Visit to Pont de Vaux, March 2012

24th March

 We arrived towards 6.00pm, having set off from Cambridgeshire at 5.15am to catch the 9.00 am ferry.  This time we used DFDS, though the boat, Norman Spirit, appeared to be a boat from LD lines, who we’ve used out of Boulougne for a few years.  The main cabin appears to have been re-fitted with rows and rows of seats, a bit like aircraft, though we find the lounge arrangements that you get on P&O and used to get on Sea France are more comfortable.

It was about a six hour drive after docking at Calais, and a glorious day with little traffic on the roads.  We were a bit apprehensive about what we would find on the boat; we’ve never left her this long without a visit to check but after six months we found her pretty much as we had left her.

Compared to when we’ve moored on the Midi, the boat was clean, dry and didn’t even smell musty.  On the Midi we were usually swamped in leaves and resin from the plane trees by the time we returned.

Another consequence of mooring on the Midi was the spiders, but here at Pont de Vaux, the pontoons are in two basins, a good distance from the trees surrounding the port.  There was only one spider in the wheelhouse, and a wasp expiring in the bath, so I humanely deposited the spider outside and left the wasp to get on with its demise in its own time.

The only problem was the kitchen tap which appeared to have burst at the base.  It’s one of these arched almost U-shaped spouts, and although we’d turned off the water and drained all the taps, leaving the shower hoses in the bath/showers, there must have been a residue in the base of the tap which had frozen and burst.  We’d left a heater in the engine room and one in the kitchen, but that hadn’t prevented the problem.

Over the course of the next few days the weather was mild and spring-like once the sun had got up, with temperatures in the low twenties, so we managed to get on with a lot of jobs in preparation for the coming season.   In between jobs we walked around the country lanes surrounding the marina, where the forsythia, magnolia and cherry blossoms were just about coming into bloom.

After running the engine, Neville found a leak in the engine room, but it turned out to be a clip on joint on the cooling pipe from the exhaust manifold to the radiator.  We think he may have knocked this when we were stowing extra fenders below decks, and this was quickly fixed, though we had to top up the anti-freeze.

There is an ATAC supermarket about five minutes drive out of the village in the direction of St Benigne, and a bricolage just opposite there, so we managed to stock up on food and have a look round for a new tap.  The connections were not compatible with the fittings on our boat, so we think we will buy a new tap in England and fix it when we come back.  For the time being, we taped it up and it worked fine, if a bit leaky from time to time.

Existing Sagar barge owners who have a dining table/chairs arrangement opposite the galley below decks may be interested to note that we have taken this out so that we can accommodate a small freezer in this space.  Our freezer had been in the engine room, but its location caused concern during the hot summer months when we were cruising con

Our first freezer, powered by 240 volt and located below, had been constantly switching on and we suspected that this first freezer might have been the catalyst for the failure of the invertor, especially when we weren’t connected to a land line.  We took that one home and replaced it with the 24 volt one we have at present.

To accommodate the freezer in the galley, we’d bought and installed a flat pack base unit last year, made a work top which we covered with rustic tiles which almost match those around the kitchen, and obtained a door from Sagar before they ceased trading.  This visit we completed the installation, and covered the sides of the unit in a speckled marble-like fablon which matches the décor below decks.  We still need to varnish the door, which although supposedly the same as the other units, certainly looks much paler.  Maybe time will age it.

We never used the dining table down there, as we’ve discovered by putting a few extra plug sockets in the wheelhouse that we can always eat up there, using heaters during the colder months.

Friday 30th March

Pontoon at Macon

We drove to Tournus (about 25 minute drive) to look at the mooring facilities there in closer detail.  We saw two places, one close to the centre for boats of 15m or less, and one a few hundred yards further north on the same side for bigger boats.  The first one has free electricity.  There is a time limit on your stay, I think 36 hours.

Then we drove down to Macon (again about 25 minute drive from PdV), where we found two mooring spots again, one in the centre and one slightly further north on the other side outside a restaurant.  Again this one was for boats of 15m or less.

We plan to take the boat out for a quick one or two nighter before we return to the UK, just to make sure everything is in running order, and both of these ports are within a couple of hours cruising from PdV.

Saturday 31st March


Went to a couple of Caves in the village of Vire to stock up on wine.  On the way we encountered, (for the first time in our five years of driving around France) the ‘priorite a droite’ traffic regulation.  Both of us remembered this from years ago, but to be honest had forgotten all about it.  The road to Vire is very rural, and we had two hairy encounters within the space of a couple of hundred yards.  Neither of remembered having seen the yellow diamond to indicate that the priority at crossroads would be given to vehicles approaching from the right, (unless a stop/give way sign can be seen on that road) so we were well and truly alerted to our misdemeanours by the motorists concerned.  It’s amazing we’ve just been lucky enough not to come across this before, particularly down in the southwest of France where we did quite a bit of motoring on country roads when we were on Midi/Garonne.

During the late afternoon we took a stroll round a lake which is quite close to the port, and a popular resort for fishermen and dog walkers.  It’s a pleasant walk, and popular with the holidaymakers around this region.  There are several sites close to the port where there are log cabin developments or very impressive small caravan sites complete with all facilities.

Shops in Pont de Vaux

 There is a small Carrefour right by the port, a well-stocked version of a Tesco Express.  Bread is available there, although along the high street there are at least three or four more boulangerie.  For bulk buying, the ATAC on the outskirts of Pont de Vaux on the road to St Benigne is quite good, with a bricolage on the opposite side of the road.

Hairdressers – at least four or five along the high street.  The one I use is the first one on the left as you proceed from the port, with a sun blind that seems to obscure the name.  They don’t accept credit cards, so remember to take cash.  At this place they cut extremely well, even if the ‘wash’ does seem to take forever.  I tend to defer getting my hair cut until I reach France if I can, as I do think they do a better cut than the ones I’ve used in the UK.

Chemists – again several on the high street.  If they haven’t got what you want they will order it for you and it will arrive next day. Also, I’ve found that some will dispense things you wouldn’t get without a prescription in the UK, (pretty much the same as in Spain).  And if they haven’t got exactly what you want, they will offer something similar.  I obtained antibiotics in this way.

Hardware/bricolage – there’s a gem of a shop on the high street with all sorts of things.  Particularly useful if you’re in the middle of a job and don’t want to drive out of town.

Market – Wednesdays.  Usual stalls.  The high street has mostly food, whilst the square at the far end of the high street from the port tends to be clothes.  There’s a good range of Comté cheeses to be seen, as we’re close to that region now.  We bought a nice old fruity one and stocked up before we returned to the UK.

Car & Dog Wash! – just across the roundabout and opposite the ATAC supermarket there is a good car wash.  You can pay by credit card for jetons, or pay with 1 or 2 euro pieces, and you use the hose and rod yourself.  It’s pretty effective.  There is also a separate dog wash, which is a kind of low metal sink/platform with a chain to attach to the dog’s lead and a hose to complete the wash.  The French think of everything!

Sunday 1st April

By lunchtime we were about ready to take the boat out on an overnighter, to check whether everything was working after her long lay-off.

The lock leading onto the Saone from Pont de Vaux

The lock leading onto the Saone from Pont de Vaux

It was a lovely sunny day, but with a brisk wind which didn’t seem to cause us too much problem extracting ourselves from the pontoons.  It was about 20-30 minutes cruise to the lock which would let us down onto the Saone.  We’d driven out to the lock in the morning to check it was working, and had found the lights on and a boat below the lock, having gone down.  When we arrived in the boat however, and  I tried to operate the button to set the lock filling, nothing happened.  I tried several times without success.

Just as we were beginning to contemplate turning round to return to Pont de Vaux (still not convinced we could have done this) another boat came along with a French crew.  They moored up alongside, ignored my greeting and “Parlez vous Anglais”, crossed our boat and tried to operate it themselves, again without success.

Neville had just taken a set of Allen keys up to the control box on the bridge over the lock and when the French crew arrived they were able to decipher the instructions for operating the lock manually.  Neville said the box opening was badly scratched, as if this were a regular occurrence.  One of the crew stayed up and operated the lock and the two of us locked down, having wasted the best part of an hour and a half.

In a contrast to the surly French crew, an utterly charming Frenchman on the bank engaged in a long conversation with me, in French, about our boat and where we had been.

Once on the Saone, we almost immediately ran through the lines of a fisherman who unseen, and using a bottle as a float, was fishing deep into the channel from the bank.  We didn’t know this until after, when we heard a lot of angry shouting.  We hoped he wouldn’t come looking for us at Tournus later that night.

But even if he had come looking for us, he wouldn’t have found us. See trip report ‘Grounded on the Saone’.

After our overnight adventure and brief visit to Tournus, we arrived back in Pont de Vaux around late Monday afternoon to find the lock gates open.  However, pressing the green button to start the lock cycle proved unsuccessful yet again, so I had to operate the box on the bridge manually to close the gates, open the upstream vanelles and then open the gates again.  We’d heard that this lock is notoriously unreliable, and that it can take ages (if not days) for anybody to come out to fix it, so it seems that boaters take matters into their own hands.

It’s not rocket science, the controls are clearly marked in French for operation of upstream and downstream gates/paddles, but I don’t suppose for one minute it’s what you’re supposed to do.  And it’s not particularly easy if there are only two of you, as one has to stay by the box and the other remain on board doing both ropes themselves.  It’s not a deep lock though, so not particularly turbulent.

A leisurely 25 minute cruise along the arm leading to the marina, and then we were home and dry after our first trip of the year.  Let’s hope subsequent trips are less eventful!

About Sandra

I used to cruise the French waterways with my husband four or five months a year, and wrote fiction and poetry. Now I live on the beautiful Dorset coast, enjoying the luxury of being able to have a cat, cultivating an extensive garden and getting involved in the community. I still write fiction, but only when the spirit moves me - which isn't as often as before. I love animals, F1 motor racing, French bread and my husband, though not necessarily in that order.
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