I wanted to quote from our chart guide, The Editions Du Breil guide for the Bourgogne/Nivernais. It tells the story of early navigation on the river.
“The canalization of the Yonne with its locked weirs and side canals dates from the end of the 19th century. Before that, downstream navigation was possible by means of artificial flash floods. Roughly once a week, weirs on the Yonne, Cure, Armancon and Vanne were opened in a predetermined order and barges, timber rafts and passenger boats cast off, all at the same time, carried by the flood waters towards the Seine…” It was chaos, with all of the craft crashing about in the flood trying to stay afloat.
“After the passage of the flood came the l’affameur, the closure of the flash locks, followed by a rapid drop in the water levels. The boats which had not been able to keep up with the flood ran aground and had to wait for the next flood. In 1840, a wine grower from Auxerre even sued the river authorities for his wine turned to vinegar during a long voyage interrupted by many groundings.”
Luckily for us, ours was an uneventful passage.
One unfortunate feature of the Yonne, however, is that some of the lock have sloping sides instead of the usual straight walls. Though the lock chambers are bigger, 92 meters long and between 8 and 10 meters wide, the sides slope inward from the top. In the chambers on the upper part of the river that sees little commercial traffic, the waterways authorities have installed pontoons that ride up and down the slope, allowing smaller boats (like ours) to tie up for the locking maneuver. Further down the river, however, the big commercial barges would destroy the pontoons so the best strategy for small boats is not to tie up and just maneuver around in the lock while the water levels change.
No pictures of the locks. We were busy.
Also in the past, the lock keepers had a reputation for surlyness, especially to foreigners. Sometimes boats were made to wait for no apparent reason, milling around in front of the lock, or the doors were closed just as the boat started to enter. It seems all those old guys (and they were all guys) have retired, or the VNF had instituted a charm offensive because we had no troubles navigating the locks this time and the eclusiers were very helpful.
At the second Yonne lock we had quite a wait as another boat was coming up. As the boat rose in the lock I thought the paint job looked a little familiar. A quick look through the binoculars revealed Ferrous, Ted and Charlotte’s barge. They’d been to visit us in Toul and we had lunch with them in Savoyeaux on the Saone. They were on their way to the Burgundy canal and we hailed greetings as we passed.
Our stop Sunday night was not very picturesque; the Simon Evans Boatyard in Migennes, at the confluence of the Yonne and Canal de Bourgogne. We’re thinking of hauling the boat out of the water for some new bottom paint in the spring and we wanted to make some inquiries.
To our surprise, Simon was around on Sunday afternoon (people had told us “he’s alway there” but we didn’t expect Sunday!). Formalities concluded, Monday morning we headed downriver to our next stop, Villeneuve sur Yonne.