My Travel Blog

We’ll Blow It Up If We Have To!

 We were less than three miles from Clamecy. The weather was perfect for our grand arrival. Okay, our arrival may not have been all that exciting for anyone else, but it was big deal for us. We continued up the Canal du Nivernais, but came to a lifting bridge where we had to stop. Usually there is a VNF employee on hand to operate this type of bridge, but this one was different. I maneuvered Rabelo over to the side of the canal so that Kevin could jump off and open the bridge.  Next to the bridge was a large family enjoying their mid-day meal in their backyard, and a few villagers came to check us out.  We were the entertainment for the day.  Kevin pressed the appropriate button, and the bridge began to open. Up and up it went, but then suddenly it stopped.  Unlike every other lift bridge we have everencountered this bridge stopped before it was completely vertical. The distance between the bridge abutments was not much more than Rabelo’s beam so we couldn’t just move over a little and go around it.

The offending lift bridge.

Kevin cutting off the offending bolts while Fabrice supervises.

Kevin pushing on the bridge to open it.

Kevin signaled for me to come forward, and try to get past the bridge. From Rabelo’s pilothouse it did not look good. By this time people were starting to gather around to watch the show. The people having lunch in their backyard were all out of their chairs, and the rest of the village had come out to see us. For the second time that day I slowly approached another obstacle.  The closer I got the more obvious it was that we were not going to make it. Eventually Kevin waved me off. We had come so far only to be stopped by a bridge that didn’t open the way it should. I began to write this blog in my head.  We were so close. We had gone where everyone had said we couldn’t. Was our journey a failure? Absolutely not, but was it worthy of a celebratory bottle of Champagne? I wasn’t sure.

Fortunately there was a turnaround just a mile and a half behind us. Backing Rabelo up would be difficult, but doable. Kevin suggested we stop, and have lunch before we did anything else. He would call the VNF chief after lunch, and ask if he had any ideas. I couldn’t imagine what he could do. Unlike the last bridge the canal pond was too large to lower, and besides he would have to lower the water at least 18 inches so we could pass. That would put Rabelo on the bottom of the canal.

Kevin called as soon as lunch was over. The VNF regional chief showed up in less than ten minutes. Fabrice was incredible. The first thing out of his mouth was that he would blow up the bridge if he had to.

We didn’t blow up the bridge, but we did have to cut a few pieces off.  The electric operator that opened and closed the bridge was the problem. We hoped that all we had to do was disconnect the operator, and open the bridge manually. Unfortunately the bolts that connected the electric operator to the bridge were so rusted there wasn’t any way to get them loose. Fabrice said he would drive back to his shop and get something to cut them off, but it would take almost two hours. Kevin told him that won’t be necessary; we have an angle grinder that would make quick work of the offending bolts.

To make a long story short Kevin cut the bolts off. We raised the bridge manually, and Rabelo passed under with just inches to spare along with cheers from the gathered crowd.Our next stop was Clamecy.

We made it, but with just inches to spare.

Just before Clamecy the Yonne River crosses the Canal du Nivernais. At that crossing they used manual winches to get the barges across. Now they have a lifting dam to temporarily stem the flow.

Fabrice showed us a picture of his Grandfather’s 1928 barge that was built at the same yard as Rabelo. The engine weighted seven tons, and we assume Rabelo’s original engine was identical.

We arrived in Clamecy that afternoon. Everyone was amazed to see such a large boat exiting the last lock. Now all we had to do was turn Rabelo around. I’m pretty good at judging distances, and I could see that the turning basin was going to be very tight. With Kevin pulling on the bow and me pushing on the stern we literally turned our 200-ton baby around by hand, but we did it.

This is what I call a tight fit.

Kevin pulling.

And here I am pushing.

Lisa and I spent a delightful three days in Clamecy while Kevin went home. He returned Sunday at noon, and we were off to Africa. I expect my next few blogs, and maybe more, will chronicle our trip to Dubai, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa.  It should be exciting.

-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.