Monday, 6 May 2019

Montchanin (stove lit in May!)

Not a sight often seen – two narrowboats AND wrapped up well in May!

Saturday was a moving day for us and, as it turned out, our longest cruise so far over here.  We left soon after nine and, to our consternation, the lights weren’t working at the first (automatic) lock. When this had happened on Friday, we had had to call the éclusier out to get the lock working.

Anyway, we went into the lock and made secure and, as expected, we couldn’t get the gates to close behind us.  I had three numbers to try: command centre, the éclusier we contacted on Friday and an emergency number.  I tried all three, leaving messages on each.  Nothing happened for a while, so I rang them all again and left messages again but this time I also left a message in English.  Still nothing, so after we had been in there half an hour I went to the red emergency intercom but, a bit like a VHF radio, I couldn’t work out whether to keep the red button pressed when I spoke or when I wanted to hear a response.

I must have guessed correctly (but I can’t remember which way I did it!) because I managed to get a response with the lady telling me that an éclusier was on his way.  Sure enough he soon arrived and after several attempts and further phone calls he got us going again.

As you can see from the picture at the top it was a grey dismal day but at least it wasn’t raining.

Heading for the second lock which, happily was set with the green light on
We had no further trouble with the locks during the day as they were all set for us apart from one where we had to wait as a boat was coming down.  The only other boat we saw on the move during the day was a narrowboat as shown in the picture at the top.

I mentioned the other day about overwintering in the port of Roanne as the canal system is closed around here.  I should clarify that, by explaining that many canals and rivers elsewhere in France remain open as they carry commercial traffic still.  We just don’t fancy sharing with those beasts just yet.

Several of the lock cottages were in a sorry state of repair.  With unmanned locks, the cottages aren’t lived in by the éclusiers any more so that may be the reason.

Derelict lock cottage
This one had been converted to a gîte – shame they didn’t retain the character
Talking about gîtes, here are some houseboats acting a bit like our log cabins in the UK:

When we got to Génelard we pulled up before the lock as our guide book told us there were rubbish and recycling points.  It seems the book was out of date as, although there were recycling bins, we couldn’t find any rubbish points.

Temporarily moored at Génelard
The bridge above was part of the WWII demarcation line which separated free France in the south from occupied France of the north.  Amazing to think that such small villages were divided like this.  One of the cottages by the lock had pictures of German sentries standing on the bridge and other strategic points along the line in the village.  Next to the boat, but out of sight, is an exhibition centre that explains all about the demarcation line, but we couldn’t get in as it was closed.

The cutting leading out of Génelard with villagers’ reflections of the past
At one time we were going to stop for the day at Ciry-le-Noble, our target for the week, but decided to carry on another 10km to the town of Montceau-les-Mines.  As the name suggest this town was the centre of the coal mining industry of the area: the reason this canal was built.

An abandoned tile factory in Ciry-le-Noble

The remains of a kiln at an abandoned ceramic factory
The sun started coming out during the afternoon, but the wind steadily increased and some of the gusts were the worst we have ever driven in.  We continued as we felt safe with the knowledge that we probably wouldn’t meet any boats let alone any moored boats that we would have to try and avoid.

The last few locks seemed to be extra feisty which was strange as we had got used to these automatic locks filling gently.

As we approached Monéteau-les-Mines the clouds started rolling in again and it began to feel quite cold; we couldn’t believe it was May.

There were three lift bridges in the centre of town which were operated by a guy in a control tower at the middle bridge.  What a boring day he must have had as there had only been two boats other than us going through all day.

Waiting for the lights to change to let us through the first bridge
Green light at second bridge with the control tower on the right
The last bridge was a pedestrian bridge that lifted vertically but I didn’t get a picture of it raised as the wind had suddenly caught us whilst we were waiting and pinned us to the side so I was in a bit of a panic to get us off the side and through the bridge before it started dropping.

Waiting for the final bridge (before I was rudely blown onto the side)
On the other side of the bridges was a large port with the old part of town on one side and the commercial side on the other.  We also passed a Grand Frais which is the French equivalent of Waitrose but we have yet to sample one of their stores.

Leaving the port
We wanted to moor up for the day outside a large Leclerc (well, we would have rather not of course!) so we could get the weekly shopping and also top up with diesel as a garage was close by.  We passed a sign telling us there were pontoon moorings in 200 metres, so we knew it wasn’t long before we moored up.

We passed a short length of decking half way along the enormous Leclerc but thought: 1) We hadn’t travelled 200 metres and 2) it wasn’t a pontoon.

As we reached the other end of the building there was no sign of pontoons but looking back, we saw the sign again for boats travelling the other way.

The 'pontoons' must have been the length of decking, not even half our boat’s length that we went past. So, we started reversing back which wasn’t that easy in the wind, but we made it and got one end of the boat tied to a cleat on the decking and tied the other end around a fence post.

Moored for Saturday night outside Leclerc in Montceau-les-Mines
It felt so cold that we lit a fire, which was a blessing in disguise as we had done a lot of washing during the day and didn’t risk hanging it outside with the risk of rain.

When I made the day’s entry in our boat log later, I found we had travelled 31 kilometres up 11 locks on Saturday – our longest journey so far.

Sunday morning saw Karen getting the weekly shop from Leclerc and me and Buddy filling up with diesel and getting a couple more gerry cans filled up too.  Karen was able to bring the shopping trolley to the boat once she had finished which made the shopping trip even easier.

Photo taken from inside the supermarket – that’s how close we were 😊
Buddy & I ended up with three trips to get the diesel.  First, I went to sus out where there was a garage, that was easy as it was at the back of Leclerc but as it was cheap, and I suppose a Sunday, there were queues of cars.

We went back to get the sack barrow and Gerry cans and when we returned to the garage there were still queues.  I have to admit it felt weird being in a car queue but not in a car.  To be fair to the car drivers they queued behind me and didn’t try and get past me.  We then had to go back for a third time as I had left my working gloves at the fuel pump.

When Karen returned, we decided we would move on up to the summit of the canal at Montchanin.  I rang the command centre to ask if they would have the first lock set for us at 1.00pm so we could set off after an early lunch.

When we arrived at the first lock it was all set and the green lights working and in we went (my French, or at least canal-French must be improving) and, unlike yesterday, it all went smoothly.  There was a chill in the air still, especially when the sun went behind a cloud and it wasn’t helped by strong winds either.

Going through the first lock of the day without any problems
We wanted to stop at Blanzy to get rid of our rubbish, but the mooring points were taken up with a lot of locals fishing.  They offered to move but we told them to stay where they were, and I held the boat in a bridge hole while Karen visited the bins.  The bins were a fair way from the cut which meant we were stationary for quite a while but that didn’t worry us as we doubted another boat would come along.  As it was, we only saw one other boat on the move during the day; an American couple in a really nice-looking Dutch barge who had to wait for us to come up a lock.

Like Montceau-les-Mines where we had been moored, Blanzy also had many coal mines in its past.  We only saw one pithead as we drove through and I imagine that was at the mining museum which would have made an interesting visit if it had been open.

Passing a kiln at Blanzy
The previous locks on this canal had controls at either end of the lock so Karen could stay on the front of the boat and hoop her line over a bollard while I could pull the operating cord from the back.  For some reason this set up changed and there was just the one mechanism at the far end which meant Karen was back to climbing up the lock ladders.  To make it worse, the ladders weren’t so obvious and were hidden by the bottom gates so several times we had to reverse out and start again because we had missed a ladder.

Sneaky ladders hiding by the bottom gates
We have been surprised by the very few kingfishers we have seen but they have been replaced by a large number of dippers.  We associate dippers with fast flowing streams and rivers of Yorkshire and have never seen them on a canal before.  Although they are nothing like kingfishers their flight is fairly quick and almost flat but not as flat or straight as a kingfisher.

Although the first few locks went without any problems the fifth caught us out.  The lights were green, and the gates were open so in we went and made ourselves secure.  Try as she might, Karen couldn’t get the operation to close the gates to start.  In the end I rang the command centre and fortunately got an answer unlike yesterday’s answerphone messages.

I explained the problem and was told an éclusier would be with us in ten minutes.  Karen kept pulling the cord every so often and after another five minutes the gates started closing so up we went. I did ring the command centre back to let them know we were now OK.

We were finally at the last lock before the summit and this lock was called Océan to indicate that it was on the Atlantic side of the summit.

Last lock of the day
We moored up opposite a boatyard and will probably stay for a day to have a rest and do some exploring.  One of the things we want to look for is an old canal that used to join the summit from Le Cruesot which is where there used to be an iron foundry that cast, amongst other items, cannons.  The cannons were transported down the canals by barge to the naval boatyards at Nantes on the Atlantic and Marseilles on the Mediterranean.

Just as Karen was starting to prepare dinner, a French couple on a Dutch barge came past us and looked like they were about to moor up.  The guy called out to me to say their engine wasn’t working well.  I went out and took their lines to help them moor up.  He and his wife deliver boats around France and they were taking this one to somewhere on the Saône, but the water-cooling filter needed flushing out and he didn’t have any tools.  He was adamant I could help him sort things out even though he didn’t have a word of English and my mechanical French is practically non-existent, e.g. I didn’t even know the word for electric drill.  Worse than that I had no idea how these big engines work!

To cut a long story short we conversed in actions and broken French and I found my battery powered drill pump and attached hoses to both ends. He took one end into the engine bay and put it into the filter, and I put the other end in the cut and set the pump going.  Water was soon pumping out of the cut and through his filter and it seemed to clear everything as he was happy with the way the engine was running and spurting out clean water.  He was overjoyed and couldn’t thank me enough and wanted to ply me with beer.  Karen was very proud of me even though I think she was unjustified because of my lack of knowledge about things mechanical 😉

Moored up for Sunday night – sun back out and the clouds had gone leaving a warm evening
So, on Sunday we cruised just 11 kilometres and went up the final eight locks on the western side of the Canal du Centre.  We will be treating Monday like a bank holiday and use it as an excuse to have a rest day.