Wednesday 20th June 2018 Decize to Vanneaux A last e-mail check before we left Decize and another e-mail had come in from the potential buyer to say he was unable to come to France to view the boat. Basically the whole thing was off. It was back to Plan A for us and that was to end this trip in St-Jean-de-Losne and get the a few minor repairs done. Have a chat to the agent there. Then decide how best to market the boat.
One day before summer solstice and it was definitely warming up. Good for the paint work on the boat. A bit hot for my liking. Our new friends came to say goodbye and they went with friends of theirs to collect a car in Roanne. I dashed across the way to Intermarche and topped up on provisions. Then we set off. A young couple in a hire boat joined us through the locks. The first lock keeper was trying to explain how to tie up and asked him repeatedly to move back as his nose was right up against the lock gate. His other half was hanging on to the rope so tightly that no matter how much reverese power he gave, the boat didn’t move. Fortunately it was an experienced lock keeper and he let the water in slowly.
As we arrived in Vanneaux who should be at the lock waiting for us? Our new friends. They had come to check on an elderly Swiss chap on a barge who had not been well. And were very worried about him. He had a friend helping him but that person had left rather abruptly. He had no food. And no way of getting his boat to Decize where he needed medical treatment. The husband asked if my other half would help him move Swiss guy’s boat the following afternoon. Of course he would. Vanneuax is a fabulous spot. It has free water and electricity and a restaurant right next to the marina. The restaurant was unfortunately closed for the day.
We decided to make a BBQ on the banks of the canal and the old man came and joined us for supper. Lovely person. Very interesting man. But I felt so sad for him. He spoke a lot about how wealthy he was, his three ex-wives, four children and huge divorce settlements. His expensive cars and his fabulous home. He’d paid for a Russian woman he met on-line to meet him in Paris in a few days time. And here he was sick and all alone. He didn’t want the Russian woman to know how ill he was. I couldn’t help but feel he had placed too much value on money and not enough on quality relationships.
Thursday 21st June 2018 Vanneaux Just when I think I’ve seen it all on the waterways, I get surprised all over again. A troop of horses with old fashioned carts rocked up to the restaurant in Vanneaux. The whole set-up from clothing to style of carts was from a century ago – if not more. Country style. People came out en masse with cameras and were clicking away. Turns out they offer horse and cart holidays. People pay to wander around the countryside inside a carriage and sleep in a coach while this lot fed them and the horses. Who knew stuff like this existed?
They set their horses free to much on grass while they camped for the night next to the marina. There can’t have been any paying guests around as they slept on the grass in the shade for the rest of the day. This group kept to themselves. Someone suggested they might be travellers.
Our new friends arrived with a sandwich for the old man. We had made him a smoothie for breakfast. The blokes got the barge going and I expected to see my husband 3 – 4 hours later. By the time it got to 6 hours later I knew either he was having far too much fun. Or something had gone wrong. He arrived back at the boat with the other couple and the Swiss man, who wanted to treat us all to supper. He didn’t have time tell me the full story as the old man was not feeling well and needed to have supper straight away.
Clearly it had been an eventful day. Firstly the barge was leaking copious amounts of oil and had little to no oil pressure. They had to figure out where to put in oil to avert a crisis. Then two locks in, the boat refused to idle. They were going into the third lock when they tried to switch from forward to reverse to slow the boat down and it kept cutting out. The lot of them were frantically trying to tie up so the boat didn’t go bashing into the lock gates. From that lock forward they had to enter the locks gingerly with ropes at the ready to tie up quickly as that was the only way to bring the boat to a stop. By the time they got to Decize all of them were glad it was all over.
Tuesday 19th June 2018
The day started with more conversation about the boat between the potential buyer, my husband and the Dutch boat agent. More history and details were passed on. It was a bright sunny day and my better half wanted to finish his painting job. I had more than enough Internet related work to do. But first we wanted to explore the organic market. Except, it’s no longer on the 3rd Tuesday of the month anymore. We were bitterly disappointed.
If I could give the people managing the French waterways or French Tourism one tip – it would be this – make all the locks and immediate areas on either side of them WiFi Hot Spots. And start loading the waterways guides on-line. Link the maps to a mobile phone app and charge people to download the app. That way everyone always has access to the latest maps and information. The cost of the app would be covered by people subscribing to it. Emergency info like bad weather could be send immediately. In fact a daily weather report would be most welcome. Even non-essential information would be helpful, like if a marina becomes full. A person can then opt to stop earlier, or move on to another stopping place. Boaters can also pass on information such as a tree falling across the canal or someone having an accident. Gosh even a translate function within the app would help us when we have to report locks that won’t open. It’s such a challenge when there’s a language barrier.
The app could also allow local markets, bars, laundromats, restaurants, festivals, whatever, to advertise there for a fee. We passed all sorts of amazing places like an artisan brewery come pub, a wine cellar, even a vegan hotel – and had no idea. We got our best tips from other boaters, so maybe even allow a chat room or forum similar to the DBA or Dutch Barge Association. How nice would it be if bird watchers shared a sighting or people from various countries or with similar interests can find each other? The possibilities are endless. But the biggest difference this would make is it would attract younger people to the waterways. Youngsters share prolifically on social media and inadvertently promote a place or event. Why not enable them to do it. It’s free advertising. The waterways would be a better place with a bit more diversity in my view. Instagram had just over 100 #barginginfrance posts a few months back. I suspect 20% of them are mine. What a travesty that such a beautiful part of the world is not being shared and seen. (One more tip coming up on Wednesday 27th June)
After a busy day for both of us, we went up to the old town with a walking map and wandered about. Then settled at a bar on the banks of the Loire and had a drink. Would have loved to try one of their crepes but everything had either ham, bacon, eggs or cheese. There wan’t a single plant-based option so didn’t even try ordering. Back at the boat we had lovely Provencal galettes, carrot salad and a green salad on the back deck. With a Bordeaux wine of course. An elderly couple behind us must have left their ear phones out as they had Calypso style music blaring from their boat. The pair of them were having a fabulous time dancing in their seats and clicking their fingers.
Monday 18th June 2018 Decize My other half and I motored in and tied up in Decize. There’s an emergency hospital right next to the marina and a few dejected looking souls stood at the windows watching us tie up. First thing I did was try one of the passwords on my laptop and voila! WiFi. That kind of took care of my day. I had heaps to do.
My husband meanwhile had engaged more with the Dutch boating agent and discovered his standard commission is only 5 – 6%. But he was happy to agree to a flat fee which amounted to 3% if the sale went through as he said he hadn’t done very much. Just goes to show how different agents can be. Once my better half got on-line he found boat prices are all over the place. Some seemed too high and others too low. The figure we had in mind for out boat was about right. It was already being marketed by the Dutch agent on Scheepenkring and Boatshop 24. Dutch steel boats like our definitely command higher prices in the Netherlands.
Next thing a fellow South African came past. He lives in the UK with his English girlfriend and they were taking their boat down to the Mediterranean. Lovely couple. They came and said goodbye before they left.
I went for a jog around Decize once it had cooled off and although the marina is overlooked by the dreary hospital and some grey concrete blocks of flats, across the river is the old city which is lovely. They charge €10 a night to tie up in Decize which includes WiFi, water and electricity. They have a lovely restaurant and even hotel accomodation. Also saw lift-out and little wheel barrow type things to load stuff on and off the boats. Local supermarket, Intermarche is only 500 metres away. It’s a very handy stop.
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.