Auxerre – Canal de Bourgogne – Saone to Pont de Vaux, May/June 2014

Monday 26 May

We’d had a nice weekend at Auxerre, after coming down from the Nivernais. The weather had been mixed, hot and sunny, heavy showers.

The moorings on the capitainerie side are expensive, (22 euros for a boat our size with electricity) but you are right in the middle of the city and it’s been very handy.

There is a free mooring available on the opposite bank, though we’re not sure what the situation is regarding services. There appear to be bournes, but no-one apart from a boat that looked like a long term moorer was plugged into them, and the capitaine had said there were no services over there. There is a LeClerc quite close to our mooring, (just head upstream and turn left at the lower bridge), though it was closed for refurbishment for a few days. The port became very busy on Sunday, and most boats were breasted up against others.

DSC_0064A swan cruised serenely up and down the river over the weekend, proudly showing off her three cute cygnets (one of whom insisted on cruising on her back) while her mate rode shotgun, hissing at any ducks that came too near. Another lone swan came to investigate and a fight developed in which the male swan actually drove the newcomer up the banks of the river and continued the fight on the promenade.  We couldn’t see what happened to the intruder swan, but some brave man ended up stalking several yards down the embankment with the male aggressor swan’s body under his arm and a firm grip on his beak, before shoving him unceremoniously into the water near his family. After much fluffing and puffing, the male swan led his family upstream.

Auxerre has a lot of churches, winding narrow streets, picturesque buildings and a beautiful slow flowing wide river. A flea market took place yesterday on the opposite banks, and there was music and dancing. Better than on Saturday evening when two bongo-players interrupted everyone’s peace for well over an hour. The sound carried across the water, and most people were relieved when a heavy downpour brought their performance to an end.

This morning it was raining, though high cloud offered some hope that it might not last.

The lock leading out of Auxerre.

The lock leading out of Auxerre.

The locks from now to Migennes will be 90 metres long, 8 m wide, therefore slower to empty. We were through the first one by 9.20am.

The first four locks are straight-sided. You suddenly come across the fourth lock as you round a bend in the river. Here we found two hireboaters entering the lock to ascend. Nowhere here to moor as it’s very shallow on the left side, and we had some difficulty holding the boat in the current sweeping round the bend and over the weir. A unicycle-riding lockie (everyone’s an entertainer these days) was selling cherries to the upcoming hireboaters, and we lost a lot of time here.

The fifth lock is straight-sided on the left, with 2 pontoons towards the front of the lock on the sloping right side.

The sixth and seventh locks are again straight sided, and there are sliding poles if needed for ascent on the sixth. These 2 locks are automated, with no lock-keeper presence. We’d reached the seventh just around 12.30 so the gates didn’t close automatically behind us and we were able to lunch in the lock, though there is a picnic table a few yards before the lock. I think if you hit the sixth before 12.30 it will probably allow you into the seventh.

The eighth lock, after lunch, was straight-sided on the left with 3 pontoons up the front of the lock on the sloping side, and the final lock before Migenne is straight-sided. Between the fifth and the sixth locks we passed Ian and Gill in Jazz, yet another Sagar to add the headcount for this trip.

We arrived at the junction for the Canal de Bourgogne at 3.15. This is a deep lock (5.5m) where the lock-keeper lowers a hook to take your rope. He was a happy, friendly soul. The moorings are just beyond the hire-fleet and are free if no electricity or water is taken. Some people might be put off by the proximity of passing trains, particularly noisy freight trains, but we’re both rail buffs so it actually lends something to the atmosphere.

There is a LeClerc just out of town, but the ATAC quite close to the moorings is more than adequate and we made two trips to stock up for the next stage of the journey.

Migennes is a fairly non-descript town. This is where Désormais arrived on the back of a lorry and was put into the water at the former Joe Parfitt boatyard upstream, now Evans Marine. On 22nd May 2008 we set off from here on the first stage of our travels through France – just over six years and how time has flown by.

Tuesday 27 May

A grey day after yesterday afternoon’s torrential downpours. We walked into the town for bread and were away before 9.00am. A Locaboat set off just before us and was already in the lock when we arrived but seemed not to be making any attempt to put a rope up. Fortunately, yesterday’s lockie arrived, with profuse apologies for having overslept, even though he was only minutes late. Pausing to greet everyone both inside and outside the boats he set about his duties, explaining to the Locaboat just where to place his ropes. How lovely to have a cheery, helpful lockie.

Potential mooring at PK 6, cultivated grassy area with bollards on left bank. Concrete quay.

We also passed another mooring, a hire boat base at Brienon, but we believe that it’s horrendously expensive to moor over there (15 euros without benefit of electricity or water, which are an additional 7 euros each) and have heard reports of unfriendly staff and charges being made for tying to the armco barrier before the bridge.

The Locaboat, whose captain seemed a tad anxious, had decided he didn’t want to share a lock after the first one, so he slowed, then stopped and let us and a third boat pass. He obviously doesn’t know the nature of the French lock-keeper. At the second lock a different lock-keeper was annoyed that the third boat, the Locaboat, didn’t show, and when we reached the third lock the gate was half closed. A VNF employee working up there just repeated the Gallic shrug as our two boats hung about, and eventually the lock-keeper from the second lock turned up, having waited to lock the Locaboat up so he could join us in the third lock. I ventured the opinion that three boats of this length wouldn’t fit in the lock, but we’d wasted 40 minutes before he reached the same conclusion. And not before the nervous Locaboat captain had unwillingly tried to squeeze in and then nearly wet himself having to reverse out of the lock.

A longish haul to the next lock where the same lockie arrived, took my bow rope, ignored Neville’s and when I asked him to take it, he tapped his watch and pulled a face. It was minutes to his lunchtime. So an unsafe, unsecured locking was justifiable I guess, rather than be a minute or two late for your lunch. To add insult to injury, as we left the lock he didn’t notice the gate had swung back and we narrowly avoided another scratch added to our boat as he frantically started to pull at it whilst I levered a boot against it from on board.

2.00pm St Florentin – free mooring, electricity €5.00. We moored on the canal near to the Reception office. There is an inner port for mostly end-on mooring, with a pontoon right at the far end where you could accommodate a longer boat on a linear mooring.

St Florentin, like so many French towns, has seen better days. A lot of the shops have closed and many of the roads are full of potholes, though the main through route was being resurfaced today. There’s a pretty church and some attractive buildings.

A woman came round the boats late afternoon with a slip of paper advertising the Restaurant O Bairrada which is very close to the port.

Wednesday 28th May

The first lock was 5.2m. Gemigny looked like a nice mooring at PK22, a concrete quay about 50m with rings.

The lockie told us he was doing the next lock 1.5km away, and there would be another small boat already there. He said we could enter but must do nothing until he arrived, as perhaps there was another boat coming up and he had to wait for it. We left the lock at 9.15 and passed the Locaboat from yesterday, presumably the other ‘small’ boat.  He followed us into the lock.

The lockie turned up at 9.50 at the same time as the next boat. We could only assume that he thought better of trying to fit three of us in the lock as he immediately started closing the gates. I wondered what was he doing in between the third boat leaving the lock and the 1.5km it took to reach us. An hour between entering the first lock and leaving the second, just 1.5km away.

A possible unserviced mooring available at Percy, alongside what used to be a restaurant.

We stopped on the quay at Flogny for lunch. Water is available here but no other services.

There are some interesting sculptures on the lockside at Dannemoine, presumably done by Yves Badouine who advertises on a noticeboard on the road by the lock.

Arrived at Tonerre around 3.30pm.  This is a very pleasant, serviced mooring on the right side of the basin as you come up the lock. (The left side is close to an industrial zone.) There is a playground, picnic benches, car park, lots of trees and shrubs. The next lock is at the other end of the basin. We’d read there were issues with the capitainerie here, ie showers/toilets not being available, capitaine never in attendance. The sign indicated 17.30-19.30 but in fact no-one showed up. The fee, if someone does show, is 8.70 all inclusive. There are conflicting opinions as to whether mooring is free if you don’t have services.

Around 6.30pm, the Locaboat with whom we’d started the day, arrived in port and with much acceleration proceeded to turn his boat 180 degrees. This was executed by means of an 18 or 19 point turn, during which the boat turned by probably less than 10 degrees on each manoeuvre. Conducted at great speed, this soon had all the boat owners out on their decks to fend off the apparent T boning which seemed imminent with every high velocity manoeuvre. It seemed that the boat wasn’t capable of steering positively to the right. I mentioned this to another ‘guard’ on the next boat, and she said they’d had several issues with them during the day, and that the Locaboat had run aground at one point. Perhaps some rudder damage had been done. As he was now moored where he could only make a right turn to get underway again, Thursday morning may be interesting, but we won’t stick around to watch.

DSCF2914We’d had really pleasant lockies today, mostly taking two to three locks each.

Thursday 29th May

To get to Tonerre village itself head towards the next upstream lock and turn right. It’s a fair walk into the centre, about 20 minutes each way, crossing three rivers en route. We went for bread fairly early in the morning. The Lavoire (La Fosse Dion) and the hospital are worth a look, but Tonerre is a fairly old and fairly tired looking town.

Although we’d agreed a 9.00am start, we waited in the upstream lock for 55 minutes whilst the lock-keeper locked three boats down from the other end of the basin. It’s impossible to plan a schedule these days. We need to be in Pouilly-en-Auxois by Tuesday of next week to meet friends from England, and when we reach the stretch where there are locks every 500 metres or so, we can expect some delays.

Village of Tanlay - worth a longer stay.

Village of Tanlay – worth a longer stay.

Passed our first hotel boat of this trip, C’est la Vie between the second and third locks and the second, Elisabeth at Tanlay, a beautiful village. This village would have warranted a longer stop but we’re not making particularly good progress today. Hotel boats take up 50 metres of the quay, but there is an unserviced concrete quay with rings directly opposite, not particularly handy for exploring the village but at least a possibility. At the lock just before Tanlay we listened to a brief diatribe in English against VNF from the lock-keeper’s mate (himself a lock-keeper I think). He complained about cut-backs and how they were all now having to do three locks. “Everybody’s looking for other jobs now,” he said.

The last lockie told us he couldn’t take us up the next lock until 1.30 as a boat was coming down. No-one passed us, and the two boats that were moored at Tanlay were still in the early throes of their lunch as we left at 1.00pm to cruise slowly up to the next lock. But he did arrive promptly at 1.30pm.

Lock 87:  You have to see this to believe it. Have your camera ready!

We moored for the night above the lock at Lezinnes. There is a 50 metre concrete quay here which today was occupied by a hotel boat, and further on there is a shorter quay which was occupied by a group of fishermen and a weed dredger. So we moored by the steel shuttering on the right bank, and had a peaceful evening there, apart from the frogs croaking!

Walking into the village (take the right hand fork after you’ve crossed a couple of rivers) we found a boulangerie, minimarket and a restaurant. The shops were closed; I believe today was yet another holiday.

Friday 30th May

DSCF2943A foggy morning until the sun came through to burn the mist away.  We were through the first two locks by 9.20 this morning, such a contrast to yesterday. The last few locks have been hydraulic with push button operation of doors and filling, and this would continue up to Lock 79.

Ancy looks good with a 50 metre concrete mooring but it has priority for hotel boats, of which we are seeing increasingly more now. Elec and water. Chateau nearby.

Just before lock 79 (Chassignelles ) there are mooring bollards at the right bank for a Hotel d’Ecluse restaurant on the opposite side, an outdoor tree-shaded terrace right by the water’s edge. Lock 79 was back to manual lock operation.DSCF2951

At lock 78 which we exited a couple of minutes after noon, the lock-keeper asked us to be at the next lock right on 1.00pm as he had two boats to lock down from lock 78 straight after lunch. Those two boats crossed with us on the next section which means he had worked well into his lunch break to keep people moving. He duly turned up at 1.00 and locked us up, so we gave him a bottle of Old Speckled Hen. I’d have given him a gold star if I had any! We’re making so much better progress today.

Had we not lost so much time along the way we’d have stopped at Ravieres which although not particularly enticing as you come up the lock 77, does seem to have all the facilities and an extensive mooring capability with services.

DSCF2961We eventually moored just below the lock at Cry sur Armancon, a pleasant little basin with picnic tables and water (which wasn’t working). The pretty village is at the end of an impressive road lined with horse-chestnut trees, but there is little in the way of services. A church (inevitably) and a bar-restaurant (also fairly inevitable).

We were disturbed around 3.30am by the sound of a frog who quacked and croaked his way around the bow as though he knew which end of the boat we were sleeping. Whoever said frogs go “ribbit-ribbit” hasn’t been in France during the mating season. Driven to distraction, Neville went to the aft cabin, and after stuffing cotton wool in my ears, venturing outside in the dark to rattle a broomstick against the side of the boat and turning lights on and off, I eventually gave in and played games on my Tab until dawn. A brief half hour’s respite where I almost drifted off, and then the frog was back again and we both gave in and got up.

Saturday 31st May

We have three days in which to do 75 locks and 67 kilometres if we are to be at Pouilly in time to meet our friends.

Water levels were low which slowed us slightly, but we were still having fairly speedy locking after a lucky start when the lock-keeper arrived at 8.45 and let us through.

Buffon is a very pretty village and it’s worth a visit to see the Forges de Buffon.  There are a number of  beautiful villages here with smart little houses, plenty of greenery, tree-lined waters edges.  There is a Hotel Restaurant, Le Marronier, with a shady terrace close to the water.   The weed in the canal was extremely bad though, and we were frequently having to clear the props with a sharp burst of reverse and forward revs.

We completed 7 locks in the morning. At the fourth lock I asked the female lockie if she was continuing to lock 5. She confirmed she was and said there were lots of boats today. We saw only two boats again that morning.

Montbard looks to be a very attractive town.  There are two pontoons below the locks and another basin above, with a Casino on the left bank.  (They will deliver to boats.)

Another basin for mooring above the locks

We left Montbard and approached Lock 63 to find no-one there. We waited. No-one came. No sign at the lock, no noticeboard, no numbers to ring. I cycled up to the next lock in the blazing sun. No one there, a noticeboard (Yesssss!) but no telephone numbers. (Noooo!)  It was beginning to seem as though we had just dropped out of the system and might have to wait until a passing lock-keeper happened to spot us.  I cycled back – couldn’t find a number on the internet for VNF at Montbard so rang a telephone number for VNF Dijon, recorded message – please try later. Rang another telephone number for VNF Dijon, recorded message – please try later. Rang another telephone number – recorded message ending in ‘quelques instants’ (which sounded hopefully like someone would come to the phone eventually) played twice before the line was cut.

An hour passed, and Neville set off on his bike to ride the three kilometres to the next but one lock. He returned shortly after saying he’d found a lockie bringing a boat down through the next lock. So we hadn’t been forgotten, just treated badly.

As best I could with my French, I communicated my frustration to the female lock-keeper when she arrived. It was the usual response – not enough resources and she was covering several locks. I asked why the girl who’d let us up the last lock was only covering one lock.   Gallic shrug. And why the woman before her had only looked after two. Another Gallic shrug. She wished, she said, indeed had asked if she could only look after one lock. She was 58 years old and she wanted to retire. What can you say? The two women having an easy time of it a couple of kilometres downstream were in their twenties and thirties.

So I opened and shut the gate for the downstream boat, opened and shut the gate for our boat and even wound down the paddle. And a full hour and a half after we’d cruised up to lock 63, we finally cruised out of it, both of us having taken a 2 kilometre bike ride in the interim.

Incandescent was not the word for it. Just when you’re beginning to think you may have been overly critical about VNF, they go and do it again.

The poor woman was with us for 4 locks; and very tough gates they were too! I know, because I helped at every one.  She handed us on to another lockie for the last four locks and we arrived at Venarey around 6.00pm.

I asked the lock-keeper whether he thought we could reach Pouilly by end of the day Monday. Much head shaking between him and another colleague, sharp hissing of breath between clenched teeth, and after due consideration the verdict that we’d be lucky to make it to Pont Royal by end Monday.

DSCF2981Venarey is a pleasant enough mooring, with a basin for hire-boats.  There is limited depth at some places but we were reasonably OK on the opposite side, diagonally across from the basin.

Another long and frustrating day.

Sunday 1st June

We saw some hire-boaters returning with bread, but when we cycled towards Venarey the boulangerie we came across was closed. So we headed in the other direction, probably about 2 kilometres to find another one.

The lock-keeper was prompt at 9.00am but he was working single-handed. After the first couple of locks we got into a rhythm where I cycled ahead between locks, opened the gate where necessary, took the ropes, closed one downstream gate and after locking Neville opened the upstream gate while I continued on to the next one.   In this way we were saving a fair bit of time and we negotiated 13 locks by lunchtime which was terrific progress, we thought.

After lunch another lockie joined the single lockie so we were making real progress and we didn’t need to participate in gate-shutting. But by lock 31, (when a new two-man locking crew took over) cycling was getting harder and harder, and I ended up pushing the bike up the slopes to the lock sides. By now it was clear that the limit to the day’s locking would be my stamina. When I tried to set off from Lock 31 I realised that in fact it wasn’t my stamina; there was something was wrong with the bike, the wheels just wouldn’t go round. Neville was just leaving the lock so he managed to grab the bike off me and shove it on the back of the boat as I walked to the next lock.

There the new smiley lock-keeper told me to get on the boat, and said he would take our ropes from now on. Oh heaven! Under normal circumstances the ropes shouldn’t have been a problem , because most of these locks are around 2.6m and could be accommodated from the boat, but the water levels are so low that at least another 12-18 inches has been added to the reach.

Later we discovered the brakes had locked on the front wheel of the bike. No wonder pedalling had been getting harder!

Reached Marigny at 3.30, which is where this morning’s lockie had said was the furthest we could go in a day, but our new friendly lockie had no problem in carrying on until 5.00pm when we asked. He even volunteered the information that there was a pontoon above Lock 16 and worked on until 5.30pm to get us there. He’d also advised us in advance to change the ropes to the other side for the ensuing locks. They were stars, both of them, roaring up the towpath on their scooters, always there ahead of us. At the end of the day we thanked them profusely and gave them each a bottle of beer.

That’s 40 locks and 15 kilometres in the day. Time for a beer ourselves, I think.

Monday 2nd June

DSCF2983We are out in the sticks, so it’s been a truly peaceful mooring. This pontoon is here because lock 16 is the point at which the locking crew changes to the next supervising lock-keepers, and I guess the hand-over doesn’t normally coincide with the end of the day so boaters may have to wait a short while for the new crew to arrive with any downstream boaters.

Despite the long hours yesterday, we only had 3 engine hours on the clock, (we switch the engine off in the lock) and since we haven’t connected to a bourne since the 28th May at Tonerre, we needed to use the genny this morning.

Out of the lock at 9.05 with the younger of the lock-keepers that had accompanied us yesterday. After the lock there is a narrow cutting, heavily overgrown by trees on either side. Picked up another lockie for the next lock and then he took us on alone.

DSCF2988Passed Pont Royale which looks to be an excellent mooring with services in an attractive village. Just before we got there we crossed with Tammy, another Sagar with the same colours as ours, who we had last seen some weeks ago at Genelard.
After the next lock, another long one way cutting that has three passing places and then we continued for 10 kilometres without any locks. DSCF2996

When we arrived at the first lock of the next climb we were dismayed to find only two bollards, front and rear on either side. Quick transfer of the midships rope to the stern bollards, but my front line was so long and acutely angled that it afforded little control. The lockie apologetically confirmed that all the locks in this flight would be the same. The good news however, was that we would be continuing the flight through the lunch hour! A smiling, English speaking lockie – who stayed with us for the remainder of the flight.  After 1.00pm we met the first down-coming boaters, and from then on this same lock-keeper zoomed up and down the towpath on his scooter handling three different lockings simultaneously.  Eventually we reached the last lock which was handled by the lockie responsible for the Pouilly end of the tunnel and we didn’t get a chance to say good-bye or thank you to the brilliant, hardworking guy who had got us into Pouilly by 2.30pm.  We’d achieved our target – time to relax for a day and a half.

The basin was empty, apart from another unoccupied Sagar (Lunacoma) at the far end, and the trip boat near the Capitainerie.  New lockable bournes here this time, but the internet was a bit sporadic.  We did a fairly big shop at the Atac close to the moorings, and on our return I cycled along the towpath into the town to try to buy some more antihistamines for my hay-fever which was still rampant.

Although we weren’t due to met our friends from England until the next day, when I returned I found them sitting drinking tea with Neville in the shaded picnic benches next to the quay.  They had spent some time earlier in the afternoon at a restaurant overlooking the last flight of locks, expecting to see us arrive in the lock at any moment when in reality we were already home and dry.

That night we ate out in the town at the Hotel du Commerce.  Not an impressive meal but probably worth a try if you stay away from the ‘jambon’ which bore a closer resemblance to hot spam than ham.  😦  The company, however, was excellent!)

Tuesday 3rd June

Although we’d done Chateaneuf before, we thought our friends would like to see it, and it was lovely climbing the winding road up to the village/chateau in the back of an air-conditioned Mercedes as opposed to a bike.  We parked in the leafy square and had a coffee at the Auberge Marronier where we’d last had lunch, before making our way to the chateau itself.  Much restoration work continues here, but there is still plenty to see and well worth the 5 euros to walk round the interior.  There are photos on the previous trip report, but I’ve included some more here.

After viewing the castle, we took in the village church:

We lunched at Le Grill du Castel, where there is a shaded terrace out the back and a glowing fire in the restaurant itself.  The salads were excellent, but the steaks that we saw being ferried to other tables looked out of this world!

On the way back to the boat we called in at Comarin, which is an impressive well maintained chateau which has the unique distinction of having survived the centuries without being looted or sold.  The family line of the Comte de Vogue have sought to perpetuate this beautiful monument in line with the style of each age.  It’s apparently available for hire for special occasions, and is available for guided tours.  Just to stroll around the grounds, without seeing any of the historic treasures within, costs 2.40 euros.  There is a small shop for refreshments.

All in all, an interesting and enjoyable day, and both sites were well worth visiting.

Wednesday June 4th

From this point on, we’re covering territory which has been dealt with in two previous trip reports:

Rain, rain and more rain.  Canal de Boulogne/Saone, (May 2013)

The Canal de Bourgogne Revisited (Autumn 2013)

so we won’t deal in the same detail about the places we pass through, except where something has changed.

After the recent fine weather we awoke to a blustery rainy day. Our proposed 10.30 departure (we’d asked for 9.00 but it wasn’t possible because the trip boat was scheduled for that time) was postponed until 1.00 by the lock-keeper, so half a day’s cruising lost, and our friends, who’d hoped to watch us enter the Pouilly tunnel, had to leave before then.

Set off at 1.00pm, and were thankful our friends were not there to watch our immediate impact on entry to the tunnel.  It doesn’t normally happen that way; normally there’s a complete dearth of gongoozlers for the expert manoeuvres, and a huge crowd for the foul-ups.  On this occasion the northern half of the tunnel was unlit and despite having all below deck lights on, blinds raised plus floodlight, we had one or two encounters against the side when fighting against the propwalk which brings the back in to the left. We’d put zig zag fenders down again either side of the stern to absorb the worst of any impact but sometimes we hit the wall so hard I wondered whether we’d lost them under the impact.  I spent a lot of time peering out with a flashlight to check they were still there.  Within the first 600 metres the front windscreen misted up on the outside, probably due to the damp weather, and we were glad that we have a front window that can drop down to lie on the top of the front cabin. We fared a little better when we reached the illuminated second half of the tunnel.

Through in half an hour (our quickest time yet) and emerged into bright sunshine.  The seven locks above Vandenesse take you past the lock cottage with tools and implements embedded into the wall, and the exhibition of rustic agriculture equipment.   We had reasonably speedy locking down to Pont D’Ouche, through alternating sunshine, heavy showers and gusting winds that drove us onto the bank, from where we only got off again with great difficulty and use of bow thruster.

At the last lock we were told that our request for a 9.00am start would not be possible due to (stop me if you’ve heard this before) a shortage of lock-keepers, and we would have to share with a Swiss boat at 10.00am. Yet since we arrived at Pouilly on Monday afternoon, we have seen only one boat moving on the water, and that was the one which arrived at Pouilly this morning coming upstream.

As we were mooring up, another VNF man arrived and announced that now we couldn’t go until 1.00pm. This is getting beyond a joke, two mornings cruising lost in two days. I hit the roof, pointing at the vignette and asking what we were paying for, and generally being very bad-tempered. I got the usual responses (contact Dijon – yeah right). Then as we were starting our evening meal he came back, and said we could go at 10.30 after all. I thanked him politely.

Later, the Swiss couple with whom we had been supposed to share a lock with in the afternoon came round to see us. They still hadn’t been told that 10.30 was on, and were under the impression they were going at 1.00pm.  Over a glass of wine, they decided they’d just follow us when we set off.

Pont d’Ouche is a nice little halte and is now under new management.  We heard that Bryony, who used to run the mooring and a little cafe/shop, now has a house in the village.  The new owners have done quite a bit of refurbishment, new wooden edging to the moorings, new bollards, a new bistro (no shop any longer and the white marquee tents have disappeared).  Additionally we thought some work had been done on the pontoons and the area was being landscaped.  Still popular with hotel boats, and there was one below the locks, one in the hotel boat mooring spot, and one just in front of us on the left bank.  The one in the hotel boat spot set off next morning, easing its way confidently through the bridgehole.

Thursday June 5th

A Linsen left the port at 8.30am, just before L’Impressioniste.  No other action that we could see, though the hotel boat below the lock had disappeared, so must have been an early start too.

We were through the first lock of the day by 10.55 am. Unless we passed someone we were likely to have to wait for every lock to fill. Fleury, our intended destination, seemed like a somewhat distant possibility. And we hoped it wouldn’t get as windy as it was yesterday.

Two locks down we saw the reason why they’d wanted us to wait until 1.00pm – a hotel peniche coming upstream which wouldn’t arrive until their lunchbreak. At least now the locks would be ready for us.

And another hotel boat: just before our fourth lock of the morning. Many more hotel boats this stretch than last year, perhaps because we are two or three weeks later. This side of Pouilly we must have seen at least half a dozen.

Two new moorings above, one above Lock 26 and one just before lock 25 (latter yet to get bollards). Probably for peniches, looking at the length.

Some evidence of dredging having been undertaken below lock 28 at Charme.

We lost our swiss companions at Banet, a lovely little serviced mooring, and continued alone, locking more quickly than before.  The weather was very hot, with an almost cloudless sky.   Anti-hystamines and sun-block were the order of the day.

Arrived Fleury at 6.45 – a long day – 22 locks and 25 kilometres after a 10.30 start.

Two boats badly moored beside the steel pilings with bollards took up all the space so we put pins in on the opposite bank.

Friday June 6

The boulangerie is over the bridge and up the hill, on the left hand side.  On the opposite bank is the restaurant we visited last time for lunch, and also a bar. Fleury is an attractive little village, and if you walk down the hill at the bridge you reach the river.

We were away right on 9.00am and on our way down to Dijon.

The restaurant creperie at Ecluse 46 is looking quite smart now, and from the boat it appeared to have a sign saying that it had won a 2014 award. As we cruised into lock 45, at Velars sur Ouche, I could see the Auberge du Relais which still looks pretty much abandoned. It was closed last time we were up this way, though there is another restaurant a short way up the same road leading out of the village which looked very nice, but was closed for annual holidays last time.  This is a lovely leafy stretch.  Colruyt supermarket and boulangerie at Velars sur Ouche.

We reached Plombieres by lunchtime, where we were to share the remaining locks to Dijon with another boat. Plombiere looked a bit more lively than when we’d last seen it, and La Plaisancia (restaurant/bar) has been spruced up with a sign saying “under new management”. The small restaurant right on the edge of the basin itself still shows no sign of life. This is yet another town that must have suffered as a result of the removal of a hire-boat base.

Passed through Dijon by 3.00pm and continued without stopping. The apartments which seem to have been under construction for ever, now are finished and inhabited. They look very nice.

We locked down from Dijon steadily until going up to six o’clock. We had good locking crews who worked efficiently, one of whom I remembered from last time, a really pleasant and friendly chap who joined us on the way down from Plombieres today and then popped up again towards the end of the day, clearly working an extensive patch.  This is the guy who reached up to a cherry tree growing at the side of the lock, pulled off a bunch of beautiful black cherries and presented them to me with a flourish.

But inevitably we had a miserable guy shortly before we finished for the day. The lock was ready, but no-one in sight. After we’d entered the lock he emerged from his cottage in his carpet slippers, ignored our greeting, opened one paddle part-way and shuffled back into his house!  After a long hard day’s locking, we appreciated a long wait under the blazing sun, but I found I couldn’t do anything but shake my head, grinning.  I must be getting demob happy.

DSCF3078We moored up for the night below lock 65 at Bretennieres. There is a Colruyt supermarket just beyond the mooring, so we walked in the baking heat to get more water and ices.

We’ve done 26 kilometres and 24 locks today, another tough day. Today the temperature was supposedly 26 deg, but 30/31 is forecast over Saturday/Sunday.

Saturday June 7th

Heading on down to St Jean de Losne where we wanted to stop off at Blanquarts http://ets.blanquart.perso.neuf.fr/index.htm to get some more zig-zag fenders. They’re open Saturdays, apart from 12 to 2.00 during the season.

We did four locks with a young female lockie in just over an an hour. The next four with her replacement took us the rest of the morning, culminating in the lock that was set for us being turned, even as we approached, for a boat coming upstream. That (single) boat was twice as far away as we were, and travelling slowly, which ended up with our two boats hanging around in a strong wind for 35 minutes. When I expressed an opinion on this to the lock-keepers, they said the lock had priority for the upcoming boat, even though we had seen the up-coming lock-keeper emptying it as we approached. A lack of communication or maybe it was just more convenient for lunchtime as they both did the lock together… slowly… and then went off to lunch ten minutes early.

By lunch time temperatures were above 30 deg.

As we pulled into the basin outside Blanquarts at St J de L we saw another Sagar, Alicia, moored across the way.

We bought two zig-zag fenders and a couple of black ordinary capsule types, but after paying, as I hitched a capsule fender under each arm, I discovered one of them was quite soft.  It was immediately replaced, but a couple of days later back in port we found that one of them had also gone soft and found a split in it.  We’ve done a kind of tyre repair on it, re-inflated and will have to see if it holds.

We dropped down onto the Saone about 3.30pm. At Seurre lock we caught up with boats that had been really very far ahead of us as we’d cruised down, and saw that there was a huge commercial in the lock. Emerging from the lock was an interminably slow process for this commercial, and the three of us had to resort to circling as we waited because of the high winds. When he finally cleared the lock we all shifted to the left to allow him to pass.

Arriving at Seurre we moored on the linear pontoon. Seurre offers three moorings now; there is the inner port itself which is difficult to see from the river, and has three finger pontoons each with a pretty long hammerhead. We believe there is a 15m restriction in the port, but I’m sure our boat could be reasonable accommodated on there. There might be some difficult coming out though, and we might have to reverse out.

The central linear mooring on the river itself has a taped off section in front of the pump out, but we moored there anyway as it was nearly six pm. The other mooring is to the right of the linear mooring, behind some trees and also has a set of finger pontoons, at which one fairly longish boat, pretty much like ours, was moored.

We had a brief walk around the town, which has a pretty church and a reasonable high street with at least three boulangeries, and the moorings themselves are attractive with lots of colourful flower displays. 16 euros including electricity for a boat our size.

Sunday June 8th

Up at 6.00am and off for the bread. The closest boulangerie to the moorings can be found by turning right off the pontoons, and after the gardens turn left onto Rue St Claire. At the end of that street you’re on the main shopping street and the Banette boulangerie is on your right, about 30 yards on.

Our last day of cruising for this trip, and we were out down the river shortly after 7.00am and cleared Ecuelles lock around 8.30am. Today was forecast to be even hotter than yesterday, so we were glad that we would be on the river and not hanging around at locks.

We passed through Chalon sur Saone around lunchtime, (which was quite busy with hotel boats) and ate on the run whilst continuing down to Tournus and eventually to the turn off for the Canal de Pont de Vaux, reaching port going up to 5.00pm.

 

Summary

The Bourgogne is one of my favourite canals, with beautiful scenery, rolling fields, and wooded hillsides.  It is, however, still very heavily weeded, and stopping to clear the filters on the cooling system became a twice daily routine. On a couple of occasions Neville had to access the prop through the back cabin to cut weeds off the prop, in addition to regularly trying to blast obstructions off the prop with a quick blast in reverse gear.

It’s a beautiful canal though, and we were pleased to do the entire length in pretty good, if at times windy, weather conditions, particularly after last year.

We were anxious not to do an out-and-back trip along the same route, but at times we felt that we might have bitten off more than we could chew in opting for a round trip from Pont de Vaux, Canal du Centre, Lateral a la Loire, Nivernais, Yonne and Canal de Bourgogne in its entirety. We felt pressed for time, and only stayed voluntarily more than one night in four places, Chatillon en Bazois, Clamecy, Auxerre and Pouilly. We also had to stay two nights at Tannay because of a one day strike. Arriving mid afternoon and leaving next morning didn’t give us much chance to explore the towns and villages on the way.

The standard of lock-keeping is variable, as many have commented previously.  Boating is a hobby rather than a holiday for us; I can’t imagine how it would feel if you’d saved up all year to hire a not inexpensive boat for your two weeks away from it all, only to find glowering, unco-operative and unfriendly lock-keepers, who make locking a depressing and at times worrying experience.

I can’t imagine how you’d feel if you set a schedule of all the places you want to visit, only to have it disrupted by lightning one-day strikes or the associated ‘go-slows’ and long waits that lockies are using to make their point.

In many respects they’re shooting themselves in the foot;  VNF already has our money – it’s not like we can withhold it because of bad service. We have to pay the licence whether we get a proper service or not, and VNF is unlikely to find out about the poor service we’ve had, because I, like many others, don’t speak French well enough to tell them.

So we’re the ones taking the flack for what is just as likely to be poor management as poor working attitudes and practices. We’ve discussed the situation at length, and are strongly minded, along with other boaters we’ve talked to,  to leave the canals alone, apart from those that we know are automated or largely automated. We’ll do the rivers instead, where locking standards are still professionally upheld and where face-to face-encounters with gloomy, seething staff can’t dampen your spirits.

We’re not saying that cuts were unnecessary; we’ve all come across lockies fishing on the job, or those having a nap in the office. What we are saying is that you can’t just arbitrarily slash numbers and then leave them to get on with it in the way they see fit. You need to supervise the aftermath as the lock-keepers themselves have no motivation to make it work; in fact quite the reverse.

The saddest thing is that along this stretch we’ve come across some of the most helpful, friendly and efficient lock-keepers in our experience.  Not many of them admittedly, but those great guys that do try to provide a service are having their efforts underminded by the bloody-minded elements amongst the workforce. 

Our next trip, scheduled for September is likely to be down the Rhone, and across L’Etang du Thau to Allemand at Grau d’Agde, where we’ll take Desormais out of the water and give her bottom a good coat of looking-at.  🙂

DSCF2800 

 

 

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About Sandra

I cruise the French waterways with my husband four or five months a year, and write fiction and poetry. I love animals, F1 motor racing, French bread and my husband, though not necessarily in that order.
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12 Responses to Auxerre – Canal de Bourgogne – Saone to Pont de Vaux, May/June 2014

  1. I need to find the time for a proper sit-down to read this entire post but for now, let me just say the photographs in the gallery are beautiful particularly the nighttime shot. Just gorgeous.

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    • Sandra says:

      So glad you liked them Barbara. We’ve just uprated our camera and invested in a tripod too, which should be particularly useful for night shots in future.

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  2. Sandra, Beautiful photos. Once again you’re taken us on a trip with you on the rivers of France. I loved that part about the fighting swan. Everything looked so green. Lovely. 🙂 —Susan

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  3. I read your post with great interest. I loved your photos and descriptions of the canals and lockies. I was wondering: what is a capitaniere?

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    • Sandra says:

      Hi Jackie, good to hear from you again. Le Capitaine or Le Capitainerie is the person/persons responsible for the port/marina. It’s where you go to pay, to book or just to get general information. Glad you found the post interesting. 🙂

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  4. Sandra, I was frustrated just reading your post, so I can only imagine how you felt living it. I did enjoy reading, though, and of course, viewing the photos. We’ll have our own French photos soon, but not from your perspective. Do hope it works out to get together!!

    janet

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  5. ChristineR says:

    So much more to read than I have time to today! What a brave man to tackle that swan and return him to his family and how frustrating the locks. I will have to ‘follow’ so I don’t lose my intention to explore your interesting blog! Thanks.

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  6. Sandra, your photos and descriptions of the canals really interesting. Thanks for sharing a great post.

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