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Published: September 24th 2018
The waterways of France are important and interesting but above all they are very attractive. We considered a few options for our week on the waterways. Reports about the Midi Canal that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic made it seem a little too busy for our purposes. The Burgundy Canal was also an option. We were looking for something reasonably quiet in terms of boat traffic but with access to interesting villages and places where lovely food and wine might be found. Of course, being France, any would have done well on the last criterion but we settled on picking up boats at Mâcon and cruising on a route that would include the Saône and Seille Rivers and the Canal du Centre and bring us into Saint-Léger-sur-Dhuene, within a reasonable distance by train from Lyon.
The 'we' in this case is a group of Australians, all with current or previous relationships with the Northern Territory. Most of us once used to cruise often on an NT river. Much good food and wine but all self supplied and no pretty villages. In fact, leaving the boats was interesting in itself because in those days the river had the highest
concentration of crocodiles in the world. We have since been on a few different rivers and France seemed like a good idea for the gathering this year.
In this post we will talk about the boats and the experience of managing them on the trip along the waterways. Detailed information is provided by the company but it seems that it might be useful to some people who may be considering this to hear from people who have done it and who went in without too much knowledge of what was to come.
The penichettes we hired were from Locaboat. We had previously hired from this company in Ireland. This time we had two boats, one with 3 bedrooms with en-suites and the other, much longer boat with 4. The boats all carry water and enough fuel to make it through the week of the hire. Both had dual battery systems that ensure that the starting battery cannot be drained by use other than starting while the other one charges when the motor is running and when the boat is plugged into the mains. Plugging in to the mains when the facility is available is sensible. In France grey
and black water is discharged 'a little and often' so there are no tanks to empty along the way.
While the boats are on rivers the maximum speed the governor on the motor allows you to go is 10 km/h, so you aren't roaring along particularly quickly. The speed on canals drops to 8 km/h and is less in marinas and passing fishers etc. This is not a trip for those in a hurry.
Locks also take time. Our first was interesting. The plan was that a lock master would be there to show us the ropes. Unfortunatey, we arrived at lunch time. We have learned that lunch time is sacrosanct in France. No one was there except another boat and the skipper of that boat demonstrated how to operate the lock. Operation of a lock is basic physics but the levers and wheels that put that physics into action can be confusing. Our first lock took an hour but we had it down to 20 minutes after we had been through a few.
Once we were comfortable with manual locks and had handled 8 of them we were tested by a deep 11 metre lock on
the Saône and then we hit the Canal du Centre and found 15 more, often very deep, locks but these were electrically operated. The deeper ones had floating bollards that made it a lot easier to tie off and all were operated by pulling on a cord - rather than sending people up to manually open and close sluices and gates. With these there is a maximum time of one minute to clear the lock after the gates open. After one minute the gates close automatically. Some of us were just a little nervous about this.
We normally would have both boats in the lock. We aren't all well skilled at boat management and have been known to make mistakes. Mucking up the ropes in a lock is one thing but, if the gates close on you, that could be difficult. It turned out well. The one minute was never an issue. Because the 'electric' locks were easier to handle than the others it all went very smoothly. But I don't think we ever forgot that those gates could close.
It wasn't all about locks. We had skippers on both boats who were skilled at handling boats. The
larger boat was harder to handle than the smaller one but both managed well. To be honest the skippers had less trouble with the boats than they did with their crews but, generally, it all worked out. Both boats had forward thrusters that allowed the boats to be more easily manouvered, particularly at slow speeds. Out on the Saône there was normally plenty of room and not a lot of other traffic at this time of the year. The Seille was tighter but there was less traffic and passing by other boats was not difficult. The Canal was tight. A vessel coming the other way had the skippers paying attention but there was always a way past.
The facilities on the boats were very good. We could have cooked for ourselves every meal. We didn't because there was generally a good restaurant option and, frankly, who can be bothered cooking too much on holiday. Cabins weren't large but having an en-suite made life comfortable for everyone. All in all very easy.
The facilities for tying up at night along our route were mixed. The best moorings had plenty of room for leisure boats with power and water easily
available. Most charged a reasonable fee for these facilities. Chalon-sur-Saône had minimal reasonably priced facilities for leisure boats and this was also the case at Tournus.
There is every chance that we will do something like this again. There are other rivers out there and other water bodies. Lakes, rivers, even small seas - the possibilities will probably outlast all of us.
We will cover the villages we visited and the moorings in each in our next post.
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