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Kerr Barging Blogs

We have spent a fair bit of time cruising in the South Pacific aboard our 33 years young 11.1metre yacht, Pastime of Sydney. We are now cruising through the canals and rivers of France on our old barge, "Anja", which was built in the North of the Netherlands in 1903. Anja was 110 years old in May 2013 and we celebrated with good French Champagne- but the boat did not get any! In 2014, for Anja's 111th, we took her back to where she was built in the North of the Netherlands.

Anja back "home"

IMG 3288People watching us on the River Marne

Anja will spend winter on dry land in Simon Evans' boatyard in Migennes, on the banks of the Yonne River. During the last few weeks we have retraced the route we took at the beginning of the year, though without the slight detour to Paris. Most of the travelling is on rivers, the Marne, the Seine and the Yonne. It seems to us that there is more commercial traffic this year than we have seen before, even at the same time last year. Most of the barges are carrying grain or sand and gravel. One moored in Migennes had a load of hops to take to Holland.  We have seen several carrying containers. There is a big new container port now on the Yonne so as time goes on this traffic will undoubtedly increase. We several times shared the huge 180 metre Seine locks with several other barges without any room to spare. The barge drivers seem to enjoy these occasions as it gives them a chance to socialise with each other. Many crews are made up of a husband and wife and the usual separate conversations seem to develop. We have also been interested to see how many of these couples are quite young, late 20s or early 30s, and it is not unusual to see a fenced in area on the deck full of play equipment for young children. They are probably the sixth generation of barge children in their families.

IMG 3252Father and Son
We have been able to catch up on some attractions we missed previously. In Meaux we had one very full day: market in the morning, then in the afternoon a bus trip to visit a very new World War 1 museum just out of town, opened at 11am on November 11th 2011. The Battles of the Marne were fought here. The displays helped us to a better understanding of the origins and progress (or perhaps years of stalemate is a better description) of World War 1. The museum had assembled uniforms of all the countries involved and  an excellent collection of other artefacts including one of the taxis used to take troops to the Front here more quickly in 1914, a decisive move in winning that particular  skirmish.

To finish our day in style we wrapped ourselves warmly to sit on temporary tiered stands in the Cathedral courtyard with about 1,000 other spectators for a Pageant of the History of Meaux, brilliantly presented with sounds and lights ( and lots of smoke), complete with a cast of hundreds (including horses) clad in magnificent costumes. It seemed that the cathedral was being used as a giant dressing room. This is the 30th year of this sound and light event. As it is presented only 15 times each year, we counted ourselves lucky to be there at the right time. We did our homework so that we had some grasp of the town's history and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

 IMG 3273son et lumiere- Meaux

A few days ago was very exciting for us: we applied for the renewal of our Titres de Sejour (permits to stay in France for more than 3 months) for next year. Last year it was very complicated and required several trips to various offices to complete the formalities for the  first titre and its original renewal. Subsequent renewals seem to be a great deal easier and much less stressful. We greatly appreciate the assistance of the staff of the Mairie at Charbuy, and of our Chambre d'Hote hosts Christian and Chantal, in working the way through the bureaucratic maze and in supplying the necessary documents.

The weather has been delightful for these last days on the barge. There has been only one day of rain in weeks, good for us but not for the countyside generally, which is looking very dry. Several canals have reduced depth and manyother people  have had to change their plans. Fortunately we will have no trouble reaching Migennes as planned for the last few days of cleaning inside and out so that Anja is in good shape for the long winter months.

And so we say farewell until next year when we plan to return to Europe for our late in life project of "travelling and learning".



Bien cordialement,


Penny and David

IMG 3254The Marne- one of our favourite rivers

IMG 3258WW1 Museum, Meaux

Travelling Back

We turned west at the end of the Sarre Canal, to start our long trip back to Migennes. The first step was the Eastern section of the Canal from the Marne to the Rhine, which we had travelled last year to head west from Strasbourg. This time we turned off it at a small canal called "The Nancy Embranchment", just before we reached Nancy. This branch is only 10 kilometres long but has 18 locks, and over the last few years has rarely been open. It was closed from 2003 for about five years, opened briefly and then closed again because of some massive dam failure. It was reopened in June this year then briefly closed again because it was full of weed. So we were very keen indeed to travel it now because there might never be another time! Also, it connects with the Canal des Vosges and the very end of the Moselle river so by going that way we would be breaking new ground.

 IMG 3240A serene Canal

The canal was very modern, the locks worked well, the countryside attractive and altogether travelling it was a very pleasant experience. Had we wanted to stop there were plenty of places to pull over, but in such a short length we went straight through. We met only two boats on the entire length.


From the Nancy embranchment we turned briefly West into the Canal des Vosges. The 3 kilometres and two locks we travelled will have to fulfil our desire to be on this Canal. In the past our plans to travel it have been ill- fated because of its many unexpected breakdowns. Next waterway was the Moselle at the beginning of its navigation. Having travelled for so long on it during our German trip we were very pleased to see it at its source. We had to readjust again from the small canal sized locks to the large river ones built for huge commercial boats. The Moselle is at present suffering from very low water levels because there has been hardly any rain, so we had to wait an hour while any boat in the area was collected to make it worth while to operate the lock. A small police boat worked like a sheep dog to round up any boat in the vicinity. Then we all went through the subsequent locks together. One of the boats kept dashing ahead but inevitably had to wait until we arrived after travelling at a much more sedate pace as befits our dignity and advanced years.

 IMG 3242A fortified Church

Soon we had reached our turn- off point and we entered our fifth different waterway in 2 days, the Canal from the Marne to the Rhine, Western branch. From now on we are retracing our steps from earlier this year. As this has coincided with some very hot weather in France, it is quite relaxing to concentrate on  keeping cool rather than feeling compelled to go out to explore. We have had eight days in the last ten of temperature over 30 degrees and up to 37 degrees. The Ministry of Health put out warnings to drink plenty (I think they were referring to water, not wine) and to seek medical attention in cases of extreme lethargy. Most nights cool down well and this morning was quite cold at 13 degrees.

We thought that re- tracing our steps would mean we could shop without the usual searches. Not so! We stopped near Nancy at a place remembered from last year, where there are good bollards handy for a huge supermarket and a self- serve petrol station. We don't usually top up our fuel tanks from jerry cans but thought we would make an exception as it was so close and put in two or three to be sure we would get back to the next river- side pump. What a disappointment! The big supermarket was closed for renovations and I had to shop at the alternative, Lidl, an Aldi- type chain. I bought the essentials without spending much money but as we had been six weeks without finding anything but an Aldi or a Lidl, I was really wanting to replenish my stocks at a supermarket which offered more lines and more choice. Then David was charged for 37 litres of diesel for filling a 22 litre jerry can, and as this was a self- service booth attached to the closed supermarket, there was no- one to fix the problem. He filled several more (at the correct price), so the average price came down somewhat.


Our complacency was shattered also at several towns where we thought we could easily find the boulangerie. We found the boulangeries all right but had forgotten that this is holiday time so many of the bakers are away. They close the shutters and put a sign up saying "Conge" (annual holiday) and naming the date of their return.
 IMG 3249Another fortified Church from the 12-13th Centuries

We are enjoying the chance to travel back through this most attractive part of France and to see the countryside with its summer aspect. This morning we watched as the mist rose from the canal in the cool morning air. The children are still on holidays so we see them cycling, swimming and fishing, with friends or in family groups. On one really hot day we came across several groups of older teenagers using the lock as a huge swimming pool. Large signs at every lock strictly forbid swimming in the locks and warn of the danger, but as often happens in France, the lock - keepers were turning a blind eye.


David's bread- seeking adventures continue. Early one morning he came across a group of four young teenage girls who had probably been having a sleep- over as they were lolling around on a rug at 7am. His query about any boulangerie in the village was greeted with peals of laughter and a great deal of giggling. He took that as a "no".  Fortunes were much better on another day when he had not even tried to find a baker in the tiny town where we stayed overnight. Just as we were entering the first lock that day a bakery van pulled up and asked if we would like to buy some bread. "Yes Please"!


Best Regards,


Penny and Dave

The Sarre and the Saar

The River known in France as the Sarre and in Germany as the Saar rises in the Vosges mountains in France and flows into the Mosel in Germany, near Trier. The navigable length is 150 kilometres and not heavily locked.

 IMG 3189The beautiful Saar Valley

In France the river has been canalised since the end of the 19th Century to give access to coalfields which no longer operate. For some time there was a break in navigation between the end of the Sarre Canal and the navigable Saar in Germany, but in recent years the link has been completed so that large commercial barges can travel from the Mosel to the French/ German border, with smaller Freycinet size barges able to continue to the end of the Canal where it joins the Eastern branch of the Canal from the Rhine to the Marne.

IMG 3186Saarburg from the River
As soon as we were "released" from the shipyard in Trier, sliding down the rails sideways and straight into the water, we headed off to get through the Trier lock. We noted that it had taken us almost exactly 5 days to get through this particular lock. In answer to our prayers there was no hanging about this time. We went straight in and straight out again. Soon we were turning left onto the Saar and by nightfall we had tied up at a long pontoon in Saarburg. We greatly appreciated this trouble-free mooring because along the German part of the Mosel there were very few places to stop. There were marinas for the common motor boats but we could not fit there. Only in Cochem and Zell were there  long pontoons like this where a number of boats our size could tie up. Some towns had small pontoons but as there were so few places available they were usually full.

 IMG 3178Saarburg (waterfull in the town)!

Our time in the Saar was very enjoyable. Summer has arrived and the days have been warm and dry. The River itself is very beautiful and interesting, with varied scenery. At first there are the vines we have become used to along the Mosel, followed by heavily forested countryside. In places the land rises steeply on both sides to give the effect of a gorge. Towards the French border there are power stations and industries including steel works. Apart from Saarburg which is small and picturesque,  the Saar towns we stopped at are quite large and businesslike.


There were many good mooring places along the river and less commercial traffic. The peniches are smaller than on the Mosel. There are generally two locks side by side, the smaller to allow Freycinet sized barges, the other for the really large commercials up to 135 metres. The last lock was unique in our experience: there was a single lock with an intermediate set of gates. If the boats are small they are directed to the front of the lock, and the intermediate gates are closed so that far less water is needed. Instead of moving 30 Olympic sized swimming pools full of water, only 10 were needed for this smaller lock.



Our final stop before the French border was very different for us. At Volklingen Hutte we found a well- made secure steel pontoon with free mooring. Water and electricity were available for a fee. Notices on the gates showed the number to call to get the security code which would open the gates from the shore side. Luckily there was another couple at the pontoon and after they had rung for the code they shared it with us so we didn't have to try out our German on the phone.

IMG 3194Volklingen Hutte Heritage Steel Works

 From the water we could see huge pieces of machinery dominating the skyline which we discovered was a UNESCO World Heritage site,  the Saarstahl works. The company is still operating close by but the blast furnaces and their associated equipment were closed down after about 150 years of operation and preserved for posterity. This area of the Saar with its coalfields and steel industry, was a political football after the First World War and during the Second, so in finding out about the exhibition we learned a bit more War history.


Next day we arrrived back in France. The river ran along the border for some eight kilometres then it was France on both sides. We did not see any notices to tell us we were in a different country. This time we were not expecting any border formalities.


The Canal on the Sarre River travels through flatter country. Historically this has been noted for industry and power production.  A large pottery works at the border town, Sarreguemines is now closed but there is a very  informative museum where one of the old kilns, operated from 1860 until the 1940s, has been left intact. First wood- fired it was converted to coal firing and needed 9 tons of coal for each 70 hour firing. We enjoyed walking around inside the 25 metre- high building and were reminded of David's mother, Jo, a very keen and talented potter, who had a kiln on a much smaller scale.

 IMG 3200The "Casino"- former recreation centre for workers IMG 3221Inside the big kiln 
IMG 3223One of the giant kilns  IMG 3206Beautiful Faience work in the museum 

Further along, the Sarre becomes very rural, heavily forested and generally flat with some rolling hills in the distance. At some stages we saw evidence of the bunkers of the "aquatic" part of the Maginot line built after the First World War to protect the French boundaries. Towards the end of the Canal are several extensive lakes, making for a most attractive and relaxing trip. There were many places to stop and tie up along the whole of this route so it did not seem very crowded even though there were quite few boats, including rental boats, travelling this way.


Best Regards,


Penny and Dave


IMG 3224Now, this is a VERY large Plate!

Drama on the High Seas!

***UPDATE: After a fantastic repair job by BOOST Shipbuilders, we are again under way and back in France***


Well, now we have your attention, it was not on the "High Seas" but on the Mosel River in Germany. This is a very large river and it can be dangerous.


We had not been able to stay where we wished (a place called Bernkastel) because there was no available space. We had travelled up-river to the Trier Lock. There is a lot of dredging occurring here; they are using large bucket scoops to dig out the river bottom in order to widen the river just before the lock. We went up to the normal place where you can wait for the locks as there was a large ship coming down. However, a new sign had been erected to say that it was no longer possible to use that space. On top of that, the river area for waiting was also effectively closed off by the earthworking.

 IMG 3129Being dragged out. Luckily we saved the rudder!

So, we had to wait on the other side, beneath the barrage which is usually a good place to stop before locks. It was very busy with ferries and other boats. There were also rowers plus a current and a strong wind. Even though we were 60 metres away from the shore and in an area with no warnings or channel markers, we came aground with the rudder perched on what transpired to be a block of old concrete dumped presumably many years ago. Ironically, there was deep water more than a metre deeper than where the rudder was, everywhere else around the barge.


We discovered after the event that the fundamental problem was that the river level has been lowered 46centimetres from normal without any signs or adding of new channel markers. Last year an English boat had the same issue in the same place but wrecked their rudder, both propellers and both drive shafts.

 IMG 3096The tug

So, normally we would have been okay in this part of the river which has no indications of problems. To compound the issue, there are some jettisoned concrete blocks from long ago and it was upon one of these which we sat. The locals seem to know of the problems so it is a pity that the information is not posted somewhere. Of course, we found out all of this information the next day. To compound the issue, the river level changes up to 11cm. We went aground when there was a temporary high and then it dropped a further 11cm making things tougher.


Basically, we could not get the boat off by ourselves and a helpful rower in a scull volunteered to row back to his club and ring the Polizei. They duly came. 


The police would not  tow us. They also prevented other boats coming to our assistance saying that they did not want anything to go wrong. So, we had to get a tug to come 30km (3hrs plus) with a costly quote of likely expense. However, they were very cooperative and departed within minutes of our phone call after the Police had rung them and given them the details plus our telephone number. Thank goodness for mobile phones! Basically, the (quite small) tug boat  achieved little. Their single thin tow line broke so we supplied our own decent long ones and these were fine and they did move us somewhat. They worked at it until almost dark. Then the Police decided to act as they had been with us the whole time and did not want us sitting in the river there over night. Their much more powerful boat dragged us off quite easily, but we shot off the first concrete block and over (presumably) another one nearby. Everyone's euphoria was quickly dampened when we noticed that our (very large/heavy) rudder was very lopsided and disabled.

 IMG 3100Polizei boat lashed to our side

Very, very fortunately, we got a mooring line attached to it in case of further problems. Then the tug boat tried to tow us but could not steer with us attached. This was with lots of flashing police lights and 4,000 tonne barges plus large ferries going past.


So, the police boat got onto one side and the tug on the other and they started pushing us down the river. The next drama occurred when the rudder completely broke free but remained attached by our sturdy mooring line and being dragged behind. The tug boat had to drop off as we approached a Roman bridge, the basic structure of which was built by the Romans 2,000 years ago! The Romans did not allow enough room for anything exceeding 12metres in width under any span! It was very skilful driving by the two boats to go along the river at night in this manner. Neither skipper could see the other. However, we had a Policeman on our bow and he was able to coordinate the effort. Everone was very nervous under the bridges.

 IMG 3122Shipyard pusher positions us on the slip

Finally, we reached a  large and very substantial shipyard which was fortuitously close given that the Moselle+Mosel is hundreds of kilometres long and has virtually no repair facilities anywhere. By now it was near midnight Friday and everyone went for rest as the whole thing had been going for 8 hours and the Police were hours past their finish time. Everyone was very, very good and the Police and tug people came back next day. The only cost for the Police was 35 euros and the tug people significantly reduced their charge to the original estimate despite spending many more hours than estimated because they had been unsuccessful. Where we were was comfortable enough, but encircled on land by high security fencing. The Police negotiated with someone in the precinct to leave a small door open for us all weekend. They also told us where to find the nearest Supermarket and ther shops. They were very, very helpful and agreeable.


The Shipyard only opened for business Monday morning. However, they have been fantastic and Anja has already been slipped for inspection and it is indeed fortunate that damage is far, far less than it could have been and most importantly, we still have the rudder. Having a new one made would have cost a fortune.


The Police will not allow us to be moved (which is reasonable plus it is impossible in any case) and this is the best and only place around. But, on a positive note, it is looking like we can be fixed and back in the water by Wednesday. We have been allowed to stay on the boat and people have bent over backwards to make sure that all is okay. Even the owner of the shipyard has been to see us. The facilities here are first class and indeed they are building a 4,000 tonne 135metre ship 5metres away from us- all from scratch.


More as it happens....

Best Regards,
Dave and Penny

German Towns

IMG 2972
The Mosel (looking South)

IMG 2975The Mosel (looking North from Castle at Cochem)

During our stay in Germany we have visited both large cities and small towns. The city of Trier was for both of us the first place to step foot on German soil. David's maternal ancestry is German so perhaps it is a wonder that it has taken him so many years to visit.  Trier was in fact an excellent place to start, as it is historically extremely significant and it is also a most attractive city. Set on the banks of the Mosel, it had the title "Roma Secunda" in Roman times- second only to Rome in importance. According to legend the Assyrians had established a colony here in 2000 BC and there was also a pre- Roman Celtic settlement.

IMG 2731Porta Nigra (Roman) at Trier
The highlight of our visit was to enter and walk around the Porta Nigra, one of the original towers of the Roman defensive wall that surrounded the city. This is very well preserved and we climbed up five storeys high within the tower. there was no mortar used to hold the stones together, but still they stand some 2000 years later. The other very interesting preserved Roman buildings include a building that used to be the throne room of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century and the nearby Imperial baths.

The market place of Trier is a beautiful space, preserving a market cross dating from 958 and was an excellent introduction to us of bright German buildings beautifully kept. Nearby we explored an exquisite little Church attached to the market place, St Gangolf's, which dates from the  14th century. Around the corner is the main Cathedral with a central section dating back to the 3rd  Century when Emperor Constantine's mother Helena donated her home to the Bishop of Trier so that he could establish his Church there.  

 IMG 2824Roman Baths- TrierIMG 2811Constantine's Temple (Roman, now protestant)

We found Bernkastel and Cochem most attractive buzzing with tourists and full of cafes, guest houses and hotels, wine shops and gift shops. We climbed the rocky outcrop to the castle in Cochem and enjoyed a magnificent view over the Mosel river as well as a guided tour of the castle, built in the 11th century and restored in the mid 1800s. We are amused in these towns that it is easier to buy wine than it is to get bread or milk. The wine is also very cheap. No doubt the usual supply and demand equation is operating. David went today to a wine house to buy something a bit more upmarket than our usual supermarket purchases, but still found that the highest price was 20 euros for six bottles of the best wine on offer there. The excellent French wine from the cellars of Laurent and Delphine, and the champagne we bought on the way through that area, will continue to be the pick of our collection. Sometimes though we feel more comfortable enjoying these cheaper wines with weeknight dinner.

 IMG 2942Castle overlooking Cochem

The Mosel continues to join the Rhine in Koblenz. Our documentation suggests that it is difficult in Koblenz for barges like Anja to find places to moor overnight so we decided to stop in Cochem, 50 kilometres away, where there is good mooring. We caught the train which follows the river all the way to Koblenz so that we could visit the end of the river and see the spot where the two rivers meet, called "German Corner" and marked by a huge monument to Kaiser William 1. It was satisfying to be there at the junction and we were very pleased that we had not travelled there by barge, as the currents become stronger on the Mosel as the river narrows, fine for the trip there, not so good on the trip back up the river. The Rhine was flowing even more strongly and a small boat travelling against the current was making very little progress.

 IMG 2904BernkastelIMG 2890Bernkastel

We did not really warm to Koblenz. As well as being a bigger city (population 100,000) much of it was destroyed in World War 11 so perhaps it lacked the character of the smaller less damaged places. I am not sure that the tourist literature made the most of its offerings either. The official English guide from the Tourist bureau (not even a freebie) listed the attractions marked on the map without much detail: just "Church" "Monument" "Building" "Obelisk" and most of the signs were only in German. The most interesting discovery was a sign, not marked on the map,fortunately in good English as well as German, which charted and described the discovery last year of the original Roman Castellum which was at the junction of the rivers. It is now the site of the Basilica of St Kastor, dating from 836, and Celtic and Neolithic remains have also been found there. The Churches are beautiful and on a practical level we have noted that the seats of the pews are equipped with a thin (or in Trier, thick) piece of matting presumably to make the bare wood more comfortable in winter. As in France, most of these churches are still current places of worship.

 IMG 2909TrabachIMG 3038Cochem Castle at night

We returned by train to Anja again enjoying the views of the Mosel and the features of the towns as we passed. The return trip of 80 minutes on the train would have taken about 12 hours in Anja. It feels quite good to travel fast once in a while.


Best Regards,


Penny and Dave


IMG 3054Koblenz (at junction of the Mosel and Rhein)IMG 2920One of many beautiful wine villages
IMG 3007David with a (very much) bigger friendIMG 3088Shopping in Koblenz
IMG 2750Main street Trier- thriving and energetic main streetIMG 2966Cochem- from its castle
IMG 2957.JPGCochem gate towerIMG 2912An elegant house along the Mosel
IMG 2808Trier Cathedral ceilingIMG 2946Cochem

IMG 2729Cruising along the Mosel RiverIMG 2954Anja at Cochem with mast up