Monday, 7 May 2018

Valvins to Nogent sur Marne (Or, Absolutely Gutted to lose a much-loved crew member overboard………..)

Cheeser - Happy Days on the Champagne Bourgogne

We are heart-broken.  Our beautiful tiller-pin, ‘Cheeser’ is gone.  When we first set off on Quaintrelle in 2014 we always kept an eye out for our perfect tiller-pin but we didn’t find Cheeser until December 2015.  Since then she’s travelled far with us (but always refused to be used to hold the whirligig in place, that was another pin’s job), but ended her journey with us on Monday 7th May, when after a sterling six hours of hard cruising on the Seine, she vibrated right off her pin, which clattered to the deck alerting us to her disappearance.  Had we been on a canal we could have stopped and tried to fish her out, but the Seine is deep, busy and we were haring along (well, as much as a narrowboat can) so had no idea where she went in.  It was a long day.

But before the loss of our pin, she’d been having a rest at Melun – forced by a lock closure.  At Valvins on Sunday 29th April, the rain had abated in the afternoon, so we decided to push off and head for Melun, to spend a few nights before the closed Vives-Eaux lock was due to open on 2nd May.  The weir at the lock above Valvins had been damaged a few weeks previously, and as a result there was a bigger flow of water in this section that there would normally be under normal conditions.  This being the case, we really struggled to get off the pontoon, which was lying across the current, which was holding us onto the pontoon.  We tried springing off, but the current was too strong, so we ended up pushing her out and edging along the pontoon, then with an extra push from the capitain who’d come to help, Mike gave her some throttle and we just managed to push off and out without bashing and dragging her along the pontoon – a scary moment.  This extra current did mean we made it to Melun a bit quicker than we thought we would (cruising at 12km per hour on 1400 revs!), which was good for as we approached the mooring the rain came on again.

The moorings at Melun are free, you just pay if you want to have power and water, neither of which we needed, so we moored at the end of the quay which is generally considered to be the most sheltered spot.  We didn’t know it at the time, but this would become home for the next 8 nights.

On the Sunday evening, we received an update about the lock, it was now going to be the following Sunday before it would be opened.  Having sent down a diver to look at the stuck gate, they had discovered that it wasn’t stuck on something, the hinge had fallen apart, necessitating the draining of the lock, removal of the gate, rebuilding of the hinge and replacing of the gate.  Now bear in mind, this is a big river lock that can hold 4-5 large commercial barges, it wasn’t going to be a quick fix.

There was one other boat moored at Melun, a young French chap, who we spoke with the next morning.  He hadn’t heard the stoppage had been extended, and would have to leave his boat to return to work on Wednesday, but kindly offered his phone number should we need anything.  Another boat had pulled in front of us on Sunday evening, but they packed up, locked up and headed off in their car, not to be seen for the next week.

So, knowing we were going to be there for a week, we settled into Melun and made the best of our time there.  Thankfully the weather improved hugely and we spent most of our time there in our shorts.
Always happy to have some feathered neighbours

I loved these bronze statues of Heloise and Abelard outside the Astrolab University building

Lovely quiet mooring at Melun and with the lock closed there was no passing traffic knocking us against the quay.

Pretty square in Melun
The port is on an island at Melun and this is the inside bit of the river Seine, which is really pretty.

Nice lamp and flag on the bridge into town.
On Friday morning, we received another notification saying that it would now be the following Wednesday that the lock would be opened.  This was not good news as although we had a bit of slack in our season’s cruising plan, we were booked into the marina in Nancy at the end of May to catch trains and flights back to the UK, and if the stoppage was extended further, we’d need to decide whether to wait, or turn around and go another way, and if we did that, did we have enough time to get to Nancy or would we have to book another marina elsewhere and change our train tickets.  It was all quite stressful, albeit first world problems!

On the Friday, we moved up to the facilities and paid for a night of power and water, and we took full advantage doing 5 loads of washing so all the bedding, towels and clothes were done.  After breakfast on Saturday we moved along the quay a little where Mike had spotted a handy ledge that would mean we could get down to the water level to touch up the blacking.
The port facilities are outside the Astrolab, one of the many university buildings in Melun

Mike walks on water to getting the blacking touched-up.
Having done that, we moved back to our original spot which was a bit quieter.

On Sunday we walked up the hill to the Musee de Gendarmes and spend an interesting couple of hours learning the history of the Gendarmes and all the various tasks they undertake; mountain rescue, coast guard as well as general policing. 
Musee National de Gendarmes

Good exhibits tell the history of the Gendarmes

Mike goes back to his roots (He was born in Yemen!)
After we were done there I walked further on a bit to take a photo of the Ecole de Gendarme National, the training school, as I’d clocked the impressive building when walking past earlier that week.  However, I’d no sooner snapped my shot and was walking off and I was called back by a young gendarme on the other side of the gates.  “Photos interdit.” He said, or something that included those words.  I apologised and said I didn’t know, there were no signs saying so.  But he insisted that I delete the two photographs as it was a matter of national security…..  So, here’s one I found on the internet, one of among hundreds available on the public domain.  So much for national security…..

Needless to say, Mike was hugely amused when I told him what had happened as I am the compliant one of us whilst he thinks rules are there to be broken.  The fact that I’d broken a rule and been told off made his day!

Meanwhile, a Swiss couple had arrived at the port and said when they’d spoken to the lock-keeper at Vives-Eaux on Friday, she’d reckoned the lock would be open by Monday afternoon.  When we’d called the lock-keeper on Friday and she’d said Monday, we thought she’d not received the update – ahhhhh, the benefits of understanding the language properly.  She must have been telling us she thought it would be Monday after all.
To kill some time we took a cruise down to look at the broken lock and maybe see if we could speak to someone about a realistic opening time.

Five commercial barges waiting for the lock to open - VNF sent out notification that compensation could be claimed.  We thought about claiming for our mooring fees...... ;)

As we were getting ready for bed on Sunday night, an email pinged into my Inbox, announcing that the lock was ready and would be opened at 6am on Monday morning.  Mike was keen to be up and away but we already knew 5 commercials were waiting to go through on our side, and at least the same on the other, so it would be a couple of hours probably before we’d get to go through, as commercials have priority over pleasure boats. 

We were wakened at 5.45am on Monday with the first of another 5 commercials streaming past to the lock, meaning there’d be 10 going through from our side.  The couple in front had reappeared the previous night and headed off just after 7.30am, at which point I got up.  We left just before 9am and got to the lock 30 minutes later to see the couple heading into the lock after a commercial craft – they’d had to wait after all.  The swiss couple were hot on our tail and despite a red light and no response from the lock on the VHF radio, we decided just to follow everyone else in.

There were the last four commercials and us and the other two pleasure boats.  As this is the old lock, it had sloping sides, so the commercials hovered in the middle and we all tied on to one of them, keeping us all off the sides.  It was a hard day.  We are quick at getting in and out of the locks, but we are the slowest on the waterways inbetween, so we were soon left behind everyone but desperately trying not to get so far behind that they wouldn’t wait for us at the next lock.  But all went well and by the time the commercials had slowed up and waddled in, and the two cruisers had got in and alongside, we found that we were just arriving into the lock as the last cruiser was still roping up, so no one was kept waiting too long.
Following everyone into the lock

Alongside the St Adresse, keeping off the sloping wall.
We only had one lock left to do on the Seine when we lost Cheeser.  It was awful.  I’d much rather we’d lost her on a pretty section of the champagne canals rather than in a big, dirty, busy stretch of the Seine.  We were tired and emotional and at the last lock I had a bit of a cry as we left her behind, never to be seen again.
Plenty of space for everyone - Cheeser's last lock :(

Our last lock on the Seine and Cheeser is left behind.

Still in convoy before we turn right after the bridge.

The big Chinese Hotel and Restaurant complex on the junction of the Seine and the Marne.
I’d like to say our spirits were lifted as we turned onto the Marne, but they weren’t really.  We were exhausted and felt really down.  We always said when we don’t have a boat anymore, we’ll always keep our tiller-pins as they carry our memories too of all our travels, so it felt more than just losing a pin.

As usual, when we radioed the first lock on the Marne, there was no response, but as we approached the lights changed and the lock was being prepared for us.  Up we went and within minutes found ourselves in a different world from that of the bustling Seine.
Mike was exceptionally keen to pull into this mooring for some reason.........

Peace and tranquility on the Marne
We carried on cruising for a couple of hours and finally got moored up at Nogent sur Marne, looking forward to a drink in the marina bar, only to find it was closed as it was Monday…….  Initially we tried to moor onto a pontoon, but the current was pushing us too much as we stuck out to far and the capitain wasn’t happy for us to stay there, said he was expecting another boat for that spot and there was no further space.  We’d have to go on.  We must have looked so forlorn that he suddenly changed his mind and said if we didn’t have too deep a draft (which we didn’t), we could go into the port section and moor alongside an empty barge for the night.  We were pleased to do so, but amused that he still charged us 32 euros for the pleasure!

I put a bottle of bubbly in the freezer to chill, despite it being a no-booze night, we needed it after the long day we’d had, and we headed up to the town for a look.  It’s a really pretty town with a well-stocked Franprix supermarket that we made use of.
I know France produces amazing cheese, but sometimes, I JUST WANT CHEDDAR!!!!
Once fed and watered we headed for bed as we had another long day ahead as we tried to make up some time and having done the Marne last year, we don’t feel inclined to do as many stops as the last time.
Cheeser on the South Oxford - we miss her :(

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