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Kerr Barging Blogs

We have spent a fair bit of time cruising in the South Pacific aboard our 33 years young 11.1metre yacht, Pastime of Sydney. We are now cruising through the canals and rivers of France on our old barge, "Anja", which was built in the North of the Netherlands in 1903. Anja was 110 years old in May 2013 and we celebrated with good French Champagne- but the boat did not get any! In 2014, for Anja's 111th, we took her back to where she was built in the North of the Netherlands.
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Chasing Parcels

We left the boat yard with a few tasks undone and unfortunately several of these involved the delivery of large objects. How to manage that when you are on a barge moving every day? If it's a parcel, Post Restante works very well and we picked up a large drill and a drill tap at the Post Office in Peronne. But what about batteries or a water tank! An internet search revealed a system of "Relais", shops which are willing to accept courier deliveries and hold them until they can be collected. So we tried to send two large batteries to an Andresy newsagent, but that didn't work out, so they ended up at a hairdresser, unfortunately a bit further away. The water tank went to a bike shop in Peronnes and last year we picked up a parcel at an optometrist near Armentieres and one at a supermarket. This system works very well from our point of view because often we have no idea exactly where we will end up at a particular time and no courier company would be able to fit in with our nomadic existence. It is just as well that we have a solid trolley: David walked over 2 kms with the two 20 kgs batteries. Luckily the cumbersome  60 litre water tank was only 300 metres from the boat.

IMG 8953The cygnets have been appearing the past two weeks
So our trip North from Paris along the Oise River and Canal du Nord was busy with making good time on the waterways; picking up parcels; and installing batteries and water tanks. There was a strike of lock keepers for a day, protesting against the reduction of expenditure on the waterways, inflamed by a statement from the new Minister from Transport that seemed to ignore the river systems . We were not travelling on that day anyhow but there was a lot of built up traffic the next day as a result. The locks on the Oise are large and double, that is, two operate independently, sometimes to take one boat up and another down at the same time, at other times to clear a backlog quickly. At one of the first locks of the day we had a little wait as both locks were bringing boats towards us. Then the gates opened at the same time, and thirteen huge barges exited. Together they carried the load of 250 sem-itrailers. Sorry, no photos, we were fully occupied keeping out of their way as they charged down the river past us.

As we had travelled this way before we did not spend much time exploring. Instead David succeeded in installing the electric hot water system and then connecting it up so that the engine can heat the water as we go along, a project he had previously discarded as impossible, so even more celebrated when completed and very effective. With the new batteries the bow thruster thrusts much more powerfully and is quite scary when one is at the bow waiting to throw a line onto an approaching bollard.

The Canal du Nord

There are two choices of route North towards Belgium and the Netherlands. One is via the Canal St Quentin, a smaller canal with many locks which are basically Freycinet size. For us the main problem with it is the tunnel at the summit. Whereas boats are allowed to drive through other tunnels we have been on, boats are towed through this tunnel which is 5.67 kilometres long. We have heard some sad stories of people sustaining quite serious damage during the tow if the ropes on  their boat or those in front are not properly adjusted. There are only two passages of boats a day in each direction so the row of craft might be quite long, with the heaviest at the front. All engines are turned off so one is entirely at the mercy of the tower and the other people in the line.

IMG 8957Penny working the lines in a large lock (with another barge)

We have therefore preferred to avoid this route and instead use the Canal du Nord though it carries more commercial traffic and is probably less scenic. It was begun in the early 1900s but massively damaged especially during the First World War. It was finally finished in the 1960s but is not adequate for the number and size of barges which use it. We have already described the 13 barges exiting from the lock on the Oise River; the locks on the Canal du Nord could have handled only one large or two smaller of those barges at one time, yet the two are in effect a single route. Similarly the "Large Gauge" Canal to its North has enormous locks which take very large boats, which cannot fit into the Nord locks. As a result there is a new canal being built to take the bigger boats and the extra traffic, to be called the Seine-Nord Europe Canal, estimated to be in use by 2016. Boatrs each carrying the load of 150 large trucks will be able to use the new canal.

Last year we had an excellent run on the Canal du Nord. This year the Nord was much busier and we could see how much difference it will make when the new Canal is in operation. Estimates are that the opening of the new canal will lead to an instant doubling of the amount of water traffic moved in France.



Best Regards,


Penny and Dave

Location (Map)

Écluse de Denain, 59220 Denain, France
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Boat Names
Happy 111th Birthday ANJA- at Andresy


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Wednesday, 12 June 2024

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