“Very cool”, we thought as we quietly snuck out of the port at Chalons while everyone else was in bed, “We’ll have the locks to ourselves all day”. Which is exactly what Jürgen and Ele thought when they left an hour later, as did Günter and Alexa ninety minutes after them. What none of us had considered was that the Captain of the good ship “Baychimo”, carrying three hundred tonnes of stuff to Germany, which is in exactly the direction we were heading, had thought exactly the same thing. With the benefit of the extra hour or so on the water afforded to commercial vessels, his head start was just enough that we didn’t catch him until the second lock of the day.
This was one of, if not the very first commercial ship to pass since the re-opening of the canal at Arzviller after almost two years of repair, and in the silted and now overgrown canal, his pace was such that another two locks had taken care of our hour’s head start on the others and by mid-way through what was feeling like a very long afternoon, we found ourselves at the head of a very small fleet, watching helplessly or perhaps hopefully, “shepherding” the behemoth as it ground its way at a sometimes imperceptible pace, with never an opportunity to pass.
Eventually, with the co-operation of the skipper and the canal authority, the barge found itself in a place which allowed us to pass and therefore with just a bit of luck get to our night mooring before the lock closure time. That naturally was a signal for the final lock of the day to break down mere minutes before closing time, so that we would be awaiting rescue for as long as it took to get someone back into the office well past aperitif o’clock, a very long time indeed.
“Tomorrow”, we all agreed, we would sit under the trees and wait all morning to give him a head start, and perhaps we would wait all afternoon as well.