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Water flowing underground
same as it ever was
As promised - the story of the reason for our early return to Montchanin 
23rd-Jul-2004 11:41 am
cruising log
Saturday 17th - The Saga of the Rescue of The Aegir

Gennelar to Lock 6

Jeff, from Montchanin boatyard, called early this morning to ask us to be the RNLI for a German boat that almost sank at Montceau les Mines last night. She has lost the seals to her prop tube and needs a side tow to the Jeff's yard. The boat had to be pumped out by the Sapeurs and Pompiers after she took in water when the seals gave way yesterday. Any engine power at all will breach the temporary fix the Pompiers gave the seals with lots of duct tape. The boat would fill with water in minutes. We had planned to have some rest days before going into Montchanin at the end of the cruise but rule of the sea is to aid a vessel in distress, so we will head off at 11.15 after I re-provision the boat from the Petit Casino to see us through until Monday morning.

We went through lock 16 behind a hire boat knowing that we were to pick up the boat somewhere between locks 10 and 9. Little did we know that we would not stop for another 7 hours!

3.30 - We have just left Montceau les Mines with the Germans roped beside us. The crew, Peter and Heidi, were so distraught at the thought that we wanted to start out for Montchanin early tomorrow morning that we felt we had to go on as far as we could today. Heidi had obviously been weeping copiously at the thought of a second night in danger of sinking. They were having to pump out the boat every couple of hours or so and were sleep deprived already. Neither Peter nor Heidi speak any French and Peter has so little English that the message that we would not reach Montchanin before the locks closed at 6.30 just hasn't got through. Despite the fact that Liam and Jim, from Vrijheid had taken a look and assured Peter that the temporary repair would hold through the night, we decided to head off and let time be the deciding factor that forced us to stop. We've already done 4 hours motoring today, which, for us, this year is as much as we would do, knowing that more leads to tiredness, crankiness and erosion of our normally harmonious relationship.

We knew that we would be slowed down from our usual 6km per hour but didn't realise that it wasn't the towing that would slow us down. We cleared the two town lift bridges with no waiting thanks to a sympathetic lock-keeper who understood that we couldn't be kept waiting around mid stream. As we approached lock no 9, two lock-keepers were in attendance to help us in. Alas! We could not fit in side by side, because the Eiger's side fenders made our total width too great. No amount of explanation would convince Peter that he should remove them. MWNN and I now knew that the next 9 locks would have to be negotiated with us front-towing them in. All 9 locks are automatic. We were going to have to be the front boat, right up against the front gates, going upstream - a thing we had vowed never to do again after our experiences on the flight up to Montchanin from Chalons (see our earlier adventures in dangerous locks).

We thought we might be able to persuade Peter to moor up at Blangy for the night, instead of pressing on, after I phoned Jeff to ask if it would be possible for the VNF to keep the electrics switched on in the locks after 6.30. He'd told us that was highly improbable and we managed to make Peter understand this. At least at Blangy he could have shore power to keep his bilge pump going for, without any engine, his batteries were running low. As we approached Blangy, we could see that the mooring was full and so decided to press on as far as we could.

After the sympathetic reception from the Montceau lock-keepers, I'd decided to try a direct appeal to the lock-keeper to get as close to Montchanin as possible, silly, silly English person that I am. The lock-keeper responsible for the automatic locks 8-1 (why do automatic locks need lock-keepers I hear you ask. I've never had a satisfactory answer to that one yet.) As we cleared lock 7, at 5pm, the lock-keeper (who MWNN and I had named The Swine) told me that this was our final lock of the day. I responded, in my best French, that it was not, that we were going on to Montchanin. He'd obviously not been told about the problem, so I explained that the German boat was slowly sinking and needed to be got through to the boatyard. To which The Swine casually remarked 'Not tonight, this is your last lock'. There was only 1km to lock no 6 and nowhere to moor between them. So I asked him where could we moor. The Swine suggested alongside the crash barriers of the road running beside the canal on the port (left) side. Both boats have dogs so this was not an option. Again my reasoning fell on deaf ears. We were on our own. 'Not his responsibility.' (Oh yes, he was a real job's worth, this guy.)

Seething and wanting to reach for the shotgun I wish we carried, I relayed the message to the crews of both boats. We motored up close to lock 6, looking for a place to moor on the starboard (right) bank, found a spot and pinned off (you drive a mooring pin into the ground and tie the mooring rope to it) both boats. It was 6.15pm, The electricity was already off in the lock. We could see lock no 5, just 500 metres beyond, with waiting bollards that would have been perfect for mooring.

We're both knackered. Been motoring non-stop for 7 hours. Lunch was a hasty sandwich on the move. The poor dogs have been cooped up inside the boat all this time, with just one very quick pee stop when we pulled in to assess the problem at Montceau. All this and on what has turned out to be the hottest day of this year's cruise, with the temperature up over 34C all day. Now to go in and get some dinner ready, feed the dogs, quick walk, and bed.

I spoke too soon. MWNN returned from helping the Germans moor their boat, and has agreed to have drinks with them at 8pm. (Have I mentioned that Heidi is absolutely hopeless? She relies on Peter to do everything and can't manage either ropes or boat. Nice lady, but hopeless!) I shall leave the feeding of the dogs until afterwards to give us an excuse to escape without being rude.

We have just come back from drinks and snacks. They are profuse in their thanks and wanted the chance to offer hospitality in return for our help. They were relieved, too, when MWNN and I both turned down the offer of alcohol for they have very little on board. Peter is a reformed alcoholic so they carry only enough to be able to offer to guests. MWNN and I both asked for coffee and, while I helped myself to chockie bikkies (c'mon, I'm in need of a sugar fix and I'm claiming huge remission time from Purgatory for today's work). MWNN tucked into black pudding sausage and other German delicacies. (The Germans, like the Dutch it appears, bring their own supplies with them when they cruise in France.)

23rd-Jul-2004 05:28 am (UTC)
(The Germans, like the Dutch it appears, bring their own supplies with them when they cruise in France.)

Some Dutch -- the older generation, who are quite happy to pack up and move south for the summer but don't trust foreign foods. Surely all that olive oil can't be good for a person! They're a dying breed, thank God.

But what a day you've had! More of the same tomorrow? Good luck, and yes, you should be rewarded for all your selfless assistance, even before arriving in the hereafter!
23rd-Jul-2004 05:56 am (UTC)
Some Dutch -- the older generation
It's the older generation that we meet on the waterways, those who have retired and can afford to spend 2 to 3 months cruising down from Holland, round the canal system in France and back home again for the winter. A bit like MWNN and me (except I refuse to acknowledge that I'm anything like the older generation in attitude, preferences, physical shape, or anything really.

More of the same tomorrow? Good luck
Certainly more of the Saga tomorrow. As for the luck, we don't really need it as this all took place last weekend and we're safely home in UK on dry land and recovering nicely. But thank you for the good wishes anyway.

23rd-Jul-2004 06:03 am (UTC)
Oops! missed that ;-) but as to the luck, you're welcome to it still!
23rd-Jul-2004 06:30 am (UTC)
Huge Hugs --

23rd-Jul-2004 06:39 am (UTC)
Could have done with those at the end of that first day, I can tell you. And Sunday wasn't any better.

How's the back?
23rd-Jul-2004 07:28 am (UTC)
Good grief! And I thought canal boats were all about drifting slowly from pub to pub, assisted on your way by kindly old lock keepers in hats, puffing on pipes, and full of interesting canal-type anecdotes.

Seems I was a bit mistaken, then. I think chockie bickies were the least you deserved!
23rd-Jul-2004 07:41 am (UTC)
Narrowboating is all about those things, in the UK. (Well, except for the kindly old lock keepers. There aren't too many of those left in England, it's more a DIY approach to locks.) In France, however, things are very different. The waterways are bigger, as are the locks. (Think country lanes for UK, M25 for France.)

23rd-Jul-2004 08:17 am (UTC)
Think country lanes for UK, M25 for France

You paint a wonderful picture. One question, then. Why France?
23rd-Jul-2004 08:25 am (UTC)
Why France?

MWNN had a dream to take a narrowboat from Calais to the Black sea when he took early retirement in 1999. He finally realised the foolhardiness of the Black Sea destination after the first 6 months in France. (From Calais to Burgundy, via Belgium, in 2000 (Passports for Pets allowed us to take the dogs on the trip without the need for quarantine on our return.)Our Millenium Journey made for even more interesting reading than the recent rescue of Aegir. We met the Grim Reaper on numerous occassions that trip.)

Oh and, we love the lifestyle, the country and (some of) the people we meet.
23rd-Jul-2004 08:42 am (UTC)
Oh! Just noticed the link - I was about to ask if I could read about your Millennium Journey anywhere! Great - I'll have a good browse later.

I must say, reading your reports over the past months, I can see why you like the lifestyle, dealings with Death notwithstanding! Good food and good booze seem to feature strongly.
23rd-Jul-2004 09:01 am (UTC)
The Millenium Journey link is to the photo journal I've kept of all the trips made in France to date. There is a written cruising log that I really must get round to putting up to accompany the pics. Stories of being attacked by sea tugs crossing Calais harbour, losing our stern gear just outside Douai and waiting over a week for repairs, meeting the Head Chef from Whites and feeding him pot-roasted pintade, almost submerging in a lock on the Marne, curing my chest infection with a trip in the Champagne caves at Epernay - the list goes on. Perhaps I'll find the time one day to transcribe it all.
25th-Jul-2004 12:35 pm (UTC) - Interesting story...
Kudos for the aid to distressed mariners. I was also entertained to read that the Aegir's emergency repairs had involved duct tape. It's wonderful stuff.
26th-Jul-2004 02:38 am (UTC) - Re: Interesting story...
Interesting Times more like. But then you have been through a fair bit too. Sorry I missed your blue light dash to ER the other day( I truly hate being without access to LJ for such long periods of time - perhaps next year, with the new Dell + blutooth mobile?) and glad to hear it all ended well (though minus a defunct body part in your case. At least I didn't lose anything important, other than my dignity on a few occassions.)

Duct tape? 'tis truly wonderful, though I prefer to think of it as duck tape, it doing the job of waterproofing and keeping things afloat in this case.
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