Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Nivernais Canal – From South to Summit

Friday 11 August to Saturday 19 August 2017: Decize to Baye via Cercy-la-Tour, Panneçot and Chatillon-en-Bazois.

67 kilometers, 28 locks.

Friday 11 August: Decize to Cercy-la-Tour – 18 kilometers, 5 locks, 3 hours 40 minutes (20 minute delay at first lock).

Port de Plaisance, Deceize.

The weed eater at work.

Decize is a busy, bustling town with its roots pre-dating the Romans and with its mixture of mediaeval and pre- and post-Revolutionary buildings is a delight to visit and at least one night at the unserviced town quay should be mandatory.

The cave across the road from the city mooring.

The old town centre.

A drinking fountain - the city backdrop is a poster.

The Hotel de Ville

The Church of Saint Are

Dating from the 11th Century.

A wall of the old 11thC convent, now an art gallery.

A bridge over the River Loire

Doing the tourist thing.

But this we did not do as we had found a restaurant some four kilometres out of town and, with the weather having turned and daily rain showers the norm, the port de plaisance, being a kilometre closer to the restaurant than the town quay, won the argument.

And so we stayed an extra day because when someone on Trip Advisor posts: “ Best of France Le Raboliot is our favorite French dining experience, as authentic and charming as a French meal can be imagined. To put this superlative in context, we've spent five entire summers on our canal boat travelling throughout the country, eating at hundreds of restaurants. This is our favorite. Just went there for a birthday celebration. You can eat outside next to a pasture or inside surrounded by art. From amuse-bouche to dessert every item is carefully crafted with skill, finesse and a love of fine food. It is a refined country cuisine, the food of the locality. Le Raboliot is well worth the complication of finding it on a side road in the countryside near Decize. Hey, we had to ride bikes from the canal. I guarantee this will be the French meal you will tell friends about. Harvey S.” (Could this be Harvey Schwartz from On A Barge in France ?) you just have to go so indeed we pedaled there and back without getting wet but, in retrospect, we agreed, definitely not “…the French meal you will tell friends about” and definitely not “…every item is carefully crafted with skill, finesse and a love of fine food. ”. Decent home cooking, yes but nothing to write home about at all. An enjoyable experience nevertheless and our hostess was a delight.

The kitchen.

A soupcon - melted cheese and ham.

Vegetable quiche entree

Steak and baked cauliflower main course.

Our delightful hostess.

Our gas locker cover made out of faux teak strips had rotted and finally collapsed so it was off to the hardware store to source a laminated, water resistant piece of pine and, after some sawing and varnishing, we have a temporary replacement.

Enough about Decize – time to cruise.

With thick cloud above we descended the very slow lock from the port onto the Loire River and then in no time at all we were onto the Nivernais Canal and into the first of twenty eight manually operated locks which would take us to the summit of the Canal at Baye. The municipal mooring space at St-Léger-des-Vignes was full, most of the places taken up by closed down long-termers taking advantage of the free mooring and cheap electricity and water.


The locks are operated with varying degrees of efficiency and interest; the one lady made sure that just the correct inflows were allowed so as not to bash us around, while another guy was more interested in his cellphone conversation than operating the lock. Another youngster struggled to keep his cellphone conversation going while simultaneously smoking a cigarette and operating the lock.

This lady was brilliant!
Anyway, with Lynn cleaning and varnishing madly

we arrived at the fully serviced and no-charge pontoon at Cercy-la-Tour to find it deserted

although by evening we had been joined by narrow boat Lazy Notes, a Dutch cruiser and a truncated barge.


The roadside adjacent to the canal has a pottery maker from whom we purchased two egg-cups, a boucherie, a bar and a small takeaway place. Up the hill is a simple Romanesque church, a boulangerie, a fountain and the town square.

A little further on is the remains of an old tower atop of which has been placed a huge statue of Our Lady of Cercy.

The road on the other side of the canal is lined with a couple bars/‘restaurants’, a pharmacie, funeral parlour and a tyre dealer. Further on past the station, one turns right at the circle and about a kilometre further is a small supermarket, a total of about three kilometres from the mooring.

The canalside lights come on at dusk making for a very pretty scene and on our last evening it was just us and Orca, a small boat skippered by a disabled gentleman and his endlessly cheerful wife, on the pontoon.


Sunday 13 August: Cercy-la-Tour to Panneçot – 14 kilometers, 5 locks, 5 hours 15 minutes 20 minute delay at 2nd lock, 55 minute lunch break).

Having made plans with Orca to be at the first lock at 09h00 rather than our planned 09h30 late (for once!) departure, we set off in cloudy but windless and warm weather, past the odd chateau, through pastoral settings until lockie-lunchtime whereupon Orca stopped just after the third lock for their lunch while we carried on the four kilometres to the penultimate lock for the day.

 The only negative aspect of this part of the waterway is that it is muddy and very shallow; we draw 1.15m and in many parts we were scraping along the gravel, especially upstream of lock 30 between PK17 and PK 19 and again from PK21 to lock 28.

Fifteen minutes after lock recommencement time along came Orca and, without apology, joined us in the lock. The French savour their midday meal which is an institution to them so if that means that they are delayed getting somewhere it does not mean that they are late. They have simply been partaking of le déjeuner.

Orca locking through

The marina at Panneçot (pronounced panne saw) is U-shaped with the legs of the U being grassy banks, one side of which has electricity and water points. The third side is a concrete wall trimmed with wood and we were lucky enough to find a gap there behind two hire boats and into which we fitted perfectly. By evening there were six boats there and the next evening, ten boats crammed in.

The next day before the next influx.

Apart from the ‘port’ which has a small restaurant serving cold fare (smoked duck or trout or cold meats and salads as the main) there is nothing in Panneçot. We did however ride the short distance to have a look at the lovely Anizy Chateau which is privately owned and is used for weddings and the suchlike – although enty is not allowed, you can get a good view over the wall.

Anizy Chateau

We also cycled the six kilometres to the village of Vandenesse to see what our guide described as a “Beautiful and huge 15th Century castle, the square keep of which is still crowned with machicolation” but try as we might we could not find any “huge castle”; it turns out that what was being described was a stately chateau but one which is privately owned, set far back along a very long driveway and entry to which is prohibited. But pretty countryside nevertheless.

The 'castle'.

The next day we were joined by Durban friends Rory and Jenny aboard Paula and Tony and Elaine aboard Dreamflower – most unusual to have three South African flagged boats parked in a row (Dreamflower correctly flys the Dutch flag on her stern and a SA flag from the mast – Paula and Elle flout convention and fly SA flags from our sterns).

From left to right: Elle, Paula and Dreamflower

Needless to say a good time was had by all and a chicken curry for one communal meal and a braai for the other sounds about right!

Take your pick!

Wednesday 16 August: Panneçot to Chatillon-en-Bazois – 21.5 kilometers, 9 locks, 5 hours 25 minutes (30 minute lunch stop).

After two days of jolliment we bade Dreamflower and Paula farewell as they were continuing to their winter base in St Jean de Losne while we were headed in the opposite direction. We found a small snake in the first lock which terrified the lady lockkeeper – perhaps just reward for her having charged our friends 12 for a small pumpkin!

Expensive veg.

At the next lock we joined ex-hireboat Athena and locked through with them until the ‘after lunch’ lock where we left them behind enjoying their meal while we continued to Chantillon-en-Bazois. If you do not need services then the small quay at Fleury is lovely (sorry, no photo).

Lockside grassy patch looks delish!
The farmer eventually got them to cross the bridge - 15 minutes later.

The 'seasonal' restaurant at Fleury

On the way to Chantillon our housewater pump packed up so, after consulting guru Ian in the Azores by Skype I managed to replace it with a spare pump but it did not work at all well as the hose fittings were different and air kept on being sucked into the system. But at least we have water, spluttering or not.

In the camper van park at 

Interesting graffiti.

I did not even get off the boat but Lynn walked a kilometre or so to do some grocery shopping. I for one welcomed an early night as my battered and bruised body needed rest – the pump is in a very awkward place on the dark side of the starboard engine.

trying to fit a replacement pump.

Thursday 17 August: Chatillon-en-Bazois to Baye – 15 kilometers, 14 locks, 5 hours 15 minutes.

Thursday dawned bright and clear and warmed up very nicely as we followed a hireboat into the first lock – fortunately capably driven although Lynn had to give the father and daughter team some lessons on how to use their cleats to best effect and I think they were glad of the advice especially when we were rushed through a set of five locks (actually two adjoining locks, a passing space and then three more adjoining locks) where the lockies really opened the gates and the water roared in – it was past 12 o’clock and they wanted their lunch. Without Lynn’s advice they would have had rope-burned hands. And Dad was horrified when we indicated that we were not stopping for lunch, preferring to head up to the last two locks some three kilometres ahead and at which we would arrive just before the end of lockie lunchtime. But they followed us on!

Three lock staircase - note the inrush.

Low Nivernais bridges - we were caught at the second last one
and grazed our bimini (it sloped downwards!).

Finally we were into the last 3.13 meter rise of the Baye lock and upon exiting were on the summit of the Nivernais Canal with a lovely lake vista and a long, unserviced wall to moor against but we chose instead to opt for the port – our guide book is unfortunately a little out of date when it comes to showing mooring charges as we discovered the next day. If we ever come back here we will definitely rather moor on the wall rather than in the marina.

The marina

And on opening the engine hatch we were greeted with a couple of gallons of water in the bilges; the replacement pump’s fittings had not sealed against the old pump’s couplings and water had sprayed everywhere each time we had used the taps. After pulling apart the old pump but unfortunately not being able to get to the impeller part, it worked itself free and an hour or so later it had been refitted – it works but the pressure is pitiful. Seems like a new one is due.

The old pump put back again.
There are no shops at the port and the town which is a kilometre walk away has a restaurant, a ‘diner’ which also sells bread and a few groceries and that is all. But at least we had summited and now it is all downhill to Auxerre!

The last lock before summiting.

Rush hour in Baye

The main road.