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.)