After being delayed for lock closures and then a month of non stop rain leaving the river too fast to navigate,we finally departed Thames and Kennet Marina near Reading on 20th April. Arriving at the first lock Sonning the engine was overheating. The header tank was dry with no visible sign of water loss around the engine or into the engine oil.
John the lock keeper was fantastic and called an engineer, Mark from Tiller and Keel maintenance. Mark arrived 30 minutes later. He checked the engine and came to the optinion that the Water cooling box had probably failed. This is similar to a car radiator but instead of air passing through the pipes its water. This required pressure testing to confirm and if necessary the boat would have to come out of the water to replace. The hoist at Thames and Kennet is out of service so no point going back.
I limped slowly to Henley leaving the pressure cap off and regularly nipping into the engine room to keep the coolant tank topped up. All on yellow boards and single handed. Oh the stress. Whilst in henley I re-routed the pipes on the box and tested the pressure. Sure enough the pressure dropped quickly.
Pipers had a spare in the factory which Vinne from Pipers dropped off on his way to the Piper show in France.
Next problem find somewhere to lift the boat out and replace the unit. Piper had been recently lifted a new boat in at Racecourse marina Windsor. A call and they very helpfully gave us a lift slot for a few days time. Jo joined me at Henley and we cruised from Henley to the marina in 2 days continuing to replace the coolant. The coolant top up required over the 2 days was 15 litres and getting worse.
Mark the Manager at Racecourse gave me helpful instructions to reach the hoist which is located at the far end of the small and full marina after negotiating a very tight 1km inlet channel.
At 0900 the hoist team lifted Angela Dawn out of the water and placed her on the hardstanding still in the straps. Mark (Engineer) took around 2 hours to replace the cooling box. The box cooling pipes showed signs of corrosion and very rusty water inside. When I’ve time I’ll jet wash the old tube system, suspend it and fill with water to see where it is leaking.
Angela Dawn was put back in the water with the system filled. Engine run to expell any air and all done. We have now completed a 6 hour cruise downstream with no loss of water.
This was quite a major problem for us but made so much easier thanks to:
For those on the Thames, Mark provides a maintenance and service membership scheme. He’s based in Sonning but will travel. I would highly reccomend Mark and will certainly be taking up his service plan when we return to the Thames.
Mark Pearce and his team at Racecourse Marina Windsor ( Lift and Hold cost £550 )
As always fantastic support and advice from David and Simon Piper with special thanks to Vinnie for extending his journey to France to drop of the parts. Support that is one of the many reasons Piper boats are so popular.
The Saone is wide and gentle. It originates in the north east of France and runs south into the Rhone at Lyon a total length of 480kms. I was only using 60kms this trip.
On entering the canal I initially headed south for 3km to Chalon-sur-Saone for a 3 night stop. On my way I was confronted with a rowing club regatta. A safety boat came over and after a brief chat I decided to wait then pass between races so as not to disrupt the racers.
The port at Chalon is behind a small island, very well equipped with floating pontoons. The harbour staff were on hand to advise where they wanted me to moor and explain the facilities. I’m glad I arrived early as this is a very popular port with hire boaters many of whom arriving in the evening had to find alternative moorings with the port full. The port is very close to a modern out of town shopping complex allowing me to stock up. The old town is quite large with a good selection of bars, cafes and restaurants. On the day I arrived, Sunday there was a market and the town was packed. It’s also a popular stop for the very large river boat cruisers although I didn’t see many passengers on them. Whilst at Chalon friends Clive and Vicky stopped locally for the night on their long drive to Spain and a chance to catch up and have the odd drink.
Turning left behind the island to the port
Rested I moved north to Verdun-sur-le-Doubs. A trip of only 20kms and at 12km/h a short journey. The port at Verdun is at the end of river Doubs where it flows into the Saone. To moor you have to back up to a pontoon. With no finger pontoons you have to leave the boat at the back. Not ideal for a Piper with a high wide back. A quaint, historical town not a huge amount open on my arrival although there was a bustling market the following morning, if you’re into that sort of thing! The harbour master was very helpful pointing out a great dog walk on an adjacent island.
Verdun before the hire boats arrive
From Verdun to my final destination of Saint-Jean-de-Losne (SJDL) was another 40km and 2 large locks. a couple of very winding river patches have been replaced by straight canal cuts to ease travel. Not the most exciting of scenery, lots of agricultural land, fields of cows. Passing Seurre I could see it looked like Chalon, another popular hotel boat stop. It did look like a better place for mooring and certainly a place I’d consider next time.
Wide river ahead
Nutty in life jacket
One of 2 locks
The town of SJDL is on a junction with the Saone and the Southern end of the Canal de Bourgogne another north-south route. The port’s in a large marina in the centre of town. A very popular boating point boats large and small craft are moored not just in the marina but river and canal side. The initial part of the canal is full of commercial boat businesses repairing, maintaining and storing craft boats. The town has a couple of good supermarkets, DIY shop, restaurants and cafes, there’s a lot of British people here.
Entry to Canal Bourgogne
I’m temporarily moored along side an old barge for a few days as they’re having an open weekend selling boats. After the weekend several boats will be removed from the water and I’ll move to a better mooring although this one’s fine for now.
On my arrival whilst connecting my electric cable I was startled by a very large explosion and saw the cabin of a cruiser boat blown into the air. My first thought was a gas explosion. It didn’t immediately catch fire and amazingly I saw a man helped out of the wreckage by an adjacent boat. Within minutes the boat caught fire which quickly became out of control damaging adjacent boats that were not able to be moved. It took the fire brigade an hour to extinguish. A very shocking and sad sight.
The owner had been working on his fuel petrol tank, most boats are run on diesel fuel. He’d emptied the fuel into containers on the boat. Then began drilling a hole in the base of the tank to drain water that had collected. The fumes within the tank ignited from a spark. At time of writing the he’s stable in hospital with burns and is expected to make a full recovery. The same cannot be said for his boat.
An unfortunate explosive end to an amazing 4 months cruising and almost exactly 2 years since the launch of my beautiful boat Angela Dawn. No two days since arriving in France have been the same. Each day has bought a new view, experience and people to meet. I’ve seen and experienced so much it seems like such a long time since my Channel crossing. My French has improved very slightly and I do mean slightly.
Before leaving Britain I was uncertain how I’d cope with a floating life abroad, would the waterways and locks be too difficult alone. Would I be lonely, would there be places to walk the dog, buy food near moorings, fill the water tank? The list of uncertainties was long. Quickly it became apparent that everything could be made to work with patience and the odd glass of wine.
Launch day 14th September 2016
With Jo, occasional friends visiting and the ease of communicating with people in the UK I rarely feel lonely. But then of course I do have Nutty who has always has been my loving companion, rarely moaning and a great introduction to meeting people.
Through the winter I’ll return periodically to check on the boat. She’s in a secure area but I know as soon as I leave I’ll want to be back aboard. I cannot imagine ever living permanently on land.
If the conditions are good through the winter we’ll go for short cruise.
The last 4 months has been fabulous but mentally exhausting, next year I could be here for twice the time so will plan breaks back to Britain, if nothing else but for some decent real ale.
Figures since arriving in France;
Cruised 1146 kms, 264 locks, The engine’s run 215 hours.
Cost comparison France / UK
River licence for non tidal Thames – £1234
Licence for all French waterways – £458
12 months unserviced mooring Windsor £3150 plus local mooring fees whilst cruising.
6 months winter full serviced mooring Saint-Jean-de-Losne £1078 plus local mooring fees whilst cruising which are similar to the Thames.
The canal du Centre takes me from Digoin the most southerly town of my journey north east to Chalon-Sur-Saone, a trip of 112kms and 61 locks. The canal du Centre is, like everywhere beautiful but a little tedious because there’s such a high concentration of locks, most are automated but some needed a little attention by the mobile lock keepers. I had heard of reports that this canals water level may be low and full of weed. Thankfully this did not turn out to be correct.
The first day is fairly straight forward with automatic locks and a 2 night stop at Paray-le-Monial. Wow, what a truly beautiful town. Rich with history, beautifully maintained. The quay accommodates several barges and whilst there I met Canadians, Australians and Sally and Charles on Piper barge Bluegum. The quay has a large woodland park perfect for Nutty to run around.
Basilique du Sacre Coeur
Basilique du Sacre Coeur
The Central is very a winding canal and not one to be rushed. Other boats were far and few between but you could guarantee when one appeared it’d be coming the other way on a corner. Montceau-Les-Mines was my next destination with 3 lifting bridges to negotiate before arriving at the modern port. The mines here are long closed and the old site is reclaimed into lakes, woods, farms and a lovely place to walk the dog. Here we met another Vizsla only the second in France. A very feisty 3 month old pup called Odin who’s going to grow into a big dog.
Nutty meets Odin
One of 3 lifting bridges Montceau
No idea what this is
Continuing upstream to Ecuisses the peak of this canal, there used to be a canal museum here but unfortunately it’s closed leaving a large commercial barge in what looks like someones garden.
Boat in garden by closed museum
Unused decorated lock keepers tower
Floating bollard on deeper locks
Going downstream it’s much less traumatic, the water gently runs out of the lock and it’s easy to hold the boat gently with one rope. In deeper locks they have floating bollards to make it even easier. Going upstream is dependant on how and how fast the water enters the lock. If large amounts enter immediately by the gates you are at first pushed back and then forward after the water hits the back gates. Often bumping the boat from side to side.
Downhill to Chagny stopping at Saint Leger for lunch, a popular port for hotel barges, I must have arrived on changeover day as none were moving, just stocking up.
For the majority of the canal from Paray to Saint Leger a minor road runs very close to the canal. Odd when you see a car coming round the corner at the same height, for a moment the mind plays tricks and you think “I hope you’re going to turn out of my way.” Although a minor road it was quite scary watching the speeds and blind overtaking that goes on. I had to keep Nutty on a line at locks in case she spotted a squirrel on the other side of the road.
From Chagny through 8 locks, most over 5 meters deep in quick succession eventually stopping at Fragnes. This is on the outskirts of Chalon and only 8kms from the River Saone. A very well maintained quay in what appears to be an affluent village. The quay has an excellent bakery, restaurant and bar.
Very French starter
Sunset from the quay restaurant
I was told by the lady in the tourist office / harbour master that the final lock only opened twice in the morning to save water as it’s 10.76 meters (35 feet) deep. I arranged to meet with a French cruiser at 8.15am for the short journey to be at the lock for 9.
Lock at Chalon
Company in the lock
The lock at Chalon dropping us onto the Saone is controlled by a lock keeper. It was ready for us as we arrived before 9. The keeper took note of our boat names and destination before lowering us down. The drop was very quick and smooth. Being fairly narrow for such a deep canal it was quite grim and gloomy at the bottom. The steel gates were hauled up by 2 chains and then we were back in the sunshine and on the River Saone.
From the Seine Nutty and I have 3 canals to transit to take me to the most southerly point on this years travels at Digoin. These are The Canals de Loing, de Briare and a la Loire. A total of 300kms and 87 locks elevating us roughly 200 meters.
My hopes of stopping off the Seine at Saint-Mammes were dashed by the only pontoon mooring taken by a hotel barge. Entering the Canal Loing my first impression was “oh Dear” it had many tatty live-aboards in poor condition and nowhere to moor. I came to the first lock which was closed for lunch but managed to moor against a British couple, Dave and Angie on barge Solstice. They were awaiting a diver to check out their prop which was vibrating.
At the lock a student working for the VNF as a summer job gave me a remote control and off I went. The locks were simple and quick. Press for up or downstream. The light beside the lock flashes orange to acknowledge your request then red and green lights show to indicate the lock is being prepared. Green and in you go. If it stays red that means someone’s coming the other way. If nothing happens, check your watch if it’s between 12 and one it’s lunchtime of course.
I stopped fairly quickly on the canal as I was very tired having covered 39km in 8 hours with 6 locks of the locks on the Seine and the size of football pitches. I moored at Episy, a small concrete wall with mooring rings but nothing around. A bit spooky but very quiet.
From there I stopped at Nemous then Montargis. Here I did an oil change on the generator, it’d been stopping with low oil pressure warning. On doing some research one possible answer was that the temperature was too high in the engine room for the oil and it needed replacing or a denser oil. I need the generator at night to run the air conditioning when not connected to mains power, it was very warm. The oil change did the trick although I must have lost a couple of pounds sweating in the engine room for 2 hours.
Entering Montargis was interesting, some tight bends with a large barge on one corner working on the canal walls. Squeezed through then had to wait with a day trip boat to enter a lock. The lady pilot came over and we established we’d just fit in together. Hmmm, it was tight and she bumped into me which made her customers and me jump. Leaving the lock I handed in my lock remote control in as this was the end of the Loing. I was delighted to see my friends Ton, Marcella and Bobby who I’d met over a month ago. They were coming the opposite way and we’d arranged to stop a few nights to catch up.
Next onto the Canal de Briare. The locks are manual meaning there’s a lock keeper who manually winds the gates and sluices open and shut. No pushing and pulling like the UK. I would always jump off at the top and close one of the gates. A simple gesture but much appreciated and it quickened my passage. The lock keepers would ask if I was continuing, if so they’d advise the next keeper who’d have the lock ready unless there was traffic coming the opposite way. A great system, manpower intensive but it works well. The keepers are very pleasant and everyone of course loves Nutty. There are automated locks were on flights of locks, here a sensor picked the boat passing and set the process into operation. Once inside I’d push a pole to activate a switch and the process of gates closing and lock filling began.
On all the canals I love watching the Grey Herons. They stand on the bank until my bow passes them then they swoop up ahead of me for a hundred meters then land back on the bank. This is repeated several times eventually they land high up in a tree as if to say, that’s it this is the limit of my escort you’re with Fred now. Then another would appear and do the same.
Nutty like to watch the smaller lock process
In case I was lost
On the Briare, a fairly short canal, I stopped at Chatillon-Coligny first. I had planned to stop at Briare but on calling the Harbour master I was told they couldn’t accommodate a me and suggested Ouzouer-Sur-Trezee. On the way to Ouzouer I stopped for lunch at Rogny. Here there’s a historical flight of 7 disused locks. They were opened in 1642 and closed in 1887. An amazing engineering feat for the day. Rogny is a stunning village, popular with tourists and one I will definitely visit it again.
Rogny and the original flight of 7 locks
Rogny and the original flight of 7 locks
On leaving Rogny I went up the replacement flight of 6 locks. They are marked in the books as automatic, however they’re all over 4 meters deep and in 1887 no thought was given to mooring points within the lock for a boats rope as they would have had the boats permanently attached to a horse on the towpath. So now a VNF operative drops a hook on the end of a rope to haul up your mooring line, pass it round a bollard and back down to you. They then start the automatic process of the lock, get in a car and move to the next lock until all 6 are completed. Unfortunately this is necessary as fixing bollards inside the lock would damage boats and restrict width. Cutting into the stone walls I guess would be massively expensive and may weaken the lock. After another 4 kms I had the same process going downhill on a flight.
This video shows departing Rogny, passing the old locks and rising on the first 2 of the current flight.
As I passed Briare I crossed the River Loire on the 662 meter long aqueduct which was until 2003 the longest in the world.
Briare marked the end of that Canal. Now I was on the Canal lateral a la Loire which runs along the river valley for 196kms crossing it, or tributaries every now and then.
Night stopping at the lovely village of Belleville-Sur-Loire, close to a nuclear power station (free electricity at the mooring!) Then onto Saint-Thibault where the port is in a disused cut through from the canal to the river. The unpredictable water levels on the river mean it’s not practical for boating so the Loire side lock is disused. Here I visited Sancerre, on top of a hill. It took 45 minutes walk through vineyards to reach, very attractive and I was very ready for a chilled glass of local wine.
Back in the valley Nutty enjoyed swimming in the clean flowing river Loire and digging holes in the sandy banks.
EDF Nuclear power station Belleville
St-Thibault, Sancerre on the hill
The next aqueduct came at Le Guetin crossing the river Allier which flows into the Loire. I had to wait a short wait as first in was Hotel Barge Apres Tout with their American customers. It’s quite a spectacle as it climbs above the passing road. There are 2 locks together lifting you up. On the aqueduct it’s very strange floating high above and takes a lot of concentration to keep a straight line and not constantly bump off the sides.
Hotel Apres Tout in the lock
A tourist attraction
Time for me and French barge Tango
I entered the lock with French barge Tango. The lock keeper lowered a hook on a line to pick up my mooring rope. I’d joined 2 together to make this work. Going up was very smooth and used a small amount of power against the rope to hold position.
Unfortunately on leaving I very quickly caught up with Apres Tout who was cruising at 3km/h which is slower than I can idle. So for 2 hours I was stuck behind using short bursts of power then drifting, the banks were not good enough to stop and moor. A good lesson for the next time I’m behind a hotel barge, stop and find a bar.
My next major mooring was Decize again where the canal and river are conencted by a short canal this is also used as a port. This time both ends are used as the eastern side allows access to a short part of the Loire and then onto the Canal Nivernais which runs back north towards Paris. In Decize I was joined by friend Geoff for a couple of nights on his way to Switzerland and then Jo for 4 days. A pleasant well equipped modern port, secure with a small hotel/restaurant on site and a supermarket very close. The town is quaint but not very large.
The locks for the remainder of this canal are manual. Surprisingly very few boats were on this canal so invariable the locks was all set ready for me to enter on arrival.
Some stunning view across the Loire valley. Stops along the way at Vanneaux, Diou and after another aqueduct Digoin which is the end of the Canal Lateral a la Loire.
I entered the Seine 5km south of the Port Arsenal which is at the end of the Canal du Saint Martin and next to the Bastille. The Port entrance is through a lock entered by calling the Capitainaire on VHF from the river or by coming down the canal from the north.
The Arsenal is superb, very surprisingly the cleanest water seen in France. Possibly due to the fact it has a very good black tank pump out facility rather than dumping waste straight into the river/canal. So much so that I decided to use the Port washing machine rather than mine and muck it up. The port is next to the Place de la Bastille and its Metro underground station. Notre-Dame cathedral is only a 30 minute walk along the Seine and the Paris Plages with deck chairs, bars, food and live music.
The port had plenty of space with a lot of the regular boats out cruising. I extended the visit for a week without any problem. Facilities for boaters are very good. The port is not fully secure but it felt secure with cameras and security staff around. A reasonable area for Nutty to play and with regular dog walkers passing by many were happy to let their dogs off the lead. Some strange sights also, apparently a popular place for filming. Goodness knows what?
Back onto the Seine heading upstream for 85kms to the Canal du Loing at Saint-Mammes. 7 huge locks to negotiate. The Seine even in Paris is much tamer than the Thames through London. There’s no tide and little current at this time of year to slow me down. The commercial barges and hotel boats are very large and have priority over pleasure boats. Having said that the locks are so big there was never any question of not getting in. The locks (2 at each point) are manned by staff in a control tower who operate the automatic system. I checked in on VHF and even with my appalling French managed to be understood, although one did ask me to speak English and on another I could hear laughter in the background! The process was reasonably quick and easy with rising bollards to attach a line to.
Following a hotel barge
Mooring places on the river are few and on the main river bank so choppy when a boat passes. I intended to do this trip in 2 days and moored up for the one night at Melun, a pleasant town with good moorings but as predicted choppy. A Dutch hotel barge I’d seen and spoken to few times stopped there as well and kindly got me a fresh baguette in the morning.
The river is fairly wide with plenty of room for everyone. Keeping out of the commercial barges is essential to help them and always gets a thank you wave.
Even going upstream I was making 12km/h easily without the engine screaming. Once clear of the industrial areas, the scenery of the Seine became more attractive the further I went. However, I was ready to move onto quieter waters at the end of the second day.
Leaving Reims I headed south to join the river Marne at Conde-sur-Marne then westbound to Paris.
The Marne is a combination of canalised (river with locks) small canals to cut out some of the bends and pure river. It’s very gentle, at least in the summer. The temperature for the first few days remained very high peaking regularly at 38 degrees. My 2 aircon units were working hard and it helped to find moorings with electricity which turned out to be fairly easy. This section is 238kms long, has 23 locks and 2 small tunnels. The locks are mostly automated operated from a remote control given to you at various sections by a lock keeper.
The eastern part of the river was well into Champage country with south facing vineyards on my right covering the hills, at times down to river level.
With every twist and turn there’s a new view, some stunning and fascinating buildings either along side the river or a short walk.
One of the best parts of cruising any waterway has been the other boaters. There are many British boaters and I’ve seen several Pipers the same make as mine. Everyone is friendly, keen to help and pass on their experience and knowledge. Once on one waterway for several days you see the same boats leap frogging each other and build friendships. It’s interesting the international mix of boaters, British and Dutch seem to be in greatest numbers full time cruising, a few Belgians then New Zealanders and Australians. The French seem to enjoy shorter trips. Everyone on the water or banks waves and seems happy to see you there.
Moored against Debbie and Kevin in Piper boat Rangali in Dormans
Most towns and villages have some form of mooring facility. Some just a small pontoon, others have built larger landing stages equipped with water and electricity. It varies whether there’s any cost and what the cost is but usually between 5 – 15 euros a night.
The trip along the Marne took 10 days ending with a refuelling stop at Nogent. A short tunnel, couple of locks and onto the river Seine just south of Paris centre. Unfortunately my plotter software did not extend this far south and stopped working. Also for some reason my phone GPS had a significant delay so any map software was useless. No problem back onto good old paper maps and guides. Just could have done without this distraction entering the Seine. Soon sorted once moored.
The Marne is beautiful, very similar in places and size to the non-tidal Thames. A river I’d certainly like to do again.
Arriving in Cambrai for the middle weekend in July was great luck. Saturday saw the Tour de France flash through while the town was celebrating French National (Bastille) Day. A magnificent fireworks display erupted over the town hall partially to the rather odd theme music from the 70’s program The Love Boat!
Sunday I sat in a bar watching the World Cup final on my phone with Steve and Anna from Patricia. There was no chance of getting near a TV. Bizarrely the internet video was about a minute behind real TV, so while the whole town screamed I had to wait to see what had actually occurred, although it was pretty obvious.
Angela Dawn and Patricia in Cambrai
Leaving Cambrai I continued south on the Canal de Saint-Quentin. A very gentle quiet canal with rolling fields of crops either side. Some pleasant moorings but few facilities. I’d phoned and pre-booked my transit through the Riqueval tunnel before leaving Cambrai. This tunnel is 3.5 miles long and built on the orders on Napoleon, completed in 1810. There’s no ventilation so you’re pulled through by a barge which runs off electric overhead cables that pull a chain from the canal base. It’s supposed to be able to pull 20-30 boats at once which must be slow. For this transit (There’s only 2 a day) I was with a small Dutch cruiser Flujas. The VNF guys gave me a rope to attach to my bow bollards and the cruiser behind had ropes attached to my stern. Being only 2 boats this was easy but there have been reports of boats struggling to stay in a straight line and hitting the tunnel walls as some boats had uneven lines. The trip took 90 minutes and was totally uneventful emerging into a wooded gorge to stop the night.
After the long tunnel there was another shorter one at Le Tronquoy which I transited under my own power. On to Saint-Quentin where I’d planned to moor, however I moved on again after some undesirables took too much interest in my boat finally stopping at a beautiful spot in Le Hamel. Here I met up with the Dutch cruiser Flujas, Ton, Marcella and Bob the dog. Chatting to Ton was excellent as Ton’s a tug skipper and gave me plenty of ideas for a future cruise in Holland.
Dutch cruiser Flujas
From Le Hamel it took me a further 3 days to reach Reims. I was keen to arrive in Reims before the very hot weather hit and hopefully be on electric hook up. I managed this but it was long days helped starting early in the cooler air. The locks all the way have been automated either by remote control or twisting or pulling control poles. All but 2 have worked without problem and on those occasions the VNF have turned up fairly swiftly to help me out. Transit through the locks can be very quick often less than 10 minutes. The run to Reims from Cambrai covered 191kms (118miles) and 58 locks. This part of the trip was lovely but I was very ready for a week of Champagne and relaxation in Reims.
With Jo and Nutty aboard it was time to start exploring the canal and river networks of France. Once through the locks at Calais we joined up with Stuart in his Piper barge Victoria. Our first problem was the lift bridges on the Canal du Calais where you phone a number or call on VHF, neither proved successful.We eventually got through by calling the first lock beyond the bridges. This very helpful lady, a student working for the VNF (French river and canal authority) over the summer sorted us out and spoke perfect English. We followed the Calais water bus through the first 3.
We night stopped at Les Attaques, the following morning left Stuart and continued to Watten. A Pretty little town, with the few essential shops and bars. From here we took a lovely walk into the forest to visit the WWII rocket factory. Well worth a visit and on a hot sunny day very refreshing inside the cool bunker. Le Blockhaus
Cool inside the bunker
Rocket Factory Bunker
Nutty ready for a treat, Gnome holds the gin
From Watten we moved along the Grand Gabarit canal to to Arques where we once again met Barge Patricia owned by Steve and Anna. A small marina we moored against Patricia and connected to electric allowing the aircon to work through the hot night. Exploring by foot we looked at the huge 13.13 meter deep lock that we’d have to go through. Next to this lock is a boat lift, now a museum and very similar to the one at Anderton in Cheshire. The deep lock was exciting with a large commercial barge in first we followed with Patricia on the adjacent wall. The rise was fairly gentle although as you’ll see from the video my bow did swing out once when the commercial put on some power to position himself and I wasn’t concentrating.
After a night stop in a siding at Aire sur la Lys we entered the river Lys to do a loop around Lille. The locks are operated by lock keepers travelling between each by van, very efficient just a quick call to set it up. The Lys is very quiet, narrow and weedy in places but plenty of water for us and for the kids jumping from bridges and pontoons trying to cool down. We passed a lovely mooring marina at St Venant for anyone going that way. We eventually stopped on a pontoon at Estaires and bought some much needed insect repellent, antihistamine tablets and cream for our many insect bites. Worth stocking up in the UK thankfully we now seem to be rarely bitten.
Onwards to Armentieres this looked like a great spot with a marina and park with a lake next to it that hopefully Nutty could swim in. The marina was very shallow and we just had enough depth to turn around but couldn’t get to the banks so left and moored on the main river. Armentieres is a fairly substantial town and well worth a visit but unfortunately the water park doesn’t allow dogs.
Our friends Matthew and David who now live on a hotel barge in Tanlay central France drove up to join us for a couple of day of drink and food. The next morning onwards to the end of the Lys and a right turn onto La Duele towards Lille. The guides and other boaters we’d spoken to warned not to moor in Lille so we headed for Wambrechies a suburb. This was a good choice, a delightful marina in a beautiful bustling sociable town. Smart shops, bars and restaurants. The Harbourmaster Allan took great delight in showing me round the town himself. Matthew and David after a further night stop got an Uber back to their car in Armentieres. Jo and I decided to stay in Wambrechies for 2 further nights and enjoy the town.
For anyone travelling through the Chablis region of France this year Matthew and David are open for B&B onboard their hotel barge. Hotel Barge Elisabeth. Lovely boat, location and hosts.
Relaxing in Wambrechies
The Duele is a very busy commercial river and as each huge barge passes the marina the boats rise up and down as the water is pushed into and sucked out. A good reminder to not moor on the main river.
The trip through Lille was uneventful, interesting, but I’m pleased we listened to the advice some undesirable areas. The city centre is lovely, I went in to buy a Data sim card from Mobile company Free. The UK limit roaming data but free were offering 100gb for €19.99, great.
On our way out of Lille Nutty needed to go urgently so we quickly moored up against one bollard wrapping a rope round 3 times, as 2 commercial barges passed the suction pulled Angela Dawn significantly and the rope practically exploded. Thankfully no one hurt or anything damaged apart from the rope, another lesson in mooring on busy waterways. From the Duele we rejoined the Grand Gabarit to night stop at Courcelles les Lens. A small recreational lake with a few moorings, people playing in paddle boats, canoes and fishing. Although full a delightful French lady, Lou allowed us to moor against her steel cruiser. A lovely setting and Nutty was delighted to have a long swim in the cool water. A note for boaters, the mooring at Pont a Vendin is too shallow for a barge, we tried.
Courcelles les Lens
Junction to Canal du Nord
A long cruise to Cambrai followed, passing the junction with the Canal du Nord then a right turn onto the southern section of the river Escaut. Here we called the VNF to obtain a remote control as all the locks on this waterway are automated. Unfortunately our French and his English left some confusion. Once in the lock there’s supposed to be a box which opens and there’s your remote. This wasn’t working and after some Allo Allo style French a VNF man turned up to help us out. The cruise to Cambrai was lovely much more like the scenery I was hoping for and the locks worked well. The marina at Cambrai and town is again very pleasant. Steve and Anna in Patricia turned up the next day and we’ve enjoyed watching the World Cup with the locals. Well done England.
Crossing The English Channel was delayed because of unfavourable wind and tides. David Piper, founder of Piper boats and my pilot for the crossing has taken many boats across and I certainly wasn’t going to question his decision. Listening to Davids history I was glad of his experience, knowledge of the sea and of the boat. He gave me many tips and advice regarding the boat and boating in general.
We departed at 0850 on Monday 25th June for what turned out to be a very uneventful crossing. The winds picked up slightly against the tide causing some swell as we rounded the English coast at Margate. From there it was a steady south easterly heading almost direct to Calais. The weather was delightful, good visibility and the sea calmed down again once in the Channel. The Marine Traffic App makes the area look very busy, and it is, but it’s a big stretch of water. I found it difficult to assess distance, being worried about conflicting vessels that were actually miles away and at our comparatively slow speed were never a problem by the time we came close. One ship a Maersk line container ship did cause us confusion, it was massive, even from a distance. The App was showing it had departed Rotterdam with no destination. It seemed to have stopped in the southbound traffic lane and then turned back towards our track, perhaps they’d forgotten a suitcase!! It proceeded north towards us travelling the wrong way up the traffic lanes passing us to the east.
As we approached Calais you could see a steady stream of ferries in and out from Dover to the south. We seemed to be lucky timing our arrival between peaks in ferry movements. Calling Calais on the radio we were instructed to hold out for one departing ferry. Again our slow speed in comparison meant that this ship was well gone before we entered the Port. We entered port at 1715, 8 hours 25 minutes after departure from Queenborough. In port we held on a mooring buoy outside the entrance to the marina awaiting the water to rise allowing us to enter the harbour at 2200.
Piper barge Victoria was in the marina and her owner Stuart ready to help with the lines. Calais marina is safe, modern with floating pontoons, electricity, water and wifi all for 35€ per night.
Welcome to France
The following morning David showed Stuart how to get onto the canal network and I tagged along for the useful experience. David departed on a ferry and I remained in the marina for a further 2 days. The fuel was on a self service pump, you just popped the credit card in. I last filled the tank in Windsor then cruised to Teddington, Queenborough and Calais using 258 litres of fuel including a bit on generator and water heating.
I stayed in Calais 3 nights waiting for Jo and Nutty to arrive. Calais was a very pleasant surprise, nothing like the chaos depicted on the UK news. Clean, friendly, with nice beaches.
There’s a large Carrefour 5 minutes drive but local shops in easy walking distance of the marina. Plenty of bars and restaurants many of which were not open, guessing it’s busier at the weekend.
For those considering the trip to France these are the actions I took to prepare, or those I recall.
Advised the insurance company.
Nutty passport checked, flea tablet upgraded to include Ticks and obtained tick collars. Injection against Leptospirosis (Weils disease)
Several spares obtained, filters for engine and generator. Spare pumps clips ect.
Fitted hooks and hung Cargo netting in the engine room to stop loose articles moving from shelves to the engine area.
Obtained a French courtesy ensign.
Moved heavy movable items from engine room (Deck chairs, bed slats).
Cleared decks of all objects, secured canoe with additional rope.
Replaced weed hatch sealant and checked seating following reports from previous boats of leakage. Dry as a bone after reseal.
Moved loose items (glasses, crockery, ornaments, food stuff, books) from cupboards and shelves to boxes and bags on the floor. Strong wide masking tape to stop cupboard doors opening.
Strong water repellent gaffer tape to seal vents and boiler exhaust.
Updated Nav plotter software.
On departure from Queenborough stowed all ropes and fenders.
Life raft on deck and secured, 2 life belts on deck, obtained but didn’t use fold flat radar reflector.
After 18 months using Windsor as a base mooring it’s time to move east towards France. Windsor and Eton have been a fabulous place to live, so much going on and so kind of the Royal Family to liven it up the last month with a small wedding. I’ve made some great friends on and off the water and parked next to a smashing pub couldn’t have been better. Nutty’s having a holiday with my dog sitter Irena and family as she can’t cross with us under the pet passport scheme. She’ll be joining later.
Departing Windsor on Tuesday 12th June made for Hampton Court Palace. A 6 hour trip with 9 locks, thankfully 7 were manned easing the trip. 3 nights at Hampton enjoying the delights of the Mute Swan pub. Mooring is free for 24hours then £8 each day after. Friday I moved the short distance to Teddington Lock, slightly more expensive at £9.50 but Teddington has a good range of pubs and an M & S food. Mick Boden joined me on Saturday for the cruise to France. Sadly Matthew a boating friend and neighbour from Windsor couldn’t join us as their lovely Border Collie Jack is seriously ill after a tick bite. Get well Jack.
Mick and I left Teddington at high water on Sunday at 0550. The initial cruise was fast (for a barge) as the water rushed to leave the river. 8 knots with the engine barely ticking over. We managed to maintain this speed until just past Tower bridge with little increase in power. London was unbelievably quiet, only a few PLA patrol boats and 3 high speed clippers passing us. The video covers the trip from Battersea to Tower Bridge.
Beyond London and the Thames barrier the river widens. Around Tilbury docks we met a few large commercial ships coming in and out. Nothing causing any difficulties with the channel so wide easy to keep clear. The tide was well and truly coming in slowing us to 4 – 5 knots with the engine running at 1800rpm. Into the Sea Reaches round the Isle of Grain the westerly wind had increased and threw us around as we went beam on. Once in the shelter of the River Medway and the final turn into The Swale things settled down. Thankfully few boats were moored on the floating pontoon at Queenborough so fairly simple to dock with the wind blowing us on. The pontoon is a few hundred meters from shore connected by a walkway on mud at low water, floating at high water (fun after a few beers). After 10 hours 15 minutes we were ready for several beers.