St. Jean to Bruges 2008
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The rain cleared as we sailed sedately up the river Saône to our first stop at Auxonne where we walked into town and stocked up for the voyage ahead as we knew we would find little sustenance for the next few nights until we reached Langres on the Canal de la Marne à la Saône. The river was already starting to rise after the two days of heavy rain we had just experienced so our objective was to get a little way up the canal that day and we managed to reach Renêve with the sun still shining. The next day was also fair weather and we berthed at the new quay at Cusey we had noticed was almost complete the previous year. They had not managed to connect the electricity but apart from two locks on which they were working, all the locks from the Saône had now been mechanised and we passed several commercial barges on their way down, including "Pedro", one of the few UK owned and operated commercial barges on the European waterways and DBA members to boot.
The cruise up to Villegusien-le-Lac was miserable in continual rain. It stopped on our arrival and we went into the village but all the shops had closed down. The final leg up the eight automatic locks, through the 4820m long Balesmes tunnel and down into Langres was uneventful where we settled down for a few days until our New Zealand guests arrived. The arrival of Byron and Terry Bently heralded a change in the weather which remained fine and sunny throughout their stay. The day before their arrival we caught an early train back to Dijon, recovered our car and took it to the Daihatsu dealer where they replaced the dud shock absorber FOC. The Bentlys hire car was dumped at Froncles Halte Nautique and we returned to Langres in Desmond Daihatsu the pretty way, finishing the day rampaging around the ramparts in glorious weather.
We cruised down this pretty canal which now follows the course of the river Marne as far as Foulain and cleared the local youth from the mooring who were using it as a swimming platform. That night we BBQ'd on the quay and went to bed alcoholically challenged! Chaumont was only three hours cruise downstream which was our next stop. It was the end of August so France was still en vacance and it took several phone calls to find a taxi to take us the 2km up the hill to the city centre. After a walk around town where we discovered, amongst other sights, the Arse Tower, the girls went shopping while the boys downed cold beer in the afternoon sunshine. We finished in a local restaurant and failed in our quest to find a taxi for our return so walked back to the port. Another lovely days cruising down to Froncles where we discovered that the canal was closed at St. Dizier due to lock malfunctions so we could not continue for several days until repairs were completed.
After Byron and Terry set off by car for Turin, the weather began to deteriorate. I discovered more spokes broken in my rear bicycle wheel so it was replaced in a Chaumont bicycle repair shop. While we waited for the shop owner to return from his three hour lunch we found an ATM to get some cash. It was out of order and as I retrieved the card I accidentally dropped it and watched in horror as it disappeared down a crack between the step in front of the machine on which I was standing and the wall of the bank. We looked at each other and our joint reaction was "I don't believe that has just happened!" We checked the opening times of the bank which came back from its long lunch in an hour and a half. I then studied the step in front of the machine which was a steel fabrication, managed to lift it and with some relief retrieved my card!
After a few days at Froncles we decided to travel down by car to St Dizier to see what was happening with the locks. We found the two long pounds each side of the damaged lock completely drained but the repairs to the lock seemed to be largely complete and we reckoned they might need another couple of days to refill the canal. As predicted the canal reopened on Sunday 7th September so we set sail for Joinville and below is a map of our cruise so far this year.
The French canal authority VNF publishes a list of planned lock closures of which we had a copy. In addition we have a computer program which, together with the ships GPS navigator, is like a Satnav in a car and I download a list of obstructions regularly. When we planned the voyage from St Jean we did not factor in an unplanned stoppage of 8 days and now we faced a planned lock closure on the canal lateral a la Marne until the 27th September which meant we could not get to Sillery, where we had intended to leave Harmonie, before the 19th September for our 10 day trip back to the UK. We therefore decided to stay put in Joinville until the 18th, then drive to Bruges to check out our winter mooring, over to the UK, leaving the car in Bruges on our return and catching the train back to Joinville on 30th September. The computer program tells us there are no scheduled lock closures on our chosen route back to Bruges which is 550km and should take us a minimum of 14 days. The alternative would be a huge 200km detour via Sedan and that route closes on 28th September so we would have had to get to somewhere off the canal de la Meuse and on to the Canal des Ardenne by the 19th, otherwise we would be stuck for another month on our return. Not an option we cared to contemplate!
Americans Jim and Nancy Ryan, in their little barge Jean Marie, had travelled down with us from Froncles. Aussies Bob and Heather Smith arrived in their cruiser Robert and Kiwis Simon and Susan in their cruiser Second Lady breasted up to us so the eight of us shared a few glasses on Harmonies foredeck until the temperature dropped after the sun went down and we all started to get hungry.
The weather alternated between hot and cold, sun and rain. We visited the local chåteau which is known as le grand jardin as it is famous for the renaissance gardens surrounding it. We pinched some sage leaves for the saltinbocca from the herb garden but the chåteau itself was completely enclosed in a huge shed as it was being restored inside and out. We visited the local internet cafe, booked accommodation in Bruges and our return by Norfolk Lines ferry Dover/Dunkerque for only £15, an absolute bargain.
During one sunny afternoon I did some painting and sat down afterwards to enjoy a cold beer from the bottle. A wasp was worrying me so I looked around for the swatter but by the time I had found it the wasp had disappeared. I found the wasp with the next swig of beer as it had crawled into my beer bottle and it promptly stung me on the tongue so I spat it out and killed it! Painful though. My mate Murdo would have probably ate it as I remember him munching a wasp sandwich many years ago!
Sad news from home arrived as two of my old mates died. George Alden was my Edinburgh flat mate, golfing partner and folk group singing colleague for some years in the late sixties and Tony Jarret, known as Jrat, a caving companion and friend of many years from my days with the Shepton Mallet Caving Club and later the Grampian Speleological Group.
We drove up to Bruges on the 19th September and visited the harbour master at the Coupure which is to be our winter mooring, then down to Calais the next morning and through the tunnel which had a very restricted service due to a fire on a lorry being carried through the previous week which had closed one of the two tunnels.
On down to Somerset the next day, the 23rd of September 2008 being Sues coming of great age. I am now married to a pensioner whilst my mate Chris Hockey is now married to a college student! The Hockeys had invited many friends around to celebrate the occasion which we did in some style, then after a quick trip down to Exeter and Helston to see the family we headed back to Bath where we had booked a night in the Hilton. We met up with Kevin Gray of Bath Building Society who entertained us to lunch followed by seats at the recreation ground to watch Bath Rugby beat Worcester on a perfect sunny afternoon while the girls went shopping which was a bit worrying. The day was rounded off with dinner at a Thai restaurant followed by a musical at the Theatre Royal.
Norfolk Line conveyed us safely to Dunkerque, we left the car at Bruges and trained back to Joinville. The weather now turned cold and wet for most of our journey in Harmonie back to Bruges until we reached Kortrijk where we met up with Les and Sally on Nancy May and a mini Indian summer set in. In mid October we strolled around this lovely city in shirt sleeves, ate well, and relaxed after 10 days and almost 500km of continuous cruising before completing the final 70km to Bruges. Our VHF started to misbehave on this final leg so we had to communicate with the Bruges bridges control centre and the harbour master by mobile phone but we made it by 6pm on the 13th October and are now safely tied up at the Coupure (literally French for "cut") in the centre of Bruges. This is one of the most wonderful European cities to which I will devote a separate page in due course.