Vitry-le-François - Heuilly-Cotton

On Tuesday the 10th of September we finally could leave Vitry-le-François and start tackling Le canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne, constructed between 1880 and 1907. This canal is formerly known as Le canal de la Marne à la Saône, but renamed for ‘promotion touristique’. Well, we think that the initial name was pretty ‘waterish’ as opposed to the present ‘winish’ name. The altitude at Vitry-le-François (La Marne) is 104 meters (345 feet), at the summit level 345 meters (1.150 feet) and at Maxilly-sur-Saône 187 meters (620 feet). Today, Sunday the 15th of September we completed the climb to the summit level (in 6 days!) and negotiated 71 locks and 2 tunnels, the first a short one, the second 4,82 kilometers (16.000 feet) long, altogether covering a distance of 161 kilometers (100 miles).

The first stop, on the Tuesday, was a place called Orconte – reached after 3,5 hours and climbing only 6 locks. We say ‘only’ because last week’s delay caused us to be well behind schedule. We planned to do long days and, subsequently, tackle many locks. Of course we had to say goodbye to the very friendly female person, responsible for Vitry’s Halte Fluviale, so we left later than anticipated. This short ‘working day’ is only the overture of things to come!

On the Wednesday we cruised towards a town called Saint-Dizier. Just before reaching our destination we heard a deafening noise and saw some fighter jets take off. Later on we discovered that a large air force-base, called Saint-Dizier-Robinson, is situated next to this town. The fighter jets are called (Dassault) Rafale and yes, being twin engined and using their afterburners they absolutely make themselves heard. This picture, taken from the lock next to the airfield, shows a tiny part of the airfield and we really loved the old fashioned looking little watchtowers, deterring anyone threatening La France.

The 11th of September, a Wednesday, we moored at Saint-Dizier. It is, comparatively speaking, a large town along the canal – over 25.000 inhabitants and therefore all facilities. This was a day more or less to get used to work instead of pleasure: 4,5 hours of cruising and climbing 8 locks. We only visited the town for some shopping and had to walk an unexpected considerable distance to the other side of the town. It rained and was no fun at all.

Just next to our ship, still in Saint-Dizier, this placard caught our attention. Where was this man when maths lessons were given?

Le canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne features some nice, old fashioned, bridges like the one on this picture. Although the weather is becoming more autumn-like, the Champagne-Ardenne region still looks very attractive as is shown here.

Thursday 12 September, moored at Joinville. That morning we started 9:05AM and moored 4:40PM, climbing 13 locks during the journey. This is a good example of the days we have in mind for the coming weeks! As often the mooring opportunities are a combination of boats and camper-vans. As you can see the camper-vans (not all of them visible) formed a clear majority. A mobile pizza creator (no less!) presented himself on the site. We had the best pizza ever. Honestly. He is a genuine artist – and we’ll probably never meet him again.

The canal around Joinville contained loads of weed – almost on an equal basis with water. Well, a lot of it anyway. A sort of floating big shovel was busy removing the stuff. And successful he was!

Apart from making distance and tackling locks we of course enjoy the country side immensely. Here’s just a nice picture after leaving Joinville the next day.

And another one, made on the same day – Friday the 13th. The canal follows the course of La Marne most of the time exactly. Several times the canal crosses the river which makes for lovely views. How about this one? We loved it.

The majority of the locks are automated and for obvious reasons bridges are often situated next to locks. This picture shows a full lock, ready to open its gates to make it possible for the boat to continue its journey. First the lift bridge goes up and then the lock gates open. All automated and put into action by the boater, using a remote control. It works all very well.

There is no special story accompanying this picture. The only reason is our wish to show you how beautiful France’s countryside is.

Still Friday the 13th of September – it was a fruitful day, picture-wise speaking. During this spring/summer we have shown a few pictures of distinctive locks – or its ornamentation. We think we do not have to explain why this ensemble of garden gnomes and their friends caught the eye. Funny as well as naughty, don’t you think? We bet they’ll comfort each other when it’s dark and cold…

Apart from making pictures we cruised that day, Friday the 13th do you remember?, too. Starting exactly 09:00AM, negotiating 15 locks and mooring at 5:00PM at a place called Bologne, that’s what happened that day. Here we stayed during the night – Bologne in the background and nothing more to say about it.

Saturday the 14th we left Bologne at 8:55AM and just when we wanted to enter the first lock another boat left its mooring in front of us, entered the lock and closed the gates immediately – although we would have fitted in the lock together and they certainly saw us approaching. Damn! To make things worse, while waiting another boat catched up with us and behaved, well, let’s say not very sociable. The first lock was a problem doing together and after some ‘discussion’ he went in first the next lock. After he’d entered the third lock we were supposed to be in together he abruptly closed the gates in front of us (remote control, you know), so we were confronted with a red light and had to wait for another turn-around. It all happened in this lock, now integrated in our weblog forever. According to the language the man spoke and the (huge) flag he was a South African. And a curmudgeon-like one too! Mind you, we will not, never ever, generalize on South Africans.

That Saturday –‘the South African Saturday’, so to speak- we traveled for many hours again, over 6,5, and negotiated 13 locks. We finally reached Foulain and attached the ropes to the bollards around 3:45PM. It was raining, a bit gloomy and we felt something which can be called tiredness without exaggeration. All this made us forget to make a picture of the mooring spot. This one is borrowed from the Internet. Our ship was on the one in the background – unoccupied here, which is close to a miracle as there are only two possibilities. We were lucky! And deserved it too, after all these unkind people we met this day… (Only joking.)

Sunday the 15th of September we left Foulain at 8:55AM, together with the boat that had started just in front of us the day before and closed the gates instantly and tried to avoid us again. The first one we mean, not the guy from Suid Afrika (proper Afrikaans). They appeared to be a German couple, not very experienced, a bit afraid of a big ship (comparatively speaking, we are well aware of the fact that we are not the Queen Elisabeth) and decent people after all. Since today they know how to use a ‘spring’ (steekeind) in a lock. We did 14 locks together thus saving the 2 lock keepers (13 of the locks were manual) a lot of extra work. Almost at the end of this day a ‘pont tournant’ was part of the canal – the first one we have ever seen in France. Advice in our map, related to this bridge: ‘keep to starboard’. Well, thank you, we never would have thought of it!

At 5:30PM we finally moored near a place called Heuilly-Cotton. (Pronunciation of the second part is not a problem at all.) Sixteen (16!) locks is what we did today, rounded off with a long, long tunnel – the latter already described with the first picture. We did the tunnel ever so careful and slow – on 800 revs, it took us 1 hour and 7 minutes. The ship is still in one peace, proven by this picture. We absolutely know that our ship’s name is not ‘ebbes’, but decided to choose this picture anyway, as it shows the red lights in front of the tunnel thus making it all the more clear for our followers what it looks like at the entrance of a tunnel. The lights flash on and off very fast and it is difficult to catch them on a picture. We needed four attempts. The sign informs ‘Tunnel occupé. Demandez passage.’ It’s one way traffic.