49° 2′ 39.6348” N 3° 58′ 1.56” E
One week further has passed. We are still in Epernay and when we are on our run every other morning we stop at the local bakery in Magenta. The baker’s wife goes immediately to the shelf with the coarse baguettes added extra grain. She sees us as regulars, knows what we want and welcomes us warmly when we come.
Similarly, when we cycle into the café every day in Epernay for the strongest Wi-Fi, so we can read news, check mail and follow what is happening in the world. The waitresses greet us as customers, they know, although we are not quite like other patrons having come to a kissing level with the waitresses.
We are close to taking root in Epernay. Instead of Friday, the mechanics come suddenly on Tuesday afternoon. We are up in the city at our regular café. “You’re not on the boat,” he says slightly reproachfully. “No, but I’ll be there in ten minutes. Should definitely stay. “He measures, he photographs, and he speaks in French to a warehouse, according to the dimensions of gimbal-membered nuts. The mechanic makes us understand that we are now, despite many hardships with cracked departments of Malö and holiday closures, close to a solution. But it will not be Wednesday. It will be, at best, on Friday that he can install the new part.
Two more days, we think. But we settle down for the evening by calling Bill, the English translator, but with an ominous voice he proclaims that the universal joint is so specific to our boat that it is not stocked anywhere in Europe but it must be produced at a factory in Holland after ordering it. It costs € 1,591.24 including VAT, and the money will have to be sent before he placed an order for the production of a new gimbal-joint. In addition, he will have 500 € for the work of measuring, evaluating and – for his time – to install the new part. From the time of placing the order it will take 15 days before the spare part is ready to be mounted. 15 days!!! We’re damn not retired with a lifetime ahead of us to wait. We are on a four-week holiday. And already two weeks we have agreed to wait for the solution to our engine problem.
Per agrees to transfer the money. Paying wages. But will not accept that it should take 15 days. Bill calls back to the mechanics. There’s nothing to do. The Dutch manufacturer is adamant. We agree for the mechanics to come to the boat Wednesday night with our bank details so we can get the financing done. But the French are apparently unreliable. For the mechanic does not come at six o’clock. He rings the bell 21 and asks if it’s okay that we meet the boat at 10 o’clock on Thursday morning instead? It’s OK, we accept, with a tired voice, only our deficient knowledge of French will hold us from expressing ourselves more aggressively. The mechanic does not show at 10. He rings the bell at 12 and asks if it can be at two o’clock instead. Frenchmen are unreliable.
At two o’clock he comes. Per calls the Danish Bank in Odense to transfer the amount to the mechanics. The agreement is that when the money is in his account, Friday, he will order the “la piece,” and he tells us that maybe he could get the spare part already after seven days, he has really pushed the manufacturer and explained our situation. We serve coffee, talk socially and separate with the best hopes for early solution to our problems.
Seven days! After all the bumps put in the schedules, we do not believe anymore in French assurances certain times, so now we are in the process of planning a whole new holiday. We agree with Lasse, we would like to come to Provence to live with them at a rural B & B. We call Mikkel and Helen and explain to them that we will hardly get a chance to visit Lyon as agreed. They propose, however, that we keep some day city breaks. So be it.
The days go by with chores on the boat. It will be painted. Screws on the railings will be tightened. The whole deck gets a clean with algaecide. Jørgen and Hanne come on Friday. And as always when they are on board, so changes Ronja’s character. There are more sports-camp on the boat, and there will be – paradoxically – even more decadent enjoyment of food and drink on the boat. She has her little red Michelin Guide for Frankrigst best restaurants, and wewith Hannes help explain to Per the new situation and the new plan for the port captain. We leave the harbour on Tuesday and we would like Ronja to stay in Epernay until October 11, when we will come down and sail Ronja further south. We would like him to take care of Ronja for us. We would like him to open for the mechanic when he comes and we would like him to shut down the engine and internal power when installation is complete.
Bernard is definitely ok with it. No problems. He’ll keep an eye on Ronja and intervene if something goes wrong. We agree on a price until 11 October. 4,500 kroner. It is relatively a lot. But it is important that Bernard has made a clear promise to take responsibility for Ronjas well-being. We get a port space. We also get a conscientious caretaker.
We even get discounts on some days. “We do not do this for everyone,” asserts Bernard.
A Swedish couple and a couple of their friends from Lomma Malmö attach to the side of us. The Swedish couple has retired and is in the process of a 16-month voyage down to Greece. Their boat is a Bavaria 34, which they have called “the dream”
49° 2′ 39.6348” N 3° 58′ 1.56” E
We say goodbye to Donald and Kirsten, who without a single sailing day since they arrived last Wednesday, have decided to go to Paris and have a city break in the last days of their holiday week. Understandably. They should have been with the crew on Wednesday, but as Ronja is quiet and everybody pulls us into work, sanding wood, wash clothes, cleans portholes, removing algae and in general to prepare us with a week of Ronja on stand-by, so does 14 July with parades and airshow and subsequent things in Paris more attractive.
Per hibernated with a lot of books. Kirsten grippers down to the cabin and starts a victorious campaign against the algae that give our teak deck a little tired and worn look.
49° 2′ 39.6348” N 3° 58′ 1.56” E
Anders and Kirsten visit some more Champagne houses and return to Ronja with lavish plans for a big dinner. In addition, of course, champagne. Brut reserve.
Kirsten and him have spent all day on Ronja reading and changing the boat.
49° 2′ 39.6348” N 3° 58′ 1.56” E
July 11. – 2014
We start the day by attending a start of Tour de France. The whole Epernay is on the other end. Lots of audience along the route. Advertising cars in the hundreds. School children with flags. Tents with entertainment. Yellow leader-shirts and polka dot-shirts for sale and at one point: whousshh !, and all the riders has passed. That was that.
At 11 o’clock we pull into a quiet side street, because we are expecting a call about the engine. We have brought forward the best competences in french, that we possibly can. Anders and Kirsten have left Epernay to travel for Paris. They did not get much of sailing in the french rivers this year. Bad luck.
Now Kirsten’s older brother Jørgen and his wife Hanne is on their way to embark Ronja. Hanne is excellent in french, but her friend, Vivi, is possibly better, so we have Vivi call the mechanic at 11 o’clock to get clear information on the progress of our repair. When is it expected to be completed? Can it be speeded up at additional cost for the weekend? In there any way whatsoever that the repair can be accelerated?
The answer is no good.
Neither the warehouse in Holland or the manufacturer in Germany are able to deliver a new sparepart, so now the part has to be sent from Malö shipyard in Sweden. It cannot be done until next week because of Bastille Day on July 14. The mechanic will come Friday morning and photograph the shaft and measure the dimensions, so that he can order the sparepart – in the harbour known as “la piece“.
The new part will be mounted on Wednesday and installation will last one and a half hours. As the mechanic do not show up as agreed Friday morning, we probably should already have suspected mischief.
Sigh. We go to Bernards office and pay for the one night, we owe him, and for five additional nights. Overall, eight nights in Epernay. That is a long time for a boat on its way round the world. Perhaps we shall acquire some potted plants to the foredeck of Ronja like the other river boats, of which many are permanently moored.
49° 2′ 39.6348” N 3° 58′ 1.56” E
July 10. – 2014
Two mechanics come at 10.30 and remove the defect cardan-joint. They are polite but have previously written off any communication with these non-French speaking tourists. “Call the boss,” they say.
We give the port captain, monsieur Bernard, two bottles of Burgundy wine as a thank you for his efforts to obtain a mechanic. He is pleased. “Tres gentile“, “Tres gentile“.
Epernay is the champagne capital. Shoulder to shoulder you find one champagne company after another along the city’s exclusive main street, Avenue de Champagne, – Moet et Chandon, De Castellane, Perrier-Jouët and Mercier. It is all bursting with prosperity. The companies are housed in old and new palaces, with sumptuous towering, newly renovated facades. Many offers tours or tastings.
We visit Mercier, for here, Anders and Kirsten had a fine experience on a previous visit. It is truly impressive. Alone this company, Mercier, has dug 30 meters deep into the limestone and has a total of 18 kilometre long hallways and basements for the storage of champagne. We drive around the corridors in an electric train and hear, how champagne is made. How long it ferments, how often the bottles are rotated, how waste substances are separated, and how the bottles are filled again. Along the way artists have decorated the walls with pictures. It is bursting with prosperity.
On the way back along the Avenue de Champagne, we pass Pol Roger, which was Winston Churchill’s favourite brand. “In victory you deserve it, in defeat I need it,” he said. Churchill is also quoted for saying: “Avenue de Champagne number 44 in Epernay is the world’s most drinkable address.” And he also needs to have said: “An hour without champagne is an hour wasted.”
An advertising agency could not wish for more.
At dinner on Ronja Anders recalled yet another of Churchill’s immortal quotes. Winston Churchill at a dinner had an English lady as a dinner partner. She exclaimed indignantly: “But you are drunk!” “Yes,” replied Churchill. “And you are ugly. But tomorrow I’m sober. ”
At Mercier we met Göran, Arvedahl and his two friends. He mentions to us that one of the crew, Ingelill, can speak some French, and she offers to call the mechanic, and ask the questions we want answered. It does not, however, bring much new. Only that the effort now is focused on obtaining a new sparepart from Holland or Germany. We can get a detailed message, when talking to the mechanic tomorrow, Friday, at 11 o’clock.
In the evening we are invited to coffee and strawberry tart on “Evanna III” Göran Arvedahl hosts. His two friends are respectively retired as a teacher and trumpeter. He himself is retired as CEO of a Swedish company that distributes TV signals for nordic broadcasters. Hi is a trained engineer. We all ready guessed that.
It was an interesting evening, where the talk is about the goal of life, dreams, ambitions and occasional setbacks.
Göran read Göran Schildts “Wish journey” many years ago, and it has stored in his mind, as something he would like to accomplish one day. A few years ago he lost his wife, an indescribable grief, he retired and thought that now his ambition to follow Göran Schildt might never be realised. But something in him insisted.
He began to plan the 14 week in Göran Schildts wake. He sought out a boat on display in Finland, he spoke with Goran Schildts wife number two. He acquired a first edition of “Wish Journey”. As he speaks, it becomes clear to us, that the implementation of the Wish Journey II is largely a therapeutic treatment of his own grief over the loss of his wife. A manual from the crisis, and he deserves respect for that.
He tells us how tired he was, when he reached England after tough sailing over the North Sea. He tells how he has been on the verge of giving up. But now, nine weeks are completed and only five weeks remaining, now he is committed more than ever to the project.
What happens when you reach Marseille? We suppose you’re going on to Italy, Croatia and the Greek Archipelago?
No, Göran thinks he is not. He likes the idea, that all options are open to him. But when he reaches Marseille, it is time to return home.
49° 2′ 39.6348” N 3° 58′ 1.56” E
July 9. – 2014
Today, we have to find a mechanic. Nothing in the world is more needed, than the certainty that our engine problem will soon find a solution. Harbour Master Bernard, however, is disappeared from the surface of the earth. We find Bernard’s friend, who makes a dramatically french claim, that it is a very difficult task, monsieur Bernard is doing. “Tres difficile“. No one has time. No one calls back. “Tres difficile“. She lets us understand, that there is not much hope.
Later we find Bernard himself. We are sitting in his office, while he calls another three mechanics. Rejection after rejection after rejection. No one has the time. We show him a business card of a mechanic, that we got from a gate guard just before Epernay. Bernard is skeptical. He does not know the mechanic. Do not think he knows anything about boats either. We insist, and he calls. Bingo! The mechanic can be with us at 11.45.
We give high-fives to monsieur Bernard, proclaiming him our hero and feel certain, that a solution is near.
The mechanic comes. He seems competent and says the problem is, that the cardan-joint of our shaft (transmission shaft?) is kaput and needs to either be repaired or replaced. He cannot say a word other than french, but the communication goes on in the way, that he on his cell phone rings up a man called Bill, who is an Englishman, explaining his diagnosis, and then he gives Per the phone, to let Bill explain, what the mechanic just said. Afterwards Bill translates Per’s questions to the mechanic.
The cardan-joint will be removed on Thursday. Whether it can be repaired or if it needs to be replaced with a new one, is undecided. How long the exercise will take, he leaves us hovering totally in the dark.
We change the crew. We say goodbye to Henrik and Susanne. Half an hour later we say hello to Anders and Kirsten.
Outside it is pouring rain. That makes it six days in a row, and we wonder why every time we have news from Denmark, we get reports about both 28 degrees and 31 degrees. In France for almost one week we have had nothing over 20 degrees. Well, anyway excessive heat may be overrated?
Later in the day Göran and his crew arrive in “Evanna III”. We’ve got neighbours.
45° 38′ 57.12” N 4° 47′ 40.5888” E
July 8. – 2014
We get up early. Kirsten and Henrik send Ronja back into the river. We we are heading towards a new goal. We agree that we need to sail 75 kilometres in two days, so Henry and Susanne can disembark in the city of Epernay, where there are trains to Paris every two hours. The stretch we can either split into two days or do it in one day. We end up doing the whole trip in one day.
We have begun to hear a strange murmur from the engine. At irregular intervals, sounding unpleasant, as if the propeller is about to fall off, or something else is wrong. It is a sound quite different from the diesel engine’s otherwise very stable rhythm. We are trying to get rid of the sound by changing the engine speed. We close the door down the toilet. We stabilise all on the boat, that can go into oscillation. We really do know, that it is not that. But it feels good to act. As we open the door to the engine, we can hear that it is not the engine itself, that is the problem. The motor hums stable, as it should.
It must be something external. The propeller? The shaft? We sail cautiously with successive revolutions in order to find a level, which eliminates the new and unpleasant engine sound. We did not manage to do so. In fact, it is difficult to attach the murmur to a particular RPM level. It occurs when we run at 2,600 revolutions per minute, and when we run 1,600 rpm. What’s worse, the sound gets worse and worse every hour that we sail.
Along the way, we stop at a bridge. We let the motor cool down and examine, what might be wrong. We tighten the vibration dampers. We can see that there is a loss of oil at the cardan-joint (transmission shaft) between the horizontal shaft of the motor and the inclined shaft down to the propeller, and we can see that the concertina-membrane enclosing the cardan-joint, has been worn in pieces. Probably the problem is to be found here.
We decide to proceed. Gently. Preferably all the way to Epernay. For Epernay is a relatively large town (27,000 inhabitants). We think that in such a city there will be a marine mechanic or a truck mechanic.
We are approaching the – almost – only port in Epernay – Nautique de Epernay. In our river map it says, that the port can only take vessels with a draft less than 1.60 meters. But we continue anyway. Maybe they have deepened the harbour recently? Perhaps they have not got the real measure? Perhaps there is still room for us?
Yes! There is room. We put ourselves outside of a briton from Norwich. Harbourmaster Bernard accepts us with grand gestures and invites us for a welcome drink in the marina bar.
It is the world’s smallest marina. It has room for ten boats at the highest. Maybe rather eight. Yet, the head of the capitainerie, monsieur Bernard, acts if he is the head of a marina with 800 boats. Very helpsome, he is. We explain to him, that we have an engine problem, and he offers immediate help in finding a mechanic. His first call has no results. The mechanic has plenty of work and have neither the time nor the inclination to take a new job in.
Bernard says that he has asked the mechanic to ask amongst his colleagues, and soon one of them will call back and take on the task.
Log-book: Today’s distance: 75 km. Locks: 6 pcs. Sailing time: 8:00 to 17:00 = 9 hours. Weather: Grey, dry weather as long as we sail. The rain starts exactly when we arrive at Epernay (and continues for 24 hours thereafter).
48° 57′ 22.3272” N 2° 53′ 18.4776” E
July 7. – 2014
Departure from Meaux 8.00. First we sail 300 metres to Meaux’s city centre to buy baguettes and croissants. We call at the local port, which turns out to be much more charming, welcoming and well maintained than the private. So much for private initiative.
We sail further, taking morning coffee along the way.
The Marne is a lovely river to sail on. Nature is wild and untamed. Tall trees and dense shrubbery surround the river. Now teeming with herons. Only occasionally nature is broken up by small villages, that are often located a bit back from the river, as if the water is something you should fear. It is as if the French have turned their “backs to” their waterways. Where the Dutch welcome water with open arms, build houses near the water, establish their gardens and build piers for their boats, so they appear as a tribute to the close affinity between water and land, so the French keep a respectful distance.
We keep a cruising speed of six knots, and as we acquaint ourselves with automatic locks, which we have to operate with a remote control, we think we are some sort of a lock champions.
The lock master explains in raving French, how we operate the locks. Henrik and I understand only a fraction of his tirade. Something about pressing a blue button. But only once. And only when we are just off the waiting bridges ahead of the locks. The rest we understood not a bit of.
Nice! We rule the locks ourselves. At the next lock we will be tested. We push the button. Nothing happens. We sail back to the waiting-bridge. We press the blue button again. This time we point the remote control directly at the gate, and then it works. A bright white light switches on at the side of the red, indicating that there is contact, and we can see, that the lock begins to drain the water out, and later opens the floodgates itself.
When we get into the lock, we do not know quite what to do. We moor the boat. Waiting a little to see if the floodgate closes and the water begins to cascade in. Nothing happens. We press again the blue button. Only once. Then once again, a little longer. Nothing happens. Per climbs up the ladder, and phones the gate guard.
“Parles vous Anglais”? No. Not at all.
Per explains in broken French what our problem is. The man responds in fast-fluent French, without Per understanding much of the reply. Then, the communication is interrupted. We press a little more on the remote, but decide to call the VNF – the french water-authorities – again, our best lifeline. This time, we understand one word, “arrive” – someone will come. And sure enough. Shortly after a man from VNF jumps into the old lock house and put the lock into action. A friendly waving but no explanation.
Not until the next lock we understand, that it is not the remote, that controls the gates to close after us, and makes the water pour in, but a blue tube inside the gate, that we must lift up, so that the machinery starts mechanically. Who could know that? We have an electronic remote in our hand, and yet it is a physical, mechanical force, that starts the lock. They are crazy, the French.
From here we go on without problems through the locks.
We sail Ronja to a rural pontoon bridge next to a village called Charly. Vineyards surround us along with Frenchmen with their fishing rods. No Wi-Fi. No water. No electricity. No toilets. Only a bridge and a large country of silence.
Susanne works perfectly as a sandwich maid. She is originally trained as such, and as she did not consider herself suitable for deck-work, she regularly brews coffee and prepares sandwiches in what she calls the kitchen. We live as admirals.
Log-book: Today’s distance: 70 km. Sailed time: 8:00 to 16:30 = 8 ½ hour. Locks- 6 pcs. Weather: Slightly cloudy, mostly cloudy. Only at the end of the day rain.
48° 51′ 8.3376” N 2° 22′ 4.6992” E
July 6. – 2014
We sail from Port Arsenal at 10.10 in the pouring rain and wearing sailor clothes from head to toe. French summer? Hmmm, it looks excactly like the heavy-rained summers in Kalvehave and Præstø, that we are trying to put back us by sailing out in Europe.
We sail through the port gate with Göran Arvedahl from Stockholm and his two new guesting mates, as they are going the same way as us. He sails in Evanna III, a Halberg Rassy 34 with a draft of only 1.65 meters, where we are 1.75. We agree with him, that he sail first, just like the penguins in Antarctica, where the older penguins send the young penguins first into the water to dive for food. If they do not come up again, it tells the elderly that is dangerous.
He is somewhat older than us, has set aside 14 weeks for his trip from Stockholm through Göta Canal, Kattegat, Limfjorden, the North Sea, the English Channel and via the French rivers and canals down to Marseille. He sails in Göran Schildts wake and follow as closely as possible the route, that this Finnish art historian described in his book from 1947, “Wish Journey” as he and his wife and a friend sailed this route with the ship Daphne from Stockholm to Marseille.
Göran Arve Dahl calls his journey “Wish Journey II” and has created a blog with that name.
It is a beautiful trip out of Paris. Much more beautiful than the entrance from Poissy-sous-Carriere to Paris, which was characterized by derelict industrial estates and decaying retired riverboats. Here there are several green areas, campgrounds, parks and private gardens directly to the river. We see many herons and some anglers but meet only a few other sailors. A few riverboats. The total number of pleasure boats can be counted on less than two hands.
We follow Göran. But after his two inexperienced crew members go wrong attaching Evanna III in a lock, whit the result, that his stern are swinging dangerously, headed directly towards Ronja, we prefer to sail ahead of him, although we follow into the locks and wait for each other.
As something new we pass two tunnels, Saint-Maur and Chalifert, respectively 597 and 294 metres. Very different. A bit like the tub pitch in Tivoli.
In the evening we get to the peaceful city of Meaux – 48,000 inhabitants and in their own understanding the Brie cheese capital of the World. The city boasts both a municipal and private harbour. The private according to our river map has the most facilities, so we choose this.
It does not look like anything special, and it turns out also that the port is bankrupt and the area has been enclosed by fences and locked gates. When we want a ride into town, it is completely impossible to leave the port area.
Log-book: Today’s distance: 49 km. Sailed time: 10:10 a.m. to 17:00 = 7 hours. Locks: 9 pcs. Weather: Day rain but snug and ok
48° 51′ 8.3376” N 2° 22′ 4.6992” E
July 5. – 2014
We are moored in Port Arsenal. In the heart of Paris. We almost feel, that we are moored to the Place du Bastille. Additional danish flags of paper adorn Ronja. It is Per’s birthday.
Henrik and Susanne explore Paris. Kirsten and Per use the first half of the day to check the water depths in the canals further down to the Mediterranean. People keep telling us, that they do not think we can get through with a draft of 1.75 meters, so we research with the French water authorities, VNF’s website (which is pretty poor), we knock on the door of other sailboats in the port (in addition to us there are only two, the other 110 are motor boats), and we get the port captain to call the lock posts along the Briare Canal.
It turns out that there is a problem. Briare Canal cannot meet the minimum depth of 1.80 meters. There has been too little water from the Alps this year. It is missing 10 to 20 centimetres, in some places more. It is a no-go. We buy new charts at the port office and plan a new, more northerly route along the Marne River and two canals, the Canal Lateral de Marne and the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne. The very name of the latter channel makes it easier to swallow that a whole winter’s preparation for one specific route has changed totally with the snap of a finger.
Improvisation requires thorough preparation.