Saturday, the third day of our voyage to Paris, started with a beautiful dawn and a visit from some beautiful fellow water creatures. There is a lot to be said for this boating life.
Freshly stocked with baguette and croissants we set off . Just a few locks before we meet the Seine now. All of the locks are manned which makes life easier although, as we found yesterday, no amount of knocking will rouse the lock keeper between 12:00 and 14:00.
Today we reached our first lock and idled past succeeding bollards before successfully lassoing a couple, mooring up loosely and descending. All seemed well as Jill took us gently out the other side before realising that although the engine was making all the right noises it was giving out no power – we were just drifting with the flow! Again. Within a few yards Neil managed to hook a huge bollard providently standing near the water’s edge and the back of the barge crunched against the rocky bottom of the river stopping us drifting further downstream. The lock keeper came to see why we had tied up so ungracefully to the bollard provided for boats coming upstream awaiting their turn in the lock. Once he understood the problem he said it was OK for a bit. Adopting a sophisticated solution from the world of computing, Jill turned the engine off and turned it on again. It worked – we had power. It transpired that a particular small button on the throttle needed to be pushed in (or was it, pulled out?) before the engine was started or the gears would not engage when throttle was applied. Or something like that. OK – equanimity shaken still further (mine) we had learned another lesson and continued gently downstream.
We were trying to make up lost time now. Jill had to be back at work in a few days and other friends were supposed to be coming to take our places to crew the boat with her the rest of the way from Paris to Rouen. The original plan, of sailing it all the way to Limerick in Ireland, had been modified. Sailing from the Channel port of Le Havre around Cornwall to a river mouth in Ireland where she could enter the Irish canal network had proved problematic. In the extreme. Quite apart from the lack of a keel, it would have involved a professional pilot, mandatory for those for busy sea lanes, and the need for sustained calm weather. Even getting it to Le Havre and putting it on a bigger boat was not recommended – the Seine becomes tidal after Rouen and not easy for a keel-less barge to navigate. Historically Friso had big fins that could be swung down at either side to provide a keel, but these were long gone. So the plan now was to get her to Rouen, a couple of days sailing beyond Paris, where she could be lifted onto a low loader and driven to Calais, across the channel, across England, Wales and part of Ireland to Lough Derg.
The rest of Saturday went without incident. Friso glided serenely into the Seine at Montereau and, surprisingly, we found it more relaxing than the Yonne.
It is much wider and has many fewer locks. People were enjoying the weekend in houses alongside the river and swimming and generally having a good time in the summer heat. Not sure I would be in the water knowing what I now know about all these boats and their effluent!
As evening fell we headed for the pontoons at St Mammes. There was no space and we passed back and forth hoping someone would invite us moor to alongside. Everyone managed to avoid our eye so we could not tie up:-( We learned later that a moored vessel is legally obliged to let another vessel tie up alongside. Anyway – the charts showed a marina just around the corner in a tributary – Moret-sur-Loing. It is a narrow, shallow river and boats are moored in every conceivable space.
The marina itself is over-full but this time the sailors in the outer barge beckon us to tie up alongside. Thank you! It is a tight manouevre in shallow water and one boat-owner freaks a bit at our approach – it seems they are moored unofficially on rather a shaky pole that would snap if we so much as nudged them. Jill manoeuvred to perfection and we tied up, hooked up the electricity and breathed a sigh of relief – it has been a long day. The nervous boat-owners were keen to apologise and explain about the shaky pole and their seeming rudeness. Janine and Bruce were here too and beers were drunk. It was a peaceful evening at a lovely little marina where herbs are grown in containers for you to help yourself.
It was Saturday night and we expected to arrive in Paris on Monday – only one day late! Having failed to find fuel all day we still have a day in hand to fill up with fuel and replace the filter before we hit the expected turbulence. The charts show a boatyard with all we need just around the corner back on the Seine. Phew. It was a nice walk for me to the bread shop next morning too while Neil and Jill replenished the water.
Would it occur to you that boatyards serving pleasure craft on a sunny summer weekend would close on a Sunday? Well – they do in this neck of the woods – no fuel or change of filter for us today:-( For better or worse we had to go as we were and I was feeling more than slightly anxious. The engine had let us down one way or another twice already and I had visions of it cutting out at a critical point. The Seine is a fast, wide river and the locks are big industrial sized things with airport-style control towers to manage all the barge traffic – no helpful lock keepers running around with poles and ropes here!
The locks are at one side of the river and on the other side it flows over a big weir with a metal superstructure and a drop of up to three metres. (Shown in the borrowed picture below.) I really did not want to be approaching one of these with without power and risk being swept over the weir:-(
To communicate with the control towers there was a VHF radio on board and we did get the hang of it once we had realised which knobs to twiddle and buttons to press – although it failed to work later on for some inexplicable reason and we to resort to telephoning ahead. Basically you called up on the frequency shown on the charts and the control tower told you what to do – in a rather brief and crackling french. Often this meant hanging around upstream until some monstrous working barge had cleared the lock. Then they called all the waiting vessels in in optimum order to fill the mega-sized lock. Sometimes there were two or three locks beside each other and you had to use the binoculars so you could peer ahead and see which lock was showing what colour light.
All went pretty well actually – there are far fewer locks on the Seine. We had been battling with eight or nine a day up until now. It was another hot sunny day – Jill relaxed at the wheel – increasingly as time went on……
when I plucked up courage to take the wheel for a short spell so Jill could rest her back!
Neil sat up front and took pictures and I sat in the wheelhouse helping to mind the charts, taking the very occasional turn on the wheel, and avoiding the sun.
We started looking for a berth for the night. Each opportunity seemed not to be what we expected – black dots on the charts indicate somewhere to tie up but for one reason or another none were doable for Friso. And then my worst fear was realised: a grinding shriek came up from the engine, the oil pressure plummeted, the engine temperature soared and a burning smell wafted up from below decks. Again! The fan belt had gone. Again! We were pretty much drifting down the wide, wide Seine and there was no place to even try to moor on a bank. We were drifting slightly to port and ahead, if we could get there on minimum revs to avoid seizing the engine up completely, were two scarily huge sand barges moored below a loading gantry. Maybe we could get alongside and tie up. How we would manage this was not clear as, being unladen, they towered above us putting anything useful to grab hold of out of reach. As we drifted closer a dog appeared running around on deck and, just possibly, the barge may be inhabited. I blasted the air horn to signal our distress to anyone who may hear and, mercifully, a young man appeared on deck and realised we were in trouble. He managed to catch our lines and make us fast alongside. He seemed reasonably matter-of-fact about it. Which is more than I was!
Feeling safe again we started to figure out what to do next. But that was enough for the day so far.