Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Drought Measures

 We decided on the Nivernais. Why? To be honest we couldn't face backtracking and as it's not late in the year we thought that perhaps the chronically shallow Nivernais might have more water than later in the summer. We had a taste of this lovely canal last year and this summer we hope to travel the whole length. We've had various reactions from other boaters ranging from pessimistic to cautiously optimistic but even if do have to give up we'll have a week or 2 of beautiful scenery.
It has been pouring with rain every afternoon for the past week so this notice at each lock seems a bit incongruous.

The first couple of lock keepers grumbled about the levels of the water and kept to the rules about making you wait for another boat to lock through with but the further away from Auxerre we have travelled the less anyone seems bothered. As this navigation follows the course of the river for much of the time and there seems to be no shortage of water falling from the skies and gushing over the weirs I'm not so sure of the usefulness of saving lock loads of water. But then I'm no expert.

I'm no wine expert either but am doing my best to learn. Just outside Auxerre are the kilometres of limestone caves (cellars) where burgundy cremant (sparkling champagne style wine but a third of the price) is produced.

The entry into the caves at Bailly.

Wine tasting inside the caves.

 -and back to the boat with supplies.

We are also trying out a new internet connection which has involved me becoming very proficient in dealing with French telecom operators. It's all legal but I'm not sure it's exactly  in the spirit of the 9 euro a month deal they are offering. The Orange hotspot we tried before turned out to be not much use at all due to the dearth of actual hotspots. No surprise there.

This is prime hire boat country of course so we are meeting (and sometimes taking emergency measures to avoid ) people from all over the world. Small problems still arise with our boat. Today the steering decided to pack up on a dead straight section of canal while I was in charge on deck and the engineer was below and we ended up broadsides across the canal. The kind of manoeuvre which brings a superscillious smile to our faces when hirers do it (not any more and serves us right). The engineer quickly donned his captain's hat convinced that it was my lack of driving skill but he fared no better so I did my leap from bow to bank once again - and once again into nettles- and hauled her into the side and tied up. It was, at least, a lovely rural spot  for a relaxing read on my kindle whilst the engineer got back to work and did whatever he had to do so we could steer in a straight line once more.
Tonight we are at Chatel Censoir  and the lock keeper handed me a card for the local traditional restaurant as we passed through so we may check that out.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Blast from the Past

Once upon a time (or perhaps that should that be long, long ago) a young couple set off on the long journey from Scotland to South Africa. Never ones to do things the easy way and being of the view that the journey rather than the destination's the important bit they decided to go overland and chose, for reasons best known to themselves, to convert a London Taxi into the 'mobile home' necessary for the 6 month trip.

En route from Glasgow to Cape Town. Our trusty London taxi

That adventure is outside the scope of this blog but was one of many relived during the past few days over bottles of burgundy when we were joined by Richard and Corine. We lived with Richard for some time in Cape Town and he and Rob worked together on a salvage ship in often dangerous waters around the Cape.
Whale catchers on tow (from Durban to Maputo) but one's about to sink (1976)

Quick! Cut the tow wire!
Too late! Gone...

Considering the quite hair raising risks taken it is remarkable we've all lived long enough to enjoy reminiscing in the altogether calmer waters of the River Yonne in France.What is also remarkable is that this present day adventure of ours on L'Avenir is not only making us new friends but reuniting us with old ones. We hadn't seen Richard for 30 years. Richard and Corine now live near Marseille so it was a long drive for them to meet us in Auxerre but we so enjoyed having them and dogs Sam and Charlie on board. Thank you for coming!

Richard, Corine & Charlie and Sam
 Our recent 'engine problem' has caused us to reconsider our cruising plans. We made our way safely back to Migennes and Simon from the boatyard there immediately went and got the spare that we needed. He was of the opinion that he and Rob could together manage the job without needing a lift out. I didn't quite share their confidence so went for a long walk (with plenty of money and my passport in case of the worst!). As ever, my fears were unfounded and when I returned the boat was still safely afloat and what's more safe and seaworthy. Our visitors were en route so we decided rather than venture back up through all the locks along the canal du bourgogne we'd take the rather more relaxing route along the River Yonne to Auxerre and then spend a couple of days between there and Gurgy.
Wine tasting table set up conveniently close to L'Avenir at Gurgy

Auxerre is the beginning of the canal du Nivernais a little of which we did last year. So we have to choose - attempt the shallow but beautiful Nivernais or go back and try the extraordinarily weedy but also beautiful canal du Bourgogne.

L'Avenir at Auxerre  again

Today, a holiday Monday, we're having (another) lazy day watching a couple of lovely swans showing off to each other Auxerre.
Which way next?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Never Rains but it Pours

As you can see, the skies over St Florentin are grey but our resident engineer did his best to turn the air blue when he cleared out yesterday's weeds from the cooling water intake and discovered a Major Problem. One which will entail us turning around and going back to the yard at Migennes. Today my French got a good workout with the mecahnic at this boatyard and whilst he can order the required part for us they don't have the facilities to pull the boat out of the water in order to fit it. Yes you did read that correctly. We are barely on the water but need to come out again ( I was going to say barely afloat but that's tempting fate I feel). Not much of a lift is required, just a foot or so, but it still requires the use of that very expensive crane. Meanwhile resident engineer has made a temporary repair and both he and the French mechanic have assured me that it will hold and we won't sink and I won't drown. Hmm.
On the plus side we have acquired a gangway. One of the boatyard workers came by and offered us one for sale for 50 euros. He assured us it was his to sell as he pocketed the note and made off at speed.

St Florentin from the canal aqueduct

Monday, 6 June 2011


 Today was our first day of proper cruising. We set off from Migennes along the Canal du Bourgogne. This canal is 242km long and has 189 locks. Today we managed the 19 km and 6 locks to St Forentin so you can see it's going to take us a while. The canal, which runs through beautiful Burgundy countryside, is no longer used by commercial traffic and doesn't seem to have all that many pleasure boats either - perhaps because of the many locks. We didn't see anyone else all day.
St Florentin lock. Operated 'rather enthusiastically' by les eclusiers madame and monsieur.

 We stopped for lunch at Brienon sur Amancon which I only mention because it has a lovely 'lavoir' or public washing house. Actually it has 2. We went and looked at one and thought 'that doesn't look any more special than any of the many others we've seen elsewhere. Why is it in the tourist guide?' Then we walked into the town in search of baguettes - lunch time so everything closed - and found the 'historic' one.
The Lavoir not in the tourist guide

-and the one that is. View from the roof

-and yes, we found baguettes as well
Apparently this lavoir was shared by women washing clothes, other women washing tripes, and rats which ate the soap ( no doubt it tasted better than the tripe).
The other main event of the day was getting stuck. We'd just arrived at St Florentin and were looking for somewhere to moor when the heavens opened, visiblity went down to near to nothing and we ran into shallows (and weeds) opposite the port and so providing half an hour's entertainment for everyone else sheltering in their boats as we dragged the weed away with boathooks. The port capitaine watched from his doorway and what do you think he did? Yes - shrug.
But we do have the internet! This is probably only of interest to those afloat. Orange have a hotspot here so we've signed up online to 30 days of unlimited access for 19.90 euros. They say they have 30 000 hotspots in France. We'll see.


It never rains but it pours and, it seems, you never have just one burst pipe. Fix one and another spurts into life. We checked out of our hotel thinking that we'd have only one night high and dry in the boatyard but that stretched into 5 as we found more problems. The main trouble with boat plumbing is access to the pipes and then trying to repair them in extremely confined spaces. So, should you ever visit us and whilst sitting in the loo wonder why on earth would they hang a family photo there, the answer is it is disguising an access hole cut in the wall. The mundane equivalent of a painting concealing a safe I suppose.
Recalcitrant plumbing hasn't been our only worry. The solar panels, or more precisely their control box, which has worked perfectly for the past 3 summers seems to have gone on the blink which is causing much consternation ( euphemism for swearing).
However, we are now in the water which is wonderful, although actually getting there was a nerve wracking (and expensive) process.

Stage 1- onto the trailer.

Stage 2 - reverse around corner.

Stage 3 - line up with crane

Stage 4 - Strops on and lift (hold breath)

Stage 5 - Swing out over the river.

Stage 6- Splashdown and breathe again.

Stage 7 - and we're off! Au revoir boatyard.