(49) Feast Days, friends, floods and ducks – May/June 2013.

We stayed at Sillery for almost two weeks and managed to degrease the topsides- a massive job which took just under two days and was in preparation for painting. Several Feast Days and bank holidays surprised us and we realised that in previous years we had been moored in the wild or in England when they fell.  We got tired of waiting for a spell of settled ‘painting’ weather and dropped the car down to a small quay at Bisseuil, passing between acres of Champagne vineyards en route. On Saturday 18th May we left Sillery and headed south once more.

And we thought the locks were tight for us !

The Billy Tunnel (over 2km long) was one of the best we have passed through, with smooth sides, good lighting and about 9” on either side. We moored up just beyond the exit for the night.

Our overnight mooring.

The following day, we carried on to Conde-sur-Marne where we turned right onto the Canal Lateral a la Marne. Our only problem of the day was the broken ‘perche’ (a pole that activates the lock) at Tours-sur-Marne – and as is always the case we didn’t know this straightaway as the lock was out of sight around a bend. After reversing two hundred metres back to the ‘perche’; not easy in a 24m flat-bottomed barge; we tried again. Still no luck and so we moored up on the quay before the lock and telephoned the VNF. A pleasant eclusiere arrived after about half an hour and didn’t seem at all surprised to have been called out on a Sunday. In fact everyone we have since spoken to has had a similar problem at that lock. Surely it would make sense for them to simply mend the pole?

A couple of rainy days in Bisseuil enabled us to recce the surrounding area and possible mooring spots. The River Marne was in flood and the port at Epernay was closed. We had our eye on a pontoon in the pretty town of Cumieres with its free water and electrics, but the angry river did nothing to encourage us to go there. At Bisseuil, I finally completed my counted cross stitch of the River Thames which I had started in Jan 2012 at La Croisade.

We moved down to a newish quay on the left bank between the Mareuil lock and the town. It had no facilities, but was very pretty and surrounded by vineyards overlooked by a Statue of the Madonna and child. This had been erected by the townsfolk after the safe return of soldiers and POWs at the end of the Second World War and had a superb 360 degree panoramic view over the surrounding area.


The town of Mareuil-sur-Ay contained at least twelve Champagne houses, a tabac, a boulangerie, a pharmacie, a Petit Supermarche and a bar (closed). No restaurants, florists, hairdressers, post office or telephone kiosks!

With unsettled, rainy and cold weather persisting, we made the best of things by visiting the Mercier Champagne House in Epernay. Our 16.50 Euros each entitled us to the full tour of the underground tunnels by small ‘train’, audio guide and two Champagne tastings. Peter, not particularly impressed by the Champagne, was intrigued by the huge barrel which had been specially constructed for the World Exhibition in Paris (1889). Afterwards we drove along the Avenue de Champagne which houses several famous names.

Largest barrel in the world, holds 200,013 bottles of fizzy white wine !

It took eight days and 24 oxen to tow it from Epernay to Paris for The World Exhibition in 1889.

18 Kilometres of tunnels 30 metres down cut out of chalk.

We met up with our friends Lyn and Keith in Chalon–en-Champagne, and had a meal with them onboard ‘Paprika’ and then another on’ Aurigny’ a couple of days later with their friends Sue and Dave, when they came to Mareuil-sur-Ay.

An evening aboard ‘Paprika’

Two days later we returned the meal aboard ‘Aurigny’ at Mareuil-sur-Ay and were treated to a lovely sunset.

Everyone we met on the water was surprised at how quiet the waterways were at this time of year; but another walk up to the viewpoint opposite showed us that the Marne flood plane was indeed flooded and the DBA website flagged up other areas where river sections were closed.

Aurigny below and the flooded area behind.

Looking up towards the hill and statue as Nicci makes a start on planting up the flower tubs for the back deck.

A look at the weather forecast suggested that we were heading towards a fine spell and with that in mind we drove down to Cumieres to check the availability of the pontoon and state of the River Marne.

Peter decided that it would be possible to turn the barge around (in order to face upstream) if we used some slack water between the weir stream and lock cut 400m downstream of the pontoon. We could then approach the pontoon safely and moor with the stern off the back- so as not to take up the whole pontoon.

We left Mareuil-sur-Ay on 31st May, donning our life jackets before we entered the River Marne and sped down past the pontoon where we were dismayed to see a small yacht moored two thirds of the way along it. Having turned around safely we eventually managed to moor up in the small space in front of the yacht, there being no one on board to move it to one or other end.

We spent a pleasant week at Cumieres which boasts at least twelve Champagne houses, a Proximarche and a phone kiosk. Along the river side there are several metal sculptures which depict the various stages of Champagne production from vine to bottle. The promised fine weather arrived and we were able to get a first coat of cream onto the decks and cabin sides. In fact it became too hot with temperatures in the high twenties and we had to wait until late afternoon some days.

 Not all ‘Strawberries and Champagne’

At last we are able to spruce ‘Aurigny’ up a bit.

  Cumieres still in flood and the bank-side sculptures.

We had an overnight visit from my friend Debbie’s husband David who stopped on his way up from the south where they had been on holiday.

 David sets off back to England.

Our sojourn at Cumieres was cut short after just over a week as the pontoon was required for a Charity Duck Race on the Sunday. 10,000 yellow toy ducks were to be launched into the river and the owner of the winning duck would win a car.  We had earmarked a commercial mooring just below Dizy lock as a temporary spot and were disappointed to find it taken; so after heading towards Epernay (too far to be able to walk back to see the race) we decided to head up through Dizy lock until we could find a suitable turning point. To our delight, just after the lock we came across our friends Han and Gerrie (‘Hoop doet Leven’) heading our way. After a quick chat mid-stream, we arranged to join them at Dizy Lock once we had turned around.

 Dizy lock and a reunion with Han & Gerrie.

After three unsuccessful attempts, we eventually turned around in the port at Mareuil-sur-Ay. A couple of very pleasant days ensued with two meals together and several aperros as we swapped stories. The next morning we all walked down in the rain to Cumieres to watch the duck race. Whilst there we took refuge from the rain and sampled some of the local produce. Fortunately the rain eased but then we had to wait ages for the start of the race. This was because the organiser was unable to communicate with those waiting to release the ducks a kilometre upstream, despite his mobile phone and loudhailer.

 Sampling the local produce.

Well we had to do something while it was raining !

However, the antics of said Monsieur kept us in stitches as he ran up and down the road and motor launched up and down the river, loudhailer in one hand and mobile in the other. The poor chap’s launch even broke down and he had to paddle frantically to shore before once again jogging back to the finish line.

The increasingly frantic organiser paddles the conked out ‘Umpires Launch’ !

Once back ashore he rushes about trying to get the ducks released. Han watches on in case CPR is required !

Nicci and Gerrie enjoy a few ‘Welease Woderwick jokes !

Finally the ducks were deposited in the river and the VNF barge moved into position with a boom ready catch the ducks once they had crossed the finishing line. The winning duck was then plucked from the river by a diver (‘Frogman’!) and all seemed to be going to plan……until a breakaway group of ducks headed downstream avoiding the boom and VNF barge.  At least a third of the ducks got away and were pursued by electric launches and canoes as they headed off toward to the bright lights of Paris and beyond.

 Woderwick and his mates make a bid for freedom.

Unfortunately, the pontoon was still unavailable the following day so Han and Gerrie headed off and we were joined for the night by Paul Chopping an ex colleague of Peter who brought much needed supplies from England (Bacon, Sausages, Cheese and Port.) Two days later and after taking a drive up to look at Hautvillers (of Dom Perignon fame)  Peter and I followed on downstream.

For all you fizzy white wine buffs, the final resting place of a man largely responsible for promoting the  accidental double fermentation of a half reasonable vin blanc.

We met up with Han & Gerrie again at Reuil and were joined there by Peter’s brother Paul. Here we were able to continue with the painting work with the luxury of relaxing and fishing afterwards.

 Reuil and time to get on with painting the topsides.

Fishing’s not bad either !

Paul arrives and quickly acclimatises to the hectic pace…

…And catches a fine Barbel.

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