Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Epinal and to the Meuse, July 6-11

After the summit pound of the Canal des Vosges, it’s down to the Moselle River. 14 locks in 11 kilometers, which we managed with very little waiting, took us to the 3.3 k branch canal which follows the river to the town of Epinal.
According to my notes from 2008, the last time we were here it was very hot the first day and rained the next so we didn’t see too much of the town. About 82,000 people live in the city and surrounding towns but it doesn’t get many tourists. It’s medium size and beautiful green mountainous surroundings make it very pleasant and picturesque. 

On the hill above town are the ruins of a chateau built on the foundations of a castle that originated in the late 900’s. Fortified in the 13th century, it was modernized over the years but was dismantled after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. In the early 1800’s, government officials obtained the site and in 1890 it was donated to the City and is now a huge park complete with walking paths and a zoo.

The Chateau from the river in town.

Up on the hill

Epinal is a center for print making and the Cité de l’Image is a museum, exhibition and gift shop displaying all kinds of prints and print-making equipment, both old and new. We had been looking for some art for the boat and found a couple things we liked. At the check out counter the young man noticed our accents and asked where we were from. We told him California. Word got around somehow because the next day a reporter from the local weekly showed up at the marina looking for the boaters from California. We got a nice write up, complete with picture, the next day in the Vosges Matin although they did make fun of our French (or lack thereof!); Cathy Jo’s was dans un français timide mais compréhensible but I qui contrairement á sa compagne ne pratique pas la langue de Moliére. (Translate it yourself!) A local family even introduced themselves that afternoon. They wanted to meet the Californians. The 2016 Media Tour continues!
Also in the marina is a bar and restaurant with a big screen tv. We were able to watch Les Bleus, the French football (soccer) team defeat Germany to advance to the finals of the European Cup. Horns were blaring on the roads around town for at least an hour afterward.
About 10 Saturday morning we set off for more downhill locks. This time there was quite a bit of other traffic so we did a lot of waiting. After 15 locks it was about 4:30. We found a old stone quay we could tie to and spent the night au sauvage.
Sunday was the same; lots of waiting and lots of locks; 10 locks in 19 k but we tied up at a civilized 1:30 pm. 
After our 9 am departure and some lock trouble, about 2 pm on Monday we exited the Canal des Vosges and entered the Moselle River and it’s big river locks. We only got to do 2 of them, however, because we would be entering the western branch of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin in order to get over the top to the Meuse River. Our next major destination was Toul but we had intended to stop short of town on Monday so we could arrive at the marina early on Tuesday. We’d be spending at least a couple of days and wanted to get a good spot. Unfortunately, some miscommunication with another boat and lots of waiting resulted in a “forced march” to Toul and we arrived in the marina just moments before the locks closed for the day. Luckily the Capitain of the Port was willing to shift a boat to make room for us. We’d be restocking the galley shelves (and the wine cellar) tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Up and Up, July 3-5

The Canal des Vosges was first planned by the Romans to connect the Moselle and Saone Rivers but locks as we know them today hadn’t been invented yet so construction would wait until the 1870’s to begin. France had lost the Fanco-Prussian War and with it, a major portion of eastern France and a new north-south waterway was needed to avoid the expanded Prussia. Work started in 1874 and was completed in 1882. We saw one lock that still had “1878” chiseled in the stone. 
From south to north, our direction, it follows the Coney River to the top with 46 lock in about 50 kilometers. After a 10 kilometer summit pound, 47 locks follow the beginnings of the Moselle River for about 60 kilometers until the canal actually joins it the near the giant steel mill in Neuves Maison. Along the whole way it runs through heavily forested hillsides with the occasional farm. It’s very rural and occasionally we were so far out in the sticks we lost phone service! In the 21st century!

We spent both nights on the “up” section on canalside banks, one by ourselves just after the small village of Fontenoy le Chateau, which we visited in 2011, and the next in a basin below a lock with two other boats; another place we stayed in 2011. When we moored up the second afternoon we heard what we thought was a familiar sound. There, in the barnyard across the way was Benjamin Franklin’s choice for the national bird of the US.

That’s the entrance to Lock #18 across the basin.

At the beginning of the canal, right after Corre, the locks are pretty well spaced, with 1 or 2 k between them and there’s a major hireboat base in Fontenoy. There was alot of traffic. After Fontenoy the locks get closer together but at least there’s no hireboat traffic. They don’t want to face all the uphill locks. The final 10 kilometers has 16 locks but with so few other boats we were able to complete them without any waiting. We left Corre Sunday morning and were in the summit pound and tied up in the Village of Chaumousey by about 2 pm on Tuesday.
The canal is elevated in this area and splits the town in two. They solved the problem by putting roads and footpaths under the canal. It only took us a couple of minutes to reach the boulangerie on the other side of the canal in the center of town.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Up the Saone (Again)

Last year after our lockfest on the Canal du Bourgogne we spent 3 weeks dawdling on the River Saone. It was hot, hot hot! and we needed shade and swimming. This year it wasn’t so hot so there wasn’t any swimming, just moving up the river.
During our 3 days in Saint Jean we managed to hook up with friends we hadn’t expected to see again so soon. We also did our part to support the boat chandleries and the fuel dock. Saint Jean de Losne is one of the few places in France with a good supply of boat stuff so we made the most of our time there. We also had a visit from the newly established Gendarmerie Fluvial de Saint Jean de Losne, the water police. The officer who came on board looked over our paperwork, checked our life jackets and discovered our fire extinguishers were out of date. (The fire extinguisher issue is apparently universal as we had a hard time finding two new ones that afternoon. The one chandlery was all sold out!) He was very proud of the four (!) boats they had for gendarmerie duties and was very polite and helpful. All we had to do was email a picture of the receipt for the new fire extinguishers and we were good to go.
Monday morning after refilling Oldtimer’s fuel tank with 650 liters, we were off up the river. Our first stop was Pontailler sur Saone. The municipal quay is right downstream from a bridge and, although the current on the river wasn't too bad, when funneled through the bridge abutments it was hooting! We were actually rocking back and forth a little from the water rushing by. In the morning it took some extra power to get through the bridge but mighty Oldtimer managed just fine.
Tuesday night we tied up next to the swimming beach at the village of Autet. We spent several days there last year in the trees, enjoying the swimming and visiting the buvette set up at the beach for evening cocktails. No swimming this year but we did visit the buvette. The next morning as we departed the maintenance man was out knee deep in the water raking the sand clean of weeds.
Next stop was Port sur Saone, another village that sprung up around the water-borne trade of the Saone in the old days. They’ve maintained the long riverfront quay that used to be the stopping place for the commercial barges. No services but good, secure moorings right in the center of things. They're also making a concerted effort to improve the town. Increased traffic on a major road through town, and one of the few bridges over the river, has essentially cut the town in two .Big plans are afoot to route the highway around town and redevelop tne main street. There was a display of "Port sur Saone, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" posters on the waterfront; some land-use planning consultants hit the gold mine. We hope it all works out because we liked the town; there's real potential.

As usual, one of our first stops was the tourist office. We browsed through the usual brochures for events and such, looking for an interesting bike ride as we thought we’d stop for a day. We walked up the the desk to get maps and information and Cathy Jo let out a yelp. C’est moi! There we were! On the wall! 

Sometime last year when we were cycling around, someone took our picture and they used it for the poster touting cycling the the Valley of the Saone. We thought it just a little ironic that a couple of Americans would turn up on a French cycling poster. They also printed a postcard. We picked up a couple for souvenirs. And this year we have helmets.
Friday it was more up the river, finding another good bankside spot. This time, Oldtimer had a front lawn!

Saturday around 3:30 pm we exited the first lock of the Saone and at around 3:45 went through the first lock on the Canal des Vosges. We’d completed the Saone navigation and now it was time to climb a hill.

More Moving On

We had already traveled this canal just a few days before and if we were to make it to Holland by the first part of September we weren’t going to have much time to dawdle but, this being a barge, there is no moving fast. And there were some places we hadn’t seen because of the rain so we would make some time.
Although there was still alot of bad weather, there were finally a few nice days. We tied up at the municipal halte at Beaulieu. Free water and electricity! Sunshine! Time to do some laundry!

We also made a short day to stop after the double locks at Guetin to bicycle the 4 k, dodging rain showers, to the village of Apremont. It’s maintained it’s medieval look and our chart book describes it as “one of the most beautiful villages in France.”  And flowers everywhere.

Since we were backtracking and the navigation was now essentially dead-end, we saw many of the same people and boats we had seen just a few days or weeks before.
There were some reunions as well. The mooring in Digoin resulted in a dinner party with Jenny and Adrian and their kiwi friends (there are pictures on Jenny’s blog). We’ve talked and emailed frequently but hadn’t seen them since we were their first guests on Piedaleau last spring. And since we had to stop in Santenay (again!), we got in touch with Philippe and Michele whom we’d met on the Roanne Canal and they drove down from their home in Mersault for an evening of food and wine.

Other boat traffic was also an issue. The Lateral and Centre both have personnel staffing the locks and with little boat traffic, this year probably due to the horrible weather and canal problems, traveling was a breeze. 
The distance between locks, especially on the Lateral, is usually between 3 and 5 k with some 10’s and 20’s thrown in. The lockkeeper phones ahead to the next lock and more likely than not, the lock is open and waiting. As we got closer the the Saone and the weather improved, however, the hireboat traffic picked up and the locks get closer together. All of a sudden we were waiting for traffic and sharing locks with another boat. And amateurs at that! Such is the hard life on the canals.

Along with the improving weather, the scenery is getting more attractive. Since we were in Santenay a month and a half ago things have greened up a bit and they put the flowers in the boxes.

Santenay on the afternoon of the Solstice

After an overnight stop at the quay right next to the giant grocery store at the end of the Canal du  Centre, at a little after 9 in the morning we reentered the Saone, this time pounding upriver back to Saint Jean de Losne. A little extra power was required from Mister DAF to overcome the current but much to our surprise when we arrived at Saint Jean about 5 o’clock there was just enough room for us to squeeze into a space on the steps of the Quay National.
After 7 weeks, 850 kilometers and 222 locks we were right back where we started.

Friday, July 1, 2016


It's been nearly forever since I updated our travels. We haven't had wifi so I'm doing this from my phone, which is a pain. No pictures either.
We pushed on and completed the Centre then took only one day to reach Saint Jean de Losne against moderate current on the Saone.
After subsidizing the chandlerys and the fuel dock and visiting with friends we hadn't expected to see again so soon, Monday the 27th we headed further up the Saone. We're currently tied under some trees just about 15 k from the end of the navigable river and the beginning of the Canal des Vosges. The weather has finally improved (we actually had a mini heat wave, naturally the first two days of summer) and the river has calmed down to it's usual placid self.
I promise to provide more juicy details and pictures when internet connectivity improves. Meanwhile we press on... Slowly.