Outskirts of St Diziers

Tom Fenton and Faith Ressmeyer
Mon 13 Oct 2014 20:36
48 37.379N 4 59.955E
All went pretty well at first this morning. Breakfast, Lidl, phone call to canal control asking if I could make it to St Dizier today (there is no laundry in Joinville, so I intended to defer for a day my plan of doing that and the oil change). I am assured that there is a laundry at St Dizier.

Then as I was thinking about casting off, a commercial barge overtook me. This was a disaster. Commercial barges and similar sized boats have to keep to 3kn when I am allowed to do 4kn. And they take much longer to get through locks. I knew I was stuffed.

I spent the next hour or more changing the engine oil and filter. My least favourite job, as regular readers will know. Then I set off at about quarter to twelve. I must have caught the barge by 3 and from then until seven I was behind it all the way. We could not fit in locks together. And I slowed my pace between locks, but still I found myself arriving at a lock while he was still locking in, and having to hover interminably.

The locks on this canal fill right to the brim. So the fenders are ineffective. You motor in and the idea is to ump off and stop the hull from scraping the concrete lip. Like this. These fenders were all dragging in the water as we approached.

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The weather has improved. It takes until 11 for the morning mist to clear, but after that the clouds broke a little to allow sunny patches, and I was able to dry some of what I was wearing in yesterday's rain. No new birds but still many herons (haven't seen an egret for a few days now), kingfishers, and marsh harriers. The canal is more unkempt than it gas been, and the organised avenues of ash have given way to rough self sown alder, and plane.

One of the best things today was a manual lifting bridge. The is not Provence (I should hope I have come further by now) but look at this and think of Van Gogh

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What you cannot see, I fear, is the man who is lowering the bridge manually. He drove past me from bridge to lock to bridge to ensure I could get through. Sometimes he showed up at automatic locks, apparently just to keep an eye on me. Never offered to help, though.

At 4 o'clock I asked him whether I would make St Dizier at this pace. He seemed to be reassuring, and I mugs have misunderstood him, but when I said, everything closes at 7, I thought he said he personally would make sure I was able to get through to St Dizier however long it took.

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As the sun set and night was falling I passed a couple of good moorings, but fearing that I might inconvenience my guardian VNF employee by failing to turn up at a lock he was personally holding open whole his wife was trying not to let the dinner burn, I kept going. Even the damned barge moored for the night, its rear end stuck right out in the channel, but I kept going, until I came to a lock where all the lights were out, and things had clearly closed for the night. By this time it was completely dark but I could just make out a canal sign post, the only thing I could find to mood to, though I am sure it is illegal. And so I am settled for the night, having just eaten half of a massive cauliflower from Lidl. I worked out this morning that I had about 513 kilometres, 103 locks and 90 hours to go. That means I should reach Dunkerque about 28 October. Then the Channel.

Foolishly, I have been thinking this week, give me Biscay any day. I am grateful to my friend Klaus Schaberg for pointing out that this week Biscay has lots of rain and up to 42 knots of wind, which counts as Force 9, severe gale, on the Beaufort scale. Makes yesterday's rain seem like a gift from heaven.

Thanks to my sister Kate, who suggested, in answer to my question about Joinville, that I might have read Jean de Joinville's 13th century account of Louis IX and a crusade (available in Penguin Classics). Regrettably I cannot claim to have read it, though I might have pretended to at some time in my life.