Saturday June 14
The next morning the paralysed dog from the boat next door had bandages on his legs, where they had rubbed sore after slipping off the carpeted bar during his antics the day before. His owner then tied a plastic bag over both and tied them together so they remained on the bar. I have very mixed feelings about all this, but the dog seems happy enough and trots around with great excitement. The mother dog tried to pull the plastic bag off which earned her a sharp reprimand from the owner. We learned from Dick and Marijke last night (who had been chatting to the dog owner at the little snack hut) that the accident only happened a month ago, so his recovery has been very quick and there is no sign that the trauma has affected him. I’m not sure I could have borne seeing our old dog, Cubby, like that though, but that’s probably a selfish view.
We ordered breakfast from the snack hut (largely to support their efforts, as it seems to be a family run enterprise and they are trying very hard). They opened shortly after 8.00am and together with Dick and Marijke, we had croissants and bread with jam and marmalade, juice and coffee.
Later we set off together and did 20 kilometres and six locks to reach Gannay Sur Loire. Being the heavier boat, we went into the locks first and took the brunt of the force when the paddles were opened. On this stretch we encountered two of the fiercest locks so far (with no warning of this in the navigation guide book of course). In fairness though, we were both dismayed by the attitude of the lockies who both immediately raised the paddles without waiting to see how the boats were reacting to the deluge.
At the first of the two my heart leapt into my mouth as I saw this wave of swirling foam racing towards us, and we had to hang on for all we were worth, me struggling at the bows and Neville at midships to get at the engine to help us keep out of trouble. At the second lock we both could hear the ropes groaning loudly under the strain, and my hands were dragged perilously close to the bits, yet I did not dare even remove one hand to move it further up the line so strong was the force of the turbulence. As it subsided Dick , who was securing his boat from the lockside and had seen our struggles, came forward to ask if we wanted him to take a turn at going in first, but we felt it would have been so much worse for them being only 15 tons compared to our 26. Far better, we thought for us to take the initial force of the water.
Gannay-sur-Loire is a pretty mooring with all facilities (again not listed in the book) and we secured the last (free) municipal mooring, whilst Dick and Marijke had to go on the fee-paying mooring stages owned by a local pleasure boat hire company. (There have to be some advantages to being at the front of the lock!) We had decided that as we were fairly close to our destination, we would have a day of rest.
Cycling over the canal and into the village we found a brilliant local shop (Proxi) which was the best stocked of all that we had encountered during this stage of our journey. The fruit and veg were fresh, and there was a wide choice. There is also a boulangerie in the village, and a butcher who is also a “traiteur”, which Marijke told me is a butcher who offers cooked meat and ready made meals.
As we cycled out the other side of the village we came across a garden centre, so when we had taken the groceries back (there is a basket on only one bike), we went back again with the rucksack to see if we could get some more plants for the top of the boat. We had bought what we call a Marguerite and what the florist called Artemisia when we were in Sens, but whether from wind or too much water, it was looking decidedly bedraggled and has few flowers. We bought a shallow bowl of red geraniums as it seemed the heaviest, and being shallow, perhaps less likely to blow over, and wedged it carefully in my bike basket and some fertiliser for both plants, in the hope that the Marguerite could be persuaded to recover.
A quiet night on the boat.
Sunday 15th June
The forecast rain started during the night, and looked to be set for the day. We confirmed our decision to stay another day, even though there is rain forecast for tomorrow too, and Dick and Marijke went on without us. It had been a companionable stretch of the journey, and we hoped we might bump into them again in St Jean de Losne, which is also their destination.
We did some jobs around the boat, and then as the rain was easing, we went into the village on our bikes, as we had learned yesterday that the shop was open Sunday mornings. The boulangerie was open too, so we got some bread.
In the evening we went to the restaurant by the canalside and had a reasonable meal. I ordered duck, but it had been smothered in a rich creamy sauce, which I don’t like. Neville had prawns with rice. The bill, including a bottle of wine and 2 beers came to 41 francs – which seems about par for the course in France. We’re only two or three weeks into our French cruising,but so far we’ve formed the impression that the reputation for cuisine is somewhat over-rated.
Monday 16th June
Another grey day with a very pale and watery sun above the trees.
We locked all the way with a German couple. This was a fairly boring stretch of canal, nothing much to report, and some bleak industrial landscapes on either side as we neared Dompierre. A short branch off the canal led to the moorings, a branch which seemed to get progressively narrower and less navigable as we approached. We eventually entered the moorings, where we had to moor end-on to the pontoons, not something we like to do as, at 16 metres, it leaves us very unstable, but there was little passing traffic. We had hoped to go into the town to sight-see, but the heavens opened as we moored and it continued throughout the afternoon and evening. A depressing mooring with factories all around, though we were told, a couple of years after this, that significant improvements have been made to this mooring.
Tuesday 17th June
Walked into the town in the morning to find a boulangerie. The bread was still warm from the oven! Then we set off around 9.30am, through alternately sunny and cloudy weather, but not very much rain. We did 24 kilometres and 5 locks. The lockies were very nice and polite young men; it seems if you hit a sour-faced one then they are all pretty bad on the rest of the stretch. Maybe VNF put all the miserable guys together so they can’t infect anyone else with their surly attitudes!
We lunched at Pierrefitte, a pleasant mooring next to a lake, but we couldn’t get a signal for the internet there, so decided to move on. Thereafter the moorings were not so good and we ended up going on until about half an hour short of Digoin, where we moored on a reasonable stretch with houses on either side.
Wednesday 18th June
We set off around 9.30am. As soon as we went under the next bridge (which had been visible from our mooring the night before) we found a much better area for mooring, with no road alongside, just a towpath. The mopeds and motorbikes zooming up and down the road the night before had been a bit of a nuisance, and had we just carried on for a few hundred metres we would have had a lovely sheltered spot to stay. Similarly, as we approached Digoin, we found that it was very attractive and there would have been plenty of space to moor had we elected to go just that little bit further the afternoon before. Still, that’s what boating is all about, sometimes the grass is a bit greener somewhere else, but quite often the bird in the bush has more value!
The junction of the Canal Lateral a Loire and the Canal du Centre is close to the centre of Digoin, and it was here that we would head off on the final leg of our cruise to Paray-le-Monial.
As we went through the centre of Digoin we came across Dick and Marijke moored there, and they hastily scrambled their act together and joined us at the first lock. We locked up together to Paray-le-Monial, arriving around lunchtime.
Paray is a lovely little town which, following the reported appearance of Christ to a nun,
Saint Margaret-Mary Alacoqu, during the 17th century, continues to attract 100,000 pilgrims each year.
The Dutch Barge Association rally didn’t officially start until Friday, but we managed to get the last quayside mooring, and we were lucky not to get any other boats breasted alongside. Another four boats arrived after us: Arcadia, with Pat and Chuck, (their boat is almost exactly like ours) Roger & Kath in Vertrauen (a magnificent old tjalk), Eileen and Dick in Étoile du Soir (another Sagar boat), and a large and very old tjalk, sailed by the woman who we were told is largely responsible for organising the rally. She certainly brought the boat in with great expertise and confidence.
The quay was reserved from the following day until Monday, so Dick and Marijke had to move back upstream when they decided to stay on.
Rosemary and Bob (Angelbaak) hosted a get-together, and we met some of the other couples. Pat and Chuck were Americans and they still had a home back there. Eileen and Dick were also Americans and apparently, although they must have been in their seventies like Pat and Chuck, they think nothing of putting in a 12 hour day on cruising. Kath and Roger have lived a colourful life which has involved him teaching in Papua New Guinea for eight years or so, and they have done a lot of travelling.
We went out to a local restaurant with Dick and Marijke after the drinks with the DBA people, and afterwards had a walk round the Basilica, for which Paray is famous. It’s a beautiful edifice, but has, in places, been renovated in a way which would be totally unacceptable in the UK. Some of the original stonework has been replaced by stone slabs, and where there would have been lines of cement, replica lines have been painted on! Nevertheless, it’s well worth visiting.
Thursday 19th June
We were up early and started cleaning our boat. Neville did the outside and I did the inside until we were gleaming like a new pin. I only wish it would stay that way! At these rallies it is customary to display a sticker in your window indicating that you are open for other DBA members to come on board for a look round. People are always interested in other people’s boats, and the modifications that might have been made.
More boats arrived during the morning, Final Fling, Peke, and Avalon.
In the afternoon Pelican arrived, but elected for a more private mooring round the corner of the quay where Dick and Marijke have been moved. “Zofia” arrived and moored up alongside Eendracht, making us still the only boat without a mooring alongside.
We cycled up to Intermarché in the afternoon to get some milk and water, and I managed to fall off my bike into a rose-bed. I’d never had a bike as a kid, and was at this time not the most confident of cyclists. Like everything else, this situation would improve with time. None the worse for my tumble, except for a few impressive bruises and scratches I climbed back on and cycled on after Neville who was quite unaware of the event.
In the evening there was another “soirée”. The protocol seems to be that you bring your own chairs, glasses and drinks, and the women bring some snackies. I took some olives, crisps and cheese and onion nibbles, but Rosemary of “Angelbaak” surpassed herself with several home made concoctions. She really was an incredibly adventurous and talented cook.
Apart from biscuits with soft cheese and smoked salmon, she had yet again baked cakes. This time it was cake with mushrooms in it (!), whilst yesterday it had been a rather questionably greenish slab cake which she said she had made from spinach, lardons and something else unexpected. (She said usually she made it with nettles!) The green cake had been quite popular, but I saw a lot of people sitting around later that evening with a half eaten piece of mushroom cake in their hands!
It was a large gathering, too large to enjoy the company of anyone but the person sitting next to you, and a million conversations sprang up all around. I talked with a woman sitting next to me and learned that she had suffered a heart attack last year whilst on her boat. She had nothing but praise for the French system and said it had all (apart from 10% which her insurance company paid for) been organised under the E111 reciprocal medical care system which exists in Europe.
The gathering finally broke up at around 8.30pm, by which time neither of us could be bothered to cook so we had bread and paté and cheese, yet again. Then we saw Dick and Marijke and invited them in for farewell drinks as they were leaving the next day after the weekly market.
Friday 20th June
This was the first official day of the rally, and we received our documentation. There were several official functions, the first being a buffet that evening in a specially constructed marquee close to the moorings. The following day there would be a guided tour of the town followed by a lunch at a hotel in the town.
There was also a visit to a chocolate factory (which we again opted out of), but of course we signed up for the visit to the Cave (vineyard outlet) on Sunday afternoon. Sunday evening there was to be a self-catered buffet, again in the marquee, and we had to stipulate whether we would provide a starter, main course, salad or dessert. I opted for a salad and it has to be enough for 10 people. I would make my special pasta, prawn, smoked, salmon, spring onion, and avocado dish.
We went round the market this morning – there were some appetising smells and some lovely fruit and vegetables. On one stall they had at least four different dishes cooking, even at 9.30 in the morning, something that looked like quail in a rich sauce, a rice dish, a chicken dish and something else unidentifiable. There were several vans kitted out with rotisserie with thirty or forty chickens being roasted out in the open air.
During the afternoon, and despite the heat, Neville helped Roger raise Vertrauen’s huge mast. It was the first time Roger had attempted this, having been advised by other dutch captains how to do so. This involved the use of an on-board electric winch, but perhaps the most difficult part was getting the cabling and links sorted out. When completed, it was a magnificent spectacle.
There were problems with the power supply at the moorings after lunch, probably caused by too many boats plugging into the municipal power supply, causing frequent shorting-out. The technician from the municipality was going to be on call throughout the weekend I suspected.
The dinner was fine, and we shared a table with Eileen and Dick, the American couple from “L’etoile du Soir” (which they have been trying for some time to sell), Kath and Roger from “Vertrauen”, and another couple from “Anfra”. Kath and Roger, (the couple who have done a lot of travelling and spent time teaching in Papua New Guinea) are a very entertaining couple who have some great stories to tell. Over the next few years we were to come across them several times along various stretches of waterway.
The dinner ended around 10.30 pm, and we all went back to our boats, well wined and dined.
Saturday 21st June
We had lunch at a hotel in Paray, but the first course could have served as the whole meal. A wonderful cold buffet with cold meats and salads of every conceivable type. Then a hot meal of boeuf bourgignon, mashed potatoes and beans and carrots. Then in typical French fashion we had cheese, before eating the dessert which was an apple and vanilla tart with ice-cream. It was a boiling hot day, temperatures around 28 degrees, and the last thing anyone needed was a hot meal, beautiful though it was. .
In the afternoon some went off for a guided tour of a chocolate maker’s premises – I don’t know how they could do that in this heat and after eating such a heavy meal. I assumed there would be plenty of sampling throughout the tour!
Sunday 22nd June
The last day of the rally, and were looking forward to getting under way again the following day. We’d had enough of eating and drinking. There was a meeting in the gathering tent in the morning, where a Frenchman gave an exhaustively long slide show on the Canal Lateral a Loire. As the tent began to get warmer, and the church bells started ringing out to call people to mass, you could see the audience slowly losing the will to live, and then one at a time they started drifting out. We were about the fourth to leave.
In the afternoon there was a wine tasting at a local “Cave” (wine store) and we went along on our bikes. We bought three different selections and the proprietor delivered them direct to the boats in the evening.
The final soirée was the “bring your own” feast. Each person had volunteered to bring something. It was quite good and there were some nice dishes . We sat out at tables and benches next to the canal, and it was quite late when the gathering broke up. We invited Kath and Roger from “Vertrauen” to our boat for a nightcap. We had looked at their boat earlier in the day and we were impressed with it. It’s very old, and below decks it reminds me of the interior of the old Raffles (in Singapore), with heavily varnished woodwork, palms, and very low beams that would have Neville hospitalised within days, despite there being foam cushioning on the lowest. It’s an open plan lounge and kitchen, very tastefully converted, quite cool and dark below.
The weather has been oppressively hot, around 29 degrees and it’s difficult to function in this kind of heat.
Monday 23 June
We left Paray at 08.30am, and arrived at our intended moorings, Genélard just before lunch. We completed 20 kilometres and 8 locks, an uneventful journey along a very winding stretch of canal. Later in the day another boat from the rally arrived (Lili Ann) and they moored behind us. They had a lovely spaniel, and the only distraction of an otherwise peaceful afternoon was when this dog started a fight with another dog belonging to a Belgian couple who arrived later. No winners emerged, as the owners separated them fairly promptly.
It was still incredibly hot and although thunderstorms were forecast, there was no sign of thunder-heads in the sky yet.