We were a bit late getting going on Saturday morning and didn’t set off until 11.30. Our first lock was 3km away, so we had plenty of time to get there before it closed for lunch at 12.30. The only problem was that we couldn’t raise the lock keeper either by phone or radio. In the end we just set off anyway. Radioing ahead is pretty simple and I’ll include the general format as part of it comes into our story later on. The locks on the River Yonne are on VHF channel 12 (the guide books always show the channels for each river and canal lock). The message goes like this:
Écluse [name of lock], écluse [name of lock]
C’est Chalkhill Blue, Chalkhill Blue
Montant [upstream] / avalant [downstream]
Je suis à X kilometre distance
Approaching the lock, we could see the gates were closed and there was no sign of life, so we pulled up at the rather narrowboat unfriendly waiting area. Karen held the boat against the pilings while I went in search of the éclusier.
|Unusual waiting area|
I found Pierre mixing up some concrete; he explained that as it was the first day of the season, he had assumed no boats were coming and he would start lunch early and get on with some work. We had a conversation in French with the upshot being that he would open the lock for us in an hour’s time. I said this suited us fine as it meant we could do a spot of butterflying and have lunch. Well, I have to admit that I didn’t tell him about the butterflying because I didn’t know how to say that in French.
I had a little panic when we were having lunch that when he said one hour, he actually meant one o’clock but relaxed when I realised that he would have said thirteen o’clock.
When butterflying we saw holly blues, orange tips, brimstones and small whites but were surprised not to see a speckled wood as the area seemed ideal.
Sure enough an hour later the gates were opening and we were soon going up our first lock. The locks on the River Yonne are somewhat larger than we have been used to lately at a minimum of 90 metres long and 8.2 metres wide. We were really thankful to Mike & Aileen’s instruction on locking in France when we cruised with them on the Canal du Midi last summer. We were also glad we had the mods done that they and other people recommended.
Pierre was a really nice guy and was interested in wildlife and intrigued at our interest in butterflies. He said he had heard my radio message that we were on our way (they don’t always respond apparently, and you just have to assume they have heard) and he couldn’t work out what ‘Chalkhill Blue’ meant. He soon realised once he saw the butterflies on our boat though.
|Pierre saying goodbye|
|Heading for our second lock|
|Passing a pretty stone bridge carrying the towpath over a tributary to the Yonne just before the second lock|
As we neared the second lock, we saw it wasn’t set for us and were surprised as Pierre had contacted the éclusier and said we were on our way. We soon realised why, there were four boats coming into the lock led by Simon in his old French lifeboat.
|The four boats led by Simon|
We have found out that there’s a new law that means we have to get fire extinguishers tested every year rather than every two years. We had called up Simon and he told us that it was true, and he gets a tester in each year to do all the boats in the yard that are due in one go but had missed this year’s date.
Simon pulled up alongside us to tell us he had found a tester from further upstream and that we should call him on Monday as he had the tester’s phone number in his office. Boats do get boarded and checked by the waterway police over here and we have heard a few stories about how intrusive they can be. We have a folder full of all sorts of documentation that we have to have close to hand at all times.
As we went into the second lock, we realised one side was sloping. We had known that when reading the navigation guide over breakfast but had then forgotten. We decided to stay on the straight side.
|The pontoons float up and down the sides as the water rises and falls|
The system we have adopted means Karen has to place a loop at the end of a line over a bollard from the front of the boat. I then keep the boat in forward gear with the tiller hard over to keep it against the lock wall and therefore not affected by the turbulence of the water filling the lock.
|Karen hooking the loop of line over the bollard|
As there is a lot of strain against the line where it rubs on the lock edge, we have a climbers’ rope protector on the rope where it tends to rub. We haven’t quite got the knack of positioning it correctly but we’re getting there.
We have also put long zigzag fenders along the side at the back to protect the boat when it is being held against the lock wall.
|The zigzag fender is down there, honest!|
After coming out of Raveuse lock we left the river and joined a cut for the next few kilometres. Even though this was a man made cut like a canal it was still relatively wide.
|On the Derivation de Gurgy|
The UK navigation guides that we have used always show markers at every mile so you can work out distances travelled or to travel. On canals that also have physical mile markers we would have expected the two to marry up but, irritatingly to us, they never seem to. We were pleased to notice that the same is not the case over here; the kilometre markers on the French guides tie up exactly with the kilometre posts on the towpath. Although the physical posts aren’t always there of course😉
|One of the kilometre posts|
At the end of the cut we rejoined the river at Gurgy flood gates. As the river wasn’t high the lock gates were open, and we went straight through.
|Passing through Gurgy flood gates|
We had plenty of admirers again whenever we went through a village with lots of waves and compliments; we’re still convinced they all feel sorry for us for being British at the moment or maybe they’re applauding us for getting away from it all.
|Approaching the moorings at Gurgy|
As we approached our mooring for the night, we were surprised to see a boat already moored up. It had a red ensign flying and Adrian and Rose came out to help us moor up. They had overwintered in Auxerre and were heading to Migennes to get some work done on the boat.
The moorings were twinned with a motorhome park and there were half a dozen vans there already with people picnicking outside, so it really did feel like summer was on its way.
We were shattered so after doing a few necessary boat chores we had a short walk around the village, watched a boules match for a while, and then spent the evening indoors.
|Our Saturday night mooring|
At our last lock of the day the éclusier had asked us what time we were setting off in the morning so he could ensure the locks would be set for us. It wasn’t until later that we realised that we would be losing an hour overnight and hadn’t taken that into account in our deliberations ☹
Anyway, we had had an amazing first day and, although feeling shattered and somewhat sunburnt, we were happy and relaxed. Judging by the comments we have had from people we are going to really enjoy ourselves. One comment that someone said to Karen springs to mind, ‘We came over here for two years ten years ago and if you only have half the fun we do you will love it!’.
On Saturday we cruised 14km up four locks.