Our Barge, Odysseus

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Thursday, May 27-Departure and En Panne

The weather forecast looked pretty good for Thursday and our first objective was the town of Dole, just 19 k away. We wanted to be there for their Saturday market. As we motored around waiting for the first lock to cycle for us, I looked down at the engines water temp gauge and noticed it was pegged. The engine had overheated in about 10 minutes idling. Not good.
We pulled alongside one of the moored boats and I dove into the engine compartment. Opening the bleeder valve, a rush of steam escaped but then coolant. After a few second, the temperature returned to normal. "Just an air lock," I thought, and off we went. The next section of canal (the section between locks is called a "pound") was about 5 k and I kept a close eye on the temp gauge as we motored along. All seemed to be well. However, just as we pulled into the next lock, the gauge pegged yet again. After another quick visit to the engine, it seemed to be under control and the next pound was only 1.5k. Pegged again as we entered the lock. One more air/steam bleeding operation and we headed for the next lock about 1/2k up the canal. If it happened again, we were done for the day and would have to find a mechanic to look at our problem. Sure enough upon entering the next lock we overheated again. There was a great tie-up just past the lock. We tied up and called back to St. Symphorien. Luckily, Port Captain Peter happened to be standing next to Bourgogne Marines mechanic, Alain, when we called. Peter said Alain had to finish up a little task but would see us in an hour. An hour and a half later (exceptional performance by French standards!) Alain arrived and diagnosed the probable cause as a bad thermostat. He happened to have an exact replacement thermostat for our Mercedes engine in his truck. Unluckily for us, the simple fix didn't work. We would have to return to St. Symphorien for further diagnostics and repairs.

We spent the night at the tie up and turned about to return to Bourgogne Marine Friday morning. After getting a replacement for our "telecommand," the remote control that operates the lock (our first one was malfunctioning, of course!) we finally got underway about 9:30. The engine heated some before the first lock but not too bad. However, after the second 1 1/2 k long pound, we thought the engine might explode from the heat; steam was escaping from everywhere! We made it through the lock into the 5 k long pound but were going to go no further under our own power.

We made a call back to Bourgogne Marine to try to arrange a tow, at least to the next lock, about 5k. If we got that far, we would be able to use the engine to get through the last lock and into Bourgogne Marine's tie-up. The return call wasn't good. Port Captain Peter said there wasn't anybody available to tow us but, to paraphrase, "let me have a bowl of soup and a shower and I'll be up there and we can pull her back down the canal."
"By hand?"
"It's not that far," says Peter. "It'll only take an hour."
I told him he was crazy but he said he'd be to us in an hour and I said I'd wait.

About two hours later Peter showed up with Alain and a work/study/intern at Bourgogne Marine, Samir. Alain shook his head over our story and said when we returned he'd have to remove the cylinder head, thinking the gasket may be damaged. He dropped off Peter and Samir and left.
We hooked up two lines to the boat, put Peter and Samir on the towpath, Cathy Jo at the helm and me on the boat pole to keep up off the bank and off we went.

Odysseus makes like a true canal barge.

Peter, Samir and I traded off as we covered the 5.5 kilometers, averaging about 3k per hour. We got to the last lock, put Peter and Samir ashore, motored into and out of the lock and found a place to moor in the upper basin at Bourgogne Marine. Alain would be around in the morning to begin troubleshooting.

Arrival at St. Symphorien sur Saone, May 15

The boat, other than being really dirty on the outside, was in great shape when we arrived. Peter, the port captain, very efficiently hooked up our electricity, we unpacked the sheets and blankets from their winter storage and moved in for the summer. We had made a quick stop at the grocery on the way to the boat as it was Saturday afternoon and all would be closed on Sunday, so we had a nice dinner and continued the jet lag recovery process.
Sunday was anything but a day of rest; it took us all day to clean the outside of the boat and we wore out a scrub brush on the deck paint in the process, but, once cleaned, Odysseus looked great. Very little work would be required to make her cruise ready.
By the weekend we were ready for a little R and R. We would be returning the car to Dijon on Tuesday so on Sunday we decided to do a little touring around the area.

We are right on the border between the Departments of Burgundy and Jura. Part of the Jura is Alsace, home of great white wines, comte cheese and the foothills of the Swiss Alps. We made a day of it, circling through the town of Poligny, which they refer to as "Capitale du Gruyere de Comte," and Arbois, home of the famous "Vin Jaune." In between, we visited the "Cascades du Herisson," a series of six waterfalls stretched over 3 kilometers of the Herisson River. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the scene reminded us somewhat of Yosemite National Park on a beautiful summer day. Not exactly wilderness. We think we were there with most of France … and their kids.

At the top of the Cascades.

The last of the Cascades. French "wilderness."

Wee stee tee!

We saw a sign leading to the "Belvedere de Chatelaine" (Belvedere is viewpoint) and bypassed it 'til we went through a small tunnel and saw some great views. We backtracked to the village, walked about a half mile up a trail and got a great view of the village of Chatelaine.

After that, a stop in a wine shop in Arbois for a little tasting and the purchase of a bottle of the famous vin jaune.
From the Michelin Guide to the Wine Regions of France:
"The unique vin jaune, a white wine made exclusively from the Savignin grape, is left to age for six years and three months in 2281 containers, without topping up. In other words, the wine is left to slowly evaporate. In contact with the air, a film of yeast forms on the surface of the wine. This protects it from oxidization and fosters development of the wine's characteristic flavors, which range from fresh walnut to curry. Vin jaune is therefore a very dry wine… Is is aged in a special bottle, known as a clavelin, which contains just 62cl.

Vin jaune

We were moderate in our tasting and arrived back at St. Symphorien safely for dinnertime.

Monday was Pentacost Monday; almost all of the stores were closed but, as we were returning the car Tuesday morning, we thought we would take all of our laundry into nearby St. Jean du Losne to the laundromat. Of course it was "en panne," out of order, and locked up. Oh well, more laundry by hand, but since we're in town we might as well at least get some bread. The St. Jean du Losne boulangerie, our favorite, is closed Mondays so we went to the one across the river in Losne. Out of bread, more in twenty minutes says the helpful clerk. We walked back across the river to St. Jean, had a coffee in one of the waterfront cafes and returned to the boulangerie. Still no bread. Nuts! Oh well, the Casino supermarket will be open till noon. No bread. The Colruyt (kind of a down-market Costco) is open. Surely they will have a loaf or two. No bread. C'est une catastrophe!!!!! We slunk back to the boat breadless and spent the day aboard our laundry-festooned boat.

Tuesday we returned the car to the train station in Dijon, enjoyed our first full-on French lunch of the summer at a bistro across from the excellent Dijon covered market, took the train back to St. Jean where the ever-helpful port captain Peter picked us up and delivered us back to Odysseus. We would spend Wednesday making our final preparation and be underway Thursday morning.

May 12 - It Begins

This year's trip began easily enough. The car rental company just down the street from our house allows one-way rentals to LA airport for just slightly more than the bus. That allowed a leisurely trip to the airport, arriving in plenty of time for the doffing of the shoes and other airport funness. Our flight would take us from Los Angeles to London's Heathrow where we would have a two hour layover, then on to a three hour flight to Basel, Switzerland. Helpfully, British Airways checked our bags all the way through so we would not have to deal with luggage in London.

One great feature of Basel is their wonderful tram and bus system. A confirmed hotel reservation gets you free access to the system. We left the airport (with our bags!), boarded a tram and it dropped us off within steps of our hotel. The problem was the steps. The Hotel au Violon is a converted convent/prison. No, really! It is very nice, and for Switzerland, very reasonable. Unfortunately, as in all medieval cities, even with a map it's hard to find your way around. After dragging our airline-max-weight bags up the hill and twice asking for direction, we finally found the place and checked in. That's when we found out about the elevator that leads directly from the hotel lobby to the main square outside the hotel, the Barfusserplatz, locally known as "Barfi," where the tram stop is. As we'll be coming back in September, this is something we'll remember.

This, the German part of Switzerland, is very orderly, very expensive, and, right now, really cold and damp. We found a place to get a pizza (about $23!) and a half-liter of wine (you don't even want to know!), and collapsed into our beds to begin our jet lag recovery.

We would only be spending one full day in Basel now, taking the Saturday train to Dijon, so we spent Friday all bundled up wandering about the central city checking things out. Because the weather was pretty frightful, few pictures were taken. We'll be coming back in September on our return and hopefully the weather will allow some more photography but there are some pictures of city hall.

As usual, any really nice building is covered in scaffolding while we're here.

City Hall and the Friday market. Good sausages for lunch!

The City Hall tower

Very elaborate painting on the courtyard interior.

A city gate.

We did take advantage our our free "Mobility Pass" to ride the tram around; one line takes you in a circle around the old city, so we got a good overview of it's layout which is cut in two by the swiftly flowing Rhine River. We also made a trip to the train station to buy our tickets to Dijon. It would be a rather roundabout trip with changes of train in Mulhouse and Belfort but leaving at about 9:30 am would put us in Dijon around 3 pm; plenty of time to pick up the rental car and be to Odysseus in time for that first bottle of French wine.