Read from the start – here.
The waterway from Dole to Besançon is absolutely beautiful. Rolling hills are covered in forests and the canal is lined with cooling trees and pretty lilies. We passed cliffs in between tiny villages. Their churches have bell towers with shiny tiled bell towers that poke up into the skyline. The houses have white or blue wooden shutters and window boxes with bright flowers. One thing I love about the French is their vegetable gardens. It’s almost an institution to grow your own veggies. The other French passion is fishing. I tend to think of it as an old man’s sport but in France young boys and families happily pass spare time hoping to catch a fish or three.
Passing through souterrain (tunnel) Thoraise was a treat. It’s 85 metres long and for some reason they have made it a spectacle. Sparkly lights twist and twirl as you pass through and there is a fountain at each end that stops as you pass underneath only to start again once inside the tunnel.
We arrived in Besançon early afternoon and were feeling pleased with ourselves. There’s a lovely loop which takes in the city. Then, and as per the Guide Fluvial map, we headed for the marina. It’s small. The port captain asked our size – 12.5 metres – and he seemed to think we could tie up. He left us and while we did our level best to squeeze in – there is so much silt – we kept getting stuck to the ground. No way on earth we were ever going to fit so we went back the way we came and tied up next to a tourist boat space. Not the best. We did a quick walkabout to see the other marina and resolved to move in the morning.
This time we skipped the loop and went via a tunnel. With a lock in it. It was a deep lock so my husband suggested I walk there and help with the ropes from outside the boat. What he had in mind and how it all went down were two entirely different scenarios. I managed to get on the wrong side of the lock and had to step over the bridge attached to the lock gate. I’m absolutely terrified of heights. Unfortunately the lock was already set in motion. The last thing I wanted was for this gate to swing open with me stuck on it. Next thing an eclusier (lock keeper) saw me from her office and motioned for me to get off. But it was too late. She reprimanded me. By this time I was so spooked that I forgot to take a turn on the rope and as the water surged into the lock it just about yanked me off the side down onto the boat. I was hanging on for dear life. Not my best moment.
The marina that end of town was much nicer. We paid our dues and went to the restaurant next door to avail ourselves of free wifi. We thought we might also have a Plat du Jour (plate of the day) but they were so dismissive when we asked for a veggie option we had to give it a miss. One downside of this boating is going days and days without contact or updates. Back at the boat we ate a big bowl of home made savoury lentils with bread. Then went to the Tourism Office to get maps and find out where to buy food and do laundry. Big black clouds were rolling in so we rushed our shopping and got back to the boat just in time to close up.
The Tourism Office in Besançon gave us a walking tour guide. Not one but three different walks. They had high speed wifi. And our washing would be done for us at the Port Capitain’s facilities. All good. There was also a Monoprix supermarket nearby so we decided to stay 3 days in Besançon. A person encounters nice places in the world but there are places that are so nice I could live there. Besançon is a place I could live in.
One thing we noticed was mentally handicapped people employed in menial jobs. We saw it at the marina and at a cafe. Might have been a coincidence but if not, what a wonderful initiative? While we were doing our walking tour we saw a boat with a South African flag. It’s not often we encounter South Africans with their own boats on the waterways so we greeted them. When we came back to our boat, they had tied up right next to us. And lucky for us they came to have a drink after supper. They had their boat a year less than us and had been on the southern waterways. Our experiences have all been in the north. Lots of stories were swapped. And they invited us to their boat the next night. Turned into a late night with even more tales of boating in France. We learned a lot from them about what to expect, where to go and where not to go.
It was time to turn around and head back to Dole. We decided to boat hard and do the distance in two days. Ranchot seemed like a good place to stop so we made a not too leisurely start. Unfortunately it rained and rained and rained. But it wasn’t cold. Around 15.30pm we arrived in Ranchot and all the spaces were full. The next wild stop was also taken. And the next ones. We started to panic as we had to find somewhere to stop before the locks closed. The wild spots indicated on the map were impossible for us as we have a deep keel and the sides of the canal were too shallow.
Eventually we had to tie up as best we could on the bank of a canal near Camp Orchamps. We used a boat hook to catch onto the weeds or growth and drag our boat as close as possible, then placed our ladder onto the bank. There was so much vegetation the ladder sank about a metre. Once stable, my other half walked ashore and used pegs to moor our boat. Shangri La was partially adrift but nothing we could do about that. What a lovely night in the middle of nowhere. A real deal wild stop.
The next day we arrived back in beautiful Dole. Tied up and the smell of diesel hit us. My husband opened up the floorboards and there was diesel in the hull. And all over the generator. He knew that the injectors were spraying but he couldn’t seem to locate the problem. It was Sunday and too late to find a solution so we parked our problem for the morning.
As soon as the marina offices opened my other half was straight in there chatting to the chef (chief) who said they could maybe have a look at things the afternoon. That was no great help so my better half phoned our marina in St-Jean-de-Losne and asked them for help. They promised to come that afternoon. Meanwhile we popped up to Dole Tourism Office to avail ourselves of their free wifi. I was hit by an avalanche of WhatsApps, E-mails, Facebook messages and other comms. Some requiring urgent attention. Some not. Turned out they had a local dance and wine tasting event. We happily tasted a Chardonay or two and watched people dressed up in olden days costumes twirling away in the streets.
Someone asked us where we were from and we said South Africa. It’s a long way away and before we knew it we were being interviewed by their local newspaper. They made an appointment to take photos of our boat after lunch. The journalist duly arrived with her camera and had us posing on the boat. I did start to worry this article may indeed happen. More specifically I worried because I had no idea what I actually said.
Then came the mechanic from H2O. He spoke not a word of English. My husband seems to think if he speaks pidgin English it makes it more understandable. He told this man while he had his face over the machine that he was going to turn on the engine so he could see the problem. Dashed up to the controls and started the engine. The mechanic got a face full of diesel. Turned out the injector pipe had gotten bent and had to be replaced. They promised to come back the next day.
Our journey continues – here.