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Vermenton to St. Aignan
Canal du Nivernais

Saturday, July 1st -- Vermenton to St. Aignan (3.9km, 2 locks)

Our first "up lock" at St Aignan

I steered a relatively straight course down the embranchment canal towards the next lock. While it was a little scary to see Steve go, it was a feeling of freedom realizing that we were doing something so unusual (at least for Americans) on our own.

We did pretty well on the first lock all by ourselves. We realized that the lock keeper probably saw all sorts of things happen being the first lock that people had to do solo. As we began to work the lock the wind started to pick up and there was thunder and lightning in the distance. The lock keeper taught Julie the French words for thunder and lightning.

Shortly after leaving the lock we began to get some sprinkles, that then turned into a light rain, then a heavy rain, and finally a heavy downpour with strong winds. Julie and I worked to get us over to the side of the canal, pound in the mooring stakes, and tie up. By the time we were secure we were soaked!

With water streaming down our faces, we looked up at the boat and there were Evie, Patrick, and Christopher laughing at us from the dry cabin. Evie was even taking pictures of us. A few minutes later the storm had passed and the skies cleared. It became quiet and beautiful. We motored down the canal so we could moor just before the next lock.

Dinner our first night was camembert cheese, pate de fois gras, bread, and wine. The kids had tortellini--just like at home. It was an early night to bed for all of us.

At midnight I head some loud booms. Not knowing what was going on, I went into the salon and looked out the windows to the north. There I saw giant fireworks going off over the village of Cravant. What a way to mark our first night aboard the Madame Leslie.

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How to Lock (the verb!)

Brian tends a line in a lock

There are two directions you can go through a lock--up or down. We found out rather quickly that it is easier (and cleaner) to go down than up. This is because it is much easier to step off the boat on to the side of the lock than climb up the slimy ladder on the lock wall. In our whole trip we had two down locks and 50 up locks. Julie got very tired of climbing up ladders so she started having me drop her off on the canal bank before the lock.

You enter the lock SLOWLY and remember you can use your engine to brake. A crew member can either go ashore near the lock gate or climb up a ladder on the side of the lock.

Your take the bow and stern lines and wrap each of them around a bollard and back to a person either on the boat or the lock. While most locks have 3 bollards to be able to handle multiple boats, we found that using just one was best even if were alone in the lock.

While the lock keeper will close the lock gate for you, it is faster and more fun if you close the gates on your side of the lock (your side is the side with the tow path and bollards). After the gates are closed, the sluices are opened and the lock fills or empties. Note that the currents of a filling lock tend to move the boat around so it is important to keep the slack out of the lines as the boat rises in the lock.

After about 5-10 minutes the water has found its level and the gates can easily be opened. You make sure you have no lines in the water, put the boat in gear and take off.

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