After a very busy wonderful summer and a lot of kilometres on the clock, it was time to turn
to France again, via the Canal St Quentin and its tunnel, of nearly 6km this time, through which boats
have to be towed by an electric tug, as there is little ventilation. We had heard grim tales of boats being
damaged while being towed through at the end of a long string of craft so were somewhat anxious. However,
we were the sole customer that Sunday morning, the tug coming to collect just Aquarelle. It took us 1 hour
35 minutes to get through the tunnel: slow going and slightly chilly, but dry. Well lit, in places the overhead
cables for the electric tug were very low, hanging just over our heads as we stood on the aft deck.
There is a tow path on one side with timber along the edge which the tug and barges lie against; the other side
is all rough rock and brick with protruding, jagged edges here and there, dangerous for craft at the end of a
long tow. However, we had a completely trouble-free, if not slightly boring after a while trip to add to our
Down on the Oise, we met up with our second daughter, son-in-law and other two grandchildren for the cruise up
the Seine into Paris, through very windy, showery weather, but great to have them with us, albeit for such a
quick visit. Paris well, among other things we took in a quirky and fascinating guided walking tour through
lesser known parts of Montmartre, home to many famous artists and writers, including a 700-bottle-a- year
vineyard! One final Irish visitor signed on at Morêt-sur-Loing and, with Mike, introduced some French children
in the playground beside us in Namour to conker playing, keeping them fascinated and amused for ages. He also
helped replace an unsealed double glazed window unit in the galley most useful!
When the amphibians had dispersed we cast off and followed two laden barges into the caisson
where we tied up alongside and watched the descent. We had been lucky enough to have had a tour around
the works of the this lift during the time it was being constructed but not yet operational, while at a
World Canal Conference in 1999, so this was a particularly interesting trip for us.
Something not to be missed, and yet there is something of an anticlimax when one travels through it.
There was absolutely no feeling of motion whatsoever, and it was only by watching the surrounding countryside
carefully and the gate disappearing above our heads as we went down that we were aware of descending.
There is also a loudspeaker both on shore and in the lift that gives information about the movement of the tank.
We reached the lower level within seven minutes. Altogether another strange but fascinating experience.
The following facts may be of interest to the curious:
the actual structure has a height of 117m, a length of 130m and a width of 75m. There are two tanks of
112m x 12m each, and a depth of water which varies between 3.35m and 4.15m.The twin tanks are operated
independently and by electro-mechanical means. The tanks which boats enter are suspended by cables and
are balanced by massive counterweights made of concrete. The cables and counterweights can be seen moving
as the tanks ascend and descend. Truly awesome feats of engineering!
Our route brought us via the 73m boat lift at Strépy-Thieu and we tied up at the quay until given
the green light,at the new concrete 500m aqueduct from which there is a wonderful view out across the valley.
While awaiting our turn to enter and descend we were most surprised to see some 13 or 14 weird looking craft
exiting the lift: amphibious vehicles of all shapes and sizes, buzzing around on the water like so many manic
water-boatmen, those rather jerky little aquatic insects one sees sometimes skating about on the surfaces of
canals, ponds or streams.
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.
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.