Friday, 30 December 2016

More of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin Branche Est - The Last Days of Summer Cruising 2016

4 September to 16 September 2016

120.7 kilometres, 25 locks, 13 days.

Sunday 4 September: Bassin d'Albeschaux to Xouaxange - 18.5 kilometers, 1 lock.

Having spent a most pleasant night we departed lazily the next morning, passing a few hire-boats which had probably intended to make it to Bassin d’Albeschaux last night but in failing to do so had moored in all manner of ways along the canal bank. Coming up to the first lock we saw a hire boat ahead of us and decided to let them lock through alone and just as well as they made a bit of a hash of it, bouncing off both sides of the lock before finally managing to secure their lines. And to make our wait even longer there were two similar boats coming downstream and they took equally long to set the lock into operation. By now another hirer had come up behind us but they refused to lock through with us – much to our relief!

A couple of kilometres later with and our echo sounder having packed up,

we turned eastwards on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin Est once again and then on to the delightful quay at Xouaxange where luckily there was a space for us to squeeze into between hirers, all of whom were most genial. The mooring is advertised as having water and electricity but even if you have the space closest to the tap, a seventy meter hosepipe would be needed and even a longer extension cord but despite this it is a great place to overnight.

Monday 5 September: Xouaxange to Niderviller and a visit to Sarrebourg - 9.5 kilometres, no locks.

After a quick walk around the village the next morning

The view up river from the bridge.

we were on our way again, headed for the La Boat base at Hesse where we had been told there was a diesel mechanic with whom we could discuss our pump issues. When we arrived however we saw from our Fluviacarte canal guide that the draft was only one meter and, in any event, the docking options were awful

Le Boat base
Visitors here...

so we pressed on to Niderviller where we ran aground at the very first space on their visitors quay – so much for the advertised 1.8 metre draft – but a couple of meters forward and we were fine.

The Kuhnle Tours marina, while looking as if it is well managed, is expensive at €1.30 per meter per night plus extra for water, extra for electricity and extra for showers. But at least the use of the toilets was included in the mooring fee.


was followed by a quick nap and then it was onto the bikes for a ride around the nearby village (which somehow failed to impress) and then off to Sarrebourg some five kilometres away where we visited the very impressive museum

and the Chapelle des Cordeliers which is now a gallery to Marc Chagall.

The enormous Marc Chagall stained glass window

But what fascinated me most was the number of lovely nude statues scattered around the city – Sarrebourgians obviously have a penchant for the naked female form.

After grabbing a couple of bottles Moselle wine from the nearby ‘Sommellerie de France’ cave we made our way into the city for a cup of coffee and a spot of people watching before heading back to Elle via the shorter towpath route – note to self: It might be shorter but next time take a mountain bike. Although a bit on the scruffy side, Sarrebourg is well worth a visit as its architecture and layout is endearing in some or other way.

Tuesday 6 September: Niderviller to Heming to Xouaxange - 15 kilometres, no locks.

Having realized that we had not left enough time to get to Strasbourg and to have the time to really appreciate the city a decision is made to come to Strasbourg next year as our first priority, so we turn around and head west again, destination Heming and then Port Sainte-Marie where we would do some scraping, sanding and painting before putting Elle to bed for the winter. So back past the Le Boat base we go, over aquaducts, past wild-mooring barges,

past Xouaxange


and at the bridge just before Heming we are greeted by hazard tape stretched across the waterway and are politely informed that the canal is closed until the morrow due to maintenance taking place on the bridge so it’s an about turn and back to the Xouaxange mooring which is deserted, but not for long…

Lunch is taken at the nearby restaurant ‘Auberge du Mesnil – Cuisine Du Terroir Lorrain & Exotique de Madascar’

but we opt for the plat of the day which was okay but nothing to write home about.

On our return to Elle the quay is full with hire boats moored to the opposite bank and one even in a positioned in the middle of a wall clearly marked for the use of hotel boats only. Two rafts of boats passed us with some doing an about turn on discovering that there was no space left for them to moor – as all these groups were accompanied by at least one commercial we presumed that they were being let through the bridge in batches but only when a commercial had joined the wait. And in time the luxury barge Princess arrives and good naturedly gets the smaller boat to move astern so that they can get into their reserved mooring; that evening we are treated to a raucous game of petanque played by Princess’ guests in true Southerner spirit.

Another lovely sunset bids another day adieu.

Wednesday 7 September: Xouaxange to Port Sainte-Marie - 20 kilometres, 4 locks.

An 08h15 departure means that we are the first boat out on the water that morning

Leaving Princess behind
but when we arrive at the Heming bridge we cannot believe that it is still ribboned off; we manage to attract the attention of the VNF staff manning the closure and remind them that they had told us to come back this morning as the stoppage would have been lifted. Fortunately one of them recognised us (sometimes it is useful to be flying an unusual flag like the South African one) and in no time we were through and on our way again.

We hate seeing boats in this state.

After a bit of a delay at the Rechicourt lock

Looking downstream.

where we are joined by a hire boat expertly manned by a group of young Germans, we are finally through and arrive at Port Sainte-Marie on the dot of noon.

Our position at the eastern end of the marina is also used by hire boats and one or two pulled in but all were very well skippered so our fears of being collided with went unfounded. Patrice, the co-owner of NavigFrance and the person in charge of this port was away in leave so we decided to get on with some maintenance work but soon realised that the sanding and grinding we wanted to do would affect the downwind boats so we shelved the idea until we were under way again, unloaded the bicycles and took another ‘short cut’ to the village of Bataville, once the home of the world famous Bata shoes. The workers village was quite revolutionary for the time but although the houses are inhabited, the factory is for a large part derelict and, apart from a few sub-tenants, the huge site was almost ghostly.

Back at the boat it is war with the flies – Port Sainte-Marie is in a very rural area surrounded by cattle farms which are a breeding ground for the devils and the boat was full of them until Madame produced the swatter and decimated their ranks - but only for a while until reinforcements arrived so we decide that tomorrow we should move on.

Princess passing us at Port Sainte-Marie

Thursday 8 September: Port Sainte-Marie to Einville-au-Jard - 25 kilometres, 8 locks.

One thing which has irritated us since we purchased Elle was the state of her mast – seemingly made of boxwood and badly stained a dark mahogany it really was in need of attention.

Tatty mast.

Initially I had thought of replacing it completely but could not find the same sized one anywhere in the Netherlands of Belgium and the thought of having one made in South Africa and bringing it over to the boat was totally impractical - such are the joys of long distance ownership! So on a bright warm day we set off to Einville-au-Jard and take turns sanding the mast by hand until I decide to try out the no-name-brand rotary sander which we had bought at a Hubo in Holland but which was useless as it kept on throwing the OEM sanding discs. I had bought some Bosch discs from home and these worked like a charm so there was obviously a fault with the Velcro backing to the original discs.

By the time we arrived at an almost deserted quay at Einville the sanding had been done and covering a nearby table with a tarpaulin, Lynn set to work with the Epifanes Clear High Gloss Varnish which we had used on the handrail and various other resto jobs – a tad expensive but brilliant stuff.

Now our mast is no longer anything to be ashamed of!

Friday 9 September: Einville-au-Jard to Crevic to Einville-au-Jard - 15 kilometres, 2x2 locks.

On our way up the Canal de la Marne au Rhin we had spotted what looked like a very nice mooring outside a village called Crevic which we had thought might be worth a visit so lines were upped and we toddled the short distance where we found the halte deserted so we did a U-turn and nestled up to the sloping side and made fast, unloaded the bikes and shot into an almost deserted Crevic,

continued on to pretty Somerviller which also seemed deserted apart from a few schoolchildren

Pretty Sommerviller apartment.

– the ride was pretty but there was nothing to keep us and, with Elle somewhat precariously moored on a rather narrow part of the canal close to a blind corner, the prospect of being hit by another boat was real so back to Einville we went and where we moored up behind the lovely Luxemotor replica-barge Brunel

partly owned by a really nice couple, Philip and Sue Davies and their dog-which-looks-like-a-lamb Bedlington Terrier, Dolly.

They were hard at work cleaning and painting to get Brunel ready for a handover the next day when they would be going home – a real pity as we would have liked to have gotten to know them better.

Monday 12 September: Einville-au-Jard to Lagarde - 18 kilometres, 5 locks.

Neville and Aynslie, the Kiwis from Oso whom we had last seen in Sillery in the middle of July when they were headed off to Paris and whom we had thought were long gone on their way back to their winter port in Maasbracht, had done a change of plan and, after Paris, had decided to cruise to Saverne from where they took a train to Strasbourg for a visit and were only now heading back to Holland – when we made contact with them they were berthed in Port Sainte-Marie just upstream from us! So we made a plan to meet them at four kilometres upstream from Einville at the lovely port de plaisance at Bauzemont.

After four really relaxing days in Einville we were on the move again. We waited in vain for two hours for Oso at the agreed place but then decided to push on to Lagarde – two locks later who should come out of the lock but Neville and Aynslie but as we had already activated the process we had to lock though; in passing it was agreed that they would moor up and walk up to us at the top of the lock. Books were exchanged, coffee and biscuits consumed and in no time it was time for final farewells. Cheers (again!) Guys and hopefully we will meet up again somewhere next year.

Our two days at Legarde signalled the start of the winterising process but first we arranged for Bill Fraser, the modern languages graduate, previously a teacher and a self-taught mechanic, to have a look at our starboard lift pump which had started leaking again. Squeezing into the cramped space on the dark side of the engine (as always!)

Bill at work.

he discovered that the previous repair had not been properly done and the pump had to be refitted – a task not helped by the placement of the pump right behind the exhaust pipe which had to be disassembled before he could get to the securing bolts. Two hours later it was job done and we shared a beer and swopped stories – fascinating chap is Bill.

These guys were stocking up their hire boat before setting off...

Wednesday 14 September to Friday 16 September: Lagarde to Port Sainte-Marie - 7 kilometres, 3 locks and then to Charles de Gaulle.

With our Dutch bikes securely locked up in NavigFrance’s storeroom

and arrangements having been made for us to spend our last night in Patrice’s gite and for a taxi to collect us on the 16th, we topped up with diesel and water, bade farewell to Bill and Jacques who have been absolute stars, and, with heavy hearts, move off on our final cruise of 2016 up to Port Sainte-Marie where our inside temperature peaks at 37C!

Last lock of the season.

Our first mooring is on the pontoon adjacent to the wall where we had been the previous week but having watched a couple of hirers making a complete hash of getting into their moorings we decided it was not a good idea to leave Elle in such an exposed position while we were not aboard, so a short scoot to another empty place and the engines are finally turned off.

The next two days were spent winterizing, inventorying, cleaning and packing up the e-bikes, having sundowners with Colin and Joy on Fenavera, securing the winter bikini cover over Elle’s rear section

and lugging suitcases up to Patrice’s gite where we have a room on the fourth floor - so needless to say the suitcases are left in the lobby. Dead on time the next morning we are collected in a shiny white Jaguar by Taxi Mika  and whisked on our €112 way to the TGV Lorraine where we board a connection to Charles De Gaulle Airport to catch our flight back home later that evening.

And so endeth our Summer of ’16 Cruise but we'll be back!

Season's statistics:
Time on the waterways: 134 days.
Distance covered: 1,613 kilometres.
Locks: 388
Most locks in one day: 27
Tunnels: 5 including St Aignan twice.
Other operations e.g. Lifting bridges: 24
Diesel used: 1,236 litres showing the effect of diesel leakages and many kilometres against (sometimes very strong) currents.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Up and Down the Sarre: Canal des Houilleres de la Sarre

24 August to 3 September 2016

117.2 kilometres, 52 locks, 11 days,

Wednesday 24 August: Dianne-Capelle to Mittersheim - 18 kilometres, 13 locks.

Although we have very pleasant neighbours we were well pleased to have left the relatively expensive Port Aquavac Plaisance which was very full (lots of deserted long-stayers),

had no rubbish bins, and the main quay was littered junk from a barge which was being fitted out there.

Untidy quay.

The captainerie.
The cruise down the Canal des Houilleres de la Sarre was lovely with views over the huge lake system for much of the way

and, apart from a slight delay at the first lock and being boarded by the Waterway Police for a document and safety gear inspection (very keen to make sure that our lifejackets carried the CE mark), we were in the delightful port of Mittersheim in no time at all.

The afternoon was spent relaxing aboard watching the mooring antics of the hire boats, enjoying a sundowner at the quaint little Cafe du Port: Canal-Evasion

and then an early night.

Thursday 25 August: Mittersheim to Sarralbe (old Halte) - 19.7 kilometres, 6 locks.

Thursday is another stunning day and we depart Mittersheim with a promise to stay longer on our return - five hours of very relaxed cruising later we tie up at the Halte Fluviale,

a short 1.5 kilometre ride into the center of Sarralbe. The mooring is pretty being next to a park but the nearby bench attracted a small group of tattooed youngsters. However having slugged down a couple of beers, they soon were on their way. Bikes unloaded we pedalled into town for a quick look, discovering the lovely Gothic church, pretty statuary and, best of all, the huge, brand new Port de Plaisance

The town center from near the new Port

which is just a short walk from the town center. Our return ride was via the local Lidl for provisions and then it was back to Elle for engine checks, some sanding and varnishing and a lovely sunset.

Friday 26 August: Sarralbe to Sarreguemines - 25.5 kilometres, 8 locks.

With our turnabout destination of Sarreguemines calling we were off again at 09h10 soon after the the lock lights had come on. Past the new port which we will definitely be stopping at again on our return, under bridges, past pretty lockkeepers houses and grim blockhouses,

 through some very shallow sections where, even at a fairly slow speed, one creates quite a bank-eroding wake,

until the countryside and small villages slowly give way to industry and all of a sudden one is in the port above the city of Sarreguemines

The well known 'mini liner'.

with the last lock before the one on the French-German border in front of us. Through we go after having made arrangements to fill up with diesel on our return and a short while later we are tied up under leafy trees on a secure pontoon

and, having done the necessary at the capitainerie located on a barge a short walk away, we settle in for the weekend.

Sarreguemines: Old city bottom, Sarre (Saar) with the Port de Plaisance on the opposite bank
 - we are moored between the two bridges with the French-German border top left.

Sarreguemines is a most captivating small city with a fairly strong German influence (obviously, as we can see the border from our stern - we even rode across the river to the German town of Kleinbittersdorf which, apart from a couple of coffee shops and a disproportionate number of supermarkets, has little to offer) and is a center for Faience. The Casino restaurant a few steps from the Sarreguemines port is very good with sparkling service


and the city itself on the other side of the river is well worth a cycle tour.

With steaming weather we were very thankful for our misting system - Unfortunately I'm not allowed to post a pic of Lynn in her bikini under the mister (not under me - under the mister spray!)...

Monday 29 August: Sarreguemines to Sarralbe (new Port) - 23.5 kilometres, 7 locks.

With just over two and a half weeks of cruising left for us this season and with Strasbourg in our sights as the final city on this year's tour, Monday morning bright and early we are on our way again, stopping only for provisions at the small quay almost directly outside the huge Intermarche which is conveniently situated just before the first lock, and a couple of hours later we tie up to spend a couple of nights in the new Sarralbe port

One of my favourite pictures!

(lovely, but a bit of a magnet for very noisy teenagers who partied the night through) - the town itself is a bit of a dichotomy with its cafes, statues and old church while not seeming to have much of a soul or buzz but still a good place to visit. While here we also rode to Herbitzheim, a small village with quaint 18th and early 19th Century houses and a massive Lutheran style church.

Wednesday 31 August: Sarralbe to Haarskirchen - 8 kilometres, 3 locks.

Next stop and a night at the Nichols base at Harskirchen

Looking north from the base proper.

(nothing much in the town) where we take a 5 kilometre ride into the joined town of Sarre-Union to do some provisioning at the E-leclerq, and what a pretty, pretty town it is! Cafes and boutiques and smothered in flowers, friendly people and abuzz with locals going about their day. More's the pity that we did not bring a camera and were not planning on staying in Harskirchen any longer as we would have loved to have explored Sarre-Union a little more - but the evening's Cuisses Carter were excellent!

Thursday 1 September: Haarskirchen to Mittersheim - 13 kilometres, 4 locks.

Next day while Lynn paints away in yet more glorious weather,

we cruise to a two night stop at Mittersheim where we snack on a shared pizza at the 'beach',

La plage...

...le pizza.

finally celebrate Lynn's 30 August birthday with a serving of the smallest escargots we have ever seen followed by mediocre steak (moi) and a very good Coquille St Jacques (madame) at the highly rated restaurant l'Escale

Saturday 3 September: Mittersheim to Bassin d'Albeschaux - 9.5 kilometres, 12 locks.

before setting off again for the 'wild' mooring at Bassin d'Albeschaux. This is not far from the 'Aquavac Plaisance' where we had started down the canal but far nicer albeit devoid of facilities. By that evening there were four other boats moored up (oddly, all ex-hire boats) and a friendlier bunch would be hard to find - a perfect end to our visit to this entertaining canal.

Lovely stopover - the structure at our stern is the now-stripped 'vessel' we saw in Lagarde
Twelve days left 😢