Log #18i The Marne Part III

December 13, 2000 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 18 France, The Logs

Log #18i The Marne Part III

Written at Tournon sur Rhone
Dec. 13/00
Covers the period Nov. 10 to 12

We left Nanteuil-sur-Marne at 0645, an hour before sunrise on a cold (3 C.) grey misty morning in order to make as much distance as possible. The halte there was adequate, with bollards but no electricity or services. We passed through the locks quite efficiently, as an eclusier went from lock to lock ahead of us on a motor bike. Many of the locks were manual, so the eclusier would go ahead and open the gates to allow us to enter. This involved his (or her) cranking open one gate, then walking to the far end of the lock and back the other side to crank open that side. Once we were in, the keeper would then close the one side, walk around the lock again to close the other gate, then go to the upstream end to open the sluice on one side, walk across to open the sluice on the other side, and wait until the water in the lock was at the same level as the upstream end. Then one side would be opened, and after he walked around the lock to open the other, we could exit. The eclusier then closed the one gate, walked around the lock again to close the other, checked that the sluices were closed, then hopped on his or her motor bike to meet us at the next lock, one to three kilometers upstream. The procedure was not unlike that in the Crinan Canal, except the gates were much easier to crank open here as opposed to the gigantic gate arms that had to be pushed open on the Crinan, and here there was an eclusier. However, one great difficulty was the high water levels, which meant that when full the water level in the locks was almost slopping over the sides. Keeping Veleda off the stone edges, and judging the position of the ends of the exit walls, was a problem.

However, not all the locks on this stretch were manual; some were electric. Sometimes we would arrive at the next lock before the eclusier, so we just idled downstream of it for a few minutes. After the first manual lock, we helped out. On entering the lock we would hand the lines, which led aft to me in the cockpit where I could control both the bow and stern lines using the cockpit winches, to the eclusier. Judy would climb the ladder up the lock, and close one gate while the eclusier did the other. Then both would go to the upstream end, open the sluices, raising Veleda and me the 1.0 to 2.3 meters of the locks. When the level in the lock and the upstream side were even, Judy would open one side and the eclusier the other. Judy would then lift our bow line from the bollard, and hop on board while I took off the stern line and motored out the gates. This help to the eclusier speeded up our locking through, so that each lock only took ten minutes or so from entry to exit.

The last three locks of the day at Vandieres, Damery, and Cumieres were “bajoyers inclines” or inclined banks. We didn’t know what these were until inside the first one. Because they were larger, wider locks in which the sides sloped rather than being vertical, a pontoon was located inside to which we secured, and it floated up peacefully with the water level, making for a comfortable experience.

We made good time and distance, covering 39 nautical miles and 11 locks by 1710, a heavy ten and a half hour day to arrive at Cumieres at PK 2 shortly after sunset. It was a pleasant halte, with an information board and map of the local area, especially inviting visits to the area wine caves. The electricity and water on the pontoon were turned off for the winter. I took an evening stroll through the town, enjoying its narrow streets, and the ancient shuttered homes and wineries.

This was located at PK 2, as it was the last halte before the Canal Lateral du Marne started at PK 0. However, we did not go into the canal next day, as the locks would not be operational (November 11 is a French national holiday) but went another 7 kilometers further up the Marne to a Port de Plaisance, Societe Nautique d’Epernay, at Epernay, a famous champagne producing town. The marina as such was closed for the winter with no water or electricity at the docks, but as it was part of a sports complex we were able to get showers!

We went into town as soon as we arrived, as we wanted to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony at the local cenotaph. We found the Mairie and the ceremonies in progress with the Last Post just completed. They had school children reading selections as well as local dignitaries. Epernay was awarded the Croix de Guerre for its front line resistance during the Battle of the Marne in WW I. Something we have noticed on the memorials in several towns is that in addition to the those in the military who died fighting for France, there is recognition of the WW II deportees, the civilians who were taken away by the Germans as forced labourers, or hostages, or the Jews and others rounded up for the concentration camps never to return. In several towns we noticed plaques on houses giving names and dates when citizens were arrested and taken to concentration camps or executed for resistance or reprisals. Each town had a liberation square or memorial indicating the date of its liberation. Epernay had a memorial to the US forces under General Patton who liberated the town.

Across from the Mairie we then toured the Moet-Chandon champagne winery as Epernay is in the heart of the Champagne vineyards. It was an interesting tour to see how champagne is produced. We toured their caves, tunneled into the chalk deposits which run throughout this area of France. They were quite extensive with over 35 kilometers of tunnels for storing and processing the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes into the world famous Moet-Chandon Champagne. They even had a statue of Dom Perignon, the monk who in 1668 was the cellar keeper of the Hautvillers abbey, and who was instrumental in the development of sparkling wines, and is referred to as the “spiritual father” of today’s Champagne.

We enjoyed our showers before going to bed. Happiness is – a pontoon with electricity, and luxury is a hot shower.

The next day, Nov. 12, we left at 0930 to head a few kilometers back down the Marne to enter the Canal Lateral du Marne at Dizy. This was our last sailing on the Marne River as now we would be in this parallel canal system, off the river, over to Vitry-le-Fraçoise, then up over the watershed and down the other side into the Saone River system via the Canal de la Marne a la Saone. No more river currents against us. Only canals until we get into the Saone River when we will then be going downstream!

We did not encounter much traffic on the Marne, perhaps one or two peniches a day. The Marne river and associated canals are not the best maintained, and the route is not a heavily used one even in the summer season. The locks on the river were 45m by 7.6m wide, but were smaller still in this canal, measuring only 38.5m by 5.2m wide (keep in mind Veleda is 3.5m wide herself). However, the canal climbs at a higher rate, going up 34m in 67 km and 15 locks. The first stretch of the Marne from the Seine to Dizy was 178 km with a lift of 40m in 18 locks. So we were facing more frequent locks over shorter distances as we climbed higher into the Langres Plateau.

We arrived at the first lock at Dizy, to enter the Canal Lateral a la Marne, at 1000, only to find there was no eclusier! This was our first automatic lock, that we would have to operate ourselves! I’ll tell you about it in my next log.