The Riqueval Tunnel (5670 meters) is located near the town of Bellicourt, passing under the villages of Bony and Bellicourt. Built on the Canal Saint-Quentin between 1801 and 1810 by order of Napoleon it is, along with the tunnel at Mauvages on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, the only place where the system of towing barges with a chain still exists.
The length of the underground Riqueval does not allow enough air transfer to evacuate exhaust from combustion engines on transport barges. They are required to be towed by a towboat that pulls a string of barges and/or other boats with a winch and chain.
Rougaillou, the first towboat in the Riqueval used horses arranged in a carousel on its deck to drive a winch and the succeeding towboat was propelled by steam. From 1906, the problem of smoke in the vault has been solved with an electric towboat. Its hourly average speed is 2.5 mph. The towboat hauls on a chain 8km long, which lies at the bottom of the channel.
Fortunately for the Man on the River, the towing at Riqueval is still in service. Traffic on the Canal Saint-Quentin has declined from 100 boats per day to ten, due to the opening of the Canal du Nord. The Waterways of France have considered installing mechanical ventilation that would allow boats to use their engines in the tunnel.
We must ask Giacomo and Friends if they would prefer to row the 5670 meters in darkness amid the rumble of cargo barges, or be towed silently by an electric towboat.
What an adventure on an underground river in France!
Tunnels aren’t the only obstacles on the Canal Saint-Quentin. The main mast on Clodia must be struck often to clear overhead bridges. Fortunately for the Man on the River, this is a simple task.