Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Friday, September 28, 2018

Moret sur Loing, August 17-19

Cathy Jo was on the dock in Ventura the other day and Robin said “You can’t be here. You’re still in France. I read the blog.” Yes, well, I am a little behind. We returned to Ventura Sept. 18 but I’m trying to catch up. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.

Moret sur Loing was the home for many years of the impressionist painter Alfred Sisley, a British colleague of Monet and Renoir, who died here in 1899. Many parts of town look like they came right out of one of Sisley's paintings. In fact they do. The tourist walking tour map shows exactly where you can stand to see what Sisley painted.

The mill

Le Pont de Moret is one of Sisley’s works.

A balloon flies over the Moret moorings on Saturday evening

The weather was very pleasant and it was the weekend so there much activity around the waterfront. There was even a fete with the usual music and food in the town square Saturday night. We’d already had dinner so we settled for some delicious ice cream for dessert to accompany Christine and her “band” (a couple of backup singers performing to a prerecorded instrumental track).

Sunday morning we were off down the Canal du Loing; the waterway paralleling the Loing River. Other than the short Nancy bypass canal we took in very early June, this would be the first “new water” for the year. We were looking forward to it.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Down the Yonne, August 13-17

Our next stop was the town of Villeneuve sur Yonne, about 30 down the river. Since the locks on the Yonne are staffed they close for a lunch but, even with the hour break, we were still moored by 2:45 pm. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to hit the streets just yet. In another of those “it’s not all fun and drinking wine on the canals of France” moments, the toilet had decided to malfunction along the way and so repairs were necessary. It took a couple of hours and several pairs of rubber gloves but things were operational just in time for the evenings aperitif.
Since we didn’t have time to check out the town on our arrival, we decided we’d spend another day to investigate.

The Villeneuve moorings. Where is everybody? Keep reading to find out…

Tuesday morning we visited the tourist office and picked up the town walking tour. 
Surrounded by walls in the Middle Ages with the gates on both sides of town, the portes, toward Sens and one towards Joigny still remain.

The Porte de Joigny

And the Porte du Sens. They’re doing some restoration work on this Porte. You can see how thick the town walls were.

In the picture you can see the poster for the Feu d’Artifice (fireworks) scheduled for that day. Many of the small towns in France have Fete Foraines, fun fairs, for a couple of weeks in the summer. They’re small operations, featuring rides for the kids and a small selection of the usual midway games. Get enough balls in the basket and you get a giant stuffed animal type of games. Often, on the last night, there will be a fireworks display. The French love their fireworks and some of the shows, even in smaller towns, can be quite elaborate. As luck would have it, Villeneuve’s fete foraine was ending Tuesday and, if we stuck around for an extra day, we could see the fireworks. Tuesday was also the Catholic feast of the Assumption and for reasons we don’t understand, always features elaborate fireworks displays. The only complication was that the quay where we were moored would be closed because the fireworks would be launched from right on the other side of the canal. We talked to the lock keeper at the lock just past the moorings and asked it we could stay on the waiting quay for the night and, after consulting with his boss, we were told it was permitted. Just before noon we passed through the lock, moored up and had a front row seat for the evenings festivities. Thus the empty quay in the picture.
Wednesday we were off to Pont sur Yonne, another 29 k down the river. When we pulled into the moorings about 1:30 we discovered yet another fete foraine and Wednesday night would be their fireworks.
In addition to the fete, there was a giant vide grenier, maybe the largest we’ve seen in our years in France. The whole town was taken over.

This is just one of the several streets lined with stalls selling all kinds of stuff.

Is Cathy Jo looking for kid’s clothes? Naaah!

Another fireworks display successfully viewed, Thursday morning we were off to the confluence of the Yonne and Seine Rivers at the town of Montereau fault Yonne. We moored up on a not-very-nice pontoon that was lit up overnight like a Belgian freeway. We were glad to get underway in the morning, headed down the Seine.
We only had 16 k and one lock on the river but were reminded of the large commercial traffic that travels the waterway when this large commercial came up behind us and into the lock. Luckily the locks are very large and there was plenty of room for us both.

But really…Octopussy???

A little before 11 am we were tied up the Mssr. Bouillet’s fuel dock in St. Mammes, lightening our bank account once again. 420 liters at €1.65 a liter. Ouch! Really not that bad, though, remembering we last topped up in St. Jean de Losne at the end of June.
Just after noon we were secure at the moorings in Moret sur Loing, a most picturesque spot. When we left here in a couple of days we would be on waterways we hadn’t traveled before, something of a novelty this year.

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. Eus├Ębe.

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.