Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Slowing Down, July 6-8

What became the Canal du Nivernais was first planned in the early 18 century, although logs from the Morvan forests had been floated down the rivers in the area to Paris for over a hundred years before that. The waterway, linking the Loire and Yonne Rivers, was finally opened along it’s length in 1842 after about 60 years of construction. Never a very successful freight route because of it’s many twists, turns and locks and the shallow depth of the Yonne, it came close to abandonment in the 1950’s. However, Pierre-Paul Zivry, who had navigated barges on the waterways of England, convinced the authorities to improve maintenance on the canal and opened France’s first hire boat base at the summit level at Baye in 1964. An industry was born.
It’s a beautiful canal that we first traveled from north to south in 2009. 174 k long with 116 locks with three tunnels and three big lakes at the summit level, it travels through forests and fields. There are no large cities between Decize at it’s southern end and Auxerre at the north, just a collection of typical small French villages. At the southern end it follows the valley of the Aron River. North of Clamecy it ducks in and out of the Yonne River until it’s end. This year we would follow the canal’s path from south to north and we were going to do it very slowly.

After a day spent restocking the shelves and wine rack, we set off from the mooring outside of Decize at the usual 9 am. After clearing the first lock we made our way through the Decize marina and through a second lock out into the bed of the Loire River. Two years ago when we were here the river was in flood and prevented access to the Nivernais but now it was very placid with minimal current and the trip to the first actual Nivernais lock was uneventful. By about 10 we were on the canal proper.
Our first planned stop was a rural mooring just 10 k up the canal and we got there at 1215 to find some bollards in a nice park near the village of Verneuil.

After lunch we rode the bikes into the village, making the obligatory stop at the 15th century church.

Inside, one wall still displayed it’s old frescos.

We also got a chance to check out the ruins of the 12th century chateau but we couldn’t get very close and they are ruins, after all.

Saturday morning we made a quick stop at the moorings in Cercy la Tour as we wanted to fill the water tank. While filling up we had a chat with John and Jo (anne), New Zeelanders on a cruiser. We would share moorings with them several times in the next few days. 
The locks on the Nivernais are all staffed so, this being France, they close from noon to 1 pm. We made our lunch stop in the Isenay lock and had a good view of the nearby chateau, not in ruins.

A typical view from the canal.

After a little over 19 k about 3 pm we were secure in the Pannecot “marina”, a quay at the small campground. We stayed here in 2009 and there’s still not much there but they did build a small restaurant/snack bar that was going to feature entertainment that night. Sometimes you get lucky and the entertainment is good. Sometimes you get unlucky. These two guys must have assumed that volume equals excellence because they were real loud. We think they must have gotten free drinks, too, because they got worse as the night progressed. And what is it with French rock bands and “Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven’s Door?” One more time and we’ll scream!
Sunday morning we were headed for our next stop, Fleury, just 8 k away.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Saone to the Canal du Nivernais, June 25 to July 4

Voyage number 6 on the River Saone between St. Jean and the Canal du Centre meant we weren’t going to let any grass grow under our feet (or moss on the boat bottom, as it were). We only planned one stop, on the river at the pontoon in Gergy. When we arrived, Chris and Hazel, a British couple we had met in St. Jean were already there. We were just in time as three small boats coming up from the south were minutes away. Some repositioning was necessary but everybody ended up with a spot.

A big commercial barge loading grain on the river just south of St. Jean.

Tuesday morning we were off a little before our usual 9 am. We planned on going the whole way to Santenay on the Centre and that would make for a long day, 39 k and 12 locks. There’s lots of room to moor on the bank above the village so we thought that, even getting there after 4, we would be able to find a spot and, since we were planning on spending a couple of days, one of the good locations would open up the next day. Much to our surprise, when we arrived the primo spot was still available. We must be living right!

The view toward Santenay from “The Spot”, 2009. The trees are a little bigger now.

Wednesday morning we made a bike/hike trip we hadn’t before, to the restored moulin in the hills above the village. We parked the bikes in the vineyards below the steepest part of the hill and walked the rest of the way up.

We also made a short ride to the village of Marange. Phillipe had introduced us to their wines when we attended Michelle’s birthday party in Burgundy in 2015. It’s another picturesque Burgundian village surrounded by vines.

The hillside of the Cote d’Or (Golden Hill) are actually pretty green in the early summer.

We stopped in at the local coop wine merchant in Santenay to put a little class in our wine locker and had lunch at La Terrior, our favorite restaurant in town. We’d only need salad for dinner.

We set off on Thursday morning hoping to make some significant progress toward the Canal Lateral a la Loire only to be slowed by a couple of large former commercial barges, now empty, that were making their way slowly up the canal. They were taking a long time in each lock, making us wait at each one. Along with that, it was very windy, which made the waiting much more challenging and the charging circuit for our bow thruster had blown a fuse and, having no replacement, maneuvering was much more difficult. We gave up for the day just after noon in Saint Berain sur Dheune, hoping the barges would get far enough along that we could proceed Friday without too much delay. 
It worked out just that way and we made it to the top of the canal in Montchanin, 14 k and 17 locks by about 2 pm. It had warmed up quite a bit and there’s an area just outside of town with good shade we were able to take advantage of.

Saturday was on to Montceau le Mines and their newly rebuilt marina. Sadly, we were just a little too late for the outdoor market so had to do our shopping at the giant supermarket just a little way up the canal. Sunday was also the day France beat Argentina in the first knockout round match of the World Cup, resulting in a massive celebration. Cars with honking horns, giant flags, flares and people hanging out every window circulated through town for a couple of hours.
Sunday morning we made it through the three opening bridges out of town and stopped in Genelard, about 17 k along the canal a little before 1 pm.
Thursday we reached the end of the Centre and started on the Canal Lateral a la Loire after passing through Digoin. These probably don’t make it to the US but we know where the toilets are made in France.

There’s a very wide spot just after crossing the pont canal over the Loire that has great spots for staking to the bank in the trees and shade.
Tuesday night we spent in a small basin off the canal near the village of Beaulon. Us, a few other boats and a thousand camping cars. Well, maybe about 20 but it’s a very popular spot with the wheeled travelers.
By the 4th of July we were tied up on the bank outside of Decize at the beginning of the Canal du Nivernais. There’s a good grocery store a very short bike ride away and we needed to restock. It had been a busy month with over 500 k traveled and not many lay days but the Nivernais had been a major goal of ours this year so it was time for some serious slowing down.

Time for a New Chart

We’ve moved on to a new chart which you can download here and a while ago we settled on a spot for Oldtimer to spend the winter; Briare.

On the chart we begin this part of the summer trip in Saint Jean de Losne, on the top of the orange line all the way on the right side about halfway down the page; a biggish river with big river locks. Heading south to Chalon sur Saone we will turn right onto the Canal du Centre, the green line heading vaguely northwest and then south again, through Digoin where we will join the Canal Lateral a la Loire to Decize. We'll then travel north on the Canal du Nivernaise. At Auxerre we’re on and off the Yonne River until we meet up with the Seine. Heading downstream for about 15 k to St. Mammes, we will turn left onto the Canal du Loing and the Canal du Briare and into Briare. We plan to be in Briare sometime around the first of September as we’d like to take a car trip to Brittany before our flight back to the US on Sept 18 but, as usual, plans are made in jello so we’re being flexible.

Each of those little “V’s” is a lock. When you’re looking at the pointy end you’re going down. Heading toward the open end you’re in the “more work” direction, up.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Saint Jean de Losne, June 21-25

We arrived at Saint Jean around 1 pm and managed to get the primo spot on the steps; all the way at the end away from the restaurants and just before the sign warning not to tie up because of the visiting cruise ships. We wondered how the river cruise ships could possibly use the space until the next day when a cruiser ignored the sign and tied up in front of us. Just a couple of hours later the Avalon Poetry II arrived. After backing under the bridge, their lines had to cross over the water just where the “No Mooring” sign is to reach their mooring points. The cruiser had to beat a hasty retreat.

Thursday we made our obligatory visit to the “House of Meat,” Fournier Boucher. The place is always packed. They have probably a dozen people behind the counter, including real butchers, and the line often extends out the door.

It’s not quite like Seinfeld”s “Soup Nazi” but you want to be ready to make your order when your time comes. But the selection!

That night as I was biting into my pork chop, I felt a little extra in my mouth. A crown had come loose! There is a dentist in town but when we finally reached her by phone Friday morning she said she wasn’t around and was unable to help. With the help of our friend Sue (from the Aryani, always helpful from years past) we called around to dentists in nearby towns with no luck. After returning to the boat we searched the internet for a dentist in the closest large town, Seurre. We found someone that would help but the appointment would have to be for noon and it was now 11:15. A quick cycle ride back to Sue’s boat for a ride resulted in making the appointment. The crown was reattached in about 10 minutes for the princely sum of €23.

We had seen signs indicating that there would be no car parking on the street along the quay both Saturday and Sunday; Saturday for the music and Sunday for “Dragon Boat Races.” We’d not see the Dragon Boats so we were looking forward to the show until one the the officials running the event appeared at the boat Saturday evening just as we were sitting down to our aperitif and informed us that they would be setting up for the races at 8 am Sunday morning and we were going to have to move. Fortunately there was still some space for us elsewhere on the quay. Unfortunately we were now front and center for the restaurants, one of which decided that Saturday night should be bad karaoke night and we had to suffer through it ’til about 2 am.

From what we could figure out Sunday, the Dragon Boat Club in St. Jean has three boats. Groups (like businesses or clubs) sign up teams in the races and there’s some kind of elimination tournament, three teams boats racing up the river, culminating in the final race of the day to decide the winner. Not all of the teams take things completely seriously.

All lined up for the start.

They’re neck and neck halfway down the course.

This team did quite well despite the attire.

Not serious at all!

Many teams had a pavilion on the quay along with the mass (!) of spectators and, of course, a buvette for lunch.

Sue joined us for Sunday lunch and we had a front row seat for the competition.

Monday morning we made our obligatory stop at the fuel dock, putting a serious dent in the credit limit on our card and then set off down the river for the Canal du Centre.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Down the Saone, June 13-21

This was the second time in two years that we’d navigated the upper portion of the Petite Saone and, south of the plage at Autet, this would be the fifth time on that stretch so we knew the navigation pretty well and the places we wanted to stop. We were also interested in moving right along and, since it wasn’t very hot and the river was still a little chilly, there was no need for the usual shady spots for swimming. Also, since it’s river cruising, there are very few locks and we were traveling down current so 25 or 30 k days still left us tied up in the early afternoon with plenty of time for wandering about or “reading” (hard to do when your eyes are closed).

After an overnight stop at Corre, the town at the junction of the Canal des Voges and the Petite Saone for some grocery shopping, our first stop was Baulay. We had moored on the small pontoon on the way south in 2009 and, since the lawn and garden spot we wanted to use was now a private riverside area, we headed for it. After displacing a grumbling fisherman (why do they insist on using the few places available for mooring? At least he did move. We’ve seen them refuse.) We settled in for a couple of days. We’d topped up the water in Fontenoy and needed to get some laundry done.

Chores completed Thursday afternoon, we wandered into town to see if anything had changed in 10 years. Nope. We did find a woman with a small table outside her house selling sour cherry confiture. It was very good.
We also stumbled on a display near the train tracks that had been installed in 2014 describing the French resistance in 1944. I’ll let the poster (translated into English!) tell the story. (And Bâle is Basel.)

The railway line still runs through that trench.

Friday morning we were back underway, this time headed to Port sur Saone, just a couple of hours away.
Port sur Saone was a major shipping center in the early 1900 and freight barges lined the quay. Posters have been installed along the waterfront to show what the area was like then and the town’s plans for the future.

The quay now. Notice the church, just as it was in 1910 and it was old then!

Next stop was a pontoon on the river outside the village of Soing. A section of the river is cut off and canalized, taking out a big bend in the river. We had heard there was a mooring in town on that bend approached from the downstream end but we weren’t sure of the depth and we didn’t want to make the 5 k detour to find out. Since we were tied up about 1 pm we walked into town to find a very nice small pontoon in a park with power provided and an “honesty box” requesting a 3 euro donation for use of the facility. On the way we also saw this architectural landmark but we really have no idea of it’s significance.

Next stop was Savoyeaux where we finally caught up with Ted and Charlotte on their barge Ferrous. They had wintered in Nancy but left before we could visit, although they were visiting us on the day our new refrigerator was delivered. They used to own a B and B in the nearby village of Seveux and were spending several days in the port while Charlotte took her last class (she’s just retired as an elementary school teacher) on a trip to Brittany. We cleverly arranged to arrive just in time for Sunday lunch and they put on a great spread.
Monday it was off to Gray for the waterside grocery store (bring the cart right to the boat!) and Tuesday we made the grueling 50 minute trip to Mantoche to watch the hireboat circus. There was no angry fisherman this time so the rodeo was much more sedate. We did have to move from our preferred spot to make room for a late arriving rental, though.
Wednesday afternoon found us in Pontailler sur Saone and early Thursday afternoon found us once again on the step quay in Saint Jean de Losne. It was time for “Fete de Musique,” France’s celebration of the Solstice. We also had supplies to gather and we wanted to make our contribution to the fuel dock so we’d be around for a couple of days.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Onward to the Petite Saone, June 9-12

And down we went. Saturday it was 18 locks. We were tied up by around 3 at a spot we’ve used both times we’ve traveled this canal, just below lock 18. This year, though, what used to be a sketchy wall with a couple of mooring rings is now a brand new concrete quay with bollards all along it. (Note the portion of the old wall and mooring ring at the bottom of the picture.) Quite an improvement! We didn’t see the barnyard turkey we spotted last time we were here, though.

One annoyance was that the automatic locks default to empty after a boat’s passage. Since we were going down, that meant we had to wait for nearly every lock to fill and the doors to open before we could proceed. It made for much waiting. Another result of the locks being kept empty is that there is plenty of time for a “lock wall garden” to form, seeing as it gets regular watering. Clearing of this wall doesn’t seem to be part of the regular maintenance program by the VNF.

The skies are pretty clear in the top picture but shortly after, the clouds began to thicken and this time we did get hit by a thunderstorm. Rain, wind and crashing thunder, one flash simultaneous with the thunder, craaaack! right over our heads. We were later told that the bolt had hit an old factory a little further down the canal and blown out the power to all the locks in the vicinity for a short while.

Thunderstorms had been rolling around France for a couple of weeks, some doing some serious damage. One unlucky spot was on the Canal des Ardennes. The waterways authorities circulated this picture of a lock severly damaged when the creek alongside the canal overtopped it’s banks and overwhelmed the lock doors, collapsing the lock wall and tumbling the lock control house into the chamber. It’s going to take considerable time to fix and in the meantime the canal is closed. Luckily it’s not one of the canals we need to use this year.

Sunday we were off to a mooring we had twice noted in our logs as a great possible stop and that proved to be the case. Just 7 k and 6 locks down the canal, the very short pound had a good bank with a couple sets of bollards, a fireplace, picnic table and nice green lawn, all in pretty much the middle of nowhere. We shared the space with a very friendly Swiss couple; drinks and boat tours were exchanged. We would see Dani and Elsbeth several more times as we headed down the canal. They were bound for Auxonne where they would park the boat and return to Switzerland for a couple of months before continuing their summer cruise.

Next stop was Fontenoy le Chateau, another place we had visited before and, since we were tied up a little after noon, we had plenty of time to wander around and reacquaint ourselves with the very pleasant village.
 We also had a chance to visit the Museum of Embroidery. In the 1800’s the village was the center of a thriving embroidery industry. In fact, the skillful women’s work was so prized that they made higher wages than men. Also, since their work required incredible dexterity, they were excused from the usual household chores which might have damaged their hands, the work being left up to the men. 
Fontenoy is also known as the home of Julie Victoire Daubié. In the early 1800’s she became the first woman to pass the Baccalauréat exam to become the first female bachelor of arts in France. After becoming a journalist, she lead the fight for women’s rights and retired to Fontenoy until her death in 1874.
We made the obligatory hike up to the ruins of the 13th century chateau to get a view of the village, it’s old cemetary and the surrounding countryside.

and then to the bridge over the canal so we could get a look at what we’d face leaving town Tuesday morning; the lock in the middle of the cutting.

The port capitanarie had told us there was a market in town beginning about 9 Tuesday morning so we hopefully wandered into the village. The “market” turned out to be a guy and his wife with a small vanload of vegetables. Rheims it was not!  We picked up a couple of things and then headed back to the boat. We shoved off about 10.
One more travel day and we would reach the Petite Saone and be river cruising.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Top of the Vosges, June 7-9

It took us from 9 am until nearly 2 pm to clear the 19 locks to the top. On the way we passed the entrance to the Epinal branch canal. We decided we didn’t need to stop in Epinal again. We’ve been there twice, the last time two years ago (when we made the local paper) so we didn’t take the 3.5 km canal into town and just headed straight up the Golbey Staircase. 

The summit pound is about 10 k long and we had stopped on the western end both previous trips on the Vosges. Last time through we noted a nice new pontoon on the eastern end and when we rounded the corner and saw that it was empty, we decided to put it to use for a couple of days.
The tiny village of Les Forges is just across the bridge so we wandered over to see what there was. To our surprise, along with the restaurant that sold frog leg pizza (or maybe frog legs and pizza. We couldn’t decipher the sign.) there were a couple of boulangeries and a very nice local products store featuring wine, cheeses, yoghurt and a butcher counter. Since the village is just a couple of k from Epinal, a pretty good sized town, we assumed the shop serves the residents of this small suburb.

A customer contemplates the butcher’s counter.

We did some bike riding on Friday, traveling out to the other end of the summit pound just because, and then returned to the boat for a lazy afternoon and an evening meal on the terrace. There had been some thunderstorms around; we could see and hear them but hadn’t been rained on (yet!). It made for a very dramatic sky.

Saturday morning we were off, heading downhill. In fact, we’d be going downhill until we reached the Canal du Centre in about three weeks.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Down (or up) the Vosges, June 3-7

It took from 9 am until about 1:30 pm to do the 18 locks (13 up and 5 down) on the Nancy brach canal; the longest gap between locks was the dividing pound which we were in for all of 20 minutes. Luckily, we were one of the few boats on the canal and the locks, all being automatic and in chains, meant there was very little waiting. Next we entered the Canal des Vosges, formerly known by it’s much more romantic name, the Canal de l’Est, (Branche Sud).

The idea of linking the Saone and Mosell Rivers goes back to Roman times but it wasn’t until the invention of the lock technology that it became feasible. The loss of Lorraine to the Prussians after the 1871 war made the canal more urgent so that French traffic would not have to pass through hostile territory. Construction began in 1874 and was completed in 1882. 
We entered the canal just south of it’s northern end, avoiding the heavily industrialized larger gauge section around the steel mills at Neuves-Maison and made our Sunday night stop at a very pretty rural tie up in the trees near Flavigny-sur-Mosell. The second night was an even more quiet spot.

The view of the canal from behind the wheel.

In Southern California we don’t have many song birds. The occasional mockingbird, doves and pigeons, and of course, crows, are really the only birds that make much noise. In these mixed northern forests, though, there is a symphony of birdsong. It starts when the sun comes up and doesn’t stop until sunset. It really is a wonderful soundscape when cruising through the forests.

Tuesday night was spent in the not very charming village of Charmes. When we were here in 2010 (we didn't stop in 2016) we were able to use a good quay away from the “camping cars” but now that space is taken up with permanently moored boats and the only place is on a sloping bank with not enough mooring points and the rv’ers practically in the wheelhouse. Not recommended.

We did get a look at the stork nests in the tops of the trees on the other side of the canal.

We left Wednesday morning to our next destination about 18 k and 11 locks away, Thaon les Vosges.
There are two mooring spots in Thaon; one in what we guess is a retail park that never quite got off the ground. There is a very nice quay with bollards but just a big unmowed field and beyond it the back of a big grocery store. We made a quick stop for a few supplies and then headed through one lock (#20 named Abbatoir. We went through quickly!) to another set of bankside mooring near a park. 

Along with fishing, one of the favorite past time of the French is the game of petanque, kind of like boules with steel balls. It can be played anywhere there is a relatively flat, fine gravel surface. Tree roots, divots and clumps of grass are part of the challenge. Some towns have big indoor spaces so the game can be played year-round. Like boules, the object is to get your (or your team’s) balls closest to the “jack.” Barring that, it’s good strategy to knock your opponents balls away from it’s target.
Thaon has a very elaborate outdoor petanque space and when we arrived it was humming with activity. We took our set of balls and when off to a quiet corner far away from everybody else to “practice”. Beer was involved.

Everybody’s gone home now. It’s dinner time.
We had front row seats from the boat.

Another interesting feature of town is the Rotunde.
Built by the towns “upper crust” as a place to entertain the workers and their families, it’s now a festival and event space.

It has a great glass art nouveau ceiling.

Thursday morning it was off at the crack of 9 am. We had to climb the “Golbey Staircase”, 15 locks in about 3 k to reach the summit pound of the canal, often leaving one lock and nearly directly into the next. It would be downhill for quite awhile after we reached to top.