The Journey -
Sunday 11th August 2002
Up early the next morning, and I was at the first lock ready for its opening at 0900. Ooops!! This is the low bridge - as I discovered when Rosy's mast scraped the underside of the bridge. We only just didn't fit, though it was a good first test for the mast tabernacle which passed with flying colours. Then some of the locks sprouted balance beams, the first I've seen in France.
This was another short day, as after 4km and eight locks I came to a mooring that looked similar to last night, so moored in expectation of a similarly tranquil night.
Damn!!! Five other boats and a motor caravan arrived, several full of Italians and/or screaming children and/or loud music. The only relief was early the next morning when I woke at 6 am. A boat was moored stern to stern, about two inches off Rosy's stern, and there on their rail, about eight or nine feet from me, was perched a kingfisher in chirpy mood. He stayed about five minutes until business took him elsewhere.
The day was likely to be long and busy for me, as I now faced the flight of 16 locks up to the summit. Each lock has an éclusier (lock keeper), most of them temporary staff taken on for the summer, and most of them students. Most know that a narrow boat in a broad lock gets a less dramatic ride up the lock if the paddles on the same side as the boat are opened first, and most also know that paddles ought to be opened in stages. Note the use of the word 'most'.
All went well for the first few locks, with Rosy skulking, ropeless, at the tail if the lock, and having a gentle ride up.
Until we met Mr Enthusiasm. At least he opened the gate paddle on our side, but BANG he wound it straight up, jetting a powerful flume of water into the lock that rebounded off the rear gates to cause a forward surge. Rosy took great exception to this, and advanced with increasing speed towards the top gates. I wound the engine wide open in reverse gear, the stack emitting black smoke, and spraying red glowing gobbets of carbon and soot into the air.
I whistled, and indicated that perhaps it would be a good idea to lower the paddle a bit, which the éclusier did, and then opined that perhaps I ought to be using a rope. My French was not up to saying that with clod-hoppers like him around, ropes are essential. In retrospect, of course, he is quite right. My non-use of ropes in a rising locks works a treat - but only with benign, skilled lock-keepers.
Problem number two arose further up the flight. Each éclusier looks after two or three of the locks, and each lock is separated by a short pound - most being some 100 metres long, and quite wide, so that they form a little pond. Ascending and descending boats only pass in those pounds that separates one éclusier's patch from another's. A descending boat came out of its lock into the pound to await Rosy's exit from her lock. The stern of the descending boat drifted a bit to port, hence putting the boat diagonally across Rosy's path. I aimed Rosy towards his stern quarters, naively expecting him to make a gentle turn to port, thus causing us to pass port to port as we should. He didn't. He gunned his engine and made a turn to starboard, thus causing his stern to approach Rosy's bow. Strongly reversing for the second time in as many hours meant that the coming together was a mere gentle nudge, but again, an accident could have happened due to my wrong (but reasonable?) expectation of another's behaviour.
I stopped to take a photo of the statue of Pierre-Paul Zivy who, having experienced the UK canals, realised that the then dying, commercial canals of France could be re-born as a recreational facility. It is to Pierre-Paul that we owe thanks for the Nivernais. Without his skills and efforts, it would have been abandoned to its death.
At the top of the canal, the summit level leads through three tunnels, which were the first tunnels in France that I've navigated which were BOTH unlit AND when I'd remembered to mount (and switch on) Rosy's tunnel light. I also tried out my magnetically attached, dry-cell driven navigation lights. I didn't meet any other traffic, so there wasn't a coming together, so they must be working OK.
The first two tunnels were some 200m long, the third over 700m, with quite a spacious cross-section, and a towing path on either side. The weather had all calmed down when I made the passage, and coming towards the end of the third, longest tunnel I saw an effect I'd not seen before.
A boat moving through water produces a pressure wave ahead of it. Many times, when Rosy has been moored, she starts moving around three or four minutes before a moving boat heaves into view. I happened to be looking ahead at the exit from the tunnel when we were some way from it, and saw the perfect reflection of the portal in the flat-calm water. Suddenly the reflection distorted as Rosy's pressure waves disturbed the water. We were still about 50 to 100m inside the tunnel, travelling at about 3 mph.
After the tunnels there is what should be a lovely mooring against a wall. On the other side of the wall is a big lake/reservoir - being a water supply for the canal. Unfortunately there were noisy boats plus a very nearby camp site, plus a not too far away caravan site, plus a marina who kept giving demonstrations of their boats to prospective customers, plus plus plus. I couldn't wait for morning.
When it finally came it was COLD. And OVERCAST. The barometer was FALLING - or rather, IT wasn't, but its indicated pressure was.
I've decided not to do 'boating in the rain', but decided to make an exception, and made a 3.5 hour cruise down to Marre, including going down a three-lock staircase. The rain wasn't too bad until I moored, but then, in the afternoon it RAINED. HARD. Tropically heavy, but temperately cold. So I waited until 6pm, had a beer and a slug of my latest anaesthetic - half and half dark rum and Dijon cassis.
The next day, Saturday 10th August, was also a bit overcast, but we set off and pootled down to Chatillon-en-Bazois, where there is a comfortable basin with deep water, electricity and water points. Shops are nearby, and I visited food shops for the first time since Chitry, four days ago. I was also getting a signal on the mobile phone, so I'm back in contact with the world.
Today is Sun 11th Auguse, a rest day after all the worry and exertions of the past week!!