CHAMPAGNE and our FIRST GUESTS

5 September to 6 October

Reims to Chaumont

LOOSDRECHT

June 12 - Aug 13

UNDERWAY

Aug 13 - Sep 4

BURGUNDY

7 Oct - 29 Oct

SAINT JEAN de LOSNE

30 October - ?? Feb

 

MISCELLANEOUS FRENCH REFLECTIONS

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FRENCH DOGS

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AQUATIC PATIOS

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Wednesday 5 September

The rest of this week passed pretty uneventfully as we were in Reims with Maureen taking a side trip to Paris and me doing odd jobs and further exploration in preparation for Laurie and Marlene O’Meara’s arrival in a week or so. Naturally one of the priorities was to visit and grade the champagne houses so we would not waste time visiting less than excellent places with the O’Meara’s. It was a tough job but one that I knew had to be done so I just got on with it !

Once again the phone had stopped working. This is a constant irritation that just adds to the frustration with the cost and the poor areas of reception. Fortunately we are in an area that has a French Telecom office with an English speaking assistant so we will be able to sort it out, but it does raise the question of continuing reliability or periods of lost communications. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing we think sometimes....

Maureen arrived back on Thursday having met up with Adrienne and Kerry, the newly weds, in Paris, having been with them to Monet’s Garden and house and a nice restaurant the previous day. New Images/Adrienne Kerry.jpg Picked up from the station (Gare) on the trusty Peugeot scooter we were back at the boat to discuss what we would do for some 10 days before the ‘first guests’. We decided that since we needed water and could do with some shore power to take the pressure off the generator for a while, we would travel up to Sillery where those services were apparently available and then come back to Reims for the welcome and beginning of the champagne tour.

We spent another four days exploring, making bits for the boat (Maureen made a sun cover for the skylight and Jay installed some light and pump switches) and doing some more exploring. We also had the phone problem fixed.

It seems that people try mixing up the fourteen numbers on the pre pay phone cards in order to try to get free time. I had tries to enter a card that was suspect and so had used a number of attempts (you only have a certain number of unsuccessful tries). I bought another card and tried it a couple of times without seeming to have success and took it back to the Tabac (a small shop where such useful items as well as papers and tabasco can be bought) and the shopkeeper tried as well. This had seriously put me in doubt with France Telecom which had then suspended my number.

The assistant at the shop was sweet and helpful and finally got thru to their service department and had the phone re-instated. I was not too sure about the longevity of the fix and indeed it cropped up again a couple of days later. (As I write this from a distance of some weeks, we have had no further problems so are keeping our fingers crossed).

It may seem that what this trip exposes is all the problems of living and travelling in a different country and culture. These are however just the things that stick in the mind and should be balanced by the great feeling of joy that one has every day discovering new sights, sounds and tastes.

Tuesday 11

We headed off to Sillery after seven days in Reims and having said goodbye to the family on the commercial barge in front of us at the canal side. I had thought it was just a lonely owner skipper on board as I had spoken to him on a number of occasions and asked to see his boat. It was only on the day that we actually got around to going aboard that we discovered a wife and a six year old child.

 

The wife had the worst set of blackened and broken teeth I have ever seen and was in constant pain apparently from them. A dentist had been arranged and just before we left she returned one day to the boat having been to one of her appointments looking greatly relieved. It brings into focus the personal cost of these people keeping the barge commerce alive.

He had bought the barge for a great deal of money some years before as his father and grand father had both been barge operators. He admitted now that he could not sell the boat for a fraction of its original cost and had to keep operating it to just stay on top. The niceties of life such as medical and dental care, schooling for the boy and any kind of social life had long since vanished, not only because of cost but also since they were always on the move. When we left he had been at Reims for the same amount of time without further work to go on to.

A short cruise to Sillery and we were met with what was to become very familiar.  New Images/Sillery.jpg  A new marina with water and power facilities standing empty with lots of berths for boats from 5 to 15 metres and none for boats of 20 to 30 metres. We improvised. First we had to turn around since the only place we could access the water and power was against the land - was it too shallow ? We edged towards the pontoon, Maureen with the short (5 metre) boat hook. When Van Nelle was abeam of the outer jetty Maureen took to the air with a water defying leap onto the pontoon and raced off to test the depth.

Thumbs up and I was manoeuvring the ship in reverse into the land side area which was fortunately free of small boats and (with the removal of a fisherman) just big enough for us to squeeze in. With some to-ing and fro-ing we squeezed our bulk into a spot that should have been taken by a boat half our length and tied the bow to a hedge since there were no bollards that far from the mooring area. We were however able to extend our power lead to the power outlet but since our water tanks and filler are near the bow, our hose could not reach. I noticed the boat on the other side of the jetty had a hose, maybe we could borrow it, join them and get the water we now needed.

I approached the woman of the boat who when asked nervously refused saying that her husband was not here and she could not give permission. Nothing for it I thought but to crane the scooter off the deck and ride back to Reims for a bricollage/quincaillerie (hardware shop) and buy an extension plus some different sized tap fittings. We had identified no possible suppliers locally so the trip was on.

About and hour to get the scooter, get to Reims and back and to acquire the hose (which has now been use a couple of times - justifying its purchase). On the way however I was confronted with a sign that would lead me onto the motorway - a place a lonely scooter, only capable of 60-65kmh was not supposed to go. I kept going round the round-a-bout and noticed another road to the exposition site. I hopefully took that turn off and was rewarded with the road that ran right beside the canal and past our previous mooring.

Sillery is a small town with a couple of Champagne makers and we went to the most promising for a degustation (tasting) and a poke around. The patronne (a woman) was most accommodating and having tried their brut, we had to buy. For the rest of our stay of four days, we reverted to the round of odd jobs, a bit of exploration and a couple of conversations with the young and very friendly harbour master who also had the job of community activities development for the town.

Maureen gave me a hair cut ! A very attractive job it is too.

We went to the pub ( a local bar / café) on our first night and was surprised to see the men all glued to the television screen which had very bad reception. It appeared to be a horror movie or a special effects documentary until we tuned our ears into the spasmodic French phrases of the three or four patrons. New York, 11 September. With mounting horror we learned of some of the facts but needed something more static to learn the details. The next morning we bought the two newspapers and read the details as best we, and our dictionaries, could. We join the rest of the world mourning the senseless loss of innocent lives in this divisive conflict and wonder what the eventual outcome will be.

During our time in Sillery we also visited a WWI war grave site. New Images/Graves.jpg About 1,000 neat graves are laid out with headstones for both French and Algerian troops. Behind the cenotaph however there are two concrete constructions under which, proclaims the inscription, lie the remains of some 12,000 unidentified soldiers. These two elements of our time in Sillery seemed to underline part of the motivation of our journey of adventure.

Saturday 15 September

Laurie and Marlene are confirmed to arrive tomorrow and so we are off to Reims, and back to within metres of where we had left - having been urged along by the VNF (the French department responsible for canal navigation and maintenance) who wanted to repair that section of canal. Our friend was still there and he happily leapt off his still empty behemoth to assist with our arrival and mooring. He was still waiting for news of work from the local agency which coordinates such matters.

That night we received a call from Helen and Ian Palmer, remonstrating us for forgetting Ian’s 60th birthday - Bonne Anniversaire Ian (again) and I was able to report that a bottle of Palmer Champagne was on its way to him.

Sunday 16 September

GAD - or guest arrival day - and after a phone call to confirm that they were safely on the train from Paris to Reims we planned for the meeting at the Gare de Reims at 2.00pm. We would go on the scooter and I would bring them back in a taxi while Maureen took the scooter to get baguettes for a late lunch. All was in readiness (as we had had several weeks to prepare.

The arrival was joyous but with a strange twist - they had arrived in Paris the day before from Spain and it being morning had thought to just transfer trains and come straight on to Reims - a day early. Their repeated calls to our phone (which was on) had no effect and they decided to take a hotel and come on the next day as planned. We still have not received the voice message left on the French Telecom service !

After a quick lunch - pate, cheese, baguettes, salad and of course a Champagne, we headed out to the St Remi Basilica and on to Piper Heidsieck for a tour and tasting. New Images/Piper H.jpg  St Remi’s remains are still in the sarcophagus in the Basilica which is in itself a beautiful church on a lovely park location up the hill from the canal. The champagne houses of Maxim’s, Taittinger and Piper are just a stones throw away so the travel on foot was easy and the rewards great as we signed up for the three taste special - the Brut, the Rose and the Millesime (vintage). The tour is conducted in remote control carts which take you through some of the 10 or so kilometres of underground caves (tunnels) that are mostly filled with champagne slowly ageing and undergoing the second fermentation, the time the bubbles grow.

We learned that after degorgement (the time the dead yeast is removed from the bottle and the replacement ‘liquor’ - a mixture of old champagne and sugar - is added the champagne actual begins to deteriorate since air is added inevitably to the bottle. Drink champagne as soon as you buy it since a non vintage is good for a maximum of about 5 years and a millesime about 10. The millesime or vintage years are only pronounced in outstanding times and are still hand turned for a month or so to move the sediment to the neck before degorgement. The standard wines are rotated and raised to vertical but machines but machines are not involved in picking, which is still done by hand.

We saw later the itinerant grape pickers at Epernay and a couple of the other small towns along the way. Gypsies mostly, dark, swarthy men, small, timid children and brazen, flashy women, all emerging from cramped caravans, van sized vehicles and squatter camps along the rivers and canals. Pickers are becoming harder and harder to recruit and we wonder what will happen when they are no longer sufficient in number to pick the crops. Perhaps machines will be tactile enough by then yo take over but many of the vines are growing on what appears to be very steep hills on which it would be impossible for machines to operate. We will wait and see.

The vendage or picking season began on the 25th so we were still in the region to see the grapes start to move to the village crushers and then by truck, the juices are transferred to the champagne houses in the cities or the hundreds of small producers in the villages. But that was later.

After sight seeing through the main areas of Reims New Images/Reims stat.jpg  for the two days we treated ourselves to dinner at Au Congres, a restaurant M and I had enjoyed on our first night and looked forward to our departure on Tuesday to Conde Sur Marne, our first stop in a champagne village with our guests aboard.

Tuesday 18 September

This was a BIG DAY. Some 28 kilometres to navigate with eighteen locks and a two and a half kilometre tunnel ! The O’Meara’s were up bright and early, looking forward to the day’s cruise. The weather was overcast and pretty cool but not freezing and the rain held off - mostly. We left the mooring and went straight into the first of the three locks that take you out of Reims. With that experience Laurie and Marlene were keen to assist and soon learned much of the requirements of locking a big boat. Pretty soon Laurie was at the wheel displaying a remarkably good touch in keeping Van Nelle in the middle of the channel.

The canals look straight and well ordered to the novice but under the brown, murky waters lie shoals, rocks, discarded rubbish and banks of silt from collapsed banks. It is a foolish helms-person that strays too far from the centre - except when having to pass other boats coming in the opposite direction, and then it is done with much trepidation.

We arrived at Conde Sur Marne with the expectation of staying at the indicated pleasure boat stop. On arrival it was taken up with randomly moored boats of much smaller proportions that were all deserted. The opposite side of the channel looked promising as it was a VNF depot that now, at 5.00pm) was deserted - we thought. It was a difficult approach and some to-ing and fro-ing was required to line Van Nelle up. Once we were almost ready to moor a VNF ‘Bonaparte’ emerged from a hut and in no uncertain terms warned us off. We left, thinking that he could have saved us a great deal of activity in the first place. Just around the corner however there was a fine wall with adequate bollards that suited us very well for the night. 

We had been without an Australian Flag up until now - except for the huge one we do not have a flag pole big enough for - but Laurie and Marlene came to the rescue with a beautiful small flag that fit exactly on our forrard mast.  We decided to have a formal flag raising ceremony and with the strains of the National Anthem playing the flag was raised.  New Images/Flag 1.jpg

We settled down to a drink and a quick walk through the village before dinner and bed.

This day the stereo equipment decided to quit as did the Discman and the Walkman - no music !

Wednesday 19 September

A quiet and easy cruise today took us to Tours Sur Marne and after rounding the corner into the town we saw the barge of Tam and Di Murrell, here to conduct barge handling courses and rest in between students. I had done my course and been guided through my Certificate de Capacite (barge driver’s qualification) and was keen to spend a few hours introducing them to Maureen, Laurie and Marlene and getting up to date with things at the Dutch Barge Association of which they are stalwart supporters and some time office bearers.

We locked through and tied up to the canal wall just before the box factory, leaving enough room for approaching and departing barges to pass and quickly renewed acquaintances. They were expecting students the next day and had a dinner to go to that night so we agreed to meet for a drink later and some more time at a later date. We also took their advice to visit the champagne house L’Amiable and possibly join them and their students the next day for a tour of the establishment.

We explored and I bought some of the L’Amiable product for later consumption. We checked out the hotel’s restaurant and Laurie and Marlene booked us in for dinner. After drinks on board we had a very pleasant dinner at the restaurant and prepared for another day of exploration and tasting.

Thursday 20 September

After breakfast the gang took off to explore the village and look for the grave of Dom Perignon, who started this whole champagne industry back in the mid 1800s. The search was unsuccessful but rewarding in the views and taste of the grapes so abundant near the village. We later discovered that the Dom’s grave is at a small village up the hill from our next stop in Cumieres.

At 4.00pm we met the group of students and walked up to the champagne house of Dr L’Amiable. The youngish and very plump receptionist took us through the caves and production areas with her commentary in French being dissected by Di and the students. Finally the tasting room which warmed up considerably with the arrival of the winemaker and Patron himself. Not only the champagnes but also the Marc (a powerful digestif spirit) and Ratafia (an aperitif) were tried and much bought for later consumption. We retired to Van Nelle for dinner and preparation for out travel onwards to Cumieres the next day.

Friday 21 September

A sunny day but quite cold as we headed off the canal and onto the Marne river, now swollen by rain and carrying large amounts of debris, including whole trees. As we were heading with the flow of the river, avoiding the logs, branches and other piles of flotsam was relatively easy and we made good time with the current running at about 8 km/h and Van Nelle’s engine adding another 8 to it.

A short distance through the champagne vineyard countryside and Cumieres swept into view around a corner. First we passed a doubtful paddle steamer, apparently used for tourist river trips but with the paddle added on as a visual but not useful addition and a rather abandoned looking small boat tied to the town pontoon and at the plaisancier’s pontoon was positioned a large hotel boat. We had hoped to have the pontoon to ourselves but so long as the crew of commercial boats are helpful, being tied on the outside of them is not too much of an inconvenience.

We made the 180 degree turn as we swept past the pontoon being taken downstream by the burgeoning current and made out way back to Lilubele the hotel boat. The crew appeared and helpfully took lines as we secured Van Nelle to her side. We were soon secure and the side door of the ship made available for us to move on and off our boat. Simon, the matelot scurried up onto their roof to take our hose and electric cable which were soon in use topping up the water tank and the battery bank. The crew then set off to explore as I stood watch over the water operation.

The crew re-appeared after an hour or so with fresh provisions for lunch and tales of great numbers of champagne houses throughout the town and even vines right down to the edge of the centre ville. The grapes, they reported, were plentiful and ripe. Later we discovered they were the Pinot variety, used to add character and body to champagne and in some cases the red colour for rose.

Their search for the direction to Dom Perignon’s grave was unsuccessful but while they were out Simon invited me to meet the crew and have a Pernod with them. A pre lunch aperitif. The boat is managed by an English girl, Charlie, and piloted by Daniel, a dark Frenchman. They are all remarkably young and very keen on the boat and their jobs. They planned a shopping expedition for the afternoon and soon headed off by taxi to shop and to further fortify themselves for the arrival of twelve guests the next day. The company they work for, Continental Waterways, has twelve similar boats operating from Holland, Germany and France.

We planned another expedition for the afternoon and a roast that night on board as the local restaurant appeared expensive and plain.

Saturday 22

This morning we were met on waking by the sight of an impenetrable fog ! It looked like we would be in Cumieres longer than the day we had planned. Another issue for us was the fact that a tree had lodged itself across the bows of both boats during the evening and with branches locked on both sides of Van Nelle’s bow was not looking an easy task to remove. The combined strength of the crew of both boats was insufficient to budge it with ropes and boat hooks working hard to roll and push or pull it away.

We stopped to consider the options and my decision was to ease the lines so VN would slowly retreat away from the log as it was held by rope to Lilubele. As we were agreeing the precise detail of the operation, Laurie took one of the boat hooks and prodded on of the tree’s branches. As it appeared to move a little he gave it a more substantial push and managed to hit the pivot or key spot as it dislodged itself fully and sailed off down stream. Relieved we set about clearing up and getting our hoses and cables aboard as the sun was now burning the fog to mist and it appeared that we would be able to depart after all.

At 12.00 the way was clear and we set off, now heading upstream for Epernay. We made good time with Van Nelle able to exert most of her 150 horsepower and steam us along at 11 Km/h against the now 5kmh current. Soon we had passed into the Epernay environs and we carried on upstream into the heart of the city and to the Society Nautique harbour. It appeared to be a fine place with tennis courts, a club house, boat house and facilities. We tied up and looked forward to a pleasant stay.

The obligatory exploration took us past the station (Gare) where we soon arranged the O’Meara’s train tickets for Paris for the next morning and then past the fine gothic church to discover the restaurant which had been recommended both by the Gault Millau Guide and previous customers. We booked for dinner and headed off to the centre of town, its markets and shops.

A Pleasant small city, very much a centre of champagne production, overlooked by the imposing tower and factory of de Castellane. Further back from the river bank we discovered Moet and Chandon. Where de Castellane appears to be the major force in town, boasting production of 3,000,000 bottles per year, it is dwarfed by the Moet & Chandon organisation which is at least 3-4 times the size. De Castellane has about 10 km of underground tunnels (caves) whereas M&C has some 24 in Epernay and large numbers of additional facilities outside the town.

We also called in to a Phillips showroom to see if there was a reasonably priced amplifier available to replace the broken sound system. They showed the wares and suggested that we might get a less expensive model at Carrefour the supermarket across the river. A quick trip there had a replacement Sony system bought and installed - we have music again !

That evening we headed out to La Table Kobus, the restaurant and had a very pleasant gourmet meal, accompanied by excellent wines and very graciously provided by Laurie and Marlene. We were starting to miss them already as their departure hour of nine the next morning grew near.

The next morning came too quickly and soon we were walking to the station, trailing the suitcases and bags to meet the 9.00am train. As we arrived early we actually had them on an express train about 15 minutes earlier than their booking and they were soon installed in a compartment with luggage and all and we waved as they drew out of Epernay for their trip to Ireland.

We headed back to the boat and spent most of the day tidying up, doing washing and then taking a trip to de Castellane for a tour and tasting. It was the only drink we were to have for the next two days as we decided that a couple of health days were in order after the full on week we had just enjoyed.

I think it is fair to say that we enjoyed the week as much or more than our guests who were a delight to have aboard. They left happy having been part of a working boat for a week gaining new experiences as they took up a generous share of the tasks - on the helm, the ropes and the operation of locks and mooring.

That evening an Email arrived from the lawyers who are handling a spurious claim by a disgruntled Kwinana woman who claims - against the evidence of security and staff - that she broke an ankle at a concert managed by us some years ago. That required a number of answers to add to the body of evidence mounting rapidly as the wolf pack of legals get into their stride for and against the claim.

Monday 24 September

We had decided to leave this day and we settled the account with the captainiere of the small port, an expensive place to stay as we discovered as they charge 10 francs per metre per day. For Van Nelle that would have amounted to 540 francs - about $150 for two days mooring, some water and power.

We departed Epernay at about 8.30am with the plan to cruise south unless we met Tam and Di Murrell en route and had the opportunity for a meal with them. That was exactly the case as we arrived in Tours sur Marne, they were tied up at their previous mooring and had both the room for us ahead of their boat Friesland and , since they were resting between classes, they were free of students. We invited them for dinner and I set of to Epernay to buy supplies since Tours was shut. The scooter had me to Ay, on the way to Epernay, where the excellent supermarket and boulangerie were open. I was there and back within an hour with fresh supplies of food and wine and we prepared for a delicious dinner aboard.

Tuesday 25

An early morning fog delayed or start to noon but we set off into a lovely day en route to Chalons which boasted fine facilities for pleasure boats. On arrival we passed through the town lock and turned into the lake like harbour, somewhat cautiously as the other large boat moored outside looked as though it was on the bottom. Maureen prodded the bottom with the boat hook to discover a water depth of less than a metre. We had no option but to back out, turn around and head back through the lock to the commercial harbour we had passed on the way in.

We entered the channel and passed the point where we would tie up, disturbing some fishermen as we prepared to turn 180 degrees to enable us to depart easily. Unfortunately we discovered that the overhanging trees really were on the side of the bank and the channel was not wide enough to allow Van Nelle to swing around. We very nearly became stuck fore and aft but a determined shove by myself and a student from the nearby University had us back in the channel, now sporting a few broken branches on the bow.

We reversed back to the mooring and tied up with the prospect of having to reverse the boat through the channel to the stone entrance, through that without damage to prop and rudder and then to have to turn near the lock on our departure. We shelved the concern and set off to explore Chalons.

This is a thriving town at the extreme end of one of the three principle champagne growing areas and it sports a couple of wonderful churches, a busy covered marketplace and lots of old wood framed houses. Very medieval and very pretty with a beautiful park, complete with statues of a pretty girl in various stages of dress or undress depending on the season she was portraying. Nearby in this ‘Petit Jard’ was a beautiful floral clock and one of the two small rivers, the Mau, complete with swans.

We stayed overnight and planned a visit to the market the next day.

Wednesday 26

Market day in Chalons brought out all the stall holders with a huge range of fresh food in the market hall and racks of clothes and bric-a-brac outside. We wandered through and waited until almost closing time to grab some bargains including a plump roasted chook and a coffee grinder with a ‘special discount’ and a bag of chocolate covered beans thrown in.

After lunch on the boat we returned to town to explore the town museum which was small and interesting with some very good statues by Rodin, lots of cathedral exhibits, a huge room full of stuffed birds and a gallery with a range of indifferent paintings. We were tailed by one of the three attendants who were having a pretty slow day as we appeared to be the only visitors.

On our way back to Van Nelle we decided to try a French movie and booked for the Officer’s Room which we saw at 6.00. A poignant story of young officers terribly disfigured by action in WWI and their recovery in a hospital at the patient hands of a skilled surgeon and dedicated nurses who helped them through the terrible mental and physical struggle to recovery.

Thursday 27

This was the day of departure with the challenge of the big reverse ahead of us. As it happened, with careful planning and gentle manoeuvring, the task was achieved a lot easier than expected and we faced up to the lock which had opened for us. A commercial barge was approaching us from the rear but was well back and another occupied the lock but was emerging. The two commercials had obviously colluded over the radio however as the departing boat slid out of the lock it was positioned, very slowly, to cut us off and allow the other to catch up, pass us and go first into the lock.

The rules require pleasure boats to make way for commercials if they are both waiting at the same time. In this case I was prepared to wait and had moved to the canal wall to take a line but when the tactics of the two became apparent I became somewhat irritated and when the blocking barge made the mistake of opening up a small gap I took Van Nelle through it and into the lock. As I slid past the blocking boat there was a lot of waving and shouting and the helmsman attempted to slide the stern in our way. Van Nelle and I however are made of solid stuff and I allowed out stern to give his boat a good whack as we passed. The other boat now had to apply full reverse in order not to get caught up at the lock entrance and the eclusier - the lock keeper - who witnessed the whole event shrugged and helpfully took our lines to assist us in.

Soon after the lock was closed and the cycle started to fill it a crew member of the other barge came to the eclusier to try to get him to put in a report against us - not that we had preceded them into the lock - since they knew that argument would not wash - but because we were using tyres as fenders.

The rules state that you should not use tyres as they sink in locks and can cause damage to boats, but if you DO use them, then they have to be secured by two opposing lines - which ours are. So that did not wash with the lock keeper either. After a bit of mutual abuse we left and soon left the commercial well behind.

We arrived at the Halte Fluviale (small boat harbour) in Vitry-le-Francois at about 6.00pm and found a small enclosure with facilities for about 4 small boats, occupied by two, one of them a Dutch couple we had met in Epernay and seen a couple of times on out travels. The only place available was on the outside of the harbour, opposite the factory and commercial boats and across a boat launching ramp. We took it and tied up, putting additional fenders at the points likely to be in contact with the steel wall.

We explored town and decided to have a drink at the Irish Pub and dinner at the grillade - pizza and pasta - great and very cheap.

Friday 28

We chatted with Markus and Else, the Dutch couple and made plans for a drink at 5.00 on board Van Nelle. As we planned lunch however another boat approached - a Beneteau First 30 with Australian and Japanese flags. It became clear that the Aussie male skipper and Japanese girl crew were not going to have an easy time of mooring as they went aground on their approach. We came to their assistance by hauling them across the mud to tie up alongside Van Nelle and invited them to lunch.

Some hours and three bottles of wine later, we had learned that they had met in Kosovo where they worked for aid agencies and were taking a well deserved break. Steve, an ex property developer who had gone bust, taken up photography and finally reverted to his engineering background to end up in Kosovo had bought the boat in Holland and was heading with Akeyo to the Mediterranean and some warmth. They like us had thought there were facilities like showers at this mooring and were disappointed. We offered the use of the shower and Akeyo took full advantage, staying under the hot water for some 300 litres - about 6 times the amount we use for a shower. Steve was a great deal more economical and soon it was time for drinks - which inevitably turned into a takeaway pizza dinner with more wine - lots more wine.

Saturday 29

Rain - lots of it, making a hangover partly bearable as I stayed in bed till about 11.00 without any guilty conscience. We had apparently partied until after 1.00am and I had then fallen asleep in one of the chairs listening to music, a bad habit of mine after parties !

I considered joining everyone’s hoses together to try to get from the tap to the two boats but Markus and Else quietly departed before I got the plan into action and I’m sure our two hoses and Steve’s one would not reach. We both have sufficient water however so it’s not an urgent necessity.

Some time later, as I was disturbed from this journal writing by Steve’s footsteps on the deck I popped up for a chat to see Wilanka slowly head past. She is a big Dutch barge that had been in our sights at one stage as a possible purchase. Unfortunately they passed by without stopping.

We ventured out to the market later - just to allay our guilty consciences - but it was a desultory affair and we returned to the boat empty handed.

Sunday 30 September

Time to leave our somewhat haphazard mooring here on the outside of the little harbour with the added challenge of getting Steve’s yacht out of the mud beside us and into the channel. It actually was a lot easier than we had anticipated and some shoving with a boat hook or two and a few extra revs of his little Yanmar engine and they were off towards the first of the locks.

We took our time to get organised to allow them to pass through the lock and have it ready for us to follow as we cannot fit in together. So about 30 minutes later as we turned the corner of the canal in our approach to the lock we were surprised to see their boat tied to the railing underneath the very wide railway bridge that guards the lock entry. We pulled alongside the under bridge path and also tied up to the railing and went on foot to find out what the delay was. Their report was that the lock was not only shut and unmanned - but secured with a padlock !

We made phone calls to local and the Paris office only to be told that it was Dimanche (Sunday) and so the lock was closed. This is not what is indicated in any of the navigation books and is a new one to all of us as it certainly does not occur anywhere else. So we made our way back to the outside of the marina and Steve’s yacht was again pulled alongside through the mud and we hunkered down for another day in Vitry.

Maureen and I went for a long walk with cameras and a bag to collect leaves for her new artistic arrangements. We explored the nearby dry dock for barges where two behemoths were sitting high and dry (actually low and dry) being painted and took some pics of picturesque nautical wrecks on the side of the canal. We had Steve and Akeyo over for dinner and planned an early start for the morning.

Monday 1 October

The day started out rainy and windy as we set off for the first of about 15 locks for the day. Getting Steve’s yacht off and running again proved easy and we followed soon after. Unfortunately, despite our early start a couple of other boats had started earlier and there was now a delay before every lock. We wanted to make St Dizier that evening but as the day wore on it became a race against the clock as we were last in the line of about four lockfulls with the painfully slow commercial ahead, not giving anything away.

Most of the day we spent leaving the lock and then just drifting towards the next one at just sterrage speed and still having to wait up to 30 minutes before our turn. This sort of travelling is painful and not really all that good for engine and gearbox etc as well. VERY frustrating.

About half way through the afternoon we allowed a yacht with a German crew past us to team up with another yacht ahead to eliminate one extra locking and that ended up slowing us down by just enough so that when we approached the last lock of the day - the barrier to St Dizier - it was 10 past 6.00pm and the lock was shut. We were therefore stranded in a section of canal alongside a French air force base. The sides of the canal were shallow with a gravel base at about 1 metre and less and the only suitable place to moor for the night appeared to be a turning area back about 300 metres.

I reversed Van Nelle the 300 metres and attempted to turn into the turning bay. The wind, which had been strong all day and had caused a lot of manoeuvering already now was full blast and not shielded by trees. It took a great deal of backing and filling to get lined up and then as we approached the wall inside the area we ran onto mud that had been allowed to build up over time. Fortunately we were not stuck hard as I had approached the area cautiously and we were able to back out and head across to the other side of the canal and the shallow wall. I managed to get the bow into the wall and Maureen secured us to it while I went in search of a log to prop the stern out from the shallow gravel. I found a suitable branch, secured it at the stern and tied us up for the night using our two 3 inch diameter water pipe mooring pegs drive into the clay banks with our new sledge hammer. That worked a treat and nothing would have moved us - if anything had still been moving on the canal - which of course was not the case.

Tuesday 2 October

Up at 6.00 and through the lock at 7.30 after a ride into town (about 10km there and back) to discover where we would moor in St Dizier. I discovered a large concrete pier with suitable bollards just through the third lock and after the place where Steve and the German yacht had stopped for the night. This was a good find as it enabled us to call up a fuel truck which arrived at 2.00pm to fill our tank. But first....

Having arrived and secured the boat we set off into the rather pretty town to get cash to pay the fuel company as they did not use credit cards, and then to do some shopping. I found a bank with a cash machine and put in my card. The transaction was nearly complete with the machine having accepted the card and the pin number and sounded like it was counting the money when a notice appeared saying "your card has been retained for security reasons" and the machine shut down. At this stage I had not checked to see if Maureen was nearby and when I looked I realised that I must have turned the corner to the bank unseen by her as she was not to be seen. I couldn’t leave to find her and had to enter the bank to retrieve the card.

Sorry, said the teller, the card will be returned to your bank for security reasons. But I am Australian, on a boat and this is the only means of getting cash - besides the fact that my bank is half a world away. Sorry. ‘Je suis desole’ ! I was getting ready to cry since I had observed that that seems to work for girls, when the younger teller referred me to the manager who reluctantly took his keys into the security room which held the machine. After some time he re-appeared, red faced and without the card and then hurried outside. Some time passed and I sighted Maureen on the other side of the square, disappearing in search of me. I couldn’t leave.

The manager re-appeared and conscripted another colleague and they split up, one inside the other outside. Time went by but no card. I went outside to watch and the other chap told me to stay at the machine (now ‘Out of Service’) and to grab the card if it re-appeared. Some time passed with the machine offering only a symphony of clicks, whirrs and whistles. Eventually the edge of the card popped into sight and I grabbed it and fought the machine for possession. I won, fortunately and took the card into the bank to do the transaction over the counter. Nope - no way - see ya later !

I left empty handed and searched for another bank to try again as I had to have the cash for the fuel. Just down the road a CIC bank was open and I made my way to the counter to ask for assistance. Fortunately I found a sympathetic assistant manager who took my into her office to transact a cash advance. A phone call to the credit company and four thousand francs was mine. Did I want more ? She inquired - I decided to take waht I had and try to find Maureen. No luck there - so back to Van Nelle to leave a note. While writing the note M turned up and we set off back to the supermarket to purchase lunch and other necessities. It was now 10 to 12.00 - almost time for the shop to shut so we were given a stern look and reminded as we entered that we had no time to lose.

I had another challenge to overcome as I had discovered that the fuel filter was now leaking and I needed a new washer to stem the dripping. First to find a workshop, then to explain what I wanted. A few minutes with the dictionary and I had the words I needed. I had seen a shop similar to a small ‘Marlows’ on the raod to town but my inquiry revealed he had no suitable offerings. He did however point out the way to another place which I found and explained what I needed. They kindly rifled through their stocks and found a couple of small but likely matches. I tried to pay but they would have none of it. Very kind. I headed back to the boat to change washers.

Unfortunately the hole in the middle was too small. I tried drilling one out and only succeeded in wrecking it. The other one acceded to my insistent drill and I managed to fit it. Unfortunately it did not seal sufficiently and I was presented with a continuing drip. This would have to be rectified later.

The fuel truck arrived at 2.00 and delivered the 500 - perhaps 600 litres I had ordered. There was room enough for another 50-70 litres I suggested but the driver refused saying that the office only gave him enough to fill the order and no more - Oh well. I paid and he left. Now all we needed was water and we would have been completely replenished. No taps at the back of any of the factory buildings that abutted the canal so we would have to wait for the water.

We visited the local hotel for lunch and were served the biggest rolls filled with ham and chicken and chips. Later we visited a canalside bar with the name ‘Navigator’s Bar’ and had a couple of beers until another customer arrived with a dog big enough to eat both of us and our sandwiches and still have room for the puppy that had been frollicking on the bar floor. We left before pooch became interested in us rather than the barman.

Wednesday 3 October

We departed at 0800 as arranged with the local eclusier as on this and subsequent stretches of canal we were to be accompanied by a travelling lock keeper. It was not much fun for the two young guys who took it in turns to open the lock gates allowing us in and then operating the sluices to fill and empty the locks as we made our way through the day of rain. We paid each a small tip and gave one a banana and an orange at lunch time. They made the day very easy and very quick and we arrived at Joinville - our chosen destination - at 3.00pm.

Joinville boasts a boat stop and it did have bollards (not enough) and water (from an ancient, pump like, aquifer). Getting the water required stuffing a hose end into the enormous delivery pipe and filling the area arond it with cotton waste, well packed into the void. Then, connecting a number of hoses together and watching over it all for about 4 hours as the water was slowly delivered. There was no power here nor showers so Steve’s girlfriend Akeyo was not a happy girl. We had a curry dinner and a chat with them and discussed future stopping places as they planned to leave the next morning.

I discovered another garage that had copper washers and again they handed over two refusing to take payment for them. One did the trick pretty well and the tide of dripping fuel was stemmed.

Thursday 4 October

Steve left and later in the day Richard and Linda Neville arrived. I had done my PP course at Cambrai with Tam and Di Murrell the previous October and Richard was also on the course. They have a lovely Tjalk which had seen them through a winter in Bruges and a cruise through the south of France from which they were now leaving for their second winter in Bruges. We looked over each other’s boats and arranged for a scratch dinner on board their boat.

I tried to arrange a conducted tour of the town’s historic buildings at the tourist office, as their brochure advertised three different walking tours. Sorry they said, we only do them in French and not in October and besides the monuments are all closed for winter. Fortuantely that was not the case with the Chateau de Grande Jardin so we headed of there to wander happily through the magnificent gardens and beautiful old building. Built as a pleasure house for one of the Dukes of Joinville, it had been converted to apartments and finally abandoned before being bought and converted into a performance facility by the prefecture. The interior of the building has been turned into a large room with smaller galleries at it’s ends and underneath a sort of bar for intervals. We were able to just wander about unheeded and afterwards found a marvellous wine map of France in their gift shop. We left and went on to wander the town shopping squares and discover the pretty church with it’s monuments to Jean d ‘Arc and the Dukes of Joinville who unfortunately died out with the death of the final (five year old) descendant.

Above the town are the ruins of another fortified chateau so we braved the steep path, having to leave our mountain bikes half way, to ramble over the ruins. Unfortunately there is almost nothing left of the chateau or its ruins as I suspect the locals have carried away the stones to build or extend their houses. We discovered some low walls and not much of a view as the trees have overgrown the site.

Another English couple arrived on their pretty wooden, clinker built boat, Roger and Linda. He operates deep sea submersibles on oil rigs in the North Sea and as he works a few weeks on and a lot of weeks off, he and his wife have plenty of time to cruise the canals.

We also tried the Visa card in another bank cash ‘distributeur’ but under the watchful eyes of the bank manager who was amazed to see it be swallowed up and then to send the machine ‘Out of Service’. He managed to retrieve the card which he then tried on his desk top card reader. It was given and very bad report and he suggested we have it replaced. Fortunately I had kept my previous card which now stands between us and starvation.

We spent the rest of the day taking pictures and buying a few odd bits and pieces for dinners and lunches.

Friday 5 October

A lovely day to do a long stretch as we had 50km and 20 locks to navigate through. We were accompanied on this sunny day by first and older very quiet woman and next by a younger, quite chatty femme. Despite the lovely day, scenery and easy time through the ecluses, 10 hours from 8.00am until 6.00pm without a break is a tough day and by the end of it we were just able to get a meal and hit bed.

As we arrived it appeared that we would have little room for Van Nelle and we actually tied the boat at an angle behind a VNF tug and on the outside of a projecting part of the steel wall. This are was outside the rather pretty but pricy marina quai which had power and water supplied. Where we were did not and as M made inquiries a couple of the other boatees decided to move a coupl of the other boats to make room for us. That was quickly done and Van Nelle moved to a far more suitable place, next to all facilities.

Steve and Akeyo were here as well as Markus and Else and Roger and Linda. He is a submersible operator on North Sea oil rig jobs and has lots of time off to cruise.

Saturday 6 October

Refreshed by a good night’s sleep we emerged to explore. M set off on the scooter as town is some 3 km distance. While she was away I fiddled with grease guns as I had noticed and small amount of water coming from the stern gland.

M arrived back with descriptions of a town with pretty, old buildings, small squares, a pretty church and a market. We mounted the scooter and set off up the hill in search of new discoveries. Parking the scooter outside the Jesuit College we wandered through the main part of town and admired 16th century houses and shops and later but quite ornate, other buildings. We heard sounds of an organ from the church and entered to find an organist rehearsing for a 3.00pm concert on Sunday. We decide to go to the concert after wandering through the church, inspecting the reliquaries to St Jean and others.

Back to the boat after buying supplies at a supermarket and lovely cheeses and sausages at the market to arrange drinks with the gang at 5.30. This inevitably turned into dinner at the nearby restaurant, a merry affair which left me with a hangover and an admonishment from M about the amount of ‘fun’ (wine) I was consuming. I will have to curb my thirst in future - although to be fair it was the two glasses at lunch, added to the three at drinks and four at dinner that had me undone.

BURGUNDY

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