Rain, rain and more rain… Canal de Bourgogne/River Saone, May 2013

The only good thing about being wet is that you can’t get any wetter… and you will, in the course of time, get dry.  The bad thing is that this year in France, once you’ve got dry… you just start getting wet all over again.  The full extent of the Canal de Bourgogne will have to wait for another time…enough already!

 Wednesday 8th May 2013

 We set off from Cambridgeshire yesterday morning and over-nighted at the Campanile at Rheims Tinqueux.  We’ve stayed there before, and over the last couple of years or so at many other Campaniles.  When we first started travelling through France to Spain we stayed at Novotel, which were pretty expensive for a speedy overnight stop.  We then started using Ibis, but after a while decided that they didn’t represent value for money so switched to Campanile.  They’re fairly basic motel type places, usual tea/coffee making facilities, television, internet etc but for a late arrival/quick dinner/early departure job they fit the bill for us.  Disappointingly though, the menu range for the evening meal has gradually diminished until now, the basic salmon fillet (Neville’s meal of choice) has morphed into a salmon-burger.  Grief!  Confit of duck (my staple choice) long since disappeared, and out of consideration for my teeth/jaws, I gave up on the entrecote steak for which I’ve recently opted and this night chose omelette with green salad.  Next time we stay at a Campanile we’ll use one of the restaurants which are generally located close by.

There were more cars on the road than usual, though many lorries were parked up at the service areas which alerted us to the fact that it was probably a national holiday, Ascension Day as it turned out.  So no supermarkets open, though the little Carrefour mini shop next to the port was open until 1.00pm  so I was able to do a quick trawl for basics on our arrival.

Bridge over the Reyssouze weir

This was our second trip of the year, we’d made a quick one week inspection early in March.  At that time the port was in the aftermath of some serious flooding.  Part of the pontoon outside the capitainerie (which is directly in the line of flow entering the port) had been removed beneath the bridge, and at the other end of the port where a foot-bridge spans the weir leading out of the port towards the Saone, a serious amount of debris had demolished the bridge itself.  DSCF1387Our neighbours on the pontoon, the young French couple, had invested in a canoe so that they could reach the car park, and had stuck a marker on the dolphin to show where the water had reached its maximum point.

Now in May, we’d been getting reports of problems on the Saone, the Canal du Centre and on the Bourgogne just before we left, and there were reports of serious flooding up around the Aube region, particularly in Troyes.  It was clear as we approached Pont de Vaux that much of the countryside was under water. 

The lock which normally drops several feet from the Canal onto the Saone.

The lock which normally drops several feet from the Canal onto the Saone.

In the port itself, no repairs had been effected from the last flooding, and both weirs entering and exiting the port were undetectable.  The lock sides at the end of the Canal de Pont de Vaux were under water and the gates open giving access directly onto the Saone.

It’s been a long wet winter around here.  And it doesn’t look like we’ll be making an early start to our cruising.

Thursday 9th May

Started raining around 7.30pm and continued right through until the early hours.  Just what we needed… more rain.

Friday 10th May to Sunday 12 May

Neville fitted the new starter battery we had brought from the UK.  On our March inspection visit, the starter battery had initially fired up the engine, but it turned out this was its swan song, as on the next attempt it failed altogether.  Batteries being so much more costly in France, we’d resigned ourselves to using the March trip for routine boat maintenance, and not taking her out this trip.  No other issues following the winter, which had been a pleasant surprise.

Much cleaning, and stocking up for our trip, plus a quick drive up to Tournus to see how thing stood there.  The northern mooring was under water, as was the passenger boat mooring, but the central floating pontoon was OK, with even a boat moored rather bravely on the inside of the pontoon.  The levels were falling steadily.

We also called at Louhans which is at the end of navigation on the River Seilles, a tributary of the Saone.  A pretty town, with a municipal mooring.  We might try a trip up there sometime soon.

Monday 13th May

We locked down from the Canal de Pont de Vaux onto the Saone around 9.30am.  There was only a minimum fall on the lock, maybe a couple of feet or so as the levels were still high.  The landing stage above the lock had emerged from the water at last, but was so deep in mud that I had to climb off the bow onto the lockside to gain access to the controls; the landing stage below the lock was still below the water, but at least partly visible so probably usable quite soon.

We passed through Ormes lock, which had a minimal rise of a couple of feet due to the high water levels.  No waiting pontoons below the lock, but one above.

We were only making 7kph at first, which promised a very slow two day journey up to the Canal de Bourgogne.  As the river widened we managed at best 8.5 kph but it was going up to 3.30pm before we were approaching Chalon sur Saone.  We’d hoped to reach Gergy for the overnight stop, but that would have been a very long day and we were both bored to tears with the monotonous trek up the Saone.

We hadn’t had a very good experience at the Port de Plaisance here back in 2008, (views echoed by others with longer boats) and it had been very expensive at 26 euros (elec included) for one night.  Tired and fed up as we were today, we decided to chance it again, so pulled in behind the island and moored up on the welcome quay.  The capitaine said we could stay, and directed us to the outer perimeter of the moorings, though later when we encountered the receptionist she said she didn’t know why he’d said we could stay, as they only accept boats below 14.999m (we think she was Swiss – certainly precision engineered anyhow).  Maybe it was because they weren’t busy, or maybe because it was low season, but at a reasonable 17 euros (compared with the high season price in July 2008) we thought it was good value.  There’s a Carrefour across the busy road behind the capitainerie, and now internet is available which was a bit of a bonus, thus saving on our monthly SFR download allowance.

So I guess the message is, if you’re in excess of 14.9 metres, and it’s low season, it’s well worth having a stab at getting in at the Chalon Port de Plaisance.  Visitor moorings are located on the left hand perimeter pontoon and there can be a heavy current sweeping between the pontoon and the island at this point; entry to the interior moorings are only for long term contracts.  They do winter moorings here too, thought the receptionist said we were too long.  When we pointed out a 20 metre barge at the end of the perimeter pontoon which had clearly been there some time, she shrugged and said, ‘ask the capitaine’.  All things, it seems, are flexible.

Tuesday 14th May

Away by 7.45am after an initial struggle to get away from the pontoon because of strong currents rounding the island and forcing the boat back onto it.  We estimated we had another 72 kilometres to do today, but a further look at the map last night indicated that the derivation after the lock at Seurre cuts a significant distance off the old winding river route as measured by kilometre posts.

Significantly more flood debris in the water the other side of Chalon.

Passed through Ecuelles lock around mid-day.  No waiting pontoons here either, just dolphins.  This lock holds cringe-worthy memories for us, being the first ascending river lock we tackled when we first came to France five years ago.  Having dropped down from the Canal du Centre after a brief spell on the Yonne, we’d never seen recessed bollards built into the lock wall up till then, nor were we aware of the unmanageable distance between them horizontally, which for a boat of our length, facilitates solely a midships line.  At that stage, we also hadn’t worked out that two lines at midships is a safer bet, so that as you rise you can transfer the free line to the next vertical bollard and so on.  To compound our difficulties, we were distracted by rummaging about for our life jackets when we saw the notice as we entered the lock, and we were blessed with an over-zealous lockie who started the cycle before we we’d sorted out either the life jackets or the ropes.  The cruising guide warns of turbulence in this lock, particularly towards the end of the locking cycle.  Suffice it to say that on that occasion we had a very interesting locking experience with me struggling with the only rope we’d had time to attach (the stern rope!) and Neville using the engine to try to keep the bow against the lock wall.   No better way to learn, they say, but I’ve had a nervousness over these inset bollards ever since, even though we’ve now learned how to use them.

Today, happily, everything went smoothly.  We’re much better organised these days on rivers.

The next lock at Seurre (where there now appear to be more mooring facilities available downstream for boats of varied lengths) is a side-filler and quite gentle by comparison.

The quay at St Jean de Losne

The quay at St Jean de Losne

The derivation starts after this lock, approx 10 kilometres in length, avoiding 27 kilometres of winding river.  We managed to cruise around 10kph along the derivation and arrived at St Jean de Losne at 3.30pm, securing a lovely mooring spot on the main quay.

Mooring is free (limited to 3 days and for boats up to 15m it says on the sign) but electricity and water are available by obtaining jetons from the distributeur  just around the corner opposite Le Yummy.  (When it works.)  One jeton gives 4 hours electricity and (I think) approx 500 litres of water – only CB cards accepted – at a cost of around 3 euros.

There were longer boats than ours (16m) there, and the mooring was full with one breasted up boat there.

The day, which had been sunny with occasional cloud, cleared to a beautiful late afternoon/evening and we sat in the wheelhouse enjoying crusty French bread with balsamic/olive oil, a bowl of olives and a glass of wine, remembering that this is what it’s all about – after a long day’s cruising.

By the time we’d had our evening meal, thunderheads were massing to the south and within an hour we had heavy showers and a real thunderstorm.

Wednesday 15 May

What a change!  Woke to overcast skies, gusting winds and rain.

This is a pleasant mooring, though the mooring rings are oddly spaced and you might find yourself with a place on the quay but no convenient rings to tie to; alternatively, you may need to tie a couple of ropes together to use the bigger rings which are set further up the steps on the quayside.

The quay was lined with trees, (mountain ash perhaps?) but this morning a work crew arrived and proceeded to chop down the first nine trees after the main bridge.  I asked whether they were diseased but was told it was for traffic reasons, and they leaving around ten trees at the far end of the quay.  I think maybe the tree roots were damaging the road.  So it was quite a noisy and sad day, watching lovely young trees being hacked down.

It rained heavily all day apart from a brief 15 minute period when we unloaded our bikes and cycled off to have a look at the Canal de Bourgogne.  On the way back we called at the Casino supermarket behind H2O for a few things and arrived back well soaked.  We recognised a few boats at H2O – Alicia, Columbus, Final Fling.

Thursday 16 May

The rain continued throughout the night and on through the day.  We moved up the quay away from the tree sawing and root digging when Ariana, a lovely 20 footer, moved off after breakfast.  Though tomorrow is forecast to be better, the outlook for at least a week is not promising, and quite cold for the time of year.

The Casino supermarket behind the port can be reached from the quay by heading straight down the main street and turning left at the bottom by the green pharmacy sign.  I took advantage of the only 15 minute break in the rain to visit.

Friday 17th May

Rained through the night and continued.  We can’t hang around waiting for it to stop – we’ve already lost a week waiting for the river levels to subside at Pont de Vaux.

Set off just after nine – nice cheery lockie at first lock up from river onto canal.  Manual operation, top gates closed by the French version of a beam, lower gates by stiff looking wheels.

The boat which had gone through ahead had to wait for us to share the locks (and a gloomy unhelpful lockie) for a few locks after that.   When lockies make decisions on whether two boats will fit in a lock, scant regard is given to bollard placement, so we struggled for the rest of the day right up at the back of the lock with both our ropes on one bollard.  Fortunately, the lockies (who changed every two or three locks) were careful and avoided turbulence in the main.

Quite a contrast to the beams of the English locks

Quite a contrast to the beams of the English locks

With the exception of the second lock (which had hydraulically operated gates) the rest were manual operation, and the gloomy lockie eventually gave way to a cheerier one, and then to a worriedly preoccupied one.  I helped open one gate at the end of each locking cycle.  These ‘lever’ operated gates seemed actually harder to push against than the heavier balanced-type beams we experienced when we were narrowboating on the UK canals.

We finished up with a lady lockie as we decided to moor up for the night just above lock 67 at Thorey le Plaine.  A lockside sign indicates shop and restaurant here – I walked for 5 minutes towards the village, found a Tabac/Presse but gave up at that point.  They may be further down the road but I couldn’t spot them.

The clouds and occasional drizzle miraculously cleared late afternoon to give a beautifully clear sky, though clouds were building on the horizon in the direction from which we had come.

Saturday 18th May

Heavy rain had been forecast for the morning, so I’d looked out our waterproof trousers.  We awoke to wall to wall blue skies, glorious sunshine and a mist clinging to fields and water.   This wasn’t to last, by lunchtime the skies were cloudy, occasional thunder.  And the heavens opened early evening.  We had seen the last of the sunshine for several days.

We’d asked the lockie for a 9.30 start, so by 9.20 we were already in the lock and waiting, having seen what we took to be the lockie waving as he went past on a motor bike.

We waited to be joined at our first lock of the day by a small cruiser which had moored below the last lock, but fortunately we were first into the lock which worked better for us than yesterday.

There’s a pretty mooring below lock 65 (Bretenniers) with concrete sided quay, bollards,  picnic tables, and just a short walking distance from a Colruyt supermarket, a garden centre and a fuel station.  We made a note of it for the return journey.

Change of lockie at 64, a lock-slammer, vanes fully open right from the get-go.  As Neville said, “he might walk and drive slowly, but he certainly wastes no time slapping a lock open.”

Lunch in the lock at 60, the lockie at 61 having closed one paddle thus  inching up the water level to make sure he didn’t have to do another lock before 12 noon.

If you’re helping to shut lock gates, the upstream right hand one at Long Vic (58) is not for the faint hearted!  Nor is the one at 56.  We had a friendly and efficient English speaking lockie along here who warned me off the gate at 56, saying it would be too heavy for me.

The public quay at Dijon is on the right, the pontoons are round the back of the island on the left.

The public quay at Dijon is on the right in the photo, the pontoons are round the back of the island on the left. The lock is at the end.

The top lock at Dijon leads directly onto the main public quay, on the left, and to the port on the right.  The port has fairly short finger pontoons, but we can just about manage on that length if it’s not too windy.  The public quay is perfectly adequate, outside some fairly plush looking apartments, but we needed water and electricity so moored on the first of three empty pontoons close to a large barge converted to restaurant/night club (Cancale) with a children’s playground behind us.  Big mistake.

The pontoon moorings with electricity and one central fairly inaccessible water point (at the moment),

The pontoon moorings with electricity and one central fairly inaccessible water point (at the moment),

Towards 9.00pm hordes of youngsters congregated in the pouring rain and the unmistakeable boom of a heavy bass heralded a night of entertainment – for some.  As much fun seemed to be had off Cancale as on it, and nobody seemed deterred by the heavy downpour which continued through most of the night as young people gathered in the play area and park gardens. 

Two youths in particular spent the entire evening crouched in a tiny kennel-like DSCF1464structure, the only sign of activity being their glowing cigarette ends.  Wouldn’t have been my idea of a fun Saturday night at that age, but hey! whatever floats your boat.

Peace finally reigned after 2.00am and we awoke next morning to find the play area littered with cans and bottles.  But no nuisance and no damage done, apart from noise and litter.

Sunday 19th May

We moved the boat two or three pontoons further towards the capitainerie pretty early on, though from what we could see on the noticeboard outside Cancale, apart from brunch between noon and 5.00pm, no activity was scheduled.  But we suspected that might not necessarily limit the activities of the party-goers in the play area.   At least we’re a bit further away from them now.

We crossed back over the canal on foot and found a boulangerie on the main road, and a block further on there was an Intermarche, closed on Sunday.  There was also a indo-chinese shop opposite the boulangerie where I managed to get some Chinese sauces and chop-sticks.  I’d forgotten to bring the wok from home, so had bought one at the Casino in St Jean de Losne.  We enjoy a nice stir-fry.

Dijon is a nice port, but currently without (we later discovered) a capitaine, so free electricity and mooring until the council sort themselves out.  Although the bournes were equipped to dispense water, they weren’t working, and a water point is some way along the quay, requiring several hoses to be joined together.  The problem with Cancale is not a daily issue; you need to consult the notices beside the boat to see when it’s going to be an problem.

Place Emile Zola would be lovely on a sunny day.  Plenty of open air restaurants.

Place Emile Zola would be lovely on a sunny day. Plenty of open air restaurants.

There is a small epicerie behind the small park adjoining the port but not particularly well equipped.  The trams into the centre of Dijon run from just behind the port gardens. 

The port is located the other side of a

You see lots of beautifully tiled roofs like these around Dijon.

You see lots of beautifully tiled roofs like these around Dijon.

small island, and at the far end there is a three phase electricity supply for a number of larger hotel boats.  There appears to be a limited market there on Wednesdays, or at least there was on the Wednesday we left.



The weather continued cold, showery and windy.

Monday 20th May

Cold, blustery, more rain, steady rather than showery.  A couple of the hotel boats left the port with their new guests, heading downstream.  Today being Pentecost, no supermarkets open and boulangeries only open until 1.00pm.  Later, when the rain lessened to a fine drizzle we walked into Dijon.  It’s not far, down the Rue de l’Hopital.  You could catch a tram right behind the port but it’s only one stop.

The town was reasonably busy for a public holiday, and we could imagine just how attractive it would be on a fine sunny day.  There is a wide pavement incorporating cycle lanes, which is useful, and for those without bikes, a bike hire station right by the top lock entering the port.

Tuesday 21st May

Another grey day, raining when we got up, though it turned showery.  Still cool, around 12 deg C.  Walked over the canal and down to the Intermarché supermarket.  Quite a well-stocked store.

The weather forecast is for more of the same right through to the end of the month, and some of the rivers have moved onto yellow alert, two stretches of the Saone in particular.  We began to entertain the prospect of perhaps returning to port and driving on down to Spain for some warmer, brighter weather.  If only you could rely on the forecasters!  With our luck the weather will turn brighter as soon as we cover the two days journey back to the Saone.

Wednesday 22nd May

It didn’t rain during the night, but we awoke to the same grey overcast skies and within an hour it was raining again.  There is no real comfort to be found from either Meteo, Accuweather or weather.co.uk 10 day forecasts.  Decision time looms.  Temperatures are 12 deg C at best, showers forecast for today with thunderstorms tomorrow and Friday.  In five years of boating in France we can’t remember weather anything like this.  One boater said the long term forecast was for it to continue until July!

The basin at Plombiere les Dijons

The basin at Plombiere les Dijons

Went to the VNF office by the locks at 9.00 to book a 9.10 start heading towards Plombiere, where we would give it one more day before making a decision about returning and heading off to Spain.

The first lock is manually operated by the eclusier, but the second one is hydraulic which took us by surprise.  The lockie closed the gates behind us and started filling the lock before we’d even got the second rope up.  The remainder were manually operated.

What to say about Plombiere le Dijon?  We’d heard from some fellow boaters that it

Facing the lock at Plombiere

Facing the lock at Plombiere

was a beautiful spot, and I suppose on a better day than this, the description is probably justified.  The basin is overlooked on one side by wooded slopes, though the trees lining the harbour were only just coming into leaf, at this stage of the year!  The travel guides had said there was a hire boat base here, but it looks to be long gone and the pontoons have been removed and stacked on the side of the basin.  The bournes are all broken with the exception of one 3 phase box marked ‘private’.  No water appears to be available on the circular side of the basin, though it looks as though four or five live-aboards on the grassy side of the basin have access to water.  There is a small restaurant (la Pause Gourmande) but there were no signs of life, no menus, no notices. Maybe it all springs into life during July-August?

Two rivers run through Plombiere, part of one of them acting like a moat around the police HQ

Two rivers run through Plombiere, part of one of them acting like a moat around the police HQ

It’s a beautiful village, behind the low-rise apartment monstrosities close to the lock, with two rivers running through it, and some really pretty houses.  To get to the bakery, walk back to the lock and turn left.  It’s after the Mairie on the left hand side.

Today was forecast to be warmer, but by midday temperatures had only reached 10 degrees.  We did get a glimpse of blue sky around 9.00am though, just before we set off for the day; good to know it’s still there.

DSCF1469Our evening’s entertainment was provided by a cat who balanced precariously along the fourth floor balcony of one of the apartment blocks, before settling down on the ledge to have a personal grooming session.

Then miraculously, at 9.00pm, a sliver of golden sky appeared in the west and within minutes the sky had cleared to reveal a clear blue twilight.  Temperatures dropped to 3 degrees overnight.

Thursday 23 May

That's what you call security, in addition to a moat, the police HQ has a murderous-looking wrought iron barrier.

That’s what you call security, in addition to a moat, the police HQ has a murderous-looking wrought iron barrier.

Bitterly cold on the boat overnight, but awoke to clearer skies than recently with just a few patches of blue reminding us that there is something else beyond the grey lid that has been firmly clamped over France for the best part of three weeks.  Checked all three weather forecasts for the next few weeks – still more of the same.

Enough is enough!  We’re turning round, returning to Pont de Vaux and hope to head off somewhere warmer.  We’ll have to attempt this trip again when we return late summer.  This morning we see from Vigicrues that the Saone is on yellow alert right from Auxonne down to Lyon.  Great!  We might end up hanging around at St Jean de Losne if things get much worse.

The lockie (who lives at the cottage beside the lock here)  deferred our requested 9.00am departure until 10.30am to coincide with a boat coming up the canal.  Yesterday one boat came up the lock besides us, and one boat went down on our lock, so he probably needed a bit of a rest.  Maybe that’s why we saw him outside the local primary school at 4.30pm, meeting his daughter.

Of course, by 10.30 the skies had clouded over and the rain was pouring down.

The 2 boats coming upstream didn’t arrive until turned 11.00am, and by the time they’d exited the lock we’d have had 45 minutes of cruising before being left in the middle of nowhere whilst the lockie went for lunch.  So mustering what French I could, (which for some reason is always easier when I’m exasperated) I told him it wasn’t worth our leaving in this downpour for just 45 minutes of cruising, and we’d prefer to wait until 1.00 pm now.  He said he’d another boat scheduled to set off upstream from Dijon at 1.30.  My equivalent of the gallic shrug seemed to settle the point and he agreed a 1.00 departure.  As Neville said, if maintaining that departure time from Dijon was so important, he could take an early lunch hour now, and we’d be happy to set off immediately he’d done so.  Instead he disappeared inside his cottage and didn’t re-appear until just after 1.00pm.

No chance of our making our original destination though, which had been the nice little mooring at lock 65.  Best laid plans…

Le Palais des Ducs et des Etats de Bourgogne

Le Palais des Ducs et des Etats de Bourgogne

Arrived back at Dijon at 2.45pm where we returned to our same pontoon mooring to stay for the night.

Walked into Dijon centre, sunny for remainder of afternoon.  There’s certainly plenty to explore here, and so handily placed for the mooring. 

DSCF1477There’s enough to keep sightseers occupied for several days, with the Palais des Ducs et des Etats de Bourgogne, the Palais de Justice, several cathedrals and museums.

Friday 24 May 2013

We’d asked for 9.00am departure but as we prepared to leave, an 18 mtre French barge got ahead of us at the lock.  They were unhappy about sharing (which would have been a bit tight admittedly) so we had to wait and share with a hire boat, with a 45 minute delay.  They said they too had rung for the 9.00am slot – ‘pas d’organisation’ in the words of the woman on board.  Our ‘friendly’ lockie of yesterday appeared to help the resident lockie, and the two of them opened one gate, happily chatting, whilst I struggled with the other.

At the third lock of the morning we caught up with the first boat who was waiting for an up-comer.  Once that one had gone down, we had to wait for a passenger boat to come up.  We’ll not be making much progress today.  Lunched in the lock at Ecluse 60 and finished for the day at Bretonnieres below lock 65, the nice little mooring with picnic tables and close to a supermarket.

It had been a cloudy day with intermittent light showers, which turned into a steady downpour overnight.

Saturday 25 May

Still raining as we set off so we just resigned ourselves to getting wet, togged out from head to foot in waterproofs.  No joy in cruising like this, but at least we had friendly and efficient lockies today.  A lady lockie had already prepared several locks for us by 9.00am, and we made good progress despite the rain.  At midday we moored up in the next lock expecting to wait an hour for a lockie, but twenty minutes or so later a new guy arrived and took us through the last two locks of our day during the lunch hour.

Another storm looms over St Jean de Losne

Another storm looms over St Jean de Losne

Moored up just ahead of the last lock that lets you down onto the Saone to watch F1 qualifying, and then went off on our bikes to inspect the quay at St Jean de Losne to see whether there was space for us. 

Indeed there was, since the quay was under DSCN4368water, as was the first line of steps.  No mooring to be had there then!

The Saone is still on yellow alert, and looks to be flowing very fast with debris.  So we called at the Casino supermarket and just managed to get back to the boat before howling winds heralded the start of the next rainstorm.  Incredible weather – and absolutely no let up in sight.  The evening was punctuated by short heavy downpours, but no rain overnight.

Sunday 26 May

Where the Canal de Bourgogne meets the Saone

Where the Canal de Bourgogne meets the Saone

Vigicrues and Hydroreel indicate that the level has dropped overnight at Auxonne, so provided the rain holds off today we can expect this reduction around here shortly.  Certainly on our morning walk the level on the flood marker boards in the river had dropped to about 9 inches below level I, whereas it was slightly above level I yesterday.

A lovely sunny early morning gave way to more cloud.  The river was still over the bottom step down on the quay at St Jean but by late afternoon it had dropped and we moved down there so that we could get an early start in the morning and not have to wait for the lock at the end of the Bourgogne.

Monday 27 May

Ready for an early start down the Saone

Ready for an early start down the Saone

A lovely clear morning, the first since a week last Friday, and only the second of our three weeks here.

According to Vigicrues and Hydroreel the levels are dropping significantly further upstream towards Auxonne and Gray, but for the moment the Saone below Chalon is still on yellow alert.

The first lock at Seurre dropped about 2.5 metres of its normal 3.75 fall, whilst Ecuelles dropped less than a metre of the normal 3.2, so the level was getting significantly higher as we headed downstream towards the yellow alert area.  The Saone looked a lot wider than it did on our journey upstream, spilling over into neighbouring fields.

This passarelle is going nowhere in the centre of Chalon

This passarelle is going nowhere in the centre of Chalon

Below Chalon our speed increased, occasionally reaching 14.8kph at 1500 rpm and the river widened even further until at times it looked as though we were at sea. 

As we approached the disused lock at

No problem seeing if there's space for you at Gigny as you approach

No problem seeing if there’s space for you at Gigny as you approach

Gigny, we could see the moored boats standing proud of the lock wall; normally you can scarcely see their masts above the wall.  No problem checking whether there is a suitable mooring space for you there!

Three or four kilometres further down we approached Ormes Lock, already suspecting that this lock, with its 2.5 metre drop was unlikely to be in operation and we might, for the first time, experience going over the weir.  DSCN4393We were right – the signage had been changed to no entry for the lock approach, the weirs had been lowered over the barrage and two one-way systems in either direction signalled above the weir. 


Going over the weir!

Through Tournus we reached 15.7 kph between the two bridges, and you could really feel the tug of the current and the eddies.

By 4.30pm we were negotiating a tricky u-turn against the current beneath the bridge, to enter the Canal de Pont de Vaux.   The eddies behind the bridge stanchions made it impossible to turn without going further downstream and coming back up.  The water was so high the landing stage was beneath the water and the lock gates had been left permanently open.

An interesting journey down, especially through the area still on flood alert.  For those who are interested in statistics, these are the comparative and relative readings from Vigicruse/Hydroreel for this trip.  For us, these figures (which appear to represent levels above a nominal VNF datum) will certainly provide a useful benchmark against which to schedule future forays from the port out onto the river.


Left 13 May

Interim Peak

Return 27 May









Le Chatelet








Chalon s/Saone












 As we set off up the Canal Pont de Vaux towards the port, the weather behind us was breaking down into grey clouds, after what had been the first full day of sun we’d seen since our arrival in France.    Cruising through the heavy foliage of the canal we immediately had a wheelhouse full of mosquitoes, and Neville was an early casualty – within 5 minutes.  It was much warmer than it has been for days, and maybe they’d all just hatched.

The port car park was quite crowded, and we could see lots of people on boats waiting for the levels to subside.

A few minutes after we arrived in our home berth, we logged onto our email to confirm a booking at our favourite aparthotel in Moraira, Costa Blanca, and on Thursday we should be soaking up some rays as opposed to some rainwater.

Deep joy!





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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15 Responses to Rain, rain and more rain… Canal de Bourgogne/River Saone, May 2013

  1. billgncs says:

    Hi Sandra – this is sooo cool! Thanks for sharing it. What a fun adventure.


    • Sandra says:

      Glad you enjoyed it Bill. We’re drying out now and looking forward to some sun. 🙂 See you tomorrow hopefully.


      • billgncs says:

        do you find France in turmoil from the new government and the economy ?


        • Sandra says:

          Not particularly, but by the nature of the waterways network our travels take us mostly through small towns and villages. The waterways are quieter than we have known, but then boat hire has always been extremely expensive and might be one of the early luxuries that people would cut back on. When we moored in Carcassonne we used to see lots of noisy demonstrations (unions and students) but that was before the change of government. Now we are further north, where regional influences are different, so it’s not easy to compare.


  2. Really enjoyed the trip…more than you probably did as I was sitting in a dry living room. I hope that when I read the next installment, you’ll be enjoying some fabulously warm weather.



  3. Simon says:

    So sorry you had such rotten weather – I always find that the first day or two is quite pleasant as you listen to the drumming of the rain on the deck – and while you wait for leaks to appear! 🙂 Then life goes downhill very fast! Stick with the Canal de Bourgogne – Dijon is wonderful, as you discovered, and north of there the canal goes through some lovely scenery…..but there are a LOT of locks – one year I had a mutiny, and the crew took off! Fortunately the 29 locks that I had before being joined by the next crew were all downhill! Keep blogging about your trips; I always pick up a few tips from you.


    • Sandra says:

      I know what you mean, it’s lovely listening to rainfall on the boat. But when it goes on and on… We’ll try again later in the summer when the weather settles down, if it does! I’m glad my reports are useful in some way. There are times (like the lock at Ecuelles) when I wish I’d had something to refer to in advance 😉 Thanks for reading and commenting.


      • Simon says:

        Hi Sandra,

        In case you are in the area, we will be starting on our Dutch Barge “Derrineel” (somewhat similar paintwork to Desormais), on 14 Sept in Decize; Crew change on the 21st in Roanne, and ending in Blanzy on 28th. We will keep an eye open for Desormais!



  4. Sandra says:

    Hi Simon, we plan to return to France in August but I think we’ll be attempting the Bourgogne again, seeing as our plans were thwarted last time. We’ll keep an eye out for you though, wherever we go. Hope you have a lovely summer, happy cruising! 🙂


  5. Pingback: Canal de Bourgogne Revisited (Autumn 2013) | castelsarrasin

  6. Nan Falkner says:

    Sandra, I don’t know how I got here – but your blog is fascinating! I really enjoyed the writing about traveling down the river and your boat (or ship) is huge! Mike & I went with 3 other couples down the Mississippi River from La Crosse,WI to Red Wing, Minnesota a few years ago and it took us a week and a half to travel that far. It was a BLAST! We had so much fun – the kitchen bar was full of liquor when we started and almost empty when we got back to La Crosse. This was a very good memory for us. Thanks for writing this and bringing the River Cruise back to front of the line of my memories! Awesome, you are so blessed and I am so happy for you both! Nan 🙂


    • Sandra says:

      Thanks Nan, glad it brought back some memories for you. We saw the Mississippi when we visited New Orleans some time back, and were struck by its width at that point. I know what you mean aout the kitchen bar; we stock up on wine from the local vineyards before we leave port and one way or another, (cooking, entertaining, spillages and oh .. yes drinking) there’s seldom much left when we return.


  7. Pingback: Auxerre – Canal de Bourgogne – Saone to Pont de Vaux, May/June 2014 | castelsarrasin

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