Our journey keeps moving at a fastly slow pace. We cover an average of 30km per day.
We left our story in Cambrai, on the Canal De Saint Quentin: The city is nice and rich in history. Funnily enough, here in 1508 Pope Julius II created the League of Cambrai, an alliance between the greatest european powers of the time against Venice, my adoptive city. Too many cooks spoiled the broth and the League faded like snow under the sun, with intrigues and sudden changes in alliances.
Whilst our companions set sails, Fine and I stay in Cambrai to update the website, a very difficult task now because there are very few villages along the canals. We agree with Bruno, Francesco and Sandro to meet again in the evening, just before the Riqueval tunnel.
Thanksfully we manage to get a lift by a very kind friend, met the night before in the beautiful Port of Cambrai, where Captain Jean Luc granted us free mooring. Julien Debut, that’s his name, is very helpful and takes us to the meeting point just after work (in an italian pizzeria, by the way).
Our deepest thanks to him.
In these days we get through wo tunnels, the most important of them being the Suterrain de Riqueval, 5.671 metres long, that leaves us breathless. An electrical towboat, equipped with a long chain and connected to overhead lines, called “Toeur”, pulls a convoy of six boats. We are at the tail end. This is one of the two French tunnels using this system: The other one is located in Mauvages, on the channel connecting the Marne to the Rhine.
Rock, bricks, a dreadful endeavour to get past a little hill. In 1801, Napoleon wanted it built: For the next ten years, thousand of desperate people dug it into the rock almost by sheer hand . You can still see the signs of chisel and pick’s cut. In the following video you can see the tunnel through our eyes.
Inside, the tunnel is very cold: Bruno and I, on Clodia, lay under a sail and sleep for a long while, until we get close to the exit.
In the evening we reach Saint Quentin, towered by its awsome Cathedral: beautiful city. In the nice and little Marina, unlike what happened in England and in Cambrai, a little generous captain doesn’t help us much, but you can’t have it all…
The next day Francesco and Sandro leaves us to get back home after their share of the “Man on the River” adventure.
Francesco heads to Plymouth, in the UK, where currently lives, while Sandro gets ready to walk once again on the campi and the calli of our beloved Venice.
They’ve been wonderful mates in very harsh travel conditions. For now, we’ll stick to the original plan: Two rowers over a nutshell.
We row for about 35 km in ten hours, up to Fargniers, taking turns every two hours against a weak wind. We enter the Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise. We stop for the night on the banks, close to the next lock. As usual, we meet new friends: Two nice Dutch, who don’t speak English but, after seeing us very tired, are so kind to offer an excellent beer.
The next day the winds gets stronger and we can’t proceed any more than 22 km.
We soffer and tow the boat from the bank with a lace, but eventually we enter the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne.
French Canals are so many! If you want to take a look, you may find a full list here.
The wind fades off because it now blows at right angles and the trees offer us a very efficient and most appreciate shielding.
We cross the first suspended bridge, better still the first “suspended channel”: We’re rowing 15 metres over the Ailette river! Reached Guny, we sleep in a gorgeous area dedicated to sailors, and equipped with haulage slipway, bollards, etc: An example to be followed. The night is cold and windy. In the morning we decide to visit the boulangerie for a croissant and a baguette, honouring local traditions…
A nice cathedral stranded in nowhere, the City Hall, a school with gender-separated entrances for boys and girls, lots of silence. Wonderful!
I like this simple landscape, wild nature, hills, rare glades, untouched by man.
We keep going with the wind blowing over us, but our protector trees provide us a great barrier. Silence, trees, birds, water: And Clodia sliding.
We have no chances to get any food from local farmers, because we simply can’t find any. The wood is almost continuous and when the first shades of the evening begin to fall, we stop for the night.
From Guny, by rowing (very little sailing) and getting past many locks (we already conted more than 50 of them), we cover about 21 km to reach Pargny-Filain, where we find again a very cool mooring area equipped with electricity and water too. In the evening, looking for a bar, I see a funny sign: “Compagnie Isis”. My instinct brings me there, looking for the “mad men”, the nice and useful ones.
As expected, we see two big tents and we get to know that, 15 years ago, a few guys have founded a Circus Company.
There’s also a Cambodian company getting ready to move on. They invite us to eat tasty crepes with them, in a beautiful old stone house once belonged to their philanthropist grandfather and actress mother.
The two young sons, helped by their lovers and some Swedish friends, decided to give life to this little big dream.
We have a good time, talking about the future in front of a big fireplace (in the evening it still gets very cold here) and listening to great music. Tonight they invited us to watch a show: We’ll tell you more very soon.
We’re 58 km away from Reims, capital of the Champagne. We’re a bit tired, but the mood is very good indeed!
A big hug. Giacomo
P.S.: Thanks to Bea and Dieter for suggesting the title of this post