23 September, 2011

Malua packed up for winter

There is always a story behind the headline but not told today.  Malua is in Navy Service and we are in Paris.

Malua's location is 

20 September, 2011

Cats in the Cabin

Last night – well not quite last night but I wrote this piece the day after it happened but have not uploaded it till now.  We stopped at Ardoise  We had stayed here on our way north – it is off the river up a tributary just south of the nuclear plant.  It is a back water with little traffic and a few boats tied up in a marina run by a lovely French lady.  On our first visit we did not stop at her restaurant but eat on board.  The following morning our neighbours told us about the great meal that they had at the restaurant and we should go that night.  Unfortunately we were moving on so we had to skip the meal.  Now this time when we tied up we advised the restaurant lady we would be having dinner and a great dinner it was – To start we had a pastry parcel of tomatoes, goat’s cheese and herbs followed by hare in wine sauce and a pork fillet.  All prepared and cooked by the lady.  Needles to say we had a good quantity of Cote de Rhone wine.
After a very enjoyable dinner we returned to Malua which was moored alongside a large British barge with no people on board.  The night was warm so I slipped in the lower and upper wash boards to close off the companionway and retired to bed.  At about 3:00 o clock I was woken by a noise I thought was the rattle of the wash boards.  I lay awake listening hoping to catch another noise or to hear some movement in the saloon.  I heard nothing but knew I had to get up to investigate.  Taking the touch beside my bed I entered the saloon and there on the top step of the companionway was a big black cat.  With a shout that not only woke Denny but most of the marina, the cat slipped between the wash boards and bounded down the walkway fleeing a mad captain.
Now that remind me of the last time I heard a cat noise in the night.  I was alone moored Med style to a quay alongside Charlie Girl at little Vathi in Greece.  We had been out for some food and I had returned knowing that the Greek cats like to scavenge for food on empty boats so I had closed the companion way, portlights and all the hatches.  I went to sleep with only the small portlight open a meter above the stove.  I was woken with the noise of the kettle moving on the stove.  I thought it was only the wind but after listening awhile I heard another noise.  I knew I had company.  I switched on the touch and advanced into the saloon to find a cat on the settee.  I aimed a good shot with the touch and the cat started to climb the walls, ceilings and every other place to get away.  It could not jump back through the portlight and the companionway was closed.  After a good attempt to subdue the animal with the touch I decided to let it escape through the companionway.  I removed the wash boards and advance on the cat.  There was a flash past a good swing of the touch and the cat was gone.  I closed the aft cabin door and closed the wash board and return to bed.
The following day I cast off the quay and sailed to the other side of the island for two days of relaxation while I lay at anchor about 30 meters from the shore.  The following day I sailed to Vlikho a good days sail from Kalamos.  On this occasion I again went stern too the quay and dropped the boarding plank to get ashore.  Before I left to see the island I opened the aft cabin door for the first time for four days.  I was struck by a vile cat sell.  Not wanting to investigate further I hit the high road asking my neighbour to keep an eye on Malua while I was gone.
On my return the neighbour who did not speak much English told me my cat had run off the boat and had been chased down the wharf by the local tom and I should go and look for it before it was killed.  On further investigation at the back of the aft cabin I found where the cat had lived for four days.  A mess of hair and other things brown was unbelievable.  I must have scared the shit out of that cat on the night and then locked it the cabin without food or water for four days.  It took me a week to get the mess out of the cabin and at least four weeks to get rid of the sell.
I should have learnt my lesson on that occasion but I did not expect the French cats to follow the Greek example but on this occasion I was sure it ran down the walkway.

13 September, 2011

Marcoule Nuclear Plant

Stop press.  Today 12 September 2011 as we were passing the Marcoule nuclear plant when a siren went off.  Denny and I joked that the siren indicated a nuclear explosion.  If the lack of water could not stop us then only a nuclear explosion could finally put and end to our trip through the French canals.
Never tempt fate!
There was an explosion at the plant at the very time we passed.  Fortunately it was an industrial accident not a nuclear accident so the chances of radiation are very low although the wind was blowing in our direction.  We continued down the Rhone and am now at l,Ardoise on our way to Avignon and Port St Lois.
More on the last step of our trip later but for now we are fine.

10 September, 2011

Equipment for cruising the canals of France

We are now in Condrieu heading back  to the mouth of the Rhone having traveled more than 1200km.  This is my experience from this summer and the knowledge that I have gained.
Boat. It goes without saying: have the right boat – a rectangular steel barge which draws no water and has an economical motor and all the living facilities BUT if you own your sailing yacht and want to cruise the French canals it can still be done.
If your draft is greater than 2.0 m you will not be able to go very far.  At two meters we travelled the Rhone with easy, sailed up the Saone watching the depth gauge most of the time and came alongside almost everywhere with a few inches under the keel.  The only canal I would attempt with this draft is the canal Champagne du Bourgogne (la Marne).  One can get through to Paris if all the variables are right and you have nerves of steel and don’t mind going aground more than a few times but I feel it is possible when there is lots of water.  A vessel with 1.8 to 1.9 will make it with only a few groundings during a wet season.  A dry season you will be lucky with 1.8m.
What do you need on your boat?
Fenders.  The most important items in the canals are good strong fenders.  At least four round fenders of at least 420mm diameter. The bigger the boat the bigger the fender - over 500mm get too large.  Have good lines to secure them and put then at the bow to protect the pulpit rails.  Two at the stern to do the same to your aft area.  I also have a stern/swim platform fender I use in marinas as a protection from other vessel coming into my stern at a mooring.  Then have at least four to six extra fenders along each side with at least two good strong ones in the middle section.  These protect you when you come up against the lock sides as the water rushes in.  The lines securing them have to be strong.  I initially hung then between the stanchions but the force of the rising water against the lock walls pulled the lifelines with such force the stanchions bent inwards.  The shortest distance between two points of a circumference of a circle – tight lifeline is a straight line so stanchions bent inwards.  The main ones are secured at the stanchions themselves.
As you move through the canal system you move the fenders up and down to match the height of the mooring pontoons.  One can also move extra fenders to the mooring side but that is a hassle especially if you change your mind mid way into a lock because some one has secured on your preferred side.
Barge Boards.  Great piece of equipment when you need it and that is against a rough or broken quay but we did not use it often.  The important thing is to set the lines into the wood so they don’t rub against the rough sides.  I use chain but it didn’t work well.
Lines.  You cant have too many good lines.  Well they will start good but end well worn.  The thickness depend on your hands and cleats.  I have 18mm nylon lines I used in the marine at home.  They have lasted well and go into the selftailing side of my electric Anderson winches.  You should have two at least twice the length of your vessel – slightly shorter will do.  You use them from the front and aft cleats to a middle bollard then back again to the cleat and up to your winch or hands while standing.  Add some for the 5 m fall in the lock and you have the minimum length.  I have spliced a loop into the one end so it is easy to attach and more importantly un-attach that end.  We also have on either side a line as long as the vessel to secure us an amidships as a spring when we arrive at a wharf.  This is the first to be attached.  I can then go forward or astern to bring Malua alongside at which time we use the fore and aft breast lines to stop the bow or stern swinging out.  The off side spring is brought round to make the other spring secured to the dock.  In addition I have a light throwing line for when we ran aground.  I can throw this line some distance and attach a thicker line to pull us off.  The ability to throw a line some distance does help so practice on your boat before you leave.  There is not much room to swing a line especially with lifelines etc.
Charts.  Forget the electronic C-map charts.  They are expensive and useless.  I chose The Guide Fluvial as my series which is better at showing where to tie up.  The write up on the towns is good.  The other guides don’t work for me.  The Imray Inland Waterways of France is now an armchair guide.  It covers all the canals in such a haphazard way I can’t follow it plus the amount of info is sparse and dated.  Through the French Canals David Jefferson is useless.  I have the 11th edition not the latest so it would have to change radically if I would even consider swapping it for a trashy novel.  Cruising French Waterways by Hugh Mcknight is in the same class of useless information.  The per kilo to information ration is not worth carrying or posting it to your boat.  Not worth a swap either.
Other books.  If you don’t speak fluent French don’t leave home without French for Cruisers by Kathy Parsons  (Kathy@frenchforcruisers.com).  This is the best book to communicate with the locals.  Not only does it have everyday words but a full and comprehensive list of French words and sayings to fix your boat or restock it with food, parts and everything one may need eg float switch – contacteur a flotteur.  Not bad.  The other books regard what you want to achieve in France.  We wanted to drink some wine and eat some cheese.  The Eyewitness Companions: French Cheeses and French Wines by Robert Joseph where a very good start.  Here again bring them from home because the French books are cheap but not in English although we purchased these from the wineshop in Notre Dame des Doms at Avignon.  A good guide to France helps but they tend to be motorcar centric which makes it hard while on a boat.  One for Paris is essential.  There is a guide Wine to water which is good but I have only seen a copy owned by another yatties.
Bicycles.  Wheels.  An essential part of getting about to the local village or town or just riding along the tow path.  If you follow the blog you will know how I purchased mine at a flee market.  The extra bike I got at a pawn broker but you can purchase good inexpensive bikes at the larger supermarkets for 99 to 130 Euros.  An essential item is either a carry basket on the front or a carrier on the rear to hold you goods.  A locking chain is essential in towns and alongside at night.  The more upright the easier to ride in town.  Mountain bikes are OK our small kids bikes do not have the ability to lift the saddle high enough so you ride with bent knees which is not easy over a long distance.
Electrical cables.  Go out and purchase 30 -40 meter 240 volt extension cable if you don’t own at least that length.  There are many, many places that the electricity is there but too far to get to.  Not at the paying places but the many others you will visit.
Water Hose.  At least 30 meter.  Here again the water is there you only have to get it.  People will let you connect to their hose but not to their electricity even if you have the connection fittings.  The yellow French hose is the greatest.  It lasts and doesn’t kink.
Diesel Containers.  I don’t usually like carting fuel from the service station down the road.  The 10 to 20 cents savings is just not worth the effort but to those that do it is a saving and you can get it more frequently than getting fuel on the water.  We travelled from Lyon all the way up the Saone and canal Champagne du Bourgogne and back to Lyon with the fuel on board.  Good planning saves your back and arms.  I pulled my arm in Greece so am now careful about the weight.
Camping Gaz.  The only kind to use in France.  Forget exchanging your Greek bottles in France, we tried it twice and where rejected.  Give them away.  Replace the bottles at the first Carrefour.  Not too expensive.  Get your empty ones filled at the larger supermarkets.  Find the service desk, hand in your empty bottle for a slip and the take a full bottle off the shelf and pay for it at check out.  See that they have the bottles before handing in your empty.  It cost any thing from 12 to 29 euro to refill a large bottle.  Refilling your Oz or American bottle at a gas refill place is not worth the trouble from all accounts.  If you are that serious go to a place, put a deposit on a bottle and take a full one, change your regulator to fit the local bottle and you have gas if it will fit in the space available.  I will decant the gas from French bottle into my stainless steel tanks when leaving France.
Folding Propeller.  Leave it at home in the canals.  If you have a fixed prop on board fit it when you enter the canals.  You don’t need a folding one and the chances of it getting damaged is greatly increased in the canals either from floating trees, weed and rubbish or even tree roots when you are alongside the bank.  Diving on a prop in the canals is not a great experience.
Anti Fouling.  I haven’t seen the underside of Malua but it looks as if nothing is growing on it.  What there is soon dies when you go into the salt water again.  Obviously ablative antifouling will get washed off but I will have to see how quickly.  Watch for an update.
Water filters.  Some people say check your filter every day for debris.  I did not but there again I have a guard at the inlet, a very good strainer and quite a high rise to suck up.  A friend got some plastic caught at the valve which caused some difficulty but the other two yachts came through without any trouble.
Chairs.  Have a place to sit at your wheel because in the canals you will be steering all the time.  The narrower the canal the more adjustment.  I use the auto helm but even then it is adjustment all the time so sit and access the controls or else you will be standing for up to eight hours.  Having two or more folding easy chairs to put on the bank at drinks time gets one off the boat and is a good spot to gather people around either other yachts or just passing people.  A folding table to serve dinner or lunch increases the pleasure.  Not often but memorable.
Communications.  Very similar to sailing in the Med but you wont have a backstay to get SSB email.  Free internet access is few and far between except at McDonalds but there again they are usually out of town.  I have chosen a USB dongle phone access. (3G, Edge or slower)  I have an unlocked USB module and purchase a sim in the country I am travelling in to access the phone network and the internet.  Italy is good value while France is a rip-off but I just skip a bottle of wine for lunch every second week to pay for the pleasure of collecting my email every morning.  Surfing the net is a rare option.  The same can be said for a Pay-as-you-go sim card for the phone network.  Talk is cheap but data is about 2 euro a minute which is just over the top.  If you leave roaming on you have to have a pipe with money flowing in it to keep up with the charges so just forget having a smart phone online all the time.  I use Orange because it works for me others use SFC and purchased their USB and internet access at the same time.  They tell me a years contract is cheaper especially if you get TV and a decode box but TV is not my scene.
Emergency Radio Antenna.  If you participate in the Med net cruisers network or one of the others it is great to put up your antenna and listen to where your friends are.  Remember you don’t have a back stay to transmit your SSB radio signal so an alternative is required.  We could hear people in Turkey from north of Dijon so don’t think you are out in the cold just because your inland.  Most days the static from industrial sites is not good but other days reception is good.
Shopping, Bags and Trolleys.  Shopping is easy not only for the essentials but all that extra goods you always wanted to purchase.  Carrefour, Intermarche and large Casino are great in that order.  Remember to take your own carry bags because French store don’t provide plastic bags.  Stock up on garbage bags because you will run out with none coming in.  Shopping trolleys require a one euro deposit to release them from the others so keep a coin handy.  Credit cards are always acceptable even with a signature and no pin.
Markets.  These are the highlight of the summer experience.  Here you will get most fresh goods but also cloths and other things.  You interact with the locals and see the locals interacting.  Take a bag or a bag on wheels.  If you don’t have one then 10 to 15 will get you one like the locals.  Be prepared to find your way through the French meat.  They don’t cut it according to British standards so you won’t recognise the cuts.  It can be daunting at a butcher so we tended to shop for meat at supermarkets.  It is always good.  The pork and veal, exceptional, quite different from back home!
Cheese.  Deserves a section on its own.  It is so cheap you tend to purchase too much so get yourself a cheese board with a cover so you can leave the cheese out to mature the way the French do.
Flies.  In the canals especially around Bourgogne where there are many Charolaise cattle there are many flies.  You struggle to get rid of them or keep them out.  Nets are OK but they keep the breeze out.  A fly swat helps.  There are no mosquitoes after leaving the low lying areas round the mouth of the Rhone so sleeping is fine with the portlights open.
Last Point.  Start with the right boat! Our Adams designed yacht with 2 m draft was just not right however we did have a great summer and achieved our goal of understanding the French and the French way of life – we also sampled a vast range of great wines and eat cheeses that you only get in rural France.  It was a great experience.

08 September, 2011

Of confluences

The following has been written by our guest on Malua.   Mark & Sue. Lyon is a city nestled at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers in the Rhone-Alpes department. It is a small and lovely city of warm pastel hues, old churches, a rich silk industry heritage, its buildings climbing from the river up the surrounding hills. Lyon is known for many things, particularly for food. In this wonderful country with its food obsession, Lyon is the epicentre.

We are on a boat with Harry and Denny. Our presence in Lyon emanates from one of many intersections with these dear friends, going back to our original meeting at UNE (University of New England) circa 1972.

Harry and Denny converged on Armidale from South Africa, Suzie and Mark from Apollo Bay and Sydney respectively. There began a friendship that has endured 40 odd years. By way of South Africa, Sydney as an emigration destination for H and D, and our respective journeys with jobs, kids and other life events in different places and over time, we have remained closely connected. Recent convergences at Malua, after which our host boat is named, were the catalyst for us getting together

All of this history found a new stage when we met H and D at Lyon Part Dieu station at the end of a long day’s commute from London via Paris.

Our path then takes us to Restaurant Georges, a Lyon institution. Despite its vastness, Georges is an almost perfect embodiment of the great tradition of the French brasserie, Waiters in white, service at its best, boudin noir jostling with lamb and duck as our mains arrive. Only the surprise inclusion of snails in a fish dish creates any discomfort. Georges’ own label beer, Sancerre and Crozes Hermitage complete the experience.

The Saturday riverside market in Lyon provides a wonderful array of cheeses, many from the local district, meats, fresh and cured, fish and crustacea, fruit and vegetables, fois gras, wines and other delicacies. At that point of the weekend it seemed likely to be the pivotal experience of our visit.

Pivotal in that experience was the search for the famed Bresse chicken. Unrivalled elsewhere. Harry was on a mission and after several false starts, found THE BRESSE PLACE. The bouchier offered a range for selection, Harry chose the perfect chook, and was then asked whether he wanted the head on or off. Off was the decision. The chicken was then prepared for sale, head off, organs removed and cleansed than returned with the chick for wrapping and sale. All for 34 Euro. That’s a lot of money for a chook. The reason for this investment was to marry the chicken with preserved truffles purchased in Macon. Days later this marriage took place but that’s another story.

This was enriched by a visit to the Parc de Tete d’Or near the Museum of Contemporary Art, a very tranquil park containing the Lyon zoo.

Though the Saturday market experience reduced one of our members to tears however, it paled against our visit to the Paul Bocuse Les Halles markets on Sunday morning. This market is different from the riverside one by virtue of its quality and diversity and particularly due to the eating experiences available in the market. Fois Gras restaurants, local people eating freshly shucked oysters with a small glass of pastis or wine, a large pan of paella being cooked for takeaway, with large side pans producing some of the components including grenouilles (frogs legs) and prawns. All in all, a wonderful, evocative sensory experience!

And helped by the insight provided by our friends, we observed first and second hand the French approach to customer service – their focus is only on the person being served, not allowing distractions for others in the queue (who will find their time in focus) nor anything else. All this is very different from our Australian experience.
So as rivers and friends find their confluence, here is a poem to celebrate the experience . . .

Confluence Lyon
A fusion of perspex, steel and timber. Colours and textures.
A coming together of truffles, rosemary and thyme.
Poulet Bresse and butter. Juxtaposition of modern and mediaeval.
Glass reflecting and intriguing.
Desperate consumers, shoppers teeming – later, sheltering, teeming rain.
Tranquil gardens, cycling, jogging in train en famille.
Back on board, sharing the market spoils. Making memories.
Swans sail by in pairs. Partners forever.

23 August, 2011

Beaune Wine center of France

Beaune - the unofficial capital of Burgundy is reputed to be the greatest wine town in the world. Arriving by train from Chalon sur Saone one walks past the storage cellars of the vineyards and the companies that support the industry, stainless steel works, pipes and barrels but when you are in the centre of the old town that is when you relise that this town sells wine. There cellars or Caves as they are known here one after the next all offering a wide selection of the local wines. Try as we may to find one that was referenced in our comprehensive wine book we could not. They were either bottled by someone else, not the right appellation or just the wrong year.

We should have stood back and found Bouchard Pere et Fils cave and purchased a few from him. In the end we wondered into a merchant who is a consolidator called Patriarche who took over the Convent of the Sisters of the Visitation and turned it into a wine cellar. Entry is 10 euro each and you wonder through their 5 km of vaulted cellars filled with bottled wine. They are stacked one on top of the other as far as the eye can see. From the notice board in each section they were not that old although one section behind a double steel grill was in the early 1930 and 1950.

At the end of your walk there are around 20 bottles of wine each on its own barrel for you to taste starting with three rather good whites: Rully, Auxey-Duress and Meurault. We the went on to taste a range of Bourgogne Rouges which were rather fat and ordinary. The wine guide tried to tell us about their fruity character, softness, aromas of wild fruit and flowers etc etc but frankly rather flat. In the end we purchased Rully red which did not even had a winemaker name on the label. It was a good marketing experience which did not work on either Denny or I.

What did work was the Hotel Dieu or Hospices de Beaune. This use to be a hospital right up to 1970's. Today it is just a tourist attraction but on the third Sunday in November all the great wine connoisseurs and merchants gather in the great hall for the annual charity wine auction started in 1895. The auction is the centrepiece of a week of serious tasting, partying and in my opinion hot air but visitors come from all over the world to bid at the auction. In the old days the wine was made by the individual vineyards and sold at the auction in casks/cuves. The purchaser bottled the wine and the sold it on. Today more than 250,000 bottles are sold each year. The wine comes from either the Hospices own vineyards inherited down the ages or from wine donated by the local vineyards. The auction has an interesting method to force the next bid. When a bid is received a small candle is lit by the autioneers assistant. The next bid has to be received before the candle is burnt to the end and goes out. Great names are created here and people as in all auctions pay far more for the bottles than they are really worth but there again that is part of the mystic of French wine.

Rain and River Levels

This spring has been the driest in living memory here in the French country side. It got so bad during June that the VNF authorities closed the Lateral Canal to vessels drawing more than 1.6 meters. It was a great blow to Sundancer II who where just about to enter the canal when they were turned back. We heard of this restriction and passed it on to a few other yachts heading to Paris. They heeded the advice and rerouted through the Canal de la Marne or Champagne et Bourgogne. Because of our draft we had no option but to take this latter canal. It has a published depth of 2.2m but during the summer people say one can only take a vessel with a depth of less than 1.8 through this canal Our friends Forever and Isis draw more than that and they got all the way to Paris so our setback at Langre was not entirely dependent upon the depth of the canal but in the height of the water between the locks. Sounds strange well as a lock opens the water flows down hill drains the water, a lockfull at a time from the upside of the lock. Now the more opening and closing of the locks the more water flowing down hill. You may well ask where does the water come from at the top of the mountain. In the case of our locks there are three large reservoirs supplying water to the canal system. The authorities have to monitor the flow and the levels all the time. We just struck it on an unluckily period when we where in Langre in that the pond was empty because so many vessels had passed through the system. But it happened to us again with far greater consequences.

On our way back to the mouth of the Rhone while in the Saone we stopped at St Jean de Losne and tried to tie up against the stepped mooring place. We could not get close enough to come alongside so we put our nose in and ran aground with about 1.5 meters from the bank. No problems we put the ladder down and stepped shore. This is a free mooring place so we decided to spend a few days relaxing and walking to the marine up the Canal de Bologogne. This is a major stopping place for charter boats and for the sale of barges plus the repair of others. We walked around a got a feel for the price of old barges suitable to travel up and down the shallow canals.

After three days we decided to leave after breakfast but to my horror during the night the water level had dropped more than 200 mm. We here high and dry. Malua would not move on here keel and the water was at least 50mm below the normal water line boot top. I pulled on the mooring line but Malua would not budge. We had breakfast and contemplated the situation only to realize that the water was rising around us. Someone in the VNF had gone to sleep on the job during Saturday night and forgotten to turn the tap on to let water into this section of the river. On waking on Sunday morning he must have realised his mistake because the water was rising before my very eyes. Now we all know that a kettle takes longer to boil if you watch it and the tide doesn't rise as high if you watch its, the same can be said for the water level in a canal pond, so we took our bikes of the foredeck and went for a ride up the very shallow and narrow Canal du Rhone au Rhine.

It was a lovely experience cycling along the canal knowing we would not have the challenge of the locks.

When we returned to Malua she had risen from the mud and was now afloat in a few centimetres of water. Not wanting to challenge the gods again we moved away from the bank and came up alongside an Australian barge Matilda who let us moor up against then with .400mm under the keel. That night I rocked and rolled to sleep to the gentle movement of the water in the Saone. What a great feeling.

No Rain, Now Rain

People blame climate change on the extremes in our weather but for me I find it difficult to explain how one moment there is a drought in rural France and the authorities are turning boats back along the Canal du Central yet we in the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne the rain appears every day and the canal is full of water. I do know that the canals of France are highly dependent upon the rain in the areas that feed them while the rivers we have traveled on are dependent not only on the rain but on the amount of snow that falls during the preceding winter.

To alleviate this dependency the designers of the canals during the last century developed some large dams to supplement the water supply. Four artificial lakes provide water for the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne. The most important is the reservoir of the Liez which can be seen from the walls surrounding the town of Langres. It is the largest artificial lake in France and was built in 1880 with a barrage 450 m long made of sand and earth with a protective covering of stone.

The reservoir of Saint Ciergues in the valley of Mouche, feed the canal in the area of the Marne while the reservoir at Charmes is slightly larger.

We passed the 1,200 metre dam wall at Villegusien when we stopped near Piepape. The total capacity of these four reservoirs is 43 000 000 m3 which was just not sufficient to get Malua over the sandbank at Langres. The rain that day just added to the disappointment. Our return on the rivers Saome and Rhome will not be dependent upon the rain or the flow of water in these rivers but in my skill at following the course of the channel within the river. I only hope the sun shines for now we need fine days to explore the land and enjoy riding to the vinyards along the route. For Malua and Sundancer II the driest summer in living memeory will always be in our thoughts when we talk about the depth under the keel over a glass of French wine.

Dijon, Kalamata, Seville

When I first purchased Kalamata olives I had no idea that they came from the Greek town on the first finger of the Peloponnese. Now as I slip one into my mouth I remember the great time we had at the market in the town purchasing olives from a number of vendors each with their own interpretation on how the real Kalamata olive should taste.

Last week while travelling south down the Saone river we stopped at Auxonne to take the train for a few days to Dijon. Why they make mustard at Dijon I still don't know but I can tell you it has a vastly different taste as it comes out the tap at the shop where they have made it since 1747 than that purchased in a jar. The maker is Moutarde Maille who now exports their products around the world even to Australia. When I next dip into a pot of Dijon mustard to put on my roast beef or ham I will remember the two days we spent admiring the old building and architecture of the city.

We took a tour with a guide to visit the outstanding buildings of the old city. It was fascinating to admire the different styles and them walk through the door into the inner court yard and the real building. They are all well preserved either by the current owners or by the city. The main church of Notre Dame is an impressive building. Unfortunately during the revolution a single revolutionary decided the carved figures on the front of the triple doorway reflected badly against the spirit of the cause and took it upon himself to chop each image off the façade and destroy the front of the building. Day after day he took his hammer and destroyed the stone carvings. Nobody stopped him and in the end they had all disappeared. Today the façade is just a mess but a good talking point for the guides. The triple line of gargoils where spared. Each has a different face - some human while other are animal like. Impressive if viewed from just under their spouts.

On the outside of the church there is a simple carving of an owl which is supposed to be lucky. It you touch it with your left hand - the closest to your heart, your wish will be granted. It, like the other figures, has been damaged but by a modern hoodlum only a few years ago.

Unfortunately the very good museum of art was closed on the two days we where there so I did not see the tomb of Philip the Bold or John the Fearless. Why cant USA or Australian generals have similar names? Petreus the flattened.

 What of Seville? We visited the area in the '70 when we where traveling through Europe in a Combi, so every morning when I eat my toast and Seville orange marmalade I remember the oranges we picked from the trees all those years ago. What town next?

06 August, 2011

Champagne Canal and Balesmes Tunnel

The canal was conceived in 1845 and opened as the “Canal de la Haute Marne”.  It starts, in our case, on the Saone near Pontailler sur Saone and rises up through 43 locks to the summit with the long tunnel Balesmes, then falls from Langres via 71 locks to Vitry le Francois which is only a stones throw from Paris.
Some say it is boring because of the many straight sections while others enjoy the rural life surrounding the canal.  For us on Malua the depth was always a problem.  The official chart and recent advice advises that the depth is 2.2 meters however some guide books take the standard depth of 1.8.  Being a glass half full type of person I thought I could even squeeze another few centimetres from the glass. Not so!
Four large reservoirs near Langres summit, la Liez, la Mouche, Charmes and la Vingeanne ensure an excellent supply of water into the system however this year a Dutch barge got stuck in lock 21 of the Vosges canal and put that out of action for more than a month.  The impact of this is that the many Dutch vessels using that canal to get home have been diverted into our canal Champagne.  Now that normally doesn’t matter that much but the extra traffic through the locks means extra water flows down the canal and the authorities have to add water at the top of the system.  Our problem was we were right in the middle of the Dutch pack and the water had not been adequately adjusted.  It would rise and fall 200mm within an hour, so our 100mm under the keel became minus 100.  Ok if it is mud but not good if you hit a sandbank.
The operation of the locks is all mechanised and generally automatically controlled by control unit you receive at lock 43, the start northwards at Maxilly.  A clever device which you press as you approach the lock either “Avalant” or “Montant” – down or up stream.  There is an additional button “bassinne”  you press when you are secure within the lock to close the gates and adjust the water level.  Some locks are controlled by a radar unit set about 100m back from the lock.  As you pass the unit the indicator board next to the lock gate switches on the green light next to the red.  The lock then adjusts the height of the water to let you enter.  When the water level is right the gates swing open and the red light goes out.  The remaining green indicates that you are permitted to enter.  You do this with some care for in our case the lock may be long but it is not wide, only 600mm on either side of Malua.  The water level is almost at the top of the lock wall so your fenders tend to ride up over the wall.  After a while one gets very good at taking the centre line and stopping the boat next to a bollard, always on the side of the activation rod.  These blue and red rods control the water level.  One lifts the blue, never the red which shuts down the system, and the water level either flows in or out.  The former can be quite sudden but nothing like the Rhone river locks while the outflow is more sedate.  In the end we did not tie up on the way down as the boat did not move at all.  One can also use the handheld control unit to start the process.
We only had one lock which did not work but I feel that the boat in front of us pushed the wrong button so after a while I started to push all the buttons and the system reset itself and we entered without human intervention.  We did have a bit of a scare when a German fellow in a canoe joined us in the lock.  As the gates opened he paddled out first and the gates started to close on our bow.  A quick shift to astern and a press on the button saw the gates reopen and we exited vowing to run that silly red piece of plastic down.  Unfortunately he followed us for three days on and off.
Towards the summit the locks come thick and fast 8 in four kilometres and they have a high rise of more than 5.2 meters each.  This means that you have to secure to a bollard set in the wall then as you rise up the side resecure your lines to the bollard above.  Some locks have three sets while most have just two.
Generally the locks have a rise of 3.5 meters and no bollards in the wall so when you enter you have to either climb up the ladder set in the wall to loop your lines round the bollard or use a long boat hook to get a line around a bollard set back from the wall.  Our guests were a great help to loop the lines and became quite proficient at the task. Ten out of ten score on most locks!  Line with a twist minus 2 points.

Meeting traffic coming the opposite way can, if it occurs on a bend, be a very scary event.  On one occasion we came round a bend to be confronted by a large heavily laden peniche/barge with the skipper with his back to us talking on his mobile phone.  On hearing my scream he turned and ran back to the wheel house snatching the wheel from his wife who had lost control.  I turned Malua into the bank, ran aground and just waited for the crunch.  Fortunately the bow wave pushed the stern around, I gunned the engine and we slid past the 30 meters of steel to pop out behind the vessel without a scratch.  The skipper then bust from the wheel house screaming in French as I waved him goodbye.  That was an exception because most skippers slow almost to a stop when they see another seriously wide vessel and you both pull over to starboard as you gently move past with a wave and a Bonjour.

The Balesmes Tunnel is an experience to take a yacht through.  It is five kilometres long, 8 meters wide with a vertical wall on one side and a 1.8 meter wide tow path along the other wall.  It is 3.2 deep and almost 6 meters from water to roof.  The speed limit is 4 km/h and I must say with Malua being 4 meters wide it only leaves 1 meter on either side.  Not a lot if you loose concentration.  As you enter you can see the line of lights along the port wall and far in the distance a small speck of sunlight – the end of the tunnel.  Being skipper you concentrate on the speck and judge the distance on either side out of the corner of your eye.  A torch on the wall does help.  If you do hit I suspect you would bounce off the walls until you got control back, loosing your stanchions on the one side and your topsides on the other.  After more than an hour I was relieved to see the sunlight directly overhead.  We were then out into the tree lines canal and the agricultural farm lands of rural France.  All in all the canal is a great experience in canal travel, however the small towns along the route don’t offer much.  In most cases not even a bread shop so you don’t do much shopping.  The rural life is what it is good for and we enjoyed the scenery as the farmers went about their daily life.  A word of advice don’t take a yacht with 2.0 meters of draft into that canal even if the water is overflowing the banks unless you have nerves of steel.

Rural France

French Canal
They say that the French farmer is the most subsidised man on the land.  From our perspective here on the plains of the Saone they work quite hard during the sunny days of summer.  As far as the eye can see, which is not far by Australian standards, the land has been cultivated.  Currently at the end of summer the farmers are harvesting the wheat.  The combines are moving up and down the fields cutting the crop.  The next day the chaff is pilled into rows and the bailers come down and make nice neat bails of hay or alternatively large rolls of silage for the winter.
As we have had such heavy unexpected rain the routine has had to be interrupted because they can’t harvest wet wheat neither can they make hay unless the sun shines.  At our last stop we where in the middle of fields at different stages of the cycle and it was interesting to watch how the system worked.  The older machines required more steps while the modern contraptions produce a roll of hay every few minutes.
In the background of all this activity the sunflowers turn the heads as the sun passes from east to west.  (Trivia question: does the sunflower flower face the sun or turn away from the sun as it moves from dawn to dusk?)
Dotted amongst the fields are the paddocks of Charolaise cows and bulls slowly chewing the cud either to make the cheeses we eat or to produce the delicious veal we purchased at the butcher.  But the signs of autumn are in the trees with some turning yellow.  The farmers are gathering the wood into piles and taking them into the sheds close to the farmhouses ready for winter.
Watching this scene unfold from the deck of Malua was incomprehensible when we launched her those years ago in Sydney.  The question to now ask is what will we see from her decks next year?