From Briare we headed to Lere. This involved our first and second locks. What we learned was critical. The guide books tell you to throw a line to the lock keeper. The first lock keeper we encountered had a cell phone pasted to his head. Donna tossed him the bow line and he instructed me to pull the boat up as far as possible. He headed towards the front of the locks with line in hand. He passed one bollard, and then another. I followed him. He was headed to the last bollard. I followed him. He kept talking on his cell phone. At the last minute he looped the line over a bollard, but he didn’t pull it tight. The boat crashed into the lock gate. It was the second “Boom” of the trip. This one was louder.
After leaving the locks I felt pretty good. We didn’t thrash around inside, or bash the walls. I thought the anchor made contact with the gate. I called brightly to Donna, “Well, that went pretty well!” Donna scowled and asked why I didn’t stop when she said, “STOP!” I told her I was following the lock keeper’s lead. ” Come look at what you did! ” There was a nice dent in the bow.
The lock keeper won’t guide you. He/she will hold the line and that’s all. I thought the lock keeper was in charge once he had control of the line. Wrong! The lock keeper deferred to the Captain…right into the gate.
Donna was adamant that she wasn’t casting blame. Her look and tightly controlled questions suggested something else. Not blame. It was more like, “What the Hell were you thinking?” and “This is going to be a very long trip!”
It’s never a good thing when the crew loses faith in the Captain. The next lock was faced with trepidation despite my assurances. “It wasn’t a boat handling issue. It was a judgement call based upon an erroneous assumption.” I didn’t actually say, “Erroneous!” It didn’t really matter. Donna was dubious.
The second lock loomed. We were enjoying the scenery, but somewhere up ahead there was a lock I should start slowing down for. The reminders were frequent. The lock eventually appeared.
We tied up behind a boat that had gone aground on a silt deposit next to the bank. The wash as he tried to grind off the silt ledge threatened to pull us off the bank. I retied the lines. Then we helped rock the Frenchman’s boat off the ledge.
The Frenchman entered the locks first. Donna asked, “How are we going to keep from ramming into him?” We followed without incident, but the lock keeper had no interest in catching lines. I suggested a scramble up the mucky ladder. Donna looked at the brown goo that covered the ladder and made a quick calculation. She called out to the crew of the boat ahead of us. The crew snapped out of her grounding induced reverie and caught the line Donna tossed in her direction. It was quickly wrapped around a bollard. The Frenchman snapped a commanding, “The stern line! The stern line!“, and his wife hopped to. In seconds we were secured and riding up the locks.
Once safely underway Donna asked, “What was I supposed to do? All the books say you just throw a line to the lock keeper. She wasn’t even anywhere to throw to!”
Lock keepers don’t alway catch lines, or take charge when they do. In the second lock I followed my own lead and held the boat in place with wheel and throttle. I learned the sense of urgency caused by unfamiliarity calls for slow deliberate action. Speed is secondary. The thing is…being deliberate while being unfamiliar is difficult to pull off.
That’s the nuts and bolts of our trip from Briare to Lere. It skips the beauty of having a heron skim the surface of the water and glide effortlessly down the canal in front of you. It skips past greenery so lush it almost aches. It says nothing about the sound of cuckoos echoing in the woods.
Later we motored past Lere. Its sign was obscured by a gigantic barge. The conveniences listed in the guide book were too minimal to notice. This would be our first turnaround. We managed a complete 180 in the narrowest part of the canal. Then we motored back to Lere where everything is closed on Mondays.