Monday 8 March 2021

Chepy (here we go again)

Our new mooring on Sunday
Buddy’s favourite stretch of our river Marne walk is where the path is particularly sandy and soft.  He loves to madly dash backwards and forwards along the entire length as we make our way along. The sand clearly appeals to him as he also likes to roll around in it especially after having gone into the river for a drink or to cool down.  We always worry that he’s going to crash into us as he races along but that wasn’t the issue on Thursday afternoon.  While making one of his sudden sharp turns at one end he started yelping and keeping his front left paw off the ground.  He wasn’t keen on us checking for thorns or similar and as he was in a lot of pain, I went back to the port to fetch the car and bring it to the closest point to where the accident happened.  Karen and Buddy slowly made their way to meet me, and we soon had him back on the boat and resting.  

We decided that if he was still keeping his paw off the ground on Friday then I would take him to the vets, so I quickly learnt the vocabulary for words like hurt and paw.  Although he wouldn’t put his full weight on it on Friday morning, he wanted to walk but we restricted him to calls of nature only.  As it seemed to be a sprain rather than anything broken, I didn’t take him to the vets and by Saturday evening there was no sign of a limp.

There was excitement amongst the port community later on Thursday as the first pleasure boat we have seen this year came up the town lock and pulled in.  The town lock is a control point where there’s always an éclusier present to take details of boats as they go through and their destinations.  This particular boat had been asked to pull in as their plan on going down the canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne wouldn’t work as it was closed for maintenance for the next couple of months.  They needed to replan their journey and let the éclusiers know their chosen new route.  They were a youngish Dutch couple with a couple of children headed down to the south of France for the summer.

Our overnight visitor in the port
When I say excitement in the port it really means all the men gather to offer to take lines but really it’s to be nosey about the new arrivals.  It was a lovely old boat and had spud legs which meant it didn’t have to tie to the bank; they just drop the hydraulic legs onto the bottom of the canal.  This meant none of the guys could take a line for them!

Our little chapter of errors in the last blog update continued for another couple of days and not just the issue of Buddy’s sprained ankle.  Guy popped by the boat to see if everything was OK as he had seen Karen rummaging in a rubbish bin in the town.  She had gone to the small supermarket in the centre of town to get a couple of things and on her way home noticed she didn’t have her phone, so she was retracing her steps to try and find it.  She had put some rubbish in the bin hence the need to check she hadn’t thrown it in there by mistake.  She couldn’t find it in the bin so she walked back into the supermarket where a cashier recognised her and called her over to the till.  Karen had used her phone to pay, put it down to pack away her shopping, and had forgotten to pick it up.  When she got back, we went to the local garden centre to get some spring flowers and were surprised to find it was closed.  Three months back in the UK had wiped from our memory that most places are closed for two hours at lunchtime.  This fact coupled with the curfew is probably why shops are so busy: people cramming their shopping time into shortened windows.

I won’t go into detail about the other mishaps just to mention that, 1) we had to buy the second HDMI/VGA converter in a week, 2) it took me three attempts to buy the right type of electric plug and 3) it took Amazon five attempts to deliver the QWERTY UK wireless keyboard but at least it arrived.

Final goodbye to our passerelle on our last walk before we left on Sunday
After a day of nothing going wrong on Saturday, we finally set off late on Sunday morning heading south-east down the canal latéral à la Marne.  This 67-kilometre-long canal, as its name implies, runs parallel to the river Marne.  It was opened in 1846 to bypass the river that was difficult to navigate upstream of Épernay and ends at a junction with the canal de la Marne au Rhin at Vitry-le-François.  In the late 19th century, the locks were extended to the Freycinet dimensions which became the standard for all the smaller canals in France, accommodating boats of 39 metres in length with a beam of 5.20 metres.  There are 15 locks on the canal that give a total rise of 34 metres.  About a quarter of the way down from Épernay the canal connects with the canal de l’Aisne à la Marne which we have been up a few times to Reims and beyond.  Châlons-en-Champagne is about halfway along the canal, so we have about 32 kilometres to travel until we join the next canal.

The canal latéral à la Marne
We left to the sound of many horns blasting from other boats and even Buddy’s friend Fonz was on the front of his boat wondering where Buddy was off to. 
Buddy & Fonz the Jack Russell had become good friends during their stay at the port
Buddy immediately took up his usual spot on the back deck.

As we left the port and joined the main canal we turned left around the far side of the island:

A heron even came over the heronry to wish us farewell:

Goodbye Châlons and the missing passerelle
This canal has kilometre stones along its length, and we have found and taken pictures of nearly all of them, missing just a handful.  I realised that one of the ones we were missing should be on our route, so we kept an eye out for it.  Karen had got off the boat to give Buddy a walk and also to find the odd fallen branch to put on the roof to keep our log store stocked up.  I think she was also doing it to make sure I was kept busy sawing while she works during the week!

The kilometre stones seem to be from three different eras.  We have found some that are so weathered that they are probably original.  Many are more recent, and I have read they were installed during the first half of the 1900s and there are also a few, especially around Châlons-en-Champagne, that are very modern looking.

One of the modern looking stones
We did find the one we were missing, and it wasn’t surprising we’d missed it before because it was a metal flange in railings under a bridge. 
Karen up close and personal with pk27 with Buddy looking bored
After a few miles we were approaching our first and only lock of the day.  For the new or occasional reader who isn’t familiar with the locks on this canal they are all automatic and I’ll cover their operation over the next couple of paragraphs.  On this particular canal the boater twists a pole hanging over the cut 100 to 200 metre before the lock.   To be on the safe side Karen normally stands at the front to perform the twist which gives me a chance to also do it from the back if the twist hasn’t registered. 
Pole having been twisted
Before the pole is twisted a solitary red light will be shown by the lock (two red lights indicate the lock is out of action).  We know if the twist has been registered as an orange light starts flashing beside the red light.  As soon as the lock is being set then the orange light goes out and a red and green light are shown.  If no green light appears it usually means the lock is being operated in the opposite direction and a longer wait is required for the other boat to clear.  Once the lock is set and the gates are opened the red light goes out leaving just the green one meaning it is safe to enter.  Unlike most locks in the UK, boaters don’t tend to get off their boats at the locks and all operations are carried out from the boat.  Once we are in and secure then the next step is to set the remainder of the operation in progress.  On this canal this is done by one of us pushing up a blue rod set into the lock side.  
Karen closer to the rod so her turn to push it up
The rods
Making the boat secure is also different to the method usually employed in the UK as we stay on the boat.  When going up the locks Karen stands at the front and hooks the loop at the end of a line over a bollard by lifting it up on a boat hook.  Fortunately, the lock was relatively shallow at 2.4 metres so she was able to do this without having to clamber onto the roof.  After hooking the loop over a bollard she then ties the line off on a couple of bollards on the boat.  I then put the boat in forward gear with the tiller arm turned to the wall thus keeping the rope taught and the boat up against the wall.  We have zigzag fenders hanging down towards the rear to avoid damaging the boat as it ascends.  A sharp eye has to be kept out in case the lock sides are irregular or worn as the zigzag fender could be caught on a protuberance thus putting the boat in danger of capsizing. 
Rear zigzag fender to keep the boat away from the lock sides
After another mile or so we moored up outside a small village called Chepy where we knew there were three bollards that we could use.  Again, for new readers, we have to tie to bollards because the standard metal stakes that we would normally knock in would be pulled out as soon as a commercial passed.  
Buddy happy to be relaxing in the sun at our Chepy mooring
As Karen said on her call to her mum later in the evening, ‘no one would know if we broke the curfew here’.

We cruised just over five miles on Sunday up one lock.  Oh, and apologies if the formatting is a bit strange as my enter key still isn't working.

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