Thursday, 6 October 2016

Berry-au-Bac to Sillery: The Canal de l’Aisne a la Marne.

34 kilometres, 14 locks.

The morning started misty and clear and an early start was on the cards for the long day ahead.

 At 08h30 we cast off and before we were really under way I remembered from the previous day’s engine checks that there had been quite a bit of coolant in the starboard engine bilge which was either from an overflow bottle falling over or a more serious source, something I really did not need on top of a leaking diesel pump on the port engine. After some crawling around the source of the leak was tracked down to a perished rubber elbow so a few meters of self-annealing rubber tape and a couple of cable ties later the leak was stopped.

I had also noticed that there was crud in one of the pre-filters and just hoped it would not cause a problem as there was no time to clean it.

Anyway, the cruise to Reims was uneventful with the sets of locks being synchronised so that as you exited one the next one would open.

Lock coming up.

Suspended pole to operate the lock.

Twist and release
A stunning, warm day of wheat fields and aquamarine water (but strangely enough, not a single vineyard – strange as Reims one of the main Champagne cities with many of the best known producers having their headquarters there)

Long stayers at the Courcy halte.
as we eventually reached Reims which we had heard had quite a noisy Port de Plaisance being adjacent to a very busy road which is why we had decided to press on the Sillery and explore Reims by bicycle instead. Passing Oso, now with two second hand bicycles attached to her stern,

Oso between two larger boats
and approaching the last lock out of the city, our steering, which had been becoming progressively less responsive, was almost non-existent so we decided to stop after the lock and check fluids. Nosing out of the lock what do we see ahead but the barge Serenity now owned by Australian/English couple Graeme and Claire Wood who had done their skippers courses with us in 2013 on Tam and Di Murrell’s barge Friesland; so we decided to go alongside and give them a call but coming toward us were two commercials, the first we had seen for ages, heading at speed for the lock. By now, steering the boat was like trying to push a pea with a length of cooked spaghetti, so using the engines more than the wheel to give direction we move slowly to the side to give them room between ourselves and Serenity – and next thing we are on rocks. Not a good day…

Serenity with a passing commercial.
Saying Hi to Greame and Claire went out the window as we extricated ourselves, moored up outside the VNF offices a short distance away and poured quite a bit of hydraulic fluid into the system. Steering almost immediately improved and we were on our way again arriving well after five pm to find that the port proper was full but luckily there was a space on the wall with a single bollard to which we made fast. Most annoyingly for subsequent arrivals, there was only one other bollard on the wall but this was taken by a very smart Dutch boat who was using spud poles to moor and not the bollard – why they could not have moored at one of the many bollard-free spaces available is beyond me. And in the week we were in Sillery we only saw them go ashore once. Strange!

No bollards so tying up to the hedge!
And to put an end to this eventful day, as I was pouring sundowners two voices came drifting through the window, recognisable voices. Dashing outside who should I see but Greame and Claire who had been visiting the captainerie looking at mooring options – what a coincidence! Needless to say they joined us for drinks and shared our evening braai. A lovely end to an otherwise forgettable day.