The Journey -
The simple answer is that although it is technically feasible and, indeed, simple, to pick up Sky in Europe, legally it is a no-no, as it infringes Sky's transmission licence. So the following is mere hearsay and rumour.
Further more, there are several excellent web sites explaining how to do it. Try, for example, www.bigdishsat.com
First off, you need a friend with a UK address and a TV licence. They have to do everything for you, and they have to pretend that the system is theirs, and that it will be in their house/caravan/boat, located somewhere in the UK. Sky would like you to attach a phone (UK, obviously) to the digibox, but there is nothing they can do to force you to do this.
These UK friends can take out a standard Sky contract, and get a standard Sky card, for you. Or, they can pay Sky some £20 for a Free to View card that gets you BBC programmes, ITV programmes, an amazing number of radio channels (including all the BBC stations) and a variety of other stations including some shopping channels and some of the (tamer?) adult channels. They used to include the Turner Movie Channel, but this now seems to have been dropped, and although Channel 4 is included, More 4 seems not to be.
You get your digibox from a digibox retailer. The nice people at BigDishSat will, for example, sell you one, as I guess, would the gentlemen in the electronics shops in the Tottenham Court Road.
You will also need a satellite dish, an ability to mount it on your boat, and a system for moving it, so that it can tilt up and down, a face any direction.
Finally, you will also need a meter. Some places will try to sell you one for £50 to £150, which is very high tec looking, and smothered in LEDs. This will work OK, but no better than a cheaper (£15 to £30) 'swing needle' meter available, for example, from Maplins. Caravan shops also seem to stock them.
The stinking rich can pay a touch over £1200 for an automatic, self seeking dish that will enable you to watch TV whilst cruising along - so long as you avoid tunnels, cuttings and deep locks.
Suffice it to say that the Sky satellite is to the south of east. Several of the websites confuse matters, by giving a bearing to the satellite (the bearing varies depending on the latitude (and, I think) longitude, of the receivers) as x degrees, meaning x degrees east of south.
You really need someone to physically demonstrate to you how to find the satellite - after the demo, it all becomes obvious.
The meter has to be connected in-line, between the dish and the digibox. It needs to be close to the dish so that when setting up the dish, the meter is easily viewable. BUT the meter reduces the signal, so that when you are locked on to the satellite, the meter needs to be taken out of the line. BUT, the digibox sends a 12 volt current up the line to the LNB, and if this line is shorted out, the digibox tends to burn out, and needs replacing. It is useful to turn the digibox off AT THE MAINS before inserting or removing the digibox from the circuit.
It is also useful to connect the meter into the circuit using the more substantial co-ax connectors, rather than the usual F-connectors.
On most boats, Sir is up top, twiddling with the dish and watching the meter, whilst Ma'am is downstairs watching the signal strength meter that you can. get on-screen. They inevitably start shouting at each other, as Ma'am's on-screen Sky meter can seriously lag Sir's swing needle. The Sky meter often only shows the correct reading if the didgibox is switched off at the mains, and then switched on again. Listening to a dysfunctional couple trying to get their system locked onto Sky is one of the modern forms of un-missable canal-side entertainment.
Finally, the digibox consumes the same amount of electricity whether the on-off button glows red (off) or green (on). Hence, to save battery power, when not watching the box, the digibox should be switched off at the mains. On Rosy, I also switch off the inverter, and use alarm clocks to tell me when the next 'must-see' programme is - unless, of course, we are connected to shore power.
Hope this helps!!
ON WITH THE VOYAGE
We left on Monday morning, the morning after the defeat of France in the World Cup soccer finals. French footy fans, having got in the fireworks in preparation for a victory, let them off anyway on Sunday night. All the folk I have spoken too are supportive of poor Zinidan Zidane, and assume that he was subject to some sort of verbal abuse. The man himself is said to be making a statement in a couple of days time.
On leaving Abbecourt, we turned right (and southish) onto the Canal de l'Oise à l'Aisne. The first lock is controlled by a lock keeper, but the rest are d-i-y French style, TITS (that is to say) they are automatic, requiring the boater to push up a single rod when ready to ascend (or descend). The inlet of water into the uphill locks is quite gentle, though rapid, and is fed by a pipe down the middle of the lock, so that the up-welling of the incoming water tends to keep the boats against the lock walls. Such locks can be reasonably safely negotiated without the use of ropes (though the regulations require ropes to be used).
The canal is pretty straight. It was one of the canals constructed in the late 1800s by Freycinette. Along it, as at Abbecourt, there are occasional vestiges of the old railway system. Narrow gauge railways were laid alongside canals, and diesel engines (called 'mules') were used to bow-haul barges. The system was in use until fairly recently, and meant that, in this part of France, extensive use was made of (cheaper) 'dumb' barges (as engineless barges are called). Nearly all the lock houses have been well maintained, and the gardens and lock-sides are neat, tidy and smothered in flowers. The distant fortress at Coucy-le-Château stands out, magnificent and stark, on the horizon.
We moored at Pinon, just before the bridge. The mooring happens to be beside a supermarket, and, during the day, a succession of working barges pulled in for brief stops to replenish supplies.
We then had a short journey up to the summit level, and moored immediately after clearing the top lock at Pargny-Filain. We chose, as our overnight stop, to moor against the steel pilings on the left hand (eastern) side, rather than on the smart mooring on the opposite side. These provide water and electricity (Yippeee!!) and charge 7 Euro whether or not such facilities are used (Booo!!). The reservoir for the canal is a organised as a water sports area, with an absence of powered craft, though the peace of the countryside was disturbed by youths, riding highly tweaked (and hence very noisy) mopeds and small-engined motor bikes. Fortunately, they were riding quite fast, and were not wearing crash helmets, so one could speculate that they won't be in circulation for very much longer.
We visited the rather grotty Bar d'Ecluse, where I had a simple but excellent meal a few years ago, but they hadn't any food on offer. So we went instead to the nearby Auberge du Lac. The food here is extremely good, as is the wine list. Expect to pay a minimum of 25 Euros per head.
The next day, we cruised along the summit level, passing through the Braye tunnel (km 2.365 long), and descended the chain of 4 locks. 'Chained' locks have to be navigated in one go - there is no stopping on the way through them. The canal continues down to the Canal Lateral de l'Aisne. At the junction there is a village (Bourg-et-Comin) and a pontoon mooring with water and electricity - all free!! Just round the corner, on the Canal Lateral de l'Aisne, there is a lock, and a longish mooring/lock waiting area.
The following day was to be 14 July, a national holiday, and hence all the locks would be closed. A peniche was already moored up.
We fitted neatly onto the pontoon mooring, leaving a couple of metres spare at one end. I got stuck into cleaning and hovering Rosy, in preparation for some visitors who may/will be arriving within the next couple of weeks.
I then heard a 'Hello', and coming out onto the pontoon found a Dutch cruiser hovering beside us, with Madame trying to find some-one to talk to. So she asked me if we could move up a bit as they needed more room to move. I explained that we couldn't, as we were moored up with Temujin's bows already overhanging the end of the mooring. We were constrained by the mooring points on the pontoon and the dollies etc on the boats. Madame then adopted the wheedling voice. Could we just shift up a little bit? Certainly, ma'am, twenty centimetres do you, 'cos that's all the leeway we had. However, I pointed out that they were more than welcome to moor along side. Madame explained that they could not possibly do this as they had a large dog that needed to get ashore. At this pointy Fanny-the-Woof joined in, and told them to bugger-off. I quietened Fanny down, and said that if they moored alongside, there was easy access for them to the shore across Rosy's front deck. This enraged Madame for some reason. I think she fancied Rosy and Temujin breasting up, and allowing her to moor alongside, or preferably, just evaporating.
In fact, breasting up (or 'rafting-up' as Thames boaters call it) is something that we often do, but we both wanted alongside moorings as we both have painting jobs to do on our boats. I suggested to Madame, once more, that she was more than welcome to moor alongside - an offer she again refused, citing her dog - or that she could moor on the lock layby. She again rejected this latter invitation, and said that the lock layby was only for commercial craft, so I went downstairs to get on with what I'd been doing.
I came up half an hour later. They were moored on the lock layby, and were in deep conversation with the folks on the barge, explaining to them (judging by the glances towards us) what difficult people we are.
I don't like such confrontations. I like to think of myself as a reasonably pleasant, helpful sort of a fellow, ready and willing to lend a hand to someone in need. However, I wouldn't dream of trying to turf some-one off a good mooring, and onto a second rate one, merely for the personal convenience of myself and Fanny, so I take a dim view of someone who tries to do the same to me.
The next day, Jul 14, was a holiday with all the locks closed, so I finally started on the roof. The problem is that the base layer of paint on Rosy's roof - red oxide I think - is still quite good. A quick layer of, I think, some sort of red floor paint, was applied to prettier her up prior to her being sold to me. This layer has broken up in places. If I merely clear up the broken up patches, and then over-paint, the patches will still show up under the top coat. To sand the whole roof down would use an incredible amount of sand paper AND take an age. The solution is to scrape all the paint off to get back to bare metal, apply a good base layer (I have some good quality red oxide) and then to put some red floor paint on top of that.
The base layer of paint currently on the roof is very well adhered, so getting it off will take some time. I'm using a calor-gas blow lamp to apply a little heat, and my new Bosch scraper to remove the paint. A quick sanding down then provides a very good surface for the paint. Even so, its still going to be a 12 to 15 hour job, so I'm hoping for a spell of fine weather - not too hot though.
I made a start at Bourg et Comin.
In between the painting sessions, I got crosser and crosser with the French. There is a tourist information sign beside the mooring, with interpretation notes in French, English and German. The English stuff has been translated from the French by (I'm 100% sure) a French person. Translation from (for example) French into English should always be done by an English native speaker or, at the very least, should be checked by an English native speaker. Otherwise it the translation comes out wrong.
So, for example, the sign in question informs us that a canal bridge enables a canal to cross over a road, railway or waterway. WRONG. A canal bridge allows a road or railway to cross over a canal. A canal crosses a road, railway or river on an aqueduct.
The other annoyance was the phrase: " provides a moving testimony to the heritage of World War 1". I've scratched my head over this one for ages, and have come to the conclusion that it is meaningless, as is the original French!! Even using the alternative meaning of the French words, the phrase comes out as " provides moving evidence of the heritage of World War 1", which is also devoid of meaning. I've put it down to the overuse of the word 'heritage', a fault which many in the heritage industry are prone to. Ditto the word 'historical', which, along with 'heritage' appears several times on most of the editorial pages of most issues of the canal related magazines.
(That's the rant of the day over!)
The next day was a Saturday. We left Bourg-et-Comin and spent 4 hours plugging up the Canal Lateral de l'Aisne to arrive, after one lock at Le Grande Large of Berry-au-Bac. A 'bac' is a ferry, and this bac used to allow a crossing of the river Aisne which parallels the canal. A Grande Large is a widening of the canal into a basin, where boats may congregate. On our last visit, a couple of years ago, the Grande Large had quite a few elderly, disused, dilapidated barges moored up, and an elderly, rusting dredger. All have now vanished. Three barges were moored for the weekend. A few more pleasure craft arrived after us, but there is plenty of room there for mooring.
As we settled down for the weekend, I was awoken by a barking and excited Fanny-the-Woof. Outside, our friends George and Helen on the barge Floan were negotiating the turn into the lock that will take them up to Rheims. Beside this lock is the old café and general store that Hugh McKnight shows on page 21 of Cruising French Waterways (3rd edition). I don't think the shop sells paint or cordage any more, but it IS still there and open.
The right-angled turn into the lock is very tricky for downstream barges, as the entrance is set in a side cut, and is invisible to the steerer at the back of the barge until the barge has turned 75 to 80 degrees of the 90 degree turn. By that time, it is too late if the steerer has got it wrong, and a collision with the stone-walled bank becomes inevitable. The crunches in the stone that such comings together are not unusual.
Mike and I then went for a short outing.
This area was where the French faced the Germans during WW1. Just outside Berry-au-Bac is a crossroads where French tanks first went into action. This was a few months after the British escapade at Cambrai. The French assault was not a particular success, as the tanks were decimated by artillery fire. However, it is claimed that the lessons learned there led to an improvement in tank tactics which, ultimately lead to the end of WW1.
Personally, I was always under the impression that what caused the end of WW1 was the not any improvements in tactics, but the arrival of the Americans, who turned the tide of the great 1918 German advance - but I could be wrong!!!
The cross roads now has a large memorial, some interpretation boards, and a modern armoured car and tank on display.