Everyday on the canal brings new surprises.
Grete & Fred Vithen
Sat 15 Nov 2014 16:48
Yesterday we had a “canal angel” helping us all day. There is very little traffic on the canals at this time of year….few barges and virtually no “pleasure boats” like us.so a lot of the system is closed and the few that are open require us to let the VNF (the canal management division) know where we are going to stop overnight and what time we want to get through the first lock in the morning. And the locks are all different in how they open……some have an operator in a control cabin, opening on demand, for others we are given a remote control which we use as we approach a lock (or a bridge), others are activated by us twisting a tube which is suspended over the canal about 200 metres before the lock, and others have to be manually opened by winding a winch! With the hanging pipe, I have had to intervene between Fred and Grete to avoid bloodshed when Fred approaches to fast or off line, for Grete or me (Max) to grab the tube. At our first lock yesterday, we were stuck because we hadn’t realised we were supposed to notify the VNF. We used the emergency intercom at the lock to seek help. 10 minutes later, this really bad looking guy turns up ( We christened him Quasimoto, if that tells you anything). He had a face only a mother could love…..but then he smiled….hardly a tooth in his mouth but instant transformation! He approached Grete first and for some reason she directed Quasimoto to me and said, “That guy speaks French” Well, we had an interesting conversation and I think we actually reached a consensus. He “leapfrogged" us all day, even winding the winch to open the manual bridges as we approached…….and he would patiently crawl along behind us on the narrow track beside the canal, matching our 6kms per hour, all day. We can’t go faster because our wash will damage the fragile canal edges. Fred gave Qusimoto a bottle of wine at the end of the day and you’d have thought he’d won the lottery. We laughed about the size of his compact van……..any bigger and it wouldn’t have fitted on the track……any smaller and he could not have got in it.
Today we had a new guy shepherding us, but he wasn’t so diligent. He popped up midway between our 5th and 6th lock this morning and talked rapidly in French to us from his van. We are sure that he in instructed us to drop our remote control in the mail box of the residence adjacent to the next lock……which we did, expecting that he would be manually controlling the next 3 locks before our destination, Chaumont, today. We arrived at Lock 6 and realised we had misunderstood. So Max was despatched on a bicycle to go back to Lock 5 and retrieve our remote, while Fred and Grete would tie up Sans Peur close to the lock to await my return. Back at lock 5, no one was at home and the mail box was locked. I tried to engage the help of a couple of passing local women, but they were a bit wary of me I think. Anyway, they watched as I first tried to stick my hand into the mail box, and then with concern as I wrenched the box open. When I raised my “prize”, they worked out what was happening and laughed. I cycled back to lock 6 and thought “I'll save some time here by clicking the remote as I approach” What I didn’t understand was that because the bow of Sans Peur was obstructing a “safety beam”, the system went into lock down. So I had to call up our VNF guy on the emergency intercom and try to explain what had happened. Not sure he understood a thing, but he turned up after about 20 minutes, looking perplexed, and we were soon underway again.
Like I said…..new surprises everyday.
One of the highlights of the last few days has been crossing the viaducts. There is something a bit magical about gliding across a bridge of water suspended over a fast flowing river. This canal was built in the 1880s and it is absolutely amazing. How did they do it?
48 07 09 N 05 09 22 E
Vieville to Chaumont, 17 km, Ecluse 32 to 25 (8 locks), 1 aqueduct (passing over river Marne), 1 tunnel, 4 bridges has to be opened
Did we screw up big time? Yes. The guy from VNF tried to explain for us that at some point we needed to return our lock remote control.
Easy to misunderstand when one is speaking English and the other person just French. We thought we had to leave the remote at next lock.
So we did.
Approaching the next one realising we needed it again. Are we suckers.
We managed to moore outside the lock, put Max ashore with the bike. Off he went back to
Fed and Grete moored up nice and close to the lock,(too close, as it turned out) while Max (photo under) retrieved the remote.
Tunnel de Condes, 308 m (easy)