Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Canal du Centre: Med to Ocean – Dennevy to Montceau-les-Mines via St-Léger-sur-Dheune, Écuisses and Blanzy.

33.3 kilometers, 30 locks.

The reason that this posting is entitled ‘Med to Ocean’ is that the locks are numbered from ‘MÉDITERRANÉE 1’ at the summit of the Canal du Centre, to ‘34b MED’ where the Canal joins the River Saône which flows into the Rhône which in turn flows into the Mediterranean Sea. The first westerly lock after the summit at PK 52 is called ‘OCEAN1’ and the numbering ends at lock ‘Les Bessons 26 OCE’ where the Canal du Centre joins the Canal lateral a la Loire which, eventually, via a number of waterways, ends up in the Atlantic Ocean.

Another important thing to remember about the Canal du Centre is that you have to advise various lock-keepers where you intend stopping for the night and for how long. If you don’t, you might find that your first lock of the day will not work for you.

Friday 21 July 2017: Dennevy to St-Léger-sur-Dheune – 2.5 kilometers, 2 locks, 1 hour.

After the stress of the previous days locking through it was lovely to arrive at our first lock to see the doors wide open in welcome – but no lights working. We had told the lockie at Fragnes that we would be going through to St-Léger not expecting that we would bail out at Dennevy and as such they had not prepared the lock for us. Eventually the doors closed, the lock filled, a boat entered, the lock emptied, the boat left and still the lights would not change in our favour. Fortunately a lockie had accompanied the other boat and she manually reset the lock and eventually we were on our way the short distance to St-Léger-sur-Dheune (the Dheune by the way is the name of the river which the canal replaced as a working waterway).

Shortly after arrival at the Locaboat port the captain arrived to advise us to move up a bit as our stern was protruding over the red ‘no mooring’ line – a bit petty I thought until he explained that the red line demarcated the one extreme of the turning circle of the hotel boats but if we didn’t want to move it was fine by him as we were unlikely to win a duel against one of them. I moved with alacrity!

They only just fit under the bridge

The wheelhouse aft retracts into the boat to clear the bridge - clever!

No bow thruster on this biggie.

There is not much to St-Léger and for some reason we did not walk to the church with its oddly steepled roof but we did stumble into the Au p’tit Kir restaurant where we had a fabulous meal!

Too good to mention!

 That evening there was a ‘marche’, a local produce kind of market followed by live music, the strains of which we enjoyed from our saloon as the weather had once again turned miserable. We did however procure two bottles of sweet Cremant bubbly made from Muscat grape –delicious as an after dinner palate cleanser somewhere, sometime.

After the storm.

Saturday 22 July 2017: St-Léger-sur-Dheune to Écuisses – 13 kilometers, 13 locks, 3 hours 30 minutes.

Having read about the Canal Museum at Écuisses we were at our first lock right on time to find it open but with no visible lights despite our having arranged a nine o’clock rendezvous; a call to a (misunderstood) wrong number somehow elicited a response from the gorgeous, young eclusier and we were eventually on our way again,

Yet another small 'uphill' lock...
Da First Mate.

 passing the pretty mooring at St-Julien-sur-Dheune, until we came through the 5.19 meter rise lock ‘Motte 6 MED’ and there was the museum, resplendent with a full sized peniche (a 38 meter barge) alongside the restored lock-keeper's house.

In no time we were tied off waiting in anticipation for the museum to open – only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 14h30 to 18h00 we had read somewhere – for once we had gotten it spot on! Two thirty came and went so we took a stroll to the Villa Perrusson , home to the benevolent capitalist Industrial Revolutionary owners of the tile and brick factory.

Amazing detail on the factory facade.

The entrance to the old factory.

The mansion also displaying the roofing wares produced in the factory.

'Seconds' - used to build a wall.

where there is a reception office and where we were informed that the canal museum had closed down permanently. What a disappointment!

But that evening we were treated to a magnificent thunderstorm with torrential rain.

The first signs of autumn?

Sunday 23 July 2017: Écuisses to Blanzy – 14.6 kilometers, 12 locks, 3 hours 30 minutes.

Blanzy has a sixty or so meter long quay for visiting boats (under 15m) with free electricity and water (read: Hogged long term by certain cruising species) so we were hoping to time it perfectly to arrive in the ‘window’ so that we might secure a spot. Once again we were at the first lock at 09h00 which was ready and waiting with a young lockie looking out for us; had we known what a pretty little village Écuisses was we would definitely have taken the bikes off and cycled the kilometre or so from the museum quay mooring and at least had a glass of wine at one of the few brasseries.

The workers co-op.

And one of the row of workers houses
resplendent in the manufacturers tileware.

Our lockie explaining that he thinks that the machinery is "from part of an engine".

Five locks later and with lock-keeper assistance through the three 5m plus locks we ‘summited’ and then, with no more gushing turbulence knocking us every which way, it was all gentle downhill;

Pretty 19thC canal work

No idea what this was.

This one was possibly draft-challenged and did not move over
despite us having right of way. So we had stones against our hull again.

at ‘Ocean 1’ we were enjoined by the lock-keeper who inquired as to our destination. Explaining that it was difficult to say as it depended on whether there was space at Blanzy, he promptly called someone and reported that there was a space for us so that was that – as far as he was concerned Blanzy was where we would overnight despite it being nine kilometres and six locks ahead during which time any boat coming upstream could have taken the spot. But we duly arrived and there was a single berth available – luckily we have a fifty meter electricity cable as the bourne is right at the downstream end of the ‘port'.

Look left...

...look right...

...and look upstream. We are last in line with the two long stayers,
 the owners of which we did not see in two and a half days, on our bow.

One of them.

Again, Blanzy is a small town with not much to offer except, from what I have read, a fascinating coal mining museum which was subconsciously avoided. Underground tunnels with the memory of late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century mining deaths is enough to raise the hairs on ones arms.

But it was close to the shopping area of Montceau-les-Mines where we bought, inter alia, 10mm2 dual core flex with which to, hopefully and finally, fix the Waeco fridge current supply issue; “It can be reach to 30 - 40 A (ca 500 W) on startup. It is only the first second. Then he needs only 4 A to 7 A to run” replies the super efficient German service center (still waiting for the English one to reply)  – why don’t they put pertinent facts like that in the user manual?

An interesting shopping fact about Blanzy is that a ten minute ride down the cycle path is a single boat mooring outside a huge eLeclerq shopping complex which is ideal for a short-stop to re-provision. Unless of course an Antwerp registered boat arrives at three in the afternoon and is still there when you pass, TV dish attached to the quay supports, a day later (note to self – get over selfish boaters habits).

Tuesday 25 July 2017: Blanzy to Montceau-les-Mines.

Again, a nine o’clock booking almost worked (well, if you understand that 09h00 Blanzy time is 09h15 any other time) and an hour later we arrived at Montceau, luckily finding an outside mooring on a longer finger than the uncomfortable seven meter ones, to find a full-on market where, despite Madame stating emphatically that we were not doing any shopping, we arrived back aboard with a ‘robe’, three cheapo golf shirts and a whole lot of delicious goodies from the stalls. And mooring fees at about €8 per day, all inclusive, is a gift!

More later.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Canal du Centre: Chalon-sur-Saône to Fragnes and on up the canal to Dennevy

Wednesday 19 July 2017. Exploring Chalon.

On another very warm day we eBiked our way back to Chalon and locked the bikes outside the huge doors of the Cathédrale Saint-Vincent de Chalon-sur-Saône, parts of which date back to the 8th Century, and took a look inside – yet another awesome edifice!

An early 16thC tapestry.

Then we wandered through the old town passing hordes of busker-types setting up, practicing or simply chatting– there is apparently a music/comedy festival on at the moment

Very clever!

– before reaching the market where fresh produce provisions were purchased.

The baker at work.

And where I remembered that I had left the GPS, unlocked, on my bike at the cathedral so an anxious fast walk back to the main square brought much relief as the bikes, mit GPS intact, came into view. At home I doubt that the thing would have lasted five minutes.

Chalon is a place well worth exploring and next time we might consider staying in the big marina so that we can enjoy some of the night life.

Another church.

Stopping off on our way home at the large E.Leclerq supermarket to fill our backpacks took us back into Franges the ‘normal’ way revealing that there is virtually nothing to the small village other than the lovely port – the restaurant adjacent to the port must be good as it was pretty full both lunchtimes.

Our lunch.

Aerobic classes at the port.

We had the chef of the luxury hotel boat Fleur De Lys over for a drink that evening which was interesting.

Thursday 20 July 2017. Fragnes to Dennevy – 22 kilometers, 13 locks, 6 hours.

The delightful, young lady captaine at Fragnes warned us that the two big hotel boats were leaving at 08h30 to go to Chagny

Fleur de Lys - one of the luxury hotel boats.

and that they moved very slowly through the locks so we decided to give them a two hour head start before we departed and so at just after ten thirty we cast off and a glance behind realized our worst fears – a little Locaboat peniche hove into sight and we could only pray that it was skippered by one of the excellent German or Swiss hirers. But no such luck! Mr & Mrs Brit and their four young children bounced into the lock behind us before eventually tying up, something which took quite a bit of time despite it being a very shallow lock with bollards in easy reach.

Some four very slow locks later, with peniche almost glued to our stern, we turned a corner to find a lock with a Piper barge descending so it was brakes on and a look astern revealed that the peniche crew were looking everywhere but forward and after hooting and shouting they eventually woke up and narrowly avoided driving into us. We reversed back past them and waited around the corner for the downstream boat to pass – in passing Lynn mentioned to them that perhaps they should think better of following us so closely. This time they decided to be first into the lock, one with a five meter rise with floating bollards and, like all the locks we have experienced on the Canal du Centre so far, with the operating mechanism right at the very front of the lock. So in they go, lines ready to tie up on their port side – but the operating mechanism is on the right so we hoot and shout and eventually they get the message and make fast to the bollard on their right and wait. And wait. So Lynn explains that the lock does not work by itself and that they have to pull the activating cord to get things going – obviously they had not read the handbook given to them when they took delivery of the boat. So, with Dad holding the line, Mom moves the boat forward to the control and Daughter #1 pulls the cord. But she simply does not have sufficient strength so Lynn tells Dad to give Daughter his line and tells him to pull the thing and eventually the doors close and we can get going again. And so we slowly make our way through another four locks at a dreadfully slow pace until we decide to overtake them once more and to activate the lock as soon as they were inside, tied up or not, which speeded things up a bit.

Imponderabilia - an odd name for a boat!

That is our nemesis peniche in the background.

Between lock 23 and 24 there is an eleven kilometre gap so we made haste, losing the peniche which slowed right down to make it through various small gaps and past passing boats around Chagny, until we came to lock 23 where a boat was exiting – perfect! And then inexplicably the lights turned red, the lock filled, another boat entered, the lock emptied, the boat exited and we entered…with the peniche in tow! Two locks later we stopped at a scruffy mooring for the night, letting the peniche complete the last two locks to St Leger-sur-Dheune on its own.

Amazing graffitti.

But the braaied Cuisses de Carter were delicious!