Heuilly-Cotton - Chagny

Monday the 16th of September we left Heuilley-Cotton at 9:10AM, knowing that it would be a real ‘working day’ again because of the flight of locks that was awaiting us. To make things a bit more unattractive the weather was horrible – see the picture. Thank God a windscreen wiper was fitted before leaving the UK by the best engineer we know, Peter Borshik. Did we need the thing! On top of the horrible circumstances we had to wait longer than anticipated in front of the first and second lock, although they are automated. Rain, crosswind and no bow thruster; could be better.

That afternoon we ended up in a place called Cusey. We had done 22 locks – going down now towards the river Saône – and tied up at almost 4:00PM after close to 7 hours of activity.

On we went the next day, Tuesday the 17th, leaving Cusey at 9:00AM sharp. Along the way we saw this partridge and duck farm – we think over at least half a kilometer (over 1/3 of a mile), closed off by nets wherever one looked. The French know a thing or two about food – and what is edible. ‘Canard’ (duck) and ‘lapin’ (rabbit) to name but two.

Le Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne was constructed roughly during the last quarter of the 19th century which, we think, is reflected by the style of many of its bridges. It is almost inevitable to think of the Eiffel Tower (1887 – 1889) when looking at this type of bridge.

That day we encountered some difficulties finding a place for an overnight stop. There are not many on this canal and our ship is comparatively large. It is always really discouraging when finding out that a planned stop appears to be impossible. Of course we are forced to go on then – in a desperate effort to find an alternative. After 8 hours of cruising and 17 locks (pffff…) we ended up at a disused silo quay, close to a place called Renève.

Wednesday the 18th of September we left Renève at 8:54AM and descended the last 4 locks of the canal and entered the river Saône. Soon we were accompanied by two hire boats, apparently playing around without any idea of the potential risks. Not only did they annoy us by cruising close on either side of us (kids at the helm, parents not paying any attention, it’s all fun, cheer up, what on earth can go wrong?); one of them, coming from our right hand side(!) even cut in on us by sheer carelessness and had to be buzzed of by using our horn for a longer period than some seconds. On this picture they are playing again, this time by taking a blind bend on the left hand side. If one would say that this looks stupid, we only can say: it does. Thank goodness they were not confronted with a barge coming towards them.

A random view of the beautiful river Saône. It’s a fine combination of water, trees, blue air and different looking clouds.

Our overnight mooring place was the H2O-marina at Auxonne. We had descended two more locks on the river, so only 6 in total and needed five hours and a quarter for it – an easy ride. At last we were able to shop extensively in a larger town and almost gave way under the weight of the stuff we bought.

The Thursday, 19 September, we left Auxonne at 9:30AM and planned to cruise to Seurre to have an overnight stop there after roughly 45 kilometers (less than 30 miles) going downstream and only two locks. To our disappointment there was no space left and all boaters, as usual, looked the other way. So we were forced to travel on and tried to moor using so called ‘Ducs d’Alba’ (huge steel mooring posts) in front of the next lock – after receiving permission from the lock keeper. Alas, the space between them was too wide for our tiny ship, so we ‘VHF-ed’ the lock keeper again and descended his lock of 185 meters (over 600 feet) by 12 meters 40 feet) and a difference in level of 3,20 meters (over 10 feet). That, dear reader, is a lot of water only for us! The next possible mooring was Verdun-sur-le-Doubs (Le Doubs is La Saône’s most important tributary as La Saône in its turn is to Le Rhône), some 16 extra kilometers (pretty close to 10 miles). As a matter of precaution we called this marina by phone and were informed of a free space ‘at the quay’ as from 4:15PM. A sigh of relief left our chests and we duly moored at Verdun-sur-le-Doubs at 4:35PM. A long day, but all the way downstream and only 3 locks.

We had read before that Le Doubs is extremely fickle and can be nasty. After arrival the exploiter of the port already advised to leave some extra room on the ropes as there was a ‘chance’ the river would rise. Well, he did! The previous picture, taken from the balcony that is visible on this one, shows a dry bank, fishing people and our electricity cable on dry land. During the evening/night the river rose between 40 and 50 centimeters (around 1,5 feet), keeping 50% of our crew awake until 3:00AM for monitoring the situation, adjusting the ropes and adding an extra one on the front (because of the direction of the current). The next morning swans surrounded us, the electricity cable was submerged, the fenders did no longer protect the ship and boots were needed to disconnect the electricity cable and bring it back on board. Despite the fact that our bow thruster is not in working order we eventually managed to escape from the awkward position we were in. It certainly was worth a high five after we succeeded in turning the ship in the strong current and leave Verdun-sur-le-Doubs! It was about 1 kilometer to return to La Saône and everything was more or less quiet again. The difference between Le Doubs and La Saône is remarkable, to say the least.

The already described ‘escape’ took place at 8:45AM on Friday the 20th of September and after an uneventful lock free cruise of almost 2,5 hours we reached Le Canal du Centre (France), connecting the rivers La Saône and La Loire, built between 1784 and 1791/3. The canal’s length is a little bit more than 112 kilometers (70 miles) and is situated between Chalon-sur-Saône (altitude 179 meters/600 feet) and Digoin (altitude 235 meters/780 feet). In between these two locations the highest altitude is 300 meters (1.000 feet), tackled by 35 locks on the Saône-side and 26 on the Loire-side. The lock-names on the Saône-side all have the additional three letters MED and the lock-names on the Loire-side OCE. Question to you all: why? Pictured is the first lock, a welcoming 10,76 meters (over 35 feet) deep one – no name, simply numbered/named ‘34b MED’.

This picture reveals how easy it is to negotiate a deep lock on Le Canal du Centre. Floating bollards are the solution. Very helpful indeed, as there are several locks with a depth of 5,20 meters (17 feet). The alternative would be bollards at different levels in the lock’s wall. Although do-able that’s fairly more complicated; we always work with two ropes in case of bollards at different levels, trying not to lose fingers while manipulating them.

Our first overnight stop on Le Canal du Centre was at this lovely spot, after the one deep lock and spending 3,5 hours of cruising. The name of the village is Fragnes and it was, as you’ll understand, an absolute relief to be on a more reliable canal after our adventure on an unpredictable river! Yes, thank you, we had a good night sleep this time.

Saturday the 21st of September we left Fragnes at 10:37AM to tackle a flight of 11 locks. There are, as mentioned before, several locks with a depth of 5,20 meters (17 feet). This picture shows us approaching one of them. It is interesting to see that we are cruising on more or less the same level as the landscape surrounding us. Clearly visible is the lock and the dike that keeps the canal at bay after the (deep) lock. That is only necessary for a relative short distance as the terrain keeps ascending, thus creating the necessity to build a lot (11) locks on a distance of only 10 kilometers (6,25 miles), overcoming a difference in level of over 40 meters (over 130 feet).

We ended up in a small town called Chagny and needed around only 4,5 hours for that – the 11 locks included. Regularly, like this time, it takes a little bit of effort to get ‘accepted’ by the automated lock-operation system. The first two locks gave some minor troubles; after that it all worked smoothly – the majority of the locks showed already open gates and the green light on approaching. Of course oncoming traffic sometimes gives some delay – but that works the same way the other way around, of course. It still amazes us that ‘the system’ is capable of handling ascending and descending traffic, be it one single boat or a small convoy – all of it mixed in any thinkable combination.

The Sunday –which is today the 22nd of September 2013- we decided to present ourselves with a day off. We traveled long days and as fast as we possibly could and now feel that we are back where we wanted to be before we were confronted with unwanted delay. This town, Chagny, offers a vast market every Sunday from 9:00AM till 4:00PM. The sun was shining so why not have a look? This picture shows different mixes of tapas. Did we buy some? Yes, we did!

The text of picture 3 already contains the remark that the French know a few things about food. And drink, not to forget. Truffles from Bourgogne are on sale too, as this picture proves. Did we buy them? No, we somehow found the strength to resist the temptation.

A few years ago we visited a French market in Marlow (on Thames), UK. We then bought four little different sausages. The French use a lot of different herbs and/or animals, like nuts, goat, donkey(!), garlic – you name it, to create sausages. Today we bought four little different sausages again. They are in the fridge and will remain untouched there until we are joined by visitors, being the same people we were with while visiting the French market in Marlow. This sounds like a tradition, doesn’t it?

The final picture for this week now. It was also possible to buy a duck or a cock (France!) or some poultry we are unable to identify afterwards. Alive, that is. Perhaps one or two of you might think that they are meant to become pets. No, no and no again! Their destination is a French oven, followed by a French stomach – no less. Did we buy one? No, we certainly did not. We pitied them a little bit but have to admit that we are by no means vegetarians. Till next week!