My Travel Blog

In A Bind On The Burgundy

Floating down a tranquil French canal on a barge is one of the more sybaritic experiences on earth, but it isn’t always. In fact there are times when the excitement is just about overwhelming. Our trip up the Burgundy canal was one of those times.

Lisa found a friend.

The French are never satisfied with just a bridge.

I love being on these canals!

One of the villages we cruised by.

I had lined up our big baby perfectly to enter the next lock.  Rabelo’s bow slid between the moss covered concrete walls of lock number 103 without touching.  The French have a saying for when they enter a lock without bumping, “Comme un doigt dans le cul.” You can look it up on the Internet if you’re interested in the translation.  Rabelo continued to slide into the lock as smooth as I could possibly ask.  When we were halfway in our big girl began to slow.  When we came to a complete stop fifty feet from the end of the lock I was baffled.  Initially I thought there might have been something on the bottom that we were caught on.  Sometimes a sunken log will end up in lock and cause havoc.  I backed Rabelo up a few yards hoping to dislodge the offending obstruction, and then pushed the throttle forward.  We began to move, but just a couple of feet before we were stopped again.

We were definitely stuck.

We even tried using our winch.

Maybe these guys could have pulled us out.

It was time to figure out what the problem was.  I put the throttle in neutral and headed for the bow.  Kevin met me halfway.  “What’s the problem?” I asked.

“We’re stuck.”

“Really. I had no idea.” … I can be a bit sarcastic at times.

Kevin explained that we were too wide. I corrected him and explained that the lock was too narrow. We went to examine the bow where Rabelo is the widest.  It’s the place where barges tend to hit the lock walls the most. The hull is the same width for its entire length, but the rub-rails are wider up front. I first looked at the rub-rail on the starboard side and it was touching the lock wall. I went to the port side and saw that the rub-rail was touching.  Just like Kevin said, we were stuck.

In the past I’ve talked about Rabelo being a bit wide around the middle. At 5.09 meters (16 ft. 8.5 in.) she is slightly broader than most barges, but after 1,500 locks it hasn’t been a problem.  We have charts for all of the canals and rivers, which show the dimensions of the locks.  Typically the locks will vary from 5.05 (16 ft. 6.5 in.) to 5.20 (17 ft.)  meters wide.  I can’t explain why we have never had a problem in the locks labeled 5.05 meters wide, but we haven’t and that’s a good thing. For the part of the Burgundy Canal we were on the chart said the locks were 5.20 meters wide.  That’s an extra three and half inches.  We should have had plenty of room. The Burgundy Canal is a busy place with lots of big hotel barges.  The last problem I thought we would ever have was getting stuck in a lock.

We were headed for Veneray-les-Laumes this year’s winter mooring.  It was only a five-minute drive from Kevin’s home.  Everything had been setup and paid for. We didn’t have any other options.  Kevin instructed me to put the throttle in forward, give it some gas, and move the rudder back and forth.  I did as instructed. Every time I moved the rudder Rabelo wiggled from side to side and we moved forward about an inch.  I gave it more gas.  I wanted to make sure we were really stuck or that we made it all the way through. I knew the VNF had winches they used to get barges unstuck, and I wanted to make sure they pulled us all the way through the lock rather than sending us back the way we had come.  After an hour and a half of wiggling we made it.  Rabelo was free.  Now the only problem will be when we turn around this spring and have to go back through lock 103.  It’s going to be Kevin’s problem.  He will move Rabelo in March to a shipyard so we can install a new generator.  I won’t be on the boat.

Early the next morning we were headed for our final destination.

At one of the locks the lock keeper was selling fresh mushrooms. Lisa couldn’t say no.

We found this unique coffee table. I wanted to buy it. I thought it would make an interesting conversation piece.

-Tom Miller
Author of “The Wave”  and “When Stones Speak”– 
Chuck Palmer Adventure novels


About the Author:

Tom Miller graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science in Geology. He is a consummate adventurer with over 1,000 dives as a recreational scuba diver, and an avid sailor who has traveled 65,000 miles throughout the Pacific including the Hawaiian Islands. Miller has also cruised the canals of Europe on his canal barge and given numerous lectures on cruising the canals of Europe, as well as sailing in the South Pacific. Piloting is also an interest of Miller's, and He has completed over 1,000 hours flying everything from small Cessnas to Lear jets.