Chaume, France. October 20, 2013.
Rivers are often too swift, drop through hills too quickly, shift sandbars, hurl logs, and are too liable to drought and flood to encourage reliable commerce.
Canals changed all that. Here on the Loire Lateral Canal we skirt the Loire River sometimes close, sometimes several kilometers away. We navigate along level waterways for 3, 4 or 5 kilometers until the next lock, and even then the drop is moderate.
Now, at our last lock of the day, the lock master greets us and begins to crank the gate mechanism, the low sun slanting across his shoulders. The gates swing open and we glide into the lock, wrapping our mooring ropes a half turn around the old iron bollards. The gates behind us close, and the master spins open the sluices for water to drain from the lock.
the lock master greets us and begins to crank the gate mechanism, the low sun slanting across his shoulders
My wife Chris and I are the complete crew and only ones aboard our 35-foot-long drive-yourself, live-aboard canal boat. We’re used to the routine and enjoy the passage.
The water, and our boat, drop quickly but gently for 10 feet. Now we are in a chute 90 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. The black canal gates and mossy dark walls form our box with no other view than the darkening blue sky overhead. Here we rest while the churning waters calm, the forward sluices let the remaining water slip out, evening us with the lower stretch of canal beyond.
When the rush of outflowing water calms, the down gates open and, like curtains parting for the next act of the play, reveal a new scene of a new canal section drawing straight away, its perspective diminishing as canal, banks, and lining trees come to a narrow point in the far distance.
Our mooring ropes are dropped to the deck, and I ease forward, past the gates to where Chris, our mooring and bollard master, has come down the stairs beyond the lock and quickly steps aboard. At another time, the lock master would either phone ahead to the next lock or drive there himself beginning the process again as we work towards the next lock, the next town. But tonight, this is our last lock.
Our delayed start puts us 7 kilometers short of our goal, the town of Decize. The quickly approaching darkness forces a stop to our boating. The little breeze has receded and the ripples on the canal have disappeared. We gently draw up to the grassy bank of the the canal downstream from a small farm we had passed earlier.
We can hear a distant dog bark, the squawk of a barnyard goose. In the near dark, Chris steps to shore and tugs the mooring ropes, I drive stakes into the flat bank, we tie off securely and settle in for the night, alone along the banks of a beautiful canal in the quiet French countryside.