This past fall we were in the fortunate position to effect a rescue of a victim whowas likely going to drown in the murky waters of the Canal Entre Champagne et Bourgogne (Canal de la Marne a la Saone). In mid September this year my wife Betsey, a friend: Maureen, and I were heading south in our boat the Maggie May towards Auxonne, where Maggie May was to spend the winter. We had successfully navigated the Souterrain de Balesmes two days before and had stopped on our second night from the tunnel at Piepape, PK 169.4, just above the Piepape Lock. We were travelling together with another boat, Le Farro, operated by an Australian friend of ours, Colin Jones.

After a good nights sleep we descended the Piepape lock around 8:30 am and continued southwards towards Auxonne. Just after clearing the lock and rounding the first bend, I noticed something struggling on the left bank of the canal. I raised my hand to let Colin, who was following us, know that I was going to slow down. As we got closer, I could see that the struggling creature was a fairly large bird. It appeared to be caught up in some thorny vines that were growing along the canal edge. The bird was in the water trying to flap it’s wings to free itself. It definitely wasn’t a waterfowl and did not look at all happy about being in the canal.

I slowed the boat to a crawl and swung the bow to port, bringing the boat to a stop with the bow against the left bank. Maggie May was laying sideways across the canal and pretty well blocking the whole of the canal. Luckily there were no other boats in the immediate area other than Le Ferro, which Colin had stopped back a bit so he could watch.

I went forward to see what the distressed bird was and to see if we could effect a rescue if need be. The bird had stopped flapping it’s wings as I approached along the deck and was looking at me with the fierce but tired eyes of a raptor. It appeared to be some type of a young hawk. A shrill cry from somewhere in the nearby trees told us that it’s mate (or mother?) was nearby and watching us. We suspected that it had perhaps swooped down to grab a fish or another bird out of the water and had become entangled in the vines.

I was able to use a boat hook to carefully lift the vines off of the bird one by one. I then reached down with the hook into the water and slid it underneath the bird, slowly raising it out of the water up to my shoulder height. It sat on the boat hook grabbing it with it’s talons, and watching me closely. After a few minutes my arms started to get a little tired of holding our new found friend up so I swung the hook towards the bank and up a little. The hawk took the hint and let go, gliding over to the tow path and then scooting across the forrest floor into the trees. The last we saw of it was as it disappeared into the forest.

We were glad we had the opportunity not only to view the bird up close but also to rescue it from what would likely have been it's watery grave. It was a high light of our journey.

Chris Bomford
Bateau Maggie May - France

Our thanks to Betsey & Chris Bomford for sending us this lovely account of their canal rescue.

The Boatshed Bourgogne team