On Tuesday 12th July we left St. Quentin to travel down the Canal Du St. Quentin to its ‘T’ junction with the Canal lateral à l’Oise (to Paris) and the Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise (to Belgium). Here is the small town of Chauny with, as noted in the guide, a port du pleasance. I must admit that since Cambrai I have had no up-to-date fluviacarte to guide me in this, the Picardie area. You cannot by them for love or money, so at Cambrai, I downloaded the VNF version which is current, but very basic. VNF, or Voies Navigables de France, is the French Waterways Authority who regulate, maintain and licence craft on all the canals. It is from them that you have to buy a ‘vignette’, or licence, allowing your use of the canals. I suppose what could be free mooring for 12 months at around €248.90 is not that bad.
We arrived at Chauny after around 6hours, having travelled 40km and down 13 locks. The canal itself wasn’t that interesting, mostly being tree-lined with only a few pleasant villages. We have found that most of these canals, those that allow the péniches to and fro’ are more workmanlike than picturesque.
Chauny port du pleasance was on the canal bank and had finger pontoons perpendicular to the quay, so that boats moored bow or stern-to the quay. It catered for perhaps a couple of dozen boats and had a building that housed the Capitainieré, showers/toilets and boat repair workshop. It had electricity, water, wifi and a small hoist. Basic shops were nearby with the main town a 20-minute walk away.
Chauny Port du Pleasance
We had intended to stop for two nights but, once moored up, realised that the 14th July was a Fete National or public holiday, one of the biggest in France’s diary – Bastille Day. Fireworks began late on the evening of Wednesday and carried on throughout the day. I hazard a guess that the local council had employed a group to wander around the area setting off Chinese firecrackers. It sounded as if this was the case as the noise was continuous but moved all around the area. I can picture it being a reminder of the peasants firing flintlocks in the revolt. There were events in the town that we missed. A local café owner told us on the afternoon of that day that there had been a live band in the centre-ville the previous evening with more events planned throughout then day and dancing on the evening. On the quayside, other than the firecrackers, the only event occurring was an afternoon dance at a hall some 3-4 km along the canal. We sat the day out on the boat.
We had intended to move off on the Friday but, after my most embarrassing moment yet, decided to spend a further night on the free public quay opposite the port du pleasance. I have to own up to getting stuck in the mud – good and proper! Sno’ Rush prop-walks to the port in astern. I have taken the easy option and moored bows-to in the berth. As we came out of the berth, her stern turned towards the direction we intended to go so, rather than turn in the middle of the canal in a series of forward and astern moves, I decided to make a nice 360° turn in one move. Well it was easy enough as the canal was rather wide, and had I turned further down it would have been no problem, but I chose a place near to where the moorings finished not knowing that it had silted up quite badly and I ploughed my port keel right into the stuff. The assured way of extracting oneself didn’t work. Slow astern only served to turn me broadside to the canal bank and even deeper into the sticky stuff. I then went for the power cycle – full ahead and full astern. Nothing, except to surround me in a whirling mess of muddy water. I think that both keels had dug in to some extent as no more movement could be had, but at least my stern was now away from the end of the moorings. Shifting weight didn’t work. Nor did winching from the protruding moorings. Two of the local boat owners were offering advice – something like ’I wouldn’t have done that’ or similar, although one did jump into his boat and try to pull us out. No such luck, his engine was far too small, but at least he tried and I was grateful. So we sat it out until a larger boat passed. After an hour or so sitting conspicuously on the canal (it felt as if the whole of Chauny were peeking through their curtains at us), an unsuspecting Belgium holiday péniche came ambling towards us. He saw immediately what our situations was and took our line to give us a bow pull. After three attempts, Sno’ Rush nose dived then pulled free. Our lurch forward obviously worried the crew as they cut the tow line to save it fouling their prop (my best 30m rope cut in half, but it was well worth it). We both moored on the public quay and they later accepted a couple of bottles of wine with a large fruit tart as a token of our gratitude. Hil and I stayed on the quay overnight, the days events being far too stressful (in embarrassment) to continue further.
The following day we set off towards the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne and the Souterrain du Braye.