With our son and his fiancée aboard during a lovely fine weekend we took a small detour to go up and down the Ronquières Inclined Plane on the Charleroi-Brussels Canal. This one consists of two tanks of water capable of transporting barges of up to 1,350 tonnes. The tanks run on a series of wheels along large rails like railway lines. The difference in level between the top and bottom is 70m and the distance covered is 1.5 km. In the 1960s when this Inclined Plane was constructed and the Canal modified and upgraded the result reduced the number of conventional locks on the Charleroi-Brussels Canal from 31 to 10, once again introducing a huge saving in both water and time. The entire operation of passing through the Inclined Plane should take about 40-45 minutes, but there can be quite a wait before getting in as this Canal is still quite busy commercially. Back
Next we set off down the very pretty River Moselle from Konz in Germany. Passing along the Luxembourg border we were proud to be able to fly their distinctive waterways courtesy flag, which differs from the country flag and can only be worn while along that 35-or-so kilometres of the River. We stopped in the sole marina of Schwabsange for a couple of nights and took a day trip to the small and interesting city of Luxembourg, well worth the visit. The summer was passing quickly: we still had a long way to go and couldn’t hang around so on we went; through a rather sombre, rain-soaked Metz to Pont-à-Mousson, then Toul, the weather still wet and rather miserable, before turning up into the Canal de l’Est Branche Nord which brought us to sunny Verdun a place renowned for its grim military connections during various wars. Nowadays it is a lively town with a lot of well-preserved, fascinating though sad and thought-provoking heritage sights reminding us of the pointlessness of war and of man’s inhumanity to man. The port is right in the middle of the town and the moorings are free so we were lucky to find a spot for a couple of days before continuing on to Sedan. There we delayed just long enough to visit the massive fortress and be interviewed by the local newspaper re our lifestyle, before pressing on up the Canal and into Belgium to get to Namur on the River Meuse for our fill of cheap red diesel, needed for winter heating ahead and cruising in 2007. Back
Having picked up two more crew in Nancy we set off for our second Cruise-in-Company organised by another A.N.P.E.I. region: two weeks, 8 French boats and some 19 friendly folk this time. Back we went along the way we had come to the junction with the Canal des Houillères de la Sarre which we turned up, onwards to the very lovely River Sarre and into Germany. Memorable days and nights: a lot of cruising through superb scenery in very warm weather; amazing Bastille Day fireworks interspersed with Mozart’s music and life story - this being the 250th anniversary of his birth - in Sarreguemines, on the Franco-German border; trips ashore to sight-see and shop, followed by aperitifs and ‘auberge espagnole’: delicious impromptu meals on quaysides where we all emptied our larders and pooled our culinary efforts; another apéritif with a Mayor; more hilarious line-heaving, wellie throwing and boules, Richard and Rosaleen practising and rising to the ‘serious’ challenge of serving up 20 hot Irish coffees all at the same time. No lack of entente cordiale! The rally ended in a big marina in Konz on the Moselle. There was no suitable mooring at our true destination, Trier - Trèves to the French - but a five minute train journey took us there. Apparently the oldest town in Germany: one-time capital of the Western Roman Empire when it was known as Augusta Treverorum, it was founded in 15 BC and much fascinating built heritage remains dating from that period, including the most impressive Roman gateway: the Porta Nigra. Back
We were next joined by our son for a brief, lazy weekend while tied up opposite the huge red sandstone chateau in Saverne in sweltering weather: too hot for us Philistines to venture across town and wait for ages in the sun to see the peloton of the Tour de France whirl through in a brief blur with all the razzmatazz that accompanies it. Then it was on along the canal as it follows the Zorn valley through the beautiful, steeply wooded hillsides of the Vosges to one of the more modern wonders of the French canal system:the Arzviller Transverse Inclined Plane. Opened in only 1969, it replaced 17 locks thereby making an impressive saving of some 8 hours for time-pressed commercial craft. It is also, of course, very much more economical with water, the supply of which had been a constant headache, particularly in times of drought and heavy usage, and the main reason for which it was built. Nowadays, with the fall-off in commercial barges passing this way the main customers are the busy trip-boat and leisure craft such as Aquarelle. We stopped for lunch in the big basin opposite the Inclined Plane and had a grandstand view of various boats going up and down, which gave us a fair idea as to what to expect. It was then our turn to cast off, enter the steel trough, tie up and glide quietly sideways up the 41 degree slope of 44.5m, a rather weird, unnatural sensation which took all of 4 minutes! Further info for anoraks is to be found at: www.plan-incline.com Back
A cruise down the Rhine/Grand Canal d’Alsace followed, whizzing along at some 19km
(current + full throttle), quite an experience, being buffeted about by the wash from vast hotel boats
and strings of huge, laden barges, ploughing determinedly along. Calmer waters then when we turned up into
the Northern Branch of the Rhône-Rhine Canal at Boofsheim and had a visit from Mike’s nephew and two other
Irish motor bikers on their way home from Switzerland where they’d been touring. A happy time was spent as
they exchanged notes on engine problems and suchlike with Mike, ever a bike enthusiast, as they serviced
their bikes and cooled off out of their leathers. They stayed for B&B and the morning’s cruise,
before we headed for Strasbourg - a quick visit, mainly to the two chandleries we always need something and
enjoy the visits too- before facing Aquarelle westwards.
Along the canal not far from Strasbourg we stopped for lunch beside the Forêt de Brumath in very warm
and sunny weather. On the opposite canal bank to us there was a cycle track, the old tow-path,
beside which a young couple had pitched a tent. He was fishing while she was sunbathing topless.
Along the cycle track came an elderly couple on bikes. The poor man was so engrossed in looking at the nubile,
topless young girl that he cycled straight into the canal! Who but the girl then jumped into the canal to rescue
him and his bike while his wife cycled on with straight back; head and eyes firmly front.
Perfection! It was like a cameo piece from an old film of the slapstick variety played out before us;
and still makes us chuckle any time we think of it.