Tunnels are not unusual at the top of many summit canals. Indeed, mostly as a consequence of crossing water divides seven times, Wanderlust spent around 1% of her 2015 cruising distance traveling underground. One of the longest tunnels we encountered, the nearly five kilometer-long Balesmes Tunnel, is at the top pound of the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne.
Climbing to a water divide on a canal invariably comes with numerous, densely-space locks. Indeed the approach to the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne’s summit has 21 locks in 20 kilometers. The barrage of locks capped off a climb of over 500 feet from the Saône River.
Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne, completed in 1907, is relatively new amongst the French canal system. Perhaps because it is more modern, the locks on the canal tend to be deeper than usual. As we are climbing we need to loop our ropes on the lock side bollards to hold Wanderlust during the lock cycle. These bollards are often 10 feet or more above Wanderlust’s deck. With the set back from the edge of the lock, the bollards are often not visible. Getting a heavy rope over the bollards from the deck is a serious challenge. Sometimes all you can do is heave the rope in the direction of the bollard indicated by a bit of paint on the top of the wall and hope that it loops open and drops over the bollard.
Like all tunnels, Souterrain Balesmes is tedious to navigate. The width of summit tunnels is typically less than 6.5 meters. Wanderlust is 4.3 meters wide and 20 meters long. It takes constant attention to keep our barge from constantly rubbing on the protective strips on the side of the tunnel. Wanderlust’s rate of progress in tunnels is slow, 3 or 4 kph at best, and all told it took more than an hour and a half to navigate the Balesmes Tunnel. It is very tiring but there really aren’t any options. You either cross through tunnels or dramatically limit your route options.
(Wanderlust transited the Balesmes Tunnel on the 22nd of June 2015.)