French canals 2008

Ardennes to Auxerre

2008 was the year that we decided to take the boat from the Ardennes where we had kept her for the last four years towards the centre of France. The idea was that we had explored the Meuse and the Aisne and now we wanted to venture further afield. We arrived on Friday, 18th April at Pont à Bar close to Sedan where Liberty had spent the winter. We had emailed ahead and asked for electricity to be connected and a gangplank provided as the boat was in the water and not easily accessible. This had not been done so we searched the yard and found a suitable plank, and connected the electricity ourselves. We were then able to make the famous English cup of tea to eat with the home-made cake we had brought with us.

We spent the next few days cleaning, putting the engine into commission and touching up the paintwork. We also planned to spend some time in Sedan visiting a dentist which we had pre-arranged, as John was to have a bridge fitted at a slightly cheaper price than had been quoted in the UK.

 The boat had been put into the water by a commercial company contracted to provide a crane to lift in several boats. Normally this would have been done by Bruno, one of the partners, with the creaky old crane on site. But sadly he had a stroke in August the previous year and had not been able to work since. The remaining partner was Dominique who had put the yard up for sale as she does not believe she can carry on on her own. In the meantime any necessary repairs were being done by Cedric from Ardennes Nautisme the hire company who were based just across the canal.

We began unpacking and putting stuff away but I had to stop my activity whilst John reconnected the water system. To do this he had to lie on the galley floor with his head under the sink. So I could not move without falling over his legs. When he had finished I was able to fill the cupboards and start to make the place like home.

We were very pleased to be back here on our beloved boat in France which we enjoy more and more each year.

Saturday, 19th April, 2008, Pont à Bar

Yesterday was something of a disaster. We filled the water tanks last night and the weight of the water in the tank caused the boat to settle lower in the water causing the engine water-intake to fall below the level of water in the canal. I had heard running water when we went to bed but John dismissed it as being outside the boat. I think we were both too tired to think sensibly. It was good that we were not at sea because water had been running into the boat all night as the engine hoses had been disconnected to winterise the engine. The result was a bilge full of water as the automatic bilge pump had chosen that time to block and cease working. We had to set to with buckets and bale the water out, back into the canal. This took us all morning and I had not begun to unpack our clothes and hang them in our lockers. Bryan and Ruth of Marie-Rose were already here. They have just come out for three weeks and were planning a short trip on the boat but found so much to do that they have just stayed in the yard. They have been here two weeks already and invited us for drinks. Bryan is a retired dentist with a great sense of humour and a talent for mimicry. Ruth is a very skilled artist. They told us that it had done nothing but rain since they arrived as was evidenced by the swollen rivers and flooded fields we noticed on our way here in the car.

Wednesday, 23rd, April, 2008, Pont à Bar

Yesterday was Dentist Day. We discarded our working clothes and smartened ourselves up for a day in town. The dentists' was on the ground floor of a sixties-style block of flats in a rather dingy area on the edge of town. The dentist's assistant let us in in answer to my buzz on the entry-phone. The dentist was still at lunch but she set about taking details. The dentist, when he arrived, spoke a little English and told us he had just returned from London. He was in his forties, brown, greying hair and angular features. Although he speaks English he addresses all his remarks to me as though I needed to translate them to John. I find this is something that happens often.

Back at the boatyard we discovered that another English couple had arrived, Bill and Julie on Sulis.

Thursday, 24th April, 2008, Pont à Bar

We had drinks aboard Sulis with Bill and Julie, and Bryan and Ruth of Marie-Rose plus Dominique. So our socialising was done in Franglais as Dominique does not speak English.

Sulis is a lovely modern barge that was built only six years ago. Bill and Julie have been cruising in Britain and only brought her over to the continent last year, beginning in Holland. Julie still spends a lot of time in Britain as she has a 94 year old mother there.

Sunday, 27th April, Pont à Bar

We believed that we had got the boat straight until John found rot in the woodwork of the door frame. He searched the boatyard and was able to find a scrap piece of wood to replace the rotten section but we may need to have new doors made. The highlight of the day was an evening barbecue in the yard. As well as Bill and Julie and Bryan and Ruth we invited Guy and Nicole, a French couple on the boat next door. They had little English but again we managed in Franglais. We had a great time; we all got a little merry and sang English and French songs and the weather was kind to us. When the barbecue was finished the men put twigs and scrap wood onto it and turned it into a bonfire around which we sat with coffee and hot chocolate. We were just thinking of turning in when two shadowy figures emerged from the darkness. We thought it was someone come to complain of the noise and we greeted them in French. It turned out to be Kevin and Yvonne, an Australian couple, who had just arrived to take possession of their boat. We produced more coffee and barbecue leftovers for them whilst John went to get a huge torch and accompanied Kevin along the towpath to find their boat. It was the very last one at the end of the bank.

Tuesday, 29th April, Pont à Bar

Yesterday we drove into Villers Semeuse where there is an out of town shopping estate. We drove through the countryside, enjoying the scenery and the French architecture. All the houses were constructed of stone with shutters. There were a lot of new houses, but also many ancient ones. The French favour dormer windows, turrets, stone features around windows and doorways and the occasional hipped roof.

It was a lovely time of year for flowers. The tulips were in full bloom and were a riot of colour. As well as the usual reds and yellows there were salmon pink and a deep burgundy. Blossom trees were showing their finery everywhere like ladies powder puffs, dusting the roadside with delicate pink petals. Clematis adorned ancient walls.

After our shopping we had lunch at our favourite transport café, La Fringale (the appetite). Our usual meal was an 'Americain' - a baguette filled with meat (we chose ham) and thin-cut, crisp, frîtes, served with a dish of mayonnaise for the chips. I suppose that is the French equivalent of a 'chip butty'.

As we returned to Pont-a-Bar we saw a boat, not unlike ours, in the lock. We judged them to be amateurs as they handled the lock very badly, mooring on the opposite site to the operating mechanism which meant that the woman had not only to climb the ladder to attach their ropes but then had to walk around the lock and across the lock gates to where the mechanism was. They came through the lock and then moored just in front of us. The skipper came along to engage us in conversation but did not endear himself to us. He was full of complaints about the French - about their lunch-time closing, the shop closures on Monday, the lack of supermarkets close to the canal, the scarcity of bankside fuel points etc. He said that he had been told to bring extra fuel cans and now realised why. Fuel is hard to get although it is available here, but maybe not on Monday. Why, I wonder, did he not heed the advice and bring the spare cans? He went round all the boats moaning in this way and earned himself the name of the 'whingeing Aussie'. We had invited the other boaters for drinks that evening but I am afraid he did not get an invite.

Wednesday, 30th April, 2008, Pont à Bar

It was still very cool and we lit our diesel stove, mainly to check that it was working but it made the boat so cosy that we kept it on all day.

We began to plan our cruising for this year. We were hoping to get to Vermenton, just off the Canal du Nivernais. On checking the Internet we have discovered that a) the water levels are so high in the Nivernais that it is closed for navigation at the moment, and b) there are going to be chomages (lock closures) on the Marne which is the route we will take to get there. The chomages start on the 16th May. It is unlikely that we could get through by then, especially as the Canal des Ardennes, the canal we are at the beginning of and down which we will travel, is not open yet after winter closing.

Friday, 2nd May, 2008, Pont à Barn

Wednesday we drove to Vermenton by car to look at possible mooring for next year and to talk to them about re-painting our boat. The paint is flaking off badly. The journey took around 4 hrs. We drove through beautiful country side with rolling vistas of fields and woods.  Once off the motorway we drove through little towns and villages straight out of the pages of Victor Hugo, except there were cars parked outside the houses and lorries on the roads. The houses were mostly built end-on to the road with gated courtyards alongside where stock would have been kept and wagons driven in.

We saw a curious feature which so far we have no explanation for - tiny stone huts with chimneys but with open doorways, dotted about the fields and waysides. My best guess is that they were shelters for farm workers.

Vermenton was lovely. It is a charming medieval town built on the river Cure which is only navigable to this point and ends in a huge basin where there is a port de plaisance. Several boats were tied up and they had obviously over-wintered there. The sun shone, bathing everything in a summery glow. We had arranged to meet the manager of the port but he had not yet arrived so we went into town in search of food. In typical French fashion everywhere was closed except the bar/tabac who served sandwiches. But as it was after 14h00 they had no food left. We made do with coffee and biscuits and went back to the port. The manager had still not arrived and in fact sent his apologies. We thought this was rather poor as we had made an appointment and come a long way. But we talked to his deputy. They were willing to have our boat for the winter and were willing to re-paint her but want to see the actual boat. We felt we had wasted our journey especially as it was too late to travel back.

We stayed overnight in a chamber d'hôte run by an English couple, Alison and Mark Walters at 15 Place Voltaire. They have just three double rooms with ensuite bathrooms. It was delightful - very French. From the porch one entered a conservatory looking out onto a gravelled courtyard. The sitting room and dining room, furnished in French style, were to the right and flight of stone steps led to the bedrooms. When we arrived at 15h00 Alison made us an omelette - a late lunch.

We went for a walk around the town later, through narrow alleyways and higgledy-piggledy staircases. On our journey home we avoided the motorway and drove through a forest. A hare leapt across the road in front of us, grouse and hawks took to the air.

Sunday, 4th May, 2008, Pont à Bar

The Canal des Ardennes was due to open today, four days later than scheduled. Boats have passed us on their way into the canal and have not come back, and the Australians have left, so they may be waiting further down or the canal is now open. We have decided that if we set off on Tuesday we will be able to travel along the Marne and get ahead of the closures before the 16th. The closures are not in sequence so we will have to keep an eye on the dates as we travel along. John has had his final visit to the dentist, our bills were paid, and he now has a nice smile.

Tuesday, 6th May, 2008, La Chesne

We left yesterday after checking with Dominique that the canal was open. We found her much chirpier. She was able to tell us that the yard had been sold to Ardennes Nautisme the hire boat base across the canal. She has been promised employment for at least a year.

We left our car in the hangar and will return to collect it at the end of the trip.

We left at 09h00. Our first lock, St. Aignon, was about 1 km away. When we reached it I pressed the télécommande (a hand held remote control) but nothing happened. The lock gates remained closed. There was no place where I could jump off to investigate. We could see a digger at work beyond the lock cottage and several men at work. Eventually two of them detached themselves from the work gang and came down the canal to us. This was when I had a 'lightbulb moment'. They spoke to us in French and I understood them! Until now, although I could make myself understood in French, I had great difficulty understanding any reply. They explained that they were working beyond the lock installing a big pump, and asked us if we were in a hurry. I said, 'No' but would we be able to get through today? 'Oh yes' he said, in half an hour. We settled down to wait and sure enough, in half an hour we were allowed into the lock. A workman came back to tell us that there was only one metre of water in the basin beyond the lock and he was letting more water through and would open the lock gates when it was deep enough . Eventually we exited the lock, went into the basin and through the little tunnel just beyond it. The digger was excavating a large trench alongside the canal and we could see lengths of 1m diameter pipe waiting to be laid.

The rest of the trip was very pleasant. The weather was sunny and warm with a nice breeze. The birds sang, herons rose up at our approach and the trees were acquiring their early greenery. Spring was in the air.

At the lock at Malmy the lock-keeper had lit a bonfire of branches he had pulled from the canal. The smell of wood-smoke hung in the air, a smell I will always associate with France, and in particular the Ardennes.We pulled into La Chesne at 13h15 behind a Dutch boat. This is a free mooring with water and electricity right in the heart of a French town, close by the church. From here we will use the Montgon staircase of locks.

Thursday, 8th May, 2008, Attigny

In La Chesne there is a lovely restaurant called La Charrue d'Or (The Golden Plough) quite close to the mooring. We had a meal there on Tuesday night. It is a homely restaurant where the madame waits on the tables and her husband cooks. John chose an omelette and had the nerve to say that it was fluffier than the ones I make!

 On Wednesday we were ready to leave by 08h00 when a peniche, called Carthage, which had been tied to the commercial quay a little further along the canal, overtook us. He, of course, had priority at the lock. A hire boat, Stenay, arrived and was looking for a mooring so we cast off to make room for them and followed the peniche. At the lock the keeper asked us to hang back and let the peniche get ahead and also to wait for another boat which was coming up behind us.

Then followed a most frustrating day: it took us nine hours to travel through the 26 locks in the Montgon flight. We had previously done this in four hours. We had to keep waiting for Carthage to clear the lock ahead of us and a couple of the locks were not working properly. We had a green light but the gates remained closed.

We travelled in company with a young Frenchman, Alain, and his father Jean-Paul on their small boat. After the second lock Alain and Jean-Paul had to take over operating the lock mechanism as it was at the back of the lock and we had gone in first. On one occasion we were waiting for the keeper to give us the signal to operate the mechanism, John had gone to the toilet and I suddenly noticed that the water level was dropping and we were still tied on. We were in danger of being 'hung up'. Alain had operated the mechanism without telling us. I managed to free our ropes but one of them jammed again and John rushed on deck in time to cut it. It is always very upsetting when you have to cut precious ropes.

It was very, very hot, boring and frustrating. The countryside around us was beautiful with the trees just coming into leaf and herons flying over the boat, but we scarcely had time to appreciate it.

At one point I looked down into a valley alongside the canal to see a family picnicking in the shade beside a water mill. How I envied them as I sat in the full sun holding a rope which I was paying out.

Just when we thought that things could not get any worse, two locks before the end of the flight, our throttle cable snapped. We limped into the next lock with great difficulty. We had had to wait for this lock, it was a junction, and there were posts in mid-stream to tie to. John misjudged his approach and the strength of the current and we hit the post broadside on and made a dent in the gunwale. From this point on John had to kneel on the floor of the wheelhouse and operate the throttle cable manually whilst I steered. We came to a long straight stretch and the French boat passed us saying he was going to ask the peniche for permission to overtake and indicated to us to follow them. The peniche did allow us to pass. It was quite a narrow part of the canal and I was very nervous as peniches push a great wall of water ahead of them, and create a lot of suction behind which can pull a small boat in towards them. John from his position on the wheelhouse floor kept saying 'Are we there yet?' We made it without mishap except to my nerves, and tied up at Attigny at 18h00.

Friday, 9th May, 2008, Asfeld

We were very tired last night and John left fixing the throttle cable until this morning. Alain came by later to ask what time we would be leaving and when we explained our problem he told us he was a studying engineering at the Lycée d'Agriculture in Chalons-en-Champagne and offered to help. John invited him in to view the situation, but what we needed was a welder to replace the metal piece holding the throttle cable in place as it has broken off. He explained to Alain that he would fashion something in wood to make a temporary repair.

John had the floor up this morning before I was out of bed and only broke off his repairs for a few minutes to eat his breakfast.

We decided to set off when he had finished, regardless of the time, but when I returned from buying bread John was putting the floor back and it was only 08h45. He had made a temporary repair with a piece of wood and cable ties. We had waved Alun and his father off at 07h00. We now set off down the tree lined canal with the sound of bird song in our ears and the call of a distant cuckoo. The bushes on either side smelled of spring and the sun was shining whilst a cool breeze made the trip very pleasant.

 At our third lock we found a German boat, Arnoldina, who had also been on our mooring but who had left earlier. They were held up by the peniche of yesterday and the skipper of Arnoldina had had a word with the skipper of the peniche who had agreed to let them overtake. We went through the lock with Arnoldina and when we caught up with Carthage the peniche stopped to allow us to pass. The bottle of wine that Arnoldina gave them must have been appreciated.

At the next lock there was a problem. The operating mechanism was a pole over the canal and Arnoldina had missed it. They radioed us and asked us to do it when we approached.

There were two lovely children outside the lock cottage, clutching long-haired terriers. They were showing the boats to the dogs and held their paws up to wave. I ran to get my camera and they stood and posed for me. I think they had done it before.

We finally reached Asfeld where Arnoldina had friends waiting. Their friends helped us in. It was a pleasant rural mooring with no facilities but a small supermarket a little way along the main road.

Saturday, 10th May, 2008, Reims

We left Asfeld before 08h00 so that we could keep ahead of Carthage. All the locks were operated by a twist pole over the canal. The day was cool and breezy and the sun came out at lunchtime. As we passed down the canal we saw a deer swimming alongside. I hope it got out.

When we emerged into the basin at Berry-au-Bac we were not sure how to contact the keeper who operates the first lock on the Canal de la Marne a la Saône. We hung about hoping we would be seen by the lock keeper at the other end of the basin and we were, but it took a long time. There were lots of fishermen at the junction which made manoeuvring difficult and we touched the bottom whilst trying to avoid a peniche emerging from the lock. Whilst we were waiting we were blown across to one corner where a fisherman had three or four lines out. He had to pull them in and was not best pleased. The wind, together with a strong sluice caught us again when entering the lock and we hit the wall. Our boat is almost flat bottomed and skitters across the surface of the water in the wind. It does not help that French fishermen always choose corners, or under bridges at the narrowest point, to do their fishing.

The canal was very pretty with good banks but the locks did not seem well maintained. There were few bollards, one lock had a broken ladder and there were no ladders by the operating mechanism once we were in the lock. We had to moor by the ladder further back and one of us had to climb it and walk to the mechanism.

We met a family of ducks crossing the river in front of us. The mother duck changed her mind directly in front of us and all the little ducklings were scattered as we passed. So the mother duck flew ahead of us for quite a distance, drawing us away from the ducklings. When she thought she had taken this monster far enough she flew into the air, almost saying, "Aha, can't get me!"

We saw a kingfisher and some wagtails alongside the canal, and the air was rich with the scent of hawthorn and apple blossom.

Once we were into the industrial outskirts of Reims we began to meet other boats, particularly peniches. Two were tied up, but a third was approaching us in an area where there were lots of bridges and so the canal was narrow where they were. We hung back so that we could pass it in a wider part of the canal and a rowing boat decided to overtake us at that point. We then had lots of rowing boats to contend with as well as the peniche. We had already touched the bottom further back when we got too close to the side and caught by our own wash. So John was nervous and he was cross with the rowing boat. But we pulled into Reims without problems just before 15h00. The marina has good facilities and we were grateful to make use of the showers before going for a walk into the town. We walked round the cathedral and took photos. It was very impressive. We saw the smiling angel and the lovely Chagall windows. A lovely breeze kept the evening cool.

Tuesday, 13th May, 2008, Sillery/Condé

We spent a few days in Reims enjoying exploring the town. On Saturday afternoon we took the petit train for tourists around the town. The trip lasted 45 minutes and there was a commentary in three languages, including English, It was disappointing in that it did not take us as far as the Mars Gate, which is a Roman construction which we were looking forward to seeing again. Also a lot of the sights were high up and could not easily be seen as the train did not have a glass roof. But Reims is a lovely city and we could have spent longer there, but needed to move on.

We left at lunchtime on Monday for Sillery which was 10km and 4 locks along the river. But it was not our day. As we reversed from our pontoon a peniche emerged from the opposite direction which meant that we would need to give them precedence. The first lock was radar operated and it did not open. I went ashore and called the lock keeper from the lock. When he arrived he explained that we probably had not got close enough to the radar detector.

 We were through the next lock in 10 mins and on our way at last or so we thought, but when we reached the next lock we found the one and only ladder was at the back of the lock, well away from the operating mechanism. We tied to it and John went up the ladder to the mechanism. As he watched the lock gates close he realised that the dinghy was about to be crushed by them. He shouted to me to pull on the forward line and move the boat forward, which I did, but he also operated the red lever which stops the operation of the lock. We then had to call the lock keeper again (poor man and it was a hot day and a Sunday!). John had to do this as he was on the lock side. I was on the boat which was now forward of the ladder preventing me from getting ashore. John does not have much French but the important thing was the number of the lock. I apologised to the keeper and said "Les Anglaises encore". When we were freed I gave him a cold can of beer from the fridge to which he said, "Merveilleuse".

We moved on to the next lock and even then our problems were not over. The top gates failed to open when the lock had finished its operation. The intercom on the lock side did not work. The number I called on my mobile was no longer in use. There was a lock cottage but there was no one at home. Fortunately the locks are monitored remotely and eventually a different lock keeper in a van arrived to release us. It took 30 mins.

We eventually tied up in the little marina at Sillery at 14h15. There were only three other boats there - all unoccupied. The Capitainerie was closed but a young man came along to collect our money and only charged half the advertised rate. In the cool of the late afternoon we walked ashore and found a fair in full operation. This was the Pentecost fair with dodgems and waltzers. Everyone was having a great time but it was very noisy.

Leaving the next day we were frustrated when a peniche got ahead of us yet again. It was incredibly slow and we had to wait at every lock. On the long stretches we dawdled behind him at 2 knots - less than walking speed. Our consolation was watching the pied wagtails which use the canal-side bollards as resting and vantage points.

There was a tunnel to negotiate and the peniche entered and we were all set to follow but there were lights which turned red as we approached. I called on the intercom and was told to wait for half an hour. A second peniche arrived and got a green light to go through. After forty minutes I called again and was still told to wait. Yet another peniche arrived and was allowed through. At this point we settled down for a long wait and decided to rub down our paintwork ready for re-painting whilst we waited. After an hour we heard a voice on the intercom which said, "Five minutes". We prepared to cast off and sure enough got a green light.

After the tunnel there was a flight of eight locks. We were now following three peniches and the journey down the flight was incredibly slow in consequence. We reached Condé at 15h50 and were welcomed into the small marina by a Frenchman from one of the boats moored there. Shortly afterwards the Capitaine came to say, "Hello". I offered to pay and he said he would be back at 19h00. We walked into the town and enquired at the hotel about an evening meal. The lady at the bar said she would be serving at 19h00. So after we had paid the Capitaine we returned for our meal. We were the only customers. The dining room was old fashioned French-style with converted gas lamps. The Madame welcomed us and said, "Choose your table and help yourself from the buffet". The buffet was simple hors d'oeuvres - hard-boiled egg, cold leeks, chopped beetroot, grated carrot, grated cabbage, etc. The Madame told us that the main course was turkey with cold potato, and haricot beans or cauliflower. We expected a slice of turkey breast, instead we were each served what could only be described as a 'haunch' of turkey, big enough to have provided Christmas dinner for four. It was impossible to eat it all but the Madame was happy to provide a doggy-bag. (That turkey provided us with a further three meals.) Dessert was soft white cheese (with sugar), apple tart and coffee/chocolate. With wine our bill came to less than €35. When we left around 20h00 Madame locked the outer door after us. They were obviously not expecting any further customers.

Wednesday, 14th May, 2008, Mont St. Père

We left at 07h00 in the hope of getting ahead of any peniches and a German boat followed us into the river Marne. We passed a notice telling us that the locks would be open from 08h00 to 18h00 so we slowed down and reached the first lock just as the church clock struck 08h00.

As we approached we saw a peniche, which as first seemed to be tied up alongside, but as we drew nearer we saw that he was reversing into the lock. We moored up and walked down to the lock to find out what was happening. The bargee explained that they were dredging and he was ferrying mud from this bief to a point further up the canal. Then we saw another peniche coming the opposite way and we had to give him priority. The whole process took 50 mins, so much for starting early to avoid peniches.

We next came to a lifting bridge. The German boat was well behind so I signalled to them to catch up in order to pass through it together. They were grateful.

There were no problems at the next lock and we passed a pretty port de plaisance at Marieul sur Ay but it was too early in the day to stop. But as we approached the next lock we saw a hotel boat already in the lock. The gates were open so we pulled into the side to wait for it to exit. A passing Frenchman said that there was a problem with the gates. Eventually the hotel boat exited the lock and tied up outside. We operated the pole and got a green light so we prepared to enter, whereupon a man on the lock side, in VNF uniform waved us off. We were alongside the hotel boat at that point which had moored up, and we asked permission to tie to them until we had the all clear. We saw that there was a fuel line across the lock and the VNF van was being refuelled with this. The whole process took 50 mins. We learned later that this was the famous lock from one of the Maigret books - "Murder at Lock 13" or something similar.

At Tours there was a notice by the lock informing us that in the days of horse drawn barges there was a relais there which supplied hay and oats for the horses, and food for the bargees. It had now been turned into an inn. It also told us that in 1910 there was a disastrous flood which inundated the town and all the wattle and daub houses along the river were washed away.

It is Champagne countryside here. We became aware of vineyards on the hillsides and caves for the sale of wine along the river. There was also a series of very attractive two-dimensional metal sculptures along the bank, depicting the process of champagne making.

At the third lock on the Canal Lateral à la Marne a young lock keeper with a fancy beard issued us with a télécommande to operate the locks. He explained that work was being carried out on the bridge at Reuil and we must take care. He also said that this lock and the next two would be closed on Sunday so we would not be able to return. Providing we can get through to Meaux we will not want to return, we will be past all the lock closures.

As we approached the next lock, Damery, we operated the télécommande but nothing happened. We waited a while and then I went ashore and found the far gates open, and half a dozen workmen lunching in the shade of the lock keepers cottage. They had obviously already started work on the lock. They left their lunch and tied ropes to the lock gates in order to open them manually for us. We had hoped to stop there but at the urging of the lock keeper we continued to Courcelles so that we would be beyond the first series of closures.

Whilst we were waiting for the lock at Ay I saw a Frenchman harvesting nettles. He was not just cutting them down. He was cutting them carefully and putting them in a cardboard box. Nettle beer? Salad?

We continued on through Reuil, Port à Binson, Vandières, Dormans to Courcelles, but there was nowhere to tie up at Courcelles. The mooring outside the lock was entirely taken up by a boat which was under repair. We carried on to Jaulgonne where there should have been a halte nautique, but again there was nothing.

We finally were able to tie up at an attractive grassy waiting quay before the lock at Mont St. Père. We had travelled 60.5k that day in 9 and half hrs. We had passed through eight locks, of which four had had problems.

Friday, 16th May, 2008, Chateau Thierry

We moved just 10 km. and went through one lock yesterday and reached Chateau Thierry which is quite a large town with a castle. We had passed all the lock closures except one at Meaux, so we planned to stay a couple of nights, draw breath, and buy a container of gas. The weather had broken and it was a grey, cool day, with intermittent rain. The halte nautique at Chateau Thierry was nothing to write home about. There was a long quay with bollards for big boats and a smaller quay for about three boats of our size which had been built out into the river and provided with water and electricity. The electric points were inside a locked and rusted box which could be lifted away from the wall to give access to the electric points. A notice asked us to report to the tourist office but when we walked up there (a 10 minute walk) it was closed. So we accessed the box ourselves and connected the electricity.

We explored a little of the attractive old town, finding narrow streets going up a small hill from the river. The newer part of town has been built on the other side of the river and we could see new industrial and retail units. During the last war the Americans fought a big battle here and there is a monument opposite the mooring. There is also an American memorial church in the town square. On a street corner close by we found a very touching monument to those citizens of the town who were transported to death camps.

Later in the day a Dutch boat moored ahead of us, and even later a VNF employee called to enquire which way we were going He was hurrying through any boats going back in the direction from which we had come. The Dutch boat will have to leave tomorrow and make haste to get through but we can relax as we are going in the direction of Paris and hopefully no more closures until Meaux.

Yellow wagtails were foraging for insects in the grass alongside the boat.

In the early evening we decided to take another walk and discover if there was a fuel station close by to top up our spare cans and also to find a replacement for our nearly empty gas bottle. An even greater need was to replace a water intake hose which is collapsing. The evening was pleasantly warm as we walked along the river bank away from the town and found a fuel station nearby. We carried on for another half a mile and found a Carrefour supermarket. They had fuel and gas bottles and were still open. We did not have our spare cans with us or our gas bottle for replacement but we went inside to discover whether they might have some hose. They did not.

Saturday, 17th May, 2008, La Ferté-sous-Jouarre

Friday should have been a relaxing day recuperating from the long journey of Wednesday. I had hoped to visit the street market and perhaps the old home of Jean de la Fontaine who wrote so many famous fables. Instead we exhausted ourselves getting gas, fuel and trying to find a piece of hose.

First I went to the tourist office to pay, and to get a map of the town and ask where I might buy the hose. They suggested the bricolage (DIY) on the industrial estate on the other side of the river, about two km. away. On the way back to the boat I had a quick look at the street market and bought two chair pads for our helmsman's seats. The seats are Ikea bar stools with hard plastic seats and in the hot weather when we are wearing shorts the seats stick to our legs. These pads should solve that problem.

We loaded up an empty fuel can and a gas bottle onto trolleys and walked along to the Carrefour where we were able to get diesel but when I asked for gas the assistant said, "Ne plus de gaz".

After lunch we set off to find the bricolage and took the gas bottle again, trundling it through the streets in my shopping trolley. We soon found a Leclerc supermarket where we were able to exchange it, but no luck at the bricolage they did not have any suitable hose. We tried one or two other places on the estate but without success. So we would just have to keep a careful eye on the water hose. It had been a very hot and tiring day.

It was a relief to wake to a cold and cloudy morning. As we were having breakfast we noticed a policeman walking up and down the quay. Eventually he knocked on our boat and drew our attention to a film of diesel in the water around our boat. John said he did not think we were responsible for it and the policeman went away.

We did not have many locks on this day and those we did have were all set in our direction and we did not have to wait. The scenery was interesting; we saw ancient villages and churches amongst the fields, glimpsed through the trees which were coming into full leaf. A kingfisher flashed quickly along the bank.

La Ferté-sous-Jouarre was our destination and as we approached the town we found a rather unprepossessing quay on our left and on our right a small halte nautique tucked behind an island which looked very shallow. We continued on. We knew there were some pontoons mentioned in the guide book, close to the Pont d'Europe, which were part of the hire base of Marne Loisirs. On arrival we could see there were spaces so we attempted to moor. The pontoons were laid across the current of the river which was flowing so strongly that we were carried past twice and had to turn and try again. On the third attempt we just made it with the help of a couple of people from a German boat. We were allowed to stay for two nights and there was no charge.

John spent the best part of the afternoon in the engine room. He had discovered that we were taking in water through the stern gland and the bilge pump had worked automatically and pumped it overboard together with a quantity of diesel and oil from under the engine. That had been the source of the diesel in the water - sorry Mr. Policeman.

Saturday, 18th May, 2008, La Ferté-sous-Jouarre

We woke to another cold, overcast morning and were enjoying a second cup of coffee when we saw the boat alongside us preparing to leave. It was a hire boat with a family aboard. The current was so strong that they were having difficulties and we rushed out to help them and to prevent damage to our own boat. They were a Dutch family who spoke good English. On the first two attempts they got pinned against the corner of the pontoon by the current. Finally John and the teenage son held them away from the pontoon with ropes across to another pontoon whilst I held a fender against the corner to provide friction. They had to set off whilst the son was still ashore and picked him up from another boat alongside the river bank further down. They were very appreciative of our help.

Monday, 19th May, 2008, Meaux

Before retiring for the night we held a 'council of war' and discussed our strategy for getting out into the river the following morning without damaging our boat or anyone else's. But all night I was worrying about how we were going to do it. Once I fell asleep I dreamed about it, and dreamt I fell into the river in the process. Next morning our planned strategy worked well. John pulled the boat back along the pontoon and used ropes to hold us onto another boat. I held the bow to the middle cleat of the pontoon with another rope and a blonde, female member of staff came along to assist. We got out into the river with no problems. I could relax.

The current was behind us and increasing our speed by one or two knots. We passed under a motorway and I contemplated the number of times I had sped along a motorway with little awareness of the secret life of the waterway going on underneath.

We saw terns again, and grebes. This river is one of the few places in France where terns can be found.

At the first lock the light was red. There was no sign of the lock keeper and it was a manual lock. We had to tie up and I went ashore to knock him up at his cottage. He emerged and as we were locking he warned us that there were two peniches coming down river. We met the first one, Tempo, just after the bridge. It was going really fast but the river was wide and apart from the fact that we got bounced about in his wake there were no problems. We met the second ten or fifteen minutes later and again had no problems.

We carried on to Meaux where we found a hire boat base, marine workshop, and a new halte nautique. As we approached we saw the Dutch family we had helped yesterday standing on the pontoon by their boat. They were happy to help us in. They wanted to fill their water tanks but had no adaptor for the tap. You find this in France. No two taps have the same fitting and we are obliged to carry a large quantity of different types. We had one that we were able to loan to the Dutch family. They filled our boat as well as their own before they left.

The halte nautique is in an attractive setting in a loop of the Marne which is un-navigable. A canal has been built to take the traffic around the town and we could see the entry lock to our left as we approached. A small riverside park had been created with a well-tended rock garden. A nearby bridge led to the town and we found a supermarket just over the bridge. The cathedral could be seen close by on the other side. There was a little wooden hut on our side of the river marked 'Tourist Office', but it was closed.

Tuesday, 20th May, 2008, Meaux

There are several English boats here and a New Zealand boat Moya. We exchanged the time of day with them and discovered that they were planning to go the way we had just come and were unaware of the lock closures. We were able to show them our information which David had photocopied at a shop not too far way. After studying the information they have decided they have no alternative but to go via Paris and the river Aisne. I am glad we saved them a wasted journey. Walking across the bridge to the marine workshop we found a good chandlery and we were able to buy the hose we needed and a few other things beside.

Back at the boat, after a reviving cup of tea. The weather had been pleasant and warm but cool at nights. We sat in the cockpit after breakfast watching the town traffic pass over the bridge and had a lovely view of the cathedral. The local youths like to gather at a point at the end of the bridge which is just ahead of our boat. But they are not noisy and do not cause any trouble.

This mooring is a popular place because it is possible to get a bus from here to Charles de Gaulle airport and is also very close to Disneyland, Paris.

Wednesday, 21st May, 2008, Meaux

We watched Moya leave at 08h30 and go into the lock. Our plan for the day was that John would connect our new piece of hose and then we would go and explore the town. Things did not work out that way. When John tried to turn off the water inlet valve in order to change the pipe, it would not completely shut off. Water continued to come into the boat. This was very scary and John had to prepare the new piece of pipe and change them over very quickly whilst water was still coming into the engine room. He was successful in doing this but found that the hose we had bought was not suitable - it collapsed. He had to find another piece of hose from another part of the engine and change them over. It would seem that we have a faulty water inlet valve.

There is supposed to be another lock closure here in a day or two and after lunch I went up to the lock to enquire about it. I learned that the lock would not be closing as the repairs had already been completed. That was a great relief and meant that we could stay another day or two.

Back at the boat John was still struggling with the engine hose. He did not have enough hose clips. I went on my bike to the boatyard, Nautic Centre, but the clips I returned with were only just big enough. I made yet another journey and returned with a bigger size. The staff in the chandlery were helpful but slow. The clerk was a young, dark-haired fellow in a cream knitted sweater with a gold necklace. His colleague, who is the one who gets his hands dirty, speaks a little English. He wears red and blue overalls and a red baseball cap.

Thursday, 22nd May, 2008, Meaux

We were happy to sit on our boat in our flower-bedecked oasis whilst the life of the town went on over our heads. John's work of yesterday seems to have been successful. There was no water in the bilge when we woke up, so John just needed to clip all the new hose into place. This was a job which took all morning and revealed further problems with the bilge pump. We will have to fit a new one at some point.

We were finally able to do some sight-seeing in the afternoon. We found some lovely old buildings but the shops were mostly modern and were the same as could be found in any French town. We found a beautifully laid out greengrocers' where I could not resist some shiny red carrots and a crisp green lettuce. The strawberries and cherries looked as though they had been individually dipped in red paint. We also found a shop selling nothing but cheeses of every variety and hue. We bought some Brie de Meaux which on tasting was delicious but a little stronger than expected.

We discovered something of the history of Meaux. This loop of the Marne has been populated since Neolithic times. At the end of the 3rd century it was conquered by the Romans who built a wall, part of which is still standing. Since the 5th century it has been a bishopric and this Episcopal city is one of the few remaining in France. The cathedral, St. Etienne, was started in 1180 and finished three centuries later. A museum in the episcopal palace is named after Bishop Jacques Bénine Bossuet who was known as the Eagle of Meaux. He was hugely influential during the reign of Louis XIV and was tutor to the Dauphin until 1682 when he was made bishop of Meaux at the age of 55. He appears to have been an assiduous bishop and known for great funeral orations including that of Queen Marie-Thérèse, wife of Louis XIV.

Our walk included the portal of the former St. Christophe church, the cathedral - where all the statues had been decapitated during the revolution, the Episcopal city, the Bossuet gardens, the tourist office, the ramparts, and the tour des Arquebusiers. We returned over the medieval bridge.

Friday, 23rd May, 2008, Nogent-sur-Marne

We left at 09h00. A German boat alongside were up even earlier and were making preparations to enter the lock when a peniche arrived and was given priority. When we cast off there were no more peniches but after 5 km we caught up with the German boat who was stuck behind the peniche. After trickling along behind them for a while we gave up and moored at the Port d'Embly where we had spotted a service station close by the quay. We took our spare fuel cans across to the service station and spent twenty minutes filling up. We then cast off and still caught up with the German boat after two locks and a tunnel.

Most of the journey was by narrow canal which was lined with trees. We were now reaching the outskirts of Paris. We decided not to stop at Lagny, although there was a good pontoon in the heart of a large town, because the next lock, Vaires, is another that is going to be closed and we wanted to get clear.We were now in the river Marne again where there were houses, restaurants and boat clubs on both banks.

At Nogent-sur-Marne we found a busy port de plaisance. The main part seemed to be reserved for small boats and was pretty full. But we spotted a place on a quay higher up and John manoeuvred us very successfully into a tight space between two boats. I noticed that there were ropes already attached to the cleats on the pontoon, and also that there was a locked gate blocking access to the shore. I enquired of the people on the next boat who said that this was a private mooring. They kindly phoned the Capitaine to ask if it was all right for us to stay there. The Capitaine asked us to go down to his office and when we did he asked us to move to a pontoon higher up the river. He gave us a key for the access gate and promised to come and switch on the electricity for us.

We were soon installed in our new location and relaxing on the back deck under the sunshade watching the boats. We noticed an island here, quite a big one, and small boats were ferrying people backwards and forwards all afternoon. There were houses on the island and there did not seem to be any other access except by water. It is called the Isle des Loups.

Sunday, 25th May, 2008, Nogent-sur-Marne

This is a lovely location and we learned that there was to be a river festival that afternoon.

In the morning we set off to find the shops and spotted a lady leaving a house with a shopping trolley. I asked for directions to the shops and discovered that this was a very cosmopolitan lady whose name was Sandrine. She spoke excellent English and had spent the last two years in Switzerland. Before that they lived in Portugal. She showed me where the supermarket was and when I asked if there was an Internet café nearby she invited us to her home to use their computer. Such kindness is not unusual in France, we have found.

At their home we met her husband, Didier, and three sons 11, 9 and 8 years old. They gave us coffee and I used their computer to transfer some money into our holiday account. The boys were very interested to hear about our boat and accompanied us back to see it, with their mother. We invited them for aperitifs the next day.

That afternoon, despite threatening rain, we ventured out to see the festival. Decorated barges had been progressing up river rather like the floats in a parade. There were various activities for children and an open pavilion where Spanish dancing was taking place. However the rain arrived with a vengeance and we hurried back to the boat.

On our pontoon there is an old chap living on a boat with his wife and dog. He has been a 'top dog' at a nuclear installation and is now retired. He has written a book about his life, and also makes sculptures in wood. He came along to our boat with some leaflets to give us. On the quay he had a van where he kept his stores and we saw him accosting passers-by. He stopped me when I went ashore and was trying to tell me something about the war but I could not understand. When Sandrine and Didier arrived today I asked her to find out what he was saying. She listened to him and then said that he told her he had printed in his book a secret document which showed the treachery of the British during the war. He had been in Algeria, but on the wrong side with the Free French and Marshal Pétain. John thought it might refer to the incident when the British bombed the French fleet after they had surrendered to stop it falling into the hands of the Germans.

Sandrine and family were fascinated with our boat. After the boys had demolished a melon and several glasses of apple juice they climbed all over the boat and played games which seemed to involve wounding and killing each other. They departed after issuing us with an invitation to visit them in their holiday cottage near Avignon, and we invited them to visit us in Britain.

After lunch we went down to the festival again. This time there was a barge moored alongside with a puppet show with giant puppets. I was not able to understand the story but it looked very professional. Onshore there was a mime group, Magenia, performing various dances and depictions, one of these was a south-seas island representation in which two girls and a man performed in nothing but 'grass' skirts made of plastic bottles. The Spanish dancers of yesterday were also miming - a domestic quarrel, bullfighting etc. It was all great fun and very interesting but the rain drove us back to the boat after an hour or so.

Monday, 26th May, 2008, Port-au-Cerises

We left at 09h00 and after 2.5 km we came to a 1 km tunnel and a lock. I called on the radio and we were allowed straight through the tunnel but had to wait in the lock until the Ville de Melun trip boat joined us. We accompanied them to the next lock which meant it was quicker for us.

We next turned into the Seine and the Ville de Melun pulled ahead. The river was very wide with lots of commercial traffic and huge locks to accommodate it, many of the locks were double. The first lock, the Pont à l'Anglais, was a double one.

I had been very concerned about the note of the engine which I was very aware of when I was outside of the boat. It did not sound right. I had said as much to John whilst we were waiting for the lock. "Don't bother me now," he said, "I have other things to concentrate on". He was busy avoiding two peniches who were exiting the lock. But I was more than a little worried, and when we had moved out of the lock I insisted that he listen to it from outside. "We need to pull in immediately!" he said when he heard the noise. Using the binoculars I found a quay on right bank where we were able to tie up. It was a most disreputable looking area with neglected warehouses and rubbish on the bank. It was not the sort of place where we could spend the night, or leave the boat unattended. John went into the engine and found we had no cooling water. When he removed the pipe he found a soggy sheet of very thick cardboard or hardboard which had worked its way up into the pipe and completely clogged it. This had been the source of our problems right from the start and it was why he had not been able to turn off the water intake valve - it had been blocked. This blockage had been there for some time, perhaps even from the start of our journey as we had been smoking since Pont à Bar. When we set off again we had good water spurting from the exhaust and no smoke.

Whilst we were tied up an English yacht, Hurkur, passed us and we caught up with them at the lock. We had to wait at this lock for two peniches. We had called ahead and been told to wait. The river at this point was very wide and there was plenty of room to manoeuvre. There were two lock chambers either side of a wide barrage. When we saw a green light we headed across the indicated chamber and as I stepped out of the door ready I saw that we were about to be mown down by a double peniche only metres away from our stern. Hastily I shouted to John to steer to starboard which he did, phew! There were several large boats using this lock but when they were all in the lock there was still room for us, for Hurkur and a French boat, Brutus III.

Hurkur was heading for the same place as us; a port de plaisance picturesquely named Port-au-Cerises. We found the rather narrow entrance between high bushes and made our way gingerly in and Hurkur appeared to touch bottom just inside the entrance. The first two or three pontoons were occupied by small boats with stern mooring ropes to buoys (known as lazy lines). Further in there were a couple of larger pontoons but there was little room. Many of the boats had been there a very long time, being covered with algae and very dirty. Hurkur took the last available large space on the pontoon and we tied on the end with our stern protruding into the access channel.

In the Capitainerie I found a young coloured chap running a very efficient office. He showed me the sanitaires - showers, toilets, washing machines and dryers. It was all very clean and well-kept in stark contrast to the shabby ill-maintained boats outside which gave the place an air of dereliction. That evening the crew of Hurkur (Ed and Teresa) came for drinks. They told us that they had discovered our web site on the Internet and found it very useful, and I was grateful for the feedback. They are on their way to Greece.

Tuesday, 27th May, 2008, Melun

We departed Port-au-Cerises at 09h15. Leaving the built up area behind we moved into a more countrified area with beautiful riverside homes along the banks. The river itself was lined with live-aboard peniches which thinned out as we left Paris behind. At one point we found a lovely park with swings and climbing equipment, and at another there was a swimming area with diving board. It would have been a lovely trip with lots to look at except that it rained all day and we really wished we had stayed put. We had to wait at most of the locks to give priority to commercial traffic and as I was out on deck tending the ropes I was the one that got very wet.

At the last lock Vives Eaux the keeper told me that we could approach the lock but that a commercial boat was following. It was a big lock and we went in close to the far gate. It is as well that we did because not one but five large barges arrived to fill the lock. We had two alongside us. Fortunately they let us leave the lock first or we would have been thrown around by the turbulence of their engines.

As we came out of the lock and were keeping close to the side to allow the commercials to overtake us we saw something in the water, a black, round, shiny thing. As we drew near we saw that it was someone's head in a diving helmet. There were two men diving. On the shore were three other people, one of whom had a rope attached to the divers, but there were no warning flags or buoys, nor did they shout to warn us off. It is a good job we had kept a good look-out.

There were very few places to tie up on this stretch of the Seine. We passed the occasional quay with no facilities, but we were hoping for somewhere with electricity points so that we could put our heater on - we were cold and damp.

The port de plaisance at Melun would have met our needs. The quay at the entrance was occupied by a large boat, and once we were able to peer beyond it we saw a sunken boat partly obstructing the entrance. We were not able to see any pontoons, just a few small boats on mooring buoys. We motored on into the town where we saw a German boat tied to a quay behind a hotel boat. As we drew nearer we saw that the quay extended the whole length of an island opposite the town. This island is the location of the local prison whose walls towered over the mooring. There were no electricity points but we thought we had travelled far enough by now and pulled in ahead of the hotel boat. I was just getting the kettle on and shedding my waterproofs, when I saw another boat coming in to moor. We thought it might be Hurkur and hurried out to take their lines only to discover that it was Aquarelle. This was Mike and Rosaleen, an Irish couple whom we had met in Charleville Mézières when we first arrived in France from Holland. Aquarelle is a beautiful barge that Mike had built himself - it took him ten years - and they live permanently aboard. As we were tying them up Hurkur did arrive and it turned out that they also knew Mike and Rosaleen. We were all invited aboard Aquarelle for hot drinks. It was lovely to see them again.

Peniches continued to pass us until it was dark around 21h00. We figured that the locks were staying open later on the Seine for the commercials. They passed by at great speed causing much turbulence which threw us about. We would be glad to get off the Seine.

Thursday, 29th May, 2008, St. Mammès

We had left Melun quite late as we discovered that our batteries were flat - we had not had shore electricity. We had new ones which we had brought out from England and not got round to fitting. John changed them over and we travelled with Aquarelle to the first lock, Hurkur had left earlier.

Our first choice of mooring had been Valvins a mooring close to the Fontainbleau chateau which we hoped to visit. But when we got there we discovered pontoons across the river current and as John tried to approach we were swept swiftly sideways. Remembering our difficulties at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre we gave up. The next place was Champagne but there the mooring was roped off and under repair. We began to feel like the Flying Dutchman - condemned to travel for ever. Coming through the second lock had been a slightly scary experience. When I called the lock I was told we had to wait for a commercial boat. We tied up to a quay and a few minutes later a peniche arrived and went into the lock. The lights turned red which I assumed was to deter us from following. As we were wondering what was going on a pousette arrived, pushing two barges ahead of him. Once he was tucked into the lock a dredger, which had been tied up ahead of us cast off and made as if to go into the lock. At the same time we were called on the radio and told we could enter. We cast off but were unsure of the dredger's intentions. It appeared to stop and got out its crane so we assumed he was going to dredge. As we began to pass him he moved off again and the next thing we knew he was coming into the lock with us. Fortunately there was plenty of room.

We followed all five boats to St. Mammès which is a big barge staging post, but not as busy now as it used to be as commercial traffic has declined. We were surprised to find lots of room, the reason being that the port is closed for the winter so there are no live-aboards or rotting boats cluttering the pontoons. We found only one boat occupying the pontoons, an English narrow boat, Idling By.

It is a good place to stay with a fuel berth across the river, a small supermarket, bread shop, butcher, and a good Capitainerie which also services the trip boats and has showers and free Wifi.

There is a junction with the Canal du Loing here and Idling By is waiting for a closure to end before they travel down that canal.

Friday, 30th May, 2008, St. Mammès

All the commercial part of the town is concentrated on the quay and there is a small church close to the supermarket, as well as the Mairie which also has tourist information. But it is difficult to work out how far back the town itself extends.

We took a walk down the main street which stretches away from the quay. The street is so narrow that if anyone parks, and they do, passing traffic has to alternate. The houses are the usual jumble of styles - one or two modern houses tucked in unlikely corners, but mostly old houses. Walking down a back street the scent of roses from a well-tended garden delighted our nostrils. We could hear peacocks crying but could not see where they were; perhaps they were across the river.

Two more boats arrived late in the day, one English and one French. Because the cross current is strong we went to help them with their lines. The English boat had a couple of attempts. On the first attempt, as soon as he turned sideways to the current to make his approach he was swept swiftly past. Before the second attempt the crewman on the foredeck spent a lot of time getting a rope ready. I walked to the end of the pontoon to receive it and passed it to John expecting then to be given the stern line. John hauled on the forward line and discovered it was not tied on. The boat was swept across to the other pontoon. They made themselves fast there, pinned by the current, and later pulled themselves back to where they wanted to be. The French boat fared much better as they had bow thrusters and did not really need our help. I had been shopping and bought some Gezards de Poulet for a meal. I did not realise until I got back to the boat that they were chicken gizzards. I thought John would turn his nose up at them but, although they were a bit strong, they were acceptable. But they are not something I will buy again. Pondering the French diet - frog's legs, snails, horse, gizzards etc. - I think that food has been in such short supply over the centuries that they have made a delicacy out of food that at other times would have been rejected. I may be wrong but I think shortage of food contributed to the cause of the revolution. The nobility ate sumptuously whilst the peasants starved. Then of course there have been countless invasions and sieges of cities. It must be difficult to farm land that is a constant battlefield. Today these things have passed into distant memory.

Saturday, 31st May, 2008, St Mammès

Yesterday we spent time housekeeping. John as usual was down in the engine room and discovered that we had twice as much oil as we needed. This is puzzling and he wondered if he had put in more oil than intended.

In the afternoon we walked along the Canal du Loing to see how far it is to Moret. We reckon it is about 3 km. In the evening we had a phone call from Jim and Hazel, boating friends we had met in Greece, they say they are coming over to France and may arrive about Tuesday. This is a good place to be to receive visitors so we planned to stay put.

Monday, 2nd June, 2008, St. Mammès

Yesterday we woke to the sound of the market being set up all along the quayside. It was a splendid market with lots of fruit and veg, clothes, herbs, charcuterie, hardware, a quilt stall and lots of flowers and plants. I was enjoying a wander round looking at children's dresses for my granddaughters when I heard my name called. It was Mike and Rosaleen together with a French couple. I invited them back to the boat. The French couple, Michelle and Gerard, have a type of Broad's cruiser which was built in Warwick, England. They are having propeller problems and looking for a boat repairer. Mike and Rosaleen warned us about the sloping sided locks on the river Yonne and advised us on the best way to deal with them. If going in at the bottom of the lock they recommend a long line with a bowline in the end which you give to the lock keeper as you enter. They warned us not to use the steps in the side of the lock as they are slimy and slippery and therefore dangerous.

In the afternoon I was outside cleaning the boat when I saw a crowd of young people on the quayside wearing black and yellow shirts. They were launching two boats and I saw that it was the local water-jousting club come for a practice. So I had a most interesting time doing a bit of cleaning and then watching the jousting. They were mostly young men in their early twenties with a few teenagers, two girls and a boy of about nine. Each boat had a platform on the stern on which the jouster stood with a long pole. The pole had a rounded rubber tip, and the jouster wore a padded jacket. The boats steered towards each other propelled by an outboard motor. The technique appeared to be not to rush at the opponent and knock him off by speed, but to just touch the padded vest then twist and push to throw him off. They practised all afternoon until 17h00.

Tuesday, 3rd June, 2008, St. Mammès

We cycled to Moret yesterday, but did not realise it was Monday and everywhere was closed. I have never seen a French town so completely deserted. All the museums were closed and most of the restaurants. I had been looking forward to a crêpe or a croque monsieur for lunch. What a disappointment.

We did find the tourist office open but after giving us a map of the town and pointing out the principal sights all they could do was tell us that everywhere was closed. We 'did' the town walk and admired the old buildings, went into the church, and then tried to find somewhere to eat. We ended up sitting on a bench in the town square, opposite a house were Albert Sisley the painter spent many years. We ate a kebab sandwich bought from a kebab shop which was open for workmen. We had wanted to eat inside the shop but the proprietor told us that all his tables were reserved.

Before returning to the boat I decided it would be wise to use the toilet. The only public toilet we could find was behind the tourist office and it was the usual French 'hole in the floor'. Experience has taught me that it is wise to stand well clear when pulling the chain to flush this type of toilet and it is as well that I did so on this occasion as the cistern was not connected to the down pipe and if I had been underneath I would have had an unwelcome shower.

Wednesday, 4th June, 2008, St. Mammès

Today is John's birthday and we celebrated it with Jim and Hazel who arrived yesterday. Hazel and I went for a walk around St. Mammès in the afternoon. I had obtained a leaflet from the Mairie which detailed a walk around the 'principal sights' which seemed make a lot of a little. Hidden behind the buildings which line the quay are small plots of land which in England would be allotments. One of these was a 'relief garden', in fact a relief map, in stone, of the confluence of the rivers with an explanation in French which we could not read because the garden was locked and we could not get close enough. Another plot behind someone's house contained picnic tables and benches where we sat for a while before returning to the quay.

Friday, 6th June, 2008, St. Mammès

Once the peniches had finished their morning dash to get through the locks and on their way, we went across the to the fuel berth to fill up. It was a wet filthy business and we had to take the fuel line through the cabin. I was glad of Jim and Hazel's help. We then set off by boat for Moret-sur-Loing but found the port de plaisance was full. We were just debating the advisability of tying up alongside a small barge, Cingale, when someone came out onto its deck. It was Michelle. That decided it, we asked permission and were welcomed alongside.

That evening we ate at Le Refuge in the rue de l'Eglise. We had been to reconnoitre during the afternoon and whilst we were studying the menu a customer came out and praised the restaurant highly and said it was good value for money. He was an 88 year old local resident and was keen to chat. When we could finally tear ourselves away from hearing about his mother who had lived into her nineties we sat on a stone bench on the corner of the road and had ice creams. The sun came out briefly.

Our meal that evening was beautiful. We had the €13 set menu which was tarte aux crevettes or salad de chevre chaud, followed by canard a l'orange or paupiettes de poisson, then brie de Meaux and finally chocolate and vanilla mousse. We had hot chocolate and brandy back at the boat.

We motored back to St. Mammès the following morning and Jim and Hazel left after lunch.

Sunday, 8th June, 2008, St. Mammès

We 'chilled out' before moving off in the morning. We went to buy bread and on the way back got talking to a young woman who was hanging over the rails looking at the boats. She was English, her name was Vicky, and she was a steward on the cruise boat which was docked at the end of our pier, Anacoluthe.

We learned that this is an English-run boat and that they have alternate two-week holidays for Saga customers, and another group, plying between Rouen and St. Mammè with a stop in Paris for sight-seeing. She told us that earlier in the year the water in the Seine had been so high that the boat could not get under the bridges of Paris and they had to make use of the mini-bus which accompanies them to take the passengers on outings. She took us on board the flower filled boat and we saw the sumptuous accommodation and met some of the staff who are half French and half English.

Monday, 9th June, 2008, Montereau

We moved off at 09h30 after the first rush of commercials had passed. There was only one lock between St. Mammès and here, Montereau. It was a huge lock and we had it all to ourselves. We found the pontoons at Mortereau almost empty.

Wednesday, 11th June, 2008 Montereau

The sun shone and we started to hope that summer had finally arrived. We were moored to a long pontoon below the town bridge, with a view of the old church across the river. There is a footpath along the river which is used by children going to school, joggers, mothers with babies in buggies, and courting couples. At the other side of the footpath is a ruined manor house with a beautiful mural painted on the blank wall facing the river. It shows medieval builders and stone masons at work building this manor, and a sign informed us that the building is going to be restored.

On Monday night the pontoon filled up and by 17h00 when a Dutch boat, Tigershark, arrived they could not find a space. They tied alongside a hire boat ahead of us on which there was a Swiss couple. I do not think they asked permission but just tied up and then started jumping into the river to cool off. Later, as we were starting our meal one of the men on board the Dutch boat came and asked if they could tie alongside us. The Swiss couple were refusing to pull their boat back and make space so that Tigershark could tie to the pontoon and had also warned them that he was leaving at 07h00 the next morning and they would need to be up. We gave permission, what else could we do? There were four men and one woman on board. The woman told us she would be leaving on Tuesday, and the men were then leaving with the boat as soon as they had seen her to the train. In the event she did not leave until 15h00 and the boat did not move off. The remained tied to us all day, even though the pontoon was now empty. We thought that was thoughtless. The only consideration they did show was in moving to sit on their foredeck in the afternoon rather than the afterdeck which would have invaded our privacy. We learned that the boat belonged to a Dutch sailing magazine and one of the men was a free-lance journalist who had the use of it for a couple of weeks. The boat was headed for the Mediterranean and different crews were taking it in stages. It was an immaculate little boat which made Liberty look quite shabby. The woodwork was highly polished and there was not a single chip in the paintwork. It made us spend a little time touching up some of our own paintwork which had started to show rust.

We have been told that the Canal du Nivernais is still closed because of too much water in the reservoirs which supply the canal and barrages have been opened. We hope that the good weather will sort that out and it will be navigable when we get there.

Thursday, 12th June, 2008, Sens

Yesterday, we did the 'town walk' of Montereau following a map obtained from the tourist office. There were some interesting old buildings but nothing exciting.

John was worried about our oil levels. We seem to have too much oil when he dips the tank. It might be fuel or oil from the engine getting into it. On our way back from the town walk we bought some oil at the supermarket which he put into the engine after removing the old oil. He also tightened the injectors which we have had 'done' at home.

 We were reluctant to set off this morning as we knew the next lock was a sloping sided one, and therefore found lots of small jobs which gave us an excuse to delay - making beds, washing up, cleaning teeth, put away laundry etc. When we finally reached the lock it was a bit hair-raising because there was a pleasure boat in the lock and we could not enter. We tried to pull into the side to wait but there was nowhere to tie up. I got off with a rope but could not hold the boat against the pull of the current and there was nothing to tie it to. I had to let go and John had to circle round and come back to pick me up. When we finally went into the lock the lady lock-keeper took our rope. I gave her a very long one with a bowline in the end which she put over a bollard, this is what Rosaleen and Mike had recommended. It worked well. I tied the line midships, shortened it as we ascended, and we fended off the sides with boathooks. But at the next lock, which was sloping sided again, there was no one ready to take our line. I tried to lasso the bollard without success. The lock keeper had to leave his little hut and take the line. He was a little surly.

At Port Renard, the next lock, again sloping sided we had to wait. There was a small pontoon to which we tried to moor. I only managed to get one line on - from mid-ships, and before I could get the forward line on the current swung the bows out and again I could not hold the boat. Fortunately I was still aboard the boat and so I let the line go. Fortunately the lock gates opened and a peniche came out, we were then able to go in. The lock keeper asked us to go right down the lock as there was a peniche following us. When the lock had finished filling we allowed the peniche to go out first.

In the next lock there was a small floating pontoon just inside the gates which we were unprepared for and we missed it. We had caught up with the peniche and were sharing the lock with them again so I asked permission to tie to them, which was granted. We had a short conversation with the skipper and his wife whilst we were in the lock. They went out first and we followed them to the next lock but they got there first and the gates had closed by the time we arrived. There was a frantic rush of water coming over the barrage and we had to stem a 6 knot current whilst waiting. The current was washing across the lock gates and the water was very choppy. John did a good job of getting us into the lock without being thrown sideways and hitting the gates. The lock keeper said, "Well done". This was a straight sided lock with bollards set well back. I was able to get a rope on with a boat hook. I remarked to the lock keeper, "Il est comme la mer". (It is like the sea.) Whilst we were in the lock the rain, which had started a few kilometres back, began to sluice down with the intensity of hail stones. It was like standing under a cold shower. John retreated into the cabin and shut the door but there was no such luxury for me, holding the line on the foredeck. The gutters on the decks could not cope the downpour was so heavy. I was soaked. When I finally got back into the cabin I took my shoes off and literally poured the water out of them down the sink. I wrung out my socks and left my trousers and mac to drip in the Head. The rain only lasted for about 20 minutes and the poor lock keeper was caught out in it too.

The final lock before Sens had one sloping side and one straight side. On the straight side the bollards were well back from the edge and the wind was blowing strongly from that side. As John approached the side I only had seconds to lasso the bollard before we were blown off. I missed three times and it was too far to reach with a boathook. On the fourth attempt I launched myself over the guardrail onto the lock side. Even when I had the rope round the bollard the stern of the boat was being blown off and I had to wrap it twice round the bollard so that John could pull the boat in.

It was a great relief to reach Sens, but a disappointment to discover that the port de plaisance was not where it was marked in the Navicarte. In fact it had been closed and we had to moor across the river on the town quay. There was water and electricity there but the quay was already full of boats. There was another stretch of quay downriver where a sloping side ended in a concrete berm just above the water. Again it was full but there were a couple of places and John brought us into one very efficiently. But there was no electric point there. It was now almost 18h00 but by the time we had eaten the sun had come out and we took a stroll along the quay and chatted to some of the boat people. We met an English couple on a barge, Confiance, and were invited aboard a broad's cruiser, Manatee, owned by an Australian couple and spent an interesting evening in their company.

Interestingly Sens is twinned with Chester a lovely old town close to home.

Friday, 13th June, 2008, Evans Boatyard, Sens

From Sens I phoned Evans Marine, a boatyard run by an Englishman which at that time was just downriver from Sens (he moved later to Migennes). John had checked the sump oil again that morning and the level was up again - strange. When he explained this problem Simon immediately asked if we had changed the injectors lately, of course we had. He asked us to bring the boat to his yard and when he looked at the injectors he saw that John had put the washers in the wrong place, and that the injectors needed annealing (heating) to seat them in place. That was the cause of our oil leak. Simon came aboard and sorted the problem; he also welded the throttle cable back in place. We then returned to Sens where we now found a place on the main quay behind a Dutch barge and were able to reach the electricity point. So for us Friday the 13th had been a lucky day.

Monday, 16th June, 2008, Sens

We spent some time sightseeing in Sens. The cathedral here is the first Gothic cathedral to be built in France and was the model for Canterbury cathedral. Sadly it was covered in scaffolding outside, but inside we were able to admire two beautiful rose windows, one representing the Last Judgement and the other was the Creation (I think). As we came out of the cathedral we saw that the doors of the market hall were open, even though it was not market day. We found a few stalls, selling bread, vegetables and fruit. We were able to get everything we needed and were well pleased. One of the things I bought was some Oeufs de Cane which I was told are large hen's eggs, or is that the eggs of a very large hen?

Alongside the cathedral was a magnificent hôtel de ville which had been built to demonstrate the political significance of the state v. the church. A wedding party was just going in so we were not able to view the inside but the outside was very richly ornamented.

On Sunday morning just as we were finishing a late breakfast we saw a couple of boats looking for moorings. We were surprised to see anyone so early in the morning and even more surprised when we saw that one of them was Dimmis, a Dutch tjalk which had over-wintered twice at Pont à Bar. We knew the owners, Maureen and Ron, quite well and had celebrated Ron and John's birthdays together the last time we met. The quay was again full but we waved to them and indicated the section of sloping quay where we had first moored. As they were tying up Bas from the Dutch barge came to help. He was known to Maureen and Ron and told them he would be moving within the hour and they could have his place. We were surprised at this because Bas had been there for some time and when a hotel boat with some disabled passengers had asked him to move so they could disembark the passengers he had refused. In fact he was only moving up to the sloping quay because he wanted to use some power tools and make quite a noise. We thought this was very public spirited of him. After lunch on Sunday John and I went to the museum in the former Bishop's palace alongside the cathedral. We discovered that it was free on Sundays so were very pleased. We began with pre-historic and Neolithic finds, and moved on to Gallo-Roman artefacts. There were some lovely mosaic floors and part of a Roman hypocaust reconstructed in the cellars. There were paintings and sculptures as well as the cathedral treasury and vestments. We were very interested to see an aube which had belonged to Thomas à Becket when he was in exile in Sens, and a magnificent blue velvet and ermine robe which had been made for one of the kings of France, decorated with gold fleur de lys. The museum led into the cathedral where we found Maureen and Ron looking round.

Later we joined them on Dimmis for drinks and caught up on their news. They have been exploring central France and spent a lot of time in Dijon as Maureen had broken her ankle and was in plaster for six weeks. Dimmis is a beautifully restored tjalk and they have done the work themselves. Ron recommended the use of Owatrol Rustol to treat the rust on the boat. Ron was also able to supply John with a part for an oil pressure gauge which he has been fitting.

Wednesday, 18th June, 2008, Sens

There was a service station across the road from the quay, and a café/bar with Internet access on the corner by the bridge. We made use of both of them on Monday, to re-fuel the boat and to catch up on our emails. We left Sens at 09h30 on Tuesday. Dimmis has already left at 08h30. We thought we might catch them up at Villeneuve as they are much slower than ourselves. The countryside was getting prettier here, there were some hills and escarpments with villages perched on them.

At the first lock we were joined by a South African boat whose owner, Terry, said he lived in Sens and had been there for three years. The lock was not ready and a peniche was locking through so we tied to the waiting quay as the current was very strong. Inside the lock we found a small floating pontoon to which we tied and Terry tied to us.

As we approached the second lock a peniche which had been moored on the left bank, to our right, began to pull out, to turn180o , and head for the lock. So when we went into the lock we tied to the peniche even though there was a pontoon, it was much easier. The woman on the peniche said we should go out of the lock first but that they would overtake us and go ahead into the next lock where we would repeat the process. All the locks were very slow, taking about half an hour or more. The peniche pulled in before the final lock and we put on a burst of speed to reach the lock before lunchtime, 12h30 when the lock would close. We didn't manage it, arriving at 12h35. We could not spend the next hour stemming the very strong current but fortunately there was a waiting pontoon where we decided to moor. This was easier said than done. Terry was still with us and he went first but the current was so strong he kept getting swept off before he could get his line on. He managed it eventually and we tied alongside. We had spent about 15 minutes getting both boats tied up and we had no sooner done so than the lock gates opened! We cast off and motored in to find two small floating pontoons. Shortly afterwards a hotel boat, Marjorie II arrived. That explained why the keeper had opened the lock during lunchtime. Even so everything took an unconscionably long time and it was 1.5 hrs before we were through the lock and tied up at a long quay just the other side of the lock at the town of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne. Dimmis was already there and so was an English narrow boat called Jeremius Piscatorius (Jeremy Fisher).

The quay is at a wide part of the river where there used to be electricity and water points for boats. These are no longer there, although the sign advertising them is. There is a port de plaisance across the river and John and I walked over yesterday afternoon and found it rather run-down with a broken submerged pontoon and other pontoons covered with Verdigris. There were several boats in there but they were either derelict or there for winter storage - no visitors.

Villeneuve is an attractive old town which was fortified by Louis VII in 1163 to extend his royal domaine and strategically strengthen his position from attach from the north. He established what was then a new town which was part of the great development of French regions in the 12th century. It was originally called Villeneuve-le-Roi until 1792 but I expect it was re-named after the revolution. Between the 16th and 19th centuries it was prosperous because of its position on the river, surrounded by vineyards and forest (wine and firewood) to supply Paris. Rich traders build elegant houses in the city, some of which are still standing. The economy suffered badly when Phylloxera destroyed its vineyards, but since World War II an industrial estate was constructed on the left bank which brought 800 jobs.

The town wall is no longer there but it is possible to walk the route of the old wall, see some of the old towers, and the lavoir then go into the town to look at the old church and ancient parts of the town. I did the walk in the early morning, the sun was shining and there was a pleasant breeze. On my way back to the boat I found a laundrette and so in the afternoon I dropped off a load of washing. I had had an opportunity to do washing at Port au Cerises but thought it was rather dear at €3 for the machine and €3 for the dryer. But it was not as expensive as Villeneuve which cost €7 for the wash and €11 for the dryer - daylight robbery. I did not use the dryer but took the damp washing back to the boat.

Friday, 20th June, 2008, Gurgy

We left Villeneuve yesterday, having walked back to the lock and asked the keeper to notify the next lock that we would be there at 09h00. When we arrived the lock gates were closed and there was no sign of the keeper. I used the radio and blew the horn but we had no response. After 15 minutes I telephoned the lock at Villeneuve and told them there was no keeper here. He sounded surprised and shortly afterwards I heard him on the radio to the keeper at this lock. The keeper then arrived by bicycle and the gates opened at 09h20. When the keeper had started the lock operation he came to apologise to us and I did not fully understand what he said. I thought it was something to do with buying bread (pain). But in fact I think he was saying that the next lock was broken down (en panne). We had had to wait outside the lock, stemming a very fierce current and a rush of water over the barrage so we were not very pleased. But we found all the remaining locks ready for us and we made up for lost time. The sloping sided ones all had floating pontoons and were easy to use.

We travelled through pleasant scenery to Joigny where we tied up at the hire boat base and found Dimmis there. The manager told us that we could only stay one night as the following day was their hand-over day and they were expecting lots of boats in.

We had a pleasant evening with Maureen & Ron and were quite sad because it was likely this would be the last time we would see them this year.

Before leaving the next morning I walked up into the town. Joigny is spread up the hill away from the river. There are lots of attractive half- timbered houses dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Most of them were badly damaged during the bombardments of the 1940s and a gas explosion in 1981 but have been beautifully restored. The best known house is on the corner of a square and is called the Arbre de Jesse (Tree of Jesse) because of the carvings on the corner of the house.

I eventually came out at the top of the town where there is an old town gate and not one, but two lavoirs which are no longer in use.

Returning through the town I skirted the Gothic church of St. Thibault which was built between 1490 and 1529. I was too short of time to go inside as John wanted to leave at 10h00. I found a boulangerie, bought bread for lunch and returned to the boat.

We had an uneventful run to Gurgy where we found a rural mooring overhung with trees, just beyond a lock. Several motor caravans were parked along the quay but there were no other boats. I tried to avoid the trees when we were mooring up so that we could be away from the mosquitoes. The water was very shallow and we touched bottom but eventually found better depth. There was a shower and toilet block with a post (a bourne) close to it, which took jetons to dispense water and electricity. The jetons could be purchased from the Hotel de la Rivière along the river bank. Closer investigations revealed that for €1 you could buy one hour's electricity or 10 minutes of water. An elderly French couple were filling the water tank of their caravan and offered to lend us a jeton until the hotel opened at 16h30 but after seeing the price we declined.

There was a small building with a gazebo alongside what may once have been a Capitainerie with toilets and showers. The office was now being used by a Japanese woman as an art gallery and she also offered Shiatsu foot massage in the gazebo. Needless to say I had a massage, lying on a recliner in the shade, listening to the birds singing and the wind rustling in the trees. It was delightful and my feet felt wonderful. The young woman is married to an Austrian. They are both artists and she met him in New Zealand. They live here in Gurgy on an island formed where a tributary meets the main river. In the winter they go to a property they have in Italy. It sounds a good life but she told me they have no running water or electricity in their home here. They make electricity with water power and cook with bottled gas. This was their second year here.

We spent the afternoon on the back deck enjoying the ambience and later walked along to the hotel and bought a take-away meal of veal in gravy with vegetables. As we were waiting at the hotel we saw that the house next door showed obvious signs of fire damage - there was no roof and it was a charred shell. I asked the hotelier about it and she said it had happened two years ago as the result of an electrical fault, but that no one had been harmed.

Saturday, 21st June, 2008, Auxerre

By the lock at Gurgy we had seen a notice saying that they were working to improve the barrage. It was obviously letting too much water through and when we woke up on Saturday morning we found we were quite firmly aground. John tried to get us off using engine but there were rocks under the boat and he was worried about the propeller, so he gave up. With the help of a couple of fellows from motor caravans he rocked the boat off. The river was plainly low on its usual level and as we motored to the next lock we could see that areas of the banks were clearly exposed and the river bed was showing at the edges.

Today was the longest day of the year and so far the hottest. The lock keeper at the next lock was not expecting us and we had to stem the current for a while. The keeper was a pleasant chap who seemed to have been working hard to make his lock look attractive as it was full of flowers. I complimented him on the display. He warned us that a boat was already coming down to the next lock and we should proceed slowly. This happened at the next lock also - just our luck. But the final two locks were open for us and we reached Auxerre just before the locks closed for lunch at 12h30.

The quay at Auxerre was full and there was no one around (it was lunch time and this was France) so we moored to the fuel quay and had our own lunch. When the Capitainerie opened again at 14h00 the young woman in there, Julie, directed us to a space that had become vacant further down the quay. We were very impressed with the facilities here and the prices are quite good. We thought this might be a good place to over-winter.

Julie, who spoke excellent English, told us that there was a music festival in the town that evening. It sounded interesting. She did not tell us that a 'fringe' group would be setting up in the park alongside the port, just 200 yards from our boat. It started up in mid-afternoon and we tolerated it because we were tired, and we had no option. John dozed in the cabin and I sat on the back deck with a book under a sunshade. Later we went into town to get away from the noise and found the town filled with music groups who had set up at every street corner and in many of the cafés. The music was not to our taste, being mainly rock music but there were some Turkish dancers and a three piece band playing Irish music which we enjoyed. The café tables were all occupied so we bought a baguette with sausage and frîtes from a street stall and took refuge in a shop doorway down a side street to eat it. Afterwards we found a bar with tables on the street where we were able to enjoy a beer before returning to the boat. We later learned that this music festival takes place everywhere in France on the 21st June, I think it was the brainwave of one of the presidents.

We saw a lot of Auxerre as we strolled around during that evening. There are many old timbered buildings and lovely churches.

Monday, 23rd June, 2008, Auxerre.

The sunny weather has gone again. We had rain yesterday.

We are going to have visitors whilst we are here, Maureen and Steve, whom we first met when coming through the canals on our way to Greece in 1999, and with whom we travelled for most of the way. Our job now was to discover where they could leave their car. We also needed to go to Pont à Bar to collect our own car and we visited the tourist office where a rather dour lady in a padded-shouldered red jacket gave us a map of the town and addresses of car hire firms. We discovered we are very close to the station, and that there are various car hire firms even closer.

Outside the station we met a party of American ladies who were trying to get a taxi. They were expecting to find a taxi rank but this is France and most of the taxis are busy supplementing the ambulances and running people to hospital. We used my mobile phone to call the hotel where they were to stay and they in turn called a taxi. They were enormously grateful.

We discovered that we would have to go to Pont à Bar via Paris if we were to use the train. On the way back to the boat we called in at various car-hire firms and discovered that the price would be about €50 per day. We also discovered a huge Leclerc supermarket within a stone's throw of the marina and I began to anticipate a visit there.

Thursday, 26th June, 2008, Auxerre

We were making ourselves thoroughly at home in Auxerre. The port de plaisance was well equipped, and well run. There were no run down boats in storage, no wrecks and no work being done on boats - in fact this was actively discouraged. They had a hangar in a street behind the port where they take boats for repairs, painting and under-cover storage. The port was run by a Dutchman, Paul, and his Parisian wife who have been here 30 years. They told us that when they first came there were wrecked boats and wrecked cars all along the water front. Now they have a lovely clear quay. An attractive, circular Capitainerie has been built which houses offices, showers, laundry and a small chandlery. Outside was a stone table with benches and an umbrella for consultations with clients. An ex broads' cruiser was moored to the quay and had been furnished as a Boat Boutique where the harbour master's wife sells boating knick-knacks, chandlery and clothing which she has made herself. They had WiFi and had created a terrace under some chestnut trees for WiFi users.

We asked Paul to give us an estimate for repairing the rotting doors, and for painting the hull, which he did. He also took us to the hangar to show us the standard of their work. We were very pleased. For the moment our plan is to ask them to paint the hull, we will do the topsides ourselves and we will have the doors replaced another year. Paul gave us a good deal on winter storage, car parking and mooring.

Having decided that we are wintering here we arranged a one way car hire and yesterday we drove to Pont à Bar to collect our car. The journey took four hours and we lunched at our favourite snack-bar, La Fringale, and the frîtes were just as crisp and golden as always.

We reached Pont à Bar at 15h30 and Dominique was delighted to see us. Everything is going well for the future of the yard which will be called Pont à Bar Services. Dominique will remain for at least another year and Bruno is gradually beginning to do some work again.

We had to drop the car off at Charleville Mézières and we needed to fill it with diesel. By the time we had found our way into the fuel station at the Cora supermarket via a complicated system of roundabouts and car parks, and found a pump that would deliver diesel, and moved to another pump because the one we chose would not accept a credit card it was coming up to rush hour. This would not be pleasant in a left-hand drive car in a strange town. Fortunately once we were in the town there were clear signs to the railway station and we knew the hire company were by the station. But for this clear signage it would have been a nightmare, as it was John, who was following in our own car, almost lost me as I changed lanes, turned corners and crossed junctions. We finally arrived at the station and found the car hire company. Once I had been relieved of the keys and documentation we had to get out of the town and begin our long drive home. We arrived back at the boat at 20h30 - 12 hours from our start.

Friday, 27th June, 2008, Auxerre

For most of this week there has been more activity in the park and yesterday another festival began in earnest. It is called Nuits Métisses which is a festival of different ethnic music each night. Last night was Spanish which was quite enjoyable especially as there was also some Flamenco dancing. There was to be Nigerian traditional dancing tonight. We walked into town for a meal, partly to get away from the noise. We had a meal at the Moonlight Bistro. I had a gorgeous salad which contained potato, pineapple, apricot and cous cous. John was very traditional and had a Croque Monsieur with frîtes.

We have decided to replace the main hatch and this afternoon Paul brought details of one he can obtain for us which we will probably order. The existing hatch is made of a solid piece of metal and does not let light through, although it does have a good mosquito screen.

Saturday, 28th June, 2008, Auxerre

The weather is very hot. I spent a little time on the WiFi terrace under the shade of the trees transferring money so that we could order the new hatch. I have been to Aldi and bought some silver sunscreens of the type you put on car windscreens. Stuck to the internal windows they work a treat. I will now spend some time cutting them down to size. The music last night was East Nigerian. The group were very talented but it got very repetitive. We stayed at the festival for half an hour and then enjoyed the rest of the music from the comfort of the boat. We have a neighbour who lives on his boat here. He is about 30, is French, has long golden curls and is usually stripped to the waist. He usually lights an open fire on a piece of concrete alongside his boat to cook a meal and friends come to share it with him.

Sunday, 29th June, 2008, Auxerre

We have been moored here for a week now and we have spent a lot of time cleaning and working on the boat and have seen very little of the town so far. We have made arrangements for Paul to paint the hull, ordered a new hatch, collected our car and worked on the sun blinds. We are also preparing for our visitors. Maureen and Steve rang to confirm they are coming on July 8th. I expect we will do some sight-seeing then. Other friends, Denise and Maurice from New Zealand, have left a message on the voicemail to say they are in St. Florentin which is on a parallel canal, the Burgoyne. It is not far as the crow flies. Perhaps we can have a day out and visit them.

The music was not bad last night, in fact we quite enjoyed Kadanska and Marc Pandolf, and tonight is Reggae music which again we might like.

Tuesday, 1st July, 2008, Auxerre

We are now in the midst of another project. John is absorbed in fitting the new hatch. It arrived yesterday just as he finished re-wiring the new batteries. Being John he had to unpack it the minute it arrived and see whether it fitted. Being so single-minded he has now set about getting his head round the many problems, e.g. how to fit a flat hatch onto the curved surface which is the top of the boat. This means that I can't talk to him without calling him back from wherever he has gone in his head otherwise I get short shrift. After 20 years of marriage you would think I had learnt to keep my mouth shut. The berth cushions have had to be removed from the locker tops in the wheelhouse so that he can get at his tools. I have to negotiate my way around his tools whenever I want to go out of the boat, e.g. to hang washing out. I have to be very patient.

I had an opportunity to see something of Auxerre yesterday as I had a problem with my phone. On Saturday night I tried to send a text to Denise and Maurice but I could not send it. I have bought some more units for the phone but they have not registered. A couple of assistants at Leclerc where I bought the Carte Nomade for the units tried to put them on the phone but with no success and they suggested I go to the Bouygtel shop, although they did not know exactly where it was. I asked at the tourist office, which is just across the footbridge from the boat, and was directed up the hill away from the river to the far side of the old town. in the Place Roussel. I made my way down ancient alleyways overhung with timbered houses via the Place d'Horloge where a magnificent gilded clock overtops an ancient gateway, and through a square where a statue of Cadet Roussel seems to be declaiming to passers-by. But I had forgotten that it was Monday and most of France closes down on Mondays. On the shuttered door was a notice saying they would open at 14h00.

Back at the boat I again tried to contact Customer Services on my phone and in the end Julie from the Capitainerie tried and again I was told that I had no units on the phone. I had no alternative but to go back to the Bouygtel shop which unsurprisingly was crowded. Eventually an assistant sorted my problem out for me and showed me how to check my credit. In the meantime an English barge had moored behind us just before lunch. They introduced themselves, Dick and Midge of Kikkervis (tadpole), and on hearing of my problem invited me to use their phone. I phone Denise only to find that they were just about to leave St. Florentin for Migennes. However they said they were planning to come down the Nivernais and would be with us in a few days.

Wednesday, 2nd July, 2008, Auxerre

John is working on installing the new hatch; he is working in the full sun so I rigged a parasol to shade him. I have been preparing our visitors' cabin, clearing it so that Maureen & Steve will have somewhere to put their stuff. In the early evening we were invited aboard Kikkervis (tadpole) for drinks and just as we were settling down with our G & Ts Maurice and Denise arrived with their friend Jenny and they were invited too. Dick and Midge are English but live in Holland. They are citizens of the world having lived abroad for most of their working lives. Dick was a helicopter pilot. Here in Auxerre he has been seeing doctors for what was thought to be a heart problem but turned out to be an infection. This has responded to antibiotic but they also found some opacity in his lungs and want further tests and X-rays. Maurice and Denise have spent most of the summer stuck at Pont Royal having a new gear box installed and are still recovering from the cost. They are planning to go back to Sens for the winter.

Thursday, 3rd July, 2008, Auxerre

John is preparing a wooden frame for the hatch. He can make a curved wooden frame to fit the coach roof and fasten the hatch to that. I spent the morning removing paint from that part of the roof where it will go whilst John has prepared the frame.

Kikkervis left at lunchtime and we invited Maurice and Denise to bring their boat down behind ours as until then they had been rafted out from another boat. That evening Maurice and Denise invited us aboard their boat, Bonnefoi, for drinks and afterwards we all went to La Poêle, the cafeteria attached to Leclerc. Jenny is the widow of Maurice's business partner and lives near Lake Taupo in New Zealand.

Friday, 4th July, 2008, Auxerre

We could not progress with the hatch today as it threatened rain and the metalwork needs another coat of Owatrol. So we took the car, and Maurice, of a tour of possible stores to buy some Sikkaflex and some screws. Maurice wanted a reel for his electric flex.

After lunch I decided I had had enough 'boat-building' and wanted to do some sight-seeing. There are some caves near here, the Grottes d'Arcy, which are well worth seeing and contain cave paintings. John was not keen so after putting on another coat of Owatrol I invited Denise & Jenny to accompany me. The caves have been occupied by humans in pre-historic times and are 28,000 years old. The paintings were only discovered in 1990. We took the guided tour which was only in French. It took us deep into the hillside where fantastically shaped stalagmites and stalactites gave witness to the incredible age of the grotto. 160 paintings have been discovered to date, although we were only shown four of them. The ancient artists had not done free hand drawings, but they had observed that the rock formations resembled a particular animal or fish and with carbon or red ochre had then outlined and embellished the shape.

Our guide was a very colourful character who could have been on the stage. She is a young woman in her twenties with close cropped dark hair, dyed at the back into rosettes of colour - red and blue. She had on a dark mac and navy pedal pushers, and on her feet trainers with tongues which reached half way up her shins and were striped in red and blue. Beneath her mac she wore a red jumper and a string of orange plastic beads with she fingered continuously. She was a natural actress and explained that she was obliged to give the commentary in French but would translate the important bits into English, which she did.

Back at the boat John had fixed the hatch to the wooden surround so we are making progress.

Saturday, 5th July, 2008, Auxerre

The hatch is now in place. I helped John to put it in place yesterday and it was a very messy business. The mastic set within 15 minutes so we had to work quickly. Unfortunately the mastic which held the wooden frame to the boat was black and it got everywhere, dripped on the deck where one or other of us stepped in it! Today the rain is interrupting our efforts to finally clean off all the mastic.

Maurice, Denise and Jenny came for drinks in the evening and this was farewell for this year as they left this morning for Vermenton.

Yet another festival is being set up in the park, this time is looks like a Volkswagen owners' club, although there are a few other models and motor bikes as well. All of them are brightly painted. One was a Volkswagen combi decorated with flowers and towing a matching trailer. They did a circuit of the town. There are some stalls selling food, a bouncy castle and a slide, together with music. This afternoon it was Irish music which we enjoyed listening to.

Monday, 6th July, 2008, Auxerre

John is still cleaning up the hatch and I am getting ready to paint it when he has finished.

Maureen rang yesterday morning. They are preparing to come and join us and she wanted to know if there was anything we needed them to bring out from England. They should be with us by late afternoon tomorrow. John has asked for some Swarfega de-greaser for cleaning the bilge.

We went over to the park again and enjoyed the music which was Elvis Presley, Beatles and Police. I was quite sorry when they packed up in the late afternoon, but I expect the residents were glad as the circuit of the town was very noisy with lots of horn honking and inevitable traffic jams.

Wednesday, 8th July, 2008, Auxerre

On Tuesday we prepared the boat for Maureen & Steve's arrival. Unfortunately it was showery so I could not put another coat of paint on the hatch, but we cleaned the outside of the boat. Maureen and Steve rang to say that their 07h00 ferry from England had been cancelled and they would not be leaving until 10h45. That left us at a bit of a loose end and we took a walk along the quay and were invited aboard Derrineel for a glass of wine, the owners Susie and her husband were from Hull. We also talked to our neighbour, he who had been lighting the open fires for cooking. His name is Didier. He told us he used to be a carpenter with the Tour de France but had had a severe accident in which he broke his neck. He had had a piece of bone removed from his hip to reinforce his vertebrae. He is now classed as handicapped and lives all the time on his boat and does wood sculpture. When the weather becomes too cold to live on the boat he goes to stay with a friend in a house in the mountains. He has a little black dog which looks like a poodle cross and its name is Chippy.

Maureen and Steve finally arrived around 19h30 and we had a pleasant evening over the meal I had prepared which was Paupiettes de Dinde. They reported that they had had a comfortable night and this morning we took them on a walking tour of Auxerre admiring the many old buildings and exploring narrow alleyways. We finished with coffee in the Place Lepère.

Saturday, 11th July, 2008, Auxerre

We are enjoying a very pleasant few days with Maureen and Steve. They are comfortably installed in our rear cabin and say they like our boat.

On Thursday after a quick trip to the supermarket we set off for Gurgy. The day was incredibly hot and the locks incredibly slow. We left at 10h15 and only reached Moneteau by lunchtime when the locks closed. We moored at the little halte nautique by a children's playground in the shade of the trees for lunch.

At Gurgy we managed to find a place where there was sufficient depth and spent the afternoon under our sunshade on the back deck. When it was cool enough we got out the barbecue and cooked our evening meal on the river bank. It was very pleasant except that Steve put his foot down a hole on the edge of the very inadequate quay and grazed his heel and Achilles tendon quite badly. We had a first aid kid on board and I was able to clean it up and bandage it for him.

On Friday morning we woke to rain and travelled back to Auxerre in a downpour. Again we chilled out with books but this time in the wheelhouse away from the rain. Back at Auxerre we were urged to moor at the north end of the marina even though our old spot was vacant. It soon became evident that this is because of the fireworks for the 14th July and all the boats are being moved up to the north end of the quay, and graded according to size.

Maureen and I visited the Boat Boutique and admired the lovely range of clothes in there, all designed and made by Michelle, wife of the owner. They are all very smart. There were wrap-around skirts and slacks and a lovely nautical jacket. But I was not tempted to buy as all my boating clothes tend to get covered in slime when we are using the locks.

Tuesday, 15th July, 2008, Auxerre

On Saturday we walked into the town again and completed the walk that we had not quite finished earlier. We marvelled at the buildings and took photographs. We lunched at a café on one of the side streets which had a turret with a spiral staircase which one had to use to visit the toilets.

After lunch we visited the cathedral and returned in the late evening for the Son et Lumière show. This was a great disappointment. It was entirely focused on the history of the cathedral and not the town as anticipated. There was a commentary in English, but the standard of acting was poor. The light part of the show was just a few spotlights focussing on different parts of the church. We were bored and uncomfortable. The people from the boat ahead of us came along too. They were New Zealanders and the husband fell asleep during the show.

The next day we found ourselves rafted out from them as the process of stacking the boats together for the Bastille Day fireworks began. The entire river from the footbridge was a sea of boat, rafted according to size. We were the third boat in a row of four. The first boat was a South African, Minon, who was not happy to have us tramping over his decks. Maureen and I went to the Sunday market and the boats had been moved in our absence. The South African asked us to check our shoes before we came aboard. The next boat was the New Zealander, and on the end we discovered Antal and Ursula whom we met last year in St. Mihiel, aboard their boat Urivanti. They are a Swiss couple. Antal was not happy because when he came over the South African boat he wiped his feet very loudly so that the occupiers would know he had done it, even so the owner came out and asked him to wipe his feet. Antal protested that he had done so, but the South African followed him around the boat with a mop. This behaviour makes us very unhappy and reluctant to go ashore. What is the point of owning a boat if it such a source of anxiety?

That evening prior to the fireworks there was yet another concert in the park and we went ashore to listen. As we were leaving I saw that Didier's little dog, Chippy, was jumping from his own boat onto another closer inshore. They had been rafted about four boats out. Once ashore I found Julie and asked her to find Didier and let him know about Chippy. We saw him a few moments later frantically searching in the area where their boat used to be. Eventually he was found crossing the bridge. Didier had just spotted him.

The river was an incredible sight. The southern part between the central footbridge and the southern bridge had been entirely cleared of boats and the wooden perimeter fence of the port had been removed to allow public access. When we went ashore we were given a pass to allow us back to our boat. Unfortunately it was showery and cold so we waited inside the boat until the fireworks began and then took our G & Ts. onto the back deck. The fireworks were marvellous, but unfortunately we could not hear the accompanying music from where we were.

On Monday, Bastille Day itself we went ashore. We saw a parade of soldiers along the town side of the river followed by a dozen or so fire engines and rescue vehicles. There were two bands, one in black and white formal dress, and the other in blue waistcoats which looked as though they were national costume. Afterwards there were free drinks - wine, cider, fruit juice etc. and nibbles served from tables covered with white cloths under the trees in the car park. We then walked on into town, bought bread for lunch, and had coffee at a pavement café.

That evening we went out after our evening meal to a café where we knew they would be playing Celtic music. It was a beautiful evening and we sat outside sipping beers and shandies, listening to the group who were called Oubéret. People were dancing to the music. We would have loved to have joined in but the dancers knew what they were doing and performed Irish jigs and dances with complicated footwork that we did not know. I learned later from Paul, that there is a thriving Celtic dancing group in Vermenton.

This morning the South African and the New Zealander both left at 09h00 but not before the South African had been to the Capitainerie and is reported to have told Paul that he did not think much of his system of rafting out. I understand that Paul told him that if he did not like it he did not need to return.

Wednesday, 16th July, 2008, Auxerre

Last night Maureen and Steve took us out for a farewell and thank-you meal at a restaurant on the quay opposite. We sat outside under a huge gazebo and ate guinea fowl, pig's cheek and braised steak. We had goat's cheese salad and melon for starters and cheese and strawberry gateau for dessert.

Maureen and Steve left just after nine this morning. After I had stripped the beds and hung the sheets out to dry John and I chilled out for the rest of the day.

Saturday, 19th July, 2008, Auxerre

John has been using the Swarfega that Steve brought to clean out our engine bilge and the remains of the oil left by our leaking injectors. I have been putting further coats of paint on the coach roof, around the hatch. So we are having a rather humdrum life, enjoying the town and the proximity of the supermarket and waiting for another lot of visitors, Lesley and Steve, who are going to use our boat whilst we go back to England in a week or two.

Saturday, 26th July, 2008, Gurgy

Les and Steve arrived on Thursday evening and we met them at the station with our car. They were clearly tired after travelling from Australia via Paris. I had a meal ready for them and they retired quite soon afterwards. We had quite a lazy day on Friday, introducing them to the boat and the locality, walking into town in the evening for drinks at a pavement café. It has become incredibly hot and we are all flagging.

Today we set off with the boat and hope to reach Joigny. Steve helmed the boat all the way and I attempted to teach Les how to lasso bollards to save having to use lock ladders. She has always used ladders and I guess she will probably do this when we are gone.

It rained last night which was a blessed relief from the overpowering heat.

Monday, 28th July, 2008, Joigny/Auxerre

We stayed in Gurgy for Saturday night and had a barbecue on the quay. It was very hot again but we were able to put the barbecue and tables and chairs under the shade of the trees. There were lots of boats there, mostly hire boats.

The next day we travelled to Joigny. Les and Steve are handling the boat well. It has been very hot again and when we reached Joigny we did not know what to do with ourselves. We moored at the hire boat base and Les and Steve went for showers in the Capitainerie. We then headed into town in search of a bar where we could sit in the shade with a cold drink prior to having a meal out. Unfortunately it was Sunday and most places were closed. We walked up the hill via the main street surrounded on all sides by the lovely timbered houses. Reaching the main square, dominated by the Tree of Jesse house we found an Art café where we were able to have a cold beer surrounded by garishly painted pictures such as a work of art made of the seed pods of the Honesty plant, a plastic sculpture of a shirt front complete with collar and tie, etc .It was too hot to do any sight-seeing and we set off to find a restaurant. It was now approaching 18h00. The young lady in the Art Bar said that the Paris/Nice hotel across the river might be open. It was not, but there was a brasserie nearby where we were initially told we could have a meal. After we had collapsed gratefully at a table in the shady interior they apologised and said they would not be serving that night (perhaps they had forgotten it was Sunday?). The waiter said that he thought the Rive Gauche would be open. The Rive Gauche was a rather smart restaurant along the river bank from the hire base. We made our way there, making use of every bit of shade and reached the gates at 18h15. A notice said that they would be serving at 19h15. We went inside, booked a table and had drinks on the terrace. Eventually we had one of the best meals I had ever had, in an air conditioned dining room. John and I had a platter of hors d'oeuvres - crevettes, celeriac salad, couscous, grated carrot, potted meat, etc. served in seashells on a wickerwork tray.

Beforehand they served a tiny dish of potted salmon and broccoli whilst we waited. For the main course Steve and I had duck whilst Les and John shared a saddle of lamb. The cheese board was a symphony of colours, shapes and textures of cheeses; we were able to have several small tastes. John and I were the only ones to have a dessert. John chose melon, which was melon balls in a half melon shell with lots of juice and redcurrants and blackcurrants. I had La Peche which was two slices of hot peach, some slices of fresh peach, a slice of gateau and redcurrants.

A thunderstorm broke out whilst we were having our meal and we walked back in torrential rain.

It was very misty first thing next morning but as the sun rose it burned off the haze. We set off for the first lock at 09h00 hoping to get back to Auxerre today. John and I had decided to leave a day earlier than planned to escape the heat. We had a good run from Joigny as far as Monetau where we found various hire boats milling about and a closed lock. This was a lock where some work was being done on the barrage and I got the binoculars out and saw a boat in the lock being either filled or emptied by a crane. Various rumours were flying between the boats as we circled each other. One was that the lock would be closed for the rest of the day. I called the keeper and he said that the lock would be open in half an hour or less. We tied up alongside a hire boat with an English family aboard at the waiting quay. There were three hire boats with families on them who were obviously together and they seemed to be speaking Russian. Eventually we were allowed through the lock and the next and were soon tying up at the port.

Saturday, 30th August, 2008, Auxerre

We arrived back at the boat on Thursday having left home at 03h45. There had been warning messages on the motorway saying that the M25 was closed between J29 and J30 which are the two junctions closest to the Dartford crossing which was the way we were planning to go. We learned that there had been an accident involving a tanker and there was likely to be a four hour delay. We had sufficient warning to drive anti-clockwise around the M25 instead of clockwise. This of course took longer and we arrived at the ferry port just as they were embarking the last of the vehicles, we were able to join the end of the line and go straight on board by the skin of our teeth.

Once on French soil we needed find petrol and asked the Sat Nav to take us to the nearest service station. We were guided off the main roads towards Dunkirk where we found what we wanted but instead of then taking us back to the motorway we were taken through the countryside, down farm tracks and country lanes where we got stuck behind a tractor. If John had been driving I would have consulted the map and used that to find a route. But John finds it difficult to read a map in a moving car and it took us 45 minutes before we were back on track and heading for Auxerre. Also the Sat Nav wanted to take us via Paris. In normal circumstances this may have been the quickest route but this was the end of August when the Parisians were returning from their holiday. Instead we asked it to guide us via Troyes. We arrived at the boat at 18h50 having left the ferry at 13h00 French time. It had been a total of 13 hours travelling including two hours on the ferry. Les and Steve were expecting us and planned to take us out for a farewell meal. After we had unpacked and made up our beds we walked into town and ate at La Marmite. The restaurant was small and dark but the food was good and served by a pleasant blonde Madame. Steve had snails for his starter and Les had egg mayonnaise. John and I went straight to the main course and had trout and chicken, Les and Steve had rabbit and trout. Dessert was ice cream, chocolate mousse, cheese and peaches.

Sunday, 31st August, 2008, Auxerre

Les and Steve left on Friday. We ran them to the station and had coffee with them in the station buffet whilst they waited for their train. It turned out that they did not go anywhere on the boat but used it as a caravan. They made friends with some of the other boat people and had some days out with them but otherwise they seem to have spent their time trying to keep cool. They had bought a large fan for the boat.

In the late afternoon a couple from the boat behind us, Ware Whaka, who were John and Elaine from New Zealand invited us to join them for drinks on the quay. We were also joined by Brian from the barge Dorney whose wife had caught the same train as Les and Steve that morning. She had gone home to wash and pack for an impending holiday to Thailand. Brian had stayed behind to supervise engine repairs which had hopefully been completed that afternoon.. We had a great natter over red wine and cheese and when the sun went down and it became cooler the suggestion was made that we should share a meal. We took what food we had aboard Dorney. I took potato salad with tinned ham, peas and carrots. Elaine brought cold fish and green salad and Brian provided the wine. We had a very convivial time and staggered back to the boats around midnight.

Tuesday, 2nd September, 2008, Auxerre

Sunday was cooler. We took Elaine and John to the street market in the morning, and they had a glass of wine with us in the afternoon.

On Monday work began on our boat. John and I took one of the doors off to measure for a new one. The new doors are going to be fibreglass.

Friday, 5th September, 2008, Auxerre

It has rained on and off since Tuesday. We have started to remove the paint from the top of the cabin preparatory to repainting. Some of it is so badly adhered that it comes off with the finger nails; the rest needs a chipping hammer. Elaine and John are also working on their boat. They are in the middle of painting their bedroom. Elaine took a copy of my book, Floating Through France, and enjoyed it so much she read it through at one go.

Wednesday, 10th September, 2008, Auxerre

John has taken all the paint off the cabin top, I have helped by doing some scraping must mostly I have been cleaning up as he goes along so as to prevent the paint flakes from polluting the river. On Saturday when it was too wet to work we went to the museum in the old bishop's palace. There were bits of armour, statuary, a model of old Auxerre, coins, etc. we also went into the abbey, the cloisters, the chapître, etc. It was extremely interesting and worth the effort.

Auxerre is the capital of lower Burgundy and has grown along the banks of the river and up the hill, creating steep streets and shady boulevards lined with old houses. The Boulevard Vauban follows the line of the old town wall. The highlight of the town for me was the Tour Horloge or Tour Gaillarde, a tower built in the 15th century. An astrological clock was added in the 17th century with faces showing the movement of the sun and moon. This tower was originally built as a prison for a count. It was ravaged by fire in 1825 and later restored to the original.

From the boat we have a wonderful cityscape. The roofs of the three principal religious buildings and of the houses are all of the same type of slate, giving a pleasing uniformity.

Sunday, 14th September, 2008, Auxerre

John has finished the last of the grinding and chipping. It has been a hard slog for him and I do admire his persistence. I would have given up long ago and found the money to pay for someone else to do it. I tried to help by using chemical paint stripper on some of the curved bits but this does not take all the layers off and it is quicker to grind it off. We also tried a heat gun but again found that the grinder was quicker. I left it to John, put ear plugs in, and went below to do jobs inside the boat. I still rushed out every time I heard John stop and I brushed up the chippings and dust. Paul came yesterday. He was not happy with us working on the boat near other boats who are holidaymakers. We understand. He said he would move us in the afternoon but 24 hrs have passed and nothing has happened yet.

Thursday 1st October, 2008, Auxerre

Autumn has begun. The weather has been gradually getting cooler in the mornings but by about 11h00 we are still able to work outside until well into the afternoon. But the weather finally broke at the end of September. We had just managed to get on the final coat of Owatrol so we were very pleased.

John has begun to re-carpet the wheelhouse with new carpet tiles and as he does so he is edging all the hatches which give access to the engine with T-shaped aluminium pieces. This will make access so much easier. Until this point whenever he wanted to work on the engine he had to take up a jig-saw of carpet tiles from the entire floor. Now he can lift individual hatches.

Whilst he does this I can only work in the dinette/galley but I have been cleaning and packing preparatory to departure. Tomorrow we have arranged to be lifted out of the water and we have booked a night at the Ibis hotel just a stone's throw away, whilst Liberty will go into the hangar where the hull will be repainted and new doors made. We will need to sleep aboard for one night before we move to the hotel and then begin our drive home.

Saturday, 3rd October, 2008, Auxerre

What we did not realise was that when the boat was in the hoist where we were to spend the night was that the deck would be tilted due to the shape of the hull. We spent a very uncomfortable night trying to sleep at an angle which seemed like 45 degrees. We were glad to move into the hotel, to have hot showers in a room shower cubicle and sleep on a comfortable bed for our final night in France.