(7) The River Saône – June/July 2010

St Jean-de-Losne

The town is well known to boaters as it is where the Canal de Bourgogne joins the River Saône. Our first visit had been about five years before in order to view some barges at the nearby Bourgogne Marine. We had returned in early 2009 to view more barges en route to Les Carroz in the Alps for a skiing holiday. We fitted a lot into that trip, as we also did our barge handling course at Cambrai on the way back to Calais. It felt very different approaching by canal this time. Our recce in the Micra had confirmed that the moorings were expensive in the port and the quay mooring on the Saône was restricted to boats of 15m in length and to a maximum three days.

As I was returning to England for over a week, we needed to find a cheap longer term mooring than usual. Fortunately, the man in the VNF office told us of a mooring adjacent to the camp-site which was free but had no water or electricity. We obtained permission from the receptionist at the campsite (mooring is usually restricted to three days here too).

On leaving the last lock on the Canal de Bourgogne we gave ourselves a pat on the back and reflected that since starting out from St-Legers-des-Vignes two and a half months before, we had ‘done’ over three hundred locks!


 The last lock on the Bourgogne, entering the Saone.

In comparison with the canals the River Saône was huge. We found our mooring and came in a little too quickly, underestimating the strong current not encountered so far in our travels.


 The campsite mooring.

The following day was spent exploring the town and port, preparing the car for my return journey and having a meal at the campsite restaurant (well we thought we ought to as we were staying a while.) I spent the next nine days in England and the complete journey was not as bad as I’d expected, even though it was a long way. I enjoyed catching up with friends and family and had a long shopping list of things to bring back with me. This included a barbecue, portaloo, outboard motor(ebay purchase,) motorcycle ramp, six long and heavy rubber fenders, tea, bacon, sausages and cheese…………….no room for a cuddly toy!!

My Dad had been acting as warehouse manager as the various items Peter ordered were delivered to his house and was wondering how on earth I would fit everything into the Micra. Fortunately I did and the car, groaning and creaking still managed to get me back after another long drive.

Peter meanwhile had renovated the dinghy in readiness for its new outboard motor and had watched the annual ‘blessing of the commercial barges’ and river Fete which took place on the town quay. He also joined in with the local petanque playing fraternity who used the illuminated ‘terrain’ next to the mooring in the evenings.


 The commercials all dressed ready for a blessing.


 A barge church…not seen one of those before.


And for entertainment – 2CV racing….another first.


On my return and after a day spent recovering from the long drive, we left the mooring and headed east towards Auxonne. It made such a pleasant change to be on a river and before we knew it we had reached an unmanned lock. Seeing the VHF number in our guide we radioed ahead…..nothing happened. Then we noticed a pole suspended in the middle of the approach to the lock. I pulled it a couple of times with no result and then turned it clockwise. To our surprise and relief lights started flashing and bells ringing. The red light changed to red and green and then green and the gates finally opened. This lock was wider than we were used to with a blue pole called a ‘tourette’ which you use to operate the lock once you are safely in. Unfortunately were on the opposite side from it, not realising that the lock was so wide- an easy mistake as we were used to taking up most of the available space. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem as we just had to cross the front gate and operate it.

The following lock cut was quite straight and we soon found ourselves approaching Auxonne where we moored on the right just beyond the road bridge. We waited there hoping that someone might move from the pontoons ahead. Sure enough someone did and we were able to slot onto the end with just 15m of our stern half on. This mooring was limited to smaller craft but the pleasant lady capitaine was happy to let us stay as long as we were prepared to overhang the pontoon as we had. There was hi-tech water and electrics too – paid for with the carte bleue.

Auxonne is mediaeval fortress town with attractive ramparts and it makes a lot out of the fact that Napoleon Bonaparte spent three years there as a young soldier. It even has a museum dedicated to him.

We spent three days at Auxonne and took our dinghy for a few test runs with its new outboard motor. It was here that Paul, Peter’s brother joined us for a visit. On Monday, after a short cruise upstream we returned to the mooring at St Jean de Losne in the hope of finding a heating engineer for our now defunct boiler. Warm showers weren’t an issue just yet as the weather was very hot.

Peter managed to find an engineer who was recommended by the boatyard. He serviced the boiler and replaced the jet at a cost of 150 euros. He said it had been well overdue for a service and promised us problem free heating/hot water from now on. The chaps in the meantime had spent the evenings playing boules with the locals. I even braved a swim in the river in order to cool off.


 One way to cool down.


 Heaven !

After an early stop at the fuel quay the following day to buy diesel, we headed south again, at last. It is probably worth mentioning at this point that our final destination for this year’s cruising had been decided the previous winter. Our friends Chris and Erf who live in the south west near Bordeaux knew of a nice port on the Canal Lateral de Garonne at Meilhan-sur-Garonne – almost the furthest port south from our starting point. It still seemed a very long way off.

The Saône was a delight after three months on the canals- wide, deep and not too winding. The lock above Seurre was our biggest to date and having successfully thrown the eye of my rope over the bollard I realised that getting it off would be a problem as the lock was so deep. After climbing the rather grubby, slimy ladder to retrieve it the first time, I decided to use a running loop on such locks in future. I could then just pull the rope down once we had descended. The other unusual feature of these locks was that the lock keeper was high up in a tower above us and in a great position to watch all the cock-ups happening below! We were also required to don our life jackets while working the locks, something not done hitherto.


 Bigger locks…


 Bigger ships….


 Paul, slightly bemused by the size of one of the Rhone passenger boats.

We were pleased to find an empty mooring at Gergy next to a restaurant. Although we were 10m too long, no one bothered us except for some children who were having fun jumping in from the pontoon. During the evening Peter and Paul moved the cars around and I watched Andy Murray lose his Wimbledon semi-final to Nadal.

We left Gergy at noon the following day, cruising in temperatures of 30C+ and passed through Chalon-sur- Saône where we saw some good moorings and noted them down for future use.


We reached Tournus at 5pm and moored up on the Quai du Nord which has free water and electricity for up to three weeks. En route we had seen several enormous working and hotel barges and were in fact awoken at 2 am the next morning during a welcome thunderstorm as one of the latter passed us, at speed, lights ablaze !

We left Tournus at midday after the inevitable car shuffle and headed for  Pont-de-Vaux which is at the end of a small branch off the Saône used by commercial barges until the start of the twentieth century. The only lock was very narrow and we almost lost one of our new rubber fenders on entering. It was also an automatic one and very fierce. We stayed there for just one night (22,50 euros inc electricity and water!) and watched Nadal win the final.

Mid-morning the following day we returned to Tournus. Fortunately our old mooring spot was still available and with some newly purchased connections we were able to avail ourselves of the free electrics. After supper, the chaps decided to have a fishing competition while I took my bike to explore the town. Paul caught a Barbel, much to Peter’s chagrin, and he was determined to catch one too………………sadly not that evening though!!

Paul left at noon the following day for his long drive back to Cherbourg and then boat to Alderney. Peter carried on fishing and caught a 30 pound catfish which broke the landing net. The next day he realised his wish of some forty years and caught his first ever Barbel. In fact, rather like buses … two came along!


 First of the bigger catfish, apologies, there are quite a few fish pictures from here on !


 My first Barbel, as a friend said afterwards ‘so it took you forty years to outwit a fish then’.

The temperature remained in the mid 30s and we tried out our air conditioning unit on the barge for the first time, with limited effect. Meanwhile Tournus prepared for the start of the seventh stage of the Tour de France.  The circus of sponsorship floats accompanying the race took over the quayside. They eventually moved off followed by the cars carrying the bikes and the coaches containing the cyclists parading through the streets until it all ground to a halt alongside the barge. We watched them get ready then hurried up to see the start. It was all over in a flash and we were amazed how quickly everything disappeared and the town returned to normal. The stifling heat continued unabated and we found ourselves eating later and later every day, dipping into a cold bath or shower in order to cool down.


 The frenzy around Lance Armstrong just opposite our Tournus mooring.


 And they’re off ! towards the Jura mountain climbs, rather them…

Leaving Tournus at 8am on 12th July and accompanied by a very welcome breeze, we headed down to Macon where we were surprised to find an empty public mooring. It was adjacent to the new Esplanade named after the French poet Lamartine. We spent the afternoon trying to cool down. Our air conditioner struggling to cope in these conditions had leaked water all over our carpet and will need a drainage tube fitted if we are to use it again.

Late afternoon and a welcome thunderstorm with hailstones rolled our way, lowering the temperature. Peter donned his swimming shorts and took the opportunity to wash the barge down, before catching yet another Barbel. The next day we explored the town. The centre appears to be based around the new Esplanade Lamartine by the river. While Peter stayed aboard and caught more fish, the town prepared for its evening pre-Bastille Day celebrations, closing roads and assembling a drive past of the armed forces and public services.


 Nicci does eventually get fed up with taking yet more fish pictures !

I went up and watched the pomp and ceremony among the burgeoning crowds and was surprised that nobody sang when the band played the ‘Marseillaise’. The strangest sight was the women police officers in their skirts and handbags holding machine guns. After an unintelligible (to me) speech by the Mayor, the festivities began, with various discos, side shows and fun fair rides. The highlight for us was the evening firework display- even better than the one at Dijon and with another ring-side seat. The next day- Bastille Day was, by comparison very quiet. The temperature increased steadily, as did the wind.

Initially we thought it was the famous ‘Mistral’, but later discovered that it had more likely been a ‘Sirocco’. I can only describe it as like being in front of a hairdryer on the medium setting- not very pleasant. Sitting inside where we could escape the wind if not the heat we were shocked to hear a loud bang overhead. Rushing up to the wheelhouse, we found that one of the three heavy roof panels was missing. It had been lifted off by the wind and blown into the river.


 A hole where the roof should be.


 Thankfully recovered and weighed down with an anchor winch wheel.

Peter grabbed the boat hook and managed to coax it around to the pontoon where I grabbed it with a broom and hung onto it, he quickly clipped the remaining two roof panels in place. Somehow we managed to manhandle the dripping panel onto the pontoon and secured it with an old anchor wheel. It certainly was a strong wind as it takes two of us to lift each panel! Another lesson learned though- we always clip them back on now after having had the wheelhouse down.


 The irony, while all this was happening a passenger ship named ‘Mistral’ moored up behind us.

Eventually, the wind and heat abated and were replaced by a cooler 22C breeze. Our Chinese food pangs were getting worse, so we visited the local Chinese restaurant by the Esplanade which did a buffet ‘eat as much as you like’ menu. I drew the line at the frog’s legs though!

We left Macon the following day and cruised down to another free mooring at Neuville-sur-Saone. As I walked to the station to go back and collect the Micra from Tournus, one of the biggest markets I have ever seen was setting up. By the time I returned it was in full swing and after a good look around we left. This was to be our last day’s cruising on the River Saône as we were heading towards Lyon and the River Rhône.

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