About 9 am we shoved off from the shipyard and headed down the Canal de la Sensée. At 9:30 we cleared the Goelzin lock, whose extended closure for repair had severely delayed our trip to the Somme, and a little after 10 entered the Canal du Nord.
After three tries, including one interrupted by WW I, work based on the final plans for the canal began in 1960 and were completed in 1965 as the quickest route between the Seine and the English Channel ports. The locks are 91 meters long and almost six wide, designed to take two of the standard French commercial peniches at a time. Many other barges have been purpose-built for the canal at about 85 meters long and many bargees have taken advantage of the availability of old peniches and tied two together as one unit. The canal sees heavy commercial use but since it’s wide and deep, that caused no problem for us. And we did see alot of traffic, the vast majority fully loaded barges. It made us feel good for the future of this waterway, at least.
Over two days we would pass through 12 of the locks, all of them about 6 meters deep, although one is nearly 8, and one nearly 4.5 km long tunnel.
We pulled up to Lock #1 about 10 minutes after entering the canal to see the dreaded “no lights on the indicator board,” meaning a problem. We hiked up to the lockhouse and were told that the lock was en panne, broken, and we would have to wait. Luckily there were plenty of places to moor so we threw a line ashore and did just that. Shortly after, another pleasure boat showed up and then the barges started to arrive. Since this is a heavily used commercial canal, the VNF was working feverishly to get things operating again. At one point there were at least 4 work trucks parked at the lockhouse.
This double barge pulled into the lock and then the lock broke.
They were down in that hole for about 9 hours.
We’re moored behind Thiros. He’d pulled up to the bank to load his car in that box on the front.
There are seven barges waiting now. There would be 12.
Finally, about quarter to 7, after 9 hours waiting, word came over the radio that the lock had been fixed and boats would be allowed through. It takes about 30 minutes for a lock cycle and the lock closed at 8:30 pm. Since commercial traffic takes priority, we were just about to give up on the trip to the Somme and head for the Canal de Saint-Quentin, an alternate route to the south, as we wouldn’t get through the lock until sometime late the next day and we’d be stuck behind traffic all the way to the Somme.
But the captain of Thiros (who told us he had worked on Oldtimer years before at H2O; he knew the previous French owners) hollered at us to get into the lock. We radioed the lock keeper who told us that boats would be locked though in the order that they appeared. We were first in line! We hurried into the lock with the other cruiser and a peniche pulled in behind them. At 7:20 we were free of the lock and scooting down the canal. About 8 pm we stopped at a small pontoon just before the next lock. Thursday, after a bit of tense waiting hoping other traffic wouldn’t catch up, we caught the third lock cycle of lock #2 at 7:50 am (The locks start operating at 6:30. They made us wait a bit.) and we had the rest of the locks to ourselves.
About 11 am we made the 1 hour trip though the Ruyaulcourt Tunnel, not a bad passage as the tunnel is wide and very well lit and ventilated.
Look! The light at the end of the tunnel!
We breathe a sigh of relief as we put the tunnel behind us.
Shortly after 4 pm we cleared the last lock in this section of the canal and found a bollard just below it to spend the night.
Friday morning we would enter the Somme.