The lock system and almighty VNF sets the speed. Not you…

The lock system and almighty VNF sets the speed. Not you…

Posted on Jul 13, 2015

48° 18′ 1.7748” N 5° 8′ 48.9516” E

July 13, 2015

We say goodbye to Lasse, Tianling and Nellie. They want to go to Alsace, Germany and Denmark to find the wildest playground for Nellie. Instead of making departing into something sad, Lasse told Nellie that they now will start a hunt for a wild playground, and this project she is very pleased about. In today’s first lock they stand and wait and surprise us with an extra goodbye.

It requires patience to sail the French channels. The channel is in control. The lock system and the almighty VNF decide. Not you. Others set the pace.

You may be very much accustomed to the ways things are done back home on the job. You make things happen. Putting things off. Monitor progress. Intervene and speed up if a project loses momentum. On the canal is different.

The locks are based on a centuries-old system, which in recent years has been partially automated, but which are nevertheless based on the same routines and procedures. First notify your lock – via VHF radio, via a mechanical turn on a hanging rod or via a remote control – that you want to get through the gate. Then the lock reports back, that it has received your message, and it will start working on it. After some time – it can feel like a very long time – closes the farthest gate, and the emptying or filling of water begins. It takes time.

Remotecontrol locks River Marne

Remote control for operating the modernised locks. All is in french. But anyway the system is simple

From your position you can see the water gushing out, or – if you are on the decline – pouring into the lock chamber. When the water in the lock chamber has reached the same height as your part of the channel, which takes quite a while, a beep will sound and a flashing light shows, that now starts next stage in the process. The lock opens the lock chamber. It goes slowly. Very slowly. With high probability is this slowness carefully thought of some engineering minds, who wanted to avoid accidental rapid movements. Slowly, slowly, the front gate goes up. You can go in and find your place in the chamber.

Here begins the next phase. You give the lock a message via a mechanical lift on a blue rod or with the borrowed remote. You want to have the lock emptied or filled with water. It thinks a little about this. Often you may provide an additional signal. Again, the system is put together, so it makes quiet movements, time for reflection, time to get out of the way, no panic, in french: “lentement, lentement…”

There are those, who will argue, that it is healthy for the average busy person. Well there are even those who would argue, that this enforced tardiness is the very idea of a sailing holiday. Here you will be subjected to nature and other forces greater than yourself. Here you must adapt your thinking and your pace to others. Down to speed. Accept that others set the pace.

We are not angels. But perhaps it is still part of what we call the holiday, to be forced into a very slow pace.

Log book: Today’s distance: 29 km. Sailed time 9:30 to 16:00 = 6 ½ hours. Locks: 15 pcs. Weather: Perhaps the best sailing weather we had. Slightly overcast skies. Warm without being oppressive.

Lock engineering River Marne

Locks forces you to go down in speed. Everything takes place in slowmotion. Probably good for something. Stress, maybe?

Bad day: Stupid lock guard, rain and Ronja hits the bottom of the canal

Bad day: Stupid lock guard, rain and Ronja hits the bottom of the canal

Posted on Jul 19, 2012

53° 13′ 37.4988” N
5° 49′ 1.452” E

July 19, 2012

Black day. Everything seems to be against us. We start with an argument with the gate guard at Willem Lorésluis. He lets the bridge dump down right in front of us. He thinks we are too slow to move towards bridge and lock. We blame him, that he only advertises his messages in Dutch. Angry talking over VHF.


And so it goes throughout the day. We hit the lock guards’ lunch break, we hit their after work shift, and we spend two to three hours alone in waiting. Meanwhile the rain pours down and the wind is whipping, even here inside the country.

Thrilling is that our echo-sounder constantly shows 10-20-30 centimeters of water under the keel. And regularly 0 centimeters. Often – five times a day – we hit the bottom of the canal and are briefly stuck. Dutch channels are not designed for ships with a draught of 1.75 meters.

At 19 o’clock, we do not want to go further. We moor to a field with a small bulwark and rings. Sleeping deeply. One cow muh’s twice. A few geese squawk. The rest is silence. An enchanting calm and dream-filled night.

Log book: Sailed: 9.00. Destination: Leuwarden (approximately). Arrival: 19.00 in Wergea, south of Leuwarden.