Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Thieves in the Night

I had intended this post to tell you how much we have enjoyed our stay in Dijon with its quaint medieval streets, handsome Place de la Liberation, imposing Palais des Ducs,  cathedrals, restaurants, mustard, pain d’epice (gingerbread) and more. Sadly, all that has been overshadowed by a couple of incidents. For the first time in our 6 years of cruising we have been bothered by thieves – twice in one week.
Perhaps we have just been lucky up until now.
The port at Dijon is a short tram ride to the city (and, for those Melbournites amongst you, the trams are great. You can easily buy a rechargeable cardboard ticket at any stop and you touch on by waving your ticket in front of the machine as you board – works even if it’s in your wallet or bag. No touching off. Simple, efficient, cheap.) The port has water and electricity but no captain to collect mooring fees and so, at the moment, it is entirely free. Thank you city of Dijon. Perhaps that’s the reason that one or two of the inhabitants think it is okay to walk off with anything that’s not tied down and even some stuff that is.
We share the port with not only with cruisers, yachts and hotel boats but also an old peniche (commercial barge) called Cancale which has been converted into a bar/night club. As I type this there is loud electronic music with an even louder beat thudding out through the air and the water. We are all of 2 boats away and I have a clear view of the DJ on deck. Cancale operates on Fridays and Saturdays. Last night we had hip hop (not a favourite) and last weekend it was African. Bongo drums I didn’t mind but believe me they become somewhat wearing after10 hours.

The patrons of Cancale move from the deck to the inside at about 10pm but the music continues, albeit slightly muffled, until around 2am at which point the clubbers finish their drinks and continue their arguments on the quayside before staggering off into what’s left of the night. Last night was midsummer, the shortest night of the year, so there wasn’t much darkeness left. Enough though for one of Dijon’s lowlifes (who had nothing to do with Cancale, I am sure) to sneak along the pontoon beside our boat, snip through the lock attaching my bike to the boat railings right outside the window of the cabin where we had not long dropped off to sleep. Silent though he was he wasn’t quite quiet enough. I sat up and wrenched open the curtain. No view through wheel spokes. The braver of the two of us shot out of bed, up the stairs and onto the deck without pausing for clothes. The sight and sound of a naked, blaspheming Scotsman was evidently too much for our thief, for he dropped the bike and made off at high speed along the quay. You are perhaps thinking no wonder. I am happy to report that said Scot made himself relatively decent before going ashore to retrieve the bike.
As I mentioned previously this was the second incident. The previous week we were relieved of our bucket and a brush. I did say they’d steal anything. Whilst the bucket seems a minor loss it is annoying as it was a heavy duty rubber one which can only be bought in a boat chandlers and we won’t be seeing one of those again for a long time.
We aren’t the only victims. Other boats have lost life belts, bikes, flags etc. So where does it all go? Perhaps there’s a boating themed stall hidden amongst the general rubbish and tat of the weekly ‘Vide Grenier’ – the second hand market in the streets of old Dijon. I didn’t see it but who knows?

Shopping at the Vide Grenier, Dijon

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Canal de Bourgogne

The Canal de Bourgogne is not as popular as some French waterways. When we mentioned our plans to other boaters, before setting off, the usual response was one word expelled on a sigh – locks. There are 189 of them over a distance of 242 km. It is, perhaps, a canal you travel only once, although lots of people regularly make the 30km trip  from St Jean de Losne to Dijon and back despite it being a dead straight and fairly uninteresting stretch (with  21 locks each way). That is because Dijon is a fascinating city and, with its TGV station, a convenient place to pick up or drop off visitors.
There is no commercial traffic at all other than several hotel boats. Of course, if you are a (high) paying guest you are perfectly entitled to sit back with your wine and gourmet food, enjoy the beautiful countryside and watch others do the hard work at the locks.
Eclusier at work

Lock Cottage on Canal de Bourgogne

Sharing a lock on Canal de Bourgogne - Eclusier has gone for his lunch half way through the process
The eclusier (lock keeper) is the one who does the bulk of this hard work but a crew member is expected to help where possible. During summer students are taken on as extra eclusiers and they will often accompany you by moped for a series of locks. At the end of the season they should certainly be fitter than when they began. This, though, is the being the beginning of summer and when, on a hot day, your eclusier begins to resemble a melting, pink marshmallow you wonder and worry if they will survive at all.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Cultural Exchanges

With May over the sun finally decided to ‘cast her clout’ of gloomy, grey clouds and make an appearance. Those still on their boats (many from the UK having given up in disgust and gone home) emerged blinking into unaccustomed sunlight clutching scrubbing brushes, paint brushes and plants to pot. Spring cleaning needed to be done and dusted pretty quickly this year – it’ll be midsummer in a few weeks.
We gave it 2 days and then decided we needed to escape. So, as soon as the port office reopened after the weekend and the bill had been settled we waved our goodbyes and set off.
Strong, gusty winds were whipping up waves on the river and there was still a fair current running against us but we were finally on our way -but not the way according to ‘the plan’ which had been turn sharp right (sorry, starboard) at the marina exit and head directly into the first lock of the Canal de Bourgogne.
We wanted to spend a day or two cleaning on the go with the aid of a newly purchased power washer and the fast flowing water of the River Saone would deliver better results than the rather murky, weedy liquid of the canal. So, with me at the helm and he on the blaster I’m sure we made an entertaining spectacle for those onshore. I don’t recommend power washing in a gale incidentally – unless you don’t mind being drenched.
We knew of a lovely, peaceful, country mooring on a bend in the river about an hour away. We’d passed it by several times in the past but never stopped. There is room on the small quay for only one boat and we were happy to find it vacant. The quay with its sign welcoming boaters is what remains of an old port, now disused, with a tiny village close by.
We were in the process of tying up when the afternoon peace was broken by shouting and down the overgrown path bounced a small, elderly and extremely furious Frenchman. In my French class we sometimes do role plays to practise real life situations but we hadn’t done anything that remotely resembled a confrontation with a gesticulating madman literally jumping with anger. Nor did I understand anything much he was shouting about mainly, I suspect, because we haven’t (yet) been given a vocabulary list of swear words and abuse to learn. Of course the best reaction to this sort of situation is the one we, by sheer necessity, gave – blank incomprehension accompanied by that favourite of the French, the shrug.  Getting nowhere, he eventually shambled off back up the path, muttering to himself, got in a car and drove away. What was all that about?
Some days later we heard that we aren’t the first to suffer his fury. Apparently he lives nearby and puts out fishing nets further along the bank from the quay. Recently he has begun to take great exception to boats coming along and in his view, disturbing his fish.
Fishermen and boaters have a delicate relationship and we always do our best not to upset them but sometimes you just have no chance.

So, we’ve now met 2 characters who closely resemble their stereotypes; #1 Parisian Waiter #2 Furious Fisherman. Who’s next?