Friday 17 June 2022

Sarreguemines (a saga of parasols)


Like the UK we were expecting the good weather to continue with temperatures either side of 30ºC for a couple of weeks.  For some reason Monday was going to be a blip, down in the low 20s, so it was a bit ironic that we stayed put in Sarralbe for another day leaving cruising until the hotter days.  Still, we had an exciting test match to continue listening to.

A couple of private cruisers turned up during the day with French couples on board which we’re finding increasingly unusual as most private boats seem to be German as we head north.  Both couples took advantage of the free water and electricity kindly supplied at the mooring by the Sarralbe mairie and spent much of the afternoon cleaning their boats.  A couple of hire boats also passed during the day, one of them pulling up to stop for the night.    


Before we left Sarralbe we had an interesting conversation with the French couple on the boat behind us who were interested in our boating history and were keen to share theirs too.  The only English they really knew was ‘have a nice day’ so we struggled a bit at times as we couldn’t ask, ‘what is French for xyz’, which is always useful when people want to spend time chatting and we’re struggling for a particular word.  They left early, heading for Strasbourg and then Colmar which is where they keep their boat.  We left early too as we wanted to get to Wittring before the cricket started, thankful of the time zone difference allowing us extra time.

It seemed that over the last couple of days the second brood of the family of white butterflies had emerged en masse.  As we travelled along, the banks were teeming with them hunting out mates and nectar.  Amongst them, the odd swallowtail could be also seen flying earnestly and faster as well as bright orange flashes of fritillaries. 

Arriving at the first lock, two ladies came out of the cottage complimenting the boat and asking if they could take pictures.  They were clearly staunch French nationalists judging by the flags and other artefacts on their house and around their garden.  Alongside the lock cottage was also an old canal service centre and a couple of other small buildings that seemed to belong to the ladies now. 

They must have had the ‘Service de la navigation’ sign made specially because as well as the usual canal name and date, the words ‘Empire Français’ had been added:

Most of the journey was in open countryside with the occasional stretch of woodland on one side or the other and we only saw one boat on the way.

Just before the lock in Wittring we passed the VNF dry dock where we’ve booked our boat in for blacking.  There were a couple of 25-metre barges in the dock, and we recognised one of them from when we’d been in Strasbourg.

Wittring dry dock

Four guys, who were all French, were working on the boats and they came down to the lock to chat to us as we went through.  When they found out we were stopping in Wittring they said we should come up and see them later so we could have a look at the dock.  Immediately after the lock was a small port with a dozen or so cruisers in residence and we managed to moor up just past it on some rings outside a restaurant a few minutes before the day’s play started.

Moored in Wittring

At the lunch break we walked up to the dry dock stopping to read a couple of information boards on the way.  We learnt that when the canal opened through Wittring four limestone quarries were started in the hills around the village.  The rock was transported to the port by small steam trains and then taken away by barge; the rings we’d tied up to were probably from those days too.  The first information board showed a photo of one of the steam engines crossing the bridge over the lock.  Another board contained an old photo showing where the restaurant now stood but in its place were large mounds of pure white limestone lining the length of the port awaiting shipment.  There was also an explanation about how, during WWII, the Germans set up an underground factory in the quarries where liquid oxygen was also manufactured as fuel for their V2 rockets.

The river Sarre runs alongside the canal through the village, so we had a quick look on our way up to the dry dock.  We couldn’t believe that when it reaches Germany in 20-odd km it will be large enough to have 190-metre-long locks and correspondingly large commercials.

The Sarre in Wittring

We had an interesting chat with the guys working in the dock, or at least with the one who also spoke a little English.  He and his father had called in a steel specialist who was testing the depth of the steel on the hull of their 100 year old boat.  The guy was marking up where the hull needed overplating, a process we had to have carried out on our first boat.  We explained we were keen to see if we could bring forward our booking and were told where Theirry, the VNF guy in charge of the dock lived, so we would hopefully make contact before we left Wittring.   

Mentioning WWII above reminds me that much of our recent journeys have been along the Maginot Line, a line of defensive fortifications built in the 1930s to protect the eastern border of France.  The particular part we’ve covered in the last few days has been an aquatic section of the line where sluices could be opened in rivers, lakes and canals to flood specially dug sections of the countryside.  There’s not much to photograph of the nautical bit but there are still many pill-box type structures of the physical line to be seen along our canal:

Those of you who also followed the cricket will understand how we spent the rest of the afternoon glued to it.

On Tuesday we cruised 10 km down two locks.


During the morning we went for a walk up the hill opposite the port taking in the little chapel that we could see up there from the boat.

Morning view – the chapel is the white speck near the top

It wasn’t very far and not a particularly steep climb up there and it was also quite shaded, so we didn’t have to expend too much energy or get too hot.  There were plenty of butterflies around, but they were being too skittish to settle for long, although we were able to study the underside of a male marbled white (the black on the undersides tends to brown on a female) that had thoughtfully settled for us.

Male marbled white

The chapel

The last three times we’ve walked up a hill opposite where we were moored, we’ve been unable to see the boat as it’s always been obscured by a tree or a building.  On each occasion we had plenty of choices of where to moor but for some uncanny reason always picked the one and only spot where we couldn’t be seen; however, this time we could see the boat.  We also had a good view of the whole of Wittring.  We could see that the old buildings were clustered around the church and all the ones further out and up the hillside were more modern.

We’re dead centre

Once back down the hill we followed the river Sarre for a while and at the next village, found a footbridge that took us back to the canal that we then followed back to Wittring.

Me and Buddy on the bridge

The bridge seemed rather substantial, and we wondered if once upon a time it had been a weir at the head of a millstream.  This theory was supported by the fact that the lane we’d walked down to get to the river was called rue du Vieux Moulin (old mill street).

Before going back to the boat, we had a look around the village, which as to be expected was deathly quiet, the only commerce being the restaurant at the port and a baguette dispenser near the mairie.  As with the previous day, the restaurant and its car park were packed so it’s obviously very popular.

Wittring mairie

When Karen went for her early morning run, she’d seen a wall further down the canal with tall trees alongside it which should provide some shade for moored boats.  Alistair had also told us they’ve moored on the same wall too and it’s one of his favourites.  As the afternoon was due to hit 31ºC we moved down straight after an early lunch.  Leaving the mooring we passed the open air washing stones of a simple canal-side lavoir:

The mooring wasn’t yet in the shade when we arrived, but it looked like it was going to be during the evening.  We were just about to get our pins out when I trod on a ring hidden in the undergrowth.  I continued looking while Karen held the boat and to my delight found another one 20 metres away from the first – ideal for a narrowboat.

Waiting for the shade to reach us

While watering the plants in the evening I found a hummingbird hawkmoth feeding on one of the petunias:

As it turned out, we never got any shade in the evening.  I’d forgotten how high the sun remains in the sky as we approach the summer solstice.

On Wednesday we cruised 0.5 km through no locks.


We continued down the Sarre valley early on Thursday morning so we could reach Sarreguemines by lunchtime. 

Continuing down the Sarre valley

We noticed that the canal had sloping sides when it ran close to the river but have no idea whether that was coincidental or for some structural reason.  Talking of coincidences, the petunias on one of the lock bridges were the same colours as ours:

When we came out of the lock at Sarreinsming we noticed a working waterwheel on a mill and also a rather dilapidated mooring.  We decided to moor up anyway so we could investigate further and ended up having lunch there contrary to our plans. 

Sarreinsming from the boat

The waterwheel was driven by water channelled along the base of the wheel meaning it was an undershot wheel as opposed to an overshot one which would have been turning in the opposite direction.

Sarreinsming mill

Alongside the mooring was a memorial to the American soldiers who freed Sarreinsming on 8th December 1944.  The memorial was erected from a piece of the Bailey bridge over the Sarre that the soldiers constructed to replace the one bombed by the Germans. 

The memorial inaugurated in 2015

On the dilapidated mooring

Looking at the picture above, the mooring doesn’t look too bad, but one bollard had been pulled out and the one at the rear was at a precarious angle.  The decking was loose in places and even hanging off at the side making it difficult to pull alongside.

Also, seeing the parasol in the picture above, reminded me that I’ve never admitted to our saga of parasols.  The beige one that we have up most frequently turns out to be a good quality one with six solid spokes and has a winding mechanism to put it up or bring it down.  When we first came to France, we found we needed a second parasol in the higher temperatures so bought a relatively cheap one from a brico.  That lasted a year but then, because it had thin metallic spokes and only four of them it blew inside out in a strong gust of wind one day and was unrepairable. 

Not learning and in need of a replacement quickly we purchased another cheap one which lasted about the same length of time.  The third one also lasted a year but was of better quality such that it couldn’t blow inside out; however, the method the spokes were attached to the centre was most suspect and started failing.  I’ve repaired it several times, each time it’s become more unstable such that now it cannot be used.  So, a couple of days ago, Karen ordered a new one from the UK similar to the beige one.  The plan being to pick it up when we return for our family holidays in August.

Anyway, all this rambling is because when I'd wound the parasol up in the morning it wouldn’t work, and I realised the cord that pulls it up had snapped inside the mechanism.  It wasn’t obvious how to take it apart as it appeared to be a sealed unit, so I ended up putting a hose clip on the pole to hold the parasol up.  Of course, we have to remember to loosen the hose clip to get the parasol down, when a lock looms ahead.              

The snapped cord and hose clip 

Oh, and the bungee is not another Heath Robison repair, it’s an extra precaution to ensure that a sudden strong wind doesn’t pull the parasol of its holder.

We carried on again after lunch and were soon going down the first lock in Sarreguemines after which we spotted a mini cruise ship.  According to its markings it was only 33 metres long but had dozens of portholes, eight mini lifeboats on each side and even a facsimile bridge at the front.

Strange cruise ship

The second lock in town dropped us onto the river at the point it becomes navigable, although it was still quite small.  We moored up outside a VNF depot using a couple of three handy rings in the wall that had probably been installed for VNF work boats.

Moored in Sarreguemines

A little alleyway ran up from the mooring to a road the other side of which was a large Intermarché with a handy fuel station.  We made a couple of trips for fuel, leaving the shopping until the next day.

It was great to see the shop was only 20 metres away

We’re in the strange no-mans land where we don’t know if people are French or German, the main difference we find is that the Germans start talking in German or English, but the French always start and generally continue in French.

We may stay put a couple of days as we found the VNF buildings provide shade in the evening and with temperatures forecast to be 37ºC or so for a few days it will be most welcome.  

On Thursday we cruised 11 km down five locks.

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