Monday, September 9, 2013

Souterrain de Mont-de-Billy

We left Sillery early in the morning, just as another boat decided to leave. After a brief traffic jam in the marina, we had the canal to ourselves. The other boat headed downstream, returning to Belgium while we continued upstream and further into the Champagne, with only the ducks keeping us company.

The hills started to appear with neat rows of planted grape vines and wine producing structures. Dotted along the slopes of Montagne de Reims are small wine producing villages, famous for centuries.

The route that we had chosen for the day entailed twelve locks and a tunnel. The locks were not as deep and nine of them were the easier down locks. It is the end of the season and we found some of the locks broken, ready for their winter maintenance. A quick call on the VHF had a lock master at the broken lock within ten minutes.

We entered the Souterrain de Mont-de-Billy, a tunnel 2302 metres long. It was opened in 1866 and has a tow path alongside it. It is well lit inside. The lights come on automatically when the tunnel is occupied and sensors regulate the one-way traffic lights at each end. The cost involved in its construction would have been tremendous but serving the Champagne area must have been worth it.

It took half an hour to slowly glide through. It reminded me of the Phantom of the Opera, but rather than through the sewers of Paris, we were gliding beneath the hills of Champagne.

The tunnel was quiet and the water still, with the soft reflections of the light created circles making it took tubular. There were other boats waiting at the other side as we entered day light and the tunnel direction light turned green for them.

Not far from the tunnel was a small boat with three young adults on it. It had Lampedusa to London on it and it looked like they were busy planning their dream.

The next lock we found broken and had to wait for the Lock Master to handle the manual controls. While waiting, I noticed five young fisherman fishing outside the far end of the lock. I suspected they might have had something to do with the jammed lock. The lock master manually opened the lock for us and we slowly maneuvered the barge inside as I took my position at the bow to rope the appropriate bollard. 

I am still nursing my cracked ribs and not very good with throwing the line. I did notice that the five young fishermen were watching me. I tossed the line, it hooked around the bollard the first time and pulled it in snugly as I looked back at five very impressed fishermen.

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