Canal du Centre, Digoin – Pont de Vaux (July 2012)

Wednesday 4th July

 It had taken us 9 days so far to make our way back to port from Briare and we were pretty much on schedule.

Having passed through Digoin going up to midday, we received a big boost to our progress at the first lock on the Canal du Centre – we’d forgotten that the locks along here are automatically set, and therefore they don’t close at lunchtime.  There were ‘pull down’ control cords, one at each corner of the lock, and it was easy enough to put your own ropes up by use of a boathook.  The bollards are set quite close to the lock edge, which makes a nice change from the Canal Lateral à la Loire.

At the next lock there was a VNF man working on the gates, so he took our ropes and pulled the cord for us.  He had to to manually pull one gate open though, the one he was working on.  Very pleasant chap.

Good size moorings at Paray le Monial

He advised us the next lock was totally automatic, but nevertheless drove along to greet us there,  take our ropes, and set the lock in motion.  We were in Paray le Monial around 1.30pm to find plenty of space on the quay.  We’ve never been unable to get a mooring here, which is surprising for such a popular tourist-y type town.

After mooring up and having lunch, we cycled off to the Cave de Bonheur just back down the canal, maybe a kilometre or so.  There was a storm brewing and we wanted to get there, stock up on wine and return before it broke.  When it did, it was quite some distance off, so we missed the worst of it though it did rain for a while.

In the evening we visited the Chinese restaurant ‘Aux Baguettes d’Or’ which is on the left on the way into the town from the port.  We’ve been here before and they offer an excellent meal.  I had duck with shittake mushrooms, and Neville had chicken with satay sauce.  We shared a Su Mai starter, which was five ‘dim-sum’ pieces, with a sweet sauce and a couple of spots of a fiery sauce on the plate.  Steer clear of the fiery sauce – hot is not the word for it.  Good value at 42 euros, including a bowl of prawn crackers, a pot of green tea and two 25 cl carafe’s of house red.

Paray is a nice little mooring, with a sophisticated yet charming town behind it, and if you’re planning on staying there I’ve written more about it here and also here,  during our first season in France.

Thursday 5th July

Across the exhibition grounds next to the mooring

 Another muggy day, quite cloudy, though it had been very foggy when we first got up.

The mooring official arrives between 8.30 and 9.00am to collect the fees, 13 euros including water and electricity.  We’d been early to the epicerie (8 till 8) on the left in the centre of the town and also to the boulangerie, which is on the right hand side.

Yesterday a VNF girl with a clipboard canvassed all the boats moored at Paray to ascertain their departure/destinations, and consequently the first lock just out of the basin was ready for us at 9.00am, unmanned and automatic.  The control boxes with the ropes are conveniently placed by the lock ladders on these locks (not always so further along the Centre.)  The rope passes behind the ladder so in theory you could pull it without climbing the ladder but we’ve found it hard to get a positive connection that way.  However, you’d only need to climb a couple of rungs of the lock ladder to pull the cord above the quayside, and since the lock ladders were accessible from the deck of the boat –  no problem.

There is a green light located at the top of one of the control boxes (or an orange one on a lock office) that flashes to tell you whether your action has been logged.  Ground filling on this one, so fairly speedy and we were on our way by 9.10am.

At lock 19, Digoine, you can see the old gatehouse, literally a gatehouse, to the Chateau de Digoine, 18th century sight-seeing opportunity, and on the hilltop the chateau itself.  It’s surrounded by formal French gardens and an English style park.  There is apparently a small theatre here, much loved by the actress Sarah Bernhardt.  After four years cruising in France you get used to the sight of impressive chateaux nestling on the hill-tops, but this one is truly magnificent.  During July and August the chateau is open every day from 2.00 until 7.00.  Outside of those months, and from 1st May to 1 November it’s open on public holidays and weekends.

Chateau Digoine

By this time the rainclouds that had been dogging our trail since Paray finally let go, and sadly the photos don’t do the sight justice.

We arrived at Genelard about 12.45pm.  We’d had an enjoyable morning’s locking, all automated locks with controls in easy reach and fast filling.  The bollards are set close to the lock edge, and the locks are not very deep so they’re easily accessible with a boat hook.  There’s a bit of initial turbulence on some locks that might catch you unawares if you’re up the front of the lock, but as we were locking alone, we were well back. A lockie attended only once, when we crossed with another boater at a lock, just to make sure the system was re-programmed.  This is an impressive piece of waterway management/maintenance along here.

Mooring basin at Genelard

There was a British barge already moored at Genelard, and two more came in during the course of the afternoon, one of them (Tammy) being an earlier Sagar very similar to our boat.

This is the third time we’ve been through Genelard, and each time the museum commemorating the demarcation line of occupied France has been closed.  Today it was open so we took the opportunity to visit and found it well worth a visit.  It’s 4.50 euros per person for the full exhibition, but it was quite an eye opener.

There are large laminated cards in front of each blockboard section of the exhibition, and these have been translated into German and (not too well) English.  Once you get used to the drift that ‘helpers’ are ‘collaborators’ and that ‘evadees’ are probably ‘refugees’ or ‘escapees’ , things read a lot more easily.  But it’s been painstakingly put together and gives a tremendous insight into how life must have been in those days.

There’s an analysis of the level of resources that remained either side of the demarcation line after the split.  The only resource that was held in excess by the southern section was sheep.  Everything else, wheat, coal, steel, cattle etc was in much greater supply in the Occupied Zone.

Sunset at Genelard, the clouds having cleared.

There are copies of letters from people in the southern sector asking for an ‘ausweis’ to be able to visit the northern sector for various reasons, urgent family matters, weddings, funerals, buying necessary resources, and a few harrowing wartime incident reports. Many of the towns that we were familiar with from our cruising in France are positioned on or within this Vichy Line and it was interesting to read about their involvement.

It’s really well worth a visit.

Friday 6th July

 The boulangerie in Genelard is up the hill on the right after the Petit Casino, and we were up there early to get bread before continuing our journey towards the summit.

Lock 14 was quite turbulent with a high spout of water at the start.  We were relieved we were locking alone and towards the back of the lock.

Lock 11 is manned, or rather womanned, because there is only one, awkwardly placed, control box.  This lockie covers the next lock too.

The first bridge heading upstream at Montceau les Mines

The bridges at Montceau les Mines are operated via the controller in his/her box in the centre, and there are red/green lights before the bridges.

Second bridge and control box

You will hear the bell ring to warn that the traffic barrier is coming down.  The first two bridges are side-lifters, and the third is a vertical level lift.

We’d hoped to be able to stop off at Montceau Les Mines this time, as the moorings are right in the centre of the town, but again our schedule prevented it.  We’ll make it one day!

Third bridge

After you’ve passed the port in the centre of the town you head for the lock right by the VNF offices.  The lights for the lock are under the bridge, but though we thought there were mooring rings on this wall four years ago, we couldn’t see them for the ivy, if they’re still there.  In any event, the lock was set for us, so we didn’t need to moor up.

After Montceau les Mines, it’s possible to stop at the LeClerc on the left hand side of the canal, though there isn’t an official mooring spot.  You’d need to put pins down.

Lock number 8, just before Blanzy has a control box with ladders right at the upstream end of the lock, but it’s a shallow lock (2.4) and possible to hitch yourself on and off the boat if you don’t want to go right up to the front in the boat.

Moorings at Blanzy

Arrived at Blanzy around 1.30pm.  The waterway was so quiet today, only saw two or three other boats all day.  Contrast this with about six weeks ago when there were about five boats moored bow to stern along here.

Saturday 6th July

 After getting bread from the boulangerie (on the other side of the bridge this time – it’s about the same distance as the first one on the mooring side) we set off around 8.45 to find lock no. 7 ready for us.  We’d been asked at the lock at Montceau what time we were leaving.

The next few locks were not so conveniently arranged for us, as there’s no landing stage before hand, only one control point right up near the front, ladders at the back, and the lock side may be a tad too deep for some.  At 6’2”, Neville could just about hitch himself off the boat onto the lockside so if boaters can’t do this, then the boat would have to be taken right up to the front to operate the controls from within the lock.

At Lock No 6, the controls are more conveniently placed partway down the lock by the ladders, but at the shallower number 5, it was back to hitching yourself from off the roof of the boat.

By 9.30 we’d done three locks.

One of the lock-keeper’s cats.

We think the lockie at Number 4 lives in the lockside cottage, as he’s the same one who attended last time, and he has his front window open with several dishes of cat-food along the windowsill.  One of the cats came down to the quayside to make our acquaintance.

Leaving the last lock on the Ocean side, all downhill from here.

At locks 2 and three the controls were badly positioned, but at the top lock (a deep one), the controls were positioned right for us.  This was our last upward locking for this trip (apart from the one that will take us onto the Reyssouze).

We then started our descent towards the Saone via the 7 locks of Ecuisse.  The 2nd, 3rd and 4th have floating bollards.

At the 4th lock we suffered yet another snapped rope, caused by the sharp edge of the plinth on which the floating bollard is fixed.  It didn’t cause us a problem, it was just a surprise as the rope wasn’t particularly under any strain.

On the lockside at Ecuisse.

You can move through the 7 locks of Ecuisse fairly rapidly, and a lockie appears from time to time to make sure that everything is in order.

St Julienne sur Dheune – a pretty well kept village with no facilities that we’ve ever found, apart from the very good restaurant opposite the moorings.

We moored up at St Julienne sur Dheune early afternoon, and in the evening called at one of our favourite restaurants, L’Auberge du Manoir just opposite the moorings, where I had Faux Filet Charolais and Neville had Filet Mignon.  Good food, and good value at 42 euros.  The proprietress here speaks English.

Sunday 7th July

Up at 5.30 am after a stormy night, with heavy downpours.

We locked down steadily until early afternoon, the first two locks having floating bollards.

There’s a distinct lack of moorings after St Julienne sur Dheune, and wild mooring is not particularly easy until after St Beraine where there’s a high quay and a lower section on your right.

The hire boat base at St Leger sur Dheune

As we passed through St Leger we saw that the hire boat base was more or less empty, apart from one possible visitor.  As we’ve seen hardly any hire boaters along the Canal du Centre, we can only assume that the hire boat companies have moved their boats to other bases on other canals, in response to the warning given earlier in the year that the Canal du Centre was likely to close for lack of water.  As it’s turned out, the heavy rains over the last few weeks have more than remedied the situation, and in some locks the water has been level with the quayside.  Sometime in May a cautious ‘avis’ was given that the canal would be open until 16 August but now it’s been withdrawn completely and there are no warnings out now about closure.  Too late for the hire boat companies however.

We moored on a small floating pontoon below St Gilles lock to watch the British GP, continuing after the race.

At Cheilly there is a small mooring from which you can visit the Caves.

There’s a nice mooring at Santannay.  It might be a bit difficult to get a satellite signal if you were hoping to watch something special on the television, as there are plenty of trees around at this point.  There are lots of straight sided edges where you can moor out in the countryside before you get to Chagny.

The basin at Chagny

We moored up in the wild, about 4 kilometres short of Chagny, not anxious to visit the basin there again, even though there was every chance the HVAC system would not be working at the tile factory.

Monday 8th July

 Our last full day of cruising on the canals for this trip, as tomorrow we have only a short haul to the river lock dropping us down onto the Saone.

The temperatures have been a bit cooler since Saturday night’s thunderstorm, and though there are lots of clouds about, it’s reasonably bright with only occasional showers forecast for the rest of this, our last week in France.

If you look down into the valley on your left as your approach Chagny, there are some picuresque scenes, the village of Santennay, gentle vine-clad hills in the distance and lots of lush trees and pretty houses.  And then the scene becomes more industrial as you get closer to Chagny.

After a bridge there is a small hire boat base, with some moorings a little after the main spot.  This will be your last opportunity to moor before the basin at Chagny.

After the basin (discussed in earlier reports)  the canal is quite narrow and there are a number of what look like ‘live aboards’ moored along this stretch.

Arrived at the first lock to find it empty and no-one in sight, but the lockie roared up dead at 9.00 am with a student in tow and prepared to set it.

This is a deep lock, 5.8m.  Again, complacency ruled the day leading to another incident.

We’d not checked the depth of the lock in the guide beforehand, and when we realised it was a deep one, we hurried to get the new longer rope out.  Of course, there were floating bollards so we needn’t have bothered but that wasn’t obvious from where we were hanging around waiting.  I would have put a front rope up, just because I like to keep my hand in lassoing bollards, but in fact the front bollard was too far away to be any use to use.

The top edge of the plinth is the area that has sawed our ropes twice on this trip

I realised we hadn’t got the knives out that we keep handy when locking down in case we need to cut the rope in an emergency, and went below to get them and take mine up to the bow for future locks.  In the meantime, Neville had put the rope round the bollard and instinctively made it off on our bit – only with a looped twist of rope round the cross bar on the bit – not tied.  When he returned from pulling the cord on the starter mechanism, he was considering whether there was time to swop the ropes back again, and omitted to undo that twist round the cross bar.

The water level dropped, but the floating bollard didn’t initially.  (In fact, the water level drops by about a metre on these locks before the floating bollard starts to descend.  The same thing happens at the bottom, the bollard stops and the water keeps dropping but by much less.)

Anyway, as the water dropped the rope tightened and consequently the loop jammed under the cross bar.  The tension on the rope increased with the fall of water and there was nothing for it but to cut the rope or dangle until something gave way.  When Neville shouted, I hot-footed it back from the bow with my knife.

Fortunately Neville cut it close to the bit, so we haven’t lost much of the new rope, but it will need a new loop putting on it.  You can never take your eye off the ball, can you?

So that’s three times we’ve been caught out with floating bollards this trip – once locking up from Blanzy when turbulence in the lock caused a sawing action on the rope against the sharp edge of the floating bollard plinth, once at the Ecuisse locks when the bollard stopped descending whilst the lock continued to empty causing the weakened rope to snap and now this one.

The remaining locks on the descent down to Fragnes were a mixture of floating and fixed bollards, depending on the depth of the lock.

We passed 6 boats, probably as many as we’ve crossed with during the whole of the Canal du Centre so far this trip.

At Lock 32 Ecluse de Fontaines,  we had our cameras at the ready for what is probably the most photographed lock in history – incredible floral displays.

We arrived at Fragnes around 12.30, in time to get bread from the boulangerie next to the quay.

The moorings quickly filled up, everybody squeezing up to get yet another one in, until we ended up with our flagpole jammed under the steelwork of the boat behind us.  Manoeuvering that boat into position had taken the concerted efforts of several people on the quayside, (including me taking our rotary washing line down), and the Dutch captain was so grateful he gave me a large bag of organic coffee!

It is said that internet is available here, but it was slow and intermittent, giving up the ghost entirely when we moved our boat another metre to let the Dutchman in.  I wouldn’t rely on it, but it doesn’t seem to cost any extra.  We paid around 8 euros for the one night, including electricity.

Tuesday 10th July


Dropping down from the Centre to the Saone

Set off 8.15 to catch the first lock, after getting bread from the boulangerie – beautiful bread, still warm, lightly crusty.  The river lock at the end of the canal wasn’t set in our favour so it was 9.15 before we started locking down onto the river, but the lock emptied faster than some of those we negotiated yesterday.  We were out onto the Saone by 9.30am and cruising at 10.5 kph initially.

There’s not much to report about the Saone at this point.  It’s a wide, lazily curving river (apart from when it’s in spate) with a lot of open countryside both sides.

There are some attractive buildings along the edge, and I photographed this ‘des res’ at Port D’Oroux though personally I’d prefer to buy on higher ground.

This attractive floral display was at the point of entrance to the port.

Chalon sur Saone is an interesting city where we’ve managed to stop once before, in the port.  It’s not clear where you can moor on the river itself, though we have heard that friends have done that.  It might mean mooring against a wall and having to use ladders to disembark.

Chalon sur Saone

If anyone has definitive information about river moorings, I’d be grateful if they could post it in the comments below, as steel barges of our length were not particularly welcome in the port itself last time we stopped here, and it’s also one of the most expensive moorings we’ve come across (for our length).

We saw lots of hire-boaters on this stretch of the Saone, probably more than we’d seen the whole length of the Canal du Centre.

Good moorings at Gigny disused lock

Passed Gigny at 11.30 am.  Gigny, a disused lock, is a useful mooring for us when travelling upstream, and though on the approach it always looks as though there are lots of boats there, in reality we’ve always found space, and generally a choice of spaces as well.  There’s a restaurant slightly elevated beside the lock, overlooking the river, now advertising a change of ownership.

Through St Ormes lock by 12.15.

Busier at Tournus, with very little space on the floating pontoon mooring on the southern quay.  Going downstream you will see the submersible mooring first, and in general that seems to have been less busy each time we’ve passed.   However, there doesn’t seem to be electricity available here, even though there are points on the quay wall.

We passed the only commercial boat of our along the Saone today.  Our recollection had been that it was much busier when we passed this way as we went

Commercial traffic on the Saone

down towards the Rhone in September 2008.

We approached the lock at the junction of the Canal de Reyssouze/Saone by 2.30pm.  Not bad going – 5 hours, speed ranging from 10.2 to 11.9 kph at times.  Needless to say, we gave the site of our overnight stay (Grounded on the Saone, April 2012) an extremely wide berth.  So wide a berth, that the campers on the opposite bank must have thought we were calling in for lunch.

The morning had been bright and sunny, and we cruised with the back and front windows down, but after lunch the clouds gathered, the atmosphere became humid and we just finished mooring at Pont de Vaux when a heavy thunderstorm broke.

A regular ‘peeping Tom’

Our young French neighbours had left their bedding out on the deck rails to dry and I was just in time to fetch it in for them before the heavens opened.  Prior to the rainfall, their cat was lazing happily on the gunwhales, pleased to have something to look at.  From his vantage point he can peer into our galley, keeping tabs on our activities.

A mini-drama was on-going in the port, which was crawling with  gendarmerie and pompiers.  Apparently, according to Philippe (the Capitaine) there was ‘gazole’ in the water around the port, but later the police told us it was ‘essence’.  They came to ask us when we had first noticed the ‘essence’ in the water, but we had to tell them we’d only been in port ten minutes, and couldn’t help.

Later we walked out to the shops and went to watch the activities of the pompiers.  They’d brought in a ‘mobile contamination unit’ and a pompiers launch, the occupants wearing masks, was emptying sacks of white powder onto the water.  The atmosphere was thick with it, and I asked Philippe whether he thought the ducks and fish would be at risk, but he thought not.  Later, the pompiers’ launches did a series of fast ‘donuts’ in the spaces between the pontoons to mix in the additive and, I guess, to try to aerate the water.

When Celeste, our French neighbour, returned from her job, she told us that this was not the first time such contamination had happened in recent weeks – hence the involvement of the gendarmerie.

She also told us, interestingly enough, that on a recent trip out and up the Saone, they’d tried to pull a grounded boat off the very same spot that we’d spent the night back in April.  They hadn’t succeeded, and didn’t know what had eventually happened to the unhappy boaters who were not, apparently from our port; it was thought they’d come from Macon.

No doubt the resourceful M. Talmoud from Tournus had another ‘unexpected’ windfall.

Wednesday 11 July-Saturday 14th July

We managed to get most of the jobs done that we’d planned, including market shopping, hairdresser (for me), visiting the Cave at Clesse, and a bit of painting and woodwork varnishing.  And we managed to find time to make the acquaintance of the South African party who have the boat next but one to us, a magnificent 100 year old barge that they are renovating inside.

Early Saturday we set off for home.  We’d booked for the 3.30pm ferry, but arrived in time for the earlier one at 1.30pm, and DFDS don’t mind switching you to the earlier one if there is space.

When we’d been underway for three hours or so, we noticed a wasp clinging grimly onto our wing mirror, despite speeds of 130kph.  Eventually, when we had to slow for traffic, the wasp managed to climb into the cavity behind the glass and the wing mirror housing.  On the CMax the wing mirror housing only moves to be parallel with the bodywork or at right angles, and it is the mirror itself which twists up, down or sideways, sometimes causing a gap between the edge of the mirror and the housing.  We’d not retracted the wing mirrors when we’d parked up 8 weeks earlier at Pont de Vaux, and we discovered that the wasp had built its nest behind the mirror, with the edges of it just visible in a certain light.

Incredibly, even four days after we arrived home, the wasp is still alive and tending to its nest.  It must get a dreadful headache when we slam the doors, but it steadfastly clings to its task.  After all it’s been through, (a 1000 kilometre journey at speed and a rough sea crossing) I feel a bit guilty about destroying it.

So now we’re looking forward to September, and in a few weeks will start planning our September cruise.  We’re anxious to visit Lyon again, but we’d also like to go to Roanne, do the Doubs/Rhone au Rhin as far as Strasbourg, and also do Canal de Bourgogne.

So much to do, so little time.

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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4 Responses to Canal du Centre, Digoin – Pont de Vaux (July 2012)

  1. Roger Millin (Sagar 'Phoenix') says:

    I’m not sure that I would get too excited about mooring at Montceau les Mines to be honest. The time we were there a lot of the short pontoons were taken up with long term (some residential) tatty boats that didn’t seem to have moved for ages. The pontoon hammerheads suitable for boats of 15m plus were taken up with a narrowboat in one instance and a sailing boat that also didn’t look as if it ever moved. We managed (just) to back onto one of the short finger pontoons (we are 16m) but it was hard and slightly precarious work, eventually securing with our stern bollards and those near the wheelhouse doors. The whole remaining quayside (towards the lifting bridges) was taken up with huge long term residential barges. The staff in the tourist office cum capitainerie didn’t seem that bothered to take our money and I never saw anyone coming round to ask for it. To be fair the mooring charges weren’t excessive and I suspect that is why many of the boats are long term/residential moorers and tend to squeeze out visiting boats.

    I have no firm information about the moorings at Chalon sur Saone except to say that I have heard that boats over 15m aren’t welcomed/are discouraged/are banned. Not sure what basis in fact there is for this but it seems to be an increasing trend in France. Recently I have been told by friends who live and cruise on their 15m barge in France that some places are starting to reduce the limit to 12m now.


  2. Sandra says:

    Thanks for that info Roger. I’d heard the Saturday market was good at Montceau, and this time we could have caught it, if we hadn’t been so tight on our schedule. There were plenty of spaces as we passed through, but that’s probably the projected closure of the Canal du Centre that’s responsible for that. Re Chalon s/Saone, it’s four years since we were made to feel unwelcome there, and as you say, the situation re 15m+ boats is getting worse in France. We probably wouldn’t chance it again – and certainly not when you can find a place at Gigny.
    Thanks for commenting.


  3. Roger Millin (Sagar 'Phoenix') says:

    I can confirm that the market was quite good (and large) at Montceau. I think though that I would only stop again if the mooring situation was easier that it was the last time through. I guess the proof of the pudding will be to see what it looks like next time but planning mooring stops at these sorts of ports can be made quite difficult without advance information about available spaces and my most recent crystal ball has just given up the ghost ;-)))


  4. Sandra says:

    Thanks for confirming about the market; we’d probably only stop if we could get on a hammerhead. I agree, it’s difficult to make a plan. Nowadays we try to get an early start and try to moor at or shortly after lunchtime. There’s nothing worse than being hot, tired and hungry and cruising up and down packed moorings looking for a space at six o’clock. 😦


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