After a quiet night at Neuville we were keen to complete the remaining 20 locks of the automated chain, and get to a mooring where we could wait out the lock closure. When we first came across the automated locks, we would diligently secure our ropes fore and aft before tentatively operating the lever which set the locking process in motion. After a few dozen locks, we decided that in order to speed things up we could operate the lever as we entered the lock, then secure the ropes in the time it took for the rear gates to close. This proved quite effective, but with locks only a few inches wider than the boat, and twenty to do before lunch, we decided that ropes were really surplus to requirements and we could control the boat quite effectively with the engines. This rendered the crew almost redundant apart from the simple job of operating the lever, which was much more relaxing than a mad scramble to attach both lines and recover them, preferably without dunking them in the water each time. Not an officially recommended technique, but by this method we managed to ascend the remaining 60 metres up the Montgon valley in record time!

We had earmarked Pont-à-Bar as a possible stopping point, but on arrival at Le Chesne we were engaged in conversation by the boats already moored up and learnt that although there was a hire base at Pont-à-Bar, there was little else, and in any case, it was already full. The halte at Le Chesne is blessed with water and electricity, and the small village has an ample convenience store, two boulangeries and, the highlight for us, an internet cafe! This decided it, and we opted to settle down and sit out the lock closure in relative comfort.

Over the next few days there were numerous comings and goings as boats from further up the system turned back, deciding that the long delay was not worth the wait. Estimates continue to range wildly from days to weeks, although the official VNF position on their website settled on the 18th August as the predicted opening date. We were sure there would be an enormous queue of boats once the lock reopened so were happy to stay where we were until the chaos died down. Since we had over two weeks to entertain ourselves in this remote part of northern France, we did the only sensible thing and took the first bus to Charleville, from where we hired a car for a week. One of our first visits was to see the work in progress at the fated lock, as well a visit to the boatyard at Pont-à-Bar to arrange for an oil-change service to be carried out during our enforced stoppage.

More interesting outings included a trip to a 'son et lumiere' performance of Les Miserables at La Cassine, a visit to the star-shaped fortified town of Rocroi, and an audio tour of the 'Musee de Guerre et Paix' at Novion Porcion.

We also visited the nearby Chateau Fort de Sedan, described as the largest of its kind in Europe, although its fame outside the departement seems to be limited mainly to the Sedan chair, used by Prince Louis to visit his wife who lived in a neighbouring chateau.

Our last day was spent making a pilgrimage into the departement of the Meuse and the infamous city of Verdun. Site of one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Great War, the forest north of the city was totally flattened with numerous villages destroyed beyond recovery. Occupied now only by German, French and American cemeteries, the countryside is still littered with bomb craters and trenches .

Cruise Data

Distance: 4 nm

Total to date: 628 nm

Avg Speed: 1 kn

Duration: 4 hrs

Diesel: 20 ltrs

Mooring: Free

Electricity: Free

Water: Free


Navicarte 8


6 fixed (min 3.5m)



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