Log #18j Le Canal Lateral a la Marne

December 23, 2000 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 18 France, The Logs

Log #18j Le Canal Lateral a la Marne

Nov. 12, 2000
Written Dec. 23, 2000
At Sete, Basin du Midi

This Canal Lateral a la Marne goes alongside the more steeply falling waters of the upper reaches of the Marne River, raising our height a total of 34 m in 15 locks over a short distance of only 67 km. The previous longer stretch of 178 km raised us 40 m over 18 locks. Previously we would do 3 or 4 locks and 30 to 40 nautical miles a day. Today, Nov.12, we did 7 locks over only 20 miles. There is a considerable amount of locking, doing it every 2 to 3 miles. It gets even heavier later.

When we left Epernay and got to the first lock, Ecluse de Dizy, no one was there! This was the first of our self operated automatic locks, a new experience. After approaching the lock from the upstream end and wondering “How do we get in?”, we found a twist rod dangling about 300 m downstream of the lock. A half twist of it started the red and green lights of the lock, indicating it was getting ready for us. When the gates opened and the light went green, we entered the lock. Set in the lock wall about half way along were two vertical rods, one green, the other red. The green rod was to be pushed up when the vessel was properly moored and ready to have the gates close and the lock fill up. The red rod is an emergency shut-off control in case anything goes wrong. I accidentally tripped the red rod once and we had to wait 20 minutes for a service vehicle to arrive with an eclusier who reactivated the sequence.

The procedure is to activate the green rod when moored, at which time the gates close, and the water starts flooding in. When the water is at the upper level, the pressure on the upper gates is equalized and they open, allowing us to leave. It is a smooth operation, with a few glitches.

As these locks are ancient, having been built between 1845 to 1882, many of the central bollards are missing. This was a problem, as we needed to have two lines attached to deal with the turbulence. We also wanted to be in the downstream end of the lock where turbulence is less. Our lines could not stretch from one end of the lock to the other, a distance of over 38m, from our level 2 m down. Our procedure was to secure our stern line to the first bollard as we entered (if it was there), then put the bow line on the central bollard, ladder, or in most cases the control rod structure (a No No) so as to stay in the downstream half of the lock. If there was no bollard before this half way position, Judy would climb the ladder with both bow and stern lines to attach them wherever she could. No two locks had bollards in identical locations, so each time was a little different. However, we managed.

The other complicating factor was that, because the water was so high, when the lock was full and the gates opened we had no lock wall above water to put fenders against, and the curve of the hull would hide the actual location of the wall. The often awash top surface of the lock wall was flat stone, with nothing to shove against with a boat hook in order to keep off the wall, and identifying the edges on leaving was very difficult as the locks were only 5.2 m wide (Veleda is 3.5 m wide). Lots of fun!

We got the procedure down fairly well, and by very slowly approaching the entry after twisting the rod, we would arrive just in time for the gates to open, enter, secure, activate the system, and exit at the upper end, all within a ten to twelve minute interval. We only had a half hour or so of motoring between locks, time in which one of us would go below to get breakfast or lunch prepared, eat in shifts, clean up, get lines ready for the next lock, update our log and the navicarte, and do a bit of sightseeing as we motored through this hilly, pastoral countryside.

In keeping our log, we just indicated the times of departure from each lock, and the updates of our navicarte included which side the control rods were located inside the lock. Each lock was between 2.0 and 2.5 m in height. At two of the locks, Ecluse de Vraux and Ecluse de Chalons, we saw scribbled in the mud of the walls “GLENLYON 30/10”, the signature of an American boat with Rod and Susie whom we met in Bermuda, Horta, Portsmouth, Brighton, London, and just a couple of weeks ago I dropped into Arsenal Marina in Paris to say “Hi” to them. They were coming from Nancy in October, to Paris for the winter.

We stopped early at Chalons-en-Champagne, at 1535, after a six hour day, 21 miles and seven locks in gray drizzly weather. Oh yes, locking through in the rain is fun too. One of the determining factors of when we stop is where we can stop. The next spot after Chalons to stop was 25 kilometers and 8 locks ahead at Vitry le François. Here at Chalons was the only time we have used one of our stakes driven into the canal bank to secure our lines to, as there was only one bollard along the cement wall. We were advised to have stakes to pound into the banksides and boarding planks to get ashore on. We used only one stake this once and did not have a need for a boarding plank (Actually we were just going to use our fender boards as boarding planks.)

We enjoyed this town, especially as it had a “flea market” up the main street, reminiscent of Petticoat Lane in London. The mooring wall was just above the lock, and central to the town with stores, churches, restaurants, post office, laundromat, boulangeries, etc. readily available. It would be a good stop for resupply, sightseeing or eating out, or just spending a couple of days enjoying Champagne country. However, as we wanted to make time after the lock closures, and to get into warmer weather and down to Barcelona for Christmas, we left next day.