We got underway about 8:30 AM under gray skies and a light rain on Wednesday, 9/11. The temperature has definitely turned Autumn-like; cool and damp just like Seattle. From Chevenon to Decize, we followed the Tesserae and got somewhat acquainted with her owners, David and Louise, by chatting at each of the locks. David is a retired pediatrician and both he and Louise have been spending the past few years canal boating around France from April through October. We separated paths at Decize, as they were heading up the Nivernais Canal, which is the canal we had descended just two days ago.
While stopped outside the Decize entry canal to restock our water supply, we happened to moor right next to the boat we had passed yesterday entering Nevers that was owned by the San Francisco couple who had friends on Bainbridge Island. As Henry Warner was walking alongside their boat on the pier, thinking they were not there, the boat owner, Mary, popped out of the boat. We explained that we had been the boat that passed them yesterday outside Nevers and had yelled to them about being from Seattle. She instantly greeted us like we were long lost friends and invited us onto her boat for a tour, mentioning that she had already emailed her friends about passing someone from Bainbridge Island. Her husband Jim was not there, but Mary spent quite a bit of time with us going over the details of their beautifully restored 1916 houseboat.
Jim and Mary Neil’s boat is named the Festina Tarde, it is 24 meters long (about 76 feet) and has every convenience needed for a long stay on the canal (or anywhere, for that matter). It is also for sale, being offered at €399,000 (about $520,000). We gave Mary our contact information and she is going to relay it to their Bainbridge Island friends (the Harriets) so that we can all connect back home. It turns out that the Neils actually live in Dublin, CA, which is right next to where Jill is working in Pleasanton, CA. It is indeed a small world!
We continued motoring southeast towards Digoin and stopped again at Gannay-sur-Loire to revisit the pottery shop run by Yannick Boucard that we liked . This shop is actually not in the downtown area, but is a short walk south of the canal on the other side of the bridge. Unfortunately Yannick does not accept credit cards, so anything that is purchased must be paid for in cash. By early evening we had arrived outside Paray-le-Frésil, where we moored for the night alongside the canal. We picked this spot because, according to the guide, there is some commerce in the village. We played cards again this evening and Jill and Henry Warner handily exacted our revenge on the Davises. During the course of the game, we looked outside the boat window and saw a small swarm of fairly large wasp-like insects buzzing outside the glass window attracted by the cabin lights. Fortunately we had all our windows and doors closed, as they were rather frightful looking.
Rich scouted out the nearby village in the morning and reported back that there was little to be had in the way of commerce, so we departed our moorage. The next stop was Garnat-sur-Engièvre, which is a cute little village with a small boulangerie that actually also sold wine and water, so we were able to restock our three most important supply items. The weather was pleasant, with partly sunny skies and we made good time cruising, as the locks were infrequent. We arrived at the lock at Besbre just before noon, so rather than waiting for an hour, we decided to travel down the canal embranchment to Dompierre-sur-Besbre. The embranchment canal is about two kilometers long and very narrow. For most of the embranchment length, only one boat would fit comfortably, but luckily we passed no other boats going or coming. Dompierre-sur-Bresbe turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as the town is relatively large for this canal region and we found a good selection of restaurants and stores. Unfortunately the majority of the establishments, including the larger stores, close from between noon to 2:30 PM or 3:00 PM, so we mainly window-shopped. Nonetheless, after finding that most villages along the canal are nearly comatose, it was refreshing to discover a town that actually had a healthy number of people walking around and offered places to shop.
From Dompierre-sur-Besbre, we headed to Pierrefitte-sur-Loire, which is where we had stopped the very first evening of our trip nearly two weeks ago. This time, though, we moored in the small marina rather than camping on the canal bank. Jill and Henry Warner walked towards the village where we met an older couple who were also out for a walk with their Westie. We introduced ourselves and explained that we too owned a Westie. Their Westie was named Scotty and he was just the friendliest, happiest little Westie we have met in a long time. We walked around the village again and found as little open as the last time we were here. Throughout the voyage, we have noted vast stores of firewood, apparently used by the locals for heating. Much more firewood than we have ever seen even in our forested Pacific Northwest. One of the most impressive stores of firewood that we saw anywhere was in Pierrefitte-sur-Loire. The homeowner had basically walled his entire back yard with firewood.
That evening, we returned to the La Péniche restaurant for another great meal. The waitress was quite engaging and she let me (Henry Warner) practice my French for a good length of time every time she visited our table. There was only one other person in the restaurant besides our party, so we wondered how they survived. She explained that they get most of their business on Sundays during the off season and that they are quite busy during the summer, so we gathered that business was at least good enough.
Friday morning, September 13, we had a leisurely start to the day, taking showers and enjoying our last Dawn Davis-prepared breakfast. We got underway about 10:00 AM for our final three-hour stretch into Digoin. It’s hard to believe that two full weeks have gone by! We took our time motoring along at a reduced speed, just to savor the final sights and French countryside ambiance. We had only three locks to traverse today, so the trip was mostly slow cruising into increasingly active countryside, as we approached the outskirts of the city of Digoin. Rich and I commented that even though we were repeating territory that we had passed two weeks earlier, it all seemed fresh and new. We noticed things that had not registered on the trip out. For instance, the last lock before Digoin (or the first leaving Digoin) was an éclusier-operated automated lock. We had been so hyped-up and unaware when we first passed through that lock, that we did not even notice it was different from all the others along the Canal Latéral à la Loire. Also, the return trip across the narrow and long Pont de Digoin was a piece-of-cake this time. Henry Warner recalls that two weeks ago he was on edge crossing it for the first time, but after two weeks of experience he was much more comfortable. But the pièce de résistance of the return trip was when he backed our boat into the slip at the Canalous facility in Digoin. The slip was only one boat-width wide and we got into it with a minimum of fuss and stress. As we were back in Digoin about 3:00 PM Friday afternoon and the boat was not due to be turned-in until 9:00 AM the next morning, we caught up on some email using the Canalous Wi-Fi, had our final happy hour on the boat, then another great Burgundian dinner.
All in all, we traveled through 118 locks and about 250 kilometers of canals in two weeks. Would we do it again? You bet – in a heartbeat! We concluded, though, we would probably favor locations, given a choice, where the density of locks was lower than the Nivernais, as a large percentage of the traveling day can be spent just traversing the locks. We are talking about possibly targeting southwestern France for our next trip.
After a no-fuss checkout by the Canalous representative to ensure the boat was still basically afloat, Rich and Dawn departed on the 9:40 AM train from Digoin to Paris. As we are heading directly to CDG, Jill and Henry Warner elected to spend a few hours exploring Digoin and taking a more direct train to the airport leaving at 2:10PM. Maintenant nous avons fini. C’est tout pour nos vacances sur les canaux de Bourgogne! Au revoir!!