The male lockie helped us with our ropes as the locks are deep. You can't see the bollards from down below inside the lock. Fortunately the other boat had solved his problem and there was no diesel in the water. We went through two more locks with the Belgians.
At the next lock things went pear shaped. We didn't have much space at the back of lock. We thought the lady lock-keeper would help us but she stood watching us battling to reach our ropes up 4 metres without lifting a finger. My husband left the engine and came to help me get my ropes around the bollard and next thing our boat drifted and bashed into the Belgians. Fortunately it wasn't anything serious but the lady lockie chose that precise moment to tell us our boat was leaking diesel. There were two bystanders helping her translate for us. No-one could see it but she insisted. The Belgians asked me what was going on so I explained. They got off their boat came over and a big fat conversation went on between them, the lock-keeper and the bystanders most of which we didn't understand. And then they all agreed there wasn't diesel in the water. There were traces of old oil but nothing serious. She opened the lock and we went on our way.
Looking up from inside a deep lock
We did a few locks with the Belgians and then they stopped for lunch. We made a point of carrying on to the next stopping place so we could continue our journey without them. There was no doubt about it the lock-keepers were keeping an eye on us and it was making us decidedly uncomfortable. The map had a stopping point in a tiny little place called Void which turned out to be right next the local VNF offices. After tying up we walked to the first lock so we could get a sense of what to expect and hopefully read any notices they put up next to the locks. These notices have vital information like - the closure of Canal des Vosges - but in normal sized font on an A4 sheet of paper - and in French. But even that would be OK if we had time to read them. The automated locks allow you three minutes to exit before closing so reading them is actually not possible.
While we were at the lock, a lock-keeper arrived and luckily we managed to converse in Fren-glish with a few gestures thrown in. He answered all our questions and our journey through the next day's locks, the returning of the VNF remote control (telecommand) and our passage through the 5 kilometre long Mauvages tunnel was arranged.
When we got back from our walk to the lock, who should be parked right next to our boat? The Belgians. I feel so bad to say this but they were the very last people we wanted to see. We considered moving but decided to stay put and deal with whatever the day presented. We also decided that I would go for a run on the tow path with our boat-hook so I could help with the ropes at each of the 12 locks in the chain.
Helping hold the boat from the side
Another early start the next morning but this time I was in my running gear on the tow path. The lock-keeper was at the first lock only. He showed me how he likes to do ropes. I got some handy tips. We gave back our remote control and he predicted we would get to the tunnel before 13.00pm. We soon developed a little routine. I would help us and the Belgians tie up and then activate the lock. Once the lock gates opened I would jog 500 metres to the meet the boats at the next lock. I got in a 10 kilometre run that day. We got to the tunnel in good time and after a short wait were able to go through. The Mauvages tunnel allows passage at fixed times each way. The guide book says they tow the boats through the tunnel but we were allowed to go through on our own steam. A lock-keeper cycled on the tow path next to the boats. It takes an hour to get through the tunnel. My word it's cold in there. Quite an experience.
It had been a good few days of hard boating and lock upon lock so we stopped at the first stopping place just past the tunnel. Another really small place called Demange-Aux-Eaux. We didn't even try to explore it but I don't expect we would have found much. It was a tranquil spot. We like those.
Inside the Mauvages Tunnel
The following day was yet another day of boating and ceaseless locks but we had to push ahead so we could make sure we got to St-Jean-de-Losne. Fortunately we were locking down. A lock-keeper met us at one of the locks and gave us a new remote control for the next batch of locks. I was the first one to push the button on the remote control. My first attempt - nothing happened. I tried again and still nothing. I was convinced I had caused the lock to shut down. We tried to pull the boat to the side of the canal so I could walk to the next lock and hopefully ask for help. The water level was so low that we ran aground before we could get close enough for me to jump off. Out came the gang plank and I managed to get off the boat with our French-English phrase book and my reading glasses. I left my husband to get the boat unstuck which thankfully he managed to do.
There was an intercom. Good start. Naturally no-one speaks English so I did my best to explain the problem. The lock-keeper who gave us the remote arrived in his lock mobile while I was walking back along the tow path. I jumped into his van and my met husband with the boat at the following lock. The lock-keeper opened the lock just like that. He said he would take us through the next lock to see what the problem was. If the remote was faulty, he would exchange it. This lockie was a hellava nice guy. Talkative too. Problem was I didn't know what we was saying. We passed the French-English phrase book back and forth.
Raising or lowering lights at the lock
Of course everything went perfectly with the remote control and we felt like complete idiots. The lockie explained that we must be the right distance from the activator. And we must point the remote toward the receiver. I suspected we had tried to get too close and gone past the point where the signal would be recieved.