In our latest series Howard Walker sets off from the Netherlands, heading to the Mediterranean via the French canals, but first he has a London stop-off in mind
The shoulder-shrugging French lock-keeper speaking with just a soupçon of Inspector Clouseau’s accent had a point: “Monsieur, your bateau is too aiy to go under zee bridge. You have to go back.”
From where I’m standing on the flybridge of our 56-foot steel trawler yacht Nomade, there definitely looked to be no way in a month of Sundays that its 11.1 foot high upper extremities would shimmy under the supposedly 11 foot high bridge at the lock entrance.
We were in the sweet French village of Thaon les Vosges, in the Lorraine region of north-eastern France, miles from civilisation. And we were stuck.
Before we’d set off on this grand adventure, heading from the English Channel to the Med using the labyrinth of French canals and rivers, we’d been warned that Nomade might be just too vertically-challenged to squeeze beneath some of the notoriously low bridges of France’s Napoleonic-era – that’s shorthand for crumbling – canal system.
Fellow navigators we’d met along the way had told us not to try. One did give us a piece of sage advice: “If you get stuck, head to the nearest bar, and offer a round of pastis for the locals to come and sit on your boat.”
His reasoning; the more rotund, warm bodies we could entice on board – amply-bottomed French farmers’ wives being the preferred bodies of choice – the lower in the water we’d go.
Others suggested we should do what the French commercial barge captains do when their wheelhouses are a shade too lofty.
Get within a couple of feet of the masonry and hit the throttle. In theory the props would suck the water out from under the bridge, the stern would drop and you could squeeze under.
For me, that would be like jumping into a Lamborghini for the first time and aiming for a set of steel width restrictors at 200mph in the hopes it would squeeze through. Yep, it could work, but boy would it make a mess if things went wrong.
As I stood on the flybridge scratching my chin at this seemingly irresolvable situation, I reflected on what had led to us being here.