Saturday, October 3, 2009


As we said in our last blog, it has been a long and winding road for the past couple of weeks as we have made our way from St Leger-sur-Dheune to Fragnes which is an outlying suburb of Chalon-sur-Saone where we moored for the past 4 days as it is again a quiet little place with power and water right on the dock and a nice park alongside which Harry sure appreciates.

The trip down, and I do say down, as we went through another 15 locks which were all ‘down hill’ as the canal dropped from over 450 meters at the peak. Some of the locks were only a couple of hundred meters apart with other gaps being a couple of kms separating them so by the end of the day we were both pretty tired to say the least and while it is not hard work going through the locks it is somewhat physically demanding pulling on the guiding ropes as the water rises or falls plus the need to be so alert as the rush in or out of the water can throw the boat (yes even our 45 tonner) around depending on how the lock is set up. You may imagine what it is like if you have a plastic hire boat behind you in the lock as they really do bounce all about.

At one point we were held up at a lock due to a jamming gate. This is one of the reasons why the authorities hate tyres being used as fenders as if they drop off their ties to the barge they can jam in the lock gates etc. We were told by the lock keeper that it would take 2 hours to repair. Funny that it was right on 12 noon, dinner time and rest time, so we could only back up the canal to where we could tie up. It so happened that the only near space for us was under some trees which was nice except when we got under them a number of the branches were jamming against the wheelhouse and dropping leaves all over the boat. I climbed up on top to snap them off to find that they were in fact walnuts, so over the next hour I picked a large bowl of the fruit and peeled much of it from its outer coating so it wasn’t too bad after all. We had just finished our own lunch when the lockmaster turned up and said all was well and away we went convinced that there was really nothing wrong with the gate which made us smile, but that is the French way I guess.
Rhonda's Comment: Another bit of French ingenuity - building a restaurant across the canal.

On the way we experienced looking at great farm country so similar to New Zealand and England and the canal widened a bit too so when we met the odd commercial we were able to simply navigate past them as the situation dictated.

From our mooring place at Fragnes we made a trip into the city which is about a 20min bus ride away and here is how that works. You phone up and book your passage and they give you a time for pickup at your nearest bus stop. The fare is 1 Euro only and here is what is amazing, if there are insufficient passengers to make it worth running the bus at that time, they send you a taxi and still at the same price. Apparently they save heaps of money operating this way and saves big buses running around suburban streets if not really required. This is what happened to us, so when the taxi pulled up and the driver indicated for us to enter we were pleasantly surprised to say the least to meet the only other passenger who was born French but of Moroccan descent and was a real stunner. She spoke beautiful English due to her spending three years in London studying Import and Export regulations so she could get a degree at University which she did, and returned to France only to find no-one wanted to employ her due in part, she believes, to her being a foreigner. She claims the French are quite racist which surprises us when you see how many North Africans in particular are working here.

She gave us lots of tips on what to see and do so we were very grateful and spent a couple of hours at the local market which took up about 6 blocks offering all sorts of fresh food plus the usual clothing etc and then when we did catch the bus back at 3.30 pm she was on board as well. So we chatted some more about how hard it was to get work in this recession and pointed out one suburb where she claimed over 60% of the inhabitants were unemployed so the area was slowly becoming a ghetto. We felt really sorry for her so I suggested to Rhonda that we employ her as an au pair girl for Harry which to be honest went down like a lead balloon and I can’t understand why. Oh well that’s life I suppose, one can only offer to do so much good.

This locale was made famous for not only being first inhabited 6,000 years ago by Neolithic tribes from the south of France and then later the Romans who made it a major base and sanctuary as well as being the kick off point for their marauding armies. Chalon is where the first photographs and processing was invented by Nicephore-Niepce using the new-fangled instrument called a camera. Even today Kodak has a huge plant here but was sadly closed last winter throwing some 3000 people out of work. We also understand that Philips whose plant is nearby has also closed over half of its production areas with a similar loss of jobs, so you can imagine how those closures affect all the commerce of the area. We couldn’t help but notice so many closed factories as we came into the area via the canal.

Rhonda's Comment: Loved this car - thought our son-in-law (whose name is Tom obviously) should buy one.

Chalon-sur-Saone is a quite large city sited on the banks of the huge Saone River which we will go onto via some more locks before we can make our way up stream to Saint Jean de Losne where we will winter over at the huge marina of H2O.

We have commented before about the great cycling tracks provided, which runs mainly alongside the canals and are kept in excellent order so cycling is a big leisure time activity with young and old sharing these trails which are generally flat and tar sealed as well. We learnt that it is part of a whole European project to provide a cycleway which will link Nantes to the Black Sea following the Loire, the Saone, the Doubs, the Rhine and the Danube, so come on Kiwis, get your bottoms onto a cycle seat rather than a lounge seat and come and give it a go. It seems as though every man woman and child has a bike here just like the Netherlands so this is probably one reason why the kids are seldom seen in overweight condition. (I need to buy a bike).

We left Fragnes early one morning to make our way towards Saint Jean de Losne and knowing we were to get down to the biggest lock we had experienced (10.76 meters) which finished the Canal du Centre so once down in the lock we were straight out onto the Saone River which was a bit of an eye opener. The lock had a great steel door which was winched up by two massive gearboxes after the main bulk of the water held in the lock had been vacated. To watch Rhonda’s face as we went into a full lock and to look over to see the river far below, was a sight to behold really as she was on the bow with a rope to the floating bollard. The lockmaster signalled that we were about to be lowered down and all of a sudden we were lowered to the river level and then the huge doors were winched up and we sailed out onto this marvellous river. Immediately the colour of the water changed to a nice blue and visibility was tripled I would guess.

Rhonda's Comment: Note the smiling face in the first photo and then in the next, the little spot on the bow of the boat is me!!!!!! I wasn't smiling by the time we got to the bottom.

The river is approx 200m wide at least and is well marked by navigation buoys so it is easy going even though we were now going up stream. It reminded me of the Waikato River when you encounter it at about Mercer but the Saone is more slow flowing at this time of the year but I am told it is pretty rapid in winter and spring when the snow melt has its effect. All along the banks were fishermen with there array of rods mounted onto frames and they were all set up with little tents or weather shelters, some with BBQs and other cooking facilities. They sure are keen and as it was a Sunday the locals sure made the most of the mild fine weather.

The armada of boats ranging from the $50.00 dollar Para type kids boats to canoes, kayaks and skiffs to runabouts to quite expensive rigs were either pulled up on the banks or out being used as fishing platforms. The fish levels must be high as when you walk along the banks or just sit and look, the fish activity is amazing so the fact that boat’s sewage is dropped into the river sure does not seem to do any harm to the level of stock. It could well be a great adventure for the boys from Fishing New Zealand to investigate.

At around 5 knots we moved freely with room and depth to spare marvelling at this great waterway which still serves as a major water highway. It was recorded that in 1962 some 300,000 tonnes of product were barged along this river, however, from then on the amount of produce carried has declined rapidly but has been overtaken by the leisure trade market so it is not uncommon to see a small convoy of rentals and pleasure boats having fun during the holiday periods and weekends.

We arrived at Verdun sur le Doubs to find the small marina full of hire boats with the crews all lunching on deck etc. We decided to take a chance and moor against the pier where there was an old weathered notice saying reserved. The Capitanerie was closed until 4.00 pm and as you guessed it, when it opened we were told that we would have to get off the berth as there was a hotel boat due in at 5.30 pm. Pleading for a bit of assistance the Capitain eventually allowed us to straddle a couple of berth points so a great nights rest was assured and as you would know it the rental boats all moved off then to avoid paying the berthing fees so we had plenty of room so walked around this quaint town and took some pics which are included for your viewing.

After a pleasant night and an EARLY morning call from my sister in Tauranga (Rhonda’s Birthday) we left in beautiful clear sunny conditions with the river being a real picture with the reflections of the trees and the odd riverside home being so clear as we passed along.

We headed for Seurre the next day which we had decided would be our next stopover. Being still on the Saone River we were able to get along at approx 4.5knots so covered the distance very well and apart from going through the largest lock we have yet encountered which would have held at least two Peniches which are each 38meters in length, behind each other and was much wider than usual so barges of our size could have been parked in there side by side as well.

As we were the only ones in it, when the paddles started to open to allow the inflow of the water I have to say that this was the roughest stretch of water I had struck since coming off the English Channel. Despite having a heavy bow rope hooked to the fixed bollards and the boat in forward drive to keep the stern in against the wall, we were bounced around like a little duck on a pond. Quite and experience and one we shall remember for a while I believe. While travelling along Rhonda also got a nice birthday call from Michelle so it was a feeling of some amazement that here we are on the other side of the world where Switzerland is less than 2 hours drive away and one can talk to someone in New Zealand so clearly. The wonders of modern technology.

We stopped over for the night at Seurre but as we were so tired after our big Birthday lunch we just rested up on the boat and did not get to see much of this town but the marina was nice but expensive at 22 Euros per night to stay. The morning dawned beautifully so we cast off to follow another boat into the jaws of another huge lock like the one described earlier in the blog. Having seen two barges of over 89.2 metres make their way through the lock gives further detail of how big they are. The ride up on the filling rush was less than at the earlier lock so off we went on the ‘Cut’ which is just that, a cut in a straight line for about 8 kms rather than following the original river due we understand to there being rapids and water falls in the river bed.

After some 4 hours of pushing upstream we noticed that the sky was no longer quite so crystal clear but rather seemed to be a bit misty which we both had noticed on previous visits to Europe particularly in the winter months. Other visitors returning or tourists coming to New Zealand from Europe say that on arrival they notice how clear the air appears in comparison so I am sure we will face plenty of this condition before winter is over. It seemed to burn off by noon so as we rounded one of the few bends to get a look at the town of Saint Jean de Losne it was sparkling in the sunlight and 30 degrees temperature.

This is the town and port where we will be parking up for the winter and is also the town where Rhonda and I sat some 16 months ago on a bright sunny day marvelling at the views and how good the food was at the little riverside restaurant where we lunched that day watching the boats and leisure barges come in to tie up for meals etc and said at the time “This is what we should do” when we fully retire and the rest is history really. Here we are living “the dream”.

So I am going to close this blog off as the cycle has been completed but will come back with a new run on our winter living in this port later on. Good luck to you all and enjoy your southern summer and for those in the north, may it not be too cold or windy and may the global warming be kind to us.

Total Locks for Season - 282
Total Klms for Season - 1222