The Journey -
Wednesday 24th July 2002
The navigation was closed for Bastille day, so Bob came back and gave me a detailed account of the plumbing, gas and sewage systems in his current French house, and in the one he is shortly moving to down near St Rochelle.
I was pretty pleased to get away from Villeneuve et al on the Monday, and had a cruise up to Joigny. The Yonne really is a very pretty river. Great reaches that look almost primeval - forests tumbling down to the water's edge, and only the occasional sign of habitation or cultivation.
I skipped Joigny, preferring to spend a night out in the wilds.
In the early morning I set off, and was immediately struck by the cold, dread hand of fear and engine problems. It would run at tick-over out of gear, but as soon as I put it into gear, white smoke poured out of the stack, and it sounded as if it was throttling itself. Alone, on a river in the early morning, with a weir half a mile downstream. Luckily we have an anchor rigged ready for use...
A quick trip to the engine room, where I discovered that one of the two injector drain plugs was not fully tightened, hence diesel destined for the engine was not reaching the engine, but was being recycled via the spillways.
Problem solved. Though a frisson of fear sharpens the mind and senses considerably.
On up the Yonne, passing the boatyard of Joe Parfitt, where several friends have overwintered. Joe has a crane capable (they say) of a 70 ton lift, so it is a popular 'dropping-in' point for boats being trucked down from the UK.
And so on to the mooring at Gurgy. A pretty mooring in a pretty village with a shop and restaurant. Not my scene, though. 10 boats and 10 motor caravans over-nighted there, so a peaceful village mooring became all busy and noisy.
Up early next morning, but was delayed by various lock-keepers who wanted to lock through several boats at once. One ghastly boat was last into the lock, but expected to be first out, and when he discovered that this was not possible, started overtaking boats in the exit lock cut, ignoring oncoming boats trying to get into the lock. They arrived in Auxerre before me, and astounded everyone when the three people on board each leapt ashore with a rope, leaving the engine in fast forward gear!
I arrived in Auxerre with rather less panache, and moored on the paying quay next to the nb Longfellow, whose crew was settling down to a lunch of fresh bread, cheese, sausage and prawns. Did I want to join them? You bet your sweet bippy I did!!! For France, the mooring is expensive, but the view of Auxerre is quite thrilling, and long term, winter moorers can be connected to a private phone line.
Auxerre is a mediaeval town, built on a hill. Langres is built on top of a hill, so it is knackering to get there, but once there, the town is all on a level. In Auxerre, everywhere you want to go to in the town is uphill, and, by some quirk of geography, so is the journey back. At least all the visible legs were nicely shaped and toned.
The Cathedral St Etienne (St Stephen) is quite something. The glass is excellent, and there are still some frescoes left on the walls. Underneath, the old Romanesque cathedral (built in 1023 - 1030) is kept as a crypt, and is quite delightful - again, some of its frescoes are intact. The treasury has a couple of beautifully illustrated Books of Hours, and contemporary with them (15th century) a book of hours printed from wood blocks. There was also a wooden statuette of St Barbe (Barbara) complete with her tower. This has had woodworm so it is both holy and holey! (St Barbara was the Patron Saint of my bit of the Army).
After two days, I went across the river to moor on the free side, complete with a free cajun music live band playing in the little square that is overlooked by a painted statue of St Nicholas (patron saint of boaters, apparently)
Next morning, after the usual early morning walk to get some bread, I set off southward , and entered the Nivernais canal. Quiet, peaceful, well maintained, student lock-keepers - all quite peaceful and rural - a true 'country canal'. I found a quiet mooring at Bailly where, in the late afternoon, some good sized fish were swimming around Rosy and at dusk, when I went to investigate a gentle 'plop' there was a water vole swimming along beside the quay.
The next day, I went up the branch to Vermenton, where I'll stay for a week waiting for a mail drop. Geoff and Rose from the boat Cathy are here - I shared locks with them last year all the way down the Marne à Soanne canal. They live in Cairns (Oz) in the winter, and cruise the French canals in the summer. Some life, eh?