Sunday, July 30, 2006

Log 49 - (July 2006) - Finding Our Way NW to Paris through the French Canals

Mariner's definition: Cruising:  Waterborne pleasure journey embarked on by one or more people.  A cruise may be considered successful if the same number of individuals who set out on it arrive in roughly the same condition they set out in, at some piece of habitable dry land, with or without the boat

Waterways of France overview
In our last log, we removed TIOGA's mast and worked our way north through France via the Rhone and lower Saone rivers, two large-scale high-capacity waterways.  Though the said rivers have been canalized to control their rate of water flow, they are still rivers that flow for the most part within their original beds.  This log has us entering our first 'cut' canal.  Built in the late 1800's for commercial traffic, these canals link high-capacity rivers that flow into the Mediterranean Sea with high-capacity rivers that flow into the Atlantic Ocean.  Of the three possible cut canal routes to Paris, 1) via the Canal Centre, 2) via the Canal Bourgogne (Burgundy), and 3) via the Marne River and its canals, we end up doing a short side trip up the Canal de Bourgogne route, but use the Marne River and her canals to actually land us in Paris.  Read on for the details!

Saturday, July 1st - St Jean-de-Losne, start of the Bourgogne (Burgundy) Canal

First lock on the Bourgogne canal
The town of St. Jean-de-Losne is a happening little town located in the heart of some of the most popular canals of France.  It is home to a large charter fleet of canal boats for people to hire and spend time cruising the area, as well as the location of our first lock onto the Bourgogne canal.  This lock has us leaving the lower Saone river (a large-scale waterway) and entering the Bourgogne canal, which is part of a cut canal system known as Freycinet waterways. Freycinet was a French engineer who proposed that waterways and their locks all be standardized to enable efficient commerce.  A "Freycinet Lock" is a standard dimension of 38.5m long by 5.10m wide, with a 1.80m draught (depth)  and an air draught (height) for bridges of 3.4m.    TIOGA being a modest 12m by 3.5m sailboat with no mast and a draught of 1.6m clearly passes...or so we are told.

Can't quite get close enough...Our keel is stuck in the mud!

By the time we get some morning chores done and get going on the canal, it is already late in the afternoon so we decide to tie up for the night just out of town.  We quickly discover the 1.8m depth guaranteed by the VNF (Voies Navigables de France, the operating body of the French canals) is only in the center of the canal.  When we attempt to bring TIOGA to the bank and tie up for the night, our keel softly grounds into the mud and we must use our dinghy as a 'front-door mat' to get to shore. 
Gerrit helping pound stakes.

We pound in metal stakes to create our own secure tie points on land and....voila, we are set.  Our mission for tonight is to go to the nearby supermarket to buy the fixings for a nice supper complete with a lovely red and white dessert to celebrate Canada Day! 

Sunday, July 2nd - Chateau in the countryside

Countryside chateau

One of the reasons we decide to travel this route is our guide book says it provides one of the most spectacular routes in all the canals.  With the countryside dotted with chateau's like this one hidden amongst the tall greenery, we are already experiencing the beauty.   Oh, as well as on of the most beautiful routes, it is also the most heavily-locked route with 189 locks in 242 km and each lock takes 15 minutes on average to lock through!!

Monday, July 3rd - Steps to 'Locking-Up'

Cruising along the canals
Well, with a lock occurring at least every kilometer and often sooner, we quickly figure out a routine to make things run as smooth as possible.  First of all, either Sheila or Joel and Gerrit ride their bikes along the paved bike path between locks in order to catch spectacular photos like the ones really, we need someone on a bike to ride ahead to the next lock.  There they alert the lock keeper that we are coming (or find him!) and also get into position so that as we enter the lock they can catch our bow and stern lines and secure TIOGA to the tie points (bollards) above the lock walls. This is usually at least 3m above our heads.  The person on the bike is also equipped with a walkie-talkie, which proves very useful in warning the helmsman on TIOGA about approaching downstream traffic on this narrow canal or lock issues to expect. 

Entering a lock
An open downstream lock gate and a green light are our signal to slowly maneuver TIOGA into the lock.   This photo clearly shows you some of the Freycinet restrictions mentioned above and the term 'air-draught' comes into perspective.   Clearly we would not make it very far with a mast as these are not lifting bridges!

Lock filling with water

Once TIOGA is safely inside the lock and secured to the bollards, the lock keeper closes the gates behind us, which we have just entered, and opens the water inlets on the lock gates in front of us.  This allows water from above to pour through the inlets into our lock and the lock begins to fill.  The turbulence as the lock is filling can be quite powerful and even violent at times, so TIOGA tosses about as she rises to her new water level, here about 3 meters higher.  We are currently locking-up, and will eventually come to Pouillenay, the summit, before we begin to lock-down to the river Yonne, the large-scale waterway on the other side.

Top of the lock
Once TIOGA has raised to the exact level of the water in the canal ahead of her, the lock keeper is able to open the gates in front of us.   We are then able to drive out and proceed along the canal to the next lock, to repeat the process over and over and over....   This system has us progressing along at an amazing 15km per day!!

Lock keeper manually working the gates. 
The locks along this particular canal are manual locks that require a lock keeper to actually crank or lever the locks open and closed.  With two gates that join in the middle when closed, located at both ends of the locks, it means four gates to open/close at each lock.  In order to speed things up, we  help open and close the gates.  Though it is fun and different for us, it is also tough work maneuvering these huge gates so our efforts are greatly appreciated. 

Monday, July 3rd - Rue de la Liberte (Liberty Street), City of Dijon

Rue de la Liberte, Dijon
Well, 21 locks and 29.5km later we arrive in the beautiful city of Dijon.   Dijon became the capital of the duchy of Burgundy in the early 11th century and eventually flourished as an artistic center under the Valois ducal dynasty (1364-1477). After passing to the French crown in 1477, it continued to prosper and today it is graced with an inviting city centre surrounded by elegant medieval and Renaissance buildings such as these ones along Liberty Street.  We really have a great time exploring about this city!

Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne (The Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy)

Palace of the Dukes

This palace, originally just a simple fortress built to protect the town from the Barbarian invasions, was reconstructed from 1366 onwards by Philip the Bold (part of the Valois dynasty) and enlarged by other dukes. As Burgundy evolved and became the most powerful duchy of the kingdom of France, so evolved the magnificent palace of today.  Out front of the palace is the semicircular square of Place de la Liberation, which was built to receive the equestrian statue of King Louis X1V.  Unfortunately we are not able to see the statue as it was melted down to make canons for the revolutionaries in 1792!  

Panoramic of the Palace.

Wednesday, July 5th - Dijon Mustard Factory

Mustard factory
We couldn't visit Dijon, mustard capital of the universe, without making a trip to the famous Amora mustard factory.  There are many different Dijon mustards, anyone can make Dijon mustard, but it is the Maille brand from this factory that is famous.  It turns out Dijon mustard is a method or recipe, like cheeses from Brie or Gouda.  We learn many of the ingredients, but a few are still company secrets to this day.  Amora not only continue their secret recipe today, but also they continue with some unique marketing strategies developed long ago that remain popular.  Apparently after the decimation of WWII, people had very little in the way of glasses and ornaments.  The idea to package their mustards in glass containers that were useful for drinking from or putting on display once empty, became an amazingly successful campaign.  Oh, one other little fact:  99% of the mustard seeds used in the product post-WWII are grown in Canada. 

World Cup Football (Soccer in the land of the America's)

World Cup Football

World Cup Football is an event that happens only once every four years and it spells big business and rowdy rivalries between all participating countries.  Germany is hosting the event this year and football matches have been being played over the past weeks as opening rounds and elimination games occur.  As luck would have it for us, France has made it to the semi-final game against Portugal tonight.  We cycle to the city center in search of a big screen TV to watch the action.  It's a close match but in the end France prevails and the streets of Dijon go wild!  What a cool experience as we ride through the ecstatic crowds giving high-fives and experiencing the electricity in the air.  

Joel gets into the celebration!
That is the feeling our family will forever remember about the World Cup.   

Four days later, France isn't so lucky and looses the final game and cup to Italy in a match that was decided by 'shoot-out' kicks.  Dijon has a totally different feel in the air that night. :(

Monday, July 10th - On the road again...or is that on the canal again??

Enjoying the waters of the canals
After a great week in Dijon, we head off and up once again.  High daily temperatures continue and people are beginning to use the word 'heat-wave' now and then.  We typically travel in the mornings when its slightly cooler (underway at 8am), take a lunch break from noon to 1pm along with all the lock keepers, and then finish off the day around 3pm.  By then, we're all in serious need of a cool down swim .   Talk about refreshing after a days work!

Peniche - a type of barge

This style or design of barge boat known as a peniche was very popular in the early days of the canals.  With a totally empty hold, it would sit high out of the water requiring little water to move, while a loaded barge required water depths similar to us as it would sink down into the water and literally push the water (and silt) as it moved.  Many were built to the exact size of the lock dimensions with literally cm's to spare around it when the lock was closed.    Today it has become quite popular to rebuild the old barges into hotel barges or personal canal cruising crafts like this one.  What a beautiful boat!

Tuesday, July 11th - Lock keeper house

Lock keeper house
In the early days of the canals,  each lock was operated and maintained by an individual lock keeper and these little houses built beside each lock became their homes.   Times have changed and while most of the houses are still beautifully maintained and lived in, only a handful of  lock keepers still reside in the houses.  Today's lock keepers are typically seasonal summer students, each one assigned a series of 2 or 3 locks to lock us up and through before handing us off to the next lock keeper a little farther upstream.  

Wednesday, July 12th - Chateauneuf


We tackle the steep bike ride up to this chateau perched high upon the hill,  though it is a tough slog in the heat now approaching 38 degrees Celsius.  We are curious just to see the inside rather than get into its history....something about the lady of the castle poisoning her husband and being drug to her death as punishment.    Anyway, the views are great and the screaming cool bike ride down even better! 

Thursday, July 13th -  Getting close to the summit - Ecluse 4 du Grand-Pré

Inside a lock

As we get closer to the top of the summit, the locks are becoming even closer together and deeper.  Somewhere in this last chain of locks, a lock keeper questions the depth of our boat.  When we tell him we have a 1.6 meter draft and have been assured the entire way up that we can make it through, he shakes his head and mumbles something about 1.4 meters at the top.   Hmmm, could we have been getting the brush-off the whole way up in our efforts to confirm our ability to pass this summit??

Écluse-du-Grand-Pré - beautifully kept

Many of the lock grounds are extremely well kept and manicured.  Such is the case at Écluse-du-Grand-Pré

4:30 PM Pouillenay Summit & Tunnel

Pouillenay tunnel
Hurray, we have successfully locked up the 76 locks to the summit level at an altitude of 378m, the highest in France...whew!  The lockkeeper's comments about a 1.4m depth at the top are very concerning to us, so when we see a VNF van parked at the summit, we once again question our ability to pass.  To our dismay, this area supervisor confirms there is a 10km section beyond the summit that the minimum water level has been reduced four decimeter to 1.4m.  He doesn't understand why we were given incorrect information, but there is nothing he can do.  His advice is to continue on through the upcoming tunnel into the town of Pouilly for the night before turning around.   After a week of hard travel, we are crushed to say the least.

Inside tunnel
Well, time to get over the disappointment and move on.  Another great attraction to coming this particular route is that the top of the summit (the pound) includes a tunnel that is 3.3km in length with no lights, and only a 3.1m air draught!  In the past, a towage service operated for barges, but the little-used and costly service was withdrawn over time.  Perhaps the 3.1m air draught rather than the 3.4m Freycinet standard of all other canals,  further restricted barges and they chose other routes.   At any rate, boats today are able to proceed through the tunnel under their own power, provided they have suitable lights, horns and lifejackets for all on board. 

Literally "The light at the end of the tunnel"
Since the tunnel is the standard 5.10m wide, the boat traffic is one-way and controlled by a tunnel-keeper.  Upon arrival the keeper checks us for the required lights and equipment and gives us a time for our transit.  We are also given a VNF radio to carry through the tunnel for both safety, in case we break down in the tunnel, as well as to hand over to the tunnel-keeper at the other end, to signal our clearance out of the tunnel.
The tunnel experience is very cool....not only in a unique way, but it is literally a refreshing 10-15 degrees cooler inside!!  Bizarrely enough, when we first enter the tunnel, we can see a pin-hole size light 3.3km away at the end of the tunnel.  Never has the saying 'the light at the end of the tunnel' been so clear.

Exiting the tunnel
We crank the music, bring out some snacks and enjoy the ride.  Traveling very slowly, we break into the sunshine on the other side about an hour later. 

Stunning route to Pouillenay Summit.

Thursday, July 13, 11:00 PM - Fireworks for Bastille Day  - Pouillenay Summit Pound

Pouillenay Summit Pound
We proceed on to the mooring basin in the town of Pouilly-en-Auxois for a couple of nights to regroup and to figure out a different route of travel to Paris.

Bastille Day fireworks


There are fireworks in town tonight to kick off tomorrow's national holiday, Bastille Day.  Bastille Day is celebrated annually on July 14th since the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, when the former French prison fortress in Paris, was attacked and captured by a mob assisted by royal troops.

Friday, July 14th - The direction not traveled

Great view
Chris is up early and hikes over to catch a look at the view leading NW off to the river Yonne and Paris far in the distance.  A direction we are not able to travel....but why?   After chatting with other canal cruisers it comes to light that France has some serious decisions to make.  Having the most extensive waterway network in Western Europe with a whopping 8800km of cruising waterways is very impressive, but it is also a huge financial commitment to the country in times when transport by barging is being challenged in so many other ways.  The Bourgogne canal has no commercial barges anymore, only the odd hotel barge, thus the canal is beginning to show signs of age and silting in.  We are sure many other canals face the same concerns and we wonder where the canal system will be in another 20 years??

 Friends from Calgary, Canada!!

Emily, Gerrit and Joel
Nothing better to raise our spirits and get us totally back on track than to connect with good friends from home.  Monica and her daughter Emily have been at a dance school in Holland since the beginning of July.  We have been in touch by email hoping to connect, though our remote location is posing some difficulties.   Emily's comment to her mom about Paris always being there for them to visit another time, but their chance to visit the crew of TIOGA is running out, made the decision in our favor final.   After planes, trains and taxi's, we were grinning ear to ear when they arrived yesterday for a couple of days. So much to catch up on!

Kids have fun catching up as do us adults!

On our way back down...
Originally we were hoping our families could meet up and they would be on board TIOGA to transit the tunnel with us and then spend a day locking-down the other side toward Paris.  Timing did not allow them to arrive in time for our original tunnel transit, but they still get to experience the tunnel as we begin our return trip back to St. Jean-de-Losne! 

Emily and Monica
Locking-down is basically the reverse of the up process, only there is no turbulence.   We now drive TIOGA into a filled lock and tie her off.  Once the lock gates are closed, a valve is opened on the downstream lock and the water simply drains out.   We must now let our lines slip to match the rate the water is draining, which allows us to gently lower down to our new elevation.   It goes much quicker for some reason and in a few hours, we are locked-down all the way back to Chateauneuf. 

Mistletoe - is this where it comes from?


We had noticed many of the trees are filled with these huge green clumps, but we did not know what they were.  Monica immediately recognized the clumps as Mistletoe, which are parasitic plants that depend entirely on the host tree for nourishment.  We are not sure if the problem is being controlled in any way or if the fate of the trees is in the same hands as the canals!

Cab pick up.  Cya back in Canada. 
The weather is fine, the company finer and time passes far too quickly.  We arrange for a cab to pick them up in the middle of cool is that.  

Thank you Monica and Emily for making such an effort to visit us.

Sunday, July 16th - Willie Jeep...what fun!

Joel, Sheila and Gerrit with Joel and his Willie Jeep

One of the greatest things about our lifestyle is never knowing what adventure we will find next.  This morning saying good-bye to Monica and Emily, tonight off for dinner with a local family.   Chris briefly met Joel one morning on our way up to Pouilly.  He recognized our boat for the ocean-going vessel she is and scrambled through the bushes to talk.  Joel saw us this afternoon on our way back down and graciously invited us to dinner and a thoroughly enjoyable evening.  It turns out Joel and his family had cruised the world on a sailboat for 15 years and currently they are working on another sailboat in their yard for their next trip!

Hotel barge

Here comes one of the hotel barges we mentioned earlier in the log.  Their holds have been converted into sleeping cabins and their decks carry bikes and fine dining tables to pamper the guests they carry up and down the canal.  These babies are the kind that are built to the exact dimensions of the locks and they require a depth of water similar to us, which makes passing in these narrow canals interesting.  We literally ground TIOGA lightly in the mud and then let them slowly barge past us with our fender board scraping down their side!  

Tuesday, July 18th - Mirage Jet Fighter

Mirage jet fighter

On our way up the canal we were suddenly blasted by the deafening roar of these fast moving jet fighters.   They were on us and gone before we even knew what the heart stopping racket was all about let-alone snap a photo.  Well, we were ready for them on our way back down and Chris snags a photo of this one landing at the airstrip right beside the canal.  Our on board aviation experts say it looks a lot like the French-built Mirage. 

Friday, July 21st - New route to Paris

Beautiful sunset
The past few days have been spent restocking supplies in St. Jean-de-Losne and traveling a short distance north on the Saone river again to the entrance of our next cut-canal.  This route to Paris is basically via the Marne River and her various cut canals, which includes both manual locks like on the Bourgogne, as well as automated locks activated by sensors and the push of a button.   Of the three routes to Paris, this is the longest (around 470km), but the least heavily locked (147 locks), thanks mainly to its more recent (1907 completion) construction.  

Melted After Eights
Life on the canals is great.  The heat wave continues and the water gets warmer!   Though we have had a lot of hot weather over our travels, the water in the ocean has never warmed to the point that chocolate stored in our bilge (storage under the floor of the boat) has melted.  Well, a first for everything as we find our 'After Eights' in a melted heap in the bilge.  C'est la vie....they still taste great with the wonderful French wines and stinky cheeses we have been enjoying! 

Sunday, July 23rd - Villegusien-le-Lac

A day on the beach
Just before the summit on the first section of our travels (now on the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne previously named Canal de la Marne a la Saone),  we enjoy a Sunday at the local reservoir lake.  This is one of four reservoir lakes feeding these waterways, and it's very popular in this heat!  Apparently the heat is beginning to cause water shortages and the levels of the reservoirs are down quite a bit.  We better keep going and get over these summits before we have no water left at all!!

Monday, July 24th - Hello down there!

Deep locks
Once again as we reach the final chain of locks to the top of the summit, they are getting extremely deep.   We're rising a full 5 meters at a time and its difficult getting our bow and stern lines up to Sheila to secure TIOGA before the lock begins to fill.


Tioga about to raise in a lock.

4.82 km tunnel ahead.

Later today, once at the top of this summit, we have a 4.82 km long tunnel between Balesmes-sur-Marne and Noidant-Chatenoy to transit before beginning to lock-down. 

Tuesday, July 25th - The heat continues

Sheila secures us before our turn to enter the lock.
We've now moved onto the Canal lateral a la Marne, which is basically the next leg of the Marne river still on route to Paris. The days are hot so we tend to pack it in mid afternoon in the heat of the day and enjoy the lovely water.  

Gerrit and Joel
Before entering the canals, we thought our swimming for the season was over, but to our surprise the water is wonderful.  We assume that the small amount of commercial barge traffic we see does not appear to affect the water quality.   That is probably about to change as we move even closer to the Seine River running through Paris. 

Monday, July 31st - Fogged in!

Foggy morning

We really enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside and more often than not we find ourselves tied for the night in locations like this one rather than in towns.  We're not too sad when our early morning departure from this spot is delayed due to fog.  We don't really want to meet a commercial barge in the fog, so we make a tea, sit in the cockpit and wait for the sun to come bursting through.  

Tuesday, August 1st - Epernay, Heart of the Champagne Vineyards

Champagne vineyards
Now on the Marne river and into the final 178km before Paris, we are in the heart of the Champagne vineyards, which are the most prestigious vineyards in the world.  The ability to label a bottle with the designation 'Champagne'  is strictly limited, and must contain wine only from the grapes grown within the boundaries of the 35,000 hectare parcel of land surrounding Epernay.  There are many bubbly products, but only one Champagne!

Joel and Gerrit

Knowing very little about Champagne, we decide to visit one of the many champagne houses for one of the tours.  We end up choosing the Mercier champagne tour for a couple of reasons.  Not only have we heard good about the tour, but the name Mercier pops up in Chris's family tree, and Joel and Gerrit are hoping to be related to this prosperous family! 


The tour takes is 30 meters beneath the town streets, into the Mercier cellars where we are whisked about in a small train through some of the cellar tunnels listening to the tour guide explain the process.  In a nut-shell, making champagne is a highly delicate and complex art requiring a whole series of meticulous operations with a combination of age-old know-how and technical innovation being applied at each stage.  

What amazes us most is that the Mercier cellar tunnels are only part of the 100 kilometers of tunnels under the streets of Epernay, containing the 200 million bottles of Champagne on hand at any given time.

Giant vat wagon train replica

In the Mercier showroom is the giant vat of 1600 hectoliters (equivalent of 200,000 bottles) built between 1870 and 1881 for the purpose of large-scale assemblage, or mixing of the champagne.   In 1889, Eugene Mercier (founder of the Mercier champagne house) came up with a novel idea to bring his champagne to public attention by putting his giant vat on display in Paris for the World Exhibition.  It took eight days, twelve pair of oxen and eighteen horses to transport the twenty-tone 'Cathedral of Champagne' from Epernay to Paris.  Along the way, 3 bridges required reinforcing and 5 houses had to be bought and demolished to make way for the giant!!  The cask won second place that year....first was the Eiffel Tower!  Our photo is of the little replica of the original, as the giant vat is monstrous!

Sunday, August 6th - EuroDisney

Off to EuroDisney
After a great stay in Epernay, we carry on down the Marne and eventually stop at the small village of Esbly.   Unknown to us at the time of choosing this route is that EuroDisney is 5km from the river.  When we arrive in Esbly, Chris heads off on his bike to scout out a safe route for us all to ride to the park.  Everyone is excited when he returns with entrance tickets. 

Euro Disney
We're up for an early start on the day and head off up the hill on our bikes via the roads Chris scouted yesterday.  Its a long, steep climb out of the river valley, but once on top we can see the park in the distance.  We're not sure how many people arrive at EuroDisney by bicycle, but we think the adventure of getting there was half the fun. 

Thunder Mountain
It has been almost 4 years since we visited Disneyland in California, thus the boys choice of rides has changed drastically.  No more 'tea-cup' rides in fantasy land, it's straight to Indiana Jones and Thunder Mountain.  Euro Disney is, for the most part, a replica of Disneyland, which for the most part is for younger children. We had fun and in the end agree one day was enough. 

Monday, August 7th - Arsenal Marina in Paris

Arsenal Marina, Paris
A mere 20km further on from EuroDisney, the Marne river intersects the Seine river, which brings us right into the heart of Paris.  The Seine river is a turbulent nightmare from all the big ship traffic and the rough water rekindles memories of the high seas!  We are thankful that we have to take TIOGA through a lock off the Seine river, and into the peaceful waters of the Arsenal Marina, dug out of the moats of the former Bastille (Bastille Day) we mentioned earlier in the log.  We look forward to a two week stop in yet another amazing city.    Stay tuned...

Stay tuned for Log 50 in Paris, the WW1 Battlefields and Belgium.  Getting close to the end.