Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Adventures on the Yonne, early 1800’s

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.

Auxerre, August 8 to 12

When we were in Auxerre in 2009 we tied up in the marina right across from the center of town. When we left, we noted mooring places right after the first lock of the Nivernais, right next to a big park. Other boaters had told us it was a great place to moor (and free! The in-town moorings are expensive) so that’s where we tied up about 2 Wednesday afternoon. There were thunderstorms overnight and in the morning; it had finally cooled off.

The postcard shot. The Museum-Abbey of Saint Germain on the right 
and Saint Etienne Cathedral on the left.

Saint Etienne’s entrance porch

We spent the three days wandering about the city, enjoying the beautiful architecture and having a very pleasant Friday lunch at the Pause Gourmand. Friday was also market day so we paid a visit to the marche covert. Being August, France’s vacation month, many of the merchants were not in attendance but we were still able to find some great produce and cheese.

Auxerre’s mascot is Cadet Roussel. His real name was Guillaume Joseph Roussel but he was the youngest of his family so he was nicknamed Cadet. Born in 1743, he moved to Auxerre in 1763, working as a servant and footman before becoming a bailiff’s clerk. Shortly afterward, he bought himself an office and set himself up as an independent bailiff. He was apparently pretty eccentric.
One of his political enemies composed a song to make fun of him but the move backfired. The tune became a favorite marching song for French soldiers during the 1792 Revolution and spread throughout the country.

The Bailiff himself in Place St. Eusèbe.

Sunday morning a little after 9 am we entered Lock #80, the last lock on the Canal du Nivernais. Since Clamecy we had been ducking in and out of the Yonne River. From now on the navigation would be almost entirely in the river, downstream to the Seine.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Bailly, Vermenton and On to Auxerre, August 5 to 8

We started our backtrack around 9 Monday morning, stopping in Accolay for the night, just a half hour and one lock before Vermenton. Vermenton is on a 4 k long side canal that features one of the smallest locks in France, a height of 80 cm (about 30 inches).

Going up! But not very far.

Vermenton is on the Cure River, just before it joins the Yonne. Since we were tied up before noon on Sunday, we used the afternoon to bike the 2 k to visit Vermenton’s beach. It was still very hot. Carmen cycled over from Cravant to join us for the afternoon and enjoy the cool water.

There was a big petanque tournament happening near the beach (€100 first prize!) so we stopped to watch a couple of the matches. The teams are made up of two people and we watched one team featuring a player we called “The Destroyer.” Every time an opponent would get their boule close to the “jack” (the game’s objective), he would step up and knock it out of the way. One of his victims muttered to us as he walked by after a particularly well placed shot the French equivalent of “I don’t know why I even try!” Sure enough, “The Destroyer” knocked him out of the way, winning the match.

The little small ball in the middle is the “jack.” Closest boules get the points.

Of course there was a buvette so we all enjoyed a couple of cool beverages before we headed back to the boat and Carmen returned to Cravant and Beauregard.
Monday morning we moved the boat into Vermenton, did a little bike riding in the morning’s relative coolness and then headed back to the beach for the afternoon. Tuesday was supposed to be the hottest day of this very long heat wave, close to a hundred degrees F, but then is was supposed to finally cool down.
In the morning I started on the written exam about 11, finishing up just before noon. The practical portion of the test would involve taking the instructor back down the Vermenton embranchement to his home in Cravant, navigating the three locks back out to the Canal du Nivernais.
We left just after 2 and Cathy Jo and I displayed our best lock skills (we’ve done over a couple of thousand by now!) and dropped Steve off at the Cravant bridge. We made it back to the Bailly quay just in time for a swim. Wednesday morning we made a quick dash back up the the cave to buy more cremant (it opens at 9 am). We hadn’t bought enough the first time!
After that we were off to our next stop, the largest city on the canal, Auxerre, just 11 k away and the end of the canal.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Lucy to Vermenton, July 30 to August 6

After Lucy sur Yonne we followed pretty much the same pattern for the next week; travel just a few k, tie up by noon or shortly after, maybe stay an extra day. Besides wanting to take things slowly, there was another reason.
Oldtimer is 16 meters and regulations require an ICC, International Certificate of Competence, a European captain’s license, be held by at least one person on the boat. We’ve always used my US captain’s license as a substitute, although that’s not strictly legal. I was afraid of eventually running into some gendarme who decided to abide by the letter of the law and require the ICC. There is a hireboat base in Vermenton, France Afloat, run by English expats, that would allow me to get the license. It only takes a day, with a short written exam on the rules and a practical demonstration of ability to handle the boat, neither of which would be too much of a problem, given our experience over the last 10 years. The person giving the exam wasn’t available until August 7, however, so we were going to go slow enough to arrive there at that date. Actually, we were going to go slightly beyond that and backtrack, but only one day’s travel.
After Lucy we stopped at the pontoon at Rochers du Sassois. Like the Roches de Basseville we visited earlier, this cliff looms over the river. In this case, however, the navigable channel is in the river so the rocks are right above the boat. We stopped here for lunch in 2009 and climbed to the top (not that difficult; there’s a path), but this time we just spent our time diving off the side of the boat into the cool water; it was still very hot. We did take the time to bike over to the nearby campground, however, to reserve our daily bread for the next day.

Oldtimer is moored up all the way to the right of the picture.

Tuesday we were off to Mailly la Ville. This time we spent an extra day on the middle of three pontoons. There was a good swimming beach, although it was crowded with kids on vacation, but there was a snack bar where we could have an all American lunch, a hamburger classic (with American cheese!), frites and a beer.

The Mailly plage.

One of the three pontoon (not the one we were on) stacked with barges.

We used the extra day to take a morning bike ride to Mailly le Chateau, a village we had visited in 2009 (read about it here.) Unfortunately, the boulangerie was closed on Wednesday, of course.
Thursday it was on to a mooring spot in a basin near Bazarnes. We used the morning coolness to revisit the trout farm at Pregilbert. We had cycled there from Mailly but it was too warm and we didn’t want to carry fresh fish all the way back on the bikes. At the farm you can either catch your own fish or they will net them up and prepare them for cooking for you. We chose the latter, returning to the boat with two fresh trout for dinner. From our mooring we were very close to a good beach and we had a nice afternoon there until we returned to the boat. The three “kid boats”, craft filled with kids on summer holiday, like a YMCA trip, had decided to moor up in the same spot and told us we needed to move to make room for them. Rather that put up with the disruption, we moved on to the waiting pontoon right before the next lock. Luckily for us, there was good shade there and the lock keeper told us it was no problem to stay the night.
Friday it was on the the quay at Bailly, again a mooring on the river allowing for swimming right from the boat. Bailly is also a 5 minute walk from Les Caves Bailly Lapierre, headquarters for some excellent cremant du Bourgogne, the sparkling wine of Burgundy. We made a trip up to the very cool cave and stocked the wine locker with the sparkling stuff and their good red, Coulange la Vineuse.

The tasting room. You can also buy a glass (or three) of their product in the mid 60 degree coolness and take a tour of the cellars. We skipped the tour this time as we did it when we were here in 2009.

The Bailly mooring. Just us and a hireboat. As you can see, we found the shade!

Sunday morning we headed back toward Vermenton. We’d spent the night just before the port so we could be there bright and early for our appointment Tuesday morning.

Friday, August 31, 2018

We Worship St. Cochon, July 27-30

Just before we left Clamecy, Carmen had told us that there was supposed to be a big fete in Lucy-sur-Yonne for the weekend. We’re always up for a party so, despite the delayed start caused by the morning bike ride, we had just 5k to travel and we were tied up in Lucy by 11:30. Just across the path from the moorings was a huge field of sunflowers with their faces turned to the sun.

We didn’t see any evidence of preparations for a big party but there was a great swimming beach in the park just up the canal so we went for a dip after lunch. When some locals joined us a little later in the day we asked about the party and were assured there would be one, just not until Sunday.
Saturday afternoon we use the opportunity to ride the bikes to Chatel Censoir, just 6 k up the canal. We had overnighted there in 2009 and we got a chance to revisit many of the sites we’d seen then. Plus there was an open boulangerie and a cafe where we could stop for a little liquid refreshment.

When we returned to the boat we started to see some activity in the park, with trailer after trailer piled with tables and benches heading across the bridge from the village, as well as several filled with firewood. Carmen and Louis also turned up to join in the fun. It turned out we were to take part in the Fete du Saint Cochon, the worship of the roasted pig.

Saturday night there was much merryment; singing and chanting in the park as preparations were made for the next day’s feast. Sunday would be a busy day.
Along with the food and entertainment there was a giant vide grenier (literally “empty garage/attic”) as people from all over emptied out their storage places and tried to entice buyers.

But the major event was the pig roast. It turned out they roasted eight pigs for lunch and another 5 for the evening meal.

The makings of the fire.

The tables are set.

Here’s lunch! People come from miles around the last Sunday in July.

With frites, of course!

We used the afternoon break to cycle out to the Chateau Faulin, missing the hunting dog demonstration, complete with horns. The current owners of the estate purchased it in the 1960’s because “they like the old stones.” Their son, who spends significant time in the US,  has established a Museum of the Middle Ages and, as we were the only people there for the 3 o’clock tour, we got the English version.

We headed back over to the fete in the evening but we didn’t need a meal. The bar was a major attraction, however, and while hanging out with Carmen and Louis we met a couple from Australia that were renting a house in the village for a month. They were off in the next couple of days for a month’s stay in southern France before returning to the southern hemisphere. There was a candlelight procession major fireworks show around 10:30 and a dj payed well into the night but after a little dancing, we headed back to the boat. We were just far enough away that the music was not too loud.
Monday morning we dragged ourselves away from the moorings and headed further north on the canal.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Surgy and the Roches de Basseville, July 26, 27

After leaving Clamecy on Thursday, our plan was to spend the next night in the town of Coulange. We had stopped for lunch there during 2009 and noted that it was a “nice place.”
We arrived around noon to discover that it was no longer a “nice place.” A looked-like-it-was-abandoned hireboat base now took up most of the moorings and an ad hoc campsite was also very close. We had passed a nice spot with picnic tables and large shade trees just a couple of kilometers back so after about five minutes of deliberation we threw off our lines and headed back through the lifting bridge to the halte at Pousseaux, just 20 minutes away. There was a hireboat already there but there was plenty of room and they were only stopping for lunch. We had the place to ourselves after they left, lazing in the shade. We also found a great swimming hole underneath a nearby railroad bridge and were entertained by the “yoots” jumping from it into the cool river water.
It was still very hot and it was only later we read that the prolonged heat wave we were experiencing was Europe-wide, with effects ranging from unusual forest fires in Sweden to cancelled river cruises on the Rhine due to lack of water.

We had passed an interesting rock formation just a couple of kilometers before the halte and our chart showed the Roches de Basseville so Friday morning before we left we lifted the bikes off the boat and went for a little ride while it was still cool.
We passed through the village of Surgy with it’s beautiful town hall/multipurpose municipal building and on to the rocks.

There are several of these rock formations along the Yonne River where the water had cut through the surrounding limestone. In this case there is a short path that takes you around the base, up to the top of the rocks and back down to the parking area. It only took a half hour to walk it.

Part of the Grand Falaise (faiaise is cliff in French).

We like this caution sign at the top.

After a quick stop at the boulangerie in Surgy for our daily bread, we headed back to the boat, setting off back down the canal for our next stop, Lucy-sur-Yonne. We had heard rumors of a fete in the village on the weekend and we didn’t want to miss it.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Clamecy, July 22-25

When we traveled the Nivernais Canal in 2009 we spent two days in Clamecy. We planned on at least that this time. It was going to be very hot and the river is very close by (in fact, right north of town the canal joins the river for a stretch), and, according to the information we had, there was a swimming beach on the river very nearby. We arrived Sunday just before noon.
One of the advantages of staying several days in a place is that, with the constant turnover of boats, you can scope out the mooring places and move to a better one when it opens up. When we first arrived, the spot we moored up in had some shade in the late afternoon but not much. Luckily for us, the next morning the boat that was in the “primo” spot moved on so we were able to grab it. An overhanging tree provided shade beginning about noon. Overhanging tree did mean that sap had to be washed off the boat every morning but that was a small price to pay with daytime temps hitting the mid 90’s.

Clamecy was the headquarters of “flottage” beginning in the mid 1500’s. Logs from the Morvan forests were floated down streams and rivers to be gathered up into large rafts to be further floated down the rivers Yonne and Seine to supply the fireplaces of Paris. Clamecy was the major assembly point. By the early 1800’s the traffic reached it’s high point then gradually declined until the 1920’s, when it ended.
The town is very attractive, with narrow twisting streets and large numbers of picturesque half-timbered buildings.

And the required old church looming above the town. The construction of the The Collegiate Church of Saint-Martin took over 400 years, from the end of the 12th century until the 16th century.

Just across the canal and the river is the Notre-Dame-de-Bethléem church, built in 1926 and is the second church in France constructed entirely of concrete. It was built to commemorate Reynier, the 9th Bishop of Bethlehem in Palestine who sought refuge in Clamecy in 1223 and founded le petit évêché de Bethléem-les-Clamecy (the small bishopric of Bethlehem in Clamecy.

We spent our mornings doing the scenic walking tours provided by the tourist office and our afternoons at the swimming hole on the river. We were very glad for the cool water!
There was also a pretty active social scene. We met the owners of Hibou, Guy and Jane, and reconnected with David and Irene on Kleine Beer. We also met Carmen and her son Louis for the first time. Carmen, Dutch born but British educated and now living in Australia, and her husband had purchased an ex-hireboat, Beauregard, but he was unable to join her for a couple of months. In the meantime, She had her son’s help for a couple of weeks and then she would be on her own. Very adventurous! We would be stopping in many of the same places for the next few weeks.
We also had a great time watching the show as the hireboats milled around getting in and out in the morning and late afternoon and hotel barges moving through. The port was a pretty busy place.
Unfortunately, the water supply to the port bathrooms had sprung a leak so the taps on one side of the port had to be shut off. That left only one water tap on the other side of the port available for filling the tank. We wanted to top off before we left so our departure Thursday morning was delayed while we waited for a spot close enough for our hose to reach. Despite the delay we were able to set off about 9:30, again headed north on the canal.