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Mayday, Mayday.... on the Seine

Posted by nigelorrmail on August 8, 2013 at 10:55 AM

Mayday! Mayday!.....on the Seine

 

Mary and I had parted company at Nevers. She was due to go back to the UK for ten days so I had driven her over to Montbard up in the Burgundy hills where the TGV stops on the line from Dijon to Lille. I became bored after a few days so Baron, my Gordon Setter, and I decided to surprise Mary by having the boat in Paris for her return. The run up from Nevers was done in double quick time as I put in long hours at the wheel. The only slow stretch was on the Loing where I got stuck behind a loaded peniche for a day,. I had talked to him on the VHF and, as long as I set off at the crack of dawn, he was happy for me to come by him in the evening. Towards the end of the day we were both working a flight of locks and, of course, Murphy's law struck. Just at the time when the lock keepers finished I was one lock behind the peniche and stuck for day two! I continued to crawl behind him until when you cross the Loing and as I came out of the lock onto the river I thought I could speed up and get past him. A loading barge nearby came on the VHF and explained to me in very abrupt French that he did not appreciate my turn of speed whilst loading. I slowed a little.By the time I could see the end of the river section I still had not got by the snail in font of me! As I came round the bend to reenter the canal I caught sight of him. He had met a friend coming the other way so they were breasted up right across the canal having their lunch. I persuaded them to let me through and steamed off at great speed in the hope of putting a lock or two between me and the peniche. Success! The rest of the haul up to St Mammes was uneventful and it was good to get out on the deep water of the Seine and open up the engine. At the junction with the Seine I was a bit put off by the sight of camels and elephants grazing down by the waters edge. It turned out to be the troupe from the traveling circus which was in town.

It was a two day run down to Paris and having stopped over night at Evry I set off the next day in the company of a Frenchman with his parents and children on board a luxemotor. It proved to be a good bit of teamwork. He had a faster boat so as soon as we were out of the locks he would get well ahead of me. Not quite far enough though! He went ahead and organised the lock for me then I would come into view or VHF the lock keeper who would wait for me to arrive. It meant I made some good progress. We were a lock or two upstream of the confluence with the Marne when my companion slowed right down. We talked on the VHF and he explained he had some minor engine trouble. I offered assistance but he said he would be okay. I said I would ensure I kept a channel open for him on the VHF for if things got worse. They did. About twenty minutes later he came on the radio to explain that his engine was now "kaput" and he was drifting downstream and a little concerned, especially with mum and dad and the kids on board. I said I'd come and help and shortly after I had turned around he came into sight, broadside on and in the middle of the river. I came alongside and we tied the two boats together and spent about half a kilometre still going downstream whilst I brought the two boats to head upstream pushing against the flow to give us some control. Once we had stabilised the situation we looked round for a suitable spot to get to the bank. They were few and far between so we just let the current take us very slowly down whilst we investigated. About half an hour later we spotted an empty quai and executed a "ferryman's glide" across the river to get the luxemotor's bows against the quai. The skipper had to jump off with the rope as he was the only one on board capable of securing her. Once tied up we all could relax and the Frenchman was profuse in his thanks and asking me how much I wanted to charge him! I explained we Brits do not charge in answer to Maydays. More profuse thanks and back slapping ensued and eventually I was back on my way. On arriving at the pontoon on the river outside the lock for Port Arsenal I was greeted by a gentleman of uncertain sexual persuasion who was sunbathing in his thong on the bank. He came mincing down to the pontoon to offer me his services in assisting with the ropes. I must admit my prejudices showed and I declined this offer as I was not sure what other services I was going to be expected to supply in return. Baron had also let the side down by now. He had sprung off the boat onto the pontoon and proceeded to give the gentleman who was wanting to assist a good sniff in the crutch. Luckily, just at this point the capitenerie lit the green light for the lock so I bundled Baron back on board and cast off in some haste. Mary returned from London that afternoon and we spent a wonderful few days in Paris before heading up the Yonne to our winter quarters at Vermenton.

I thought this was the end of the saga but I was proved wrong. Two years later we found ourselves back in Paris in high waters in May. We stayed for a couple of weeks awaiting the floods to subside a little before we decided to set off up the Marne. We came out of the Arsenal and were hugging the left bank proceeding pretty slowly. About a mile upstream of the floating gendarmerie we noticed a large inflatable police boat coming up fast behind us. In seconds he drew up alongside and a sinister looking fellow dressed in what only could be described as CRS like riot gear leapt from the inflatable on board our boat. The inflatable then veered off and positioned itself in midstream keeping pace with us. You know those times when the police motorbike flags you down and all those thoughts that go through your mind as to what you may have done wrong? It was the same situation. Where are the boat papers? Are the fire extinguisher inspections up to date? Will he believe me when I tell him my license is in the post? should we be wearing lifejackets on the river? ..... and where on earth are they anyway?

It was a rainy day and the wheelhouse windows were steamed over so I did not get a chance to see the face of the policeman wrapped in a big anorak and lifejacket who entered the wheelhouse before he said "Bonjour, Nigel!". Would you believe it, it was the Frenchman I had rescued two years before! It turns out he is a river policeman and was having his lunch at the floating police station opposite the entrance to Port Arsenal when he saw "Waterman" chugging out. He finished his lunch then came in pursuit of us up the river! Once again there was profuse thanks for the rescue and he then took my Navicarte and wrote his name and number in it and marked where his boat is normally moored and said that anytime I was passing by I should feel free to use his boat to moor up to. By this stage we were up passed Bercy and closing on our turn up the Marne so we said our farewells and he radioed his buddy in the inflatable to come and take him off. They were last seen zooming at pace back to the gendarmerie.

 

Categories: Travel stories

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