Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France - Part 21

Read about this trip from the start - here.  
Lock house en route to Joinville
Joinville was lovely. We arrived on a Tuesday evening when they have late night shopping - until 19.00pm. We stayed on the banks of a hotel. Good facilities, electricity, water and yes - they had wi-fi! There was space for about four boats. One of which was a beautiful old wooden Dutch barge with four similar looking barefoot, long haired, bearded French blokes in scruffy clothes and one elderly lady. Not sure if she was the matriarch or a sugar mommy. Our initial  impressions of them were not favorable I'm ashamed to say but they rushed to help us tie up, offering their own mooring stakes. I felt so bad for judging them on appearance. They were heading for Montpellier and ultimately Las Palmas. Wow! That was ambitious boating if ever.

It had become now routine to get going as soon as possible and keep going as long as we could. We knew one thing, we did NOT want to be behind the old Dutch barge. Lovely as she is, and benevolent as her occupants were, she would be going very, very slowly. We couldn't afford any additional time delays. As we were leaving Joinville, who should we see moored at another spot further along? The Belgians! They who caused us so much grief with their fuel leaking into the water. That made us even more resolute to keep going as much as we could.
The canal en route to Joinville
We managed to get the remote control to work. Even if it meant pressing it a few times until we got a green light despite dire warnings never, ever, to do so. Only twice did we encounter no lights at the locks. Both times the lockies were actually doing repairs and had disabled them. These lockies saw us coming and were most helpful. In fact this pair of lockies were fabulous. VNF should clone them. They were furiously greasing hydraulic arms, clearing weed from the waterways and opening bridges for us. The one guy spoke English willingly and they even helped us tie up our boat that night. They also pointed out that we were required to pre-book a lock-keeper to take us through the manual locks the next day - before - 15.00pm. However they would take care of it. We had heard this before. Time would tell.
Our stop that night was Viéville. Also shrouded by tall trees and a beautiful and peaceful spot. We had hoped to get a little further but an almighty wind came up and blew our boat all over the place. Rain plus thunder and lightning helped us make the decision to stop. We didn't want to risk entering or exiting locks in those conditions. Fortunately we had been doing this continuous boating in perfect weather. Not too hot. Nor heavy rain or cold. The weather forecast had predicted rain but we had been lucky to avoid the worst of it which helped us get that little bit further each day to catch up the extra distance we had incurred. Further inland weather changes are not as drastic or as extreme as they are closer to the coast. Which is probably why boating in Champagne and Burgundy is so popular.
The next day we were full of confidence that we had - at last - got the lock thing mastered. As we entered our second lock, it would not close behind us. Another phone call. Luckily the number to call was stuck with tape onto our remote control. It was also on a leaflet given to us when we received the remote for this section of the canal. To be fair, VNF always send someone to sort out issues. Usually within half an hour. But half an hour here and ten minutes there add up to an hour plus a day. Something we never anticipated. We wondered at times if we were stupid or plain unlucky. Each time we asked other people if they had difficulties with the locks, without exception everyone had experienced some degree of problems.

When the eclusier (lock-keeper) arrived he had more bad news. The wind from the day before had blown a tree down blocking the canal after Lock 28. His suggestion was for us to stop at a pontoon just before Lock 29 and tie up, then phone the control office after lunch. We did as advised and got ready for a walk along the tow path to see this great catastrophe, but also hopefully to find out when we could get moving again. The weather had turned and rain was pouring down. I was glad for a change of clothing. Five metres away from our boat a VNF van passed us and we flagged them down. According to them the canal had been open for some time. We tied up for nothing. One can only conclude these guys don't speak to each other.
Stuck in a lock
Motoring at a brisk walk or slow jog pace along the canal is mesmerising. I saw faces in the trunks of the trees and clouds. It was early autumn and the tips of the trees were turning golden and rust coloured. Leaves were floating softly to the ground. Blue cranes lurched from just ahead to further ahead as our boat approached them. One wonders why they never fly away. Ducks, a Kingfisher or two and even the odd water rat darted in front of our boat. Yes, our fate was in the hands of VNF and their locks but at this point they were our only worries. Without Internet we had no idea what was going on with our families and in the world. The banking system could have collapsed or a third world war could have broken out and we would be blissfully unaware.
VNF trying to fix the lock
Our boat passed sleepy little villages and old lock-keeper houses. Some empty and lonely. Some were homes. I have no idea if the occupied lock houses are for VNF staff or are sold off to gain income. We noticed quite a few quirky ones. There is a tendency to place pots or wheel barrows or old ploughs over the front and fill them with bright coloured plants. Garden ornaments are another popular feature at these houses. One had a plethora of gnomes but just two of them were flashing their private parts. Another home was a shrine to the French star Johnny Hallyday. A giant cut-out of him loomed in the upper window and he was painted on the wall at the front of the house.

The story continues - here.

Labels: ,