Read about this trip from the start – here.


My husband shared our respective travel plans with the German couple. They asked which way we were going to St Jean-de Losne. Then asked if we knew that Canal des Vosges was closed. No we did not know that Canal des Vosges was closed! That was part of our intended route. I’ve mentioned how hot it’s been a few times. There was insufficient water so that canal was simply closed and we had no idea this had happened. Our travel route went up in smoke at that moment. Just like that! My other half is British. He’s welcome to stay in the EU as long as he likes. I hold a South African passport and am only allowed 90 days in the Schengen countries. Our travel plans would use about 87 days. This was already a tight trip and the very last thing I needed was to be stranded on the waterways. My husband could manage the boat on his own with great difficulty. But not with a dislocated finger.


There must be websites and apps with all this kind of information but we had yet to discover them. That evening we took a look at the various maps and considered our options. Our intention was ask as much as we could from various lock-keepers and fellow cruisers as it was unlikely we would have Internet anytime soon. An alternate route at this late stage would add considerable extra days onto our trip. One thing we knew for sure is we were going to have to put in as much motoring as we could.

Rather important notices about closures that we missed

The next morning we left Verdun along with another boat and waited outside the first lock. The lockie was a friendly chap and confirmed that yes, Canal des Vosges was definitely closed. We waved goodbye and a new lock-keeper greeted us at the next lock. He kept gazing into the water and we wondered if there was weed or something lurking there. As we were leaving the lock he shouted after us pointing into the water saying “Huile” (Oil). Our immediate thought was that we were in trouble. Shangri La is over 20 years old and although she comes out the water every year and her engine gets a full service, we have no idea when she last had an overhaul.

En route to St Mihiel

Small confession, she does smoke a bit first thing in the morning. We’ve been led to believe this is normal with engines when they travel at slow speeds and never heat up properly so not been too worried about it. We had been going very, very slowly on the canal. The German couple told us that waterways officials boarded their boat twice in France and once in Belgium this year. The authorities looked over their papers, checked their boat complied to regulations and made sure they had the requisite safety gear.

At the following lock, the lock-keeper was at it again. He was going round and round the lock talking to us in French. He was prattling so fast we had no idea what was going on. Next thing he was on his phone. More hectic conversation. Now that we looked in the water we saw rainbow coloured streaks. You could smell diesel. The guy on the other boat climbed off his boat and came to speak to us. One of the boats had a problem and neither of us could leave. What we didn’t know was how to deal with this. All good and well saying there’s a problem but some solutions would have been helpful. Like maybe locating a mechanic for us? We had no idea what to do on a Saturday morning stuck in a lock 4 kilometres outside of Verdun. In France. No one around us spoke English. Our french was way inadequate.

Manual lock

With both engines off my husband and I soon realised it was not oil in the water. It was actually diesel and it wasn’t coming from our boat. The other boat had been running their engine in the lock which was creating turbulence and dispersing the oil back toward our boat. That made it difficult to tell who had the problem. The other boat opened up their engine and were doing all sorts of things including putting dish washing liquid in the hull. We stood watching this not knowing what to do. Eventually both boats were allowed to leave the lock. At the next lock – and last lock with that particular lock-keeper – we specifically asked if he was happy and he said “Tres bien”. What a relief.

St Mihiel

The next five locks we had another lockie help us though. Both of us were making a point of checking Shangri La and no doubt about it, the other boat was spewing out diesel but we weren’t going to say anything. The current lock-keeper wasn’t complaining and the last one had said he was happy so we weren’t worried anymore. As our boat and the other boat came toward St Mihiel where we planned to tie up we saw a VNF (Voies Navigables de France) white van parked on the road next to the waterways. The Belgian couple tied up and the Belgian guy came to help us with our ropes. We had bonded with this couple over the oil spill drama after all. Next thing we saw another VNF van parked at the quay next to St Mihiel and a guy in a VNF outfit on the quay. He went up to the Belgian guy and a conversation ensued. He handed his phone to the Belgian guy and there was more speaking. We feared we may be next on the phone but fortunately not.

St Mihiel

My other half went over to the Belgians to chat. The Belgian guy said his fuel pipe was leaking into the hull and his automatic bilge pump was pumping it out into the water. He had a spare fuel pipe and was about to replace it. Apparently the VNF people had said they would be checking up on him and if it happened again they would report him to the water police. We did not want to share a lock with them again after that.

The following day we let the Belgians go ahead and held back half an hour before we made a start toward the first lock. At the second lock, we saw double red lights – which means the lock is out of action. And parked next to the lock were – the Belgians. As we were about to tie up too, the lights changed and the locks suddenly opened. We had to go in with them. No way out of it. And inside the lock was not one, but two VNF vans. And two VNF lock-keepers. These are supposed to be automatic locks but we suspect VNF were indeed checking up on the situation. To say we were stressed is an understatement.

A person has to request passage via the manual locks

The story continues – here.

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