Void (waters new)

What is Karen doing?

Monday was jobs day starting with getting the diesel tank filled.  This involved a couple of trips to the fuel station which, as it was just over a kilometre away on other side of St-Mihiel, gave me a good workout wheeling a loaded trolley up and down the main street.  Although the day had started foggy, the sun finally came through by lunchtime and I spent some time log cutting during the afternoon. 

Catching the Monday afternoon sun on our lonesome in St-Mihiel

The main admin job for the day was to sort out getting the boat blacked next year.  Steel boats should have their hulls below the waterline repainted every three years or so with bitumen or similar products and ours is now due.  We’ve been slowly investigating options from a completely DIY approach to having her craned out and done by a boatyard.

Our favoured approach was to make use of a dry dock at a place called Wittring on the river Saar up near the German border and do the job ourselves.  Alistair & Sabine had just blacked their boat at Wittring for the third time and couldn’t praise the place highly enough; they’ve already rebooked for three years’ time.  Sadly, the earliest available slot for us was also in 2024 so we had to find a different approach.  We’ve ended up booking a dry dock near Châlons-en-Champagne for next November and the yard will do the work for us while we take a week off.  We’ve chosen the end of the year, so it doesn’t impact our cruising plans too much.

As expected, there was a touch of frost on Tuesday morning, our first this winter and once again it was very foggy, not clearing until lunchtime.  I’d found out there was a brico in the town and as I desperately needed a new bowsaw, Buddy and I paid a visit in search of a replacement.  I know the usual thing to do is buy a new blade, but I cannot find one of the correct length, either in France or the UK.  I was obviously conned when I bought that particular saw, but I cannot remember where I got it.  It was probably in a batch of non-standard saws being sold as a so-called ‘bargain’ by a store going out of business. 

During a walk in the afternoon, I came across a French war cemetery on a hill overlooking the town.  It holds 3,417 French soldiers who fell in the St-Mihiel Salient in WWI and was completed in 1919.  The blog entry for 24th September covered the St-Mihiel Salient and other local WWI memories such as the undisturbed trenches we found (please click here to read it in a separate window).    

The French war cemetery above the town cemetery of St-Mihiel

There’s a line of flags flying alongside our mooring, and one is a Union Jack.  St-Mihiel is one of the few towns we’ve seen since Brexit that still has a Union Jack flying.  I assume it’s probably more to do with the world wars rather than the EU as not all European countries are represented.

Still flags on Tuesday evening at our St-Mihiel mooring

Mentioning Brexit reminded me that I needed to update a story I told a couple of weeks ago about a Brexit related issue for UK boat owners whose boats were in UK waters at the end of 2020.  Since then, if they leave the UK and cruise for more than 18 months in Europe, then they are subject to VAT and import duties even if VAT was paid when the boat was purchased.  I’d mentioned that if the boat was taken out of EU waters, then the 18-month clock restarts.  At the time I’d said that the closest non-EU countries that a narrowboat could be taken to, other than venturing halfway across the Channel and back again, were either Ukraine or Serbia.  Thinking about next year’s cruising plans and potentially visiting Basel in Switzerland I’ve now realised that that country is a much closer and more realistic alternative for boaters caught in that situation. 

To keep to our plan, we’d been hoping to get away earlyish on Wednesday but with fog forecast as in the previous two mornings we weren’t confident of being able to leave much before lunchtime.  As it turned out it was clear when we got up but it was frosty, our first real frost of the winter and even though the sun was out all day there was a definite chill in the air.  Karen went for a run first thing and then we set off for Sampigny hoping to get there for lunch.  Karen had come across some good logs near some flood gates during her run, so we tied up against one of the gates on our way through and picked the logs up.

Cruising up the Meuse valley…
…and looking back the other way

Having been through the last of the manually operated locks on our previous cruise, we were back to automatic locks so didn’t need an éclusier with us anymore.  We made good time and stopped at the mooring in Sampigny for lunch.  Whilst there we picked up yet more logs so we’re feeling happier now our store has been replenished.  I’ll have lots of sawing to do when Karen next has a workday!

Moored for lunch at Sampigny

It was getting on for five by the time we arrived at Commercy where we will stay for Armistice day as nearly everything, including the canals are closed.

On Wednesday we cruised 14 miles up five locks.

After staying put for Thursday and taking in a couple of walks during the day we set off at 10.00am on Friday once the fog started to clear.  We were fooled by the clearing fog as it came down again soon after leaving and didn’t clear until early afternoon.  Having travelled on the river before and knowing there were no boats around we felt it was OK to carry on and after a couple of hours had ascended the last five locks on the canal de la Meuse.

We'd stopped after the first lock in a place called Euville as it had a water point.  As expected, the water had been turned off to prevent pipes bursting during the winter, so Karen had a quick recce and found a manhole cover which she removed to find a stopcock below.  She dropped down the hole and after a bit off a struggle managed to get the water on. 

Up she comes

We had good long showers and did the washing whilst filling up and remembered to turn the stopcock off and leave the taps open before we set off again.  Even though the locks were all automatic, controlled by us with our télécommande, we had an éclusier with us getting them set in advance.   It did make us wonder if the local VNF command centre was just making sure we were getting off their canal.  Immediately after the last lock we were at the junction with the canal de la Marne au Rhin (ouest) and turning right onto a new waterway for us.

Turning right onto waters new

The 300-odd kilometre long canal de la Marne au Rhin runs from the Marne in Vitry le François in the west to Strasbourg on the Rhine in the east and was opened in 1855.  It is considered as two canals these days (ouest and est) divided by Nancy.  We had travelled on a small section at the far western end on each of the previous two years but had to turn back because the canal was closed due to too much weed, hopefully we’ll be luckier this year.

We were now heading away from the Meuse valley to make our way to the Marne valley which we would meet at Vity-le-François just over 100 kilometres away. 

Crossing over the Meuse
This was our last view of the Meuse - not navigable this far up

By early afternoon we were arriving in Void where we planned on stopping for at least one night.  As we came into the town, we passed a green obelisk commemorating a man called NJ Cugnot who was born in the town.  He was famous for building the world’s first mechanised vehicle; his steam powered cart started trials in 1771 and was never successful due to its massive weight and having a body too rigid for the rough tracks of the day.

Void, the birthplace of M. Cugnot

As we approached the mooring outside the VNF offices we saw a couple of Belgian cars and a couple of people waiting to see us moor.  We soon realised it was Alistair & Sabine who had come to pick up one of their cars; having two cars makes it easier to car hop of course. We had a quick chat and hoped we’d meet up again properly before we all arrive in Châlons-en-Champagne.  It wasn’t looking that likely as they are now quite a long way ahead of us and would probably arrive in Châlons in four days or so whereas we’re two weeks away.

Moored behind a VNF workboat in Void

Next to us was a preserved locomotive that ran on electricity supplied by overhead power cables.  These little engines were used up until 1973 to tow barges along many of the canals of northern and eastern France.

Preserved electric locomotive

France has now opened up covid booster vaccinations to the 50-65 year old age group and later in the afternoon we managed to book an appointment for Karen on the same day as mine, the 3rd December.  We’re travelling back to the UK on the same day but feel that the chances of us both having a bad reaction during the journey was pretty remote so at least one of us will be able to drive.  France has also announced that covid passes for going to public places including bars and restaurants would expire unless the holder has had a booster jab six months after the second vaccination - mines due to expire on 15th December so it’s just as well we’ve got them booked in. 

Our next cruise will take us up to the summit and through the five-kilometre-long tunnel at the top.  We will wait and see what the weather’s like before committing to which day we’ll move on.

On Friday we cruised 11 miles up five locks.

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