel, a heavy chain has been laid on the bottom of the canal and the tug uses the chain to pull itself forward. Everyone ties up to the boat in front of them.  We are last so nothing on our stern.  When all preparations are made ready, the tug powers up and we begin the process. There has been almost no instruction for this process but it turns out to be easy.

The total time through the tunnel is two hours; 5,670 meters (3.5 miles). All engines are off and there is little noise in the tunnel. The tunnel lights create a white line through the middle of the water and it makes it appear we are on a roadway. One must still steer the boat but there are some instances when you can take your hands off and everybody is going straight. But this does not last long. Pay attention and don't drag your boat on the wall. As we progress slowly, the temperature cools down.

The tunnel goes back to the days of Napoleon.  He dedicated the tunnel but then thought someone was attempting to kill him so he ran his horse through the entire length to "get away."  Original power was human; 6-8 people pulling.  The trip took about 18 hours.  Then they tried horses, various engines, electric and now the tug that might be diesel.

As we exit, our rope is cast off from the boat in front of us, we retrieve it and begin the travel to the next small tunnel (1,097 meters). All of this area is one-way traffic and we are not able to stop because there will not be room for boats coming in the opposite direction in an hour or so.

The next tunnel has no tug so we power through with our engine. It is much shorter and does not present any problems for us. The one-way condition continues for a short time and we begin to look for a town where we can pull over and hopefully purchase groceries as we are running low on food. We make our stop at a small town (Lesdins) where the Dutch boat has also pulled over and tied up.

We explore the town a bit and find a few stores open and are able to buy some meat and groceries. We see the American couple touring the town on their bikes and when we all return to our boats we invite them to our boat for some refreshments and conversation.

Norbert is German, an engineer, married to a Dutch lady and they live in Holland. He taught engineering for most of his professional life and is now retired. Mike and Christina are from the San Francisco area and have done a lot of sailing in their time. They have been on boats all around the world and are enjoying their retirement. Mike is a physician and Stephanie has had her own businesses dealing with food and wine and she has also worked at a culinary school. We have a fun time talking about anything that comes to mind. They depart early in the morning and we may see them again or we may not. They are traveling to Paris where Mike and Christina will depart and Norbert's wife will arrive from Holland.

Our next destination is the city of St Quentin. We know there is a marina in town but it does not offer
much in the way of services so I elect to drive our stakes into the ground near a bridge that connects the two parts of the city. We locate a grocery store and restock our pantry. We will be here for several days to explore and do other things.

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