20 October 2013

Down the Saône

At 1531 on Monday the 23rd of September we left Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne, entered the Saône and headed downstream. Immediately around the turn we fell in line behind a bumper boat waiting for the lock. Astern, up the river we could see a steady parade of more bumper boats zigzagging downstream toward us. We had entered easier navigation and the realm of the rental boats, which get their well-deserved labels of bangy boats or bumper boats by their manoeuvring antics in and out of locks and moorings. They require no license or qualifications to drive, and are amusing to watch, but because of their unpredictability, they are dangerous to be near. Unfortunately, they now constitute the majority of the pleasure boats in the Burgundy.

Once we had locked through, we headed down the Saône, which is  about 50 metres broad at this point. Its current was rather gentle; even after all the recent rains, it was only about two kilometres per hour, but it helped us along. 

All the mooring space was occupied as we passed Pontailler-sur-Saône and Lamarche-sur-Saône, so we continued down river. Actually, there was plenty of room for ten or more additional boats to moor, but the rentals had spaced themselves out eight to a dozen metres apart, with no gap long enough to squeeze-in Zonder Zorg. Experience told me that getting one or two of them to move and make space is nearly impossible. It was early evening by the time we reached Auxonne and we found the same gap-toothed boat arrangement on the public moorings there, so we went into the commercial marina of Port Royal. 

We were a tad tired from the 49.1 kilometres and 17 locks, so we slept-in awhile on Tuesday. Then at 1040 we slipped from the marina float and continued downstream through the next lock and arrived at St-Jean-de-Losne at 1300. The public moorings on the Quai National were full, so we motored past.

St-Jean-de-Losne is considered to be the hub of the French canal system; from here boaters can head out in six directions. It is on the Saône, which can be followed south to the Rhône and Mediterranean and across the Midi to the Atlantic, or followed north through to the Lorraine and the Moselle into Germany or Belgium, or across to the Champagne and Paris or onward to Belgium. The town is at the junction with the Canal de Bourgogne, which can be followed across to the Seine and down to Paris. Four kilometres upstream of the town is the junction with Canal du Rhône au Rhin, the canal up over the Vosges and into the Alsace and the Rhine. Downstream about 55 kilometres is the junction with Canal du Centre, which can be followed westward across to the Loire and then northward to Paris. We had based Lady Jane here for four of our six years in her a decade ago. 

We turned off the river toward the entrance to Canal du Bourgogne and continued to starboard beneath the bridge and into the basin.

At 1315 we secured to a visitor’s float at Blanquart. We chose it because both the guide and the advertising in the guide note that it has wifi, and we have not found an internet connection in nearly two weeks. The signal is very weak and the few times we managed to connect, there was no bandwidth to even load emails.

We stayed for two days, replenishing our larders from the two nearby supermarkets. I also spent some time pumping-out the oil from the bottom of the bilge and cleaning the area. I pumped out one-third of a litre of lubricating oil using our Pela oil change extractor and then set about trying to find its source. I had suspected the PRM gearbox, since the initial drops of oil were beneath it and there were stains on its bottom. The level on the gearbox dipstick was a bit below the low mark, so I topped it up. After I searched in vain for any sign of where the leak might have been, I throughly wiped-down the entire engine and gearbox and laid absorbent pads beneath them to quickly show any new leakage.

Midmorning on Thursday we motored out to the fuel float and took on 300 litres of diesel. Before fuelling, the gauge showed that we had about 80 litres of diesel remaining in the tanks and after fuelling the accuracy of my calculated marks was proven. A winter project now is to add more permanent and more easily readable markings.

After fuelling we continued down the Saône aided along by the current. An hour and a half later we came to our first big lock since Belgium. It is 185 metres long and 12 metres wide and is one of five similar sized locks that will take us down to the Rhône at Lyon. Four kilometres before the lock I contacted l’éclusier on VHF and announced our arrival in twenty minutes. He said he would have the lock ready for us when we arrived. With drops of 2.5 to 4 metres, they are not high, but they are equipped with intermediate bollards in the walls to make locking easy. We were quickly through.

As we continued downstream we passed many birds along the river banks. There were grey herons watching the water for their next meal.

There were white ibis doing the same.

There were swans rooting around in the shallows and sharing the water with thirsty cattle.

The were also some lovely rural house settings. 

And some examples of very sloppy riverside camping.

Mid-afternoon we left the Saône and motored up the Doubs to look for a mooring for the night in Verdun-sur-les-Doubs, a kilometre upstream. When we arrived at the port we saw it was arranged as a sort of modified Mediterranean moorage, stern ties without the bow anchor or buoy. With our rudder extending a metre beyond the stern, I did not fancy backing in. I thought of nosing in, then thinking of having nothing but 8 to 12 metre bangy boats to hold our 17 metres and 18 tonnes vertical to the quai and broadside to the river current, I decided to move on. 

We headed back out into the Saône and continued downstream. After passing through a second lock, at 1549 we secured to a float in front of a restaurant in Gergy. We had come 43.4 kilometres.

The restaurant and float are part of a camper facility, which was closed for the season. As we had approached, I had seen a body hanging on a scaffold out over the water above the float. Closer examination proved it to be a curvaceous female pirate climbing the rigging of a non-existent ship, apparently as part of the decoration theme of the restaurant. I walked the short kilometre up the hill to downtown Gergy for some fresh provisions for dinner. 

Later, just as I was turning the cutlets over in the pan for their final three minutes, the flames on the stove went out. Our propane tank, which we had started when we arrived aboard on the 3rd of June, had finally run out. It had lasted us seventeen and a half weeks. I went forward to change bottles, having had the forethought to buy a spare tank while we were in Sillery. I had chosen one of the new transparent fiberglass Butagaz Viseo tanks.

Our regulator didn’t fit the new bottle. The sautéed potatoes were done, as were the Brussels sprouts and mushrooms, but the cutlets were raw on one side. I put them on a covered plate and zapped them for a minute in the microwave and plated a very nice dinner.

Late morning on Friday we slipped and continued down the river. Along the way we were overtaken by large commercial barges and we met others heading upriver. Also, there were many bangy boats. These are most readily identified from afar by the ridiculous number of fenders attempting to protect their sides from the results of erratic boat handling. This one, if there is the same arrangement on the other side, has thirty-two fenders, including three across the stern.

At noon we passed the entrance to Canal du Centre, which heads westward to the Loire across the bottom of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. We continued down to the city of Chalon-sur-Saône and under its fifteenth century Pont St-Laurent.

At 1222 we secured to the visitor’s float in the port de plaisance. We were met by a staff member, whom I told we needed to buy some parts for our gaz system. He told us that a two hour stop is without fee, but for more than that it would be €9 for up to six hours and a ridiculous amount for overnight. I said we’d be less than two hours.

I quickly went ashore with our boat’s regulator and searched among the gaz fittings in the hardware section of the huge Carrefour supermarket. I found nothing compatible. I found an internet connection, surfed to the Butagaz website, found their new  Viseo fibreglass tank, looked at the photos and saw that it comes with a special regulator. Apparently the woman in the Intermarché in Sillery had omitted to include ours when we bought it. I walked over to the fuel pump check-out booth in the supermarket parking lot, which is the most common place to exchange gaz bottles, and told the clerk that the Viseo regulator had been forgotten when I had bought a new tank. 

With no questions asked, she gave me a regulator. Back onboard, I connected it to our line, clipped it to the bottle and Edi put the kettle on for tea. At 1426 we slipped and continued past the swans and back out into the Saône.

As we approached the commercial port, a 190 metre barge was winding around and was perpendicular to the canal bank. I could see its bow was moving left, but as a courtesy I called it on VHF Ch 10 and asked permission to cross its bows. I received a friendly affirmative.

Within minutes the deeply laden barge had completed its turn and was beginning to overtake us.

In a few more minutes it was past us and moving at double our speed down the river.

We met other large barges heading upriver, both deeply laden and empty. In the late afternoon we locked through Écluse Ormes, which because of our radio call was ready for us when we arrived.

At 1800 we secured to the wall on mooring rings, just upstream of the Pont de Tournus. Because of the current, we had passed under the bridge, then turned around and stemmed the current back upstream to the quai.

Saturday is market morning in Tournus, so soon after rising we took advantage of it and shopped the stalls for breakfast goods and some fresh items for dinner.

We found some wonderful multigrain bread at a small stall.

Avocados, green beans and tomatoes were bought at another. A fishmonger sold us a thick dos de cabillaud and so on.

At 1022 we slipped, turned in the stream and continued downriver. Moored toward the southern end of the city centre was a huge hotel barge of rather graceless design, built more to cram into the 195 by 12 metre locks than it was for looks.

An hour later we were passing the place where in 1984 we had rescued an unfortunate couple from their sailboat. They were headed to the Mediterranean in their new twelve-or-so metre boat on their maiden voyage and they had found a shoal in a bend. They had apparently misinterpreted the channel markers in a narrowing.

It was April and the river current was strong. When we arrived on the scene, the boat was heeled over beyond its gunnels by the current and it was hard against the bank of the shoal. We passed a towline and tried to pull the boat off, but the current was far too strong for that. We took their anchor and set it at full rode length out into the channel, but their windlass was not strong enough. Finally, as the boat began flooding, we took them and a few of their valuables off. At their request, we landed them on a ramp just upstream at Port d’Uchizy, where they said they would phone for assistance. We told them we would report the incident when we reached Macon. As we passed back downstream, we saw the boat awash and rolled onto its side well onto the shoal from the channel.

Back to the present, we continued through Macon.

At 1614 we secured to a float in Montmerle-sur-Saône. We had come another 59.9 kilometres and had passed through another lock. About an hour after we had arrived, the Capitain de Port came by to collect €10 for moorage, which included water and electricity, so we filled our tanks and plugged in.

Around midnight there was the noise of heavy machinery outside, and powerful searchlights illuminating us and the river bank. I looked out through our windows to see a solid wall of windows slowly gliding past. A lock-filling hotel barge was gradually coming to a set of dolphins and a landing stage just upstream of us. In the morning I headed ashore to the market just after busloads of cruisers had been whisked away to their daily tours.

It was raining as I walked the short distance to the covered market to see what there was to entice me. I found nothing that I hadn’t seen better the previous evening in the supermarket across the street, so I crossed the street.

At 1110 we slipped from the float, turned and continued downstream. We passed under some wonderful old suspension bridges, dating to the first half of the nineteenth century, like this one at Beauregard. 

Passerelle de Trévoux is particularly attractive. It crosses the river at what was once the capitol of the independent principality of Dombes, which had its own parliament until 1762.

In a steady rain we continued down the Saône and into the suburbs of Lyon, the third largest city in France. At Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or we passed a landing float that led up to restaurant Paul Bocuse. Since we hadn’t made reservations, which for weekends requires at least three weeks advance booking, we passed on by, saving a good few hundred on dinner.

We continued downstream, weaving our way around the bends and under the bridges in the strengthening current as we neared the confluence with the Rhône. As advised by the guidebook and riverside signs, we closely monitored VHF Ch 18 to listen to other boats reporting their progress up and down the river.

By 1600 the heavy rain had eased to a light sprinkle as we passed under Basilique Nôtre Dame de Fourvière and began passing the downtown core of Lyon. 

At 1636 we secured to a stub of a finger float in the newly renovated Place Nautique du Confluence at Kilometre 1 of the Saône. The construction is so new that the capitainerie is still not finished, so it is housed temporarily in a utility trailer. I walked up to pay our fees, which were €22 per night, including all services. I asked for the wifi code and was told that, while the wifi worked well throughout the marina, the connection to the internet did not. The connection varied from very poor none at all. We have continued to see this in France; they appear to have a major problem with connectivity.

Nonetheless, I paid for two days, primarily since we needed a break. In four days we had come 214 kilometres from St-Jean-de-Losne and we were just one kilometre from end of the Saône. Besides, just across the passerelle above Zonder Zorg’s stern is a vast new shopping mall anchored by a huge Carrefour. In addition to the break, we needed a shopping fix.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting blog. Enjoyed reading. I've got to say we had no problem with the wifi/internet (provided by the mall with excellent signal strength in most places around the Place Nautique) in September 2012. It's a shame if this is not the case now.