Sunday 17th June 2018 Pont de Garnat to just outside Decize Another perfect boating day. Well for me. No rain. Not hot. Cloudy. We ambled along the canal in the direction of Decize and saw a good few great stops inclduing Vanneaux. My other half noticed a branch moving really quickly across the canal. Too fast for the current and the wrong direction. It was a water rat was swimming with a branch between it’s teeth. This particular canal is perfect for bird lovers, we saw an eagle, loads of little brown birds, a family of storks and a few cranes. There are also dragon flies, butterflies and less wanted unfortunately are spiders, bees, mosquitoes, midges and flies.
Someone seems to be cutting down trees into logs and leaving piles of logs all along this strip of waterway. Might be the unfortunate trees that succumb to the mistletoe that seems to invade them. Also handy is seeing PK (point kilometre) stones so you know where you are on the canal. They may be partly hidden by growth but they at least mark a spot.
Then the phone rang and it was the agent who originally sold the boat to us in the Netherlands. My husband had told him we wanted to sell. And the agent said he had a British couple who were interested. Next thing numbers were exchanged and the potential buyer was on the phone. Thing is we hadn’t signed with anyone as we just did not know what to do. The two agents we had spoken to in France wanted an exclusive mandate before they would even think about our boat. Turns out some boatyards won’t allow other agents into their space. And then other agents want you in their preferred boatyards, which weren’t anywhere near where we were going. My visa doesn’t allow unlimted time in France so we couldn’t consider an epic journey to fit in with a particular agent. And there didn’t appear to be a lot of agents in the area, which meant the few around had a monopoly. We feared we might be forced to accept their terms. The big thing was to get WiFi and do our homework on-line. Find out which agents were out there. What commission they took. And what asking prices were for boats like ours.
Sundays in France not a lot happens. I suspect a few of the youngsters at the locks were students doing the work for extra money. My better half worked out we had been through exactly 500 locks from the day we started boating on Shangri La in 2013 to our last boating day in 2017. And they remain as unpredictable as ever. If an inexperienced or grumpy lock-keeper winds the paddles open too fast, the boat bounces all over. And the bollards are never where I want them to be.
We tied up about a kilometre outside Decize and took a walk into Decize and found a family of swans just outside the last lock. I was about to take a photo when a local woman warned me these swans are prone to attacking people. Gave up on that idea very quickly. The marina at Decize is nice, clean and fenced off. Great looking restaurant and pub. We thought we would have a drink and avail ourselves of the fantastic WiFi we’d heard about. My better half was on-line in no time on his Android phone. My iphone didn’t want to know. The staff gave me voucher after voucher with different codes. They all tried to get me going. Checked I didn’t have airplane mode enabled or typed in an 0 instead of an O. Nada. So I gave up and enjoyed a glass of wine.
Friday 15th June 2018 Digoin to Pierrefitte-sur-Loire This is a lovely part of the world and I’m beginning to get the hang of knowing the more attractive routes and stops.
First I look for boat hire companies in the area. Check if there is a tourism office. And finally if there is a green cycle route along the canal, you’re in a pretty area. Which means you will encounter more boats and possible queues at the locks. But there are also more bars, cafes and restuarants as well as supermarkets. Pierrefitte-sur-Loire had TWO supermarkets. One real old fashioned one and a Proxi-Marche which wasn’t open at 16.00pm. There is an old chateux right in the village. I desperately wanted to snoop around the chateaux but suspected it was privately owned and best not to.
Outside our first lock there were two boats tied up. We recognised one. You get to know them after passing them and them passing you. A few hire boats or “bumper boats” passed us too. The first boat tied up out side the lock, had not one, not two, but three cats on board. Now I’m used to pet dogs but was a bit surprised to see that many cats on a boat. Right next to the lock was a mobile home and I got chatting to the woman inside as we locked down. She turned out to be the sister of the bloke on the cat boat. The reason the cat boat wasn’t moving is the cats are geriatric and can’t deal with the noise of their engine.
We entered the next lock at 11.45am and two extra lock-keepers came along to help the lock-keeper whisk us through briskly. Lunch time in France is sacred hour. It was a perfect boating day. Not hot. Not cold. Not raining. Slightly overcast. Absolute pleasure. The boat agent came to meet us around 17.00pm to discuss possibly selling our boat. Sjoe, the comissions are steep – 10%. He wanted an exclusive mandate and a set of keys. I will admit he gave us a good pitch. But I was bitterly disappointed that he wanted to put the boat on the market at a price that would nett us 5,6% lower than my husband had paid for the boat 6 years ago. We resolved to educate ourselves on the boating market and try and find out actual prices of boats over the last few years.
The boat agent and his wife mentioned the region had experienced particularly high rainfall and that the rainfall had been unseasonal. One of the canals had been closed for the last week. They also told us the very low Canal Vaux had finally been dredged and was much more accessible. Mrs Boat Agent told me Decize has an excellent organic food market we should not miss. It occured on Friday mornings and the French Waterways map book mentioned the third Tuesday of every month. Tuesday fitted our plans perfectly as that was the next Tueasday.
Saturday 16th June 2018 Pierrefitte-sur-Loire to Pont de Garnat The locks on this stretch are manual and thus require lock keepers. Most are friendly and helpful. One chap near Pont de Garnat was full of character. He pointed out our incorrect French pronounciations in his perfect English with great humour. Another bloke returned from lunch 10 minutes early catching us completely by surprise. Yet another old chap drove up to the lock and screached to a halt while a young bloke was winding open the paddles and began yelling at him. Then he shook his hand. Carried on yelling. Helped wind paddles on the oppostite side. And continued shouting and gesturing wildly. Would have loved to know what that was all about.
Soccer Cup fever was beginning to show as loyal fans put up French Soccer Cup regalia. Big flags draped across windows and flying on masts in gardens. We saw our new best friends at Pont de Garnat and tied up next to them. Then went walkabout. A lovely old church was open so we wandered inside. It had that musty smell of an ancient building and plenty original fixtures and frescoes.
The boulangerie (bakery) was open so we picked up a loaf of mixed flour bread. No matter how small a village, there’s almost always a boulangerie. Not much more to the town but we found a big cherry tree groaning with fruit. We ate our fill and then went back to our boat and joined our friends for a drink on the back of their boat. I can listen to waterways stories forever. And they had plenty. It’s mainly retired couples on the waterways with plenty time on their hands. I would guess the average age is 65 plus. Youngsters tend to go for hireboats.
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.