When we go to the boat we always seem to be in something of a rush. Maybe it’s because after leaving port at Pont de Vaux we have a fairly long stretch of river to get through before we’re onto our planned route, either to the Canal du Centre, Canal de Bourgogne or Rhin au Rhone, for instance. So it was lovely this time to just plan a visit to the boat, ostensibly for ‘tlc’ work without having any particular travel plans. We’d timed our trip to coincide with the visit of a couple of my writing colleagues, Janet and Bill Webb, who were over from America, so it wasn’t going to be all work and no play.
Our first task was to deal with the problem of ‘the settees’. The previous owners had confirmed that the two 2-seater settees had been dropped in through the roof before the skylight was fitted. We’d decided to replace them with two reclining chairs with matching footstools – we seldom need the capability to seat four people downstairs as most of our entertaining is conducted up in the wheelhouse, which is quite comfortably upholstered and can seat up to six people.
We’d been to a few furniture retailers in the UK, but as ever, these large stores can only offer, at best, delivery in six weeks. We saw the chair we wanted, and the salesman confirmed it was popular with boat-owners and motor home drivers where space is restricted. Six weeks was too long to wait though. So we sourced the identical chair on the internet when we returned home, and it was delivered next day, costing us £80 less for each chair. You have to wonder what the future holds for furniture dealers with huge showrooms and staff to finance.
Transporting the new chairs from the UK wasn’t a problem; they were self-assembly and surprisingly enough both chairs and footstools fit in the boot of my small Audi A3 which we were using this time, in addition to all the usual junk we always seem to have to transport.
Demolishing and disposing of the settees was more difficult. There was no way we could get them up the narrow stairs and out of the wheelhouse, and we weren’t prepared to fiddle about with the skylight window, for fear of not getting it to seal effectively afterwards. That’s not a place you want the rain coming in.
So we started work dismantling them in situ the day after we arived, and we had each one deconstructed into a pile of timber, springs, foam and fabric within an hour with use of a saw, screwdriver and Stanley knife. Oh and a lot of stoicism…you haven’t lived until you’ve knelt on a two inch screw. 😦
Taking them to the ‘decheterie’ proved a bit more difficult; it appears you need to have an authorisation card from the capitainerie to take them to the tip in Pont de Vaux, and Philippe was nowhere to be found, but in the event a neighbouring boater passed her card on to us. (Prior to that, we had already completed one trip without having been asked to show our authorisation card, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when you rock up with a foreign registered car.)
In addition, we’d brought a larger HD television with us from the UK, too big to fit into the cupboard that the previous one had occupied, but fitting quite comfortably on top of the corner units.
(Televisions have moved on significantly in the eight or so years since the boat was built, and we’d found the old one was quite blurry compared to the HD ones we had at home.)
We also now have more precious cupboard space, which is a good thing as all the things we now keep in those cupboards were previously stashed around or behind the settees and thus hidden from view.
We worked hard for a few days, and the result was very rewarding. Neville did a lot of varnishing and maintenance work, whilst I cleaned out the back-cabin (the floating shed) which must have resembled an attack of Armageddon-like proportions to the spiders who’d practically colonised the area.
Our labours were closely supervised by the resident port swans, whose off-spring have developed significantly in the few weeks we were back in England.
We were meeting our American friends on the Tuesday after we arrived in France, and on Monday morning, as we dropped down onto the River Saone from the Canal de Pont de Vaux we were surprised to see that the lower landing stage at the lock was underwater. We knew there’d been heavy rain elsewhere in France, but not realised just how heavy, nor had we anticipated how long the water would take to make its way down the river. Checking Vigicrues, we discovered that the level at Tournus had been up around 2 metres higher than normal, and although the level had now dropped to around 1.5m the northern quay there was still under several inches of water when we arrived. The southernmost floating pontoon quay consequently was chocker with moored boats. We cruised up and down the southern quay a few times hoping someone might invite us to breast up, but nobody seemed anxious to cosy up to our 26 tons of steel, and most boaters disappeared below decks or stared raptly into their lunches.
Plan B then. I rang Gigny, the moorings at the disused lock to ascertain whether there was space for 16 metres. There was, and they held it for us, which was lucky as for several hours after our arrival, boats were still cruising up the river looking for moorings. It really makes a difference when you take out one reasonable stretch of moorings at Tournus. The last boat came in at 7.00pm and was permitted to moor on the river side of the lock – the first time we’ve seen that.
I like Gigny, there’s internet, water and electricity for 15 euros and they speak English. It’s a picturesque vantage point onto the river, (especially as the sun rises) and this was the first time we’d moored on the pontoon at the entrance to the lock, as opposed to within the lock itself, which was better still. And it wasn’t significantly more turbulent there when the large hotel boats went past.
Setting off back downstream next morning we allowed sufficient time for Tournus quay to clear, and managed to secure one of the first places on the floating pontoon around mid-morning. Job done.
We discovered that the restaurant where we’d planned to take our friends (Le Grill), was closed Mondays and Tuesdays. So we decided to do a buffet on board and had a great afternoon with our friends Janet and Bill, cruising back down to Pont de Vaux with them before taking them back by car to Tournus to pick up their hire car. A journey that takes the best part of two and a half hours by boat takes only twenty minutes by car!
It was good to meet them; I’d known them for a couple of years from a writers’ circle so it really felt like we were meeting old friends, and it was good to hear their news of Le Tour (de France), one stage of which they’d visited the day before.
The weather, which had been a bit mixed, began to brighten that day and we saw that we were in for a heatwave.
A couple of days later we decided to get out onto the river where it might be cooler, and head downstream to Macon, a trip of just about two hours after you’ve dropped down from the Canal Pont de Vaux. As temperatures soared to 33 deg, the breeze along the river was more than a little welcome.
The opening night of the Macon three day jazz festival, a couple of hundred metres down the main quay was not!
We stuck it out all evening, occasionally trying to drown out the modern jazz cacophony with music of our own but we were fighting a losing battle. It went on until almost midnight, after which some of the audience spilled out onto the pontoon by our boat, but didn’t prove to be much of a problem.
Next morning, after walking around the town to take in the sights (and find a boulangerie), we decided to take the boat a little upstream to the other Macon mooring opposite at St Laurent, just the other side of the bridge. This is a pleasant mooring beside the restaurant La Tete du Lard, where there is also a popular bar next door. Later that day we ate out in the evening sun on the terrace at La Tete du Lard, (salmon for Neville, grilled lamb chops for me) before returning to the boat to watch the activity on the little quay. A guitar-playing vocalist wandered amongst the tables of the bar and restaurant to provide a little lighter relief than the previous night, and we had a very pleasant and peaceful night.
The river has been very quiet, apart from three hotel boats which moor slightly further downstream from the main moorings at Macon, and we were the only boat moored on the pontoon at St Laurent, apart from day-boats.
Next morning we set off back to Pont de Vaux. It’s been a pleasant break, and we could see why Pont de Vaux is such a popular mooring. If all you want to do is spend some time on your boat in port, with occasional jaunts down onto the river, this is a great spot. Tournus and Macon are both about two hours away, upstream and downstream respectively, both offering some good restaurants and attractive scenery. If you want to go a little further upstream you can get to Gigny, where there is a popular restaurant by the disused lock (advisable to book).
As you head down to Macon there are also a couple of restaurants offering good moorings with water. One at PK 87, (La Guingette de Papa – watch the draught there, around 1m) and another at PK90 (Le Port d’Asniers).
The weather began to deteriorate on Saturday as we started our journey back up the Saone to port, and by early evening it was raining, with thunder growling in the distance and lightning forking through the heavy cloud. We didn’t get the worst of the storms to hit the region over the next few days, but the rain continued on and off until Tuesday when it slowly began to brighten up. The high temperatures returned, the wheelhouse reaching 30 degrees on more than a few occasions over the next few days. Keeping cool became a major preoccupation, and timing your more strenuous activities for the cooler times of the day became necessary.
The Port began to get busier, with more people starting their boating holidays, which we viewed with mixed feelings as we were preparing to leave once more. We made a few trips to the supermarket for more diesel for the boat, and also for the things that we always take home with us: Comté cheese, French brandy, wine and supplies of small tins of Sauce Tomate de Provence Languedoc, which forms a really tasty base for chicken, lamb and duck casserole dishes.
We decided to visit Le Grill de Quais up at Tournus for a last meal out on the Thursday evening. Even though the weather had improved over the last couple of days, we found the river level at Tournus was even higher than ever. The floating pontoon was full of breasted-up boats, with some braver souls moored on the inside. We walked up to the ‘submersible’ mooring further up to discover it was well and truly submerged. Undeterred, some individuals had moored out by the dolphins, one boater even having ferried his power line back to shore by dinghy in order to plug it in! Another boat had moored near an outcrop, firmly wedging a large stick between his boat and the base to avoid being grounded on the ledge if the level went down. The river was flowing faster than we’d seen it for some time though, and we didn’t think there was much danger of that happening.
One or two hire boats had moored by the concrete promenade further up from the pontoon, passing a rope through a hole in the wall and tying it back on the other side.
Le Grille had tables outside by the river, but all were full, with the waitresses dicing with death as they ferried meals across the busy road from the restaurant. Luckily we got a table for two indoors, right by French windows overlooking the river, and had an excellent meal. The service was fairly quick, considering how busy the restaurant was. An excellent evening.
On the day before we were due to return to the UK, we took a trip down to the Maison Maconnais de Vins on the main route into Macon. This is a place that offers wine tasting, a wide range of wines being available, together with interesting little jars containing local products. I bought several kinds of pate, and four little jars of Dijon mustard: honey & balsamic, gingerbread mustard, tarragon and blackcurrant. There is also an attractively priced restaurant there too and facilities for seminars/group visits.
Neville bought some interesting wines (we tasted the Péronne and a Lugny rosé) and we treated ourselves to a bottle of Pouilly Fusée, for a special occasion next month.
And so, our break of just over two weeks came to an end. We both agreed we’d enjoyed the leisurely pace of our life without having a timetable to adhere to, or a round trip to complete. We should do this more often, we thought.
Sadly, that won’t be next time. Our next cruise will take us down the Rhone and across L’Etang de Thau. Then there will be a short hop on the Canal du Midi, a week out of the water at Grau d’Agde for bottom-blacking, and then back up the Rhone again to winterise her.
We’re both looking forward to revisiting some old haunts along the way.