23 November 2014

To Auxonne and Winter

After four days relaxing in Saint-Jean-de-Losne, on Sunday 21 September we slipped from our moorings on Quai National and headed up la Saône.  It was pleasant to be on the river again; it is broad enough for relaxed steering and we faced negligible current.

Our destination was Auxonne, eighteen kilometres upstream. This city is at the eastern edge of the Burgundy region, just three kilometres from the boundary with the Franche-Comté, a position which made it very strategic in battles for many centuries.

A pleasant two hours later we arrived at Écluse Auxonne, the only lock on the route. Two down-bound boats were just beginning to enter the chamber, so we had to wait.

After manoeuvring Zonder Zorg’s bow for Edi to twist the dangling rod to signal the automatic lock system, I backed down toward a duc d’Albe, tossed a loop around its bollard and secured the bow with the spud pole. The waiting station is set-up for 38-metre barges and there is no provision for anything shorter.

Out of the lock we motored along the bypass canal back to the river and then past the centre of Auxonne to Port Royal. Four years previously the marina had been dug out of an unused copse on the northwestern corner of the city close under its centuries-old fortification walls.

It was midday when we entered the port and nobody was around, so we took a mooring on the T-head at the end of the second wing of floats and settled-in to wait for an assigned mooring. 

Beside us, across the city walls were the military barracks that occupy much of the northwest quadrant of the city. 

In the late afternoon there was a knock on the hull. Roy, the Capitain was looking for mooring fees and asked how long we would be staying. When I said we were here for the winter, he told us that he had no notice of our coming. I told him Charles had said there was plenty of room for us, but it became apparently that he had done nothing beyond that. Roy told us there was no more room for anything above fifteen metres. I then told Roy of my email exchange with Charles many months before and of the confirmation of winter space in Saint-Jean-de-Losne and of how that ball had also been dropped. Roy took sympathy and said he would juggle a space for us.

Relieved, we began to acquaint ourselves with Zonder Zorg’s new winter quarters and we reflected on where we had been. In the twenty-five months since we took possession of our skûtsje, she had taken us a total of 4968 kilometres through 1120 locks on 121 waterways in three countries. During all this travelling, we had experienced only three problems with the barge: the house battery had suddenly died and refused to take a charge, a connection in the central heating had failed and the automatic igniter for the water heater/furnace required frequent resetting.

We were waiting for the arrival of the engineers from SRF in Friesland with our 22.6 kWh battery. In July they had removed it and installed a temporary 14.6 kWh bank. Even though they suspected the problem was from a faulty connection, they wanted to ensure the battery was not damaged, so they had taken it back to Harlingen. Now their drive was considerably shorter than it had been to Capestang in July. To make their job easier, the evening before their scheduled arrival we moved Zonder Zorg to the float alongside the haul-out ramp. This would give them easier unloading and reloading.

From a 0400 start in Harlingen, Wychard and Laurens arrived mid-morning after an 875 kilometre drive, and after cups of espresso, they set to work. While Wychard began disconnecting the temporary battery, Laurens loaded the more than half a tonne of battery cells from the van to the float and moved them along to the barge.

They manhandled the cells of the temporary battery out of the engine compartment, and then after a large platter of ham and cheese croissants, they began lowering the cells of our original battery back into place and connecting them. The manufacturer had bench tested each cell and all were deemed to be in top condition. By mid-afternoon the electrical system was reconnected and we load-tested it with the oven switched to microwave-convection and Edi’s hairdryer on high, for a total load of 2950 Watts. The system passed. The men then set to work on the faulty igniter system on the water heater/furnace. By 1830, after many blind leads, they had it repaired and we shared some welcomed Heinekens after their very long day.

Later in the evening, after Wychard and Laurens had gone off to their hotel for a well-earned rest, Edi and I celebrated the completion of repairs with some Arthur Metz Cuvée Speciale 1904 Crémant d’Alsace. To go with it, I prepared cumin-crusted dos de cabaillaud topped with butter sautéed pleurottes and accompanied by pommes rissolées and steamed broccoli. 

After dinner we heard the water heater start to cycle and we listened closely for it to ignite. It aborted the cycle. I emailed Wychard, hoping he would see the message before starting to drive north. There was a knock on the hull as I was pulling our first espresso the following morning. Wychard and Laurens spent over an hour in the engine compartment before Laurens finally noticed that a sensor had been installed in an inverted position, which caused it to often give wrong information on the flame, which led it to abort the start-up. He turned it over and successfully ran the system through several start-up cycles. They left mid-morning, hopeful that the last of our short list of problems from the refit had been resolved. All this service was without charge; rather it was a follow-through on SRF’s commitment to ensuring their work is satisfactory. Wychard and Laurens, both professional engineers are two of the four partners in the company. Wonderful!

Over the next several days we explored Auxonne. The first settlements in the area date to the ninth century as fishing camps along the river. The 843 Treaty of Verdun to divide Charlemagne's empire had used the Saône in this area as the boundary between East Francia and Middle Francia. This placed the site of Auxonne on the Germanic side of the line. In 1197 Stephen II, Count of Auxonne moved his allegiance across the river to the Duke of Burgundy, and forty years layer all the possessions of the Count of Auxonne in the basin of the Saône were transferred to the Duke of Burgundy. With this, Auxonne became a bridgehead of the Duchy on the eastern bank of the Saône, ostensibly on Holy Roman Empire soil. This position was progressively fortified, culminating by the middle of the fourteenth century in a wall with twenty-three towers and four gates girding the small city.

The walls were strengthened and the gates were rebuilt. One of these, Porte de Comté was built in the fifteenth century on the eastern side of the city, leading out into la Franche-Comté. It is preserved today as a national monument.

Another surviving gate is la Porte Royale built in 1775 to replace an older one on the northern side of the city, near the new marina, Port Royal. This makes a splendid play on words and on history.

In the centre of the city stands Notre Dame, which was begun in 1200. Among other notable features of the church is the helicoidal spire. This rises thirty-three metres above top of stone tower. In the square beside the church stands a statue of the young Lieutenant Bonaparte. Napoleon trained as an artillery officer for a total of twenty months during his two postings here between 1788 and 1791.

Among the treasures inside the church is a statue named la Vierge au Raisin, the Virgin of the Grapes. It is attributed to Claus de Werve, who had completed the magnificent sculptures for the tomb of Duke Philip the Bold in 1410, which we had seen in Dijon. 

Besides exploring Auxonne, we began preparing Zonder Zorg for winter. Among the tasks was tending to the paint scrapes from more than eleven hundred locks and two hundred moorings. There were surprisingly few, mostly on the black rubbing strake, which had been designed to take the punishment. After some wire-brushing, cleaning and a few dabs of paint, she looked like she had never left port. I moved the bicycles down into the fo'c'sle along with other attractive portable items. The bicycle cover was repositioned to wrap the stricken mast, mast step, spud pole winch and gaz lockers protecting them from both eyes and winter.

We had been steadily reducing the contents of our pantry, fridge and freezer, aimed at having nothing perishable remaining by the time we closed-up Zonder Zorg for the winter. On the morning of 7 October we took the train to Dijon and drove back in a rental car from Hertz. In the evening we had our season’s last dinner aboard. I seared some jumbo coquilles St-Jacques, smothered them with crisply sautéed pleurottes and served this with saffroned basmati rice and sliced tomatoes with fresh basil. It was deliciously accompanied by an Alsatian Gewürztraminer.

The next morning the mechanics from H2O came to do the winterising of our systems. When they had completed their work, we closed-up Zonder Zorg, placed the protective covers over the tiller and klik, the skylight and the friese and rear of the roef. We then loaded our luggage and drove to a hotel near CDG airport to be ready for our flights to Canada the following morning. Zonder Zorg was ready for winter, but we weren’t.

19 November 2014


We had arrived in Saint-Jean-de-Losne on Wednesday, 17 September and had moored along Quai National. This town is quite legitimately referred to as the centre of the French canal system, since from this hub it is possible to head in six different directions. 

From here boaters can choose to head southward along the Saône and Rhône to the Provence and the Midi, they can head southwestward across canal du Centre to the Loire, northwestward along canal de Bourgogne to the Yonne and Seine, northward on canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne to the Champagne, northeastward along canal des Vosges into Loraine or slightly more eastward across the Vosges on canal du Rhône au Rhin into the Alsace.

With its location at this important barging hub, a marine infrastructure grew in the years following the 1832 opening of canal de Bourgogne. Much of this was immediately upstream of the first lock on canal de Bourgogne in the wide basin that was designed to serve both as a port and as a repair and maintenance facility.

Just below the lock, at the level of the river is a large excavated basin, la Gare d’Eau on the north side of the town. This was dug as a place of refuge for barges when the Saône was in flood. This Water Station was also used to store rafts of logs that had been floated down from the forests of the Vosges and Jura. 

With the dwindling barge trade, by the mid-1970s the repair and maintenance services had little business, so many of the skilled marine tradesmen had moved to other jobs or to other regions. As commercial use of the canals declined, pleasure use was slowly increasing. In 1972 Blue Line began offering self-drive rental boats in France and they had expanded to more than 300 boats by the mid-1980s. They had set-up in Saint-Jean-de-Losne in 1980 and I rented a canal boat from them in 1984 from their base in la Gare d’Eau. Blue Line is the small cluster of boats on the right side of the 1987 photo and the lines of floats in the bottom right of that photo are those of a newly established business named H2O. The 2012 photo shows the expansion of the marine facilities since then.

We had based our Dutch kruiser, Lady Jane in Saint-Jean-de-Losne in 2000, 01, 02 and 03 and again in 2005 and 06. Not only is it a great hub from which to explore the waterways, but it also has a dry dock, crane haul-out facilities and a marine railway. There are marine chandleries, a thriving community of marine trades and a strong boating atmosphere.

Two large marinas in le Gare d’eau, Blanquart and H2O offer moorage, both long-term and itinerant and there are three supermarkets within a kilometre of the basin. In addition, long-term moorage is available from H2O in l’Ancienne Écluse three kilometres downstream from town and from Bourgogne Marine between the final locks of canal du Rhône au Rhin four kilometres upstream at Saint-Symphorien.

Saint-Jean-de-Losne dates back to at least 675 and it grew to prominence with its bridge across la Saône. Taxes and tolls from the crossing allowed it to fortify itself and it is famous for its defences. In 1636 the townspeople held-off the sieges of a much superior Austrian army that had already wiped-out most of the surrounding towns and villages. King Louis XIII rewarded the town’s courage by exempting taxes. During the Battle of France in 1814, the town again foiled the attacking Austrians, this time as they chased-down Napoleon. The townspeople crossed the bridge, and after attacking the Austrian camp, they retreated, destroying the bridge behind them. The following year, after Napoleon had returned from exile in Elba, he conferred la Légion d'honneur on the town. 

On Thursday morning we awoke to heavy fog, which hid the left bank of the Saône and nearly obscured the bridge. 

By the time we had finished breakfast the fog had begun lifting, the bridge gradually appeared and navigation was slowly resuming on the river. The bridge had been replaced after the Napoleonic wars, but was destroyed again by the Germans in September 1944 to cover their retreat eastward. 

At the entrance to the bridge is a square, place de la Libération and in the centre of the square is a monument commemorating la Belle Defense de 1636. Bordering the square is Église Saint Jean Baptiste, begun in the fourteenth century, now nicely restored and maintained and resplendent under its classic Burgundian glazed tile roof.

We walked through town to the offices of H2O to find out what moorage had been assigned to Zonder Zorg. Months before, while we were in the Midi I had emailed Charles, H2O’s founder and director to ask about winter moorage and had received a reply confirming a place for us in le Gare d’Eau. We arrived in the Capitainerie to find that we were not listed for moorage; Charles had apparently omitted to inform le Capitain. I tracked-down Charles, whom I first met in 1984 and had done brokerage, repair, maintenance and moorage business with him many times since. I found him overseeing excavation work for the footings of a new building. He seemed a bit flustered when I mentioned that le Capitain said there was no more space available to fit Zonder Zorg and that he knew nothing about my request for winter moorage. Charles countered with: “We have plenty of room for you at Port Royal”.

Port Royal is a new marina with 150 moorings that was created in 2011 by H2O in cooperation with the city of Auxonne, eighteen kilometres up la Saône from Saint-Jean-de-Losne. We had moored along the wall on the river at Auxonne many times over the past thirty years and had enjoyed the town. Last year on our way down la Saône we had moored in the port and were impressed with the location and the layout. Although I had my mind set on wintering in Saint-Jean-de-Losne, I told Charles that we would take the moorage in Port Royal and that we would head up to Auxonne after a few more days enjoying our spot on Quai National.

12 November 2014

Completing le Canal de Bourgogne

After a break in Dijon to visit its superb musée des beaux-arts and to absorb some of the history of region, on Tuesday morning, 16 September I walked over to the lock keeper’s office to ask to be locked through after the lunch break. 

We had twenty more locks to the end of le canal de Bourgogne. The route runs across the flat expanse of the Saône plains for thirty kilometres with only one slight bend, less than 5º, to relieve the monotony. Initially the canal passes through several kilometres of industrial area and alongside the rail yards. It then passes close by the end of the airport runways. The first ten kilometres is not an exciting stretch.

After ten locks and eleven kilometres, we had finally left the bland and industrial behind and stopped for the night under a grove of walnut trees in Epoisse. The following morning, after a final scour of the grounds for fresh walnuts, we slipped and continued. At the first lock, l’éclusier told us there were three hotel barges coming upstream. Two locks along we met the first of these, S.Antonius as she was entering the chamber, so we had a rather long wait.

Two locks along, the second barge, Le Haricot Noir was part way up, so the wait was not as long.

Just before noon we met the third barge, Adrienne just entering the lock chamber. It would be well past the beginning of the lunch break by the time she exited, so we resigned ourselves to waiting until 1300.

As Adrienne churned past us at 1225, we saw l’éclusier waving at us, motioning us to come into the lock. We thought he was going to let us wait his lunch break in the chamber, but he surprised us by locking us through and then telling us to continue along to the next lock. The next lock was his home and since there was no more traffic expected on the canal, he could take a long break. 

At 1430 we arrived at the final lock of the canal and passed down into la Saône.

We motored out onto the river for a look at St-Jean-de-Losne and to my surprise and delight, we had our choice of three open moorings on quai National. In some twenty passings of the quai since 1984, this was only the second time I have found a moorage spot here. We enjoyed a relaxing late lunch

Some of the locals came by to share our lunch.

In the evening we celebrated our passage along the 242 kilometres and through the 189 locks of le canal de Bourgogne.

03 November 2014

The Burgundy

On Sunday, 14 September we had arrived in Dijon, the capital of the Burgundy. We had entered the region in July as we ascended the Saône and we had explored along the Seille, crossed the Canal du Centre, ascended the Loire to its end of navigation, then descend it to the Canal du Nivernais, which we followed to the Canal du Bourgogne and then along it. We had done a clockwise circuit near the boundaries of the Burgundy. The boundaries of present-day Burgundy, one of the twenty-two Regions of Metropolitan France, have changed dramatically over the years.

Human settlement in the area is traced to Lower Paleolithic times and one of the final phases of the Upper Paleolithic is named Solutrean for evidence of the 20,000-year occupation of the site at Roche de Solutré near Macon. The Burgundy region was later an important crossroads during the Bronze Age and waves of migration from Central Europe swelled the population. Predominantly Celtic in origin, these people were called Gauls by the Romans. The Gauls of the area around present-day Burgundy were the last hold-out against the Roman conquest. With the surrender of Vercingetorix to Julius Caesar in 52 BC, the area finally fell to the Romans after 150 years.

In the fifth century, as the Roman Empire was collapsing, the Burgundians moved in from the northeast. Thought to be originally Scandinavian, these peoples had long before settled along the Baltic coast of what is now Germany before migrating and occupying the area that is now eastern France and western Switzerland. 

In the sixth century another Germanic tribe, the Francs conquered the Kingdom of Burgundy, but finding the Burgundians strong, they allowed them to continue to occupy and govern the area. The Frankish territory continued to expand for another three centuries, reaching its greatest extent in 814 as the Carolingian Empire under Charlemagne.

After inheritance disputes among Emperor Charlemagne’s three sons following his death, the Treaty of Verdun in 843 divided the empire into three portions: East Francia, Middle Francia and West Francia. 

West Francia was a major portion of what would become the present-day France. The dividing line between West and Middle Francia ran through the Burgundy, dividing it into two unequal pieces, the smaller being the Duchy of Burgundy, which is closely equivalent to today’s Burgundy Region.

Starting from this small base, successive Dukes of Burgundy expanded their holdings through battle, negotiation, marriage and inheritance. By 1477 their possessions included much of modern-day Netherlands, all of Belgium and Luxembourg and portions of Germany and Switzerland. This was nearly the size of the lands of the Kingdom of France, but it contained the biggest cities and the richest territories of the region. The court in Dijon outshone the French court both economically and culturally. In Belgium and in the south of the Netherlands, a 'Burgundian lifestyle' still means 'enjoyment of life, good food, and extravagant spectacle’. During the Hundred Years War and the years following it, the Dukes of Burgundy tried on many occasions and through various means to take the crown of France. Duke Charles the Bold was killed in battle in January 1477 in one such attempt. 

Louis XI of France quickly moved to seize Burgundy by presenting himself as the protector of Charles’ daughter and heir, Mary. By the beginning of February, the royal army had entered Dijon and occupied the Burgundy. Duchess Mary refused the King’s offer of marriage to his son and heir, the Dauphin Charles. 

She retreated north to the Low Countries, and then a few months later she married Maximilian of Austria, the future Hapsburg Emperor, Maximilian I. By 1520 their grandson, Charles V wore many crowns, among them as the King of Spain and the Archduke of Austria and he had been elected Holy Roman Emperor. He was the most powerful monarch of the time, but he focused his efforts on the recovery of the duchy of Burgundy that had been seized from his grandmother. He was successful in regaining only the Charolais, the southwest portion. By this time, many of the loyal Burgundians had moved north to the Burgundian Netherlands and Flanders, taking with them their arts, talents, skills and wealth. During the following century, the Netherlands dramatically increased its standing as the most prosperous region in Europe.

With this background in mind, on Monday we headed into the medieval heart of Dijon. There were dramatic changes since my last visit in 2006. A new light rail transit system opened in 2012 and much of the downtown core had been converted to pedestrian-only streets. What was once a noisy and exhaust fuming traffic gridlock is now peaceful and inviting. There are many medieval buildings and classic Burgundian glazed tile roofs throughout the city centre. 

We continued through very pleasant streets to place de la Libération and past l’Hôtel de Ville, the City Hall, which is housed in the former royal and ducal palace buildings.

Through a side entrance toward the rear of a building, we entered the transept of the former église Saint-Étienne. The church was confiscated after the Revolution and became the wheat market, later the stock exchange. During renovations in the choir, remains of the Roman castrum was found beneath the floors. 

This city wall was built between 270 and 275 by Roman Emperor Aurelian. It was ten metres high, four-and-a-half metres thick and with its thirty-three towers and four gates, it circled twelve hundred metres around the city. Very few traces of it remain. 

We walked back to place de la Libération and its imposing buildings. The palace of the Dukes of Burgundy and later the Kingdom of France is comprised of several interconnecting parts. Among the oldest parts are the Gothic style ducal palace from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, most prominent being la Tour Philippe le Bon. The remainder of the buildings date from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and are in the Classic style. 

Inside the courtyard we approached la Tour de Bar, which had been built by Philip the Bold in 1365. Beside it is the entrance to le musée des beaux-arts de Dijon, which was established here in 1787. It is one of the finest, most important and oldest museums in France. We were delighted to find that admission is free.

Among the more important pieces in the museum are the tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy. Philip the Bold built a Carthusian monastery at Champmol, just outside Dijon to house the tombs of his dynasty. He gathered many artists to decorate and embellish its interior and to work on his tomb featuring his recumbent effigy. Work on it began in 1381. 

Three successive sculptors, Jean de Marville, Claus Sluter and Claus de Werve worked on it for thirty years, completing the project in 1410, six years after Philip’s death. The polychrome and gilt decoration was done by Jean Malouel, official painter to the Duke. The tomb is considered to be one of the finest works of Burgundian sculpture. 

Philip’s heir, John the Fearless expressed a wish for his own tomb to resemble that of his father, but as a double one with his Duchess Margaret of Bavaria by his side. Work had not been commenced when he died in 1419. Finally in 1443 a Spaniard, Jean de La Huerta, was contracted and was sent drawings for the effigies. He completed most elements, but not the effigies, before leaving Dijon in 1456. Another master was brought in, and in 1470 the monument was finally installed.

Remarkable about the two tombs are the mourners standing in alcoves surrounding the bases of the biers. There were originally eighty-two of these free-standing alabaster sculptures, each about forty centimetres high and each an individual character. Following the Revolution, the tombs were badly damaged by anti-royal vandals and a dozen of the mourners were stolen. Some ended up in Dijon homes, others were marketed to museums and private collectors.

In 1819 the tombs were restored and placed in the Dijon museum. In 1945 an English collector returned a choirboy sculpture to Dijon. Soon after, the Louvre donated its mourner and the Cluny Museum returned two mourners. An American collector had bought four mourners from French collectors and after his death, his estate sold the sculptures to the Cleveland Museum of Art, where they remain today. In 1959 the museum gave replicas of its mourners to the Dijon Museum. Only two of the niches remain empty and it is presumed the missing sculptures had been destroyed during the vandalism of the Revolution.

Among the museum’s vast collection of medieval art are many pieces from the monastery at Champmol, including a splendid folding altar piece. It was carved by Jacques de Baerze and gilded and painted by Melchior Broederlam.

The quality of the 1398 painting on the exterior of the door panels is superb, particularly the scene of the Annunciation.

In addition to the medieval collections, the museum has a large collection of ancient Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Gallic, Roman and Byzantine material. We were more interested in Burgundian art, so we skipped through these quickly and on to the galleries of Renaissance and later sculptures and paintings.

Peter Paul Rubens is well represented among the Burgundian Netherlands and Flemish artists, and the pieces in the museum arrived under interesting circumstances. During the conquest of the Austrian Netherlands by the armies of the French Revolution, paintings were seized in 1793 and 1794 from churches in Flanders. Two of these were transferred from the Louvre to the Dijon museum in 1803. These were the side panels from a triptych altar piece commissioned in 1632 by a parishioner to honour her dead father. One was “The Entry of Christ Into Jerusalem”. 

The other is “Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles”. These two side panels were painted on wood and appear to have been rather quickly rendered. At one time thought to have been produced by Rubens’ workshop, experts now believe they came directly from the master’s hand. 

The central panel of the triptych is “The Last Supper”, which measures three metres by two-and-a-half, is oil on canvas and is decidedly more meticulously painted. It is now in Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.

A brochure on Rubens produced by the Dijon museum reads: “One of the greatest masters of Flemish painting, has always been admired in France. The three tables in this room, seized by French troops in 1794, are representative of that interest. They also reflect the final changes in the seventeenth century on the medieval form of hinged altarpieces.” 

This altar, composed of a central panel flanked by two movable flaps, was commissioned in 1618 by the tailors' Guild in Lierre, near Antwerp for their chapel. It was seized in 1794 by French troops, and arrived at the Louvre. It was dismembered in 1809 and the central panel was sent to Dijon. The side flaps remained at the Louvre and were claimed in 1815 and had to be returned to Lierre. We wondered why these other stolen Rubens pieces are still displayed in Dijon.

We slowly made our way through the galleries, looking at seventeenth and eighteenth century European works and then we wandered through a grand assortment of paintings by the nineteenth century French painters, including Delacroix, Courbet, Tissot, Monet, Manet, Sisley and Pissarro. We found "la Japonaise au bain" painted in 1864 by James Tissot a refreshing departure from the heavy religious themes we had been viewing.

As we made our way out from the museum and back toward Zonder Zorg, we reflected that this region was once the principal centre of art and culture in Europe. Since the departure of the last of the Dukes of Burgundy, the region has lost this reputation, but through their continuing refinement of viticulture and viniculture, when the word Burgundy is spoken today, most think of great wine. Many of the world’s finest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays come from here, but that’s another story.