By the next morning our desire to be on our way was greater than our aversion to locking in the rain, and we made an early start despite overcast conditions. We had the canopy and mast down in record time and were pulling out of our mooring by 8.30am. Immediately we came upon the first of a flight of eight locks, operated automatically in sequence. The guide books give dire warnings about not stopping within the flight but in fact they all worked smoothly and without a fuss - we saw not another boat nor a single lock-keeper during the entire passage. Rain showers dampened the journey but not enough to keep us from climbing upwards to the summit level of the Montagne de Reims.
The top of Mont-de-Billy is cut through by the Mont-de-Billy tunnel, a 2.6km stretch restricted to 3.7m air draught. This presented little difficulty to us in our mast-down state, and was so straight that we could see the light at the end even before we had started. Automatic lighting and ventilation mean that boats can transit under their own steam (or diesel), with a now defunct towing system having been decommissioned in the 1970s.
Our destination for the evening was the city of Reims, another of the 'champagne capitals' and known as the city of kings on account of the numerous coronations which have taken place there over the centuries. Unfortunately, the relais nautique was anything but regal, being surrounded as it was on three sides by busy roads. The 'fine view of the Notre Dame cathedral' promised by the Navicarte was just visible between two flyovers which barely cleared the top of the mast. A cheerless welcome awaited at the capitainerie from the young harbour master who looked like he would rather be anywhere but there. He dutifully took our lines and our mooring fee, offering in return the multilingual greeting of 'you wanna map?'
The city itself was full of life with the predictable throng of tourists admiring the so-called 12th century Notre Dame Cathedral. The tourist office omit to mention that it was left in ruins by the battles of 1914 but its reconstruction, funded by the Rockefeller foundation, shows little evidence of this unfortunate phase in its history.
Reims' role in the second great conflict of the 20th century was defined by its choice as Eisenhower's central headquarters in the later stages, and the place where the first capitulation was signed on the 7th May 1945. A school room of the Lycee Roosevelt, as it is now called, was used as the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and the map room where the unconditional surrender was signed has been preserved as it was at that time.