Langres down to Heuilley – our descent on Canal Entre Champagne et Bourgogne

May 31 and the first few days of June


It rained all day! We had another very wet journey, starting with the two locks to the tunnel – all covered on the last chapter.

We had got to about 1500 foot above sea level, which is where we began at Saint Valery-sur-Somme on April 1st, exactly two months before.


Into the Bourgogne side

Setting off into great unknown again – we jumped off another cliff – went up last of the 3m locks before going through a 5km tunnel (we only kissed the tunnel wall once).

This was almost immediately followed by 6 x 5m locks going down, down, down. We were full of anticipation and adrenalin for this flight, but they were pleasantly tame and gentle.


Spot the swallow. (Funny name for a swallow)

Chatting to the eclusier at Lock 1 I asked about a huge old barge called Peter Pan that was moored up, and discovered that this was, genuinely, the ice breaker barge! A fluffy baby swallow preferred it as a summer perch.

We carried on down the chain in the rain, through locks 2 and 3.


Watching the waterfall into the lock

All was going well, until at lock 4 we had an unexpected red light and had to call the en panne cavalry.


Up for the basin; down for alarm!

And then, ‘quell domage’; the blue lever to operate the lock was too stiff for me, so Stu came to help – and in using the red lever to steady himself managed to set off the emergency stop in error; very embarrassing! Ah yes – the sign does say ‘up’ to operate, and ‘down’ to sound alarm. Whoopsey-day.



Saone side scene

The scenery was very different this side of the wet mountain – cattle grazing in alpine like meadows.




And the lock gates were different too – made of large panels of metal.





The barge came to a delightful woodland mooring at Piépape, becoming more delightful as it gets drier, but with more grey clouds looming. I decided that my reward for being so wet should be a hot chocolate with rum – mmmmm.

We crossed our fingers as we said that the weather should be getting better as we come down from the high hills over the next couple of days………

I went for walk round village of old stone buildings and houses – and got lost, so had to sneak into the grounds of the chateau, where I discovered I was locked in the grounds, and had to climb over wall into the graveyard to escape! But in doing all of this I discovered that Piépape had a boulangerie, open from 7.30-8.30 only.

We kind of felt that we were now over the hump of the canal, and on way down towards the Med now.

June 1

Hooray – better weather, and in fact it got better and better all day, ending up with beautiful sunny blue sky evening. We started the day walking into the village for a baguette as we had a long days travelling ahead (for us).

We started at 9am and ended at 5pm, taking in 17 locks and a viaduct (just a very short very pretty one over the River Badin.)

The canal was calm and green; all was well with our world. By late morning we were at Lock 21 – half way down the 43 locks (well almost). Sadly it was one of the many many lock houses that are now empty and abandoned.

We took a lunch stop at Cusey – a pleasant enough rural Halte Nautique. Soon after we got going again we passed from Haute Marne to Cote D’Or – a major landmark on the journey.

Some interesting moments – a rook flying school; Stu hung up in a lock when the ropes got locked in a crevice and had to use emergency procedures; later ended with mooring a 20m boat on a less than 5m pontoon! No probs.


Has summer arrived??

The weather improved – the rain stopped and blue sky appeared.

Looks like we have found another fairly isolated and picturesque place, (St Seine sur Vingeanne) with water rats (nice ones), black kites, songbirds and a variety of butterflies and insects! Thank goodness, as it is about two hours to the next mooring South!

The evening was lovely and we sat on the back deck drinking a toast to our grandson who was 12 that day – although we were unable to speak with him as totally out of internet reception .

June 2


Wet weather again

More rain! Is it really June? It poured and poured and poured, but we braved it and walked to St -Seine-sur-Vingeanne to the boulangerie, or so we thought.

What an amazing beautiful old village and chateau. It certainly was raining when we started out, but did stop later. Just as well because we discovered that the expected boulangerie was another 800m on into St-Seine-la-tour! We kept going and got bread, plus paté rolls for supper.

I went balmy with the camera as there was a multitude of ancient stone buildings in various states of repair – here are a few.

Back to Calliope and a quick lunch with our Saint-Seine-la-tour pain. Yum yum.


After lunch we continued southwards – looking for the sun!  Captain Stu rather liked the metal bridges on this side of the canal, wondering if M. Eifel had had a hand in their design. We passed under quite a few – not sure which one this is!

We got down as far as Oisilley – first the famous viaduct, and then another very rural mooring on another tiny wharf. (8m long this one, positively huge . . ) Lovely. Suddenly we have internet again, and discover most of middle France is under water! So it wasn’t just raining in the mountains!

Next day walked to Renève for bread – much further than expected – and when we arrived the boulangerie had no bread, but husband expected back with some soon – so we waited (me sitting on the church steps) – and only one baguette appeared!

June 4th

After a second night at Oisilly we went on down to Maxilly – seriously near the end of the canal – and stayed there two nights. There was a good boulangerie, but nothing else, in Maxilly so I cycled to Pontailler for a supermarket top-up.

We took a walk to Heuilley-sur-Saone along a lane lined with poppies and cornflowers – a rare very hot day.


Contemplating La Saone

Although the VNF had announced that levels were falling Stewart wanted to check the river levels for himself. (Down to about 3 knots from 7or 8 the day before, with dead animals and halves of trees whooshing by).


Maxilly sunset

As mentioned, it was a very hot walk, and the day ended with a wonderful sunset.

We met up with a great Dutch couple – Jom and Dorothy – from an adjacent camper van and put the world to rights that evening over a couple of bottles of Rosé.


June 6th

All looked ok, so we prepared for the last little stretch of the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne – just 2 locks, 4 bridges, and about 1.5kms!


Maxilly lock


First, Maxilly lock – just a few metres form ur mooring of the last two nights!






Then down the canal towards the last lock, number 43.


Bye bye zapper

At Lock 43 we had to return our trusty zapper – the one given to us 18 days and 143 locks before at Vitry-en-France.

We were off onto the Saone!

The voyage from Portsmouth to St Valery sur Somme


(Comments from the minimal one in italics)


Having mastered six months winter berthing at Haslar marina bouncing up and down on 10 foot tides twice twice a day we felt ready to face the challenges of la Manche.


moving astern from our Haslar Marina mooring



Pilot Ray and super-lookout Hilary joined us at 8, stowed away their kit and after a cup of tea we slipped our moorings at 9 o’clock.


Spinnaker Tower and Old Portsmouth recede into distance

We bade farewell to Portsmouth for a few months – “a thousand times adieu” with friend Pam waving her Pompey flag from the Round Tower.




Setting off eastward along the coast we set our course following a sunlit pathway across the sea – plus of course Ray’s navigation lines on the chart.


We rounded Selsey Bill with less turbulence than expected and motored on towards Beachy Head. Calliope pushed forwards through the wind, waves and spray, eagerly seeking her port for the night at Eastbourne





Speeding life boat astern to port!

Our main excitement during the day was being overtaken by a high-speed lifeboat whose wake set us tossing and pitching to such an extent that two partially filled mugs of tea leapt onto the seats and a tumbler in the kitchen flew to the floor.




As we got closer to our destination another of nature’s navigation aids appeared – a rainbow pointing to the harbour entrance and guiding us towards (today’s) journey’s end.



Sovereign Harbour Lock, Eastbourne


Phoning ahead, as instructed, we found a lock ready for us to enter, shared with a fishing boat, its crew and catch.







After a celebratory drink and good supper we had a superbly calm night moored in Sovereign Harbour and awoke ready for action. The forecast force 3-4 winds, with possibility of force 5 later, was a little concerning, but with trust in ship and crew we joined day-fishing boats in the 8.30 lock …..





….. and by 8.45 were leaving the lock behind them ….








….. to find another sunlit pathway cutting through gentle seas to guide us towards France.




It may have been 1st April, but we were not a ship of fools, or April poissons. We were ready and able to undertake our Piper Boat odyssey to France.



Using both our ‘Raymarine’ systems (technical and Mr Pilot Ray Graham) we steered a steady (relatively steady) course south towards the sun.


I felt a Mock Turtle moment as England slipped from view, “The further off from England the nearer is to France”, and after a while we were became coastless. This was a strange sensation for the Captain, who was more used to land he could almost touch on each side when cruising down rivers and canals (Indeed).


Some hours later we met the first shipping lane.


The northerly shipping lane, for vessels moving East to West

It has to be said that we had been a little anxious about little Calliope weaving in and out of gigantic tankers and cargo ships hell bent on reaching their destinations, but in fact we saw few ships and it was simple to steer behind any that were ‘close’, ie quarter mile away!




The second shipping lane, West to East bound, was even emptier than the first, though we did get closer to this one. Captain Carr took us skilfully behind the huge dredger (Oh it was nothing).





‘The Marseille’ time


Soon after this we realised we were now in French waters, a moment recorded by the raising of the tricolour (courtesy flag).


Time to change the clocks too.






Blurry gannet


Sea birds sat serenely on the surface – yellow headed gannets, horned grebes, greater black backed gulls etc.





SO calm – unbelievable!

Far from the winds increasing to their forecast strength they decreased to an absolute millpond calm as we gradually approached the Baie de Somme.




We shared the waters with few other boats, most of them fishing and trawling in various fashions.





But we did have a moment when a (petite) French warship (Border Patrol vessel) hove into view and we wondered if we were to be boarded and searched for whatever constitutes contraband these days.


We obviously looked innocent and law abiding enough to be left alone and we cruised on.


Keeping on course we looked out for hours for the famous ATSO buoy marking the start of the labyrinthine channel into St Valery.



After a couple of false sightings we spotted it and made a lengthy, stately approach. Phew!






Between the first pair of many marker buoys


There was still an air of apprehension in the wheelhouse. Ideally we would have reached ATSO two hours before high tide. In fact we were about 90 minutes late ….


winding round to two more sets of buoys





…. so anxious to follow our winding course as quickly as possible, but without any errors of the running aground type.



The combined efforts of Captain Carr, Pilot Graham and a Look Out Girl (not me!) ensured safe passage between over twenty sets of buoys, posts and beacons (spelled ‘buyos’ on the Port St Valery web site reminding me of daughter Hollie’s days at Cardiff Uni).


(Navigation note for those interested: we arrived on a Neap tide and, despite only drawing 3’ we were very short on water on a couple of occasions – is essential reading).



Seals, seals, seals


We could even enjoy a quick glimpse of the basking seals on the fast emerging sand banks.



The final turn into the start of the Maritime canal du Somme was unexpected and sudden, but by adding Google Maps satellite images into our armoury of sextants, charts, GPS, sun, moon, stars and the human eye, we made it. We made it!


Before long we were moored up on a hammerhead at the marina, champagne was opened, and the crew rewarded for efforts. (Thanks to Den and Linda for the bubbles – they didn’t last long.)


Our welcome at the marina included a booklet about cruising on up the Somme and, in our limited French understanding, an explanation that if we wanted to go up through the sea lock into the canal the next day we would have to be at the lock for High Tide at 0756, so an early night was the last order of the day.


Across the channel from our mooring at Saint Valery – 0700 hours 2nd April

A good nights sleep was enjoyed by the crew, who awoke to a beautiful Saint Valery scene, and ready to tackle the next phase of the journey towards Abbeville and Amiens.