Our ship was still docked in Lyon when we went to bed last night. The noise of engines woke us about 2.30am. The ship was on its way north along the Saône River. Soon it was quiet again and the ship was cruising silently as it normally would, so we drifted back to sleep. About 5.00am there was a different sort of noise, not loud, but seemingly very close. I got out of bed and pulled the curtains aside. I found myself staring at a wet concrete wall, no more than 30cm in front of me. We had moved into a lock and were rising to a new water level.

Because Europe has high mountains, the rivers flow down to the seas on each side. Therefore, depending on where in Europe you are, it’s likely the water level of the rivers is different to another place not so far away. In order for watercraft to travel along European rivers (which are major trade routes on the larger rivers), clever engineering devices called locks have been placed at regular intervals. Our ship was cruising from a lower water level because we were moving north from Lyon, which was closer to the sea. As it had to move to a part of the river with a higher water level, it entered the lock and turned its engines off. Watertight gates were locked in front of and behind the ship. Water was pumped from a storage pond into our enclosed space and our ship rose as the water level rose. When we reached the same level as the water we were cruising into, the front gate of the lock was opened and we moved forward. If there was a ship waiting there for us to pass through which was travelling in the opposite direction, it would enter the space where we had been, the gates would be locked, and the water in the lock would be pumped back into the storage pond so that the level dropped until it was the same as the level of the water on the southern side of the lock. That ship would then continue heading south at a lower level after the gate opened. An ingenious idea and very effective – as long as a ship goes into the lock carefully. There are only centimetres of space on either side. In recent years there have been several reports of ships becoming stuck in locks or damaging them, and consequently holding up all the river traffic needing to pass through the lock in both directions, often for several days. Here are some photos of a lock we passed through later in the morning, also rising to a higher level.

I got up at about 6am to do some work. I could see it was getting light outside, so I pulled the curtains aside to reveal this eerie view. (The strange colour is due to the tint in the glass). The next time I looked, about an hour later, the fog had lifted.

After breakfast we had our safety briefing – ‘brief’ being the operative word. I like this photo because it shows our crew getting into the spirit of the cruise. They’re always smiling and ready to stop and chat. Good people.

After the fog lifted, it’s been a gentle cruise along the river. On a ship this size you really don’t feel much movement beneath you. So it’s easy to move about the boat without any rocking. I went up on deck to get some cool breeze and take some photos as we were coming in Macon. It’s Saturday morning here, so we arrived as the town’s street market was in full swing. The cruise director gave us a briefing on our activity options for the remainder of the cruise and made sure to finish by 11am, so that those who wanted to watch the coronation of King Charles could do so without interruptions. I’m not so interested in that, so instead I’ve taken the opportunity to type up this blog. This afternoon we visit a chateau, which I’m really looking forward to.

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