The trip
Moored in Thieu, on the Canal du Center, an old branch for more than 10 months, we are impatient to get back on the road or rather the flow of water. Our plan is to descend to the south of France, or more than 1,200 km of canals and rivers for a journey that we estimate in 2 months. Our boat is a Dutch 1897 steel Tjalk measuring 20 m by 4.60 m. It's called SPES. (Photo 1), (Photo 2). We introduce ourselves: Gilles and Violette, in their sixties in pre-retirement for a year, sailors in the West Indies for 12 years, back in Europe and decided to become river boaters (It's quieter) 
Preparations : 
Most important: Take a course in river navigation and pass the river license. Accustomed to marine navigation, we were aware of our major shortcomings in river navigation. After two months of training (Thanks to Snef!) And obtaining the restricted / general license, we are reassured about our ability to face the 1200km of navigation that awaits us. Then, improvement of the electric autonomy of the boat: New battery park, installation of a battery charger, a converter, a generator and equipment of the entire boat with Led lamps. And then, installation of a 2nd diesel tank bringing our capacity to 1500 liters plus 200 liters in cans, quantities which should be sufficient for the engine and the generator. In principle, we will not have a problem with the supply of diesel during the entire trip. We also store 3 gas bottles, which means 9 weeks of autonomy for the fridge, the hob and the water heater. Of course, storage of all consumables such as engine drain oil, gear oil for the reverse gear, grease for the stuffing box and essential maintenance parts like fuel filter, oil filter ... And also, supply of foodstuffs that can be preserved and of cleaning and hygiene products to limit shopping chores only to fresh food. Finally, preparation of the trip (Photo 2a) with our PC-NAVIGO river navigation software on the basis of 7 hours of navigation per day on average. The software estimates at 1 month nonstop. For our part, we are already planning only 5 days a week of navigation and some longer tourist stopovers.

Departure : 
First, the false start on July 17, 2012. We are ready, the weather is good. Our friends join us to share with us this first day of navigation. We cross the Braquegnies lift bridge to turn around under the motorway bridge where the canal is wider. We cross the lift bridge again to head towards the Thieu lift bridge and elevator n ° 4 (photo elevator N ° 4). Suddenly, the canal agent is waving to us for the towpath! We slow down and as soon as we are up to him, he explains to us that elevator N ° 4 is closed for 2 days for maintenance. It’s not possible to go to the other side because it’s the same for elevator 2. We return to our starting place ... very disappointed. But this time, we are in the right direction to leave. 
The trip.

In Belgium. 
Finally, the following July 19, on a cold, rainy and windy morning, we cast off with our friends. This summer, the weather is really bad! Well, don't we say "rainy start, happy start!" ". With the wind, we touch a little on the sides while passing the lift bridge of Thieu. But the passage of the elevator N ° 4 and the small lock of Thieu is done without problem. Here we are on the Canal du Center large gauge. The engine of "Spes" makes a nice regular noise "chug chug chug chug ...". At 1100 laps, we are moving at 10 or 12 km / hour. Before noon, we passed the two large locks at Havre and Obourg-Warton (Photo 3). Small incident: during the descent into the second lock, a mooring line remained on the bollard at the top, and when pulling it abruptly, it hit a window strongly on the side of the boat, which broke. It's raining hard and it's windy, and we're a little nervous for this first day. Okay, that's just broken glass! Now we will pay more attention, the experiment begins. 30 minutes later, we take the Nimy-Blaton-Péronnes Canal, 35 km without a lock (Photo 4). And the weather is clearing up, the sun is starting to shine and that's happiness. After locks 1 and 2 at Péronnes, we are now on the Scheldt where we enter France. Another 20 km and passing the lock of Fresnes-sur-Escaut, we reach the village of Saint-Saulve. We decide to moor there, at the public wharf, which is not very pleasant, but it is already almost 9 pm and our friends have to return to Thieu. But first, we are celebrating this first day of sailing, which ended up going very well: 75 km covered, we did not even expect to get so far on the first day! (Photo 5).

In France. 

The next day, here we are, both of us: we organize ourselves, Gilles at the helm, Violette at the moorings and everything is going well. We have to take our VNF sticker, but it is only at the 3rd lock (Trith-Saint-Léger) that the VNF office can issue it to us and since it is noon, we have to wait until 2 p.m. We take advantage for lunch. We continue on the Scheldt, then part of the Dunkirk-Scheldt link and finally, we reach the Canal du Nord (Photo 6). Right at the junction, the village of Palluel / Arleux, with its large concrete quayside and lined with grass on both banks, it is 7:00 p.m., we moored quite easily. Many merchant ships are moored, but the docks are large and there is room (Photo 7). We are satisfied with this 2nd day for two and in addition the weather has become summer. Things are going well with the lock keepers, they are very friendly, they recorded our boat on their computers for a trip to Arles. This 3rd day, we attack the Canal du Nord. The locks are starting to be narrower (5.95m) and the reaches shorter. Sometimes entering the locks is a bit difficult, if it's windy and especially with the weir which is often just ahead and pushing the boat abeam. You have to anticipate and keep just the right amount of speed to counter this drift and enter the lock not too quickly and without touching the edges. This is not obvious ! There are a few small shocks from time to time. It’s still the experience that comes in! After 7 locks, we arrive in front of the Royaulcourt tunnel, our first tunnel and it still measures 4.350 km long and 5.95 m wide. It's only 5:00 p.m., but we decide to spend the night at the tunnel waiting platform (Photo 8) and (Photo 9). First of all the area is nice and also because we want to see how things are going with the passage of the tunnel beforehand.

Grand tunnel de Royaulcourt 4,350 km. 

So, as soon as we wake up, we ask to go through the tunnel and when the light turns green, after about an hour of waiting, we go under the vault. There are metal guides on both sides and it's pretty well lit and signposted. You just have to stay in the center (Photo 10). And there, a little adventure that luckily ended well. Towards the middle, the tunnel widens and it gets even easier. Suddenly we see in the distance like a red light ... what is it? We are moving slowly. Then a shadow begins to emerge on the water, far ahead of us. It looks like a ship's bow ... but it's a ship coming in front and a large convoy on top of that! Quickly we keep to the right, the boat in front sends us a spotlight. And there, the famous red light seen in the distance turns green ... and we understand that the wide part of the tunnel is a crossing zone and the red light indicates that there is a boat before the crossing zone. Nobody told us this detail, neither the VNF agent who takes care of the tunnel, nor the navigation software ... And we were there quietly in the middle without knowing that a boat could come in the other meaning ! Well, nothing serious, just a little scare. After the tunnel, we are “swallowing”, and the entrances to the locks are even harder. We find that we are "typing" a little too much on entering. We will have to review our way of proceeding. We pass another 5 locks after the tunnel and arrive at the Péronne quay (Photo 11). where we decide to make a one-day stopover. No water or electricity at the dock, but there is a marina right next door to fill up with water. This is valid for small boats, as the harbor is narrow. We ask the campsite which is along the quay and they were very helpful and provided us with water (Luckily we had several long hoses). During the stopover we decide on a strategy to enter the locks: Violette will be at the front and will guide Gilles' maneuver at the helm with her hands so that the front of the boat is right at the entrance and that reduced speed to be practically at a standstill in front of the lock. All you have to do is enter slowly, sliding along the side walls. This is how we finish the locks of the Canal du Nord and our method is working well. 
Small Panneterie tunnel 1,060 km.

We also pass a small tunnel of 1 km. At the end of the afternoon of the 6th day, we turn onto the Canal Lateral à l'Oise and moor at the Pont L’Evêque quay (Photo 12). Mooring difficult because the berth is small, behind a large barge and there is only one bollard available. The L’Evêque bridge docks are very crowded and within 5 minutes we would not even have had a place. But the village is very pleasant. We take stock: 200 km traveled in 6 days, we are satisfied. First remote control and tunnel of Bray en Laonnais 2.36 km. & Nbsp; The next day, we notice that the locks have “shrunk” further: 5.60 m wide for 40.50 m long. We pass 2 locks on the Canal Lateral à l'Oise, then we veer off into the Canal de Oise à l'Aisne (Photo 13). At the Abbecourt lock, we receive a remote control for the following 13 locks which are automatic. It works well in principle. On the instructions, they say to press once on the remote control 300 m before the lock (there is a sign), but sometimes it does not work right away, if there are too many trees by example ... you have to be sure that the signal has been taken into account, either the green light flashes next to the red (the lock is in preparation), or a small yellow signal next to the 2 red lights (the lock is busy and our signal is taken into account). Anyway, as long as it's red, you have to wait. There may be times when the lock is broken, so call VNF either by VHF or by phone. In general, they intervene within 10 minutes. We therefore pass the 13 automatic locks, as well as the Bray-en-Laonnais tunnel of only 2.36 km (Photo 14), but very stressful because it is poorly lit, nor marked with a quay on one side. 40 minutes of constant attention, to stay close to the side of the platform without bumping into it. On the other side it is the vault directly and it is better to stay away. On this canal from the Oise to the Aisne, we make 2 night stopovers, one at the quai de Pinon (Photo 15) where there is a Carrefour Market nearby, and one in Bourg-et-Comin, but there, the nautical stop is small and full. We had to veer onto the Canal Lateral à L’Aisne (Photo 16) and moor right there on a lonely quay, but very well in the end (Photo 17).

Berry au Bac et l'entrée dans le canal de l'aisne à la Marne 

On the 9th day, the weather forecast announces rainy and stormy weather for the next half day and the next day. We have a reach of 20 km before the Berry au Bac lock. We decide to go to the waiting quay of this lock. The sky is indeed charging, but the wharf at Berry au Bac (Photo 18) away from the village is very pleasant and why not stop here for a day? No trade in the small village, but a bakery all the same. After this relaxing stopover, we fill up our water at the 1st lock. The 2nd lock which takes us into the Aisne à la Marne Canal (Photo 19) is completely perpendicular in the wind and entry is extremely difficult. Besides, it doesn't work when we're inside. As usual, VNF’s response is fairly quick. But we are amazed when it opens onto this new canal, a pretty blue green reflecting the rows of trees on these 2 banks. This canal leads us to Reims. From now on, the locks are only 5.20 m wide. They are pole-mounted, and it is less practical because you have to slow down, catch the pole, turn it to get to the lock. We are climbing and the weather is wonderful. Everything is going well for the 10 locks before Reims.
From Reims to Vitry le François, first breakdown.
We arrive in the city center, it's Sunday, the party is in full swing on the quay. Rides, music, people lying on deckchairs ... the quay is full of boats, but luckily at the end, just before the Fleichambaut lock, there are a few places (Photo 20). We spend a wonderful day with its summer atmosphere and a visit to the cathedral of course. In Reims, there is everything for shopping, but it is quite far from the quay. After a day of relaxation, we are treated to a long day of navigation plus 14 locks and a 2.3 km tunnel to the Condé sur Marne nautical stop (Photo 21). As usual, the boating stop is full, but we manage to moor next to a factory dock. The village is very charming and there is a bakery. We turn onto the Canal Lateral à la Marne. 2 days of navigation, 11 locks and 2 incidents before arriving in Vitry Le François. While crossing the town of Chalon sur Marne, young people throw stones at us from the bank. Fortunately, we took refuge in the marquee and no window was broken by luck. - 2nd problem is the leaking engine fuel circuit bleed screw, when trying to tighten it with a screwdriver, it breaks. All that remains is to stop the engine. The bank is straightforward and we slide along to the stop. We moor with the means at hand: a stake at the front and a line of anchor stuck in the grass at the rear (Photo 22). Gilles succeeded in making a bleed screw by making a notch on the thread of a screw of the same size and it works. We reach Vitry le François at low speed and find a place between the barges at the quay of the port of Givet (Photo 23). There is a shopping center next door. A site too. But for our bleed screw, it's more difficult. Finally a very nice boatman, takes us with his car to an agricultural equipment dealer and there we find everything we need because there are also DAF engines on the tractors.
The canal between Champagne and Burgundy.
Vitry le François is the last stop before the long Canal between Champagne Bourgogne (Photo 24) also called Canal de la Marne à la Saône. 71 locks and a tunnel on the Marne side where we are climbing, followed by the 4.82 km Balesmes tunnel on the Langres plateau, then 43 locks on the Saône side where we are downstream. As we have made good progress on our journey, a third of the trip in 17 days, we decide to do short days of navigation and an average of only 6 to 8 locks per day. And also to find space in the nautical stops: arrive after the departure of the boaters the day before and before those of the day. We found this technique to be positive as we almost always found room everywhere. What can we say about this long bucolic canal with its varied and magnificent landscapes, with wild stops, but also winding and full of surprises? (Photo 28 bis), (Photo 29) and (Photo 34).

The Marne side.

The Marne side, first: locks with remote control at the start, a few with automatic detection and the last entirely manual. Movable bridges of all kinds: lifting, lifting or turning, manual or automatic (Photo 36). VNF agents follow us day to day with kindness. They take care of us! The climb to the Balesmes tunnel took 2 weeks. The stops are almost all "great": Orconte nautical stop for a fee (8 € / night) but all the comforts (water, electricity, shower like at home, washhouse) - Quai de Saint Dizier in town along a parking, not great but close to shops (Photo 25). - Very pleasant picnic stop at Chevillon (Photo 26). - Joinville stop, beautiful wooden pontoon paying € 7 / night (water, electricity, wifi) (Photo 27).
Froncles technical stop.

Froncles arrêt technique obligatoire au ponton VNF : rupture d’un câble de direction (drosse) dans l’écluse de Froncles, nous nous dirigeons vers le ponton avec des cordages directement fixés à l’arrière en haut du gouvernail (Photo 28). Gilles s’occupe du moteur et Violette manoeuvre avec les cordages, pas facile, mais on arrive. Les agents de VNF, très professionnels, nous proposent de nous emmener jusqu’à Chaumont pour acheter le câble de remplacement. Nous avons même bénéficié de leur remise. Du coup nous avons changé les 2 câbles bâbord et tribord. Halte de Riaucourt au pied d’un petit village typique…la plus belle (Photo 31). – Escale sauvage après l’écluse de Reclancourt sur une berge de palplanches (Photo 33). (Nous avons souvent constaté la présence d’IPN en fer peint en jaune ou rouge plantés dans les berges aux environs des écluses et VNF nous ont confirmé que l’on pouvait s’y amarrer. C’est ce que nous avons fait souvent par la suite).
The water pump is doing its own thing.

It was there in Reclancourt that we stayed for 4 days because of a cooling water pump failure. The pump had to be repaired and it is not easy in the middle of the countryside. Fortunately, there are farm equipment repairers to help us. In addition, 500 m away there was a Leclerc shopping center so no problem with supplies. - Halte de Foulain, charming but in full wind, not easy to moor, the pontoons are very short (water but not electricity) - Wild stopover on an IPN after the Rolampont lock, all alone in the countryside (Photo 35 ). - And finally, Quai de Langres, very large, but full of sun, free with water and electricity (2 hours per day only), visit of the walled city of Langres but 2 or 3 km away. In general, many pleasures encountered but also some less pleasant situations: Crossings with commercial ships, one of which almost turned into a tragedy. Meeting with a barge at a 90 ° turn just after a bridge. No visibility, we found ourselves face to face and the crossing was precise thanks to an immediate reverse gear and a forward gear while turning… phew we were very hot! The other unpleasant thing is the canals cluttered with algae or seagrass (Photo 29). where the propeller tangles and the boat stops moving, and it's always in the prettiest places. 

 The Condé tunnel 0.500 km. 

We can also note the passage of the Condé Tunnel, not longer than 500 m, but not easy: first passage of the Condé lock, which only opens to enter the tunnel, then a canal bridge. at the exit, followed by a movable bridge (Photo 32). We must also mention the many "canal bridges" which are all magnificent with a superb view of the river below. (Photo 30).
The Balesme tunnel 4,850 km and 7 km one way.
The Balesmes tunnel, whose passage is quite complicated and the wait is long because it is about 7 km one-way, you have to wait your turn. At the entrance and exit, a long narrow and dark canal, bordered by forest, between two old and mossy walls, very wild, almost gloomy (Photo 37). The tunnel passage is long but without difficulty, we have experience. There is a balustrade on one side, it is quite well lit and signposted (Photo 37 bis). The technique: Gilles at the helm and Violette outside on the side watching the gap against the balustrade "a little to the left ... come back to the right ..." We can make a stopover after the tunnel because there are bollards on a bank of sheet piles. We are August 18, we are still well advanced.
The Saône side.

Le versant Saône, les 1ères 8 écluses sont automatiques et en chaine l’une après l’autre et cela se fait en 2 heures. 3 écluses de plus et nous voici à la halte de Piepape (Photo 38), ponton en bois ombragé au milieu de nulle part, c’est génial. Nous sommes « avalant » maintenant et l’éclusage est facile avec deux amarres coulissantes et en plus les écluses se vident doucement et sans remous. Par contre, les entrées d'écluses, comme nous sommes « avalant », restent difficiles s’il y a du vent. Nous ratons plusieurs fois l’entrée et atterrissons sur la berge. Il faut être patient et recommencer entre 2 rafales. Les écluses sont à détection ou à télécommande, nous avons pris l’habitude. Le temps reste beau à part quelques orages le soir. Il nous faut 7 jours pour atteindre la fin du canal dont deux jours d’escale. En fait, il y moins de possibilité d’escales sur ce versant, surtout pour un bateau de 20 m. Nous avons quand même pu nous arrêter à la Halte de Cusey (Photo 39), belle halte, très propre, eau et électricité gratuite, un lavoir pour faire des petites lessives, c’est ce que nous avons fait, une pizzéria sur le quai et même le boulanger qui passe le matin. Les autres escales sont plus ou moins sauvages, sur une berge ou sur un vieux quai d’un ancien silo comme à Reneve où Il y a un boulanger dans le village. Puis nous arrivons au quai de Maxilly, quai bétonné entièrement vide avec des bornes eau/électricité payantes (3€ les 3 heures), au village petit épicerie et une boulangerie. Plus que 2 écluses sur ce canal. Nous restituons la télécommande à la 43ème et dernière écluse nommée « Chemin de fer ».
The Saône.
On Sunday August 26, we enter the Saône (Photo 40) and the locks take on easier dimensions. The lock keepers are strict: obligation to wear life jackets during the lock. The locks are also deeper but we are still swallowing and the sliding mooring system is working well. We also like to find longer reaches. But we are worried because we are afraid of not finding a place at the stopovers which are all located in the cities and we are still in the summer period. Well, no, we always managed to moor, even though we were told it was only for boats under 15m. But we only sail in the morning to arrive between 12 and 2 p.m. maximum. Here are our stops: Auxonne (Photo 41), fortified town, an easy-to-dock public tiered quay, all shops nearby. Saint Jean de Losne (Photo 42), famous for its technical reception for boats, a public platform in tiers too, very full, but we arrive at the end of the morning, and there is just one free space ... big enough for us, a laundromat across the street, a mini market and bakeries in the village, and several shipchandlers / yards / marinas nearby (we stayed an extra day and had our engine oil changed). Nautical stop at Tournus (Photo 43), very beautiful and all flowery, a half-place at the end of the pontoon, water and free electricity, the weather is rainy and cool, we stay 4 days, a historic town to visit, a superb market on Saturday morning, otherwise any nearby trade. Nautical stop at Belleville sur Saône, (Photo 43 bis), pontoon intended for boats less than 15 m, with free water and electricity. We stayed for 1 day, the time to see the family. On the Saône, we now come across large merchant ships, convoys, and especially hotel boats, but no problem with crossings, it's wide. The next stopover is Lyon and we are starting to stress a bit because the Rhône is a harder river and with current.

The arrival in Lyon is extraordinary with its quays and old churches (Photo 43 ter). We moor on a public quay shaded by willows, a very pleasant and somewhat magical place at the foot of Fourvière (Photo 44). We stay 2 nights because members of our family come to see us. We take the opportunity to buy a map-guide book on the Rhône because in fact we have very little information on navigation on the Rhône. This will surely help us and reassure us to know this river a little better before we venture there.
The Rhône.

On September 7, the weather was still magnificent, we entered the Rhône (Photo 45). It is majestic and calm. Locks are often in diversions. The locks are very high (from 7 to 23 m) but they have floating bollards and it is easy (Photo 46). As our boat is too short to have two bollards, we moor the front and rear on the same bollard and tighten tight. The boat is straying a bit from the rear, but in general things are going very well. You must not forget your life jacket, otherwise the lock keeper will call you by loudspeaker. He doesn't start the lock until you have the life jacket on. The lock keepers are well organized, we call them by phone 30 minutes before arriving to find out whether there is a wait or not. It allows us to arrive quickly if it's free or to hang around a bit to arrive just at the right time. Otherwise, you have to wait because the commercial boats have priority, (Photo 47) and (Photo 48). so we make circles on the water before the lock. It's hard to stop at the nautical stops, they are small and already busy. This first day on the Rhône, it is only at 4 pm, after having passed 3 crowded stops, that we moor at the Saint Vallier stop, (Photo 49). brand new, but only intended for boats up to 15m as usual. The 1st night is calm on the Rhône. On the other hand, we are starting to get annoyed because despite all our calls in the ports further south (Beaucaire, Bellegarde, Arles, Saint Gilles ...), there is no room for our boat. For the next day, we booked at the port of Cruas 70 km further south. The second day goes wonderfully, on a shimmering and smooth Rhône on a sunny day without wind (Photo 45 bis).

L'arrivée à Cruas.

The arrival at the port of Cruas is more eventful. The entrance to the port is on the right, hidden by a bank full of vegetation. We do not see the harbor entrance markers. We pass it and there we see the entrance, but where to go, it has big red beacons everywhere. We see a boat on the shore, we think it's good this way to enter the port. Bad maneuver, we enter behind a red beacon and immediately land on stones. Here we are stopped on a groyne a few meters from the port. What stupidity on our part! Fortunately, a yachtsman from the port, a former boatman of the Rhône, comes with his boat and pulls us. After 2 or 3 unsuccessful attempts, we also put our engine to full speed for a few seconds and the boat slips, waddling on the stones with the sound of scrap metal. We're back in the water, we re-engage the engine, the propeller turns, the helm seems to be working fine. Phew! We enter the port where a beautiful place awaits us. We check the boat, its propeller, rudder, seabed… everything seems to be in order, except for a very slightly twisted propeller blade at the edge. The port is very pleasant (Photo 50). in a well-appointed area away from the village. The welcome is warm. We ask for long term rates. We have been traveling for 52 days, we are starting to get tired and as we have not found a place further south, why not stay here in Cruas. The village is pleasant, well organized. There is a very touristy medieval village and we arrive on the day of the medieval festival. After 3 days, the port captain gives us his agreement for a place for 6 or 8 months at a very correct price. The decision is made, we will spend the winter here and in the meantime see to find a place lower down. After all, we are only two or three days from our destination, it will be time next spring to go lower. We have traveled over 1,000 km and our journey ends there for now. In fact we are happy to rest a little. Finally, our trip went well, despite a few incidents and we came close to disaster 3 times. This is the adventure! But that's nothing compared to the moments of happiness that we have experienced throughout these navigations, these discoveries, these landscapes ...

©2016 - OPENELEMENT. TEMPLATE réalisé par  Gil