Wednesday 11 September 2019

Écriennes (race against time)

Nice shady mooring on the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne for Tuesday night
Monday was meant to be the last cool day for a while, and we were due to set off towards the end of this canal but didn’t get away until about one o’clock.  During the morning we had picked up a few things in Châlons and did some odd jobs, hence the later start.  Not only was it cooler (I wore a fleece for a while when cruising!) but it was also cloudy, and it wasn’t long before we stopped for lunch.

Moored for lunch at Sarry
During lunch the clouds started breaking up and the afternoon cruise was really rather pleasant.

Getting ready to go into the écluse de St-Germain
We arrived in Pogny where there are some moorings supplied by the town.  There were already some boats moored up but room for a few more and we moored up right at the end of the quay.  As is popular in some towns, spaces had also been created along the quay for motorhomes and there were three vans parked up.  It looked like the area had been recently refurbished and there was a free water point which wasn’t mentioned in the DBA mooring guide,

The DBA mooring guides are maintained by boaters and Karen is very keen on keeping the entries up to date so no doubt will be adding the information about the water point.  DBA stands for Dutch Barge Association, but you don’t have to own a Dutch barge to be a member and we have found it an invaluable resource.

Moored at the far end in Pogny
The Dutch barge, Victoria, at the nearer end is a lovely 110-year-old boat belonging to Stephen & Anna.  After settling in we went for a walk around the town.  It was another one where they were clearly proud that this year’s Tour de France had passed through as there were still placards and decorations lining the main street. 

The church at one end of town
After scouring the town, we walked back over the canal to find the River Marne.  This canal is called the Latéral à la Marne indicating that it follows the course of the River Marne.  It was built as the river wasn’t easy to navigate this far upstream of Paris.  As we cruise along, we often notice that we are right alongside the river and with the hot weather returning we like to notice where there are likely spots to go swimming.  Unfortunately, the river is quite narrow through Pogny so would be too dangerous to swim in, well, for me anyway 😉

The River Marne at Pogny
Later in the evening Stephen came along to introduce himself as they had been expecting us to cruise through.  They are friends of Mike & Aileen who had told them we were on our way along this canal.  We declined an invitation to come along as we were just about to eat dinner: another time maybe.

With the campervans in Pogny
On Monday we cruised 14 kilometres up two locks.

Our aim for Tuesday was to reach the end of the canal at Vitry-le-Francois and find somewhere convenient to moor to explore the town.  The canal remained picturesque even though it has many long straights and commercial wharves.  On one side the chalk hills rose steeply and looked as if they had been quarried almost the entire length.  This probably accounted for several cement plants we passed.

I believe this was a cement plant
As we neared Soulanges the quarries were more and more overgrown through disuse and the hills started levelling out so we could see across the arable fields to the vineyards in the far distance.

The quarries petering out and one of our beloved lock poles we had just used
Back on the level but the photo doesn’t really show the hills in the distance
One thing we noticed was the boat traffic; by the time we had reached the third lock we had seen one commercial, a hire boat and a couple of pleasure boats.  This was on top of Victoria who left while we were having breakfast and slowed for a brief passing chat.

We think we know why things went wrong at the next lock as I went in while the lights were showing red and green rather than just green.  Anyway, the long and the short of it was that we couldn’t get the gates to close once we were in.  The locks on this canal have a phone for emergencies and problems so it was up the ladder and I explained that the gates wouldn’t close and that we were at écluse 2.

Information plate at écluse 2
You can see clearly why I said we were at écluse 2.  The éclusier said he would come out from is control post at Vitry-le-Francois, so we sat and waited.

Waiting for help
In the end I could see a motor yacht coming our way, and, as it had been some while since I phoned, I went back up to call the control centre and was told someone was on their way.  The boat approaching the lock had turned the pole and were nearly at the entrance, so I went down to ask them what colour the lights were.  As luck would have it they were English so at least we could all understand each other.  By turning the pole, the lock had reset itself and the lights had gone green.  I told them to come in beside us which they did.

They had only just picked up the boat and were hoping to get it down to the Med over the next few weeks.  They were clearly vey unsure but sensibly cautious and therefore took ages to get tied up securely.

Nearly at the top
It was while we were in the lock that I realised that we were in lock number 3; the information plate was the original from before the locks were renumbered.  No wonder no one arrived to help us!

We let the yacht go out first and they were so slow that the alarm bells started ringing before we started to go out.  The alarm bells indicate that the gates are about to close.  This has always been one of the things Karen has worried about in the back of her mind – getting caught as the lock gates closed.  I decided to just go for it and went out as fast as possible, assuming the gates would sense us as we went out.  I know that’s probably daft but we were out before the gates started closing.

At the next lock we let the yacht go in first as they said they would feel more confident.  We waited for yet another age waiting for them to get tied up before we ventured in.

Weaving from side to side as they went in
As we were waiting to go in, I could see the bows of a commercial already waiting to come down so knew he wouldn’t be happy having to hang around for us.  It showed how slow we were as we had obviously grabbed the lock by turning the pole first, but he was already at the entrance.  Anyway, we decided that we would pull up at the lock landing after we had gone up.  We could then have lunch and let the yacht get well ahead; for this reason, I told them they could go out first.

They seemed to be totally unaware of the commercial and took, what seemed like longer than ever, to get untied and make their way out. 

As we went past the commercial cabin, I called out that ‘nous sommes vraiment désolés pour le retard’. Understandably, I wasn’t even granted a look, the guy just stared straight ahead.  Normally we exchange cheery waves and occasionally take mutual photos as we pass commercials, not so this time.  We felt dreadfully guilty about the whole affair for the rest of the day as time is money for these guys.

He wasn’t happy with us
As we approached Vitry-le-Francois we could see a few factories and high rises which didn’t make it look very welcoming.  Coming out of the last lock on the canal we crossed over the River Saulx, one of the main tributaries of the Marne.

Crossing the Saulx
We didn’t fancy the first couple of mooring spots and at one there was a fire going on in some allotments.  One of the sheds had caught alight but goodness knows what was in there causing the thick black smoke.

Fire opposite the mooring
In case you’re wondering why we don’t just moor up anywhere as we’re on a canal you have to remember that we’re on a commercial canal and pins just wouldn’t hold us secure from the wake of passing boats.  Consequently, we have to find spots where bollards have been provided and these are few and far between. 

Soon after the fire we were approaching the junction at the end of the Canal latéral à la Marne.  The Canal de la Marne au Rhin Ouest heads off left and we were turning right to join the Canal entre Champagne et Boulogne.

Left towards the Rhine and right towards the Saône
We looked at one more mooring place in the town but everywhere looked so grim we decided to carry on up the Champagne et Bourgogne and moor out in the country.  This canal was opened in 1864 and is 224 kilometres long, heading due south, joining the River Marne to the River Saône.  It was originally called the Canal de la Haute-Marne and then it became the Canal de la Marne à la Saône before its current name which I assume was given for touristic purposes.

The canal is still a commercial canal and is open all year.  Well, it is usually open all year but this year it is closing on this coming Sunday due to low water levels (not that we’ve noticed).  Consequently, we are only paying a fleeting visit and have to be back at Vitry by the end of Sunday.

When Lauren came out to see us at the weekend, we had told her to buy a ticket to Vitry-le-Francois.  As we had stopped at Châlons-en-Champagne on our way down to Vitry and rather liked it we stayed there and told Lauren to get off the train there instead.  In retrospect we are glad we did that as Vitry was the most uninspiring looking town we have been through.  To be fair we may be doing it a disservice as we didn’t stop off and go exploring.

We went up four locks before stopping and they were all just under four metres deep so it was back on the roof for Karen to get her line on.  The locks are operated by a handheld remote or télécommande which was different to the previous one we used on the automatic locks on the River Marne.  This one has an extra control to start the lock filling/emptying once you are moored up.

Our remote control for the next few days
The locks were all quite feisty and we had to use pretty high revs at times to keep the boat alongside the lock wall to avoid bouncing around all over the place.

Feisty lock
We were soon out in the country, so Karen and Buddy got off to walk along the side.  This end of the canal was once again straight but the scenery constantly changed from open to heavily wooded.

One of the straights

Buddy getting a much-needed drink
As Karen walked along, she spotted a few kilometre stones which looked as if they were originals compared with the modern affairs on the previous canals.

Pk 5
After the fourth lock we found the mooring we were looking for.  It was just long enough for us and nicely secluded as well as being in the shade.  When I checked my emails later, I found one from the port at Châlons-en-Champagne.  When we were there we had asked if they had any winter mooring spots but we were told they were full. 

The email said they had moved things around and could accommodate us which was great news.  If we take it then it would avoid the long stretch along the Seine and Yonne in October and November down to Auxerre.  It’s not that we don’t want to do those rivers again but as we now think we will cruise north east France and potentially into Luxembourg and Germany next year then we would have to repeat those rivers yet again next spring.  Anyway, we decided to sleep on it and make our minds up on Wednesday.

Moored for Tuesday night
Tuesday turned out to be the busiest boat day since we were in Paris having passed three commercials, one hire boat and eight pleasure boats.

We also had a long day having cruised 27 kilometres up ten locks.

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