At first sight little has changed in Chalons en Champagne in 7 years. The mooring beside the lock in the park is basic, just a few mooring bollards, peniche width apart necessitating tying the bows to a tree. A Dutch registered boat pulled in a few hours after we did and the Madame asked if it was permitted to tie up to a tree. "No," I replied with a galic shrug, "but what can you do?"
In the town centre there's a new Hotel de Ville shopping arcade where the supermarket once stood and you have to enter the mall to find the small Atac. We looked in vain for the advertised litres of lait frais, and MWNN summoned the 'girl' who explained they sold family sized one and a half litre bottled only. We found it charming of her to suggest that we decant the contents into two smaller vessels in order to fit them in the fridge, thereby limmiting the shelf life to a couple of days.
The town square was laid out for an afternoon cooncert, a huge statue of King Kong took centre stage - we never did find out why, as various bands thumped and crooned their way through the repertoire of 'le ho chocola' and the audience sat sampling the local beer and delicacies on offer from the market stalls.The baker disappointed us. MWNN had awarded 'best in France' to Michel and Martin for their baguettes but, though the name remains over the shop, the bread rated only an'ok' this time. Not so the boudin noire he ate for dinner at the Brasserie Republic. He said is was the best he'd ever eaten, despite the fact that neither of us was hungry after the all day breakfast I'd cooked for lunch,.
Monday 25th September
Sillery, where there's nothing but a very fine Port de Plaisance with all facilities including a spotless shower and toilet block boasting butler sinks for washing laundry or crockery, a caravan shop where we'd hoped to pick up a replacement gas tank and an excellent Relais serving a great pate de fois. As we ;pulled in just before noon, I spotted a new Ecomarche beside the Military Cemetary across the road from the Port. At 2.30, we bought the gas and I shopped in the supermarket, glad that I wouldn't have to do the mad scramble up the bank outside Reims to shop at the Leclerc. No fesh milk here either but we now had a full tank of water, two gas tanks and had even charged the laptop and mobile phone and vacumed the floor during the lunch break using shore power.
We moved on towards Reims at 3 pm. As we approached the first of the flight of 3 locks into the town, we heard a clattering from the engine, followed by a loud bang and clouds of smoke - he fanbelt had snapped. We went through the lock without power and drifted out on the current from the side weir, MWNN 'sculling' us to the bank using the boat pole, tying us up on the roadside, and setting about replacing the fanbelt. At 5.09, a 'navigation officer' stopped and asked us why we hadn't progressed down the flight. We explained the problem and she rerplied that the power to the locks would be turned off at 6pm as usual.
11am Tuesday September 26th
We are still tied up between the first two locks of the flight down to Reims. We got up very early and re-adjusted the fanbelt three times before admitting defeat. The alternator/water pump assembly is producing sparks as the belt rotates - an indication that something is out of alignment. MWNN has gone in search of a garage mechanic. He didn't think to check the Waterways guide the VNF has given us at St Dizier which lists all the Marine Chantiers along the canals. There's one less than 3 km ahead, just before the Port de Plaisance in the centre of Reims.
At the moment we're moored alongside a very busy road. There is a wide stretch of grass between us and the roadway, and a barrier to protect us from the traffic, but poor Loony GSD was attacked by conkers falling from the trees as she squatted for her first pee of the morning.
It's very frustrating to be stuck here, we were making such good progress and had shaved even more time off MWNN's origninal schedule. It's doubly frustrating that the Reims mooring is so close, I(Plan C involves abandoning the boat at Reims should we be running out of time to be home by the 12th October) as we have only a few days of battery power to run lights and water pumps, even though we have an alomost full tank of water and one and a half tanks of gas.
I'm itching to be on the move but MWNN has returned with news that a car mechanic will be out to see if he can help 'apres midi' - no firm time was given and we both shware memories of waiting 5 days at Douai in 2000 for a mechanic to come out to assess what our problem was, then another 3 days to find a gap to fit us in to the schedule for repairing the damage to our stern gear. We will wait until 3pm before phoning the Marine Chantier and arrange a tow down to Reims if he can't fix us on the spot.
This 'nconvenience pales into insignificance when compared to the fact that Uncle R had another emergency procedure last week, for heart problems, and irishnoodles is coping with him at home, against the advice of the medical team at the hospital.