To prevent confusion in all our many readers, Gail is no longer on the boat but I cannot remove her name from the by line. So it is I, Gerald who is writing these wondrous stories!
Now we are at a place called Nevers ,which to the unanitiated is the town mentioned In the Alain Renais and Margaret. Duras film Hiroshima mon amour ….were in a lovely canal port with showers and opposite a restaurant that specialises in frittures du Rhone a type of whitebait where we ate last night with Mary and Helga who arrived from London by train that evening .
The voyage has been long sometimes tiring with many adventures but Octo is like a semi tamed wild horse with a mind of her own she’ll stay straight for ten minutes and suddenly take a dive for the bank to recover one has to whirl the wheel as she is now in what we call The Wiggle and we’ve had near misses of boats locks and floating logs and some big bumps and lost and broken fenders
The lock system is wondrous there are automatic locks that you operate with a remote or by turning a pole in the canal middle some pick you up by radar and others have a lockkeeper who does all the work and those are the slowest and the guys follow us on motorbikes to open up Octo with fenders fits exactly into these and the boat has to be carefully lined up with someone on the port bow shouting. Right right right ok and then BANG ,,,,,,,some have the most beautiful gardens mostly geraniums which France seems to grow better than any other country and every bridge has it’s huge pots of flowers locks in different parts of the system open and close at different times we are now opening at 9 close between 12and1 and close at 7 all this determines our routine which is we get up half an hour before opening time have a coffee and start the engines David and I do half an hour at the wheel each but I do the locks sometimes 20 a day And our record distance has been 51km
We seem to have calculated that locks take about 15minutes and our speed is 6km/hr so we can roughly determine where we’ll be that night but the chart shows what facilities are available and we choose the best ,,,lunch is on the run and you won’t find abetter one 3types of pate including rillettes 3or4cheeses. Celerirave tomato endive salad
fruit and rose or white wine plus fresh bread bought either before we leave or the night before,we try to arrive around 5pm to ensure a berth and then head straight to nearest bar for a beer we mostly cook supper aboard but have been to many delicious country restaurants and tried all sorts of dishes we didn’t know about or just love And we found a brasserie in Nemours which was France of the fiftees
When David and Norma and car joined as Michy left we started by him driving to the next destination say 25km away and then leaving the car there he’d cycle back but that meant we could only leave at midday so we soon abandoned that and instead he’d take the car 100km and return by train
Nearing the south of Paris I phoned Pierre to come with Eric but he was in st palais so at Epernay he and martine joined us for a restaurant lunch we were then on the Marne river which you and mum and Michèle took on Shambira in 1977
The weather has been generally good and once it was 40degrees in the saloon but heavy thunderstorms are part of a French summer .
Culturally we’ve not done too much but we’ve done Reims cathedral we walked around a medieval village and in most places the church has some mitigating features ,we never have any news or music and we don’t miss them
Driving thru these narrow canals means slowing down when crossing other boats and once we were nearly demolished by a huge peniche that took over most of the canal and then got shouted at for not passing him on the wrong side we’ve been over one of the wonders of France the pont canal at Briare built by Eiffel in 1890 it goes over the Loire river which must be over a km wide another pont canal required a double lock to get onto it . The countryside is so beautiful tree lined then open areas where you can look over pastures maize fields the canal twists and turns and the many cyclists on the tow path give us a wave and we feed the ducks and swans and the grey heron and white tern are the most prominent birds the beautiful old villages that line the canal and the very many deserted factories are a feature and at one lock we were able to buy Sancerre wine and pouilly fume two of the great wines of france
Petrol and food are very difficult the villages might have a baker and a bar but if you need a supermarket it’s out of town as is petrol so we have to hire taxis and some won’t take fuel and Octo thrives on fuel
When it’s sunny we eat and have sundowners on the top deck with the cover up on the canal sitting up there while motoring is totally different from the downstairs view and gives a greater idea of the canal the scale changes somehow. You will remember that fishermen line the canal and very often refuse to pull in their lines which we then run over and get called connards .
The most I regret about this fantastic trip is that my friends cannot share this unique experience and join in our talks and discussion on the days events of which there are always a few yesterday three drunks walked over the bridge near us and the two pushed their mate into the canal .
We’re heading south slowly today well do Nevers many churches and the fantastic palace of the dukes of Nevers we’ll leave in a couple of days to get to the central canal which has 62locks in 112 km , Mary and Helga will have to experience lack of hot water showers and get used to the routine and new experience but that should be what they came for .