The Canal du Rhône au Rhin: Montreux-Château to Dannemarie

Wanderlust on her way to Dannemarie

Once Wanderlust passed through the lock to reach Montreux-Château’s small port she was in the Rhône-Rhine’s highest pound, a mere 1,100 feet above sea level. The water in the lock behind us drains down to the River Saône, which merges with the Rhône in Lyon. The Rhône ultimately deposits its waters in the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France. The water from the lock five kilometers ahead of Wanderlust’s bow drains to the Rhine, which snakes along the German-French border before it turns west towards its mouth on the North Sea near Rotterdam.

At the top of the Rhône-Rhine it wasn’t obvious Wanderlust was at the waterway’s highest level. Unlike other summit pounds the terrain here doesn’t provide many visual clues that this basin is the waterway’s highest. We knew Wanderlust was in the summit reach because we were paying attention to the maps. But in the absence of a map there’s one unmistakable indication that Wanderlust would now be going downhill: The locks were full of water when we entered. Rather than filling with water and lifting Wanderlust, the locks would empty and drop her down to the next level.

Wanderlust locking down

There’s another change that occurs at this point of the waterway. On the way to Montreux-Château we returned the télécommande, the remote control that let us activate the lock’s mechanics from the water. The VNF, the managers of the French waterways, provides remotes to all boats traveling the automated lock sections of the Rhône au Rhin. In our case we received a télécommande as we left the Saône and entered the canal’s first lock. Now we had no remote. Instead we relied on a team of éclusiers sent by the VNF who would activate the locks and lifting bridges to let us pass.

The presence of éclusiers reduced the flexibility of our timetable. When using the télécommande we could depart when we felt like it, as we were not dependant on anyone to operate the locks. The decision to stay an extra day could be made in the morning. But with no remote we now had to advise the VNF of our departure plans before we moored in the evening. This allows the lock keepers to plan their resources for the next day. We could always call in the morning and beg off if there was a technical issue or if it the weather turned inclement. (The keepers tend to appreciate the need for a last minute “It’s raining cats and dogs” reprieve.) But otherwise it seems bad form to change our plans at the last moment on a simple whim to extend a stay.

Still waters

Thus as we arrived in Montreux-Château we informed the éclusiers that we expected to depart at “neuf heures à demain” or “nine the next morning”. After Wanderlust was set at the bank we started to question our departure plans; châteauless Montreux’s flower-lined port was inviting. It would have been a reasonable place to spend an extra night. But arrangements had been made and it would be best to continue on. Maybe we would stay longer on the way back through.

Our scheduled 9 am departure the next day did not mean we would be at the next lock at nine. Wanderlust was five kilometers from the lock at the Rhine end of Montreux’s summit pound. It would take the best part of an hour after we lifted the ropes to reach it.

At 9:56 am we arrived at the northeastern end of the summit pound and found a chain of closely spaced descending locks. As planned two keepers were present lock side; they had the gate open for us. Wanderlust glided into the 40-meter long chamber and we set a mooring spring. Once we secured the locking cycle was initiated by the VNF.

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The first eight locks of this chain are tightly spaced in a short 1200 meter-long segment of the canal. This meant that on average there is less than three lock lengths, or six Wanderlust-sized boat lengths, between the chambers.

The lock chain passed quickly.

When locking up the inrush of water has to be controlled so that the boat in the chamber is not tossed about violently. But we were locking down now, meaning the keepers could dump the water in the chamber without regard to the inrush turbulence. In minutes the lock emptied and the downhill gates of the lock swung open. Wanderlust was on her way the short distance to the next écluse, which the team of ever-present éclusiers had prepared. Inside the next lock the gates closed while we set Wanderlust’s bow spring. We were not hurrying but nevertheless it was a fast process. Indeed, Wanderlust set her personal lock speed record transiting a total of seven locks in less than an hour. Under normal circumstances we’d count on 15 to 20 minutes to get through an individual lock in France. But here it was much faster.

Just after lunch, a couple of hours earlier than we had anticipated, Wanderlust crossed over a small stream on a canal bridge and entered her last lock of the day. When the lock gates opened she passed under a road bridge and was in the village of Dannemarie’s port de plaisance.

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Dannemarie’s spacious port is situated in triangular cut on the inside of an angle bend of the canal’s channel. The port’s pontoons accommodate more boats than the mooring in Montreux. It’s mostly smaller boats here but there are usable places for larger barges like Wanderlust too.

The short day and earlier than expected arrival gave us time to explore the village on foot. Dannemarie is typical of the small communes we often encounter. It’s pleasant enough but not sufficiently destination worthy to compel a long stay. It does not take long to explore.

There is a curiosity in Dannemarie: Two pillbox machine gun placements have been installed facing in opposite directions on the banks at the side of the canal lock at the far end of the commune’s port. The slots of these pillboxes are aimed toward the canal, apparently set to stop marauding boats from using this particular lock during wartime. It was hard to imagine that these defenses were worth the effort to build. Slow moving canal boats would have be vulnerable to attack at any point along the canal without need for a fortified gun placement. Besides, if the goal were to stop navigation, wouldn’t it have been simpler to drain the water out of the pound and bottom any incoming enemy barge?

Whether we understood the purpose of the pillboxes or not, thinking about the motivation to build these defenses served as a reminder that this area of France was at the front in three relatively recent wars: the Franco-Prussian War that ended in 1871, World War I, and World War II. Juxtaposed against the tranquil canal waters and pastoral landscapes machine gun placements serve as a jarring reminder of the not too distant times of war, a period which seem so unimaginable now.

The pair of pillboxes adjacent to the canal in Dannemarie

A pillbox up close

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Log:

There are 9.5 kilometers with 15 locks between the mooring in Montreux-Château and Dannemarie. Mooring in Dannemarie’s port, including electricity, is €14/night.

On arrival in Dannemarie we again scheduled the éclusiers for the following morning, committing again to just one night in the port. We expected to stop again in Dannemarie on the return journey, at the least to take advantage of the commune’s conveniently located supermarché and boucherie.

Click here to bring up a map of this leg of our cruise.

2 thoughts on “The Canal du Rhône au Rhin: Montreux-Château to Dannemarie

  1. Pingback: The Canal du Rhône au Rhin: Dannemarie to Mulhouse | Wanderlust

  2. Pingback: The Canal du Rhône au Rhin: The Return to Montreux-Château and on to Besançon, a New Battery Challenge Emerges | Wanderlust

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