Monday October 14. Going downhill on the Saone.

Written by Jack van Ommen on October 15th, 2013

Since the last blog, a week ago, from Chalons sur Marne, I have not been anywhere close to an internet connection. This morning I did the last 4 or 5 locks on the canal entre Champagne et la Bourgogne  at KM 255 and made it into Verdun (sur le Doubs) at KM 167 on the Saone. So, I am going at a much faster rate than the last two weeks slugging up to the 1250 feet summit. That is 88 k.m. just in about 8 hours. There were only three locks and I have probably about two knots of current with me. Compare that with my 30 or so k.m’s for the day and 31 locks on Friday. I am copying below what I had already written for the previous days. I took a nice long shower here at the city’s marina on the river Doubs. This not the Verdun of the 1st WW battles. That is Verdun sur le Meuse.

I should be in Lyon on Wednesday evening.

Yesterday, Sunday, I did not try to find which of the 10 odd villages/hamlets near me would have the privilege of the visiting priest. I spent about 45 minutes at one lock because the radar did not pick me up to start the automated lock. I was told that swinging a frying pan at the radar post should do the trick I went back three times but the lock stayed locked. Then fortunately a small Dutch power boat from Hillegom, was recognized by the radar and I then traveled all day with them. The owner of the boat was a 26 year old Frenchman, Charles, who had bought the boat in Holland and his two friends Thomas and Max helped him bring it to Macon further down on the Saone, in Burgundy. Delightful young men. Last night we had a sundowner on their boat. Max is a photographer and works in the French ski resorts in the winter. Thomas has a degree in physical education and also spends his winters as a ski instructor. Charles has designed software for digital charts of the European waterways. I am back in milder temperatures now, mid sixties F after a couple cold nights at the higher altitudes.

The landscape through the higher hills in Champagne and the Cote d’Or is gorgeous. Small villages, and freshly plowed fields made ready for the next crops. Everywhere the peculiar smell of the wood fired stoves, reminding me of my first winter visits to the Bavarian Alps when I was a teenager.

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Wednesday, October 9. On the canal Between Champagne and Burgundy.

Today I made very little progress. 37 KM. One could have walked this distance in less than 12 hours. Yesterday at around 4 p.m. I was told in one of the locks that there was a small problem up ahead. Navigation was blocked from lock # 63 onward for an undetermined time because there were some exercises/tests with nuclear armament going on at the air force base near St. Dizier, along the canal. It was suggested that I stay the night at lock # 66 and discouraged from going on to lock # 63 because of the “Gens du Voyage”. I first understood it to be “agence de voyage” (travel agency) but it turned out to be a polite form for Gypsies. Well, I had never met a bad gypsy yet. So I decided to go on to lock 63 because I wanted to keep going till dusk. I was told that someone from the “V.N.F.” , the public agency that maintains the waterways, would come and tell me when the travel ban would be lifted.  I had understood there to be a quay to moor to at lock 63, next to the Gypsy encampment. But there was nothing, so, I dropped my anchor and settled in. Around 8 p.m. a couple of the Gypsy urchins threw a rock against the boat and at 10.45 p.m. another one. I loaded my flare gun with a charge and lay in wait to get me a gypsy rascal. But no one showed.  This morning no one came from the V.N.F. but another French boat informed that the passage was clear. Then it turned out that the little Gypsy bastards had broken the red and green lenses of the lock signals and all that was left was one white light. Now, let me be clear: I am not trying to stereo-type the little Gypsy bastards.  When I was their age I did worse. This stretch is all uphill, from before Reims. I have another 50 uphill locks to go through and then it will be all downhill to the Med. It takes about 15 minutes for each lock whereas in the earlier downhill locks I timed myself at 4 minutes. Twice, today I had to wait for a roving V.N.F. attendant to come and reset the automatic lock systems. The first took a one hour wait the second about an extra 45 minutes. Frustrating. On the first delay I crossed the lock to pull the alarm and I slid on really slimy ground and fell flat on my ass. I could have slid into the lock. The water actually rises to over the lock surface, leaving a cover of slime. The fenders float up on the surface. The unseasonal high temperatures we had for the last two weeks are history, as of tomorrow, the “Meteo” has promised. It started raining in the last two hours today.

Friday  October 11. Wednesday it rained off and on all night. The temperature dropped in the fifties. It threatened to rain all day with heavy dark clouds but I was spared the worst. Thursday was again a slow progress day. The routine at the locks is to click the remote control, then wait for the lock to empty and rise about 8 feet. This all takes about 15 minutes, so in a 10 hour day with 18 locks you spend 4 ½ hours of it in the locks. Thursday I made it to lock 29 at K.M. 101.  Today, Friday, I stopped at  Riolamportlock 9 k.m. 139. Twenty locks and 38 k.m., another short distance day. It was early enough to walk in to the town and do some provisioning. I tried to find an internet connection, but faiIed.

Oct 12. Saturday Evening Post:  I am at lock 22, k.m. 182, a 43 k.m. day.  I left from lock 9 (before the hump) at 9 a.m. At the 1250 foot summit I went though my last tunnel, 3,8 km. This means that I went through at least 31 locks today; that might be a record. Today my VNF (Voies Navigables de France) companion was Rudi. Yesterday it was Emanuel. On this stretch many of the locks are manually operated, and also some of the draw/bascule bridges.  So, my companion rushes from lock to lock in his V.N.F. compact p.u. truck. If this were Holland he’d be using his bicycle and get an allowance for his flat tire repairs. It is common courtesy to give these men a tip. They were essential in giving me advice as to where to find a good spot to spend the night, etc. It was in the low forties this morning.  My hands were purple cold handling the wet muddy lines in the locks. But it warmed up later in the day and I am at last descending to lower and warmer levels.

 

 

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