After our trip up to Arras (or as close as you can get in a boat) and back we can only say that you really have to want it.
We departed Douai Wednesday morning about 9:30 and got to the first big river lock about a half an hour later. The lockkeeper told us he would notify the next lock, just 3 k away, that we were on our way. There we would pick up the telecommand, the garage door opener device that would make the locks on the Scarpe Supèrieur work as we headed up the river to Arras. We sailed into the next big lock, Courchellettes, the doors closed and the lock filled, the doors opened but no lockkeeper appeared with the telecommand. No problem, we thought, we’ll just pick it up at the first Scarpe lock which is just a little ways up the river. We pulled up to the lock, tied up and walked up to the lockkeepers hut. Shut tight up, it was, and no phone number or any other contact information available. We put the bicycles on the towpath and headed back to Courchellettes, luckily just 5 minutes away. “Bien sur!” said the lockkeeper when we asked if we could have a telecommand. Back up at the lock we pressed the button and…..nothing.
A couple of phone calls and about 2 hours later, somebody showed up, unlocked the hut and operated the lock for us. We would go through 5 locks on the way to our first stop that day. Luckily the VNF employee stayed with us because only the last lock of the day worked as it should.
The entrance to the Scarpe Supèrieur off the mainline canal
The other problem we encountered was a weed infestation. With so little traffic on the river, weed grows in the canal. We have cooling pipes so it doesn’t interfere with our engine cooling like those that use river water, but the stuff gets wrapped around the propellor and shaft and causes vibration and a serious loss of speed. The only way to partially clear it is to stop and go into reverse, hopefully unwinding the menace. A VNF crew was on scene with their weed cutter trying to clear some of it but then it’s just floating in the water until they can scoop it out. Luckily the pounds above Biache-Saint-Vaast, where we stopped for the night, were much clearer.
And what a pleasant stop! There was a long wall just above the lock with some bollards and rings. Since there’s no traffic, the minimal mooring points could be augmented with stakes. There were two other “real” barges there, very nice examples of restored dutch barges and, unusually, both flying French flags, and both on their way upriver. As a matter of fact, those would be the only boats we saw during our stay near Arras, except for a small sailboat flying a Norwegian flag that appeared one day and then left.
The town, with it’s big grocery store, is just a few minutes away but there is nothing but a big park right by the moorings. We stayed a couple of days and would have stayed a couple of days on the way back but we’ll get to that later.
Saturday morning we shoved off. The first lock was about an hour away and when we arrived the lights indicating the lock status were off. We were on the phone again and about a half hour later the VNF appeared and made the lock work for us. We still had one more lock to get to our destination but the technician said it was working properly. Luckily, he was correct and we arrived at Saint Laurent Blagny, the end of the currently navigable portion of the river just at noon.
The one drawback to the Arras moorings is that they’re not in Arras. The river has silted up in the last two pounds so the closest you can get to town is the suburb of Saint Laurent Blagny. It’s a real shame because there is a very nice basin right in town that would accommodate lots of boats if it could be reached. There are people trying to convince either the VNF or the city to dredge the canal to allow access but so far no luck. Saint Laurent is not that far away but it’s a not very pleasant 25 minute walk from Arras center. There is a regular bus that has a stop right near the moorings.
There are also very limited places to tie up in Saint Laurent. The available pontoon is only about 35 meters long. With one “resident” boat and Phoenix and Tango, the two French barges, rafted there as well, we ended with a bollard and stakes on the other side of the canal. It turned out to be just fine.
The moorings are in a well-used city park complete with skateboard/bike/scooter ramp, swimming beach and petanque grounds. We thought that might cause a little trouble but everybody went home at dark and things were pretty quiet.
The pontoon is right next to a city water park with a man-made white water rafting flume. We had fun watching the overturned rafts and floating boaters come down the channel.
The boaters have successfully completed the run down the “white” water and
are now paddling back to the escalator ramp that will take them back up for another run.
Since it was early in the day, we used the time to head into town and, what else, climb the tower but this time with the added bonus, a trip to some caves!