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2. Hazardous buoys


There’s a pleasant little town called La Ferté near to the Paris end of the Marne.  The mooring is on the mainland, sheltered by an island in the middle of the river.  The map shows only one navigable entrance – the other is marked as ‘no entry’.  That’s fine, we’re going upstream and the entrance is the first one we come to, just beyond the town bridge.


We see a red marker to port about 8 metres out from the mainland bank, and a green buoy reasonably close to the point of the island.  Maybe there are 25 metres between the two.


“OK,” Michael thinks, “this is easy: I go in between these two channel markers.”  Nice and smoothly, right in the middle between them - but suddenly there’s a swishing sound in the water, an unmistakeable dragging sensation, and we’re stopped, even though the propeller is still turning. 

It’s a sandbar!

Can’t back off, can’t push forward.  We’re stuck!


Well, the crowds start to gather – leaning over the bridge, running down the towpath, pointing, laughing, taking photographs, laying out picnics to watch the drama unfold.


One passing boat slows down, takes one look at our plight, and moves on without saying a word, pretending they hadn’t even looked at us.


Another boat comes up to us.  The man picks up a rope from his deck, and we feel hopeful.  Then he puts it down again, explaining that this is his new boat, we look right properly stuck, and he doesn’t want to risk damaging his engine trying to pull us off.  He drives away.


VNF arrive, look, shake their heads and begin their own conference.


The gendarmes arrive, slightly menacing in their sizing up of the situation.  We can see them talking with other boat-owners in the harbour, and with VNF, but not with us.


Eventually, one resident boat-owner walks along the bank and shouts to us.  We can hear each other fine.

“Hello!” he shouts. “The gendarmes want to talk to you when you get off there.  VNF have closed the Marne because they say you are a hazard to navigation.  There’s a hotel boat here that will come and pull you off in an hour or so.  Sit tight until then.  What a hoot!  You’re the third boat this week to have done the same thing!!”


Sure enough, after an hour or so, a hotel boat backs up to us, we attach lines, and with lots of spectators’ cameras clicking away, we surge forward over the sandbar and back into deeper water.  Thanks, Absoluut 2!  We creep somewhat shame-facedly into the harbour and tie up.


“Why did you do that?” ask the gendarmes.  We explain about the positions of the buoys and look properly downcast at having caused so much trouble.

“Ah yes,” say the gendarmes, “the VNF agree that they must do something about this matter because there are such frequent accidents here.  Will you please be careful when you leave?.”

(c)2007 Michael Marriott