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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.