Oars and Cabernet crusaders – Nancy to Saverne

After a long while, we’re back!

I apologise for this delay, however I’m afraid it might happen again: Internet in not everywhere, here is much easier to find a good Cabernet than a web connection! If you’re a reader eager to know about what’s happening, this lack of information may be frustrating: At the same time it gives me more room to write about the best experiences and the most amusing tales.

We left our story in the outskirts of Nancy: At first glance I really liked this city. I can now confirm and reinforce the enthusiasm for a community that seems very committed in preserving the environment and offering a good lifestyle to all its citizens, beginning from the means of moving.


The network of public transport is well-distributed and the electric tram reaches most of the suburbs. Methane fueled buses and a well managed traffic make of Nancy a very clean and pleasant city. We’re welcomed by Sylvain, who works and studies here. He speaks a good English, however we strive to speak French.

His hospitality and help have revealed priceless, beginning from La Maison de Velo, a fantastic idea by Dominique Xailly that two years ago, along with the municipality of Nancy, has founded a centre where bikes are nearly a religion!

Here the bicycles can be rented (just 80 euros yearly for a variety of models), bought, washed. There’s a library of books and DVD about bike trips, a meeting room and much more. We also have the pleasure of meeting Pierre who finds bizarre and extraordinary bikes, such as the bike-car resembling a 60′s racing car. Bruno tries it, bute I can’t even get in!

Then, a new surprise: Atelier Dynamo, a centre created a few years ago by Thomas and other friends to retrieve spare parts of discarded bikes, assembling them to make new bicycles. The members, they are more than 1.000, can afford to buy a bike by spending as little as 25 to 50 euros.

Thomas also organises events and tours, and the lab in rue des Tiercelins 18, can be freely used by all members to fix their bikes. A good idea worth to be followed.

Our stay in Nancy is rich in meeting interesting people, such as Paul Rougieux, an engineer specialised in timber and its technical properties, who gives us a wonderful cherry jam handmade by his mum.

The next day Paul takes us to meet his uncle Guy Rougieux, president of the syndicate of waters from the Seille and Moselle rivers. Guy has spent many years working on the water-supply system for the villages around Nancy. We follow him in a plateau housing a very interesting network: Here we visit a central where chlorine is added to drinking water by law, following the events of 2001 and the fear for terrorist attacks.

The landscape surrounding us is beautiful.

Guy’s help is precious and will be even more important very soon: We develop a very strong friendship. In the evening we’re invited for dinner in his home in Lanfroincourt, 130 inhabitants, where we also visit La Pepiniere (the plant-nursery) of Etienne, Paul’s dad, and pick the same cherries used to make Paul’s mum’s jam. Paul tells us about the current hard times for quality plant-nurseries in Lorraine, after the invasion of low-cost plants.

The dinner cooked by René, the nice wife of Guy, is special, full of delicious Lorraine specialties such as the Pâté Lorrain and the classic Quiche Lorraine. In the end Guy gives us a Mirabelle Brandy and René some magic cherries.

Thanks once more to these wonderful friends from Lorraine.

The morning after, in the Port de Plaisance of Nancy we meet the director, Captain Franck Rosseaux, who tells us about this showpiece harbour and his commitment to protect the environment through initiatives aimed to reduce the waste of water and the leakage of bilge water and greywater (collecting them for free).

We leave Nancy grateful for all the generous people that we had the fortune to meet.

The following days are very wet.

After nearly a month of fairly good weather, the rain comes to visit and we keep getting followed by little thunderstorms. We enjoy a few fantastic sails: Bruno is very good at exploiting the wind corridors between the trees, and Clodia flyies so fast with a good bone in her teeth.

In Varangeville, site of the famous salt mines, despite the heavy rain I approach a Peniche showing my best smile and asking for a good coffee shop.

Two women have pity on me and my wretched conditions due to a very wet 13 kilometres of rowing, and invite me on board.

Quite soon, in the usual cozy and warm way of people who live aboard, we get feed with a substantial breakfast and guided for a tour of  Saint Nicolas de Port.

It’s a great discovery: We visit a gothic basilica of rare beauty (housing Europe’s highest columns, one of them crying, and the right hand of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors), an hospital for storks, that here nest everywhere, and a beer museum where they offer us a catalogue.

Anouk and her husband Dany also makes us dinner and we get overwhelmed by their warmth and friendliness. We have a wonderful time: Thanks Anouk and Dany, you gave us a special day to remember. The next morning the sun pops out and we get moving greeting our hosts with the usual sadness.

On the way to Strasbourg we meet a friend of Anouk, Dominique, who lives on a beautifully restored Peniche, along with her mum, two sweet dogs, many cats and a great passion for frienship.

She tells us the story of the town of Dombasle and its abandoned harbour, victim of the obtuseness of politics and of the vandals that have wasted a structure that could have been of great help for this area. Here there is a Solvay big industrial plant, who might have limited the long term view of the governants.

After Dombasle, Clodia, Bruno and me enjoy exhilarating sails under a continuous rain followed by moments of sunshine: It’s a very Atlantic looking weather with sudden changes. In Lagarde we sleep in a lovely harbour, passing the evening in conversation about life.

The landscape is always changing. Now we’re on a plateau with the canal many metres above the horizon, now in a kind of green tunnel.

The nature is alive and untouched everywhere, and there are many forests. Water is not as transparent as in Toul but stil of a nice green and rich of fishes: chars, trouts (introduced), perches and many sheatfishes, we get told.

After a great sail helped by 40 km/h windblasts, we reach and pass the lock of Richecourt, who was for many years the highest French lock, from its 15.4 metres of height.

Impressive, most of all the noise of the sash door closing behind us. The rise is about half an hour long but everything is well and we get off by sailing with the mizzen (the smaller sail).

We stop for the night in Gondrexange leaving in the morning for Hesse where, moored under a nice maple tree, we entre the office of Le Boat, a company renting houseboats.

Thanks to Angelina, the kind secretary, we get to know thet being a rowboat we can’t get past under the two next tunnels and overall on the Arzviller inclined plane, a marvel of hydraulic engineering. How depressing!!

But never say never. The next day two friendly employed from VNF, our notorious guardian angels, after hearing me whining against the refuse coming from Strasbourg headquarter, decide to go to Nederviller by boat. They’ll try to plead the cause of our humble oar’s crusade in the local VNF office: Not an easy task.

When they come back the no becomes a yes, assuming to get towed by an engine boat. Giving that the total distance to be covered is no longer than 6 km, we’re happy to accept this offer: Moreover any other means of transport would have been very hard to arrange and against our philosophy. So little Serena tows us.

The inclined plane of Saint-Louis Arzviller is a great emotion.

Looking at this “swimming pool” of 900 tons of weight that gently slides for 44 metres (with the boats inside!) is remarkable. And it’s energy free since the pools are moved up and down by the weight difference. Brilliant!

After Saint-Louis Arzviller we enter a completely different world: Beech and coniferous forests, red rocks, castles, german architecture, a steep descent to Strasbourg. We’re in the Vosges.

After a quick stop in Lutzelbourg (it seems bizarre to find an harbour in a village resembling the italian Alps), we stop overnight beside an houseboat lived by a few german guys, loud and a little drunk, in an enchanted valley.

When the fist shades of the evening begin to fall, we see a white silhouette waving its arms and talking to the germans. Già comò… Già comò, it says, and I think: “What happened? They’re coming to arrest me because we’ve past the tunnels without an official permission. Now they’ve changed their mind… I’ll get known as the “Man in Jail”…

But I’m safe, it’s Guy who carries good news: He’s sold his soul to give us some interesting contacts in Strasbourg, where he has worked for many years and knows lots of people. He already arranged us a meeting with the mayor of a village who will be of great help. Guy is a saint who gave us help and passion. We’re touched, thanks.

Our journey so far has seen 200 locks, 8 tunnels, 13 suspended canals and we’re approaching the milestone of 1000 km, about 1/5th of the total itinerary.

By arms and oars (with a little sail) they’re a lot. Trying is believing!

We’re now in Saverne, that’s wonderful. It’s raining cats and dogs after a promising arrival, thanks to the meeting with Volker and Ilka, that tonight have invited us for a pizza handmade in their boat, a Dutch Tjalk.

The mood is high and the bones wet. But water is life and local beer is also very tasty. We’re in Alsace, by the way, and wines are excellent too!  In short, cheer up to fluids.

See you soon and a big hug. Giacomo

P.S.: A special thanks to Caroline Bouguereau who has helped us so much with press relations in France.


Cows and Cherries – Châlons-en-Champagne to Nancy

197 km, 110 locks, 10 canal bridges, 6 tunnels. And so many people and sceneries… Spectacular! These are the numbers and the words of our last few days of travelling, but there’s much more to tell. Naturally.

There are the wild landscapes of the Marne side-canal, postcard-worthy. Herd of cattle running away at our approach, shaking the earth under their feet. And water, of course. We drink it straight from the canal: It’s potable and transparent down to 4 metres.

There are breakfasts in the midst of the steam rising from the canals, rain-wet nights, burnt days, opposite winds, handshakes from calloused hands, honest and warm hands. Kisses thrown in the air by a Turkish kid that keeps greeting us from the distance, so happy to read that word… Istanbul!


And the enraptured look of a little lady that stares at us from the bank of the canal.

Then there are our hands, as hard and worn-out as an old buffalo leather slipper.

There’s the old hearth of Nazim Hickmet, great Turkish poet of peace and freedom, and our own hearts, getting softer day by day thanks to the joy that we feel and get others to feel.

We cannot forget the kindness of so many people.


Such as Chantal in Treveray, that takes me to join the rest of the crew (I was left behind to update the website, and a long walk was in front of me), and the Mayor of Treveray who helps me to send an important e-mail to the italian radio;


And Jean, an “eclusier” (lock-keeper), a profession that’s quickly disappearing due to the automations required by the cost-cuts. He invites us in his home, offering Champagne, along with his charming wife and his nice daughter that the next day makes us a gift: A postcard depicting this very same lock many years ago;

And yet again Sara and Bertrand in Toul that take us aboard their boat for breakfast, also making us sandwiches for the next day.

And a thousand other people that gave me, Bruno and Fine so many emotions. And help.


The landscape is now hilly: We’ve got up and down more than 110 times, passing 25 locks in just one day. The journey is intense, it’s so difficult to pay justice to all the places in such a short report, however I’ll try to put together a summary of what’s happened in the past week.

First of all Berry-au-Bac, wonderful and perched: The French Renaissance. Here, we have a meeting in the headquarters of Vnf, where we gather kindness and information about the lock system that ever surprises us.

A century long, magnificent endeavour that, at a very high price in terms of money and effort, is still maintained. Thanks Vnf and thanks France for this gift.

Sailing and rowing on these waters and canals, passing these locks, bridges, tunnels always makes us think about about who worked and still works hard to keep it all functioning.

In Treveray, we moor under a cherry tree and Josephine jumps over Bruno’s shoulders to pick a few of these tasty fruits (we’re now officially gatherers, although still nomadic at heart!).

Then, we enter a bar where everybody listens carefully to our story. We recall with true pleasure the help received by the Mayor, by Madame Dal Zotto and by Chantal.

The next afternoon we literally sail on the water-lilies, getting past the 29th lock along the Marne-Rhine canal. This atmosphere reminds me of Claude Monet paintings. The water is just fantastic, so much that we drink it. We indulge in an unhortodox mooring, casting the anchor on the canal banks!

Along the canal, from the boat, we pick other cherries and strawberries: Delicious!

But we’re waited by the second long tunnel of our journey, that of Mauvages, just slightly shorter than the Suterrain de Riqueval. This tunnel was built from the 1841 to the 1846: It’s about 4.800 metres long, wet and dark, and equipped with the same system used in Riqueval, an electric towboat. But Captain Jack and his crew are already accustomed to this!


We stop for the night in Void, where Elvis from Vnf gives us a pen. The next morning we have breakfast over a roman bridge with a baguette cooked in a wood-fired oven. Then we get to Toul, fortified city, meeting Jean, Sara and Bertrand in a new, magnificent harbour. Here we visit the wonderful Cathedral: What a chance to show off my long-past architecture study with Bruno and Fine!

We get aboard once again heading to Nancy, sailing over the bridge-canal on the Meuse and rowing under another long tunnel: After 36 km we eventually enter in a real river, the Moselle.

A great Arcadia Felix scenery welcomes us, allowing for a nice sailing. The river gets much wider, such are the locks and the inevitable Peniche, over 100 metres long.

Here, the landscape is still wild , with little intensive agriculture and many grasslands. Given the water quality, the nature is nice and healthy, as confirmed by the presence of water-lilies, trouts, crabs, chars and basses.

On the way, the Moselle gets more cloudy: Industries and intensive agriculture seem to pollute the river and its bank a bit more. Ill-mannered people do the rest.

In Nancy, a city rich in history and culture, we immediately see a lot of bikes that can be used in a way that seems to work very well. It’s called Velostan, based on 25 hubs scattered around the city centre: Here everyone can pick up and leave the bikes through a subscription system of variable duration.

The bikes are very nice looking and seem quite strong too.

France is still sweet. Despite the Kilometres already travelled, 800 so far, we’re convinced to run too fast, leaving behind so many things and missing opportunities.

But we still learn so much, every day. A wonderful experience.

I feel sad thinking about the choices of some “big fishes” of the past that have taken away from Italy the pleasure of fluvial navigation, hailing the name of a regressive progress that has wasted the work of thousand of people.

Among those, there was a gentleman called Leonardo, coming from a tiny village in Tuscany, Vinci. By chance, he had dedicated great energies and efforts in the study of water and waterways. His water stair starting in Pavia has been left in a totally neglected condition.


I’m also sorry because at every lock passed, we’re at 157 so far, I can see the doors that Leonardo invented five centuries ago, and are so called “vincian”. They’re still  working beautifully all around the world.

That’s life. Be water! Giacomo



He who walks through the meadows of Champagne
At noon in Fall, when leaves like gold appear,
Sees it draw near
Like some great mountain set upon the plain,
From radiant dawn until the close of day,
Nearer it grows
To him who goes
Across the country. When tall towers lay
Their shadowy pall
Upon his way,
He enters, where
The solid stone is hollowed deep by all
Its centuries of beauty and of prayer.

From The Cathedral of Rheims
by Joyce Kilmer from Emile Verhaeren poem


Bonjour à tous!

First of all, let us join the celebration of the World Environment Day, so close to the Man on the River values, hoping to bring our little contribution to the future.

Now, let’s get back to our story, beginning from Pargny-Filain, where we stay for one more day to enjoy the show of the Compagnie Isis.

Fine will stop here a little longer to make a video about one of them, Magali. You can watch the final result at bottom page, it’s way better than a thousand words.

Bruno and I leave from Pargny early in the morning, heading to Reims. The landscape is beautiful: In Braye we face a new tunnel, entering undisturbed. In the inside it nearly rains, bare rock, a menacing Peniche following us (not a pleasant feeling…).

After two Kilometres, we see a silhouette against the light: It seems like waiting for us. With a nasty look and little words, we’re invited to come alongside the quay. After a long while, we get to know the reason: The tunnel can’t be crossed by rowboats.

The permission from VNF doesn’t arrive and I show to Mr Michel Marteau the e-mail sent to their Lille’s offices. A firm “No” turns at first to a “Maybe” and then, following a phone call full of laughs (it’s not every day that you meet two madmen rowing to Istanbul), to a very warm and participative “Yes”.


Moreover, the meeting with Monsieur Marteau ends up in a very interesting interview where he explains to us both the complexity of this tunnel (unfortunate theatre of the death of 17 people in the 19th century, due to toxic gases) and the lock management system, with the water that is drawn from the river Aisne and from an artificail basin. What an impressing work!

We set sails once again and, lock after lock (we already counted 100 of them!), metre after metre, we reach Berry-Au-Bac a few minutes before closing time of the last lock of the day. We meet the lock-keeper, that gives us a Kilo of tasty strawberries, that we eat very quickly. Today, we have rowed more than 30 km against the wind, so we’re a little tired, deserving a goos sleep in a manoeuvre basin for the Peniches.

The next morning, at 8 o’clock, we get moving toward reims where we’ll get  at 5 p.m. Here, too, we meet very gentle kandscapes, clear water and many fishes. We also meet a deer, grey herons, hundreds of ducks and nutria.

Our arrival in Reims is quite funny. The canal flows in the very hearth of the city, between two high-traffic roads: A real mayhem. Everybody stare at us like we’re from another planet, maybe martians (o humans…). Paradox in all of this mess, we cross the first other rowboat in France: two guys in a double scull.

Bruno wears the shoes of the masked man, he needs to shelter his face from sun rays. We’ve got to understand him, he’s Brazilian and we all know that they can’t get many sun… In Reims we rejoin Fine at first and then Paolo, the director of our documentary, resulting in an overbooking both aboard Clodia and Serena, the boat they use for filming: Life in a fast lane.

Reims, capital of the Champagne region, is very nice and clean. Jean de La Fontaine used to say: “I love no city more than Reims, The jewel and prestige of France”.

We discovered that its name comes from “Remus”, funnily the Italian word for “oar”, brother of Romulus founder of Rome!! According to the (obviously roman) legend, Remus founded Reims giving his name to the first people living in the area too. Even today the inhabitants are called Rémois.


Reims has four monuments listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most impressive of them being the Notre-Dame Chatedral, with that of Chartres the most beautiful gothic cathedral in the world, that has seen the coronation of 25 kings of France. Here was also coronated Charles VII, the king promoted by Joan of Arc.

Between history and art, there’s also a wonderful wireless tram, whose power supply is at ground-level. Be careful to the electric schooooooooooooock!!!

The next day we head to Châlons. Pure Champagne now, intended as region, of course! Vinyards, vilalges over the hills… And we haven’t enjoyed a single drop of wine yet. We’re Spartans, not Athenians.

This leg is very hard and made even harder by the opposite wind. Thanksfully we take comfort from a few wild strawberries picked on the banks of the canal from aboard Clodia. Sweat and sweets!!

At half past six in the afternoon the locks close. We stop in a very nice maneuvre basin, surrounded by beautiful boats. Two ladies greet us: We turn back, getting next to reciprocate their gesture.

In Port de Vaudemanges we’ll have one of the best time of our rich journey. In a perfect environment, a small “liveaboard” community has chosen to restore old boats and get free from brick houses. They seem happier. Isabelle, judge, welcomes us and in a blink of an eye we arrange a collective dinner for many friends.

One of them, Maddy Lecyn, has restored a Peniche belonging to Serge and Isabelle, equipping it with a recording studio, a place of arts that he’s now planning to take around Europe to carry aboard artists, music and beauty. His website is www.nadboat.com. Chapeau!! Go Maddy.


On board, James cooks fantastic prawns and Paolo improvises a tipical Italian meal: Spaghetti (that he has brought from home, of course) for 10 people. In a 5.74 mt long boat, I can tell you that cooking is not that easy.

The dinner is rich and sweet, the music suave, and nature takes care of anything else. I declare defeat, retreating rather early to my tent, where I sleep for 11 solid hours.

In the morning we feel like being among old friends and leaving is a little sad. It might sound bizarre, but we get the impression to run too fast. Everything we see, everyone we meet, would deserve much more time to be known and told.

However, I keep in mind the words from my mentor Bernard Moitessier (unrivalled master of navigation and life, a free and wise man): “Never let a friend’s hand get warm in yours“.

It’s time to go, to try, to live the journey. And to let Clodia slide over the waters to Istanbul.

In the morning we cover 26 km with the wind to our back, passing eight locks in eight km. In the afternoon we’re slower because the wind turns, covering 18 km and two locks.

In Châlons-en-Champagne we face the umpteenth closed lock, stopping for the night in a secondary canal close by a nice Dutch boat in restoration. From Châlons, sit under a carved stone rimembering that Joan of Arc was once here, I salute you.

A bientôt! In the meanwhile enjoy Fine’s video about the Compagnie Isis.


After hours from Jasmine Lane

Francesco’s own adventure

Francesco Cappelletti, very first “Man on the River” guest, has sent us his impressions about the experience aboard:

“Being guest of Giacomo on board Clodia has been an honor and great pleasure.

Of course as a sailing and boating enthusiast I much enjoyed the pleasure of spending whole days pulling the boat with my own hands and setting the precious riggings to take advantage of the winds. But what I really appreciated about this experience is the human value on it. Giacomo, Bruno and Josephine are a great crew. They are friendly, involving, well motivated and with great ideas in their minds!

I love this Project. I consider the ideas supporting it so valuable, clever and universal and hope they will finally lead to a great success. Fair winds to the crew!”

Thanks Francesco and see you soon!




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