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.

Nearing the end

The time to leave must be approaching. About 10 days ago, it was 37degrees. Today it is 18! However, the Basil, Parsley and Chives are thriving even if the geraniums have passed their peak.

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Here we are in Laroche-Migennes having completed a further 161Km and 113 more locks. Penny was adding up that we have passed through 476 locks and seven tunnels this year. We are now one Km and one lock from Anja's winter resting place.Weed cutting in the canalWeed cutting in the canal

We have completed a full circuit of 1,200Kms along the Yonne River, Seine River, Marne River, Canal lateral to the Marne, Canal Marne to Rhine West, Moselle River, Vosges Canal, Petite Saone River, Saone River and finally the Burgundy Canal.

The dryness has continued with further canal closures imminent, particularly in the Northeast. The Burgundy Canal is suffering with water levels down quite a lot in some of the biefs (French for "pound"- the stretch of water between two locks). However the eclusiers (lock-keepers) with whom we have spoken are hoping that this canal can make it through to the end of the cruising season. Certainly, there are no yachts here and a number of boats cannot make it. One Belgian couple that has been with us for a while has been very worried. Their boat draws only 1.07metres but they have barely made it through. We have been fine. However, several times we have needed to pass large hotel barges coming the other direction. The lock keepers have been very good with information and we have managed okay despite the shallow canal sides which are often silted up and almost zero depth.Anja and Penelope- white water rafting in a lockAnja and Penelope- white water rafting in a lock
We are glad that the canal closures forced us to change our plans and come in a big loop rather than yet again come down the Seine and Marne Rivers. Not that we mind those very fine rivers- it is just that we have done them very many times. Despite the fact that we have been along this canal a number of times, we have managed to find quite a few new places to stop and explore, so it has been great and a fitting way to finish.Ancient Town Gate- La BussiereAncient Town Gate- La BussiereVillage Centre- La BussiereVillage Centre- La Bussiere11C Church at La Bussiere- after decades of restoration11C Church at La Bussiere- after decades of restoration
We have enjoyed interacting with the eclusiers and been kept busy helping out on the locks. Our final two visitors of the year- Bern and Pete- had a great time helping the eclusiers and everyone enjoyed the experience.

We have arrived right on schedule, several days early as we are doing a little more cleaning and packing this time. We even purchased an additional suitcase for the trip home.

Best Regards,

Dave and Penelope

Creative carving of dead tree trunk (by the canal)Creative carving of dead tree trunk (by the canal)

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The Pouilly Tunnel

While we were climbing up the locks from St Jean de Losne to Pouilly, we learned that there were water shortages on the Burgundy Canal. We hoped this might mean that the summit level was depressed. However, when we got there, we learned that the level was normal. Maybe we could have requested a lowering of the water level. However, this did not seem the right thing to do with serious water restrictions- letting water out of the summit to make an easier transition for us.IMG 5739

We assembled the heavy wooden beams we constructed in 2015 to assist us in keeping central to the tunnel. These "arms" extend out to 5.65metres width at the stern and the tunnel is 6.00metres wide. So, in theory they keep us within +-17.5cm of the centre. Unfortunately, we touched the tunnel wall twice in the first 334metres- once on each side. The first time was when going from the very bright sunshine of a 35degree day to the relative dark of the tunnel (so that it was not possible to see the waterline for a while) and the second was in trying to get the exact right spot for steering. Boats with a single propellor do not move in a perfect straight line, so you have to steer the bow a little off-centre the whole time. It is ironic that the ends of the "arms" did not touch the walls for the final 3,000metres and only the couple of times in the first 334. The damage proved to be less than in previous years and extended inwards 1.5cm from the edge of the roof. In other words, the "arms" need to be about 2.5cm longer on each side, giving a width of 5.7metres and the necessity to steer within +-15cm for the whole distance. Penelope was exhausted by the end as she sat in the rear seat and relayed the distances of the arms from the tunnel walls to the captain. In fact, the captain was also exhausted.IMG 5740

David would dearly have loved to get through unscathed. We stayed an extra day in order to make some repairs to the damage. Fortunately, we had put off repainting the roof and the sides just in case of mishap. So, the extra work of fixing the scrapes only added about three hours and the painting  happened with the overall painting (now completed).

So here we are in Pouilly, through the tunnel and poised to descend the Burgundy Canal for the last stage of our trip.

 

Best Regards,

Dave and Penny

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Up the Burgundy Canal to Pouilly

The Burgundy Canal awaits usThe Burgundy Canal awaits us

When we started our adventures on Anja in May 2010, our first steps were up the Burgundy Canal, climbing 200metres towards Pouilly, then 300metres down the other side to Migennes. And that's how we are finishing our last season in August 2017. Even though we have been on the canal twice, there are still some places new to us to stay and explore.

Wide, flat plains before Dijon width=Wide, flat plains before Dijon

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Our starting point for the Canal was St Jean de Losne. This town is very much a hub for Canal boats, full of both commercial and pleasure boats of all sizes and claimed to be the largest inland waterways centre in France. Here the Saone River meets the Burgundy Canal and nearby are the entrances to two other canals, one travelling East, another North, so it is an important crossroads. The largest company for canal boat sales, H2O, has its headquarters here and there are also several boat repair companies, chandleries and hire boat depots.


As a result it can be difficult to find a stopping place but over the years we have always tucked ourselves in under the bridge in a spot just the right size for us, out of the way of the traffic passing by. We had completed 1,000kms since starting, so we filled up with fuel, for the first time this year (great to have such big tanks) then set off to the first of the 189 locks on the Burgundy Canal. After spending the year on waterways with automated locks or the large locks on the Seine we had to get used again to the need to tell the lock-keeper at the beginning of the day how far we wanted to go, and when we would like to get underway next morning. We thought it had all come apart on our second day of travel when no-one turned up to man the lock until 70 minutes after the time which had been agreed. We left messages on the nominated phone number and were relieved when eventually someone came. We never found out what the problem had been. However, lock keepers said they were very tired after three hotel boats in one morning. In our experience, these boats can be rather selfish and change their minds about travel at the last minute. They do have priority and justify their behavior based on the fact that their passengers are paying about A$2,500 each per day! After that, the system worked very well and we have made excellent progress through the locks.

IMG 5704Hotel barge squeezes into a lock

Often there are two lock- keepers. When only one, David gets out to close one of the gates, and re-open another it when it is time to leave. This substantially speeds up the process and also allows good interaction with the lock-keeper.

Opening the gateOpening the gate

One day our lady eclusier happily accepted the offer of a cup of coffee half way through the morning, then thanked us for our excellent service- usually our words as we farewell the lock- keeper at the end of a session.

Time for DavidTime for David

At first the land around the Canal consists of plains, with hills far off in the distance. The turning point comes at the major city of Dijon, Capital of Burgundy. After that the terrain changes and the canal follows the pretty little Ouche River and the many towns along it.

The River OucheThe River Ouche

Most have a 13th Century Bridge and a 12th or 13th Century Church. At one of these, La Bussiere, we were able to catch up with the friend who had offered us the use her holiday home there when we first bought Anja and were equipping her. Jo lives in Switzerland now so it was a great pleasure to be able to spend time with her. We were also able to attend Mass at the Church there, part of a 12th Century Cistercian Abbey. Again this was reminiscent as we last were there when the Church was reopened in 2010 after many years of restoration.


We have been very surprised at the light traffic on the Canal, especially after the buzzing Saone. In particular there are far fewer British boats than the numbers around in both 2010 and 2105 when we were last along here.

The magnificent mediaeval town of ChateauneufThe magnificent mediaeval town of Chateauneuf

The main change in traffic is from Hotel Barges which operate mainly between Dijon and the pretty town of Vandenesse. They take priority and also use up many of the mooring spots which used to be available for people like us, fair enough when one considers how many passengers are involved and how much they are paying to be there but a little annoying. The number of hotel barges has increased significantly, even in the past two years.

Velars sur OucheVelars sur Ouche

The big challenge on the Burgundy Canal is to get through the Pouilly Tunnel unscathed. We have twice attempted to do this, each time sustaining damage because our roof is officially too high at the edges to fit. In practice the canal is kept 20cms lower than the official height so we just fit as long as we keep within a few centimetres of the centre. This is easy to do for a brief period, but with the curving lead-in and lead out totalling 1200 metres and the Tunnel itself 3350 metres long, it is a very difficult if not impossible task.

The tunnel was built very early in the 1800s and due to its depth and length was not provided with a towpath like most other tunnels in France. It is basically a cylinder, with 50% under water and 50% above. Barges were pulled by people or animals so when they reached the tunnel, the people on the barges used to reach up to the roof with their fingers and pull the barges along. Wow! There must have been a lot of skin left on the roof and people would have had mangled hands and fingers. Imagine pulling many tens of tonnes through that tunnel. Next came steam driven craft. But the smoke made it impossible to breath and people died. Finally, towards the end of the 1800s, an electric towing barge was built and a heavy chain laid along the floor of the tunnel. The barge got its electricity from wires in the roof (like a tram on land) and pulled itself along the chain. A whole string of barges was thus pulled in one direction through the tunnel. The electric barge was reversible so it could then pull a string of barges back the other was. This device operated continuously for almost 100 years before finally being decommissioned in about 1983. Now, craft are allowed to pass through under their own power. There is also a purpose built electric passenger boat which makes four trips a day through the tunnel. It is fully electric and sixty solar panels on the tourist office are used to recarge its batteries after each trip. The solar panels are like roof tiles and hardly visible.

Anja is looking better than ever. There is a very busy bike/ walking/ rollerblading path along the canal so we are photographed and videoed many times a day. The geraniums are still in bloom and much commented on. Even the top of the roof which no-one can see will be getting a final two coats of paint to keep it in good condition. Just one tunnel, 155 kilometres and 115 locks to go.

Tranquility on the CanalTranquility on the Canal

Best Regards,
Penelope and Dave
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The Petite Saone

Hello everyone,
The Petite SaoneThe Petite SaoneAfter the 122Km of the Canal des Vosges with its 91 locks, we were looking forward to the 215Km of the Petite Saone with only 18 locks. All went smoothly, but each lock was frustratingly slow because they are "automated" in such a way that they do not stay full or empty after a boat passes but always empty after a very short time. Great if you are going upstream but not downstream as we were and we experienced a lot of waiting around. There were also surprisingly many boats, largely due to the flourishing boat rental market. We counted 50 boats one day, the most we have ever encountered in a single day. This meant that stopping places were very oversubscribed and some of the rental boats were in places we would not stay due to possible boat damage......but people in rental boats do not seem to worry too much about scratches and dents.St Albin tunnelSt Albin tunnel- only 700metresWe passed through another two tunnels taking our tally this year to six with the most difficult to come, the Pouilly tunnel on the Burgundy Canal.Sharing the Saone with other boats.......and cows!Sharing the Saone with fishermen, other boats.......and cows!We had previously travelled on the lower reaches of the Petite Saone, but had not travelled its full length. This time we started at the first navigable section of the Haute Saone (high Saone). So now, we have travelled the full length of the Saone from its start until its finish where it joins the River Rhone near Lyon. Thus, we can tick off another of the great rivers of France. There was almost no current in the river because the extreme dryness continues and there are very severe water restrictions in place in all the towns.The small town of Ray sur SaoneThe small town of Ray sur SaoneWe visited delightful places along the route. As usual, there are little gems of information to discover. Such as at the small town of Ray, where the inventor of radio direction finding (and the first RDF device) lived, died and is buried. In this village, we dined at "Yvette's Place", a small but popular restaurant which grows its own vegetables so that the menu is very much dictated by what is ready from the garden. We were served a big slice of Rockmelon to start things off. They have a glut of Rockmelons at the moment, so were serving it wherever possible. We also bought one to take back to the boat. They also served Bison, which we have never before encountered on a menu, so we felt compelled to order it and it was delicious. We asked if it too was grown in Yvette's garden but no, it came from a farm 10Km away!The lavoir at Ray (for clothes washing)The lavoir at Ray (for clothes washing)
Mise au Tombe, Ray 16th CMise au Tombe, Ray 16th C
We stayed at the delightful village of Chemilly, population 87. It has a large chateau which is in the process of renovation plus a 13th Century bridge with a full size statue of St. Nepomucene who is the patron saint of bridges (in France). He was thrown off a bridge and drowned in Poland.ChemillyChemilly
13C Bridge with the Patron Saint of Bridges13C Bridge with the Patron Saint of BridgesBeing peak vacation time, there are people fishing everywhere (it is one of the top pastimes in France). Very rarely will you see anyone catch anything and they will often throw back the live catch at the end of the day. For instance, someone fished near us for about 10hrs the other day, keeping the fish in a large circular storage net and then releasing them at the end of the day. However, at Chemilly, two young men went out in a boat and fished near us one afternoon and caught a large fish which they measured very accurately. It was 1.3metres long. The fisherman was very proud of his catch and gladly posed for a photograph of it.The fish!
Roundabout (Rond-Point)Roundabout (Rond-Point) at GrayOne of the larger towns along the river is that of Gray. We have previously visited it a couple of times and been struck by the marvellous roundabouts. Many towns in France decorate their roundabouts and we have seen some wonderful displays. But consistently, it seems that Gray puts huge effort into it. One roundabout had a Grandfather clock, huge cheese wheel, cart loaded with wood, casks etc. It was displaying the produce of the region and had a welcome to visitors (on the cheese). The other carried a summer theme with a sandy beach and a sailing boat complete with sails. Fantastic!IMG 5676IMG 5678While exploring another small village along the Saone, Montureux, we found our first ever outdoor French bowling alley. This was a little different from the Americal indoor bowling alleys with polished wood floors. This was outdoors with a concrete alley and very substantial wooden structure at the end to restrain the balls (perhaps they use old iron cannon balls?) The positions for the ten skittles or pins are marked on the floor. There is a wooden strip at the start so that the balls do not immediately hit concrete. At the end, someone picks up the balls and places them into a runway made of steel tubing and they return to the start.Montureux- Bowling AlleyMontureux- Bowling Alley
Old wellOld well
Flowers at MontureuxFlowers at Montureux
After the Petite Saone, we start our final Canal, that of the Bourgogne. 242Km with 189 locks. Unlike most rivers and canals in France, these are the original locks with the original levers, gears and other mechanisms. So, almost without exception, they are manually operated.

Best Regards,
David and Penelope
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Canal des Vosges

IMG 5606Now taking its title from the Vosges area of France through which it flows,this canal was originally known as the "Canal of the East, South Branch". It is relatively new, built between 1874 and 1882 as an outcome of France's loss to Germany in the 1870-71 Franco Prussian war and the resulting annexation of the Eastern part of Lorraine. The Eastern end of the Canal from the Marne to the Rhine, and the Rhine too, were now in German territory so an alternative route was urgent. In fact, the Romans had made tentative plans to use this route for water transport and a similar idea had been proposed in the 18th century but not built at that time.

The Canal is about 122 kilometres long with 93 locks. So, like the Burgundy Canal, very heavily locked. The Northern end follows the Moselle River towards it source near Epinal which is not far from the summit. Then it closely follows the Coney River down the Southern end until that river joins the River Saone near Corre. The canal differs from many others in France because it winds almost entirely along the rivers. Other canals tend to have quite a number of straight sections- not the case with the Vosges.

This canal has come as a pleasant discovery for us, and we are very happy indeed that we made our impromptu decision to travel it. It flows almost entirely through rural land and thick forests. The rivers beside it are picturesque. The towns are mostly small and often an overnight stopping spot is in the middle of the forest, not good for satisfying our daily bread requirements, but very tranquil. The locks are automated and work well most of the time. When we had to call for assistance because of a lock malfunction a lock-keeper comes very quickly.Moselle near the CanalMoselle near the Canal There are two turning bridges, which were built in 1880. 137 years on, they are unchanged. The lock keeper cranks a handle to raise the bridge a little, then he braces his back against it and pushes hard to swing it out of the way, rolling on wheels, thus allowing a boat to pass. Pushing around 100 tonnes of bridge keeps them very fit, especially as some days they might do t twenty times.Pushing the old bridgePushing the old bridgeThe canal is almost entirely used by pleasure boats and is very popular with people from many countries of Europe including Scandinavia. probably reflecting its position on the East of France. We saw only one British and one fellow Australian.  

Many of the towns can trace their origins to Gallo- Roman times with more permanent settlement dating to the 10th century. Since then they have been subject to many attacks from enemy troops. Perhaps the saddest history is associated with the town of "Charmes", with a current population of 5,000 people. It was decimated by plague and famine in the 14th century, burned to the ground by Charles the Bold in the 15th Century with most of the inhabitants killed; affected again by plague and famine in the 16th century, and in 1635, taken by French and Swedish troops who burned it again. After a time of peace, it was occupied by the Prussians during the war of 1870/71 and many of its people killed. In World War 1, a major battle took place in the town and 200 inhabitants died. In World War II they fared no better: on September 5 1944 the fleeing Germans captured 160 inhabitants and took them to the death camps where at least 100 of their number died. Since World War II the town has been rebuilt and lives up to its name.The old FortressThe old Fortress at Chatel The town of Chatel-sur-Moselle contained a hidden gem. This was a Fortress, originally built about 1,000 years ago. For the past 40 years, archeologists have been digging and discovering lots of information. Many of the workers on the site have been and are volunteers. Some of them very young. We saw a 12 year old hauling up buckets of rock from lower excavations. All work must be supervised by qualified people. We had arrived after the last official tour of the day and had been content to view the outside walls and towers. However, one of the guides had started a special, extra tour with some other people, unpadlocked the gate and asked if we would like to join the group. We did! It was fascinating and become even more so when we descended almost 20 metres underground and were shown many of the early defensive parts of the fortress and the guide described how these were used. In many cases, nasty trickery was involved so that invaders would fall into deadly pits or pools and drown. One benefit of the extreme dryness was that the Moselle River is very low and we were able to see the piles of an original bridge from around 1,500 years ago. If your passage across the bridge was undesired, a shower of arrows would rain down on you from the Fortress!Archeologist to be?Archeologist to be?

Old bridge over the MoselleOld bridge over the MoselleEpinal, the capital of this area, is reached along a very shallow branch canal. Only 5-10% of passing boats are visiting Epinal because of the water levels. The original fortress town was built on the banks of the Moselle, and many of its buildings and walls still survive. We visited the Museum of Imagery which described Epinal's association since the 18th century with traditional colour printing, woodcuts and litho printing.I11th Century Church of St Maurice, Epinal11th Century Church of St Maurice, Epinal

Mis-en-tombe St Maurice, EpinalMis-en-tombe St Maurice, Epinal

One night, two 430 tonne barges arrived and there was nowhere for them to tie up. We managed to free up one bollard for them. They tied the front of one to the rear of the other which was attached to shore by a single line. The resulting 80metre long "vessel" then just settled across the canal, blocking it. As the barges were day time use only, the owners hopped onto bicycles and one car (brought by a wife) and went off somewhere for the night. They were back early at 0630 and were well out of the way before we wanted to move.IMG 5533

In another part of the canal, we crossed over the Moselle RIver by a Pont Canal. It is always eerie travelling on a boat, in a canal full of water which is perched high above another water way. It was not as spectacular as the longest (in Europe) which crosses the magnificient Loire at Briare, but was still very good.IMG 5471IMG 5471

We discovered another gem in the tiny village of Girancourt. The retable in the Church is a listed historic monument and because we attended the once a month Mass there, we got to see it. Retable at GirancourtRetable at Girancourt

When in France, make sure you eat some frogs, especially these ones!Green frogs
Next, we head down the mighty Saone River, starting from the Petite Saone at its highest navigable point.

Best Regards,

Penelope and Dave

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