Wednesday 3rd June, we left Corre at the end of the Canal des Vosges and dropped down onto La Petite Saone. A series of automated locks were ready for us, as we cruised through quiet, meandering stretches of river interspersed with derivations. It was a warm sunny day, and we dropped the front and back windows of the wheelhouse quite early on to take advantage of the cool river breeze. There were more hire-boaters about and by 11.00am we’d passed around half a dozen. I hadn’t expected the Petite Saone to be quite so narrow, it was almost like an extension of the Canal des Vosges.
(Note: For some reason these days, WordPress seems to reproduce the photos within the body of the report in a fuzzy fashion – they’re much clearer if you click on each one and view it in isolation.)
We arrived at Port sur Saone around 2.30pm to find a completely empty long quay on the left bank.
This is a small town with lots of heavy traffic thundering through it, until such time as the by-pass is complete. An interesting photo display of the history and the development of the town over the years lines the quay.
The town is quite a cultural centre, and we admired the bronze figures sculpted by Jean Thiancourt whilst on the church square behind the war memorial there is a fresco celebrating human rights. Gradually, during the course of the afternoon, other moorers began to arrive, everyone seeking shade where they could. We were glad we weren’t on the canal with a lock every kilometre, as we had been … we’d have been fried to death.
There is a marina at the far end of the quay at Port sur Saone, not offering many berths for a boat our length, though we did see one hammerhead. The unserviced quay was fine for us though.
Next day the temperatures continued to rise, as did the number of hire-boaters on the water.
We made our way through beautiful countryside through Scey sur Saone, Ray sur Saone and many other pretty villages, most of which offered moorings. On the established moorings/ports, however, many pontoons seem to be reserved for long-term moorers.
Shortly after 2.00pm we arrived at Savoyeux, the port just before the tunnel of the same name, where the DBA guide had indicated boats of up to 20 metres were not a problem at the port.
At 16 metres, we most definitely were! With no space whatsoever on the quay, we were directed to the outer edge of the canal-side pontoon, (much to the chagrin of two people fishing there) where our bow continually drifted around in the breeze, until I went further down the canal towards the tunnel to see what mooring opportunities existed there. I found two stretches of steel shuttering and we extricated ourselves from the port and retreated there, under the shade of trees. Much better. Later a Eurocruiser arrived and moored behind us, as heavy water traffic went to and fro between the port and the tunnel entrance for the rest of the afternoon.
At 7.00pm, whilst in the shower, I felt the boat heave and we heard a bang as a hireboater went past at God knows what speed, dragging not only our pins out of the bank, but those of the cruiser behind us too. He must have come through the tunnel (after it was supposedly closed for the day), as there is no barrier blocking the tunnel mouth at either end.
Next morning the tunnel lights turned to green shortly after 9.00am. The tunnel, 643 metres long, is controlled from the southern end by a lock-keeper using video surveillance. Immediately through the tunnel, there is a lock down onto the river – quite a deep one, offering one of the few sliding pole arrangements I’d noticed this trip.
This is one very leaky lock! And why do the leaks always seem to line up with your open windows?
We arrived at Gray around 12.30. This is the Saone as we know it, with broad, sweeping curves. We planned to moor below the lock, (there are moorings above and below the lock). The approach to the lock is a bit difficult, especially if you’re lining up to grab the perch. We moored on the long quay on the left bank where there are rings set on the flat walkway below stepped banks. The bournes, (only two it seems) are on the top of the steps, practically on the road. The river is very wide at this point, and we had a beautiful view.
There is an Intermarche just behind the mooring. Walk back towards the lock (only a hundred yards or so) and you will see a sign for it. We were pretty far away from the bournes and had used three cable extensions for our supply. Later another boater came to ask if they could put a splitter onto our series of connections, after which the voltage was very low. Certainly it was insufficient for the air con to work as normal, and next morning after seven or eight minutes in the toaster I’d succeeded only in ‘drying out’ the bread, not browning it.
A lovely, and quite surreal sunset rounded off a good day with temperatures in the mid nineties.
Gray is an interesting town, particularly the old quarters and the town hall with its typical Burgundian roof. There seemed to be quite a lot of activity at the mooring above the lock and we heard music echoing down the canal later that Friday night. We have since heard that someone had their ropes cut at Gray, but we don’t know whether that was the upper or lower mooring. Certainly there was very little pedestrian traffic past our mooring below the lock, and we had no problems.
Next day the forecast was for 86 degrees, but a lot of cloud in the morning helped make it feel a little cooler until the sun broke through. We noticed that the lock we’d negotiated yesterday appeared to be operational at 8.00am, possibly because it leads up to a hireboat base.
Our journey took us through some beautiful countryside again. There was another mooring at Arc le Gray, but the pontoons looked fairly short for us. Mantoche was another attractive mooring, and at Pont St Pierre, at PK 260 there was a novel mooring opportunity against a filled-in half sunken barge, with a more modern quay adjacent to it.
We arrived at Pontailler at noon to find the town fairly bustling with activity and we just managed to get the third from last baguette from the Boulangerie, still piping hot. We put up our new window covers which are designed to act as sunshades across the back and front windows of the wheelhouse, whilst still letting the breeze through. No sign of the promised thunderstorms.
Next morning we found a queue outside the boulangerie just round the corner (Cecile and Jonathon). It’s a tiny shop, barely enough space for four people to stand in a queue, and there always seems to be a group of men chewing the cud outside the door. It’s obviously very popular (the cakes look delicious) as there’s a sign on the display shelves asking customers not to ask for more than 6 pieces of bread so that they have enough to satisfy all their customers!
Away by 7.30am and through Auxonne quite early on. We were held up at the lock below Auxonne for 45 minutes, and were through St Jean de Losne just after midday. Obviously the season is in full swing now. The quay there was already packed bow to stern, but our destination was Seurre anyway, from where we knew we could make Pont de Vaux in one (longish) day as we’ve done it before.
After cruising through the derivation we arrived at Seurre lock to endure a repeat of our last passage downstream through this lock. The only commercial we would see this day happened to be on its approach to the lock and we were spinning around the strong winds at the top of the lock for 20 minutes whilst we waited for it to enter and finally emerge.
We moored on the pontoons at Seurre, and later the entire mooring was packed with private and hire boats. There are three mooring opportunities here, the enclosed marina, the linear quay outside the capitainerie and the pontoons.
On Monday 8th June, we set off at 7.00am, and arrived at Ecuelles lock shortly after 8.00am, passing straight through with no waiting. The moorings at Gergy were fairly empty when we passed around 10.00am.
We had a fairly uneventful trip as we cruised on through Chalons sur Saone, where the hotel boats were obviously awaiting their clients. This year’s riverside floral display is even more fabulous than before, though I’m not entirely sure what it is commemorating.
At Ormes, our last lock of the day, we had to wait for the Pont de Vaux trip boat to ascend the lock. When he cleared the lock, he manoeuvered himself around and re-entered it to immediately go down again!
A couple of hireboats joined us here, and I think they were travelling together as one boat kept hanging about waiting for the other and there was much shouting between the pair of boats.
We were royally entertained by their antics in the lock, as were the crew of the trip boat who came up on deck to take photos of their attempts to moor. The lockie appeared to be bemused, as he hung from his tower window.
As we passed Tournus we noticed our mooring neighbour at Pont de Vaux was enjoying a change of scenery for a few days. Cecile spotted us as we passed and came out on deck to wave.
Further down, around PK 103 it was evident that the water levels on the Saone were significantly low. Some will remember that back in 2012 we grounded here (Grounded on the Saone) and had to spend the night on the rocks before we could get help to tow us off.
We could now see the outline of the digue on which we’d become stuck.Looking back, we could now see that the digue is well within the balisage if you pursue a direct line between one green/white bollard and the next one close to the bridge.
The trick is to ensure you follow the curve of the river and don’t take the position of the bollards as a channel marker right here. Give yourself plenty of space from the marker buoy.
These digues continue over a fairly long stretch, some marked in the navigation guides, others not. These in the photo below were a little bit further down from where we grounded.
The two hireboaters from Ormes lock continued their manoeuvres, the first constantly meandering off into the shallows whilst the other dawdled on ahead, at varying speeds, giving a very wide berth to an upcoming commercial – so wide I thought he might find himself aground.
The turn off to the Canal Pont de Vaux (and our moorings) is on the left immediately after the bridge at PK 98, and it can be tricky negotiating the turn here as the current obviously runs quite fast through the bridge-hole, and there is a sandbar near the campsite beach just south of the turn which you need to stay upstream of. As we followed the slower boat under the bridge, and despite the fact that I’d be standing outside the wheelhouse for a good three or four minutes with my arm out, indicating our turn to port, the other hire boat, hanging around in the shallows, suddenly leapt into action and tried to overtake us on our port side as we passed under the bridge, no doubt wanting to share the lock with his pal. A collision was imminent, and a lot of shouting went on (of the Anglo Saxon variety), as the happy hireboaters on the top of the boat tried to alert the navigator inside the boat with shouts, stamping and whistles.
We shared the lock with the first hireboat in deathly silence, as the second crew hung around the river, no doubt preferring to keep a low profile after that. As we cruised the last 3 kilometres to Pont de Vaux we saw they’d both moored at the top of the lock. The Pont de Vaux trip boat captain would love that when he returned later, particularly with the water level so low.
And so we reached the end of our spring cruise. On our journey up the Saone, onto the Champagne-Bourgogne, across the Marne au Rhin, down the Canal des Vosges and La Petite Saone back onto La Saone to our home port, we estimated we’d covered just over 900 kilometres and negotiated around 330 locks.
Quite a journey. And a very memorable one at that. 🙂