We waved to friends as we left the small port in Montchanin, it was 8am and we were on our way again after a pleasant week long stopover. We had smiles on our faces and warm fuzzy feelings about this cruising life. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. We cruised downstream, away from Montchanin. Then we felt a slight bump, and we were suddenly dead in the water. It was only 8:15am! Those warm fuzzy feelings were replaced with dread. What was going on?
Our propeller would turn, but made clanking sounds and the barge would not move forward, or back. Our first thought was that we had run over some garbage, and that something had wrapped itself around the propeller. We called Jeff, our mechanic whose port we had just left. He had to walk down the bank of the canal opposite the road, and when he arrived, we threw him a rope. He tried to pull us to the shore, but we weren't budging. We seemed to be grounded even though we were out in the middle of the canal.
Looking down at the rudder, we saw oil in the canal. Oh no! Not a good sign. Just as we were beginning to worry about engine problems, we saw something black float to the surface. Pulling a fish net off of the wheelhouse roof, we scooped it out of the water, and were surprised to see that it was a woman's purse. While we stood there contemplating this purse that dripped water, but was still zipped up and obviously full of personal items, a woman's running shoe floated to the surface. For a horrible moment, we thought of a murder, and of someone dumping the body in the canal. We pictured a dead person wrapped around our propeller.
With this gory image in our minds, we leaned over the rail on our back deck trying to stare down into the water at the propeller. Then a piece of freshly broken wood popped up to the surface. This made us look from the water up to the guard rail that separated the road from the canal. The guard rail had a car size hole in it.
Now the puzzle was taking shape. Looking at all of the evidence, we knew that a car had crashed into the canal, and we began to picture ourselves stuck on top of a car with a dead woman in it. Not a pleasant thought. We reach for the phone and called the police.
The gendarmes arrived from both directions. They got out of cars and vans, all of the women in uniform kissed all of the men in uniform as they greeted each other for the first time that day. Each man made the rounds shaking the hand of every other man. We were perched on top of a car in the middle of the canal watching all of the kissing and hand shaking, thinking that even in emergency situations, the French must be French.
The fire department arrived next. They came in red rescue trucks towing orange inflatable boats. Their arrival brought about more kissing and hand shaking.
Divers were preparing to enter the water. Everyone was worried about who they might find in the car, when suddenly a car swerved off the road and pulled up to a screeching halt. A woman jumped out. She waved her arms to get the divers attention, and shouted to everyone. "No one is in the car!"
She proceeded to explain that her daughter called her this morning to tell her about the horrible accident that she had the night before. She explained that her daughter, who lived nearby with her boyfriend, had jumped in his car after they had a fight. She was upset, it was 1:30 in the morning, and she was speeding along the two lane road that follows along the canal. Out of the black night, a deer appeared in her headlights. She swerved, lost control of the car and flew into the canal. She was wearing her seat belt, and she was shocked by the crash, but not injured. She found herself sitting in the car at the bottom of the canal. She released her seat belt, and tried to open the door. It wouldn't open, but the automatic window lowered just enough before it stopped working to allow her to escape. As the car filled with water, she held her breath, grabbed hold of the car roof and slipped out of the window. She floated to the surface, swam for the shore, and in a state of shock, she climbed up the bank of the canal and walked back home. The daughter and her boyfriend were too busy making up and rejoicing about her miraculous survival to think about calling the police. No one else knew about the accident until we landed on their car.
Once the divers were able to nudge us off of the car, we backed up and threw a line to the police on the road side of the canal. They tied us to the guard rail, and we began the process of filling out reports. The police wrote up our version of the incident, and then took our boat papers back to the Gendarmerie to make copies for their records. We found it amusing that we had to force them to look at our Titres de Séjour. With all of the effort that we went through to earn the right to stay in France legally, we really wanted that fact to be noted in their official police report. We gave them all of the papers, such as proof that we owned the boat, that they requested, but everytime we asked if they needed to see our titres de séjour, they said it wasn't necessary. In the end, after pushing them into it, they finally took a look athem just to make us happy.
Once all of the reports were taken, and our barge papers copied and returned to us, they reopened the canal, and we were finally allowed to start cruising. By now it was about 1:00 in the afternoon. At the first lock, the one we had planned to cross at 9am, we found a red light and no one in sight. We got back on the phone and called the lock keeper. When he arrives he looks a bit frazzled, and explains that all of the boaters are upset with him because the canal has been closed all morning. He wants us to wait for a barge coming in the other direction. We look, but there is no boat in sight. We guess that perhaps it is that boat that is complaining the loudest. We explain that we were the boat the got stuck on top of the car in the canal, and that we have had a rough morning also. After a bit of back and forth, we finally convince him to set the lock for us, and for the rest of the day we cruised without any problems.
The day ended with us mooring in a pretty little village, and as we finished our chores, we saw two women walking towards our boat. It was the young woman who had survived plunging into the canal and her mother. They had asked the lock keeper to let them know where we stopped for the night, and they came to apologize for the trouble the accident had caused us. They brought us a huge bouquet of flowers, and they were extremely grateful that we had not brought charges against the young woman and her boyfriend for not letting anyone know that there was a car in the middle of the canal. It was a nice gesture, and we all hugged each other and said again and again how lucky she was to be alive.
We dined that night in a little restaurant/bar that was just across from our mooring. We were able to shout across the canal to make a reservation just after we moored, when we saw the owner sitting at a table under a tree just outside the front door. It was a great little place and dinner was delicious. The owner, a woman in her seventies with purple hair (not unusual in France), and a big smile was the bartender, waitress and cook. There was no one else working there, and we were not the only customers. She asked us if we wanted a half a bottle of wine when she was taking our order. "Oh no!" We said, "Tonight, we want the full bottle." Then we proceeded to tell her our tale.
The next morning, when she saw us moving about on the boat, she came out of her restaurant and waved to us from across the canal. She pointed to the local paper. She shouted that we had made the headlines, so we went into town and bought a paper.
We told the man who sold us the newspaper that the headline story was about our boat. He wanted to know all of the details, "Did she try to commit suicide?" He asked. "No", we said, and we began to explain about how she had a fight with her boyfriend, but before we got to the part about the deer running out into the road, he said, "Well, if everyone who had a fight with their partner ended up in the canal, there wouldn't be anybody left on land."
We love France!
April 18th was the 100th anniversary of The Great Earthquake and Fire in San Francisco. We were there to help friends put on the three day "1906 Expo" at Pier 48. We worked long hours, but the payoff was that we got be part of a great event. One of the highlights was our own fire parade through the City at 2am. We were making our way to stage for the early morning event at Lotta's Fountain. With a police escort, 3 horse drawn steam engines, and 21 antique fire engines, we startled people who were coming out of bars that had just closed. We caused interesting traffic jams as the horses majestically trotted through the downtown intersections.
Every year survivors return to Lotta's Fountain at 5:13am to remember the earthquake and fire and to celebrate the rebuilding of San Francisco. This year it was "100 Years After" and twelve survivors were present to be the stars of the ceremony.
At the end of April, we flew back to France and became boaters once again.
It wasn't a hard transition to make.