So, the VNF turned up as promised to start work at 8am and, in fairness to them, they managed to cut away enough of the smaller branches to allow us to creep over the top of tree’s main trunk.
With all three boats safely over the obstacle we arrive in good time for the 09:30 tow through the Grand Souterraine. You have to be towed through because the tunnel is 5.67kns long and was built long before boats had engines, so there is no ventilation. Therefore, engines must be cut for the duration.
Well, what a nightmare. With Victoria ahead, we were lined up to go second and put 2 lines from our bow stanchions crossed over then attached to Victoria’s stern stanchions. Only when we went to hook up Idefix behind us using the same method did we realise that the lines would put upward pressure on the scooter platform. It was designed to take the load downwards, not up. We said we needed to go to the back of the line and the “professional” as he called himself got the hump because this would delay things. Tough. It’s our boat and we are not putting it at risk. We worked our way to the back of the queue and tied to Idefix’s stern.
The electric tug then drags all three boats – boats whose engines are now off – around a curve in the canal, bouncing them off the towpath as it went. Well, the language from all three boats would make Chubby Brown blush!!
It didn’t get any better. As we all make minor adjustments to ropes, steering and bow thruster it has a knock-on effect down the line and before you know it we are all zigzagging from one side of the tunnel to the other bouncing off the wall one side and the walkway the other. Just a few minutes in and we knew this was going to the longest 2 hours of our lives!!
Eventually, after what seemed an eternity, we came out into the light, the sun and the warmth of the day, thankful that we hadn’t sustained any damage and determined that we would NEVER repeat that experience.
The next tunnel, just a few kilometres on, is only 1.098kms long so you go through under your own steam. We allowed the other two boats to get well ahead of us so we weren’t affected by their fumes and had a much more pleasant experience this time.
Feeling frazzled and ready to rest we stopped just below Lock 19 at Lesdins. And, joy of joy, there is a boulangerie on the side of the canal! Our mooring was in the shade, thankfully, and we enjoyed the last of the day drinking Crement de Bourgogne with a little drop of Kir.
The next morning we visited the boulangerie for bread, croissants and pain au chocolate before moving on through the next few locks with the intention of stopping in Saint-Quentin itself. Unfortunately the harbour was full of weed and in the middle of an industrial area. With fresh bread and reserves in the freezer we can survive a few more days before we need to find a supermarket so we moved on to a small place below lock 25 on the lower arm of the old canal at Pont-de-Tugny. An idyllic spot with cut grass, picnic tables and no through-road, so great for the dogs.
We had to use the stakes to moor because there were no bollards to tie to but with no other traffic on the canal this was fine. Out came the Cobb BBQ (great bit of kit!) and homemade burgers, tzatziki and pasta salad later we were rested, fed and comfortable. The boys had a great afternoon doing what they pleased – which was mostly sleep in the shade!!
Reluctant to leave our little spot this morning we move on to find a few provisions – which won’t be easy because it’s Sunday. However, the intention is to find somewhere we can stay tonight and shop tomorrow. We aim for Tergnier and Fragnier, which are on opposing banks and on the chart both look to be reasonable sized towns. Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear this is a big migrant area and not somewhere you would feel comfortable leaving the boat for any length of time.
We march on, eventually mooring at the port de plaisance in Chauny. As we approached it didn’t look like we would have any luck finding a berth – all the pontoons were just 15ft long. But as we passed by we noticed an alongside berth about 17 meters long – with the scooter platform Thirza is about 15.5 – 16 meters long. It was a tight squeeze but we managed to get in without a problem.
At last, stopped for the night with the prospect of filling the larder – perfect!!
So, we took a walk into town just to see what we had around us and it is a great place with every shop imaginable. We checked out the restaurants, clothes shops and patisseries in preparation for the big shop tomorrow. On the way back we stopped in a bar near to the port for a refresher before heading back to the boat and Frank realised he had lost his phone.
He retraced his steps but to no avail. A brand new iPhone 8 lost for good. Gutted!! We think someone has either found it – or lifted it from his pocket, because the minute we tried to ring it, it was switched off. We’ll head to the Police Municipal tomorrow in the vain hope someone may have handed it in but we aren’t holding out much hope.
Ah well, tomorrow is another day.