As usual, we got underway about 9:15 AM. After yesterday’s (Sunday) all-afternoon rains, we awoke to mostly sunny skies. We made fairly good time to Decize as we passed through only four active locks. For once our luck put us on the exiting side of the last manual lock at Decize about 11:55 AM, so we eluded the noon-time shutdown. We had trailed a Canalous Tarpon 42 boat for a couple of hours that was occupied by two young German couples. They fish-tailed all over the canal and banged their way through the locks and under the narrow-passage bridges. We figured they did not know how to use their bow thrusters, as we observed them frantically cranking back-and-forth on their steering wheel. We separated in Decize, so that was the end of our entertainment.
Halfway to Decize the couple from the UK that we had met at dinner last evening passed our boat on their bicycles on the tow path. They were heavily laden with their saddle bags, but were still moving faster than our boat. They stopped on a bridge that we were passing under, so we were able to able to snap their picture and yell a few words of greeting and encouragement. Henry Warner yelled out the URL of his blog (https://www.henrywarner.com) to them as we passed under the bridge, but it is doubtful to me that they would have been able to remember it. We never did even get their names, but if by some miracle they recall the URL and read about themselves – cheers!
At Decize, under warm sunny skies, Rich and Henry Warner biked from our moorage just above the Decize dam a kilometer or so to the local Carrefour, which is a big European grocery store chain. We picked up the usual provisions of wine, water and food. As we were checking out, I asked the cashier to divide the charge between our two credit cards, which we had routinely been doing on the trip. She said no problem, but for some reason Rich’s card would not scan. We noticed that the scanner was poorly set in its holding frame and every time he swiped the card, it caught on the edge of the frame. Once we figured that out to the point where the card could then swipe smoothly through the scanner, we then proceeded to get an “unable to read” error message. All this while the line at the checkout counter was building and we looked up and there were easily a dozen people in line. So Rich gave up with his credit card for his half of the grocery bill and paid in cash. The cashier then reset the amount due to my half. I inserted my chip-and-pin credit card (which does not have to be swiped) and the transaction sailed right through. Travel tip of the day: get a chip-and-pin credit card before coming to Europe! All of the kiosks and even some of the smaller restaurants/shops don’t process the American style signature cards. We got our chip-and-pin cards through USAA and we have had no issues at all.
As we were slowly transitioning from the Nivernais Canal to the Loire Lateral Canal along the Loire River, the guidebook advises hugging the east bank of the river to avoid running into shallow waters. This channel in the Loire River is clearly marked by buoys, and is rather narrow, so there is little room for maneuvering or straying. Unfortunately, for some strange reason, a local fisherman chose just this location to be fishing and we ran over his bobber. As soon as I noticed that we had snagged his line, I reversed the boat and unbelievably, his bobber and lure sprang back and he was able to reel them in undamaged. We must have snagged his line on the rudder or some other boat part other than the propeller. However, rather than shouting and cursing at us, as I would have expected, he politely waved at us and thanked us as we continued on our way. What a pleasant gentilhomme!
We transitioned through the two automatic locks on either side of the Decize port marina back onto the Loire Lateral Canal. We had been on the Nivernais Canal for the past six days and we had gotten used to the narrow passages and many locks. We quickly noted how refreshingly wide the Canal Latéral à la Loire is, how wide most of the bridge passages are and how infrequent the locks are. Not only that, but the scenery is just as beautiful as the Nivernais Canal, in our opinion. We wondered why the guidebook seemed to be so heavily pro-Nivernais. While it is definitely a unique, non-American experience to passage through a manual lock with the assistance of the éclusier (lock-keeper), after fifty or sixty locks, the thrill is largely gone. This is particularly the case where one has to wait 20 or 30 minutes for an overworked éclusier to show up, as they often zip up and down the canal on motor bikes or bicycles servicing their assigned two or three locks. We did not encounter any lock-keepers who operated more than one lock on the Loire Lateral Canal.
The guidebook advises that it is a full day from Decize to Nevers (pronounced nay-ver). We left Decize about 1:00 PM and traveled roughly 30 kilometers and through 5 locks by around 6:00 PM, which put us about three-fourths of the way to Nevers. We moored for the evening at the tiny village of Chevenon. After securing the boat, we all walked a few kilometers into and through the town, passing hardly a living soul. We were mainly looking for the Château de Chevenon, which is prominently indicated in our guidebook, but it proved to be elusive. The château is completely surrounded by a forest of tall trees. We circled the château from every angle, but caught only glimpses through the heavily leaved trees. Obviously the owners do not want to be disturbed by tourists.
The village’s streets were fairly busy with passing cars, but the “downtown” was completely deserted in terms of people walking around on the sidewalks. There is a small grocery store, bakery and a bar/restaurant in town. As we passed the bar/restaurant we saw a few people inside, but we did not go in. There are quite a few houses in the village, some dating obviously from times long ago and even a development of newer, modern houses, but we all wondered what the people did for excitement or activities. Perhaps it is mainly just a “bedroom community”. We did pass one couple working in their yard and I asked them how the name of the town is pronounced. They replied what sounded to me like “shem-know”. This did not sound at all like what I expected, as there is no “m” in Chevenon. I had them repeat it a couple of times, so I’m pretty sure that is what I heard, but it still did not seem right to me.
At this point, we are a couple of hours from Nevers, which we hope to reach by mid-morning tomorrow (Tuesday). Nevers is by far the largest city we will have visited on the canals, so we are looking forward to a city with some hustle-and-bustle for a change. Nevers has approximately 43,000 people, according to the internet. This is in contrast to Decize with 6,500 and Digoin with 8,800; the two next largest towns on our voyage. While the day started sunny and became warm at mid-day, by late afternoon the skies were heavily clouded and we ran into some rain. But it rained for only a short while and not very heavily. However, the latest forecast calls for 70% chance of rain tomorrow, so we may be back into another soggy day like we experienced over the weekend. There is no question, though, that the hot weather we experienced all of last week has broken and is unlikely, in my opinion, to be seen again this season. The forecast is calling for mostly dry conditions for the remainder of this week, so we are hopeful that we can finish out the trip with decent weather.
We woke early Tuesday morning and were underway by 7:50 AM – a new record for us! Our plan had been to pass through the two automated locks at the entrance to the Nevers port bright and early, but like the best-laid plans, we learned something new. We arrived at the first automated lock about 8:30 AM and pulled the dangling halyard cord. But nothing happened. We concluded that the automated locks, just like the manual locks, don’t open for business until 9:00 AM. So we gathered in the cabin and waited. The good news is that we didn’t get any rain overnight and this morning was looking promising. There was a fairly heavy cloud cover and it was cool, but there were encouraging breaks in the clouds. For the next three days, the local forecast predicts 64, 63 and 62 degrees for a high with a 60% chance of rain today, dropping to 20% and 10%. We noted that the forecast for back home on Bainbridge Island for the next three days was for 80 today, followed by 89 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. C’est la vie!
The automated locks indeed started functioning at 9:00 AM and we passed through the beautifully tree-lined Embranchement de Nevers into the port marina of Nevers. As we motored towards the port, we passed a beautiful older, Dutch-style canal boat that was flying an American flag. We yelled to the owners in passing that we were from Seattle and they replied that they were from San Francisco, but had friends on Bainbridge Island. We yelled back that that is where we actually lived. We tied up at the first available moorage slip, then Rich and I walked around scouting out the rather large marina. We spotted a boat with what I thought was a rather clever name – the “Excargot”. Apparently it was a former Dutch cargo boat before being restored. We learned that it was free to moor there, as long as we did not spend the night in the marina. As we were planning on departing around 5:00 PM, this was not a problem.
We all walked across the Loire River bridge into the downtown and meandered fairly directly to the medieval cathedral of St. Cyr. We learned that the cathedral, which is a French national monument, was accidentally bombed by the Allies during World War II, destroying all the original stained glass. The cathedral was repaired, but rather than attempting to replicate the original stained glass design, the widows were replaced with more contemporary images. One person we talked to likened the works to a Picasso’s version of stained glass. All of us, however, thought the cathedral and the stained glass windows were magnificent.
Jill had her heart set on visiting the various faïenceries (ceramic shops) scattered around town, so we made a big loop through the shopping district. Along the way we passed the remains of the Porte du Croux, which was one of the original town gates built into the medieval defensive wall surrounding Nevers. We saw depictions of what the town looked like as a walled city in the 1600′s. Jill and I commented that France would be so much more charming if only all the old medieval walls and buildings remained today. Of course this is facetious, as life marches on and “progress” demands change. We then visited the convent Espace Bernadette where the body of St. Bernadette lies. We were able to have a quick viewing in the chapel before it closed at 12:30 PM, but then had to leave.
After lunch at an outdoor café, Rich and Dawn headed back to the boat, but Jill and Henry Warner continued walking through the town. Jill found some beautiful pottery that she bought. I had been searching for a Laguiole pocket knife, which my Skype friend François had brought to my attention. While it comes in several designs, the traditional version is a single bladed knife with a corkscrew. Ostensibly, this is the type of pocket knife that a French man of my grandfather’s vintage might have carried in his pocket. I had been warned by François that there were many knock-offs being offered for sale, as the originals cost over €100. However, I was only able to find a non-original being offered for sale in Nevers.
While we were walking through the pedestrian district, we witnessed a rather large demonstration of public service employees who were on strike for the day. We had previously been warned that the strike might possibly affect the operation of the automated locks entering Nevers, but there was no impact that we could determine. There easily had to have been over 1,000 demonstrators marching though the streets with a police escort. Most of the signs that I read were asking for the retirement age to be rolled back to 60 and for a minimum of €1700 to be paid monthly to all retirees.
We departed Nevers about 5:00 PM and headed back to Digoin. Our plan was to get a little distance accomplished so that we would comfortably be able to make the three day trip back to Digoin. We ended up mooring at the exact same location outside Chevenon that we had moored at yesterday. This time, though, rather than being alone at the pier, we spent the night with three other canal boats. One of them was a beautiful Dutch-style houseboat named the Tesserae and built in England in 2006. As we were docking, the owner of the Tesserae gave us a hand with the lines. Henry Warner asked him if he spoke English, to which he replied” I am English!”. So that settled that!