Our Barge, Odysseus

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Paray to Santenay August 15-21

From McNight's Cruising French Waterways "During the late 17th century Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, a nun, witnessed a succession of visions of Christ with his heart exposed, but it was not intil the 19th century that the devotion of the Sacred Heart made Paray le Monial a town of international pilgrimage." She was canonized in 1920 and Paray is now the recipient of the second largest influx of pilgrims after Lourdes.
The 11th century basilica was begun by St.-Hughes, the bishop of Cluny and is quite a sight.

The center for the pilgrims, however, is a large collection of tents set up on the outskirts of town that house continuous religious services.
It was still really hot, well into the 90's, but luckily right before town the canal passes through an avenue of trees that almost completely overhang the water. We spent Saturday afternoon there and then moved on Sunday morning.
Sunday afternoon found us in the small town of Genelard and, still looking for shade and cooling breezes, we made it to the top of the Canal by Monday afternoon. Canals follow streams and rivers to provide them with water but when you reach the summit there is usually a lake as you are between watersheds. The Canal du Centre is no exception and just outside of the town of Montchanin we found this weeks version of nirvana, shade all day with a lake just steps away! With the temperature still in the 90's, we spent Monday and Tuesday afternoons submerged.
Wednesday it was off to the town of St. Leger and the beginning of the real burgundy wine country but it was still scorching. Luckily about 4 am Friday the lightning started to flash and by 5 the rain started pouring down. The heat had broken and for once we were not going to complain about rain. As a matter of fact, we had told the lockkeeper we would be getting underway about 9am and we did, getting thoroughly wet in the process. The fresh water rinse felt great!
By about 11:30 the rain had stopped, the sun was beginning to peek through and we were tied up just outside of Santenay. We were back in serious wine country!

Digoin, or Welcome to the Canal du Centre August 13

After a couple of days paralleling the Loire River, we entered the town of Digoin where the Canal Lateral a la Loire becomes the Canal du Centre. The Canal du Centre was built in the late 1700's to connect the Loire and the Saone Rivers.
But first it must cross the Loire. Rather than have to lock down to river level and then lock up the other side, in 1835 an aqueduct was built over the Loire to carry the beginning of the canal.

The lock gates are about to open and we will cross over the Loire into Digoin.

The view from the river.

The weather had been very hot and we'd spent alot of time seeking shade. Luckily, just on the other side of the "pont canal" (canal bridge) there was a secure place to tie up under some trees for afternoon shade. Also from there it was just a short walk to the river for a refreshing swim.
We were lucky enough to see a couple of full size barges navigating the canal, full size being about 39 meters (120') long.

The other "must do" on Digoin was the Thai restaurant. We had been told by our friends John and Patti Hardman that this was a requirement of any visit to town. We had a very good meal (including thai curried frog legs; they do taste like chicken!) but the highlight of the meal was the "digestif". The very nice young waiter brings a bottle of what he called sake (but tasted more like gasoline) and two small cups, carefully placing them on the table and filling them before bowing and backing away with a silly grin on his face. When filled with liquid, the cups display a pornographic picture in the bottom and the restaurant is nice enough to provide a different picture for the men and the ladies!

We also saw this very dapper gentleman taking his Friday morning stroll. In France, you can accessorize anything with a loaf of bread.

Saturday morning it was off down the Canal du Centre, the first stop Paray le Monial.

Decize to Digoin-the Canal Lateral a la Loire August 10-13

It turned out we were in Decize just in time for the "Comice," a kind of county fair complete with a midway, a hunting dog exhibition, a dinner-dance and a parade. We missed the first day so the hunting dog exhibition and dinner dance were out but we were in time for the parade and midway.
The parade was quite a spectacle. It took over an hour for all of the floats to creep by our spot and after wending it's way through town the marchers had been at it for well over 5 hours!

The Cub Scouts had their float.

There were the stilt walkers in funny costumes.

And of course, the Queen and her court.

They give boat rides on this sailing riverboat, typical of the older craft of the area. Behind us is "Les Troubadors" owned by Tom and Laurel from Bainbridge, Washington.

We had noticed on our way into town that the ever-helpful VNF, along with the shopping center owners, I'm sure, had put a very nice quay right next to a giant supermarket and hardware store. We backtracked a couple of kilometers to stock up and then headed out of town. As we entered our next stretch of water, the Canal Lateral a la Loire, we looked back and saw the ruins of the 12th century fort built by the Comte de Nevers that stood guard over the Loire River.

Down the Nivernais Canal August 5-9

We left the canal bank about 9:30 am and entered the first lock on the downhill side of the Nivernais. After that first lock there was what is called a "stairstep lock;" the boat exits one lock directly into the next. The first stairstep was two locks then about 45 minutes later a three lock complex followed just a couple hundred feet later by a two lock complex. It was time for the lunch closure as we completed the three locks so, after some maneuvering, we pulled into the first of the two lock combination, which was already set up for our descent, to have our lunch. When I went below to shut off the engine, something smelled a little funny. Further investigation revealed that we had ruptured a hose carrying coolant from the external cooling pipes back into the engine, much of our coolant was now in the bilges and we had a seriously overheated engine! As we had no replacement hose, I was going to have to bicycle the 8 km back to Baye where there is a big hire boat base, buy some hose (if they have it), and return before we could continue on. There was a boat waiting to enter the lock, however, so first we had to get out of the way.

We're in the center of the three lock combination. That boat below the two lock combo will have to wait 'til after lunch.

It was back to the old canal days as we used line and human power to pull the boat from one lock to the next and then out of that lock to the bank below where we could tie up to try to make repairs.
They did have the hose in Baye and after a 2 1/2 hour delay, we set off again for out next stop, Chatillon en Bazois.

Set up on a bluff over the Aron River and the Nivernais Canal, Chatillon en Bazois boasts a beautiful, privately owned chateau built on the site of the ancient fortress of the Sires of Chatillon.

The owners provide guided tours during the summer months and we were able so see some of the interior but, unfortunately, no pictures were allowed. The furniture and fixtures are elegant and ornate (think Ming Dynasty figurines and oil portraits from the 18th century) but with modern touches; the owners do live there at times.
They also have a full time gardening staff and early in the morning we spotted the head gardner dealing with moles as I'm sure many would like.

We did hear a gunshot a little later so we assumed he got his rodent.

We made an overnight stop in the small town of Pannecot (where the advertised pizza restaurant is no more; the port captain said without the bread delivery truck in the morning "we would starve!") and Cercy la Tour (we thought that sounded like a vaudeville act, especially when we noted on our charts the nearby town of Les Brunettes). We left Cercy early because we wanted to get to the days final destination, Decize, before the lunch closure of the locks. Luckily we did because it turned out their was a "Concourse de Peche,", a fishing tournament, scheduled to begin a 9 am. The French are very serious about their fishing and it would have been a nightmare to interfere.

As we were about halfway down the line, the whistle sounded at 8:50 and the bait balls began to hit the water and just as the 9 am whistle sounded for the fishing to begin we were in the clear.
We arrived at Decize, the end of the Nivernais Canal just a little after noon, having cleared the last lock at 11:45. After 187 kilometers and 110 locks, we thought we'd take a couple days off.

Monday, August 10, 2009

To the Top of the Nivernais July 30-August 4

The next afternoon found us about 14 kilometers down the canal near the small village of Asnois. There was a nice tieup with room for just one boat right by a park below the village. We were secure by about 3:30, plenty of time for a stroll thru the village and then back to the boat for an aperitif. We had just finished our glasses of wine about 6:45 when a woman drove up in a car, parked in the park and came walking down to the waters edge.
In her halting English, she told us that three boats were on their way and would be at the park in about 15 minutes. We had seen them before; they are a moveable summer camp for middle schoolers. We had no intentions of being surrounded by a bunch of 11-14 year olds on their summer vacation so we evacuated immediately! Luckily there was a "self-opening" bridge about a kilometer away that had a pair of bollards to tie up on. We spent the night there in blessed silence.
Our next stop was Chitry les Mines, so called because silver and lead were mined here centuries ago.
As we pulled into town we noticed that at the campground across the river they were erecting a stage with a big banner overhead that read "Morvanstock." We asked around but nobody seemed to know what was going on. Nothing happened Friday night but on Saturday we could hear what sounded like sound check (it wasn't that close so not really annoying). By evening the clouds had begun forming and there was some lightning around but we heard the music start and though we'd go over and see what it was all about. Our guess is that some sort of Dutch camping club had taken over the campground for the weekend and this was their entertainment. It was a typical Dutch pop-rock band playing covers of old pop songs in English and the announcements from the stage in Dutch. it seemed all very strange in Burgundy!
We only stayed a few minutes: we'd seen this kind of thing before in Holland and the sky was looking very threatening. We got back to the boat just in time as they sky repeatedly lit up with lightning, the thunder was deafening and the rain she came pouring down. If there was enough mud I suppose Morvanstock would have been just like Woodstock but I don't think they were up to it. We didn't hear any more music.

We were fast approaching the top of the Nivernais Canal which features a flight of 16 locks in two kilometers, three tunnels and then the summit lake. There is a very nice place to tie up near the village of Sardy right at the bottom of the flight so we spent the night there and then set off about 9 am on Tuesday morning for the trip to the top.

The Nivernais is lauded as one of France's most beautiful canals and, at least in this section, we have to agree. When we finally got to the top, where traffic lights control the entrance to the three tunnels (they're one-way) we had been underway since 9 am, it was 2:30 in the afternoon, we had a 1 1/2 hour lunch stop and the gps said the boat had been moving for 1 hour; most of the time was spent either in or waiting for locks but the scenery made it all worthwhile.

Approaching one of the locks. The gates are open but water continues to flow over the back gate.

Everything is manually operated. Here a lock keeper opens a gate.

Around the corner and into the lock.

The lock keepers let us stay tied up in the lock after it had filled as it was time for lunch. We went through all of the locks paired up with the French couple on the boat behind us.

On the way to the tunnels.

After you leave the last lock, the summit tunnels must be passed through. There are three, the first two about 250 meters (700 feet) each and the last about 750 meters (about 1/2 mile) and they are just slightly bigger that the barge. Before you can get to the tunnels, though, you must pass through a little over a kilometer of a massive ditch. As you can see, it might as well be a tunnel, it's just that the roof is green instead of stone.
After you exit the tunnels, you reach the summit lake, the Etang de Vaux, the waters of which are used to feed the side of the canal that descends to the Loire River. There is a dike that separates the canal from the lake and there are plenty of places to tie up.

The view across the lake.

After a night on the bank, it was time to head down toward the Loire River and the final kilometers of the Nivernais.

Clamecy July 28-29

Clamecy is the biggest town between Auxerre and the end of the Nivernais Canal at Decize so we decided to spend a couple of days.
As we entered the last lock right before town about 3 on Sunday afternoon the skies were very dark. Sure enough, just as the lock gates opened, so did the heavens. There were no available spots on the town moorings so we were going to have to drive stakes in the ground and tie to those ... in the pouring rain. Luckily it was pretty warm so we just got a thorough rain-water rinse. The next day a couple of boats moved and we were able to tie up on the quay.
Although Clamecy is on the Nivernais Canal, the Yonne River also runs through town and was the center of the towns industry for centuries; that industry being firewood for Paris. The town is on the edge of the Morvan Forest and the trees would be felled, cut into logs and then floated down the Yonne to the Seine and then to Paris. The practice began in the 16th century, lasted until the early 1920's and employed generations of residents of the area.

Downtown Clamecy with the church tower keeping watch.

Looking back toward town with part of the marina in view.

One of the best features of the Nivernais Canal is the revitalized towpath. The campers in the picture above are on it returning to the campground after a visit to the grocery store. Before barges were motorized, they were towed by horses or, in some cases, people. (In the barge museum in St. Jean de Losne there's a great picture of granny towing a barge along the Canal de Bourgogne with a tumpline!) The government has revitalized the path all along the canal and now it makes a great, and well used, hiking and bicycling path. Since the canal is level, the only elevation changes being at the locks and even those are very gradual, It's very easy cycling. The authorities have also very kindly spotted picnic tables and water points along the path to make for an easy trek. As a matter of fact, we'll frequently park the boat and then cycle either ahead, to see what we'll be facing, or back to check out things we may have missed.
While we were in town we took advantage of another feature of the Burgundy region; wine in bulk. The local cave has casks of local wine in the store and, after tasting to make sure it's what you want, the "Fountain of Wine" is filled. 5 liters for about E12. Dontcha love it!

The flowers, by the way, are sowed wild by the canal authorities at various places along the canal for your picking pleasure.
Wednesday morning we were off.