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We arrived at Laroche-Migennes on Monday 21st July and moored up in a surprisingly clean clear water canal basin after the mucky river Yonne. Jeremy and Pauline Rawles, more Somerset friends, were touring Germany and France in their motor home and had called us earlier to suggest we meet up. They called us soon after we had arrived to say they were in a camp site just down the road at Joigny so we invited them aboard. The local hire boat base could offer us diesel at €1.55 a litre so we put in 500 litres. Shortly after there was a knock on the door and a young lad informed me that there was someone under the stern of Harmonie. I leapt ashore and as I arrived at the stern, up popped a head above the water, coughing and spluttering. We pulled him out and sat him on a bollard, then the gendarmes arrived followed shortly by the pompiers, a vehicule de secours et d'assistance aux victimes and a car with a pompier in a wet suit so someone must have called the emergency services when the bloke fell in the water. In France it is the pompiers who provide the emergency ambulance service and they are all trained paramedics. The gendarme questioned the victime then the pompiers took him away in the blood wagon. That was our excitement for the evening until the Rawles (J&P) arrived and we arranged for them to come cruising with us for a few days.
J&P's motor home is too big to drive round these little French towns so they park it at a camp site then tow a small van behind it to visit the local area. In the USA this vehicle is known as the pony in which they conveyed us to Auxerre the next day. We showed them round the town, had some lunch then collected Desmond Daihatsu and drove to Tanlay, parked him there and took the pony express back to Migennes. There was still enough time in the day to cruise up to Brienon where we moored for the night and, as it was Jeremies birthday, found the Auberge de la Poterne where Yann and Sebastien served up a meal fit for a special occasion complete with a sparkler in the sorbet and a rendition of "Happy Birthday". Strange how this song is always known and sung in English wherever in the world you are. In perfect weather we sailed on up the canal and who should we meet tied up in the shade but Mike and Rosaleen Miller on Aquarelle. A brief hello and an agreed rendezvous at Flogny where we pooled resources for a splendid BBQ which left everyone but Mike alcoholically challenged! Flogny has a good concrete quay with bollards, water and rubbish but signs on the quay warn of only 0.8m depth. Harmonie slid nicely alongside with her 1.1m depth? It is also a nice little town with shops, restaurants, ATM, boulanger, pharmacy, in fact everything you needed to live but we needed to press on to Tanlay so that we could return J&P to Migennes. To Jeremies delight the tasty lady eclusiers made a reappearance together with a nude statue, too much at one lock! We arrived at Tonnerre at 12 noon and sailed into the open lock. No eclusier so we proceeded to work the lock ourselves when he suddenly appeared and chastised us for working during his lunch hour. We pacified him with many desolé's and he put us through the lock where we tied up at the port. Tonnerres main claim to fame is its lavage meaning wash-house called La Fosse Dionne and its old hospital. In this part of France, every town and village has its lavage but the Tonnerre one is the mother of them all. It is what we would call a resurgence. Water flows over impervious rock until it reaches limestone when it sinks, permeating through the beds and joints, dissolving and eroding the rock creating caves. It eventually re surges at the base of the limestone. Divers have explored this resurgence which is some 60 metres in depth. The water is crystal clear and bright green underwater plants give it a very attractive appearance.
A quick visit to the local Leclerc and we sat down to a late alfresco lunch then on to Tanlay. Prior to arriving at Tanlay lock we passed a field of sunflowers so Jeremy was put ashore to steal a few and walk up to the lock. Here he had his second treat for the day with a lovely lady eclusier who spoke perfect English and who was surprised to see this little bald fellow appear from nowhere! They chatted together as we rose up the lock so that it was the slowest lock of the day! I am thinking of publishing a glossy book called something like "Lady eclusiers and statues of Burgundy"!
Tanlay is a great little port with a large renaissance château. We had been here earlier in the year to visit Les and Sally on Nancy May so we had already visited the château which looks splendid from the outside but was a bit of a disappointment inside with few contents of interest and in an advanced state of disrepair. Simon was still working on his hotel barge Golden Hinde and was becoming increasingly exasperated by French bureaucracy. Irishman Sean worked all the visiting boats and talked the hind leg off a donkey while the creperie on the quay did a roaring trade.
We returned J&P back to Migennes then Aquarelle arrived and joined us for a delightful concert of music by Debussy, Bach, Rossini and Ravel at the Ancy-le-Franc château which we drove to from Tanlay one evening. The concert was free and given by Le Conservatoire Américain, students from the USA who attend a four week summer school held each year at Fontainbleu château where they study chamber music taught in English by a faculty of French musicians and professors.
Aquarelle, like us, was dawdling along waiting to meet cruising guests arriving a couple of days before ours so they left to go on up to Montbard while we sailed on to Ancy-le-Franc to await the arrival of daughter Becky and husband Tom, number one grandson William with his friend Oliver and number two grandson Henry. We decided to move into the guest cabin to give them our cabin and the run of the saloon where the boys would sleep so they were all together at one end of the ship. Ahead of us was a climb through a flight of over 50 locks to the summit level so a crew was going to come in useful. While waiting at Ancy in hot sunny weather we did the tour of the château dating from 1546 and well worth the 8 euroles they charge as the decorations are stunning. It is the only remaining building designed by the important Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio who was influential in introducing Italian Renaissance in France. Practically every room is lavishly decorated on walls and ceiling with murals, carved wooden panels and Burgundian motifs.
Our guests arrived in 30 degrees plus temperatures having driven from the Somme in a car without air conditioning. We revived them with cold beers and ate ashore under the shade of some trees. The next day we cruised as far as Cry and BBQ'd at a picturesque mooring beside this pretty little village. The river Armançon runs crystal clear between the village and the canal so Tom was employed wading across backwards and forwards with Henry who never seemed to tire of the activity! The canal was shallow in places and full of weed so we were having to continually stop and clean our filters, often the suction pipes would block requiring clearing with the deck hose. In Montbard we decided not to stop overnight due to the 25 euroles they demand for the privilege but we stopped briefly to clear our suction pipes. On moving off we went hard aground; high mooring charges do not equate with keeping the mooring properly dredged or at least indicating shallow water. The suction pipes were now plugged with mud so required further clearing, then hard astern to come back into deeper water and they were plugged again so after three tube blowings, as we now call the process, and an engine room splattered with mud, we finally continued up the canal to Veneray where we moored on the canal bank below the lock.
Here was where we would begin the long climb to the canal summit the next day through 56 locks. Perfect weather for the task and with two and finally three lock keepers in attendance we travelled through 28 locks to the attractive mooring at Marigny le Cahouet then on the next day up a further 13 to Pont Royal. When moving the cars the previous day we had come across an impressive castle at a little village called Posanges on the main road between Venaray and Vitteaux so we decided to revisit it to show the ladies then across country to Semur-en-Auxois. I could not get far enough away from the castle with my camera to get it all in but you can get an idea of this impressive structure from these three shots below stitched together.
It was a lovely drive over the hills from Posanges, back through Marigny and on to Semur. This ancient medieval city stands on a granite rock spur overlooking a deep valley through which flows the river Armançon.
The ramparts were frankly not worth the walk to the top but seen from across the valley, one tower has an impressive crack running vertically from top to bottom and there are wooden buttresses in place to stop the walls from collapse! The town is full of quaint little streets, many pedestrianised, with half timbered houses, pavement cafés selling real ice cream; a rarity in France which seems to be in the grip of the "Walls" type product which has little real cream in it. What did impress was a gargoyle, spotted by daughter Becky, on the cathedral. I suspect it was fashioned by an aggrieved stonemason to get his own back on the bishop!? The cathedral itself dates from the 11th century and the steep flying buttresses and stone spire are quite beautiful, as are some of the stained glass windows inside. One in particular is modern, set in a side chapel commemorating US soldiers who died in the last world war.
From Pont Royal we travelled up the final 13 locks to the summit and the little town of Pouilly-en-Auxois. The weather changed on the way with the barometer plunging to record lows (714 millibars). We provisioned the ship at the local Atac supermarket and arranged to transit the Pouilly Tunnel. This is 3,333 metres long, is lit throughout but has no towpath and has little headroom, reducing to only 2.1 metres at the sides so we were in for a bit of shaving of the wheelhouse sides! They also insist on a lifejacket for everyone on board following a drowning some years ago and we only had three. Aquarelle was in port with us and lent us two while the lady harbourmaster lent us another two and we were booked for transit the next day at 9am. We awoke to a violent thunderstorm so it was good to get underground in the dry for an hour. Ollie, who had declared the transit "wicked" and William managed to get out of bed for a couple of minutes to view proceedings and we managed to navigate the tunnel hitting the wheelhouse roof only twice.
Emerging into daylight the descent down to the river Saône begins but unlike the 115 locks we had climbed from the River Yonne, the descent is a mere 76 locks to St Jean de Losne.
Down the first eight locks to moor at Vandenesse below the hilltop village of Chateâuneuf, this was where our guests would spend their last night aboard. They were off for a weeks camping in the Jura and the weather had turned quite unpleasant for that activity. Aquarelle was also in port with guests which we deposited at Dijon railway station so having waved goodbye to all our guests we adjourned to a fine restaurant in Chateâuneuf for some excellent Charolais beef steaks. At Pont d'Ouche Mike and I drove again into Dijon to collect more guests for them. The weather improved a little cruising down the Ouche valley to Dijon where Aquarelle arrived to deposit guests and pick up more!! We entertained Rob and Jolande to drinks, who we had been meeting regularly on the canal since Tanlay, in their very smart cruiser "Greybeard", and enjoyed a fine Chinese meal (costing only 43 euroles including wine) at a restaurant nearby Sue had remembered from a visit 10 years ago, still going strong and still good.
I managed to find a Daihatsu garage on the outskirts of Dijon who confirmed that one of my shock absorbers, replaced in January this year, was knackered. I spoke by phone to a Daihatsu France representative who (I think) will replace it free of charge but the Dijon garage did not have them in stock so we left the car at the port intending to return by train when we get to Langres.
We said a final farewell to Mike and Rosaleen (although we might see them again when we return for the car) and headed down the last 30km almost straight canal through 26 locks to St Jean de Losne. Two days of pouring rain later, we arrived at St Jean, took on 386 litres of diesel at €1.49 per litre that should get us the 750km up to Brugge and moored on a free pontoon just upstream of the town on the river Saône. The plan now is to head up river to the canal de la Marne á la Saône to Langres where we will welcome New Zealand friends for a few days cruising, retracing our journey of last year down to Condé-sur-Marne then up to Sillery where we plan to leave Harmonie for 10 days and return to the UK for a wedding and Sues 60th birthday celebration. On our return we plan to travel to Brugge and leave the car, then train it back to Sillery to collect Harmonie and sail her to Brugge. Watch this space.