Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

East from Nancy, May 14-18

Monday morning we set off from Nancy with a quick stop at the waterside supermarket (with moorings!) on the outskirts of town; a pleasure as you can roll the shopping cart right up to the boat, making the loading of the wine haul that much easier.

The original plan had been to head east through the forests of Lorraine and Alsace as far as Saverne then turn around and head back. The final section, from Saverne to Strasbourg is not that inspiring and the one marina in Strasbourg is expensive and far from town but the three year saga of the water pump continued. Several times we thought we had it fixed but it refused to stay quiet. The German manufacturers had emailed us a repair manual and the Strasbourg marina advertised boat repair services. The Capitane had assured us they could take care of the problem once and for all so we decided to travel the entire length of the Canal de la Marne au Rhine, eastern section and then return.

The canal was built between 1838 and 1853 to connect Paris with Alsace, the Rhine and Germany. It had many improvements over the years and as late as the 1970’s was a very busy commercial waterway. Commercial traffic decline precipitously in the 1980’s but, luckily, the canal’s scenery, with dark forests and quaint, attractive villages and towns, became very popular with the hireboat fleets (there are five bases in the area) and is still well maintained and very busy, just with another kind of traffic. The eastern section includes two tunnels, the deepest lock in France and a boat lift that was constructed in the 1960’s to eliminate a 17 lock chain. We’d traveled this section of the canal twice, in 2009 and 2010 so we knew what to look forward to.

Since there are so many hireboats, the canal authorities have provided lots of stopping places, many just enlarged sections of the canal with a couple of bollards to tie to, and we took advantage of two on our way to Saverne. The first, Sommerviller, we’d stayed in before but the second short day to Hénaménil was a first. We were tied up around lunchtime so used the afternoon to do a little cycling along the canal as most of the towpath has been turned into a paved cycle path.

Next up, the deepest lock in France. Built to replace 6 locks, the chamber is 16 meters (52 feet) deep. Luckily the bollards to tie to in the lock float with the water level making  securing lines pretty easy.

The lock is empty.

These hireboats are getting ready for the ride up.

There is a very nice spot to moor just above the lock, complete with picnic tables and barbecues, so we spent the night there.

Once through the Rechicourt lock, you are in the summit pound, the stretch of canal between two locks with down locks on both sides. The summit pound on this section of canal is quite long, 25 kilometers, so we took a short day Thursday and traveled just part of it to the unpronounceable town of Xouaxange where they have a small municipal mooring. We were joined by a couple of hireboats. The town also featured a restaurant with a most interesting combination of cuisines. We didn’t try either but the proprietor did sell us a baguette.

Next morning we set off for the next adventure, the Plan Incliné de Saint Louis.

Again, built in the 60’s, the boat lift replaced a chain of 17 locks in the 3 km Tergelback valley that used to take barges 10 hours to complete. Some of the pounds between lock were so small there was little room to maneuver and the water had to be nearly drained to fill the next lock. Now barges enter a basin that travels up and down a 45 meter ramp.

The basin is at the top. The hireboat waiting for it to come down.

The view from the top.

This hireboat is on it’s way up.

There’s a very nice mooring at the bottom of the lift. Unfortunately, on one side you are behind gates and unable to leave. We wanted to go for a bike ride in the Zorn valley so we shifted sides. On that side, however, you are right next to a busy road so after our ride into Lutzelbourg to do a little sightseeing and replenish the bread supply, we move back over for the night. We would travel the 15 k into Saverne on Saturday.

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