We have been in Europe almost 5 months now and coming to the end of our summer cruising. But like any good novel or play or movie, the end of this trip (in canal terms anyway) took us to a climax in our boating story before putting our boat to bed for the winter.
The canals are full of rumours and stories about what is and is not available, where and where is not a good place for moorage, how much water there is in the canals, where the locks are not working, winter storage etc. I have learned from my experience on the canals that everyone has their own truth, and will pass on whatever experience they have had. We thought we very quite intrepid until we saw these stickers on a bunch of locks, and a large Dutch barge for sale called ‘Daryl’s Inheritance’ – homeport – Victoria BC.
Back to the climax of our sojourn 2012 – as I mentioned in the last blog we changed our destination and ‘took the foot off the pedal ‘ in Nancy. After Nancy we entered a 16 meter lock (yes 50 feet lift in one lock). I thought the locks in the Netherlands were big, but this one was like driving into a huge tomb, waiting to be resurrected by the surge of water beneath us. It took 25 minutes for the lock to fill (we were the only boat using these millions of gallons of water). Needless to say I was glad when we reached the top and could motor out into main canal.
We were traveled the Canal de la Marne au Rhin heading east through some industrial areas in Dombasle sur Meurthe (the largest port in the area) and the surrounding towns. Yes, there are real salt mines (other than your place of work) in this area, and they were quite ugly.
The weather has been very mixed as we followed the canal for a couple of days and arrived in Niderviller. This was a very interesting and well used port. We noticed lots of boats on the canal – most chartered by Germans. Then I discovered it was a school holiday for a couple of weeks in some parts of Germany and a national holiday for something or other. We stayed in Niderviller for a couple of days – one day we biked over to the town of Sarrebourg (a hilly 10 kms round trip) and visited some of the local sights. We are in Alsace – the most German part of France (the architecture, wine food etc) and everyone along the canal seems to be bilingual – French and German so I was able to navigate shops etc quite well.
We had been gaining elevation since we left Nancy and after the big lock we came to the two big feeder lakes for the canal system. When we left Niderviller we start a spectacular part of our journey. Firstly we entered two tunnels – the first was 475 meters long, the second was 2400 meters long. It was a one way, cold and dark passage through the mountain. We used our navigation lights but had no rear light so used a candle in a lantern to guide the boat behind us. It was quite spooky and raised my fear of bats.
Once we exited the tunnels we were in another valley and cruised through to another spectacular engineering feat – the Plan incline d’Arzviller. This inclined plane replaced a staircase of 17 locks and goes down almost 45 meters (150 feet) to the lower basin. The boats drive into a bath of water, which is then contained and moved down the mountainside by means of two 850 ton counter weights. It was quite a feeling when our boat started moving down hill in this box of water –a very impressive 25 minute journey (sure beats doing 17 locks). We were still going downhill – now into Lutzelbourg a delightful little port on our way to Saverne and Strasbourg.
At Saverne we moored just across from the Chateau du Rohan – a summer place for someone or other. Happily the grounds have been made into a school playing field (the Revolution had some long term consequences). The town is very Alsace and seems to be heavily laden with mythological characters – statues of unicorns, green men and gargoyles everywhere sprinkled among the lathe and plaster buildings you might see in the Black Forest on the other side of the Rhine.
In Saverne we re-met some charming Americans who had shipped their sail boat to Europe and were moving down the canals to the Mediterranean. We met them in Toul, Nancy and now in Saverne. They were doing their sojourn in a much smaller boat, which meant they ate out most days so experienced the local fare in a different way to us. We shared information (very important in the boating world), traded stories and avoided talking politics! They seemed happy to see friendly faces that spoke English
We changed our plans yet again and will winter the boat in Saverne (about 50kms west of Strasbourg) – which saves us a lot of moorage money. In the meantime we had a visit from our friend Michael Mascall, who flew into Frankfurt and took a bus to Stasbourg and then a train to us. He was just thrilled to be in France, loved the boat and turned into a cheeseaholic within 24 hours of arrival. It was nice to see a friendly face from home and reorient ourselves to Canada.
Michael stayed for about 5 days then went off sailing in Greece. We took him on a little jaunt through some locks – just for the experience.
Martin and I took a little jaunt (1200kms round trip) to Roanne, to pick up our new car. We bought a 1996 4 door Peuguot 106 diesel, which will be our other form of transportation in Europe. It took us a day to do the paper work and then the next day we went down on the train. Our test drive for the car was the 600km return trip. It passed the test well. Meanwhile Michael stayed with Kerry for the long day.
We also had a short visit from my friends Brigitte and Peter who live near Freiburg, Germany – about one hours drive from here. Brigitte, who is an English teacher was in the UK for a course, and we were a short stop on the way home for her. We will visit again in December on our way south.
Since then we have spent a very uncomfortable couple of days in Saverne; we had a huge wind storm, 8°C, rain at a level 6 on the rain scale, no electricity, we used up the batteries therefore no heat and no Downton Abbey, Martin felled by a head cold, and deadlines for getting out of here and packing up the boat. We moved the boat and got the power and heat back. Deadlines are met and we are now on our way to the ferry in Zeebrugge, Belgium back to my mum’s house in Hull. Kerry will stay in England while Martin and I fly home for a few weeks in BC arriving October 25th in Vancouver 🙂
Our evaluation of our journey is – so far so good. We are pleased with the boat – although I know Martin feels a bit stressed about keeping all the systems running but his anxiety level has diminished considerably as we have become more familiar with Skookum and all her denizens. I have enjoyed a life lived more outdoors than inside and discovering the unseen gems of Yorkshire, the Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France. Our journey has been full of hard work, focus and concentration but worth the effort. What else are we going to do – vegetate?
We have a number of people to thank for helping to make this summer happen, not least of whom is Arthur Groen our agent in Dordrecht who found us our good deal, and referred us to Stevens BV boat yard in Dintelmonde (where we spend so much time and money). Perry Stevens and the good guys at the boatyard did a brilliant job – it was over budget but now we have had the boat for a few months it seems worth it.
We thank the wonderful people we met along the way and provide us with advice and information, but especially Mary Koyl and Marc Pakenham, who, having their own boating experience, gave us such valuable help and support.
But our deepest thanks goes to our families (especially my mum) and friends whose love, assistance and support has made this whole thing possible. Yes they thought we were a little crazy – but what else in new?
My fitness teacher and good friend Blanche Black gave us a little book that has become our travel guide “Oh the Places you’ll go” by Dr Seuss . The last lines are:
You’ll get mixed up of course – as you already know
You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go
So be sure when you step
Step with care and great tact
And remember that Life’s
A great balancing act
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft
And never mix up your right foot from your left
And you will succeed
Yes you will indeed
(98 and ¾ per cent guaranteed)
KID – YOU WILL MOVE MOUNTAINS
– We didn’t move mountains but we went up them, through them and down the other side all by boat.
So now we start back at the beginning again with another dream and another decision (remember Goethe and his line: Decision bring with it boldness, power, and magic) for the winter part of our European sojourn.