Legends from our own lunchtimes

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Plan

We devised a plan last night. A plan!

We'd leave Schitter's Ditch at first light, or as close thereafter as can be considered to be gentlemanly, given that the locks aren't open for business until seven and we aren't until well after that. Being nicely settled in Saverne for elevensies would be fine.

In describing our mooring yesterday I may have left out the bit where our side of the pond was actually lined with forest, albeit with a loading platform for heavy industry between us and it and as we've know from past experience, boats, forests and storms combine to create something that could pass for an impersonation of a floating pile of Mr Schitter's finest organic compound. Under clear sky and bright morning sunshine we gently moved our soggy pile of leaves in direction Saverne across the first mirrored pond we had seen for a month.

We were quite unaccustomed to the stillness of it all, the dryness too, to say nothing of the brightness and warmth, but with morning coffee steaming up the windows and reducing visibility to something more akin to that to which we've been accustomed in the past few weeks, we soon felt much more at home.

The waterways were eerily quiet, with the holiday season now over, and anyone with any sense having remained a long way from where we were until the weather abated, we would reach our destination before crossing the path of another boat. Lest anyone should misunderstand, our journey today was at least seven kilometres in total spread over a hearty couple of hours. There just didn't seem to be any point in going any faster, we had a plan after all and if we arrived too early we might have to think up another one. Besides, it was just one of those mornings when the world was alive, the air was fresh and crisp and apart from the smoke of the diesel and perhaps the noise, and maybe the TGV scooting past at it's treble ton every twelve minutes or so, and the occasional motorway bridge above filled with peak hour traffic, we had only the stillness of the countryside to keep us company.

And so it came to be, back in our berth in Saverne, in front of the Chateau, boat mopped and sparkling in the bright sunshine, we in shorts sitting sipping coffee and finishing off the banana cake, all by eleven.

Tonight?  I'll bet they left their lights on just for us.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Monday, August 30, 2010

In Schitter's Ditch

I may have started this with "it was a dark and stormy night" except that that has been done before and it wasn't particularly dark, and however bleak the new day dawned the forecast was for "showers" not blustery squalls so in what we perceived to be a lessening of the conditions, but which turned out to be a mere lull, we bade farewell to the crew of Saskia, leaving them to wash the coffee cups, and we sailed off on our separate ways.

Many years ago after an ocean race in somewhat trying conditions I recall remarking to someone that in retrospect if I'd been smarter I perhaps would have reduced the mainsail area a little and used a smaller jib, to which he replied that it would actually have been smarter to have found a good woman, a bottle of Port and an open fire, and he had a point. However we lack a fireplace, and the Port is reserved for some special stew or other and the locks are in a chain of six so we stoically carried on through it all regardless.

I'd never seen white caps on a waterway fifteen metres wide before today. We managed each lock like seasoned professionals of course, as is always the case when there is not a soul to witness the cleverness on display. Even the hire boats with drivers who know no better stayed home.

The ignominy of our situation was fully revealed to us when steel grey sky that formed the background to the mighty squall which arose in the minutes between when we spied what seemed to be secure mooring, attempting to dock in a breeze that was travelling somewhat faster than the boat is capable, and snugging ourselves to the shore revealed itself to be in fact, the steel grey side of Schitter's Vita Compost factory.

Minutes later, in the middle of downtown nowhere, we received a visit from a bicycle riding Jehovah's Witness who arrived to shyly present us with the solution to all our problems printed in a coloured brochure in a language we could not understand but if we phone the London contact number in the fine print they should be able to help.

It's enough for anyone to forgo the special stew and go looking for a box of matches.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cafe du Canal

Once again as we have done on this one day each week since we have been here we are reliving our youths, we are back in a time when things closed on Sundays, and families had outings and the world stopped, and as are they, we are enjoying it immensely.

Our own particular outing meant wandering by boat for an hour or three with the roof back during sunny patches and closed in the squalls. To our horror, we've become one of them, chasing patches of sun instead of avoiding them. If warm beer ever appeared on our list of offerings perhaps it would be time to say something.

The Cafe du Canal is near Hochfelden, the home of the Meteor Brewery which is apparently the last in a long line of breweries established some time around 870AD, and produces around 320 hectolitres of beer per day. One day I may actually do the sums, but I suspect that if volume of beer has been produced for all of its 1,200 years of brewing the waste matter post consumption from this one institution alone may well be the reason for rising sea levels.

We've risen a few levels ourselves today, 16 metres in total although it may be more, because while contemplating the volume of second hand beer flowing to the ocean it occurred to me that in order for water to flow in any given direction it by definition must have a fall. I wonder therefore if the canals between the locks are actually sloping downstream, I suspect they are, and then I wonder how much. You see, when everything's closed on a Sunday there's time for wonder.

If I was a drinking sort of a boy, I'm sure it would be beer and banana cake for tea, fresh out of the oven (the banana cake at least) but since I'm not then it will just have to be coffee. Perhaps if even if I was a drinking sort of boy it would be coffee come to think of it, Meteor seems to be doing OK without me as it is.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


The good thing about not knowing where one is at any given time, is that it's impossible to get lost.

When we awoke, our Swiss neighbour was wearing gloves and a beanie, which we took to be some sort of sign that we'd been asleep for a month, and it was now coming on winter, but alas we hadn't and it was bleak and overcast and not much short of sleet in our minds at least, and we had to put up with all the moaning (in German) about how terrible this summer has been. To be fair, of the eight boats that are allowed in this harbour, we were the only ones not to speak German, and it does seem to our ears at least, to be a perfect language for complaining in.

So we decided to wait until they'd moved on before emerging in our shorts and sandals to the promise of an improving day, and cycled off in the direction marked "Piste la Fort 1km", we knew that Piste was a track and a Fort is a Fort after all, and the little green bicycle symbols were self explanatory along the way. The track was sensational but we did start to wonder after half an hour why it had taken us so long to travel a kilometre. After an hour and a half we were beyond caring about how far away this fort thing was, and found a shop, a baguette some pate and an iced tea to assist in restoring our previous disposition.

While mid baguette, it seemed like a good time to make use of a few iPhone Apps. Firstly the Collins French English Dictionary suggested that "fort" may actually mean "strong" and perhaps there wasn't much chance of finding an odd rampart anytime soon. Secondly Mobile Maps GPS was convinced we were more or less ten kilometres from home as the crow flies, although clearly the direction we had travelled in, meandering beside rivers and around lakes, across cornfields, through hop plantations, past meadows of flowers, was not at all as the crow flies and actually the maps seemed to indicate that perhaps it had flown a further five kilometres or so.

Having an understanding of our whereabouts did go some of the way towards breaking the spell we were under, being somewhat immersed in the countryside we were traversing, as indeed did the realisation that we were a bit over forty kilometres short of completing the circuit we'd commenced. 

Simple physics mentions something about it never taking as long to travel back along a given path as it does to go outbound along it, and so it was to be that before either of us could say "Soufffelweyersheim", we had turned around and were back and no longer wondering whether the fort was worth a visit.

Indeed it was.


Friday, August 27, 2010


How wrong I was yesterday!

It was raining a little when we woke, but as we began to stir, strangely, so did the urge to move on an it continued to stir until it became a compulsion. There were a few things to do of course, the least of them to find the outside of the boat under the pile of willow leaves dumped during last night's storms lest we should be mistaken something discarded on a kerb-side cleanup during the course of the day.

And of course there was coffee to be drunk and conversations to be had, some in languages not understood, and some that were, and assurances that we'll be back and things that we assumed were assurances that we'd be welcome to come again, but may have meant "over my dead body" for all we knew.

Eventually we had to just go though, the lock closes at midday for lunch and we made it with half an hour to spare, down to the river level and past the floating fountains where each night during summer the fireworks and the coloured fountains and the laser lights perform at ten. Cities in France seem to compete to create the biggest free spectacle each summer, this year lasers are in, and well if you can throw in some fireworks and a fountain or two, why wouldn't you?

After all of that, our farewell light show last night and the late-ish start, we spent a pleasant couple of hours moseying beside the Rhine and the Euro Parliament, travelling the ten kilometres or so to Souffelweyersheim, where we feel obliged to stay until we can pronounce it's name without taking a breath.

There will be no fireworks here tonight, although as the sky continues to glow dark grey, we are sitting in one giant inverted fountain so the street lights should look quite appealing and the lightning is reasonably spectacular.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On moving on..

Tomorrow it will rain apparently, and I don't think we want to leave yet.

There's a lot of this place to see, more than three or four hours a day on foot can consume, and we haven't yet needed to venture on our bikes or even onto the trams It's got the lot really; old stuff, new stuff thousands of years of history, zillions of tourists, and nice gentlemen from northern Africa who introduce themselves in perfect whatever language you speak and shake your hand and try give you wallets and watches as a token of their long lasting friendship. Sadly friendship lasts only until the polite but very firm refusal of the "gift" but they seem to have no shortage of other friends so there's no need to fret for long.

We specially don't want to leave in the rain but I suppose we must choof away and get on with whatever it is we are meant not to be doing after all we have to catch the train to Paris in a fortnight and we have almost a hundred kilometres to travel before then. Given that our average daily distance for this month is something less than ten kilometres, we'd better get a wiggle on!

Part of our reluctance to leave Strasbourg I think stems from the reality that amazingly we are at the half way point on our journey this year, time wise at least, and when we depart we are "heading for home" in a sense, but more than that we begin travelling at a faster pace once again, and worse still, to a schedule.

Oh well, until then….

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The centre of town is a short stroll from the Strasbourg Motor Yacht Club, which sounds very grand indeed and we are pleased to relate that it's not at all the way it sounds. It feels so much like home, that as we were wandering aimlessly through the back streets of the city centre this morning, smelling the melons at the markets to see if they were ripe, finding reasons not to buy the glorious cakes in the patisserie, watching the tourist touts failing completely to convince anyone to buy anything, and missing out on the last bunch of flowers at the stall, we could barely bring ourselves to believe that it was less than a week ago we flashed through here as day tourists.

Our life this in Strasbourg this week is so far removed from Friday last, that we wonder if it really happened.

Then, we spent a day not quite scurrying, but covering enough miles to ensure that we'd seen the "good bits" and been on the ferry tour and eaten once or twice and drunk not enough in our haste to see more, and wear our shins and knees out completely before the 6:07 to Saverne whisked us away at 300 kilometres per hour.

Now, we are in a familiar city, among friends we've met in other cities, in our home. We are free to wander without a deadline, to discover, or not, as the mood takes us, we like it here and we wonder if we'll be ready to move on when our mooring is required on Friday.

It's a dog's life.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When we hear pitter patter on the roof at six in the morning, it's very unlikely to be little feet, and indeed today it was rain by the bucket load.

It was the sort of rain that made one want to sit down with a book, a nice cup of tea and one's knitting, so one did, while the other battled entirely unsuccessfully for endless hours with the mysteries of web editing with cascading style sheets. It's clearing now and he can give up, and by tea time the sky will be bright blue and making rash promises about tomorrow, so we may even wander down town to see the lights and fireworks this evening if our mates from Tampa Bay have rolled home in time, otherwise there's always tomorrow.

In the meantime, we'll knit and read and curse the rotten computer for not being logical and obvious and clean a couple more windows and just generally enjoy an "at home" day.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Gratuitous Misty Canal Photograph

When we awoke, we were in a forest.

Because that is where we were when we went to sleep we counted that as a good thing. The fact that the time was somewhere around seven was also a good thing, as we had barely wasted any of our canal travel morning.

However there was a sound emanating from somewhere in the forest twilight, barely audible above the rustle of the tyres of the cycle commuters along the cinder tow path that was mildly disconcerting.  Rain on a fibreglass boat roof, even when it's barely more than mist, makes a noise we have discovered that is only marginally louder than the sound of silence, but it is ever so much more meaningful.

It means for instance that I can take my first "this is a canal on a misty morning" photograph of this season, even though the reflections aren't perfect, but more than that, if we were to move (which we were) then one of us would have to be out in the rain at every lock, while I would have to sit inside warm and dry in command of the ship, in awe of Gortex and its ability to keep most of the other of us reasonably warm and partly dry even in the squalls. Before either of us could say "perhaps we'll wait till after breakfast" I had Mr Perkins spluttering and the dock lines free. There would be no turning back this day. It was Strasbourg or bust.

Happily, the rain stayed away most of the morning, except for the bits when we were stationary in locks and one of us had to be outside. Actually mostly the day was grey and sultry and perfectly still, except at the odd occasion when a lock approach was particularly difficult with the odd obstruction or perhaps we had an oncoming barge or two to contend with, at which time gale force squalls would appear from nowhere, then disappear as quickly as they came as we survived each test.

The conditions became more testing as we inched against the headwind through the commercial shipping lanes adjacent to the Rhine and I seriously began to contemplate what might happen if we tried to berth in the conditions. Once again though, a serious contemplation was wasted as the sky cleared and the wind died entirely the moment we arrived in the Strasbourg Motor Yacht Club basin. 

Even better, mistaking us for a hire boat, what seems like dozens of helping hands and at least the entire yacht club committee arrived from nowhere intent variously on ensuring we were moored securely or at least without damaging anything on our approach.

After we were happily moored and had completed the formalities for the next four days, the long suffering and terribly friendly club treasurer discovered to her horror that she had made a mistake.

It appears that she thought that we, having a distinct lack of understanding of her language, had mistakenly ticked the "Private Ownership" box in her form, when clearly we had meant to tick the "No this boat is not privately owned" box, and she, being the responsible adult in the crowd, would forgive us just this once and overlook our error. 

When she discovered that we were indeed a "Private Boat" and that she'd popped us into the last of the places apparently reserved for the hire fleets for a brief moment she seemed inconsolable.

The kindly older gentleman who spoke our language seemed unconcerned, as yacht club commodores often are, but tomorrow we will know whether this last storm has blown over as smoothly as the others today!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

And then we were just two again, alone once more with our happy guilt at not voting for the first time in our lives.

This morning was one of those awkward waiting for one's guests to leave mornings. We didn't want them to leave of course, and we'll be seeing them again in a few short weeks, but their departure was inevitable and that made it even more awkward, so they packed their bags with contraband, well sausisson and pickles and cassoulet at least, and had coffee and waited for the interminable minutes to tick off until 10:17 when we saw them off waving handkerchiefs from Platform 1 as the train moved off precisely on time.

Less than fifteen minutes later, we too had left Saverne in our wake, choosing not to visit the car show at the chateau opposite, and heading very firmly in direction Strasbourg behind a monster peniche, a huge commercial barge. Our destiny for the day was set unless we chose to change our direction or stay a while; we would be waiting at every lock for the barge to go through, for it the lock to refill after taking a load of boats coming upstream, before repeating the process to carry us down and on our merry way. Commercial barges have absolute right of way, so there was no question of overtaking it even if we had the desire and the horespower, neither was there to be an opportunity, but wandering through the Alsace region doesn't make one prone to wanting to go any faster anyway.

Fourteen locks and twenty eight kilometres is not a huge tally for an eight hour day, but we didn't stop until the midst of the Brumath Forest, and here we will stay in complete silence, just the two of us and one or two mosquitos, miles from anywhere if we don't count the two hundred metres to the restaurant carpark, till the morrow morn.

By then of course, they will be back at work and we'll all be wondering where the last week went.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Oom pah pah

I think we are in a pattern with Saturdays.

They are like a practice run for Sunday really except that some of the shops are open for some of the day, and if we think about it early enough we can get enough provisions for a few more days in between sitting under a shady tree and having a snooze, or washing, cleaning and cooking, depending on from whose perspective this note is to be written.

It was warm today, warm enough to be make one listless. Summer weather like home except that even as temperatures got close to forty the sun felt comforting, perhaps even seductive rather than like being in a griller, but we aren't easily seduced although Julian seems pleased enough to be returning to London with an imprint of his sandal straps tanned into the tops of his feet.

We sat in the shade and had cool drinks and did nothing during the heat of the day. There are still many hours left in the cool of the evening of course, to walk and find a band playing outside city hall, or to pop in and listen to the organist practicing in the cathedral, or to walk past the City Rose Gardens and conclude that one of us would rather spend the admission fee on a cup of coffee and the other would rather just get to the supermarket in time to get some more smoked salmon for this evening's meal. Even for the one thinking of the coffee, the smoked salmon was a pretty convincing argument.

After dinner, we'll sit under the night sky, getting cold and wondering if the guests attending functions in the chateau opposite will miss us. No doubt they will, but when we have to go, we have to go, but we'll come past again and we expect that will give them another opportunity to bring out the band.


Friday, August 20, 2010

One of the really great things about mostly not making any plans is that we are in practice for them not coming off when we do.

We had planned to travel down to Strasbourg over the past few days so that Shell and Jules could rendezvous with their train home on Sunday, but we hadn't planned for one of the locks to be broken a few tens of kilometres from our destination. By their nature, boats are difficult things to take around obstacles on canals, and rather than try to do that, in the light of the Canal Authority's advice that it would be fixed "after lunch on Friday" and our uncertainty about just how that might translate to a timeframe which could be relied upon, we decided that it might be prudent to take a train for a day of sightseeing rather than risk the journey by boat.

At a few hundred kilometres per hour, Strasbourg is just twenty minutes away, saving a day and a half of canal travel, but on our arrival the realisation that we were just "common tourists" without a place in the harbour to retreat to when we were a little tired or hungry took some minor getting used to. We did make it through a visit to the Tourist Office without being recognised as boat people, which is a first for a while, but that may have been because of the pallid English complexions carried by the "kids" so we aren't sure whether to count that as a feat or not.

The opportunity to tour the canals on a well organised ferry with commentary in twelve languages was one we couldn't refuse of course. Life wouldn't be the same without at least an hour on the water, and negotiating the locks did go very smoothly indeed with a captain and a deckhand doing the chores. Perhaps we'll have to look into that, and while we're at it, a pair of headphones that knew where we were at all times would be a handy addition to our kit.

As for Strasbourg, well of course it's a beautiful city, and we need much more than a day there to become familiar with its corners so we will return, perhaps in a few days and when we do we'll stay for a while. But that is starting to sound like a plan, and we will have the choice of two directions when we depart.

Shell and Jules leave on Sunday, and it will be time to decide our next move. We really have no clue at the moment, and that is just the way we like it.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

High Barr

I am yet to come to an understanding of why castles and fortifications were always built on the highest bit of ground. Sure they are easy to defend, and one could always see the bad guys sneaking up, but surely all a bad guy has to do is sit at the bottom of the hill with a few thousand of his mates, and wait for one to run out of food. It all seems so obvious and pointless, but if something has stood there for a thousand years, it has obviously already made some sort of point, so perhaps I shouldn't question it too much more.

When the sign in Saverne said "Haut Barr", with an arrow pointing up the hill, and the brochure promised an ancient chalet with views over the entire Alsace region just five minutes away by car, it was time to once again investigate. We figured it had to be walking distance, so began stepping confidently through the suburbs. After what seemed like the sort of distance one could drive in about five minutes there was no sign of a chateau, and I began to suspect that "minutes" in so far as they refer to driving distances in France, are calculated by sending an eighteen year old out in a Peugeot rallye machine, with the authorities perhaps failing to notice that he has reported perhaps a slightly lesser time than he actually took to drive there. Or perhaps the "mn" after the number refers to "Miles Nautique" not minutes after all.

This suspicion was not allayed when we came across a shortcut through the forest, and an information map helpfully indicating we had "37000 metres" still to go, and which we interpreted to be like one of those temperature "feels like" descriptions - "1.8km to go, feels like 37.". We did the only sensible thing we could think of at that point, and carried on ever upward through the forest. It transpired that the remains of the Chateau were on the top of something akin to one of our very own Glasshouse Mountains, a spectacular spot indeed, four hundred and fifty metres above the surrounding countryside.

The city thoughtfully built a restaurant gastronomic among the ruins in 1900, which remains as a positively modern structure amid the rest, and while we weren't in the right frame of mind to lash out more than the original construction cost of the palace on lunch, we did manage a very satisfying slice of plum tart and coffee to help us through the descent, thankful that the last siege had been concluded some time around six hundred years ago.

We were of course prompted to pop into the Supermarche on the return journey, lest the waterways become surrounded in the near future, one can't be too careful about these things.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Saverne at last!

Wednesday was a day in three parts.

There was the part where we knew that to get a berth in the harbour in town, we needed to be in Saverne early so we resolved to depart when the locks opened at seven. This was our cue to sleep till well after then and perhaps another hour to boot and to not really feeling like moving much in the misty rain until we could see that if we delayed departing any further we'd probably end up repeating the process again tomorrow.

This part was followed by the bit where we spent a perfectly lazy three hours to move the ten kilometres through the forest in the almost rain, baking a batch of packet macaroons on the way, and consuming them with coffee and wondering once again why we haven't been doing this for years.

Finally we arrived, and grabbed what we thought was the second to last berth in the harbour in the midst of a squall, trying to look oh so casual and seamanlike but failing entirely to both appear to be so, and to actually fit into the space that sat so invitingly. Fortunately we were able to recover somewhat, and casually manhandled ourselves into the berth beside, which it turns out was indeed the last, as though that were after all, our intention.

As if by magic, the weather suddenly lost its indifference, and we were able to stroll and shop and roll the roof back and watch for an hour or so, drink and boathook in hand, as a circus procession of boats, each considerably larger than we, attempted to drive at speeds various into the same undersized berth which sat so tantalisingly beside our own, each failing equally and each wishing the berth beside was vacant so they could pretend that is where they were going all along.

But it wasn't.

And it won't be tomorrow either.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


The weather forecast was for "sprinkles", which for a short while had us thinking it would be like the icing on the cupcake, and I suppose that compared to the winds and almost torrential downpour overnight which had every local we waved to bemused, if not completely puzzled by it's lack of seasonality, the odd shower that we experienced was something of a relief.

A surfeit of humidity and inadequate temperature aside, staying in Lutzelbourg is like being in a giant model railway layout. The hills are far too hilly to be believed, the buildings too real, the canals so crisp and engineered, the greens too green. This must be what results when one mixes the French flair for the haphazard with Teutonic discipline and for the traveller and postcard painter at least it's not a terrible mix at all.

While standing among the remnants of the Chateau Lutzelbourg which had it's own beginnings in the eleventh century we cogitated on the numbers of times these villages had been over run by different nationalities, even in the past century they have been alternately French or German territories. Many communities and even regions appear to have retained a strong sense of independent identity so that irrespective of what language is spoken in the governing houses, life seems to go on.

We can't help but think though, that being overrun by a complete country must have significantly more impact than merely having a freeway run through one's street.

I suspect that to someone who has lived through a foreign occupation of any sort, a mere resumption would be a bit of a "sprinkle" really.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Constant rain just wasn't in the glossy brochure, but it arrived none the less, and not all of it stayed outside. That's why we have guest berths of course, to catch the rainfall as it comes inside. We woke in Hesse in the pouring rain which fortunately was exactly where we were when we went to bed, and found Laurent who is in charge of Alain, the Alain who knows how to fudge our electrics till Michel can install a new magic black box over winter. Naturally he sent Marc to look at them for us.

Marc suggested we really do need a new magic black box but really it's lunch time now and wished us "Bon Appetit".

We were grateful for his wishes and the late start given the conditions, and set off on our merry way with a few kilometres of tunnel ahead where at least we'd be out of the rain. We've been through a few tunnels before, but the ride through these was indescribable. On a day with no traffic the water in the tunnels was so perfectly still that the surface of the water was completely invisible, instead, we were faced with a perfect reflection of the ceiling. As we edged forward at four kilometres per hour we appeared to hang suspended in the centre of a monster pipe with lights every fifty metres or so giving the thing ribs. A bizarre sense of weightlessness assaulted our senses and for a few kilometres it seemed that we were actually travelling through the space time continuum. Perhaps we were.

Eventually of course we "landed" back outside in the rain, and made the descent down Arzvillier on rail tracks in the bathtub shared with two other boats to the joy of a throng of tourists who'd paid good money to stand in the rain and watch, and now we are here. Arguably we are in the middle of the most spectacular twenty kilometres of canal in France, sitting in a valley among the forest, chateau above us, the sound of relentless rain on our roof.

We are near Germany, in France, in a town that could have been designed by Walt Disney on a waterway that runs to the river Rhine, and we are trying to convince ourselves that it's all not a dream. With a bit of luck our battery will fail in the morning cold and we'll be forced to stay here a while longer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Finally at the summit.

The world is our oyster now, we have again conquered Rechicourt!  (Perhaps it always was.)

Well it's not that big a deal really, and despite it "conquering" us a couple of times before, once inside the cavern, The lock at Rechicourt is a pussycat, taking us to the top gently to the pond at the top of our climb and thirty five lock-free kilometres before the descent begins at Arzvillier on the incline which will carry us eighty metres down the mountain in a bathtub, and for twenty minutes or so we will be a tourist attraction.   Of course there are a few tunnels and a day between us and there, but it feels a little as though we are playing in some sort of sophisticated new age snakes and ladders contest.

Given the amount of precipitation this morning, we would not normally have left harbour today, but we were retracing our steps for the third time in a month and have places to go and things to see before Shell and Jules depart in a weeks time, so made the decision to soldier on regardless.  We now know that we can handle constant drizzle and moderate winds with aplomb.  We also have a date  of sorts with Alain, who may or may not be able to cast some light on the mysteries of our electrics, now featuring a brand new starter battery "on approval" from our guardian angels at NavigFrance.  

 "Let's make sure it works first " said Patrice as I pulled out my wallet.

Dumbfounded, I pointed to the plume of smoke clearly visible through the rain-gloom, a sure indicator that we'd managed to at least fire up the Perkins monster and by definition a sign that the starter battery was at least partially responsible, but he was not so easily convinced.   

I did tell him that we were off to Strasbourg, and the only way he would be able to tell if it doesn't work was by the way our berth would remain suspiciously vacant for the entire winter, but there was no chance of changing his resolve, and after refusing to wish us goodbye lest he should hex us once more, a broad smile erupted under the waxen tips of his moustache, and we disappeared into the mist.


Saturday, August 14, 2010


I am starting to think if I have a nemeisis, it's the big lock at Rechicourt, the tallest on the canal network, the one with the nasty mouth that wait to swallow boats whole with its guard tower on top.

The first time it allowed us through it's evil clutches without so much as a murmur but it had its way with us on the way back, fizzling the electrical system and preventing the boat from starting, which attentive readers may recall led to a rescue by Jacques and Michel riding white horses, (cleverly disguised as Citroen vans), and a temporary fix which should see us through the season, ready for a proper job over winter. With fingers crossed we hoped the batteries would get us through as well.

A few litres of water have passed under our hull since then, and this morning we confidently did the rounds of the harbour, bidding everyone our fondest farewells, promising not to return for a month at least, and promising Jacques that we would not to call again from Rechicourt.

It was almost lunchtime before all the wells had been fared, and everything was shipshape, ready for the starter batter to fail entirely in it's feeble effort to turn over the engine. I was fairly sure we hadn't done anything to prompt this display of obstinance on its part, so with fingers crossed and a bit of a boost from the charger, proceeded to coax everything into life, telling myself all would be well with a few hours of running under our belt. Where there is life, there is hope, and fifteen kilometres or so to Rechicourt were filled with both, albeit with a temperature gauge hovering perilously beyond the normal zone.

After the hour we had to wait for the big lift, there was neither life, nor hope for the starter battery, so a quick crossing of wires and a bit of jumper cable later we turned around and headed back to the comfort of Lagarde. Tonight, rain is forecast. LOTS of rain, and tomorrow there is a fete in the harbour and our new battery to install and we'll probably try again after lunch. "Probably" is a reminder that even with guests aboard, it doesn't pay to have any sort of agenda when cruising, and after all we have another round of goodbyes to contend with in the morning.

Once we conquer Rechicourt, the world will be our oyster.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Just another day in France really, a nice drive in the country in a 2CV, a visit to Nancy, my lens hood run over by a tram, coffee at l'Excelsior, a wee in a urinal with a fly tattooed on it to use as a target, pick up Shell and Jules, another nice drive in the country in a 2CV, a pleasant dinner, a few laughs, and then the realisation that I haven't seen any of those wretched expanded aluminium security screens in any of the bits of France we've been to.

I can't imagine how they keep the bad people out without them.


Thursday, August 12, 2010


A day of housework and contemplation never did anyone any harm I suppose and today was bound to be that day. Scrubbing the decks is mildly satisfying, as it gives plenty of time in the sunshine, or drizzle as the case may be to consider the constants in life.

Like why some people consider that combining the the first syllables of their collective names is a perfectly acceptable and highly original device for inventing a name for their abode, or boat as the case may be, and no matter where in the world one is, whether washing a car or scrubbing the decks of a boat, there will be a constant stream of people with big grins on their dials, asking in at least four or maybe six languages, if one could "do" their conveyance next.

Perhaps imponderable, but I did a good job anyway, was the conversation I had last night with a German fellow who was quite close to my own age. He had just come back from a visit to the WW1 German war cemetery nearby and was quite contemplative. He thought it terrific that the Jewish soldiers who had fallen had their graves appropriately marked with a Star of David, and even more terrific that they were acknowledged equally. In ever more increasing tones of almost melancholy he told me how his father had been a physician in the occupying forces in this region, and he brought him here forty years ago to show him what war really meant, and to introduce him to some of his friends from France, met during the occupation, and how he had never forgotten and how all children should be shown what he was shown at the age of twelve and the world would be a different place.

Then he told me about how he works to keep neo-nazism at bay, and how it has roots all over Europe and is more dangerous to security than other more obvious movements, and warned me of places where it would be unwise to moor the boat because "there are a lot of black people" and it might not be safe, and he saw no contradiction in that, which became the crux of my own contemplation.

It occurred to me later, after the decks were sparkling and I no longer had to think, that if my parents had called me something beginning with "Yeux", then we could have named our boat "Joyeux" without the need for further explanation.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mr Perkins

We should know the boat well enough by now to make some decisions on the ten year plan for it, so I calmly started pulling off panels again, to check out the old hull repairs in detail, and try to find the source of the oil leaks in the engine.

There are a couple of spots where the hull still needs a bit of work, and I'm sure I'll make some sort of pretence at starting it before handing it over to the merry men at NavigFrance to finish many months from now.

I asked the question about reconditioning the engine though, and got  a look from Jacques that made me think he was going to scream "sacre bleu!" at the top of his voice.  I have no idea why I thought that, but in the old war comics of my youth, that's what French people always said when they had that look.   Despite two weeks of wiping it clean and watching carefully, I haven't been able to see where the oil leak was emanating from, so Jacques, now with some urgency in his demeanour, scurried off to find the big gun.

Michel arrived, looked it over with the intensity of a surgeon about to extract a brain, then pronounced something that was interpreted as "Well there are some boats that have clean engines, but this one doesn't."

But they will talk to Alain, who was the technician at the hire base who maintained it previously, which either leaves me hopeful that someone will know what to do, or entirely without hope because it was too hard to fix which is why he had the boat sold in the first place!   

On the other hand there's the view of Duncan, the British engineer who said the reason they don't make computers in the UK is that they couldn't work out how to get them to leak oil.

For all of that we may have saved a few dollars.  If Mr Perkins is going to be reliable, noisy, smelly and grubby for the next ten years well I guess it will be in good company.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The village plan at Einville du Jard summed up our day really. Faded in bits already, hand coloured in others, soft and mellowed.

When I woke the mist was rising from the water in a glorious pink. Glorious enough for me to think about creeping to the other end of the boat to get my camera, but not quite glorious enough to make me do it. Fortunately, as happens with these things, the pink soon faded and the opportunity was lost, so I remained snug for another hour.

We stayed once again near Somerville, a village which is difficult to describe as it is as old as it is new, it has a church with bells that ring but it has no bakery, so as we walked its streets in the evening the houses had bags hanging from their doors in anticipation that they would be filled by morning by the travelling boulanger.

It must be hell living there on Christmas morning. I worry about the kids racing to see what Santa's left for them only to find two baguettes traditionelle in the bags on the door.

It was a day of worry about kids really, the nice young boy who failed to sell us a fruit pies in the lock, and the pair taking ropes for us and pretending that the glittery platypus sticker was as good at the Euros that the German boats throw them, and as well, a day of catching up with friends on the water and in the shade at Einville.

We ate half their fruit pie, and felt happier for the kids, then satisfyingly vindicated when we heard that "their" special price was less than "our" special price, and listened to the church bells strike midday, and one.

And two.

We decided to soldier on, but had to stop somewhere near another village to make a coffee and listen to the bells strike four.

And now we are back, moored in our spot, listening to the church bells strike each hour and four times in between as well till ten, which is exactly now, and then a single strike till six.

It will soon enough be six, and they'll let us know it's an hour till seven when they'll get more urgent and tell us  we'd better get up.

But we probably won't.


Monday, August 09, 2010

Sorry Jules

As we began to wend our merry way from Nancy back to Lagarde, the canal was lined with blackberries not yet quite ripe for the picking, or we would have stopped and had us some. These bushes gave a few smiles as we trundled on immediately bringing to mind our berry hunts of last year, which happily coincided with a visit from Shelley and Jules, and it's fair to say that we are in a mild state of excitement pending their arrival after four more sleeps.

As the picture of the anonymous berry tasting sneak was taken exactly a year ago yesterday, we have cleverly decided that the berry season is a little later this year, but fortuitously will once again coincide with their visit, which of course will mean that blackberry jam, blackberry pie, blackberry muesli, blackberry just about everything will be on the menu for the next month, all made from whatever amount of blackberry is not consumed while hiding in the bushes.

Tomorrow we should be back in Lagarde for a few days of getting odd jobs done before we head off again. It's been funny really, it feels as though we have been "away" and are now heading home. This is quite weird, since we are continuously in that state of being, and we still keep having to remind ourselves that unlike the others boring past us in a grand procession, our charter won't be ending on Tuesday. We have to commit a few days stationary just to work or we'll just keep on cruising, I'm not sure if that feeling will pass or if it's something we are just going to have to come to terms with.

I did manage to put a barrel bolt on the freezer door today, the purpose of which was not to lock out berry thieves, just to keep it shut so the frig doesn't frost up and the batteries don't struggle quite so hard, so it can be done, this work on the run thing.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


We are in Nancy again and hanging out with the big boys.

The money men seem to have gone. We've all admired their ships, and marvelled at their perfect coiffure and shirts that look as they've been removed from cellophane packaging that very day, but they've never returned so much as a glance. According to our neighbours from Luxembourg on their million Euro cruiser, they are weekend show-ponies, not proper boat people, and we all chuckle at their blue striped shirts and white trousers that match the colour of their hair and and their golden ornaments and the tans that match the colour of their cigars and how the men are the same but the shirts are striped in red. They are members of a secret society who only acknowledge their fellow members. One of them is certain to be disciplined after waving to me this morning as I clipped my hair on the afterdeck, he may have been a double agent, or more likely he mistook my immaculate visage for something it may not be.

His boat was beautiful, or perhaps exquisite is a more appropriate word to describe it, trimmed in leather with moulded timber windows and glorious workmanship that said of the construction time; "years". But he was still one of "them" and a wave was more than we could expect, them with the club crown in the corner of their national flag, one of a select bunch.

There are "us" as well, the holiday makers in the hired bumper boats for whom partying hard and travelling too far and too fast is the order of the day, and the longer term cruisers who wander in, as do we, in all manner of craft from rubber dinghies and tents to commercial barges and Ikea kitchens with "quiet enjoyment" at the top of their minds.

"Us" are aboard for longer than it takes to soil a Lois Vuitton overnight bag full of underwear, and our burgees are often accompanied by a pair or two of Mr Bond's finest, flying in a very public manner. Our boats are often in a state of being cleaned or being dirtied, or fussed over, or neglected but no one seems to notice.

We don't have a uniform, but we do have aspirations.

Ours is to just once to present ourselves at a Tourist Office, without being told, "Oh, you've come by boat!".

Maybe we do look like "them" after all. Could it be that they have mistaken our tee shirts for "shabby chic", out of the cellophane this very morn?

Saturday, August 07, 2010


It was a truly glorious day on the Moselle today.

At some time during the day, completely out of the blue, one of us was heard to remark:

"I want a bell tower in our next house."

To which the architect, ever the practical one, replied:

"I'd rather have just a folly."

Friday, August 06, 2010


We daren't go ashore this morning lest we should find an excuse not to leave. By the time we'd watered and chatted and had a cup of tea we had almost wasted sufficient time to justify staying anyway, but tenacity prevailed and we slipped quietly but smokily out of Metz and back onto the river.

Many canal cruisers avoid the rivers for their lack of intimacy with the surroundings and for the commercial traffic and the reality that there are few places to stay except for harbours which at this time of the year are busy if not crowded, but for now we beg to differ.

Navigation, while a little more complex than on the canals, is fairly simple. If one bumps into something solid, theres' a fair chance that it's the bank, so one should turn through 90° and try again, unless of course it's a ship, in which case one probably doesn't get the opportunity to try again.

We found ourselves occupying ten of the last twenty metres of a one hundred and thirty metre lock today. The forward part was packed solid with a solitary ship, and we were invited to slot between two cruisers who were already clinging to the walls like limpets, within spitting distance of the monster transom. This is not really something I'd considered trying before; sitting tied between two other boats directly behind a six metre propellor pushing a three thousand ton vessel out of a bathtub, but to our great surprise, we all survived and can now tell jaunty tales of bravado in the nearest yacht club bar, leaving out the bit about the lock keeper who perhaps had a fair idea that all would be ok when he signalled us in.

Now there is just starvation to ward off and it won't have been an entirely bad day at all. Exactly why one of us thinks that the marauding swans are more deserving than I of the baguette that was aside to lash with garlic for dinner I am not sure. I thought for a second about crying out; "let them eat cake!", but given the rather generous serving of flan that we have sitting on our bench from one of the many excellent patissiers in Pont-a-Mousson, I didn't dare chance my luck for the second time today.


Thursday, August 05, 2010


When one is moored in the centre of a city so full of charm and history that it gives one heartburn just wandering around it, the only thing that one can do to keep one's feet on the ground is to catch a bus to Ikea.  

Ikea in Metz is like our home port.  Our boat has been furnished by it, and when a girl needs more coathangers, who am I to suggest we look downtown among the mediaeval maze?

The good thing about visiting Sweden for a few hours is that it put Metz in perspective. The culture in the city has been constantly in a state of flux, eroded by newer cultures for thousands of years, captured and recaptured, Roman, French, German, French and so we shouldn't worry when we see a Vietnamese Butcher or a Spanish Bar, nor for that matter people overtly of religions other than Roman Catholic. I can't help but think that the patina of the place has been earned by such a diverse number of cultures and even countries that had we visited under similar circumstances thirty years ago, I may have been lost to it's charms, never to have been found again.

Three days is not enough, but we are determined to move this time, in another direction.  We shall as once was said in a different context, return, and when we do it will be for a while, and we'll find the shop again if it takes a year. The shop that was chocked to the rafters with "stuff" that had been there for a century at least, that sold rubber bands by the "each" and had every known variety of everything stacked somewhere where the proprietor could unstack, move a pile, look under something and find it by reaching into a burrow and feeling with her fingertips. We bought an egg beater from her for the price of a small car, and she was pleased to tell us the materials in it are "tres bon", and they are, all cast metal and polished in a way that things used to be done before China was invented.

It will take more than a few gateaux before its price is amortised, but then our quarter of an hour in her shop was worth the admission.

Come to think of it, maybe it was the Ikea gateaux that gave me the heartburn?


Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Metz is going to be a problem.   

In our heads we've said we'd stay for two nights, but walking around the old city for just an hour or two has thrown a spanner into any plans we may have made to move on.  They reckon there is three thousand years worth of history here.

Never make plans should be our motto.

We are moored between a barge that could easily pass for a giant piece of jewellery, so fine are it's perfect superyacht finishes, and on the other side Kurt's ex-policeboat from the thirties which makes our Joyeux look positively palatial.  If Kurt and we were to sell our boats and pool our resources to buy the barge we'd be short by at least one and half million Euros and we all three laugh at the contrast across the dock, including the Swiss owner of the superbarge who revels in the fact that he too is paying 12€ per night rent in the historic heart of the city including power and water, although we suspect he won't go ashore to shower.  He found a mooring in the river for free last night, we paid ten Euro.   If we moored for free every night for the next three thousand years, we'd save enough for a boat just like his, and we'd be as old as Metz.

Today we have waved to the bargees as they lumbered past with their 3,000 ton payloads and marvelled at how they always have time to return the favour, we've seen aqueducts (real Roman ones this time), and were on the spot as the train went through one of the arches at three hundred kilometres per hour, and wondered about "progress" and how life might have been if the Italians had moved to Australia a few thousand years before they did.

They never seemed to have problems making plans and sticking to them.


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

And the Winner Is.....

And today's winner is... direction Metz!

When a man's gotta go, a man's gotta go, and talking to Kurt our German marina neighbour this morning convinced us that Metz needed he and we more than Flavigny did.  

Our first challenge for the day was to get down the three small locks from Toul to the Mozelle, which is not usually a great feat, but this morning half the harbour decided to do the same thing and before the locks opened there was a queue of five boats to go two at a time down the stairway.  Each time two boats left, another two would join the queue, leaving those in the harbour watching the parade in some merriment.  We were convinced that the total number of boats leaving actually exceeded the number contained within the harbour overnight.

Ninety minutes and two cups of coffee later, we took our place in the queue, by this time down to three, (still one more than a canal lock can hold) and by lunchtime we were out onto the river and at the same monster lock that I photographed full of ship on Sunday.  Given that we are not much further than half way down it's length, and the smallest of the boats ahead is around three metres longer than us, the scale of the ships starts to have an impact.   In the absence of any more complicated calculation being needed while we were being gently lowered to the next level down, we figured that we could comfortably fit 52 boats identical to ours in one of these things, yet only one freighter manages it!

Eight hours, forty-one kilometres and half a dozen monster locks later, we pulled into Pont-a-Mousson, past the half way mark with only two locks tomorrow, but also past several villages which will slow our return journey.

Curse you Kurt and your contagious urgency.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Itchy feet

We've been in Toul for four days, and if the turnover of boats in the harbour is anything to go by, that's about two or three longer than the average stay.   We've definitely had a bigger, fancier bunch of neighbours here than we've seen to date, most of them in size and finish make us look like the veritable tramp ship that we are.  

Some of them are probably only here because they'd look mildly impoverished in Monaco, mostly they are here because they are Dutch or German families spending three weeks on the water before belting home at six kilometres an hour (or twelve on the rivers) and getting back to work.   Sometimes there's an interesting correlation between the size of the boat and it's crew which is a little puzzling, as there are no signs of little chaps to run around and fetch the groceries, although some do come equipped with cars and hydraulic platforms to   facilitate loading and unloading.  Perhaps they just stock up for a month before they leave, and programme their satellite TV's to receive all the great programmes from home.

Even as I type, whatever it is inside that says "let's go!" has said it, and tomorrow we'll be off, towards Nancy we think, the other way,  to complete a circumnavigation of sorts.  Or perhaps we'll drop in on Flavigny or will we pop up to Metz?

Once again we need to make a decision and I'm not sure that we are up to that at the moment.   Well not for something that's way off in the future.

Like tomorrow morning.

At least we'll be leaving the catfish wanting more.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

A question of scale

Sunday in a world where everything stops is a trip back in time for us as well.   We rather like the thought of everything being closed and a complete absence of traffic in urban areas means that cycling can be haphazard and carefree, so we haphazardly crissed the lanes and alleys of Toul and found ourselves wandering aimlessly for another half dozen kilometres or so to the village of Gondraville, which to my ear always sounds like a cross between a place somewhere over the mountains from Hobbit Town and a social disease.

Gondraville not at all surprisingly is very quiet on a Sunday so we took a spin down to the nearby commercial lock on the Moselle to check out the action.

For those who were (rightly) squeamish about where our effluent may eventually end up, here are some statistics to set the mind somewhat at ease.

On the "inland" canal systems since 1879 the locks have been standardised to a size 38.5m x 5.2m, so with an average lift of say 2.4 metres, each "flush" is around 500,000 litres.  That is about the same as pressing the full flush button on the old Caroma duo about 50,000 times in ten minutes, surely more than enough to get things moving!

On the rivers, it is a bit more exciting.  Here the locks are 185m x12m and the one pictured for instance, has a 4.4m lift and thats about a ten million litre flush each time we go through. 

Ships are designed to fill them, although this one had about eight metres to spare at the stern, so someone in the office probably got fired.   Our boat can do a U-turn in one of these locks with four and a half metres to spare, we are about the size of the "tinny" on the back of the ship in the picture (see the car on the cabin top for scale!), so we must give the keepers of these locks some giggles as we bang our way up the side desperately looking for something to tie to, lest we too should be flushed away with nary a further thought.

The pilots of these ships sit back in reclining chairs driving them to millimetre accuracy using what looks suspiciously like Nintendo controllers.  They never raise their voices, let alone a sweat, and they've probably got proper holding tanks for their loos as well.

Oh, and even if we are there first, they get first dibs on the lock!

On the waterways, size matters.
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