My Travel Blog

Too Close For Comfort, But Captain Joey’s At The Helm!

We continued up the twisted, overgrown and, at times, shallow Canal du Vosges. In the past I’ve commented on how curious people were when they saw Rabelo especially the children. As we were exiting a lock I noticed a woman taking a video of us. When you consider all the pictures taken of Rabelo it was not a big deal. The next day we met Joey. Joey was a typical twelve-year-old, but with an oversized pension for boats.

On mountain roads we’ve all seen signs telling us to watch out for falling rocks. This is the French canal version.

They weren’t kidding. This rock fall happened just behind us.

This is what a twisted canal looks like on our chart plotter. Rabelo is the arrow at the bottom of the picture, and each ring represents 100 meters or 328 ft.

And this is what it looks like when the canal makes a turn that is too tight for Rabelo.

Before I tell you about Joey, I should take a step back. The canals and locks we use are anywhere from 150 to 500 years old. They have been upgraded through the years, but it is not uncommon to run into a lock that is not working. For those times when a lock is broken there is a phone at each lock that allows you to automatically call the VNF. And like the locks the phones don’t always work either. The day after the woman videoed us we encountered a lock that refused to open. I dropped Philippe off on the side of the canal just before the lock. He ran up and called the VNF. Five minutes later a young lady drove up in a VNF vehicle, unlocked a control panel, punched a few buttons, and magically the lock doors opened.  Philippe is always talking to the VNF employees.  The young lady told him she had worked on the Canal du Vosges for two years, and had never seen a full size barge like Rabelo on the canal.That explained why the canal was so overgrown and shallow.

These guys were doing work to retain the wall above the canal.

Rabelo in a lock along the beautiful Canal du Vosges.

The French have perfected vertical farming on the sides of the locks. The vegetation leaves a mess on our deck.

Now back to Joey. One of the things Joey enjoyed most was watching the videos that the woman who filmed Rabelo the day before had taken. Joey told Philippe that he had seen the video of Rabelo, and how excited he was to see such a large vessel on the canal. When Philippe told me about Joey what could I do but invite the young man aboard. We asked him if he would like to join us on the canal, and go through the next two locks. There were some men standing around also looking at Rabelo, and one was his father, Joey asked dad if it would be okay, and 30 seconds later he was climbing aboard. Joey didn’t speak any English, and you already know about my lack of French. Despite the language barrier, as soon as Rabelo exited the lock I asked Joey if he would like to drive Rabelo. Joey nodded enthusiastically.  Other than entering and exiting the locks I let Joey drive Rabelo with just a little help from me. I’m sure he will have a lot to tell his friends at school, and hopefully a fond memory for years to come.

Not all of the scenery is so beautiful. There are plenty of abandoned factories along most canals.

Flowers at a lock.

Joey driving Rabelo.

– 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.