2018 Barging France

Rendezvous with Renoir: 17/08 – 21/08

Méricourt – Andrésy – Rueil-Malmaison

We had booked to stay in the Arsenal marina in Paris on the 21st and, while they said they were not fussed if we arrived precisely on the day of booking, we were well set for arriving on time. In fact, we found that we had a day more than we thought. It was three days cruising to Paris and we had five days. So we could afford to spend a couple of days at each stopover.

Our cruise was to retrace our steps to the junction with the Oise. Although we were heading upstream, Catharina Elisabeth did not seem to be travelling appreciably slower, perhaps a one or two km/h for the same engine revs.

We had another viewing of the church of Notre Dame at Mantes,

numerous other well-appointed dwellings,

and there was a bit of crew training.

There was plenty of space for the larger vessels to keep their distance while we were cruising

and the locks are plenty large enough for two or three.


We decided to try our luck mooring at Andrésy rather than amongst the commercials in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and were lucky to be rewarded with an offer to moor up against a very pretty barge owned by a pair of Parisians who owned the mooring and were on board for their summer vacation – doing maintenance!

We were joined not long after by a huge double commercial that sidled in gently beside us and stretched up about 20 m above us and over 100 m in front of us.

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Apparently, he stops here regularly. No issue – we just felt dwarfed.

Must get nosebleeds up there!

We pottered around that day but on the next, took the bikes off for a visit to the nearby Musée de la Batellerie (Museum of River Navigation). It is situated high on a steep hill that overlooks the Seine inside a converted chateâu

Chateâu de Prieuré

which is just as impressive inside.

Most of the information was in both French and English. We found it fascinating. There is a very nice online visitor’s guide (in English) which describes the breadth of the material covered by the museum.

There was a comprehensive display on the methods of moving barges which was definitely a highlight.

Cruising along, courtesy of our smoky old DAF575, we forget that self-powered barges are a relatively recent fixture. Indeed, even after internal combustion engines became available at the turn of the 20th century, other means of propulsion were in widespread use well into the century.

Obviously, before mechanisation, active movement of barges was either by wind or towing by animals or the bargees and their family.

You can almost feel how hard this work was.

One of the displays covered the introduction and use of mobile engines that towed barges in France. These went through several designs but at the height of their use prior to WWII, there was 1700 km of waterways serviced by 970 electric tractors and 100 mechanical engines involved in towing unpowered barges. Mechanical means included chains stretching along waterways, on the bottom, to which a chain barge would grab onto and crab along the chain while towing barges behind.

Before engines were developed, a chain barge crabbed along the chain using horses on board powering a capstan.

There was a splendid display of models of historic vessels.

We descended carefully and cycled past the two historic vessels that are part of the museum and that are still cruising occasionally.

Tugboat ‘Jacques’ built in 1954 and renovated by the museum volunteers. Cruises on Sundays.

Back then to Catharina who was no longer hemmed in – a good thing as we wished to leave the next day.

Rueil Malmaison

We left early and quietly, hoping we would not disturb our gracious hosts of the last two days.

We were soon cruising past the two museum boats

and along the wide and interesting Seine – taking in the many different boats, both working and residential, in a wide range of conditions, moored up along the banks – in addition to the variety of houses that bordered the river.

Architects sometimes work just for the pleasure of us river folk.

Lots to look at and time passed quickly.

Our destination was behind one of the very big islands that stretch along the Seine. Normally we would have been able to cruise up the side of the island directly to the mooring, but a lock was under maintenance so we had to go right upstream, pass another big lock and then cruise back down on the other side of the island. About a 15 km detour.

Arriving at the big Écluse de Chatou, we saw that an impressive collection of big barges were entering, including one of the huge 130 m container ships. This looked a bit challenging so we moored up at the waiting quay in the hope that the next cycle would not be as busy.

Nope … we were soon joined by the empty 60 m barge Ohana and the impressive 130 m container ship Pythagore. So, we decided we might as well join in with the manoeuvring to enter the lock. First, we checked on VHF with the éclusier who, as we expected, said we were to be “le troisième”.

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For this lock cycle, Ohana entered as the last of the downstream barges left and took up the front spot on the left side of the lock, then Pythagore took up almost the full length on the right side. We then squeezed in beside Pythagore keeping a respectful distance from Ohana’s stern.

That gap on the left is for us.

Too respectful it turned out. High above, Lisette heard a call from the towering wheelhouse of Pythagore as the helm suggested in French, politely but firmly, that Catharina move a bit further forward to avoid disturbance of his big propellor wash.

In the event, he called down again a few minutes later and suggested that we leave after Ohana to avoid Pythagore having to power past us in the lock. So, as the gates opened we were second out and, really, it was a pretty routine affair overall.

After our long detour, we were pleasantly surprised to find all three moorings at Ruel Malmaison empty so we picked the nicest, the one in the shade next to the historic Maison Fournaise.

The signage suggests that there is a very significant mooring charge, but others have said this has never been enforced and we certainly saw no evidence of anyone interested in managing the pontoon. It was, however, very well kept and we took advantage of the large, clean deck to have drinks and dinner in comfort off board.

Outside the entrance to La Maison Fournaise. Catharina Elisabeth’s bow just visible in the background.

Right next to the mooring is ‘La Maison Fournaise’ which is a restaurant developed from 1857 by Alphonse Fournaise and his wife and later, their daughter Alphonsine.

Alphonse Fournaise by Renoir

He also began to organise a yearly river festival, a boat hire business and a boat building business. At the time, it became fashionable for artists, writers and poets to take a day trip by boat or train from Paris to his restaurant which became a fashionable meeting place.

Most famous of the visitors was the painter Renoir and the writer Guy de Maupassant. The restaurant and boat business began to decline at the turn of the century, some saying that the bicycle began to replace the boat on day trips and so the popularity of Maison Fournaise declined. The buildings eventually became derelict until they were bought by the town of Chatou in 1977 and redeveloped into a restaurant and the small, but excellent Musée Fournaise.

While here, we treated ourselves to a meal at the restaurant.

Looking up to where we were to be seated.

The surroundings were sumptuous, the food delicious and the service attentive. Looking out over the Seine and with Catharina just visible, it was a perfect evening. We felt we were seated at almost precisely the spot where Renoir painted his famous ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party‘.

We also enjoyed a visit to the boathouse museum where they hold a large range of old wooden rowboats

and the steamboat, Suzanne, which dates from the 1880’s, that has been lovingly restored and is cruised once a year at a special regatta.

There is also an accurate reproduction of the rowboat, Madame, used by Guy de Maupassant.

Many of the boats are used for regattas and tourist excursions and there is an active and busy restoration and maintenance workshop attached to the museum.

Just behind the restaurant is the Musée Fournaise. This is quite small and features reproductions of artworks by the painters that used to visit in the restaurant’s heyday. Renoir is most evident but also works by Monet, Sisley, Manet, Pissarro and many others. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed. (which is why there is NO photograph of the interior.) Well worth a visit and an English audio guide is available.

Managed to find one spot not covered by security cameras.

Of course, in France, you are never far away from the influence of Napoleon. A short cycle ride from our mooring was the impressive Château de Malmaison.

Bought by Napoleon’s wife Josephine while he was away fighting in Egypt, it cost a considerable amount and then a further fortune in renovations and improvements.

Luckily, her husband became an emperor! After her divorce from Napoleon I, Josephine lived in the château until her death in 1814. The château has been well cared for, fully restored and is an important historical monument for France.

We didn’t tour the gardens, but the interior was lavishly furnished and decorated. Most of the written material was in French and English and there were plenty of drawings to identify the features in each of the rooms. There was also a small extra exhibit on Napoleon’s time on the island of St Helena, which of course, was where he died.

Sculptures in the entrance to the château.
The Empress' bedroom.
One of the more famous images of Napoleon I.
"C'est fini" - Napoleon on St Helena.
Sculptures in the entrance to the château.

Back on Catharina, we made our final plans for the next day’s voyage – into Paris!

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    4 Responses

  1. Wow, Catharina Elisabeth looks so small moored alongside the commercial. Enjoyed reading about the museums. More to add to the never ending bucket list.

    1. Yes, Becky, this was the largest vessel with which we have ever shared a lock. We felt a bit silly having hung back from the precious lock cycle so we didn’t have to go in with the big boys, because by the time the lock was ready for the next run, these others had shown up. This one was 135 m in length with shipping containers stacked three high. Still they were really helpful – once I realised where the voice was coming from that was calling out instructions in French. I had a rope on when he first called out to say we should move further along the wall to keep away from his wash. I had to crane my head to see him way up above me in one of those hydraulic wheelhouses. We saw this barge several times actually on the Seine – this was obviously his regular run.

  2. That ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party‘ must be everyone’s favourite – superb!
    Btw Ian, the z-fender you are putting out in the video of the 110m, is it now a pancake fender?

    1. Looks kinda silly to put that zig-zag down doesn’t it Shaun? But they are so gentle, those big commercial skippers, that it pretty much wasn’t needed. Sometime before we woke up the next morning, they had moved downstream just a little – and we never even noticed.

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