Tuesday 26 June
On a grey, drizzly morning we set off from Briare to start the return leg of our summer cruising. We hadn’t got as far as we wanted to, having planned to continue onto the Canal du Briare and then onto the Canal du Loing before turning round, but this is because we have, for once allowed ourselves the luxury of staying more than one night in our favourite spots. We both have appointments back in the UK early July, and we’ve allowed a few days for the unexpected on our return trip.
We enjoyed staying at Briare, which we’d cruised through without stopping on our journey to the south four years ago, and for those interested a fuller description and photos of the amenities and port lay-out at Briare, these can be found in Canal Lateral a la Loire: Digoin to Briare. If you need further information on any towns we pass through in this report, these too can be found there.
I would say however, that if you are planning to stay at Briare, it’s well worth taking the time and trouble to go beyond the first commercial basin and drop down the two locks of the embranchment to moor in the port central to the town. It’s really picturesque and has several restaurants. If you should decide to stay in the upper commercial basin however, do try to pay a visit to the restaurant next to the bridge, where we really think we’ve had one of the best meals of our time in France.
We continued in the rain until we pulled up before lunch at Belleville, and went into the town to get bread. Belleville is a nice straight-edged, tree lined mooring with picnic table, wooden mooring posts, electricity and water above and below the lock. There are cooling towers on the other side of the canal, downstream. The side wall might be a bit rough in parts, and there is a slipway. There is a boulangerie close by and signs in the centre pointing to a Supermarche Utile.
At Les Houards, the lockie insisted on putting three of us into the lock until we were jammed nose to tail with my rope wrapped round the lock ladders (the lockie’s doing) and Neville having to swop from midships to stern rope (again round lock ladders) as the lockie crammed the last one in. A female lockie accompanying him looked very worried, and reminded him of the lock length but he was too intent on selling bottles of wine at the lock-side. The lock filled very slowly (to give him more time to sell his wine) so it wasn’t quite as disastrous as it might have been.
At the next lock, Ecluse du Peseau (35), the lockie who had been selling eggs last Saturday was now selling cherries. This is the guy who we had to wake up to re-open his lock after lunch on our way down this way. (I’d been put ashore, had opened the half-closed gate and closed both gates after us before he was aware that his first customer of the afternoon had arrived.)
Again at this lock three boats were crammed in, and I was left with a rope that ran so far backwards it was purely ornamental, in terms of stopping us running backwards into the hire-boat behind us. After he’d finished his business of selling cherries, I indicated to the lockie that I’d like my rope to be moved forward to go round the rail across the top of the lock ladders. He ignored me, so Neville hitched himself up onto the side of the lock and adjusted my rope, having once again switched his from midship to stern line.
The lock filled slowly; the lockie had decided to see if he could also flog a set of postcards at 1 euro each to the hire-boater behind, who by now was the proud recipient of both cherries and several bottles of wine, all at inflated prices. I suspect she didn’t know that the next lockie at Bannay sells jars of paté… I hoped she’d got a bottomless purse.
We hoped it would not be like this all the way up! There were a lot more hireboaters about now, and at this lock there were two more already queuing behind as we started the ascent. Still, at least the lockies don’t seem to mind taking your ropes, even if they couldn’t give a monkey’s where they place them in relation to the positioning of boats in the lock.
Common sense prevailed at Bannay, and the lockie despatched the third boat back onto the canal to wait for the next lock. He also had nothing to sell.
A steady cruise then into Ménéterol, (more details/photos re this village can be found in Canal Lateral a la Loire: Digoin -Briare, June 2012) arriving just after 4 pm. We managed to moor on one remaining bollard right at the end of the quay and stuck some mooring pins in to the bank for the other rope, before cycling off down the busy main road to the supermarket a couple of kilometres in the direction of St Satur. This store is being extensively renovated and at the moment resembles a wholesale warehouse, but it should look pretty good once completed. There is a mooring space within a short distance of the supermarket but it’s quite popular and often taken.
After a dismally wet grey start, a showery morning and an intermittently sunny afternoon, the clouds had cleared to give us a hot night. Two more hire boats came into the port to moor behind us on stakes and another moored on the opposite side of the canal. The difference in traffic on the waterways over the last four days has been incredible. When we were here last Friday only a handful of boats passed through with about four boats moored up, but tonight there are nine boats moored up and the traffic was fairly constant throughout the early evening until the locks closed. All at high speed, of course.
Wednesday 27th June
Thick mist on the water when we got up around 6.45am, but today is forecast to be hot and humid.
Just the kind of weather to be crammed three into a lock!
By 7.30am I’d made two discoveries – the boulangerie closes on Wednesday in Ménétreol, and gang-planks are as slippery as glass when coated in heavy dew. The first revelation didn’t give me a bad back.
Caught the first lock upstream of Ménétreol, at which the lockie judged only two boats in the lock, so a good start. I don’t know what had gone on overnight, but the bottom of the boat got a good soaping as we locked through!
Passed a useful mooring at St Bouize, about 5 kilometres out of Menetreol, with road leading to epicerie, traiteur, bar, tabac and restaurant. Picnic tables, sloping sides, bollards. Slightly recessed mooring space. Poppy lined. No services.
At Ecluse 32, (La Grange) Neville renewed his acquaintance with the blonde labrador dog who took a shine to him last time we came through. The dog was more than happy to take a few biscuits from the crew of the other boat in the lock, and then came to see if we had something similar to offer him.
About 2 kilometres further on there’s another unserviced mooring opportunity at Pouilly – straight edged, bollards, picnic tables. Two old boats were awkwardly moored, restricting space for some lengths of boats.
We reached Ecluse 33. The towpath telegraph had decided that three boats should now be fitted in the lock, so we waited 15 minutes for the third boat to catch up, in blazing sun. Is there anything hotter (apart from Hades) than a lock face nearing midday? By this time we were at front of the lock, a leaky one at that. We were jammed nose to tail again, so much so that we all had to adjust our positions to get the lock gates shut. It’s OK deciding to cram several boats into the lock, but they never seem to give any thought to the number and locations of the mooring bollards, in relation to the degree of control afforded to the boats. Luckily, but irritatingly, they do fill the lock very slowly on these occasions.
Lunched at Herry, where we also bought bread. We discovered Wednesday is closing day
for the village which probably explains our impression of it being a dead village last time we passed through, also on a Wednesday. Perhaps it’s a hive of activity other days in the week. Yeah…right. No electricity here, water costs 50c for 50 litres and is obtained by jeton from shops in the village (if they’re open) and they’ve thoughtfully provided a telephone charging point. Choose your mooring spot carefully, there are bollards but some of these are located at spots where there are sloping sides. The bollards furthest away from the lock are set on a straight vertical edge. We’ve used these twice.
The day was getting progressively hotter.
We passed through La Chapelle Montlinard which is a silo-edged mooring with water and electricity. The site is heavily graffiti’d (which always makes me a bit nervous) and these recessed areas tend to be fairly weed-ridden. There is a Cafe du Port just behind the mooring with an outdoor dining area.
Moored at Beffes for the night. The last time we passed through here we stopped to help Wynn and Anne (Waiheke) who were having battery problems. On that day, as we had coffee with them mid morning, we were plagued with mosquitoes and we’d lit several citronella candles. Anne provided some mozzie patches which were not unpleasant to wear, being laced with citronella.
Tonight the mozzies became a real problem. It was hot and muggy, so we’d got all the windows open in the wheelhouse, but it became so bad we had to go below, coat ourselves in repellent, spray the bedroom every hour, and sit in the lounge area, watching television in the dark, swatting away with the battery operated fly swatter. The temperature didn’t drop below 70 throughout the night and this was as uncomfortable night as I’ve experienced in France.
The mooring at Beffes is set in a recessed basin, heavily populated with weed, and there is a ditch running alongside the canal, all of which seems to attract the mozzies. Otherwise, it’s a lovely mooring, in a pleasant village with a boulangerie and a well-stocked Proxi supermarket just up the road within walking/cycling distance. No electricity or water. On the opposite side of the canal there is a kind of adventure playground which looks very interesting, but both occasions we’ve not seen anyone using it. A bit closer to the lock there are a couple of bollards on the bank – we might try those next time we go through Beffes.
Thursday 28th June
We weren’t disturbed with mozzies in the bedroom, but it was oppressively hot overnight. By morning it appeared we hadn’t added to the three or four bites each of us had picked up during late afternoon/early evening yesterday, but during the course of the morning the new bites emerged.
The day was overcast but muggy and rain was forecast. Quick flip on the bikes up the road to the boulangerie at 8.00pm, and though there were conflicting signs on Proxi about opening hours (one said 8.30 another 8.00) the manager served us, even though he didn’t put the lights on.
The first lock was ready for us, the lockie having seen us manoeuvring out of the basin, trying to keep the prop out of the weed.
The next two, just before Marseilles les Aubigny, are handled by the same lockie and she must have just taken someone through because we ended up hanging around at the bottom of the locks for twenty minutes or more. Just as we preparing to put me ashore to go and find out the lie of the land, she returned and turned the lock for us. She must have been letting water down through the gate paddles, and only realised they were still open when she saw us struggling to enter the lock against the flow.
Both these locks are automatic, so there was no need to get off to help close gates. The edges of the quay are very sharp and rough; this is not a lock to tackle with a frayed/worn rope.
There is a tabac and boulangerie on the left as you emerge from the top lock and further down the port there is a pharmacy. Mooring is on pontoons near the lock, and linear moorings against sloping sides for the remainder. There appears to be one linear jetty but there’s been a big boat moored against it both times we’ve passed this way. There’s a boatyard at the end of the basin, in addition to the one at the foot of the locks, both having dry docks. The upper one appeared to have a crane. There are a lot of old and rusting boats in the port, seemingly under refurb, and it’s not the most picturesque of moorings these days.
We moored up at Cours les Barres, primarily intending to top up with water, but by now the sun was coming out and the clouds were diminishing. It was going to be another hot one – so we decided to stay put and get an early start for Guétan tomorrow.
This is a lovely mooring, fully serviced with water, electricity and a small shower/toilet block. There is no charge for the services, and we were a bit surprised to see that one boat that had been here ten days ago, was still here. I hope that they’ve come to an accommodation with the Mairie to make a contribution to costs for this extended stay. It could be argued that boaters spend money in the villages, but to be frank there isn’t much in Cours les Barres to spend money on – there is a small restaurant and a boulangerie (which closes for most of June) and a tabac, but no epicerie or boucherie.
During the afternoon the temperatures climbed to 34c; we were glad we’d stayed put as it would have been murder in the locks. As we’re connected to electricity we can at least put the air-con on in the bedroom for an hour or so before bedtime tonight.
Late afternoon, a hotel boat that we’d seen in Briare, Anne Marie, which seemed to act as a hotel boat for cycling tours (about twenty or so bikes on the top!) arrived, too late for electricity which was all taken by that time. There are only four sockets at Cours les Barres, but one can hardly complain, as everything is free there.
In the evening we walked up to the restaurant at the top of the hill behind the moorings, l’Auberge du Canal. The friendly proprietress spoke English, and in addition to meals, they offer both take-aways and ‘prepared in your home’ meals, as well as wedding receptions. We had good plain fare (toasted cheese, potato, onion, ham bruschetta and salad for me and fish for Neville). Reasonably priced at under 30 euros including a pichet of red wine, bread and water. We can recommend it.
Friday 29th June
The boulangerie was open (at last – it’s been closed on three other visits to Cours les Barres) so I walked up the hill for the bread first thing, passing a girl from the hotel boat on the way down with a veritable sack of baguettes in her arms. This windfall didn’t appear to have sweetened the disposition of the woman serving me, who ignored my greeting and farewell.
After yesterday it seemed a little cooler, and was very overcast as we set off. Within the first 15 minutes we heard rustling in the weeds at the side of the boat, and saw a pair of dark ears bounding above the grass. We thought it might be a hare, but it turned out to be a startled deer leaping along the ‘towpath’. I think we’d frightened it.
It’s funny how certain stretches of the canal take on a particular flower or shrub scenario of their own. Today we passed huge swathes of pink and purple Lavatera, interspersed with golden Achillea and white Bindweed, whilst a couple of days ago we were in Hypericum country (St John’s Wort) with their neat growing habit and beautiful deep yellow star-shaped flowers (picture) . A few days before we were surrounded by poppies.
But when we stood holding our ropes below a lock to allow a hotel barge to pass, I managed to find the only nettle within 5 metres and get a nice sting on my leg, to join the mosquito bites.
We arrived at Guetin around 11 am and moored up below the locks. This is a handy place from which to cycle to one of the most beautiful villages in France – Apremont sur Allier.
It’s about 5-6 kilometres along good cycle track, at times with the Allier on your left and the old canal on your right.
It’s worth while stopping off at the old round lock for some photographs. This lock used to provide a connection between the Allier and the Canal Lateral a la Loire. Now disused it serves to provide a water feed from the Allier to the canal, controlled by a weir built into the disused lock.
It’s about 1.6 kms further on to the village itself, where there is a beautiful floral park.
The waterways had been very busy last weekend and the earlier part of this week, but it seems to have tailed off a little towards the end of the week.
However the afternoon was fairly busy here at Guetin. We took a few photographs of the double lock here, from which you can see why you need to be sure you have a long rope.
We did a few jobs in the afternoon and then around 5.30 when the traffic along the water was lighter, we decided to get the other side of the double lock before the end of the day. There is a hire-boat base at Plagny, and we were wary of being caught in the early morning rush of returning boats at these locks, which can be a bit of a bottle-neck.
I’ve mentioned Guetin locks in earlier posts. As you’re ascending, the first lock is extremely deep-sided at the upstream end, and less so at the back. (It’s actually like climbing a steep hill if you’re on the quayside.) The lockie passed the hook down on a rope to me, and I put the loose end on the hook, realising almost immediately that I should have hooked up somewhere near the middle of my rope, with me hanging on to the loose end.
However, this turned out to be the right thing to do, as the rope at 15 metres, was nowhere long enough to go round the bollard and back to me. The lockie tied a loop in the loose end I’d handed him, and it was for me then to control the single rope line at the bit. I had even less spare rope to handle when another boat followed us in and the lockie then moved our bow line to the bollard directly before the gates!
Neville had already brought up our spare long line for himself, (another 15 metre rope) but even at midships he was left with scarcely any return rope left in his hand, and certainly not enough to reach the bit at his feet. He then used the handrail on the top of the back cabin to act as a strain-taker until we’d risen enough up the lock to have enough rope to go round the bit. It’s not particularly turbulent though, even at the front.
The second chamber this time seemed to fill from our side of the lock which drove us evenly across to the other side of the lock. It wasn’t a problem, but it was hard work to bring the boat back to the side where our ropes were, before the vannes on the gate opened.
We cruised on until we reached Plagny at around 7.00pm. I’ve mentioned before that there is a long straight recessed edge here, and pontoons at the downstream end, used by Nichols hire-boat base. There is a hammerhead, and since it was empty late on a Friday evening, we prepared to moor there, until a Nichols employee on the bank started whistling, shouting and waving us away. We then investigated the straight edge, but it had sloping sides beneath the water, which whilst not impossible for us, is not desirable as we end up having to put the gangplank down, and heavy duty fenders curving under the hull. So we moored opposite the basin, where there are pilings and there was also some shade from the evening sun.
Saturday 30th June
Rain when we got up and we set off just before 9.00am, heading for Nevers. Although we were successful in recharging our new Orange simcard last Saturday at Cosne sur Loire, we’d apparently used up our 2gig allowance by Thursday night. This was a bit of a surprise, when the notification came up on the screen, as although I’d done some work on my website, loading photos etc which I think uses up quite a lot, the 2 gig we get from SFR would not have been used up that quickly.
Also, we don’t seem to be able to recharge on-line, which was one of the major attractions of this deal for us, removing the need to keep stopping at towns where there is an Orange shop. Each time we’ve tried to renew on-line, we can’t see the package we thought we’d bought, ie 20 euros for 2 gig. On the customer service screen 2 gig would cost over 100 euros.
So, back to Nevers, from where we bought it.
We arrived in Nevers shortly after 10.00am. The capitaine was nowhere to be seen and when I enquired about his hours of work from our neighbouring boaters, all I got was knowing, rueful smiles. I rang the telephone number on the office door, and sounding very sleepy he said he didn’t know when he would be in, he had a problem with his car. He said it might be 5.00pm before his ‘problem’ was resolved, if at all, so no on site internet available.
We set off towards the city, and the French lady on the boat next to us who, together with her husband, had helped us to moor and expressed admiration of our boat, was on the pontoon and waved her keys at me. She was offering us a lift to the centre of the city, which we accepted gladly as it’s a good walk and rain was still around. We got in the car and waited as she called for her friend on a boat further down the quay, and at this point I realised that the little dog I’d seen on their boat was not only of the King Charles Spaniel breed, but also had spent a fair amount of time in the car. I’m desperately allergic to King Charles Spaniels, so I was pretty pleased to see both women return, and to reach the town centre, by which time I was wheezing and stifling sneezes. But this was another random act of kindness from French strangers which was so very much appreciated.
We went to the Orange office on Rue Francois Mitterand, where we found two other sets of boaters on the same ‘Let’s Go’ internet package, enquiring about the same recharge/activation problem. One pair were getting a refund, so we guessed that they’d used the on-line option and discovered it had cost 100 euros.
We recharged, and opted to activate it ourselves by telephone when we need it, (after getting a bit of instruction) but I don’t think we’re getting any closer to understanding what the issues are here. Nor, from what I can see, are any other boaters at the moment, since there were four other boaters in the shop seeking the services of the English speaking assistant.
After shopping, and with the capitaine still absent and therefore unable to obtain the site internet, we decided to press on, and ascended the two locks on the Junction canal that take you back onto the Lateral a la Loire. The top lock here is not as savage as it was four years ago, but if you can, keep to the back of the lock.
We cruised on for a couple of hours towards a spot at Chevenon we’d seen when we last passed this way. It’s at PK 93, a concrete edged mooring with rings and opposite a farm. Plenty of room here for large boats.
On our way we saw convoy of wedding guests following a newly married couple. They were queuing on a bridge over the canal, all horns tooting as the French do on such occasions, and with a couple of makeshift ‘guy fawkes figures’ strapped to the back of a van,dressed as a bride and groom. Much hilarity and waving ensued when they saw the name of our boat, ‘Desormais’ meaning ‘from now on’. Surely a good omen for the happy pair. We’ve even had wedding and hen parties asking if they can have their photographs taken on our boat.
We pulled up at around 4.30pm, and a short while later another wedding convoy passed over the bridge behind us. That was the third wedding of the day; there’d been a group standing on the steps of one of the big churches in the centre of Nevers this morning.
The day ended with some sunshine, and again very humid. During the evening we were entertained by the antics of a bull in a herd of charolais cows in the field opposite. He’d obviously decided to do a spot of courting, but I think he’d picked the wrong heifer as when she wasn’t rebuffing him, she was trying to dominate him in the same manner. Perhaps she just hadn’t discovered her true sexual orientation yet, but nevertheless it was much better than Saturday night television.
Sunday 1st July
I always find it difficult to get to sleep when we’re mooring wild. When you’re at a port you can dismiss any little noises you hear, as the ports are generally quite secure and of course the noises are probably from other boaters. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, noises can have quite different causes, so it was after
1 am before I went off to sleep. The cabin had been illuminated by flashes of lightning from time to time and the distant grumbling of thunder heralded the advent of another storm. We didn’t get the storm proper, but it did begin to rain heavily about 3 am and we had to get up to shut the windows.
Off at 8.30am.
The lockie at the second lock of the day was the one who’d taken us up the deep locks at Guetin. Such a nice cheery chap, (incredibly like a hippy version of Seth Armstrong of the Emmerdale Farm series) with his grey curly hair tied in a mini ponytail at the base of his neck. He struck up a conversation with me where he was asking about our flag. He’d queried the flag on an earlier boat, Distant Shores, (which was flying a Guernsey flag) and wanted to know why we were flying different flags, and why neither of us were flying the union flag.
At least I think that’s what he was asking – that was the question I answered anyway. And he seemed satisfied.
Contrast this with the grumpy old lockie at the next lock, (No 18) just below Fleury, who I remembered from last time we came through. On that occasion he’d kept us and another boat waiting before he even started to fill the lock at 9.05am. All I’d been able to see was a couple of people fishing from the lock, and until one fisherman detached himself and went inside the lockie’s cabin, I hadn’t realised the lock was even attended.
This time he was sitting with all his fishing tackle spread on the steps at the side of the lock so no-one could get off the boat there, and only stood up at the last minute. Then he remained by the gate whilst I struggled with my extended boathook from the roof of the boat to try to get the rope round the set-back bollard. Neville had secured one closer to the lock edge. I had to ask the lockie, as he walked round, to put my rope on. What’s the point of being such a grump, I wonder.
Called in at Fleury just to nip up the road and to the right to buy some bread at the boulangerie which thankfully is open on Sundays until noon.
We were approaching the lock leading down into the Decize basin at around 2.30, a little later than we’d hoped.
It was nice to be back here; this time we had no problem locking on to the satellite signal, and it’s lovely to have unlimited internet access for a short while. As I said in an earlier report, it’s 9 euros, plus 1 euro for internet access, and you have to pay a 10 euro deposit for the ‘key’ that admits you to the pontoons.
During the course of the afternoon an emergency medical helicopter came to land in the field next to the hospital beside the canal. He came in really low over the port. (picture)
In the evening we watched the finals of Euro 2012. We were rooting for Spain, having spent eight years of our lives with a home there. And besides, the Italians were always in tears about something.
Monday 2nd July
Off to the Intermarche supermarket on our bikes (turn left at the end of the pontoon and follow the road which cuts between the flats and the hospital) and then off to the lock at the end of the basin around 10.00am.
We continued along the canal meeting very little traffic coming in the opposite direction. Last week’s rush near Ménétreol must have been a one-off, or maybe it was change-over day at one of the local hire boat bases.
Certainly there’d been plenty of room at Decize. I asked the capitaine there about ‘hivernage’ and she gave me a leaflet, but they don’t accept boats greater than 15 metres. I think they only let us stay last month and again today because there are a lot of empty pontoons. In the summer, it probably doesn’t matter, but Decize is quite a windy place, and if the weather were to get wild and windy during the winter, I suppose they believe there’s a risk of damage to the pontoons. In reality the pontoons have substantial pilings/duc d’Alberts to retain the pontoon, as at Pont de Vaux so it doesn’t make sense to have a 15 metre limit.
It’s a shame that they haven’t utilised the long straight edge of the quay. It’s reinforced with rocks in wire cages to form the edge, but there are lots of rocks beneath the surface and the first couple of metres out from the edge have been cordoned off with buoys.
All morning we’d noticed that there were great clumps of something jelly-like clinging to the pilings at the water line, and neither of us knew what they were. I tried to take a photograph but it didn’t come out very clearly.
We continued on to Gannay, where we’d expected to find a mooring, particularly this early in the day. But even at 2.30 all the spots were taken, and some were breasting up, so we pressed on. It was a hot day, but more pleasant than it has been for some days, so we didn’t mind.
Today the majority of the lockies have been students, this being the first working day of July. So although they didn’t seem particularly slow, there was a bit of a build up of boats at some locks. The more experienced lockies ranged from lock to lock checking up on them, and lending a hand here and there. One lockie told me that they only have one day of training and then it’s ‘in at the deep end’ so to speak. But we had no problems with any of them, they were polite and always took our ropes.
Arrived at Garnat sur Engevre at around 4.30 to find plenty of space. There’s quite a bit of straight edge – you could fit 2 boats of our size or longer on the non-pontoon side of the slipway, and maybe three or four shorter ones the other side of the pontoon. The pontoon is only available on one side – the same dilapidated boat is taking up most of the space on the other. No electricity on offer, but water is available and there is a hut which acts as a shelter, incorporating a not very inviting toilet. Picnic tables and benches also near to the hut.
(If this mooring is full, there are a couple of bollards the other side of the bridge, outside the VNF depot.)
I’m always a bit wary of moorings where there is a hut or ‘bus shelter’ type of arrangement, and equally wary of ‘picnic table’ moorings as they frequently attract groups of youngsters during the evening.
Garnat has one such hut, and around 7.30 two youngsters rocked up on a 50cc motor cycle. They must have been about 15 or 16 I’d say, not particularly rough looking, in fact one of them looked quite engagingly wholesome in his white T shirt and cargo pants. They sat down at the table and spread the contents of their rucksack in front of them.
There appeared to be some foil, a teaspoon, a large bottle of water, a glass flask, something else I couldn’t identify and a flexible piece of tubing. Something was lit with a match, and the pair of them sat there, alternately taking a drag from the tube, throwing back their heads and exhaling clouds of smoke. Fascinating. I’ve no idea what was going on, but if it was a ‘mind-altering’ substance it didn’t seem to change their demeanour much, apart from one of them being moved to twist his baseball cap round so the peak was at the back. After an hour or so, furtively looking over their shoulders and occasionally going to rinse their hands and equipment under the tap at the hut, they packed everything away, got back on the motor cycle and rode off.
Each to his own, I guess.
Apart from that, a quiet night at Garnat.
Tuesday 3rd July
No problems in the night and woke to cloudless blue skies and a mist on the water. Looks like another warm one.
Off in time to catch the first lock. After that we passed through Beaulon. This will be the third time we’ve passed through here and there’s been no available mooring space – another ‘honey-pot’ mooring I suspect.
During the morning our companion boat pulled up with his engine overheating.
Past the blackest factory I’ve seen outside of Barcelona, hissing and clanking Mooring bollards there, but I’d give it a miss…
By the time we reached the lock at the junction to the embranchment leading to Dompierre, the overheating cruiser had caught up with us, having fixed a hose that had become detached and lead to the overheating. (So it wasn’t him leaving his engine running right through the locking procedure – very uncomfortable for the boat behind.)
We’d just missed this lock, two hireboats having entered only a minute before, probably from the hireboat base at Dompierre. Here we were about to engage in a right royal stuff-up, caused by a number of factors.
Our midship ropes, though still serviceable, are coming to the end of their lives. As they’ve frayed (and we had one snap whilst locking down on the Centre) Neville has shortened them, and eventually we’ll use them for mooring.
We have other newer ropes but we reckoned that these older ones would see us out to the end of this cruise, if not this season, provided we kept the new, longer ropes reasonably to hand for the deeper locks. The Besbre lock is 3.2m, and we’d normally find our midship ropes adequate for that depth.
We moored up to wait for the lock and I went up to the lock to assist in opening the gates. I remembered this lockie, he’d been uncommunicative and unhelpful when we’d descended some weeks ago and he was displaying the same behaviour towards the hireboaters.
As the paddles opened, the boats were all over the lock, surging forward and banging into the front gates. The lockie stood just watching and occasionally waving them to back off, in a very tired, world-weary sort of way. A member of the crew who’d been helping the lockie, raced back across the lock gates to hang on to the rope to try to pull the boat back, with little effect.
Once, towards the end of the cycle, the lockie strolled onto the passarelle over the gates and pushed the bow of the front boat back with his foot as it threatened to get caught under the handrail. It should have occurred to me that this was an exceptionally turbulent lock, but I just thought that the hireboaters were inexperienced, and had probably just picked their boat up from Dompierre.
We entered the lock first on this occasion, (having overtaken the cruiser) and put up our ropes. The lockie quickly opened the paddles and there was a very strong initial surge, shortening Neville’s rope before he had a chance to secure it round the bit so he moved quickly to the stern of the boat to be able to hang on to it. The next surge took me by surprise and though I’d got the rope secured twice round the bollard it wasn’t sufficient to hold it, and as I struggled I saw the midship rope fly out of Neville’s hand, so far was the boat from its original position. He went to the wheelhouse and slammed the boat into reverse as it careered both forward and diagonally and I made the mistake of trying to get the midship rope to try to bring the boat into the side, when I should have been concentrating on wrapping the bow rope round the bollard for a third time.
We never actually collided with the lock gates, (and we are pretty well fendered at both front and rear) but we were inches from a collision, and in a flash it was all over. The lockie just lounged on the gates, watching.
Summing up, rope too short, turbulence too great, crew too complacent and lockie too bloody-minded by half. The cruiser behind us looked on in horror, no doubt thankful that we’d changed positions – they’d been at the front of the lock so far that morning, and only ever used one rope.
And so on to Diou where we stopped for lunch in time to catch the boulangerie. A guy in a yellow rowboat helped to take our ropes, and we realised we’d last seen rowing this way him right up at the other end of the canal, near Belleville. (Later in the day we passed him, and then he passed us again when we moored up, and then we passed him again next morning!)
Diou is a nice little mooring with water, but no electricity. It couldn’t be closer to the Proxi supermarket, and further down the road is a boucherie, tabac and boulangerie. There is a restaurant but I think it’s a fair way up the road in the opposite direction. There used to be a hotel/restaurant here but it appears to have closed.
We continued after lunch for an hour or so, by which time the day had become uncomfortably warm and humid. We arrived at Pierrefitte around 4.00pm, one large boat already there, and another old dutch barge to join us shortly after. Pierrefitte could be a great mooring, but there’s no electricity and the water is only push-button with no way to put adapters on – okay for filling water bottles but not tanks.
Over the crest by the mooring is a large lake, which has an area on the other side which had been ‘beachified’ with sand and a buoyed off swimming area. There even appeared to be a lifeguard. Pedaloes also available for hire.
The Port Hotel is undergoing refurbishment, and there will be a restaurant there eventually.
Wednesday 4th July
Cycled into the village for the bread. There’s a lovely church opposite the restaurant/bistro.
We’d noticed another possible mooring in the Guide book at Coulanges, and whilst it’s pleasant enough and there would have been space, on the whole we thought Pierrefitte better.
We cruised on into Digoin, getting the longer midship rope out for the lock just before the aqueduct. The female lockie took my bow line and then went and switched on the automatic gate closing/lock filing mechanism, leaving Neville standing holding out his midship line. I had to leap up and down to attract her attention for her to come back for his line.
We’ve never visited the centre of Digoin; the one night we actually moored in the basin there was a terrific thunderstorm with accompanying downpour, so we didn’t leave the boat. Cruising through, it’s a bit disappointing.
There’s a boat moored on the canal here with what looks like a sauna hut on it, and claiming to offer 17 different types of Fondue.
There’s mooring on pontoons in the basin, with some linear moorings and hammerheads for bigger boats. Last time we came through we thought it was expensive at 13 euros, electricity being charged extra.
The scenery after Digoin in fairly unremarkable until you come to the junction where you will join the Canal du Centre.
We were pretty much on schedule for our return to England, but we couldn’t really afford to stay more than one night at any moorings from now on, if we were to get everything done that would be necessary on our return to Pont de Vaux.