The roses of Picardy are big and showy and, like the lilac and wisteria, early this year. Our 2007 cruise has been a mixture of good and bad during its first week and they came in threes.
First the bad:
1. For the first time ever in the 14 years we have owned her, the boat had mould on some areas of lino, window trims and plastic galley equipment. She has always been a 'dry' boat up to now so we must check all the seals on roof vents and window housing when MWNN does the preparation for painting the exterior. We spent 2 days cleaning and clearing the boat and cast off at mid-day on Saturday.
2. The first night's mooring was bankside and unofficial at PK 67, just a couple of hours cruising from the Marina at St Quentin. As we set up the fisherman's chairs on the bank, I noticed that loony GSD was surrounded by a swarm of very big mosquitoes. I made sure my socks covered the bottom of my jeans and buttoned my denim shirt up to avoid being bitten. The rules are cover up in clothes made of close woven material and you don't get closer woven than denim. Mosquitoes can't bite through that, right? Wrong! As I lowered myself into my chair clutching a mug of tea, I felt what I thought was a horse fly bite me on the thigh. MWNN saw it and can testify it was a mosquito. I retreated into the boat and sprayed it liberally with insect repellent while MWNN walked to the mooring a kilometre further on. On the way back, he reported swarms of mosquitoes following him along the towpath. His shoulders and back are covered in bites. Not a good beginning to the cruise.
3. I'd had a sleepless night the day we arrived in France (Wednesday) because I thought I'd lost my wallet, when, in fact, I'd left it on board the boat. We taken the fresh food we'd brought with us and filled the fridge before checking into the hotel MWNN had booked so that we didn't spend our first night aboard an un-aired boat. We both had second uneasy night on Saturday, worrying that the storm would put more rain water into the bilge, bilge knowing we had a dodgy bilge pump. The bilge was fairly full of water when we'd cast off, despite sealing the deck boards with mastic before we left the boat for the winter. MWNN won't pump out while in port so we'd waited until we were out on the canal to switch on the bilge pump. It worked fine for a couple of minutes and then stopped. So too did the house batteries' indicator. I went below to check the wiring and noticed that the bilge pump fuse had blown. As soon as I'd replaced it, the battery indicator sprang into life.
As we cruised towards the river Oise on May 1st, I noticed that the battery management system was showing a steady red light - a sure sign something was wrong. We pulled in to moor and discovered that one of the house battery boxes was also full of rainwater. Happily, we had plenty of time to dry things out as we had to stay moored up for the rest of the day because the locks were closed for the holiday. The relief Capitaine at St Quentin had assured us that they would be open but his knowledge was of the St Quentin Canal and we were now on the Lateral a L'Oise.
This enforced stopover led to the third of our 'good' experiences.
Number 1:Sunday PK 85 (Canal Lateral a L'Oise)
MWNN cleaned the bilge pump and it now works without blowing the fuse every two minutes. We cruised in lovely cooler weather to the bottom of the St Quentin Canal, past the fishing competition where the long poles looked like the oars on a Roman Slave Ship. At the junction with the Lateral, there was a nice wide bank with mooring bollards set at leisure craft distance, so we moored up for the night. There are no facilities so we are conserving water and battery power. It's a beautiful spot, the canal is wide and we are surrounded by trees. There's a lake across the field we're moored beside but no road other than the towpath.
Number 2: Monday: An easy cruise past Chauny, where I stepped ashore to buy bread and patisserie for afternoon tea. Most shops were closed, apart from the horse butcher and two baker's. On the way downstream, we saw many grebes and cormorants diving for fish, flocks of sand martins, a musk rat paddling slowly along the canal edge and then hopping onto the bank before disappearing into the water again, and, at one lock, a swallow sitting on the telephone wires chattering away as we descended. We pulled into the delightful moorings at the confluence of three waterways at Pont Levec just in time for afternoon tea. Electricity and water are available via jetons in the slot. Jetons can be bought at the pharmacy which also provided more mosquito repellent and anthihisthamine cream. The locals are friendly and the old women sat outside their front doors, moving their chairs into the sun as it crossed the sky from South to West.
Number 3: Bellerive to Compiegne
Having discovered that the locks weren't open on May 1st, we moored upstream of the lock and walked Loony GSD to the road bridge and checked out the road sign for the village of Cambronne. Opposite the sign was a three star B&B at the Ancient Farmhouse of Bellerive. It offered dinner for 15 Euros if pre-booked. I picked up one of their leaflets and MWNN phoned for a reservation. The B&B is run by an English couple, Dave and Sandra from Essex. After many years cruising on their shortened (from 38 metres to 23) peniche, they bought the dilapidated farmhouse, sold its 'dependances' to Brits wanting holiday homes in France, and set up the B&B in the restored farmhouse. For our 15 Euros, MWNN had Asparagus followed by chicken in 3 mustard sauce, cheese and strawberry gateau. I had salad nicoise, followed by rabbit in beer sauce and strawberry gateau.
The following morning we cruised down through two locks, left the canal and entered the river Oise. At Compiegne, we pulled into the cruising club moorings and walked into town so I could phone my mother. Maya 2nd is her 89th birthday and it seemed fitting that I was phoning to wish her a happy birthday from the town in which the Armistice was signed (in a railway carriage just outside the town) in November of the year of her birth.