Big Change In EverythingThe idea now is to retrace our steps out of the Somme to head east to the Canal des Ardennes which links up to the River Meuse in Belgium. Some of this is a repeat area for us so we can travel fast and don't stay too long in any town.
Several events along the way that got the crew excited: back on the Canal du Nord, we entered a lock and wanted to use our hook to secure to a ladder. While we were heading for the second ladder in the long lock, the lock keeper closed the doors and the water came in too soon for us. A little concern, but with some ramming of the engine, we got the job done.
Heading into new territory on the Canal de l'Oise a l'Aisne, we found locks that have some problems, at least for us newcomers. The poles that need to be lifted to start the proper next step (the back doors closing after we are safely tied up) are at the far end of the lock, not, as we would expect, somewhere near the middle. This means that going east, the poles are near the front of the boat (will be at the stern going west on our return). So we need to get forward towards the front doors in order to reach them. Problems can happen.
But also, and I don't remember the specifics, with the first lock, we are being lifted and some good number of meters, and we fail to anticipate the difficulty of removing the rope from an in-the-wall bollard and expect to be able to get it off and recovered. The water comes in fast and we can't remove — and soon can't even see — the loop. This is a good rope and like hell I am going to leave it behind. Then the doors open and the system expects us to leave. Not me. How to get the water lowered again? I place my hand in front of the magic eye beam and it thinks we have departed and somehow the water exits and we drop down and know how to place the rope correctly this time, keeping the loop on the boat's bollard. But the system does not want to refill and, to complicate matters, another boat approaches the lock from behind us. In fact this boat may have been the one that triggered the lowering of the water. Fortunately, it is not a commercial. We signal to them that we have a problem, push the assistance button and maybe that does it as we finally rise and escape.
There was a time when all locks had a lock house and someone living there and working the lock. There was pride in how the facilities looked. Nowadays, many small locks are automatic and the houses are vacant. But on this section of the canal someone has taken the effort to make things look nice again.
We are tied up for a day or two and we see again an elderly man on a paddle board going in our direction. There is a tunnel ahead and he asks if he might hitch a ride as the water people don't want him in the tunnel on the board. But with the upcoming bad news (see further down), we are unable to help him out.
We are beginning to hear rumbles about problems east on the French portion of the Meuse. There has been very little rainfall this year in Europe and some canals are dependent on lakes high up to feed the canals during the summer. There is little water in the French section and we receive word that we will not be able to take this route into Belgium.
There is an alternative canal but it to has problems at several locations and it is closed until 2020. Our only recourse is to head back and retrace the route we have taken from the time that Marianne came on the boat. This is a great disappointment because these canals tend to be larger and busy with commercials and Marianne doesn't like this. Also, we have seen this section and don't have any interest in seeing it again. But we have no choice and we head back. We want to be near Namur for the September wedding of our niece.
During our layover in Chauny, we arrange for fuel to be delivered to the boat. Better prices this way. The truck pulls up right beside us and pumps in 500 liters of diesel. This will get us through the year.
In the town of Jussy we pick up a new crew member. Our nephew Max will be joining us for a period of time. We want to see if we can make him into a deckhand and a barge helmsman. He picks up the work quickly and helps Marianne forward on the deck with the ropes. We stop at a number of towns we have already visited but it gives us an excuse to find a restaurant or a place for ice cream. We hope Max is enjoying himself.
Marianne's brother has told her about a French TV program on Alienor of Aquitaine, another in her old family line and the namesake of our own daughter. So while in St Quentin, we all hunker down in the salon and do a little history. Windows are open and a marine cat has walked the deck and gives us a look through the window until we ask it to leave.
We get to go through the long tunnels again and I was able to get some interesting shots of the tug that will pull us. Then a walk up the hill to a town museum that highlights the history of these tunnels.
Being the first boat behind the tug starts with the big iron. Today that was us. Five or six smaller boats behind us. There is plenty of room in the tunnel but the tug for some reason takes the east way, up against the tow path. OK for him and would have been OK for us, the number one boat, but he does not drop the pull chain in the middle of the waterway. He can do this by moving an arm so that the chain is not in the middle of the tug but rather in the middle of the channel. It took me half the trip to figure out I was not steering properly to make my passage easier because of the tug's sloppy work.
|Lionel ready to be first behind tug.|
On our return to Cambrai we move into the marina hoping to get electric, but all the sockets (3) are taken. They tell us that they are upgrading this marina but probably we will never be back. On the second day, a boat leaves and we grab the electric.
It is here that Max will depart and he is taking with him my number one crew mate. Marianne will be going to Brussels for a period of time and I hope to see her again before she departs for Thomasville.
|Crew when not chained to oars. What is the world coming to?|
Previous to this time, I had placed an ad for crew to bring the boat back from the Meuse to Diksmuide. To my surprise, I received a number of replies within the first 24 hours. Several from people that have a good bit of experience on the European canals. A couple from Australia who have been thinking hard about getting a barge in Europe responded and asked if they could have this experience to see if this is something they want to do. So I agreed to this and they will be flying north soon to meet me some time during the first week of September.
With Marianne and Max jumping ship, did I want to take the barge by myself further east through Belgium? I went back to the people that wanted to join me for the final leg of this year's adventure and I have an Australian gentleman coming over from the UK who will join me for the next week to move the boat to the area of Namur.
Bruce has been doing canal trips like this for about five years and will come aboard with a lot more experience than I. So it will be interesting and I will for the first time be able to work the ropes at the front end of the boat. I have told people how to do it, but I have never done it myself so I will see if I know what I have been talking about.
Sorry for the lack of pictures. Marianne has lots on the FB site. Search for "Barge Adventure".