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Canal de Bourgogne, spring 1996

sue on top
Driving from on top

A 1-week trip from Migennes to Ancy-le-Franc and back on the Canal de Bourgogne in central France. Total 146km and 64 locks.

This was our first experience of boating in a foreign country. We had intended to explore the Canal du Nivernais, south from Migennes through Auxerre, but this way was closed and the Canal de Bourgogne was second best. There is not a lot of canal interest on this section, nor is the scenery above the ordinary.

Some of our crew seemed very reluctant to eat out, or even to eat anything not brought from the UK, which rather spoiled the experience of being in France. At least they could be persuaded to eat fresh local bread and croissants. Our main achievement was to show that we could get by in French.

One of the good features of hire boating in France is that bicycles are encouraged, several per boat in many cases. It's so annoying that most UK hire fleets forbid them.

Diary extracts...

Sat 1996-05-04
Drove in two cars via tunnel to the boatyard in Migennes. Lunch at services near Reims; petrol and diesel here. Arr Migennes 16h30. Boatyard runs in English. Extensive run over the boat and some driving tuition. Boat is 12.3m * 3.92m, certainly wide inside; all driving today from outside driving position. Hard to steer straight. Pass 1 lock (hydraulic) and moor about 5km later at Esnon, no bar/cafe here. Drank the first complimentary bottle of local wine (of 2) and eat on boat. Cycle ride to investigate surroundings. Bike has back-pedal brake and is very awkward to start off. Lock keepers are friendly, fishermen are hostile. Bike hire and parking the car in their compound are extra. 95 octane unleaded is 6FF50/l, diesel is 4FF50/l. Weather dry, bright at times, some wind and generally not very warm. Boat has 2 fridges, diesel space heating, Peugeot engine transverse with hydraulic drive. Start 18h. End 19h. Today was 4km, 1l, 1h.
Sun 1996-05-05
Start 09h15. Sunny, hot in sun. Stop at 12h just before (closed for lunch) lock 108. Lunch on boat, then investigate the town. It's deserted at Sun lunchtime, only a few bars and one convenience shop open. Common to see handwritten signs on shops "closed until May 13th" - one-man businesses. Re-start 14h20, ending up just short of lock 101, the first of the two at Flogny-la-Chapelle. Would have made it to the port, but for a big Dutch barge run by a party of Americans, that went aground, then stalled in a lock, and stopped us getting to the locks before shutting time at 18h (less 15mins for last entry time). Very hot by eve. Moor on off-side; struggle to get the bike back on after lock-wheeling the last few locks. Moor at 18h00. Walk, before dinner on board. Apart from lock-keepers and slightly odd lock gear, the only give-away that we are not in England is the odd-looking concrete power poles alongside the canal. Locks vary a lot in depth, from about 2m to 4m. Lock-keepers vary from young girls in leggings to old men in cords, cap and pipe. Eggs, cider, wine, beer, T-shirts, honey offered for sale. Boat's toilets discharge straight into the canal and flush with hand-pumped canal "water". Today 24.5km, 10l; 6.4h.
Mon 1996-05-06
Start 09h30, through the two Flogny locks, ten minutes water at the port above the upper lock. Sun is still shining. Picked up the Dutch barge behind us at the port. Huge amounts of (we assume) mistletoe on the trees alongside the canal; spherical darker green blobs up to a metre across on the branches. Stop for lunch below lock 97 at Dannemoine. Cycle into town - not a lot there. Away again when lock opens at 13h, with a sister boat from same yard. Stop at port at Tonnerre, where visit the Le Clerk supermarche next to the canal. Then on again, stopping at port at Tanlay, above lock 90. Port here has lots of water points, but most of the mooring is taken up by a huge restaurant barge. That and three cruisers fills the space. Lock-keepers today of the taciturn bent, but I still worked most of the gates on our side - all done by a crank lever, no balance beams. Some paddle gear conventional, but some have auto-ratchet - they latch on the way up, but latch is released by turning the handle backwards. Neat. Barbecue outside the boat tonight, followed by a walk through the town. Tanlay has an avenue with double-line of trees leading up to a chateau, a superb Marie in the square and streets that can't have changed much in two hundred years. Very hot and sunny all day, still pleasant outside at 21h. Today 22.4km, 12 locks, 5.3h.
Tue 1996-05-07
Clear, sunny morning, duller after lunch with an insignificant amount of rain. Top up with water at mooring, then leave at 9h. Stop for lunch at Lezinnes port (after lock 85). Cycled several stretches of towpath and into Lezinnes. Aft running down to Ancy-le-Franc port at 15h. Several mechanised locks on this stretch, but one, by a cement works, is fully automatic. Radar detects boat's arrival about 200m out, more detectors at top and bottom gates. Approach, gates open, lights change, go in, tie up, press button, sequence goes through complete, gates close afterwards. Busy port, lots of boats pulling in for water and rubbish disposal. Dane on adjacent boat (tried to address in French, discovered neither of us spoke well) had been to Gibraltar and was spending 1yr or more exploring canals in Europe; his batteries being charged on the free electric point. Small boat, but ocean-going and batteries won't charge enough at canal revs. Today 22.4km, 9l, 3.8h. Visit the chateau at Ancy-le-Franc. Remarked that we haven't seen: any accommodation bridges; any maintenance boats; any small privately-owned boats. We turn here - though turning is not so significant a thing with a short, fat boat on a wide canal. The summit is still 80 locks away, but already the character of the canal has changed. It looks more like ours, with a normal towpath (not a road) and overgrown off side (not a path). There are wooded hills visible now and the problem of getting over the summit becomes clear. One other Connoisseur boat is here, but none of the others that we have been travelling with from the yard at Joiny. Strong winds this aft making steering fun. Steering gets easier with practice, but hydraulic coupling makes centre position creep, even over the fairly short term.
Wed 1996-05-08
Sunny to start, later in aft most in shorts. Then distant thunder and light rain, then a real thunderstorm with continuous heavy rain for 4-5 hours, soaking us and the lock-keepers at the last few locks. Part of the aft steered from inside. Start 08h50, after water by mooring and potter through the mostly mechanised locks. Stopping for lunch on boat just above lock 86 at Ancy-le-Libre. Had to wait for lock-keeper to appear at lock 90, asleep in the house he didn't appear until the dog barked. This is about when the rain started. End at Tonnerre, at the port, at 18h. Last few locks followed by a German crew, who seemed to be tipping all of the lock-keepers. Today 30.8km, 15l, 8h.
Thu 1996-05-09
Dull, cold wind, but dry. Brightening a little by eve. Into town first, some to the old town for maps and papers, others to supermarket for food. Superb old town. Small shops, old courtyards, narrow streets with slightly faded houses. Big impressive church. Off at 11h after watering at mooring, stopping for lunch on board before lock 97. Eve moor in port at St Florentin, stern-on to jetty. Lots of moorings here, but they seem to be mostly taken up with un-rented "Rive de France" hire boats. Mooring at 18h10. Lock-keeper (eclusier) at lock 105 describing how the telegraph warns him of boats at adjacent locks, but how the pulse of water gives him a time warning - it arrives 5 mins before the boat appears. Today 25.4km, 11 locks, 6.2h.
Fri 1996-05-10
Bright and occasionally sunny. Run back to Migennes, easy day. Start 09h10, meeting a couple with a "Guernsey Yacht Club" boat. They've been here lots of times, including when it was about to be abandoned ten or five years ago. They said it was mainly English people who fought to keep it open and that the French as yet show little interest. Stop for lunch at Brienon sur Armacon. Walk into town for a few odds, and lunch on boat with extra beer from local supermarket. Aft just potter to the port at Migennes. Held up at one lock this morning by the lock-keeper going off in his car to fetch a case of wine for the boat in front. He just left the boat in the lock with one paddle open a crack. Cycled most of the morning distance, lock 109 to Brienon, about 9km. Moored at 14h50. Today 16.9km, 6l, 3.3h. Total for the trip 146km, 64l, 34h. Boat cleaned.
Sat 1996-05-11
Blue sky again, with a swirling mist on the canal. Move boat 100m down port to Connoisseur part, unload. Yard was manned from 8h, but office open at 08h30. Had to pay for about 60l of diesel at more than 300FF - same as or greater than road fuel. Two fenders punctured, but we didn't have to pay. 3000F deposit returned. Boat was called "#23" a 1230FB ("flying bridge"). Drive back to UK.

©nib 2003-02-16..2005-12-06

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