The Journey -
Our last few days in Saverne flew by, mainly because Dick and Jeannie came to stay. They are well known in certain boaty circles, mainly because they run an ex-Caggy Stevens boat into which they have installed a rather fine Kelvin engine - hardly surprising as Dick spends most of his life tending Kelvin engines. He and Jeannie have also attended the odd GIG. GIG? It's a Great Internet Get-together, held annually to bring together, face to face, boaty people who normally only meet on-line via the various canally news-groups and mailing lists.
Anyway, Dick and Jeannie came over on a 'family history' quest, researching an RAF pilot whose bomber was shot down whilst in the process of bombing structures on the Rhine. The crew survived the crash, but were shot by their German captors - which captors were tried and executed by the Allies at the end of the war (except for one who escaped from prison).
In view of this visit, and because Dick and Jeannie fancied a bit of continental cruising, we quit Saverne a few days ahead of schedule, on Thursday 29 March, heading roughly westish along the Canal de Marne au Rhine. The locks were up-hill, automatic and un-staffed, so we go through them quite quickly. Before we set out we did a car shuffle, locating one car at our start point (Saverne) and the other at our planned destination (Hesse). In the event, Hesse was a bit ambitious, so we had a nine-hour cruise through 13 locks and 29 kilometres. The mooring, in fact, was nearly a kilometre beyond the hire base at Hesse, on a convenient old quay. There is a mound beside it, that used to be serviced by a railway line - we suspect that it could have been a lime kiln or something similar. On arrival, the cooks stayed on board whilst the drivers went to bring the car, left in Saverne, up to Hesse.
The next morning we had a conference, and agreed on a slightly shorter day, so the car was shuffled to Port St Marie. When the cruise started it was much easier that the previous day, a mere 24 kilometres and four locks, completed in five hours. The Hesse mooring was on the summit level. There are several lakes there, some obviously artificial (to provide water for the canal), but others look natural. The great delight was the large number of the rare black kites to be seen soaring above us.
The first lock down was a biggie - a 15 metre deep one, that replaced five three-metre locks. We only worked through three more locks before arriving at Port St Marie where we stayed the night.
On the Saturday, our last day with Dick and Jeannie, we spent four hours cruising 25 kilometres and descending eight locks, finally arriving at Einville sur Jard. At this point the crew of Rosy were due to go for a meal out, but were prevented from so doing. This was largely because Jeannie had spent most of the day blitzing Rosy's kitchen, and succeeded in eradicating every speck of dust, dirt and ingrained gunge. At the end of this Herculean task she needed a personal de-gunge, and by then the local restaurants had shut up shop. So we had to raid the 'iron rations' box (in which I keep about three weeks' worth of tinned and dried food, and pulses etc., so that I can retire from the world for a few weeks when the next flu epidemic hits us). This produced a nutritious meal of curried tuna and rice - with the offer of sardines as a starter which was rejected by all but Fanny. This rather un-enterprising meal was overshadowed by the alcoholic accompaniments - beer, moussec, red wine and a lot more beer.
The next morning we said a sad farewell to Dick and Jeannie, and decided to have a day of rest.
The following morning, a Monday, we were off at 9 am, on warm and sunny day. The canal was quite delightful, and seemed to take us through crow country, lots of rookeries and, hence, lots of rooks, plus jays and magpies. At lock 22 the scenery changed, and we were surrounded by a decaying industrial landscape, interspersed with some newer industrial buildings, with their attendant pipes and conveyor belts that crossed the canal.
We moored a few hundred metres below lock 23 on a low quay beside a busy road. Bollards were a bit scarce, so we both tied one end of our respective boats to a sign that warned us that passenger boats had priority for the purposes of mooring.
Tuesday was another warm day. We descended two locks - both were doubled, but like the other doubled locks on this canal, only one is used. Immediately after the second lock we turned sharp left onto the Embranchment Nancy, and got stuck at the first lock that refused to do anything. Eventually a VNF person hove into view, with the news that one has to give 24 hours' notice for the use of the canal. We expressed surprise at this, as no such information was given to us when we bought our VNF licence in Saverne, and there is no notice anywhere on the approaches to the first lock that such advance notice needs to be given. We put over these points in a rather more friendly way that this narrative might suggest, and it was agreed that we could continue together with the zappers that were handed over to us - these are pointed at a zapping point, and initiate a lock sequence. So, on this fully automated flight of locks, a bevy of VNF personnel drive up and down, setting all the locks and sorting out any hold-ups. In part these hold-ups occur because some of the locks are very close together. So close, that when zapping the next lock to nudge it into operation, the lock that one has just exited thinks that you are a boat approaching it, and, hence, waits for you so to do. It stays waiting for about five or ten minutes, holding up the boats following you.
This short canal, about 15 km long, has 18 locks on it, and passes over a summit level. On our way, we met an hotel barge with Bernard on it - an old friend from Gent who has given up taxidermy for barging, and is working towards his skipper's ticket. He claims that Rosy was the major influence that initiated this career change.
At the far end of the Embranchment, we turned left (south eastish) onto the Canal de l'Est Branch Sud. Leastways, that is what it used to be called, in the days of 'commercial' canals. Now that most of the commercial barges have deserted this canal, as it can only accommodate peniche-sized barges, a newer, sexy name has been thought up for it, to appeal to us pleasure boaters. It is now Le Canal des Vosges. We pootled up to the mooring at Richardmenil which promised water and electricity - neither of which were operational. Mooring was a trifle tricky, as the sunny weather had deteriorated, and strong winds started to blow across the canal, pushing us away from the mooring. We managed the mooring manoeuvre OK. About an hour later, an unladen peniche, partially converted into a live-aboard, came along, crewed by a young couple. They also wanted to moor, and there was plenty of room on the quay, but the windage on their high sided craft would have made the job tricky, even if they had known how to achieve their aim - which they didn't. It took them more than an hour to get themselves settled, most of which was spent broadside across the canal, with Ma'am standing on the stern deck, trying to pull the stern in, by hand, with a rope attached to a convenient bollard on shore. Needless to say she failed, though as she was gloveless, I guess that her hands will be sore for a few days.
The following day was cold - really cold. We had a four-hour cruise through six locks and 16 km and then called it a day by a silo just above the lock at Roville devant Bayon. We then issued ourselves with a rum ration. The locks were all manual, so a lock-keeper motors ahead to set the locks, and to do all the gate opening and paddle winding. We still had our zappers from the Enbranchment de Nancy, and we guess that the VNF guy forgot to collect them from us.
The silo was inhabited by an army of cats that kept Fanny busy chasing them away. The immediate village is shop-less, but Bayon itself is quite near with several good bread shops.
The following day, a Thursday, we quit the mooring in warmer weather, and had a pleasant four hours' cruise to Charmes. The young river Moselle accompanies the canal, and the surrounding scenery is very pleasant. The woodlands bordering the canal still show chaotic signs of the great storm that swept through France seven or eight years ago - or the mouldering timber could date back to the massive 1980s storm.
Charmes is a strange town. A wide variety of visiting armies have burned it down, but the persistent towns folk keep rebuilding it, and, surprisingly, still encourage strangers to visit them. The Port du Plaisance has lots of electric and water points, though as we required neither, we moored on the opposite bank. We were the only pleasure craft around, but the quay was busy with over 50 motor caravans, which are charged 6 Euros a night for their water and electric hook-ups. On the other side of the canal, where we were, there is a pétanque court and a caravan site. The church has a modern stained-glass window; a rather good stone carving of the body of Christ being prepared for burial; and a memorial to the 150 or so citizens who were carted off to German camps and many of who died in the hands of 'the barbarous Nazis'. There are also, of course, plenty of bread shops, a Match supermarket (with a bigger Leclerc not far away), numerous places to eat, several bars (including Le Kilt) and a helpful Office de Tourisme. What more can one ask for?
I've just had a wonderful delivery of books.
John Betjeman's 'Summoned by Bells' is his autobiography in verse. For those who like his seemingly simple verses it is quite lovely. Such folk may also like to listen to Betjeman reading some of his poem on the 3 CDs he made, on which he is accompanied by Jim Parker et al playing a 1920s style jazz accompaniment. However, skip the poem about Venice to avoid hearing Betjeman's appalling pseudo American accent, and pay attention to the poem about Capt Webb (who claimed to be the first man to swim the Channel) as it mentions the 'old canal that carries the coals to Lawley'.
'The Fatal Shore' by Robert Hughes is not for the squeamish or faint hearted. It is a history of British settlement in Australia covering the period from the first to last of the convict ships - and a bit beyond. It also deals with the politics in the UK that caused the convicts to be sent in the first place. It reminds us that most of the convicts were convicted of minor crimes - stealing a pair of shoes, for example, or indulging in trades union activities. It also gives graphically ghastly descriptions of the maltreatment of the convicts both en route to Australia and whilst there. It shows how beastly those in charge can be, and how arrogant underlings can override their superiors. It neatly explains some of the current differences between Tasmanian and Australian society today, by reference to their dissimilar experiences during the convict era. It's a big book - some 600 pages long, but well researched and written BUT, as I said, not for the squeamish.
There are others, yet to be read.
That's it for now, folks!!