We had approached the very last lock of the Saone/Petite Saone River and there we waited at a red light for our turn to be lifted in the lock. When the doors opened, we hadn’t expected to see a group of canoes! Fortunately, as they have to receive special permission for these types of vessels to move through the automated locks, the lock keeper was on-hand and reset the lock after all of the canoes had exited. And up we went…to exit the Saone. Here we would enter our first, truly canal section of our trip. Having previously traversed the Rhone River, Saone River, and Petite Saone River we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. We turned right, and seeing a green light accompanied by open lock doors, we proceeded inside to begin the Vosges Canal. The Vosges Canal is a 122.8km/76.3mile canal that traverses the Vosges Mountains (a north-south range running on the western border of the Alsace Region of France’ we would actually be traveling through the Lorraine Region of France). In the south, the canal connects with the Petite Saone River, and in the north the canal connects with the Canal de la Marne au Rhin Est, just south of the French city of Nancy. A total of 93 locks make it possible to climb and then descend the Vosges Mountains; some of these locks are in series as we had soon discovered. The canal and locks are maintained by the Voies Navigables de France (VNF). All of the locks are automated, and we were just about to discover how that worked.
At the first lock (first to those vessels traveling south to north, a slim few) a lock keeper greets us and provides us with a telecommand. The telecommand, a remote control, from henceforth we will call the “clicker.” The clicker is accompanied by an information pamphlet, and no direction whatsoever from the lock keeper. The lock keeper was not interested in who we are, or where we are going, yet was concerned about the draft of our yacht. With a bit of gesturing and some French, we assured him we could traverse the canal thanks to our lifting keel. The lock keeper then waved us away with a, “Bon Voyage!” as we exited the lock.
And so, to demonstrate the automated system. Step 1 – have the clicker at the ready at all timesStep 2 – keep a keen eye for the receiver boxes; they, at times, are hidden behind bushes or trees Step 3 – aim the clicker at the receiver box; a flashing yellow light will indicate that our transmission has been acknowledged (Very Important Note: the flashing yellow lights do not all flash, sometimes the lock traffic lights do change instantaneously with the click of the clicker even though the yellow light is not flashing, but sometimes you cannot see the lock traffic lights as they are just around a corner. So, press the clicker incessantly while aiming at the box, just in case, because turning around to re-click a receiver box is NOT FUN.) Step 4 – proceed into the lock as indicated by the lock traffic lights; red = stop, red/green = stop but be ready to be underway, green = GO! Step 5 – secure the yacht within the lock using available bollards; this may require climbing a ladder to the top of the lock if the bollards cannot be reached via boat hook. Once the yacht is secure, manually lift the BLUE lever to initiate the locking process. This takes some muscle! (The RED lever is for emergencies only!) Step 6 – exit the lock as indicated by lock traffic lights and proceed with our journey This may seem a simple process, but I can tell you that there were so many locks on our first day (I recall 13 without a reference to my handy-dandy log-book) in the Vosges that we were physically exhausted! We were keeping a sharp lookout for receiver boxes, each lock involved carefully maneuvering Detour into and out from narrow openings, bollards were approximately 3m/9ft above our heads, and we were physically fending Detour on several occasions. Often, Brian or I had to dance Detour around in front of a lock while we waited for it to prepare for our entrance. The Vosges Canal was a whole new ballgame! And between all that, a bridge! Oh dear, we couldn’t find a receiver box for this and we certainly couldn’t fit beneath even with the mast down! Our fluvial carte told us this was a manual swing-bridge, just near the town of Basse Vaivre. This bridge was manned, and without any signaling from us the bridge tender came out and, indeed, pushed the bridge to initiate it’s swing and enable our passage. Farther along, we found a sound signal sign. We keep a horn in the cockpit for just such an occasion. Here, the canal narrowed and there was a blind turn, so a sound signal warns other vessels of one’s approach. Late that afternoon, we stopped just short of the town of Fontenoy-le-Chateau; we were too tired to continue for fear of more locks. Our maneuvering had become sloppy and we were endangering Detour‘s paint job. There was a nice stopping place along the bike path and we secured the boat and settled ourselves for the night. The next morning, we took the bike path into town.We located the bakery and a small grocer. There were few sights to see, but along our self-guided walking tour we learned a tid-bit of the town’s history. For instance, the art of embroidery put Fontenoy on the world map during the 1840’s. Near the end of the 19th century there were more than 500 embroiders in the town whose clients consisted of the royal courts of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. (Unfortunately, the museum was closed.)The Chateau atop the hill at Fontenoy-de-Chateu was mostly ruins, however is actively being resurrected and preserved. The grounds were being enjoyed by a local elementary class. We boarded Detour to resume our journey up the Vosges, and passed the port of Fontenoy-de-Chateau as we started another day.