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.

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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The Nancy Loop

Currently youngest Grandson drives the boatYoung Grandson drives the boatLeaving Toul, we decided to take the Nancy Loop, a circular route around and through Nancy. With our son, an engineer and sailor, very interested in the working of the locks, canals, and the boats themselves, it was a great opportunity to experience the beautiful wide Moselle River plus the large capacity commercial barges and huge locks.The beautiful MoselleThe beautiful Moselle
We all enjoyed this excursion. The Moselle was at its best. We stopped at Liverdun, an old fortified town perched above the river. The stopping spot is itself very pleasant, in a basin off the main river so not subject to the wash of the barges going past. As expected, we shared the waterway with very big boats, some over 4,200 tons, on their way to Germany and beyond.135metres x 12metres (4,200 tonnes)135metres x 12metres (4,200 tonnes)

IMG 5286Chateau at LiverdunWe turned for Nancy and pulled up in the port, very handy to this beautiful city's main attractions. Stanislaus Square is the most spectacular we have seen in Europe, and it is surrounded by attractive and interesting buildings and well- kept parks. The highlight was the Sound and Light show at night, lighting up the buildings on three sides. The square is so huge that most people simply sat down where they could find a space, so we joined them in that choice and had a great all- round view of the display.One entry to the SquareOne entry to the SquareWe had come with real concerns about the possibility of terrorist attacks in places such as this where a large number of people were gathered. However we were reassured by the obvious efforts being taken to keep us safe, from huge barriers at each entry to the square, discrete but effective, to the heavy presence of security forces. There was also the protection that this event was held every night during the summer in Nancy, so it would be very unlucky to become the focus of a terrorist attack on that particular night. It is important though sad to need constant regard for the assessment of risk. Beautiful square Beautiful squareAt nightAt nightLeaving Nancy we headed up and down a "Staircase", a series of locks so close together that as the boat leaves one, the next is already getting ready for its arrival. This staircase had 9 locks to the summit and 9 down the other side, travelling only 10 kilometres but keeping the forward hand busy: our son's enthusiastic and high quality rope work was very much appreciated. IMG 5341Finally we were almost back to Toul at a tiny town called Villey le Sec where we met our daughter and family, for a very pleasant family reunion for the next week. Gardens at NancyGardens at Nancy

At this point we reviewed our plans. We had wanted to travel North from this spot to re- visit the beautiful Meuse Valley, but the first 20 locks on the Meuse Canal were closed because of low water levels. Two weeks later they are still closed, except for a brief two day period during which boats stuck there by the closures could finally make their escape. The waterways authority does not expect the canal to reopen in the near future.

After considering various options, we decided to go South instead of North, along the Vosges Canal. We had planned to travel along this canal in 2012 but because several locks had broken down and more seriously, a dyke collapsed and would take a long while to fix, we had to turn back. So we had not previously travelled along this canal. The opportunity to see the Vosges countryside was an appealing prospect.

The Vosges Canal at first runs next to the Moselle as it climbs to the source of the Moselle at Bussang, then down the other side accompanied by the Coney River. After the Vosges Canal, we will join the Petite Saone and then the Saone, on its descent to the Mediterranean. When we reach the Burgundy Canal at St John de Losne we will travel Northwest to Anja's winter berth at Migennes, just near the Burgundy's junction with the Yonne River. It will be fitting that the Burgundy Canal will be our last. It was also our first, the Canal on which we took Anja for our maiden voyage in 2010.  

Best Regards,
Penelope and Dave

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Void to Toul

From Void, we continued to the pleasant town of Pagny sur Meuse. Apart from having that all important shop- a Boulangerie- it also had a train station so that we could travel for the day to Nancy in order to attend a previously made appointment. There was also a Baguette making machine by the side of the road!Waiting for the train to NancyWaiting for the train to Nancy
Pagny has some pleasant sculptures and plenty of healthy garden allotments. It also has a Millenium Garden which contains sculptures such as shown here.
IMG 5191IMG 5192

This stretch of canal contains the start of the Meuse canal and both canals get their water from the same place, the River Meuse. Because the water level was already well below normal in the canal we were navigating, this meant that there was a scarcity of water for the Meuse Canal (which is one of the principal Eastern routes to Belgium). So, it is not surprising that the Meuse Canal has been closed for most of the last six weeks. This is a pity for us as we had been looking forward to revisiting the beautiful Ardennes Region. It is more of a problem for the Dutch and Belgians seeking to return home via that route.

The prominent Toul Cathedral from afarThe prominent Toul Cathedral from afarWe continued through the Foug tunnel, which is merely 866metres long, towards Toul. On that section, we passed a commercial barge, half laden, travelling the other way. We thought it might be depth challenged on the sections we had just travelled and so it came to pass. They ran aground the next day, blocking the Mauvages Tunnel and all the locks either side of it. The VNF had to build up the water level at the summit in order to get the barge afloat and on its way again. We were pleased to have missed the excitement and the delays.

One of several beautiful Roundabouts in ToulToul is a very pleasant town which was heavily fortified by the brilliant military architect, Vauban. It has substantial walls and a moat right around. Nowadays, sheep and goats graze in the moat.

Vauban's defencesVauban's defencesWe spent the Fete Nationale (Bastille Day to English speakers) in Toul.

Recounting the history of ToulVirtual storyteller recounting the history of ToulThey had an excellent "son et lumiere" (sound and light) show using lasers on the Town Hall. Penelope and Will attended the evening parade and the awarding of medals to people. We erected Anja's mast in order to celebrate the day and a number of other boats decorated their vessels with flags.
Anja celebrating the Fete NationaleAnja celebrating the Fete Nationale Toul CathedralToul Cathedral Toul CathedralToul Cathedral
Best Regards,
Dave and Penelope
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The Mauvages Tunnel

IMG 5106IMG 5101
Bar le DucBar le Duc

We had just entered the Canal de Marne au Rhin Ouest (Canal joining the Marne and Rhine Rivers- West Branch) when we heard that the Meuse Canal had restricted depth and then later it closed. This was one of the canals we had intended to navigate. Then the levels began reducing in our current canal. Not a problem for us with our shallow draft but a major problem for commercial vessels, yachts and boats with a deep draft.The canalThe canal

By the time we climbed the staircase of locks to the summit, major problems were starting to emerge. We had a couple of locks break down but the VNF usually came quite quickly in response to our phone calls. We stopped overnight at the entry to the Mauvages Tunnel, which is over 4.8km in length. We have been through it a couple of times before, but now we noted that the water level was about a metre below normal! Not only that, but the canal was infested with lots of weed due to the unseasonably warm water.Weed, weed and more weed!Weed, weed and more weed!

Anyway, we got through the tunnel okay. It was more problematic than usual because of the water depth (and weed). In a narrow channel with shallow water, because the propellor is sucking out a lot of water, the stern of the boat will be sucked to one side or the other rather than going straight down the middle. On top of that, there are wooden rubbing strips on the sides of the tunnel but these were now about a metre higher than normal and thus of little use. The local lockeeper rode with us through the tunnel on his bicycle, on the tow path, to ensure everything went okay.

On the other side of the tunnel, for the first few locks, the canal level was well below the most recently advertised 1.4metres depth and there was a notice some days later to say that it was now reduced to 1.2 metres. This forced us to travel more slowly, but we are in no hurry. Passing other boats was a cautious exercise as the sides of the canal are very shallow- down to about 30cm.Camoflage- disguising your house by custom painting!Camouflage- disguising your house by custom painting!

We made our way to the pleasant town of Void, which we have visited before. It has a very jolly butcher and this time, Penelope bought special sausages filled with cheese in the middle. He said they would go "Whoosh" when cut (and displayed this with waving arms). He was correct- amazing sausages and beautiful to eat but perhaps a little damaging for cholesterol levels. This town also has an unusual market building. The pillars which support it were brought from a nearby Roman town. There are about 20 of them and they are over 2,000 years old!Ancient Roman columns

Void has some beautiful Bronze fountains

Void had three beautiful bronze fountains. Above is the smallest of them.

Best Regards,
Dave and Penelope

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