Tuesday 28 May 2024

Maixe (getting soaked)


Moored below Toul's ramparts and cathedral on Thursday evening

In the 10 days since we set out from Conde-sur-Marne we’ve covered 176 kilometres and been through 106 locks and are now just short of Nancy.  This is probably a record for us as it would normally take several weeks to cover that sort of distance.

Black line is our journey so far

For the first time in four days we had no weed issues during our cruise and made it to the town of Toul without having to call VNF or visit the weed hatch.  After setting out we had a long lock-free pound until we reached the relatively short Foug tunnel (876m). 

Foug tunnel entrance in the centre of the picture

Once through the tunnel we arrived at the top of the 12 lock flight down to the centre of Toul.  These 12 locks are in a chain and an éclusier was on duty at the first lock to set the chain in operation for us.  We were hoping to go on the Moselle over the weekend so checked with him that it was open to private boaters following the wet spring and conflicting reports we’d had.  We were told it was, so we felt more confident about doing it: we are always nervous before traveling on large rivers even though we know we love it once we’re on them.

Karen and Buddy walked most of the way to Toul and I had an easy journey down the flight as every lock was ready for me as I approached it.  Halfway down I passed a private cruiser that was on its way up, nationality unknown as they weren’t flying a courtesy flag.

Nearing Toul I passed a St-Gobain PAM foundry where cast iron pipes are manufactured instead of the manhole covers we collect.

PAM pipe foundry

When having a wander around later in the day the pattern at the base of a fire hydrant caught my attention.  It was one of the designs used for PAM manhole covers.  Looking closer I saw the distinctive Pont-à-Mousson bridge on the top of the hydrant.  We have drawn the line at collecting different designs of PAM hydrants!  We do of course collect pictures of fire hydrants that have been painted to look like animals.

Emerging from the twelfth lock we passed the port in the middle of Toul and, as we’d been told the Moselle was open, we carried on through the next lock to await moving onto the river on Saturday.  The lock was outside a VNF office and an éclusiere came out to see us through.  We asked her about the Moselle and she confirmed what we’d been told earlier that it was open for us.  Once through the lock we pulled up for the day at some bollards alongside the old town ramparts.

On Thursday we cruised 14 kilometres, through one tunnel, down 13 locks and saw one boat.


With some trepidation we left Toul at 9.00am to drop down the last two locks onto the river Moselle. We went under a bridge that once formed part of the town’s defence, and then waited while a lift bridge rose for us and held up the rush hour traffic.

I know we’ve cruised quite a few times on the Moselle and have even covered the entire length of the French part of the river after going through Luxembourg but there has been a lot of rain in France over the last few months, hence the trepidation.  As VNF told us yesterday, we would be fine travelling on it so off we went.  Entering the final lock on the canal we tied the boat up and, before setting the lock in operation, walked over to the where the canal joins the river.  It looked absolutely fine with no discernible flow but then it was a lock cut we were joining. We had a huge sigh of relief to feel in control when we joined the cut but we still had the small matter of what it would be like when we joined the main stream after the first lock.
Feeling more confident

Soon after joining the lock cut, we passed a commercial being loaded with gravel and then immediately afterwards another one heading upstream to drop its load of old metal at a plant at the end of the navigable river in Neuves-Maison. We’ve often seen boats taking this material to the site and never really worked out what it is or what the process is as the site produces rolled steel.

110 metre long Lumas heading to Neuves-Maison

During the winter we’d bought headsets to help communication between each other when in locks or mooring up.  Both operations can be rather noisy which tends to mean we shout commands and when misheard can be dangerous.  We have to admit that the set we bought is fantastic and can’t believe why we hadn’t invested in one before.

A kilometre from the first river lock I radioed the control tower to warn them of our approach.  As sometimes happens there was no response but that didn’t bother us as the chances were they’d heard me and no doubt had been told by the VNF office in Toul that we were on our way.  Nearing the lock we could see it had red lights on indicating that the lock wasn’t being set for us.  We thought a commercial was probably heading upstream and would therefore have priority so we moored up at the lock entrance to wait our turn.

After 10 minutes there was nothing discernible happening in the lock so Karen walked down to the control tower to find out what was happening.  She was told that there was some work going on beside the lock which would take at least half an hour so we’d have to wait.  While waiting we saw a freshly emerged male common blue:

At about the 30-minute mark a private cruiser with Germans on board pulled up behind us.  As I was explaining the situation to them green lights came on as well as the reds indicating the lock was being set for us so we were soon on our way.  We’re always surprised how gentle these large river locks are even though we are absolutely dwarfed and could fit dozens of our boat into one; they’re built to take boats up to 180 metres long. 

Leaving one of the locks

The Germans, with far more power than us, sped off when the lock opened probably hoping not to have to wait for us at the next one.  At the end of the lock cut we joined the main river and were pleasantly surprised to find how benign it was.  It really was quite surprising as the river Sarre which isn’t that far away has been in full spate this week and even flowing straight over locks.

The benign Moselle

To our surprise, and probably their chagrin, the Germans were moored up waiting at the second lock when we arrived.  It transpired they were having to wait for another commercial that was heading upstream.  They made sure they got well ahead after going through the lock and sped off at what must have been full throttle.

We went past a construction in the river that has been the subject of discussion on boater groups but we’re still not sure what it is.

Boater’s toilet?

Remembering that I’ve discussed the contraption in previous blog entries reminds me that you may be wondering why we’re not covering sightseeing we’re doing in the towns and villages we’ve been passing through.  There’s a couple of reasons, firstly we’ve done this journey a few times now and so we’re not seeing many new things that interest us.  Secondly, and mainly, we’re travelling very fast for us and not having the time to do much sightseeing.  The reason we’re travelling fast is because eldest daughter Sophie is expecting her second child in the middle of June and we want to be around to look after Dexter, her first (as well as seeing her, Yanos and the new baby of course). 

We were originally going back to England about June 10th but that changed when Southampton reached the Championship play off final.  Hopeful of getting tickets we sped up so that we could be somewhere convenient for me to catch trains home for the match.  As I reported in the last update, I just missed out on tickets but it made us realise that we could get home earlier than the 10th so Karen has been replanning and we hope now to get back at the beginning of June.  Looking at tickets for the tunnel we realised that it must be half term again as the prices shoot up for that week.  It always seems that we pick travel dates around bank or school holidays!  

Our journey continued uneventfully, and the Germans managed to get through the third lock before us.

Passing Liverdun

I say uneventfully but then it started raining and I mean really raining.  Being on the river meant there was nowhere to moor up to wait out the storm so we sucked it up and continued.  We had the parasol up to try and keep the worst off Buddy and with his life jacket on he was also protected somewhat.  In case you think we're being cruel keeping him out there, it's his choice.  He hates going inside the boat when it's moving and one of us is outside, whatever the weather.

It was still poring when we turned off the river onto the canal de la Marne au Rhin (est) that we’ve taken before to reach the Rhine at Strasbourg.  We took on water at the lock and it must have been the first time the lock hose had been used for weeks as the lock garden plants were enveloping it.  At least as it was a lock hose it had a large bore, so the tank didn’t take long to fill.  Before we left the lock, the éclusier on duty handed over a télécommande for use on the new canal.

It continued raining all the way into the centre of Nancy and after a couple of lift bridges operated by the télécommande we moored up in one of the basins,  The basin is just down from the beautiful Stanislas square that Nancy is famous for.  It is also home to a couple of péniches that have been converted to a restaurant boat and a night club.  Also in the basin was Princess, the first hotel boat we’ve seen this year.  

Moored in Nancy after the rain and clouds cleared

On Friday we cruised 34 kilometres down five locks, up two locks, through three lift bridges, saw three commercials and one private boat.


We had a busy non-boat day ahead of us but first we wanted to move the boat so we would be beyond the environs of Nancy.  After Karen returned from an early morning run we set off stopping at an Intermarché on the way so I could top up with fuel. Karen had run past the shop earlier and had told me how overgrown the mooring was compared to previous visits.

Passing the main port in Nancy as we set off

I hadn’t imagined the fuel stop mooring would be quite so overgrown therefore almost went sailing past it.  After some beating back of the long grass and vegetation we found two of the bollards, tied up and did the chores. It’s a place that attracts the local down and outs for their social get togethers with their wine boxes and tins of strong lager.  Although some people see them as intimidating, we always find that engaging in conversation helps and having a dog and an unusual boat are natural ice breakers.

As we set off again a hire boat came steaming past us reminding us that Nancy is the normal limit of hire boats coming from the bases further east.  They went ahead so fast that they got into the next lock without any sign of waiting for us and as it was our final lock before stopping, we waited for them to clear.  We also had to wait for a private boat to come down but it wasn’t long before we secured the boat for the day just above the lock.  As we were tying up, yet another private boat came through.  We couldn’t believe how many boats we ‘d seen on such a short cruise.

Above Laneuveville-devant-Nancy lock

After lunch we walked to the local station where I caught a train to Châlons-en-Champagne and then took an Uber to Condé-sur-Marne to pick up the car.  It was a two-hour train journey that during the week involves two or three changes but strangely on a Saturday there is just one train a day and it's a direct service.  I enjoy these journeys as I spend most of the time spotting places we’ve visited, waterways we’ve been on and roads we’ve driven along.

Arriving at the port where we’d left the car I saw Bill and Jane’s boat was moored in the spot we’d taken so popped in to say hello.  Bill was out getting some work done on their car but I had a good catch up with Jane before driving back to Laneuveville.

On Saturday we cruised five kilometres up two locks and saw one hire boat and two private boats. 


As we now have the car with us, we will need to car hop with it until we reach the port we’re leaving the boat at  while we go back to England for a few weeks.  We calculated how far we’ll travel with the car before reaching the port including a trip to the vets for Buddy’s treatment he has to have before being allowed to re-enter England.  After adding a bit for emergencies, we realised we needed to top up a little so found a local charger, topped up, and then took the car to St-Phlin.  We parked up near the lock there and walked back to the boat.  Car hopping will be done by a mixture of walking, Karen running or me cycling.

Back at the boat we planned on staying put for the day, our first day off for two weeks.  We did as few jobs as possible, but I did make sure my bike was in working order for the car hopping.

We’re in a part of France popular with storks and have a pair nesting next to the mooring.

In most parts of Europe storks are considered good luck and people erect items such as old wagon wheels on top of their roofs to encourage them to next on their property.  We had our big game to watch later in the afternoon so went for pre-match drinks first.  This was Karen’s view from her seat outside the bar:

Could we resist?

Having had lunch we thought we would be able to walk straight past the patisserie on our way back to the boat.  After a couple of drinks our thoughts changed of course:

Pre-match treat

Those of you who follow football will know our team won and is going straight back to the premier league next season.  After the celebrations we moved the boat down to the lock near our mooring.  There’s a handy water point there so we took the opportunity to wash the boat knowing there would be no traffic due to the locks closing at 6pm on this canal.

No travelling so no stats unless I mention the 200 metres we moved from our mooring to the water point and back again.


Following a day off on Sunday, our journey continued on Monday but with the added complication of keeping the car with us.  We left Laneuveville-devant-Nancy after breakfast and soon after the first lock we crossed the river Meurthe on a wide aqueduct.  Many aqueducts are only six metres wide or so, just wide enough for one-way traffic but this canal was very busy in its day and consequently has aqueducts that accommodate two-way traffic.  Likewise, the locks were built in pairs to avoid unnecessary bottlenecks but nowadays only one of each pair is kept in operation.

Approaching the pair of Dombasle shallow locks

After going up the Dombasle lock we were in Dombasle-sur-Meurthe and in the middle of the great Solvay complex.

Although salt had been produced in the area for centuries, the opening of the canal in 1853 enabled Solvay to establish a massive salt processing plant here.  The company owned approaching 150 péniches which used to take salt, mainly to Belgium, and return with coal necessary for the production process.  Other péniches plied their trade locally bringing limestone to the plant, another important constituent during production.  With so many boats running from Dombasle-sur-Meurthe down to join the Moselle at Nancy it’s easy to see the need for the wider aqueducts and doubled up locks.  Sadly, péniches are no longer used to transport the salt, the last load was taken on April 3rd 2019. 

Part of the plant where 35,000 tons of salt are still produced each year

After going up the second lock at Dombasle, Karen got off and ran back to St-Phlin to get the car and take it further upstream to Maixe and, after parking up, she ran back to meet me.  Meanwhile Buddy and I continued on to Sommerviller where we intended on staying overnight.

Moored at Sommerviller

While waiting for Karen to return, Buddy and I walked to the village of Crévic, getting back to the boat at the same time as Karen.  It was such a lovely day that we decided to carry on cruising after lunch and continued on our way to moor below the lock at Maixie.  It was a busy day boatwise and we passed eight boats during the afternoon, most were hire boats meaning the holiday season seemed to have started. 

Below Maixe lock

After settling in, we realised we would be in the shade all evening and as it wasn’t hot enough to warrant such a mooring we moved to a more open area above the lock.

Since hearing our first cuckoo of the year 10 days ago we’ve heard them every day since.  We’ve also had one close to every mooring apart from in the centre of Nancy.

On Monday we cruised 18 kilometres up six locks and saw eight boats, six of them hire boats.




Helen and Chris said...

Hi Neil and Karen

Glad you are able to be out and moving - on our first trip just after Easter we were stuck at Corre for the whole time due to floods. We are looking to moor at Conde for a bit in the Summer while we have a week or two at home. We can see from the photos last year both you and Alastair were moored on the wall going up to the first lock and it looks good for narrowboats! Do those moorings belong to the port or to VNF?

Thanks in advance for any information and happy cruising.

Helen and Chris
Jeremus Piscator

Neil & Karen Payne said...

Good to hear from you both. Yes, that spot in Conde is just right for narrowboats and we always moor there when coming down or going up the flight to Billy. There is contention about whether it's VNF or Châlons' mooring. The conclusion we have come to (and has Alistair) is that if you moor by the pump out then payment is due to Châlons. From that point to the lock is free unless you want electricity or water in which case Châlons make it available. I know it sounds a bit haphazard but it's a great place to leave the boat and safe so if you don't want water or electricity go to the spot before. The bollards are for 38m boats so we use one bollard and a pin/hole in piling.

Hope this helps and happy cruising too. Sorry to hear you were penned in at Corre.