From the Seine Nutty and I have 3 canals to transit to take me to the most southerly point on this years travels at Digoin. These are The Canals de Loing, de Briare and a la Loire. A total of 300kms and 87 locks elevating us roughly 200 meters.
My hopes of stopping off the Seine at Saint-Mammes were dashed by the only pontoon mooring taken by a hotel barge. Entering the Canal Loing my first impression was “oh Dear” it had many tatty live-aboards in poor condition and nowhere to moor. I came to the first lock which was closed for lunch but managed to moor against a British couple, Dave and Angie on barge Solstice. They were awaiting a diver to check out their prop which was vibrating.
At the lock a student working for the VNF as a summer job gave me a remote control and off I went. The locks were simple and quick. Press for up or downstream. The light beside the lock flashes orange to acknowledge your request then red and green lights show to indicate the lock is being prepared. Green and in you go. If it stays red that means someone’s coming the other way. If nothing happens, check your watch if it’s between 12 and one it’s lunchtime of course.
I stopped fairly quickly on the canal as I was very tired having covered 39km in 8 hours with 6 locks of the locks on the Seine and the size of football pitches. I moored at Episy, a small concrete wall with mooring rings but nothing around. A bit spooky but very quiet.
From there I stopped at Nemous then Montargis. Here I did an oil change on the generator, it’d been stopping with low oil pressure warning. On doing some research one possible answer was that the temperature was too high in the engine room for the oil and it needed replacing or a denser oil. I need the generator at night to run the air conditioning when not connected to mains power, it was very warm. The oil change did the trick although I must have lost a couple of pounds sweating in the engine room for 2 hours.
Entering Montargis was interesting, some tight bends with a large barge on one corner working on the canal walls. Squeezed through then had to wait with a day trip boat to enter a lock. The lady pilot came over and we established we’d just fit in together. Hmmm, it was tight and she bumped into me which made her customers and me jump. Leaving the lock I handed in my lock remote control in as this was the end of the Loing. I was delighted to see my friends Ton, Marcella and Bobby who I’d met over a month ago. They were coming the opposite way and we’d arranged to stop a few nights to catch up.
Next onto the Canal de Briare. The locks are manual meaning there’s a lock keeper who manually winds the gates and sluices open and shut. No pushing and pulling like the UK. I would always jump off at the top and close one of the gates. A simple gesture but much appreciated and it quickened my passage. The lock keepers would ask if I was continuing, if so they’d advise the next keeper who’d have the lock ready unless there was traffic coming the opposite way. A great system, manpower intensive but it works well. The keepers are very pleasant and everyone of course loves Nutty. There are automated locks were on flights of locks, here a sensor picked the boat passing and set the process into operation. Once inside I’d push a pole to activate a switch and the process of gates closing and lock filling began.
On all the canals I love watching the Grey Herons. They stand on the bank until my bow passes them then they swoop up ahead of me for a hundred meters then land back on the bank. This is repeated several times eventually they land high up in a tree as if to say, that’s it this is the limit of my escort you’re with Fred now. Then another would appear and do the same.
On the Briare, a fairly short canal, I stopped at Chatillon-Coligny first. I had planned to stop at Briare but on calling the Harbour master I was told they couldn’t accommodate a me and suggested Ouzouer-Sur-Trezee. On the way to Ouzouer I stopped for lunch at Rogny. Here there’s a historical flight of 7 disused locks. They were opened in 1642 and closed in 1887. An amazing engineering feat for the day. Rogny is a stunning village, popular with tourists and one I will definitely visit it again.
On leaving Rogny I went up the replacement flight of 6 locks. They are marked in the books as automatic, however they’re all over 4 meters deep and in 1887 no thought was given to mooring points within the lock for a boats rope as they would have had the boats permanently attached to a horse on the towpath. So now a VNF operative drops a hook on the end of a rope to haul up your mooring line, pass it round a bollard and back down to you. They then start the automatic process of the lock, get in a car and move to the next lock until all 6 are completed. Unfortunately this is necessary as fixing bollards inside the lock would damage boats and restrict width. Cutting into the stone walls I guess would be massively expensive and may weaken the lock. After another 4 kms I had the same process going downhill on a flight.
This video shows departing Rogny, passing the old locks and rising on the first 2 of the current flight.
As I passed Briare I crossed the River Loire on the 662 meter long aqueduct which was until 2003 the longest in the world.
Briare marked the end of that Canal. Now I was on the Canal lateral a la Loire which runs along the river valley for 196kms crossing it, or tributaries every now and then.
Night stopping at the lovely village of Belleville-Sur-Loire, close to a nuclear power station (free electricity at the mooring!) Then onto Saint-Thibault where the port is in a disused cut through from the canal to the river. The unpredictable water levels on the river mean it’s not practical for boating so the Loire side lock is disused. Here I visited Sancerre, on top of a hill. It took 45 minutes walk through vineyards to reach, very attractive and I was very ready for a chilled glass of local wine.
Back in the valley Nutty enjoyed swimming in the clean flowing river Loire and digging holes in the sandy banks.
The next aqueduct came at Le Guetin crossing the river Allier which flows into the Loire. I had to wait a short wait as first in was Hotel Barge Apres Tout with their American customers. It’s quite a spectacle as it climbs above the passing road. There are 2 locks together lifting you up. On the aqueduct it’s very strange floating high above and takes a lot of concentration to keep a straight line and not constantly bump off the sides.
I entered the lock with French barge Tango. The lock keeper lowered a hook on a line to pick up my mooring rope. I’d joined 2 together to make this work. Going up was very smooth and used a small amount of power against the rope to hold position.
Unfortunately on leaving I very quickly caught up with Apres Tout who was cruising at 3km/h which is slower than I can idle. So for 2 hours I was stuck behind using short bursts of power then drifting, the banks were not good enough to stop and moor. A good lesson for the next time I’m behind a hotel barge, stop and find a bar.
My next major mooring was Decize again where the canal and river are conencted by a short canal this is also used as a port. This time both ends are used as the eastern side allows access to a short part of the Loire and then onto the Canal Nivernais which runs back north towards Paris. In Decize I was joined by friend Geoff for a couple of nights on his way to Switzerland and then Jo for 4 days. A pleasant well equipped modern port, secure with a small hotel/restaurant on site and a supermarket very close. The town is quaint but not very large.
The locks for the remainder of this canal are manual. Surprisingly very few boats were on this canal so invariable the locks was all set ready for me to enter on arrival.
Some stunning view across the Loire valley. Stops along the way at Vanneaux, Diou and after another aqueduct Digoin which is the end of the Canal Lateral a la Loire.