Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Lagarde and Back to Nancy, May 31 to June 2

Lagarde was were we left Odysseus for the winter in 2010. Jacques and Patrice, the former base managers, rescued the former hireboat base, now Navig France, and turned it into their own little empire. They now control three small marinas, a gite, have a restaurant and small grocery in Lagarde and have greatly expanded their stable of boats. It is also the home base for the last nine years of Peter and Jo Hyndman (and their boat Joyeaux) who have been “pen pals” since the very beginning of our barge experience. Peter also writes a very enjoyable blog, Fading Memories (the link is over there on the right side of the page. You should read it!).
Tom Summers of Eurocanals for many years ran an open internet forum. We had corresponded regularly with several other barge owners, some of whom we eventually met, but never Peter and Jo. They had not yet arrived in Lagarde from Australia when we passed through earlier in May but on our return, they were there and we were able to put faces to the names for the first time.

Joyeaux in her winter finery.
PK 209, the restaurant, in the background.

It turned out there was a changing of the guard in Lagarde. Jacques was retiring and Peter and Jo were going to be taking Joyeaux up to Belgium, leaving Lagarde behind. Since we arrived early in the day we were able to get together for a couple of hours and then we went to sample PK 209, Navig France’s restaurant, while they had a going away party (and Peter’s birthday celebration) with some local friends. We joined them again for breakfast and more of Jo’s excellent spice cake. We had a very pleasant visit (but much too short!) and got underway again continuing west around 11:30.
We spent a quiet night in Crevic and Saturday about noon arrived at the shopping quay just before Nancy. After filling a couple of shopping carts and trundling them down to the boat, restocking the wine supply, we turned around and headed to the beginning of the Embranchement de Nancy. This “shortcut”, with it’s 18 locks in 10 kilometers would take us to the Canal des Vosges where we would begin our journey south.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Lutzelbourg and Beyond, June 28 to 30

After a night in Saverne, this time after the deep lock and in front of the waterways office instead of the marina, we made our way to very picturesque Lutzelbourg. To get there we once again traveled the portion of the Canal de la Marne au Rhine that is one of the most pleasant in France, following the Zorn river through it’s heavily wooded valley.

There are three mooring in the town, the lower and middle run by the village. The upper port is a hireboat base and charges for parking but the village spots are free with a charge for water and electricity. We’d filled the water tank in Strasbourg and between running the engine and the solar panels, we didn’t need to plug in. We found a nice shady spot in the middle port and set off into town.

The view from our mooring.
“Downtown Lutzelbourg” is through the lock.

As usual it was time to hike up to the ruined 11th century chateau that we had visited our last time here. 

Some of the buildings are still relatively intact.

 On the way up the hill you can also get a good look at Lutzelbourg and it’s surroundings.

There’s Oldtimer in the middle port.

Wednesday morning we were off again. After four locks we once again used the Plan Incliné, this time stopping briefly at the top to see if we could purchase a Plan Incliné snow globe in the gift shop. Nope.

Our stop for the night was a basin near the large lakes used to feed the canal where we experienced on of those cultural disconnects that occasionally set us back. People on one of the three hireboats that joined us in the basin jumped off the boat immediately after tying up and wandered off into the forest, returning with arms full of sticks, and proceeded to start a fire on the ground. We’ve seen fishing camps with fires (The French seem to think that it is essential. They’re not necessarily cooking on it and it’s daytime so no need for warmth, there just has to be a fire.) but where we’re from that kind of activity will certainly get you a fine and maybe jail time. Here it’s just the regular course of events. We had to get over ourselves.

Thursday morning it was off again to negotiate the deep Rechicourt lock and then on to Lagarde where we had left Odysseus for the winter in 2010

Monday, June 18, 2018

Saturday, May 26

Since we got a late start Saturday, we weren’t going to go very far. On our way to Strasbourg we had made note of a new and very attractive mooring out in the countryside. Along this stretch of canal the old towpath has been converted to a very nice paved cycle path and stops with picnic table and bike racks have been installed, several with mooring spaces. This particular spot had a bunch of newly planted apple trees, the several varieties carefully labeled, unfortunately too young and to early in the season for fruit. We had it all to ourselves and it was a very quiet, restful night.

Boat bow thrusters, a kind of sideways propellor to push the bow around and aid in maneuvering, make a very distinct sound when activated; kind of a metallic whooshing. A little after 6 am, we were woken by the sound of a bow thruster some distance away, not likely since the canal doesn’t open until 9 am and there were no other moorings close by. A few minutes later we heard the same sound again, this time a little closer. The third time we heard it it was even closer and I got up to see what was going on. Throwing on my bathrobe I went up to the wheelhouse and looked out the windows. No boats around. Then I heard the sound again. Opening the door and looking around, I realized the sound came from the propane burner on a hot air balloon that was hovering overhead. It was so close that when I stuck my head out the door, the passengers gave me a hearty “Bonjour!”

 The gentle morning breeze sent them off to the west.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Strasbourg, May 23-26

We wanted to get to Strasbourg early in the day Wednesday to get the technician started on the water pump as every day staying there was going to cost us. We arrived about noon only to find out that he would be gone for the day. The Port Captain told us the mechanic would come down to the boat Thursday morning to get started diagnosing the problem. We used the afternoon to wander around the area and find the nearby supermarket. We did walk into town but it’s quite a hike from the marina so we figured in subsequent visits we’d ride our bikes in and park them to walk around. We did make the obligatory visit to the cathedral and made the hike to the top.

The cathedral is so tall it takes
two pictures to get it all in.

 For 3 euros you can take the many steps to the “porch”
where you get a view across the city,
including the European Parliament building

Thursday morning we found our guy but he said he was busy and would be down to the boat before lunch. We sat around waiting. When he hadn’t arrived by noon we went to find him. He was in a meeting but said he would be down as soon as he could. Around 1 he finally showed up and we demonstrated the problem, bang, bang bang! He said he would have to contact the distributor to get access to parts (we had already supplied contact information for the distributor and a maintenance and repair manual) and he would have to wait until after 2 (lunch time in France, of course!). Off to the city we went again, this time to the old quarter, Petite France, and the river L’Ill.

Upon our return the mechanic said he had talked to the distributor and he was unable to access parts. If we wanted to fix the pump it would have to be sent back to the manufacturer in Germany. The thing is cast iron and weighs a ton and we’d be without water for who knows how long, stuck in the Strasbourg marina, by now not our favorite place. The alternative was to buy a new pump from the marina chandlery (not inexpensive, of course!) and, because the mechanic was so busy, unless we wanted to wait until Monday, paying the moorage charges and then the mechanics time, I would have to install the new pump myself. Not entirely helpful. 

Friday morning, the new pump purchased, I dove down into the “basement” and began the project. Luckily a large plumbing supply store was just across the canal and a visit there supplied the parts necessary to adapt the new pump to the old system. The project was completed in just a little over the two to three hours the instruction manual said it should take. The afternoon was spent stocking up on groceries.

Saturday morning we decided to leave, only to discover that the Port office was closed Saturday and Sunday. A phone call to the Capitane brought him down to the office about 10 and, with our credit card exercised and a sigh of relief to be out of there, we began to retrace our trip on the canal, this time headed west.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Saverne and East, May 19 to 23

The 15 k of the canal from the bottom of the Plan Incliné to the town of Saverne is some of the most beautiful cruising in France. And you can tell it by the number of hireboats. There are 13 locks in those kilometers and there was at least one boat, sometimes two or three, on the other side on almost every one. But it was a sunny day and everyone was having a wonderful time. We passed through Lutzelbourg, one of our favorite places, as we knew we’d be back through and could stop for more sightseeing then. By 2:30 on Saturday we were secure in the marina in Saverne and in the middle of a beer festival! All along the waterside path were tents set up by several local brewers, so we spent the afternoon sampling their wares. Our favorite turned out to be the Brasserie Blessing (brasserie means brewer). They made a delicious IPA and amber.

While strolling through town in on the way to the tourist office, we had noticed a stage being constructed in the main square. There was some kind of event planned for the evening so after our first tarte flambé of the season and a fine bottle of Pinot Gris provided by the cafe at the marina, we wandered over to town to see what was up. It turned out to be a U2-type cover band and so we had our first musical interlude of the summer.

Sunday the weather was not nearly so pleasant so the crowd for the festival was quite a bit thinned out. After the morning rain shower, we took off for a walk in the woods to one of the surrounding ruined castles. We had visited Haute Bar both times when we were here before, once by car and once on Odysseus, so this time we trekked up to revisit one on the other side of the valley, the Château du Griefenstein. No cafe here, just a ruined tower or two.

Monday morning it was off in the direction of Strasbourg. It would take us two travel days to get there with a stop in the Forêt de Brumath, a spot we had moored on our 2010 trip in Odysseus. The sketchy wall with rings that we used then had been replaced with a nice concrete quay with bollards, although half of it was reserved for commercial boats unloading gravel, one of which showed up while we were there. We stayed two nights as Tuesday was supposed to be a general strike throughout France and we weren’t sure if the canals would be operating. Luckily, we weren’t in any hurry and we used the day for a little bike riding to the nearby village of Eckwersheim, another one of those impossible quaint Alsatian villages.

We also shared the space with a couple of fisherman and were followed in by Tim and Rhian, a Welsh couple we had met in Saverne. We would spend a couple of pleasant days with them and they would follow us into Strasbourg on Wednesday.

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.