After a long day we reached the outskirts of Montceau-les-Mines on the 29th of May 2015. Wanderlust was now on the Canal du Centre having left the Canal latéral à la Loire in Digoin. The Centre was the last of the four canals we traveled on the Bourbonnais Route to Chalon-sur- Saône.
As a boat navigates through Montceau-les-Mines it must cross through three lifting bridges. The operation of the bridges was a mystery to us. For the first bridge we could see a pull cord overhead. The rope, attached to an overhead pipeline, looked like the standard mechanism used to trigger the bridges and locks we encounter on the canals. But in this case, the pull cord was now cut off and high above Wanderlust’s deck well out of reach. Indeed, it seemed too high even for the largest commercial barges.
Confused we moved slowly forward towards the bridge hoping that we would pass through some unseen detector. It didn’t help. The bridge remained fixed.
Next we tried calling the VNF by phone. As often happens, the phone call was unanswered. Did we have the correct number?
At this point we were out of options. After hovering mid-channel for ten minutes, with no place to tie up or turn around nearby, we started the painful process of backing out to find a mooring. After a hundred meters in reverse I glanced forward towards the bow. Low and behold, the bridge on our route was lifting out of the way. An unseen force had triggered the bridge. Sometimes things on the French waterways work in mysterious ways. And so it was with the bridges in Montceau-les-Mines.
Whatever triggered the first bridge also activated the next two. Before long we were at Montceau’s port de plaisance. Now there was another problem. All of the mooring places in the port that were big enough for Wanderlust were occupied. Again, as in Decize, the port in Montceau had space for numerous small boats, maybe up to 12 meters, but nothing for larger barges such as Wanderlust. With no other good option we decided go forward through the next lock to see if we could find ahead.
It was ten minutes before seven as we approached the next lock. We knew that this time of year on this stretch of water the locks close at seven. Usually the keepers, quite reasonably, want the lock cycle to be completed before closing time. Aware of this, we looked for but could not see the lock status light. The gate to lock chamber, on the other hand, we could see. It was on far side of a fixed road bridge that created a short tunnel. The gate was open. We headed in.
As Wanderlust’s bow entered the lock’s chamber her wheelhouse moved into the shadow of the road bridge’s deck. Once out of the daylight I could now see the signal light to starboard. With the status lights off it had been hidden by the shade.
At the end of a day, if lock signal light is turned off it usually indicates that a lock is out of duty for the evening. But at this point there was little choice. Partially in the lock already it seemed we might as well move in the rest of the way. At least once inside we could try to ask the keeper where we might find a mooring for the night before backing out.
As soon as we entered the lock keeper came out. He was displeased. I tried to explain our situation with gesticulations, a few French words, and English. Unfortunately “I couldn’t see that the light was off” was abstract enough to be difficult to communicate.
Eventually I said, “Je suis désolé.”
We have plenty of opportunity to say, “I am sorry” in French. For us this is a well-practiced, much-needed phrase. At the very least we are always sorry that we can’t communicate better. With our apology, the keeper relented, cycled the lock, and discussed mooring places nearby. Even with the conversation and complaints, when we exited the lock just before seven. Soon after we found a serviceable spot for the night and tied up.
(For perspective, this was the most difficult interaction we had with a lockkeeper the entire season. And it really wasn’t that bad.)
The late arrival in Montceau- les-Mines left us with little time to explore the commune. During our brief stay we were able to shop the hypermarché nearby, a new E. Leclerc, and the splendid open-air market near the port the following morning. We left learning little about Montceau other than it was an excellent place to shop.
(Nine hours after leaving Paray-le-Monial Wanderlust reached Montceau-les-Mines on the 29th of May 2015 after traveling 39 kilometers, through 15 locks and three lifting bridges.)