Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Condé-sur-Marne (that’s 3,000 in five years)

Taking on water in a lock in Reims
Our plan had been that when Karen returned from her Monday morning run that we would leave Reims and start heading south again.  As Karen got back to the boat, we sensed from the water movement that a boat wasn’t far away and sure enough in a few minutes, a hotel boat went past us heading in the same direction.  We knew the boat and that it would be mooring at Sillery after going up four locks.  As hotel boats are notoriously slow through locks, we decided to wait an hour before leaving and let them get well ahead.

Waiting an extra hour  on our mooring in Reims
We had a chain of three locks to ascend before we were out of Reims and we stopped at one to take on water.  The pressure was very high, so it didn’t take long to fill, and we didn’t keep any boats waiting either 😉 We didn’t see any other boats all day until we moored up and then one moored up about 100 metres in front of us.

The lock in the picture at the top was our 3,000th since starting to live on the boat permanently five years ago.  Previously to that we had five years continuous cruising but mainly moving at weekends as we were both working.  Our logbook for those times was a manual version as opposed to the current spreadsheet. The old logbook is in storage so we’ve no idea what our stats were for those five years.

Considering the lack of rain and consequent lack of water in some canals, there appeared to be more than enough water on this canal.  The overspill at each lock was quite strong so we had to counteract it as we steered into each lock.

One of the overspills
We planned to climb up to the summit and moor just before Billy tunnel where we moored last Wednesday on our way to Reims.  This meant we had seven locks to ascend and each seemed to have its own idiosyncrasy, for example on one we had to utilise a hook rather than a bollard to loop a line around.

One of the hooks we used instead of bollards
At one lock we had four Belgians watching how it was done and unfortunately it was a deep one so one where Karen had to stand on the roof to hook her line over.  All went without mishap and our gongoozlers gave a round of applause as we left 😊

Another lock had very low bollards and it took three attempts to loop a line over. After each attempt the boat has to be reversed out so it could be brought back in again at the right angle.  If the third attempt had failed it would have meant a trip up the ladder which we didn't relish as the lock was kept full and therefore the ladder was covered in slime and weed.  Being a deep lock it would have made the climb precarious.  We're glad to say that at all the other locks we got the loop on first time.

Perfect looping
As we started leaving the city behind, we passed a fishing competition where long match poles were being used (I believe these used to be called roach poles).  We have seen hardly any of this type of fishing in France, but it is very popular in the UK.  As there was a path either side, Karen wanted to jokingly ask them why they didn’t use ordinary, shorter, rods and just sit on the other side!

There were another 18 fishermen after we passed these
We found that we were enjoying this canal far more on the way back and put it down to a couple of things: lack of other boats around and that the day wasn’t overcast.  There were plenty of butterflies on the wing and, at one lock, we saw a pale clouded yellow.  These are a lemon version of the clouded yellow and, as butterfly enthusiasts know, are very difficult to tell apart from Berger's clouded yellow unless you are comparing the larvae.  I am going with 'pale' as it was such a light lemon colour; Berger's are generally not so pale.

Looking like a UK canal other than it’s wide enough to turn our boat in
We’ve been impressed with the automatic operation of the locks on this canal, although maybe I shouldn’t say that until were off it. I do wonder if it gets more maintenance as it is a commercial canal and breakdowns in the infrastructure have a financial impact on the commercial operators.  As a commercial canal it is also kept open all year around.

One of the poles that has to be ¼ turned to start getting the lock ready
It was gone five o’clock when we were approaching the northern portal of the Billy tunnel where we wanted to moor – that’s late for us.  We could see a boat was in the tunnel well, to be accurate, we could see the tunnel light of a boat coming towards us.  They came out just as we were mooring up and they moored up too, but right at the tunnel exit.  We did wonder if they had hoped to moor at our end.

Our mooring for Monday night with a neighbour by the portal and Buddy crashed out as usual
On Monday we cruised 22 kilometres up seven locks.

We set off at about ten on Tuesday morning and had to hang around the northern portal of Billy tunnel before we were picked up on the camera by the control point which is next to the southern portal.  We had to wait for about ten minutes before the lights went green, so I wondered if the operator was just outside having a coffee and a cigarette. 

When we came through in the opposite direction last week, I mentioned that boats used to be towed through by a small engine.  This time I managed to get a picture of the engine as it is displayed by one of the locks on the way down to Condé-sur-Marne.  Before the engine was introduced a steam engine in an engine room at the southern end used to winch boats through by means of a wire cable on a pulley.

The rail track through the tunnel
The engine being used as a flowerpot
It took just under 20 minutes to get through the 2.3-kilometre tunnel and we were soon descending the eight locks that are in a chain down towards the junction with the Canal latéral à la Marne.  All the locks were set with lights on green when we arrived at them, so it didn’t take long to get down.  The only boat we passed was a commercial who was waiting for us to exit from one of the locks.


We moored up after the last lock which is just before the port at the junction.  We had lunch on board and then set off for a walk to the Aqueduc de Condé-sur-Marne.

Tuesday mooring in Condé-sur-Marne
The aqueduct was opened in 1869 and runs for just over 7.5 kilometres to feed the summit of the Canal l’Aisne à la Marne.  Water was pumped up by steam engine from the River Marne and ran along the aqueduct before entering the canal just above the first lock we went down today.

The start of the aqueduct
Today the steam engine has been replaced by a modern pump, but it does explain why there didn’t appear to be a shortage of water in the canal.  The water now runs through a large diameter pipe buried in the aqueduct itself so it cannot be seen until it feeds the canal at the far end.  I’m not sure how true it is but it is said the pipe replaced the open channel because so many wild animals drowned - didn't they go near the canal then?

The channel filled in with a pipe underneath
Condé-sur-Marne is to the right in the picture above and, after walking along the side of the aqueduct for a while we retraced our steps and then went into the village.  As we were crossing the bottom lock another commercial was on its way up.

Starting the ascent to the tunnel
The village was dead apart from two French ladies who followed us for a while trying to sell us baskets. 

The village centre
This year’s Tour de France came through the village during its fourth stage and there were still signs of the event along the main street in a form that made us think they were Christmas decorations from a distance.

Polka dot, white and two yellow jerseys
We walked on past the church and the mairie to cross over the Canal latéral à la Marne to find the River Marne where Buddy could cool down and have a drink.

The church dates back to the 12th century
We didn’t walk far along the river as there wasn’t a real path but at least Buddy had a good splash around.

And a bit of news to finish with: Lauren & Lewis called later on to give us the news of their latest baby scan - we're having a grandson!

During our cruise on Tuesday we covered 11 kilometres down eight locks

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