Wednesday 13th June 2018 Artaix to Digoin We decided to get as close to Digoin as possible. If the new gasket hadn’t solved the problem, we would go straight to the Tourism Office and beg for help. If it did work, after 27 kilometres and 7 locks, we would surely know.
Thankfully, the new gasket did work. My better half also had a hunch that other seals in the boat had dried out from being idle too long and with the engine moving again, they had expanded. Cannot begin to say how happy I was for that. If he wasn’t as savvy as he is, who knows how long we would have been stuck in Digoin?
The first three locks we had a lady lock keeper who was most helpful. The next lock, Bourg-le-Compte, had a young chap manning it. It was 7,2 metres deep. Then we had a nice long pound and the last three locks were automatic. We dropped 31 metres. It really is so peaceful trundling along the waterways. Cows mooing and the odd boat passing by. I could easily fall asleep. Not a particularly busy waterway. I did manage to run us aground when a boat passed us. The water is very shallow in parts.
We tied up just outside the main lock into Digoin on the Velo Route. And promptly had a big fat afternoon snooze. Then we got going so we could find a shop and WiFi. The local Leader Price supermarket had closed. Businesses closing down is a bit of a pattern in these villages. There was an E.le Clerc and and Intermarche but they were a few kilometres away on the outskirts of town. Probably not even open at that time, so we deferred shopping to the next day. We found a bar with high speed WiFi and caught up with life. Then walked back to the boat along the aqueduct. The canal goes over the top and the River Loire runs below. Back at the boat it was crackers and pates for supper.
Thursday 14th June 2018 Digoin The Tourism Office in Digoin is excellent. And they have great WiFi. They obviously expect cyclists and boaters as there are seats and tables where you can make yourself at home and hang about using their Internet. We had a few bills to pay and matters to follow up on. Particularly needed make contact with my one who brother was in Budapest and had indicated he might join us on the boat for a night or two. Turned out he was overwhelmed with work. My husband was also given the name of a local boat salesman and wanted to contact him.
After a morning of admin we went looking for the supermarkets. ALDI and E.le Clerc are near each other on the same road. We checked ALDI first to see what they had in stock since they are often vastly cheaper than other supermarkets. Bought the rest of our groveries from E.le Clerc.
We loaded ourselves down so heavily at ALDI, I could hardly move. My backpack was pulling my back out and I feared the wheelie shopper would break. But we made it back to the boat. While leaning over the boat to lift up the wheelie, my reading glasses which I had hooked into the neck of my T-shirt dropped into the water – never to be seen again. Not the first time I’ve done that!
The boat agent had been phoning and was keen to meet ASAP. It was agreed he would visit the boat the following afternoon at Pierrefitte-sur-Loire, our next stopping place. Back at the boat the VNF staff had been cutting the grass right next to the boat. Plus there were plane trees nearby. Two of the worst things for my allergies. My eyes were itchy and watering, my nose was running and I was sneezing non-stop. And I was obviously a magnet for mosquitos as I was covered in red spots.
I did get a chance to catch up on batch cooking. Made a vegan aioli, a large jar of French Salad Dressing, a vegan firm cheese and a vegan cream cheese as well as a Chickpea Mushroom Fritatta and a silken tofu chocolate mousse. We clocked 13 000 steps for the day.
Tuesday 12th June 2018
Briennon to Artaix
The plan was to to stop at Artaix, a mere 14 kilometres and zero locks. Seeemed a fabulous day. What could go wrong? My better half had noticed after the previous day, that there was quite a bit of oil and water in the hull. He’d sucked up about 1 litre and put it down to the boat standing for months and hoped it wasn’t anything serious. By the time we got to Artaix and opened up the floorboards, there was even more dark liquid in the hull. Not going to lie, it wasn’t the best news. Here we start our holiday – and the engine is already spewing out muck. Boats are like family, one minute you’re bursting with pride and the next you cannot believe your own flesh and blood can behave as they do.
Where do we get help when we can’t speak French? What are the words for gasket and hull and bilge pump? Did I mention we’re in the outbacks of France? How would we even find someone who could help us? Do we give up? At least Artaix was a lovely place. One has to look on the bright side.
My husband started making phone calls to find out where would be the best place to get help. He tried the Tourism Offices. The Hire Boat companies. A few local Port de Plaisance. Even people we met in Roanne. One would think there would be someone who could help us. But no. The mechanic at the hire boat company only dealt with their boats. He suggested a mechanic who was on leave. The next place didn’t understand us. People we met didn’t have anything good to say about their experiences of mechanics. And so it went on. Then we ran out of options. Quite depressing actually.
Our next big issue was we needed was food. The couple we met had told us there was a supermarket in Artaix. We walked into Artaix to find it. No such luck. Artaix is hardly a big place. We asked someone who said the supermarket closed years ago. That took care of that. My other half and I would be in a lovely place with food rations and a misbehaving boat. At least we had wine and beer. Although Artaix is a small space there were 2 dead beat boats that hadn’t moved in the last century, 4 motor homes and a lone motor cyclist who slept in a tent.
I decided to go for a jog to Chambilly. My husband had a hunch the gasket was the problem and was determined to fix it. Best for me to be out the way. Chambilly is nice enough. But a small town – is a small town. Not a lot going on. Back at the boat I arrived just in time to hold the torch while my other half fitted the newly made cork gasket and smeared on gasket sealer. He then set about putting the engine back together. Won’t lie, I wasn’t convinced this was a job for him to tackle, but since we didn’t have options what could we do?
Monday 11th June 2018
Roanne to Briennon
We untied the ropes around 10.00am and made a start toward Digoin. The ropes had been tied and coiled for almost a year and were in a dreadful state. My other half had already washed them but they were still covered in green fungus, spider webs and insect cocoon type things. All our gear had to come down as the bridges on this canal are very, very low. I’d forgotten most of what I needed to know to get the boat going again. But it was lovely to start bumbling along the canal at a snails pace listening to the birds and looking out for wildlife. We scraped through low bridge after low bridge. Fortunately the weather wasn’t too hot, so it was bearable on deck. The forecast had been for lots of rain but apart from a few sprinkles it was a lovely morning.
We opted to stop just outside Briennon at a wild spot. The French (unlike the Germans and Dutch) allow boaters to stop at random spots. We passed one of the couples we had met in Roanne. My other half put pegs in the ground and we tied up for the night. Next thing the couple popped past to say Hello. They had a cup of tea with us and chatted more, then arranged to meet for us a drink at the bar in the marina. They mentioned that the supermarket had shut down completely which was a bit of a blow. My other half and I were reading and doing crosswords when the afternoon rains came. Love the sound of rain on the boat deck when we’re inside. So soothing.
Around 19.00pm both of us went past the boating couple and said we would meet them at the port bar. We got there to find it – closed. They close at 17.00pm. The couple joined us and luckily we found a bar nearby where we had a couple of drinks. Nice spot. And not too expensive. Around €20 for two rounds for 4 of us. They don’t eat out much and nor do we, but there was a fancy French restaurant next door for those who like eating out.
Sunday 10th June 2018
We had a lazy start to our Sunday and why-ever not? The point of dropping off the radar and disappearing into the outbacks of France is to relax. We have enough high energy ventures looming so we wanted to enjoy time out. Churchbells from all corners of Roanne were ringing out by 10.00am calling the faithful to do their thing. My other half had been wanting to do a paint job on the deck. Painting is never simple. There’s scraping and sanding and buffing that must all happen first. The weather vacilated between too hot or too wet. Since we were leaving the following day, this had to be done.
We had a double social day. A couple from another boat had promised to show us the best mooring spots on our map and they popped past. Roanne is their regular winter mooring spot. They’ve had their boat almost two decades. Unfortunately the French Waterways map books are not a great tool for finding great spots to stop. They pointed out a bunch of mooring spots with bollards that weren’t even marked on the maps. Our maps are new! They also told us which moorings are best avoided. Some places have been invaded by homeless people who occupy unattended boats. Also thieves come at night to steal fuel and other valuables off boats.
That evening we went across the marina to have drinks with another couple who have also been boating for eons. They also regularly tie up for the winter in Roanne. I guess the low price is a big attraction. This couple have a massive great Dutch barge. I absolutely love stories of characters on the waterways and the history of places we’ve been to. Wish they would all have blogs as these people have so much to say. They had also read the Gerald Morgan-Grenville books and that’s not all, they had actually skippered the Virginia Anne for a bit near Tournus. Apparently an American actor now owns the boat. Between the two couples we heard about various characters who had lived and worked on the waterways, about places they had been to, things that had gone spectacularly wrong and so much more. Makes my blog positively boring.
I’d heard they get squalls in Roanne but never experienced one. While we were chatting the weather took a dramatic turn and the next thing the wind came up to an almighty speed. The couple quickly took down flags and anything that could blow away and closed all their windows and doors. The heavens opened and the rain came pounding down. It even hailed. We could barely hear them speaking. And not 20 minutes later – it was all over. As if nothing ever happened.
Saturday 9th June 2018
A pair of Belgian blokes came past our boat 8.50am to move us away from the quay so we could double bank on the outside of them. They were heading back to Belgium for 2 months. The mooring arrangements get decided by Herve who manages the port and obviously knows the long-term comings and goings. We were leaving Monday so all good with that. We hardly tied up when a bunch of boats started hooting and tooting. Eendracht, a long-time resident at Roanne, and a massive Dutch barge, was leaving. The New Zealand owners had sold to an American couple and they were all saying Good Bye. Quite touching that.
We had a lovely evening with the fellow South Africans the night before. I can understand why expats seek each other out. Although my French vocabulary isn’t terrible, the French speak so fast that my brain can’t engage quickly enough to translate what they have said back into English. It’s just so much easier speaking English. And even better to someone who understands our slang and humour.
There are a lot of boats in Roanne as it’s quite a bit cheaper than other marinas. It can accomodate very big boats, so a few permanent residents occupy space. Their boats even have their own post boxes! And a right mix of people as I discovered at the Thursday social evening. A good few Brits, a fair number of New Zealanders, an Australian couple as well as a couple from America and one from Canada. And a Chinese woman. Then French and Belgians made up the rest of the group. Only thing is there are not a lot of services in Roanne. It’s also at the end of Canal de Roanne a Digoin and has no passing boat traffic.
Roanne is quite a big place so getting there by bus or train isn’t too much of a challenge. Also has plenty shops which is really handy. It’s not industrial or bleak – like some places along the waterways. The marina itself is a draw card for locals who come to canoe and play boules or sit on deck chairs next to the water’s edge. There’s a fountain where children can cool off. The tow path attracts cyclists, runners and walkers as it’s pretty. Next to the marina is the river Loire which is beautiful. So overall, it’s a nice place to stay for a few days and a popular choice for long-term mooring.
The South Africans invited us to a reciprocal dinner as we were leaving shortly. Excellent meal and all 100% vegan, including a hazelnut creme with peaches and dark chocolate. Always so nice that people make an effort to accomodate us and they are always surprised by how easy it is to make a plant-based meal. It stays light until late so although we left to go back to our boat around 21.30pm, people were still strolling next to the boats. Even jogging at 22.00pm!