Marne au Rhin Canal: Cruising in Detail
Information about 313km of canal and river, from Champagne-Ardenne east to Alsace:
- 131km of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin (West section) from Vitry-le-Francois to Toul.
- The ‘Boucle de Nancy’:
23km north/downstream on the River Moselle then 15km east through Nancy to PK169 on the Marne-Rhin (East section)
25km east/upstream on the River Moselle then 10km north on the Embranchement de Nancy to PK169.
- 144km of the Marne-Rhin (East section) from PK169 (near Nancy) to Strasbourg.
Diverse but consistently delightful along its full length. There is an often repeated judgement by Hugh McKnight (who should know) that the 20km from Saverne PK269 to Niderviller PK245 contains all that is best on the French waterways. Steep-sided wooded valleys, picturesque Alsatian villages and the softly rounded countryside of Lorraine. Plus three tunnels and the unique Arzviller boat lift, historic towns such as Toul and Nancy, and the city of Strasbourg,
This is a mid-C19th waterway, built to connect Paris with Alsace and Germany through ‘difficult’ geography necessitating many locks and a few tunnels. German occupation of Alsace in 1871 then also prompted the construction of the Canal de l’Est (now the Canal des Vosges) south from Nancy to connect with the River Saone. More recently, two arduous chains of locks (ecluses) have been replaced: one by a single deep ecluse (Rechicourt) and the other by the Arzviller boat lift; and a section of canal has been removed from navigation between Toul and Nancy, replaced by connecting into a substitute length of the improved and canalised River Moselle.
Once one of the busiest commercial routes, the western section in particular is now very peaceful. The pretty eastern section has several hire boat bases, justifiably popular.
See also general notes (foot of page).
- Approximate TE minimum depth 1.8m, TA headroom 3.6m, width 5m. These are the ‘book’ values that may vary according to season and circumstances, but in general terms these values (principally available depth) can be thought reasonably reliable. The Moselle section is deeper and the headroom, higher.
- Speed limits are 12kph on river sections, 6kph on canal sections and 3kph when passing moored boats.
- There are 97 ecluses (locks) on the eastern section, Vitry to Toul and 57 on the western section, Nancy to Strasbourg. The remaining part of the Boucle de Nancy will add 4 ecluses (Moselle/North) or 14 ecluses (Moselle/Embranchement) to those.
- Locks are automatic (‘magic eye’ sensor) from PK0 until PK30, when a remote control unit is provided. From PK68 to PK103 (Toul) the system automatically prepares the next in the series as one leaves the current lock. Other ecluses are controlled using a remote control unit that will be provided by the first eclusier in that ‘chain’.
- Ecluses are generally open from 07:00h to 19:00h between March and November.
- Lift bridges generally are closed at lunchtime for 1/2hr
- There is a 5km tunnel at PK86-PK92 Mauvages, a 0.75km tunnel at PK121 Foug, a 0.5km tunnel at PK248 Niderviller and a 2.3km tunnel at PK249-PK251 Arzviller. Plus the boat-lift at PK255 Arzviller.
- VNF contact telephone numbers –
03 83 95 30 01 (Nancy HQ), 03 29 79 13 03 (Bar le Duc), 09 83 72 97 16 (Nancy), 03 88 45 50 20 (Strasbourg)
- Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides.
PK0 Vitry le Francois
Vitry is a pleasant enough small town (rebuilt following wholesale destruction in WWII) and has facilities such as supermarkets and a large brico (DIY store). The ‘harbour’ lies on a bend 1km west of PK0, opposite a large peniche repair yard. It is very small and shallow. However, it is possible to moor up outside, alongside the canal itself, although the quay is not large.
The most westward section of the canal between Vitry and Bignicourt is fairly straight and featureless, although quiet and rural.
PK14 Bignicourt-sur-Saulx – mooring – PK19 Pargny-sur-Saulx – mooring with services
PK32 Revigny – mooring (water) – PK43 Fains-les-Sources – mooring with services
Historic pretty small town, for many hundreds of years it was virtually an independent state and only became formally part of France in 1776. Birthplace of the bicycle. Quayside and finger pontoon moorings with services, near a railway station. (photo: bridge over the River Ornain, which runs parallel with the canal)
PK58 Tronville – mooring
PK63 Ligny-en-Barrois – (below) small port de plaisance, reportedly shallow
< PK71 Naix-aux-Forges
(a former Roman town) – mooring
PK85 Demagne-aux-Eaux – mooring – – – 3km branch canal south to Houdelaincourt, mooring
PK86-PK92 Mauvages Tunnel (5km)
Depth – 4.8m, Air height 3.3m overall + 1.9m to apex.
Boats are towed through using a chain tug, 1hr duration in alternate directions.
PK98 Sauvoy – mooring
< PK104 Void – quayside mooring (water), VNF office.
Birthplace of Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot, inventor of the first self-propelled mechanised vehicle in 1769,
PK111 Canal de la Meuse junction
PK116 Pagny-sur-Meuse – alongside pontoon mooring, services
PK120 Lay-St-Remy – mooring
PK121 Foug Tunnel (0.75km)
Plenty of width/headroom, controlled by lights. Mooring on the small island (remnants of the former ecluse) on the east side of the tunnel.
Attractive port between the two ecluses, services. Toul is a substantial old fortified town with all the facilities one could need. Has good train station with links to Paris, Nancy, Strasbourg, and down the Moselle valley to Luxembourg and Germany.
PK131 Port-St-Mansuy – moorings
Lorraine Marine 06 01 85 19 85 Duncan Flack – well respected boat repair and maintenance facilities, mooring (sometimes crowded) and secure overwintering. It is a small port but with a friendly atmosphere – informal. You have to walk a little way to the shops but not too far and the town has good supermarkets, a brico, etc.
PK131 – PK169 Boucle de Nancy – River Moselle – Canal Marne au Rhin
A ring of waterways located at Nancy.
Put simply, at Toul the Canal Marne-Rhin joins the River Moselle, which constitutes the western half of the circle, entering from the south with the Canal des Vosges and subsequently heading north to Metz. The eastern section of the Canal Marne-Rhin goes through Nancy to join the Moselle at the north.
The 10km Embranchement de Nancy connects between the eastern Canal Marne-Rhin and the southern Moselle/Canal des Vosges, completing the circle. There are a few designated mooring places (just bollards) on the embranchement.
Heading north-east / downstream –
PK354 (Moselle) Liverdun – pontoon mooring, in small inlet off the river
PK347 (Moselle) Pompey – pontoon mooring
PK158 Champigneulles – pontoon mooring
Port de plaisance Bassin St-Georges, services. Nancy was the French centre of Art Nouveau. Place Stanislas is reckoned the finest town square in France.
PK176 Varangeville – quayside mooring
PK178 Dombasle-sur-Meurthe – mooring pontoons, near France’s biggest salt production works.
PK183 Crevic – bankside mooring – PK191 Einville-au-Jard – mooring, water
PK201 Parroy – port de plaisance, services
PK205 Xures – mooring
< PK209 Lagarde – port de plaisance,
services, maintenance and repairs
PK216 Moussey – quayside mooring
PK222 Rechincourt Ecluse – 16m rise/fall
Of 1/2hr duration, so you may be obliged to wait some time in which case take time to visit the disused chain of six locks that the deep ecluse replaced. However there now follows (travelling east) some 33km of ecluse-free summit level canal leading to Arzviller.
PK225 Quiet lakeside mooring just off the canal
PK228 Canal des Houilleres / Sarre
Heads north to Saarbrucken, mooring approx 2km along the bief, before the first ecluse, services. Port du Houillon.
PK236 Xouaxange – small port – PK240 Hesse – small port, services
PK246 Niderviller – port de plaisance (Kuhne) – PK247 Niderviller moorings
PK248 Niderviller Tunnel (0.5km)
PK249 Arzviller Tunnel (2.3km)
Each tunnel is one-way, controlled by lights.
Depth 2.7m, Height 4.5m (+0.6m to apex)
PK255 Arzviller Inclined Plane
One of the major features of the French canal system, it was opened in 1969 and replaced 17 ecluses which took eight hours to negotiate. Boats travel up and down the slope (height 44.5m) very smoothly in 41m long water-filled steel caisson containers. Controlled by lights. Moorings in the lower basin.
PK259 Lutzelbourg – very pretty village, quayside mooring, services
PK265 – bankside moorings
Cliff tops with ruined castles.
PK269 Saverne – port de plaisance, services. A typically Alsatian, small town. Half timbered, painted or carved, houses and the immense red sandstone summer palace of Cardinal Louis de Rohan.
PK274 Steinbourg – bankside mooring
PK278 Dettwiller – bankside mooring
PK279 Lupstein – bankside mooring
Port de plaisance (basin) and simple moorings
PK288 Schwindratzheim – mooring
PK291 Watenheim – mooring
PK297 Le Foret – mooring
PK303 Vendenheim – village mooring
< PK307 Souffelweyersheim – port de plaisance, services. Pleasant ‘out of town’ location, transport links into Strasbourg.
Port de plaisance at the Vauban ramparts.
Moorings, fuel, chandlery, repairs and maintenance (lift-out) at Quai des Belges – Koejac Yachting +33 (0)3 88 61 26 78 – www.koejac.fr
The River Ill flows through the centre of the historic city and is potentially navigable (not as a through-route, however) but the recommendation is to take a skippered boat trip.
Ecluse connections into the River Rhine to the north-east and the south-east.
The separated (North Branch) section of the Canal Rhone-Rhin joins to the south-west and heads 31km south, parallel with the river, to Boofzheim and then into the Rhine/Grand Canal d’Alsace.