Compiègne - Charleville-Mézières

Compiègne was left behind at 8:45AM on Monday the 10th of August We cruised the last part, going upstream, of the river Oise and entered its most important tributary, the river Aisne, within 23 minutes. We’ve never cruised on the Aisne before. At the first lock, named ‘Carandeau’, we were informed about the water levels when the river was in spate, in 1993, 1995 and 2001. Yes, rivers are fickle things!

As all weirs are situated next to the right bank almost immediately behind the locks, upstream traffic is obliged to keep to the left hand side until the wear stream is left well behind. This is absolutely imaginable and logic when thinking of a strong current. We are here in a lock with the powerful name of ‘Vic’ and there’s some serious dredging (‘dragage’) going on in front of us. Will we be able to pass??

The answer proved to be: yes! The dredging guy (with the dragline) simply pulled the boat he was filling with mud out of the way, thus making just enough room between the combination commercial boat - large dolphin and us to be able to continue our journey.

That afternoon we ended up in Soissons at 4:00 PM after having ascended 6 locks and cruised for 7 hours and 15 minutes. And it was hot, too! We did not have lots of time, or possibly missed the energy, to have a look at the town extensively.

What we saw of Soissons did not excite us very much, to be frank, though the cathedral was well worth visiting. Aiming at some variation in the ‘cathedral-theme’ this time a picture of light and shadow inside of it.

As often is the case the river Aisne is quiet and peaceful – in one word: lovely. This picture is a prove of it.

The river Aisne is navigable from for about 57 kilometers (35,5 miles). When going upstream the Canal latéral à l'Aisne starts close to a village called Celles-sur-Aisne. The rive leaves on the left of this picture; the canal starts (ends if you like) with a 2 chamber staircase-lock at the right.

Our Fluviacarte nr 24 ‘Picardie’ states on page 139 at around PK (point kilomètre) 47,5 ‘Cimetière à bateaux’. This is what it looks like. A peaceful spot, we’d say.

How time flies! We remember spring and all its new life vividly. And now the farmers are busy harvesting their golden grain. The fields look like well looked-after football pitches, the only differences being the colour and a lack of lining and goals. This picture reminds us, slightly unfortunately, that the end of the cruising season is closer than the start of it…

Starting from Soissons on Tuesday, 11th of August we planned to travel to Berry-au-Bac, a distance of some 48 kilometers (30 miles). We are travelling together with another Dutch couple; their boat is a lot faster than ours. So they were able to make a ‘reserved for…’-sign. It worked!

Here’s the rather boring overnight mooring spot a Berry-au-Bac. We started 8:45AM, climbed 7 locks (one double included) and moored up at 4:50PM. Another 8 hours and another hot day. Well, we have decided for ourselves to create some ‘spare days’, in order to be able to arrive in Bruges on the 10th of September where we’ll meet a trusted engineer. We need him really badly as our engine surprises us very unpleasantly at the most unwanted moments – for instance like when it’s necessary to ‘use the breaks’ after entering a lock. The engine gives the impression to stall and does react to the accelerator handle only after what seems like ages. That really takes away a major part of the joy of boating.

The next morning, Wednesday the 12th of August, we said goodbye to Berry-au-Bac and left at 8:10AM, hoping the engine would behave. We climbed two locks, entered the Canal des Ardennes at 11:14AM and climbed another five. No specialties were seen during this voyage, that’s to say: none that we haven’t already showed/told you. We moored at Rethel, seen here, 3:35PM and won’t say anything more about making long cruising days.

Unstoppable we travelled on the next day, Thursday the 13th, leaving at 7:45AM, negotiating only four locks and finding a nice mooring place for the night already at 11:16AM. Just 3,5 hours, a real piece of cake. We ended up in Attigny and are visible here in the far away left background. The unnavigable river Aisne and its lateral canal are both clearly visible here, their courses being ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’.

  • There are numerous war-memorials all over France like this one…

  • …but we’ve never seen a moving sign of reconciliation and friendship like te one in Attigny – attached to the same monument as shown by the picture on the left. When thinking of the numerous present conflicts all over the globe one wonders: will we ever learn?

Friday 14 August 2015. Big day! It was our task to climb the 28 locks between Attigny and Le Chesne, 27 of them situated within a distance of 9 kilometers. They’re all around 3 meters (10 feet) deep, so you’ll be able to realize the total difference in height to surmount. Here’s one of them, ‘ecluse 9’ to be precise, heavily decorated with green as supplied by Mother Nature. This flight of locks is 100% automated, meaning that all boat-movements are spotted by electronic eyes, causing the next lock to be ready at arrival – and so on. It’s absolutely amazing that we did not encounter any problem – the system worked absolutely flawless- so leave all decorations where they are!

  • Two years ago (week 32 – 2013) we published pictures of the pages out of Fluviacarte nr 8 ‘Champagne-Ardenne’ showing the flight of locks. This time we show two pages of our logbook with the majority of the ascended locks on Friday – and the times we needed to pass them…

  • …followed by the next two pages, ‘proving' that we needed from 8:30AM till 2:21PM to climb all 28. That’s less than 6 hours, which isn’t bad – especially when considering the fact that la capitaine (she’s the one on the rudder and the ac-/decelerator) struggled extensively with an engine that obeyed her very little – see the description accompanying the 11th picture. It was a real exhausting and, to be honest, not a very pleasant day.

Le Chesne, where we moored at 2:35PM. We took 4 chairs, sat with our friends from the boat that is moored behind us in the shadow of the church and had a bite and a drink. We strongly felt we deserved that!

Saturday the 15th we left Le Chesne (where’s a signal for telephone or internet is virtually absent) at 9:42AM. We had the first normal temperature and a rainy day since, well, almost human memory. This lock, ‘Malmy’ on the Canal des Ardennes, was badly knocked about – exactly what la capitaine feared would happen to her the day before when she had to control both engine and speed. We all know now: she managed.

A rare sight lately, but not on the Saturday. It was windy, it was rainy, the temperature was back to normal, in short: we are travelling towards the low countries, where they maintain a ‘normal’ climat.

Since yesterday, Saturday 5:45PM, we are moored on the river Meuse, at Charleville-Mézières. We cruised for 8(!) hours, descending 10 locks on the way – 7 on the Canal des Ardennes, 3 on the river Meuse. We encountered only one boat, a commercial one, unbelievable. The engine behaved quite reasonable, almost reliable, repeat: almost, so it was not all that exhausting. We are ahead of schedule and will have a day off on Sunday – which is ‘normal’ because of our blog page.

Because of a lack of time we are incapable of telling you a lot about Charleville-Mézières. Therefore we have to redirect you to Wikipedia’s page about the Town:ézières. It’s obvious that the entrance of its museum is pictured here. The man (head and the lower parts of his legs) is called Le Grand Marionnettiste. When the red hatches are open his hands, manipulating marionettes, become visible.

After entering the gate left of Le Grand Marionnettiste a nicely restored inner courtyard of the museum is reached. There’s a gate on the left hand side…

…by which one Charleville-Mézières’ central point the Place Ducale, one of the most beautiful squares of France, can be entered.

The second façade, as seen from the left, of the last picture still shows the traces of a horrible habit, called war. Next time, when we possibly visit Charleville-Mézières again, we hope to be able to tell you more about it. That’s it for this week. À bientôt!