On Sept 8th, entering the Canal Lateral a la Loire at Digoin, which runs from here for 196 km to Briare, we left behind any pretence of dry warm sunny weather. At our first overnight stop at Pierrefitte-sur-Loire (PK 19, free, water) it rained overnight but was dry enough in the morning to continue and we stopped for lunch at Diou (PK 25.5 free, no services). However, that afternoon we were caught in a couple of very heavy showers on our way to Beaulon (PK 38, free with services if you look hard and moor in the right place). It was a bit of a scramble finding warm and waterproof clothing – last seen on our visit to England in May!
We only had a further 14 km and 3 locks to reach (Vanneaux) Gannay-sur-Loire, where we had booked in to Entente Marine for that night, and so decided to spend a quiet Sunday morning walking into Beaulon to visit the arts and crafts market (advertised for that day on a poster by the port) and generally stretching our legs. It was back to the boat, empty handed, for a hearty Sunday lunch followed by a dry, with a sunny spell or two, cruise to Vanneaux where we moored at the end of Entente Marine’s long stretch of quiet and peaceful bank-side moorings (PK 52, €15 with full services). On our two previous visits here we had moored at the Halte Nautique just above the lock (free with services) – in August 2014 the Halte was full, so there was no service point available and it rained overnight, and in early April 2015 we spent three nights, fully serviced on the quay, over a wet and cold Easter.
The weather forecast for the week was not looking that good but Mark, resting up a bit after a busy summer season and only available on Mondays and Thursdays to undertake our repairs, was able to make a start on Monday morning. He located the incredibly badly placed and almost inaccessible fuse to our Vetus bow-thruster and drilled out the mounting on the alternator to take a larger bolt, which he then went off in search of locally. But the fuse he needed to order – along with the correct size and type of fan-belt which he discovered that we needed to replace the already fraying spare belt we had installed on the Rhone – and, with a couple of false starts, secured a 48 hour delivery from Paris. After an oil and filter change that afternoon there was nothing else but to wait for parts to arrive – hopefully by Thursday. The recent heavy rain had demonstrated that the external resealing of the windows undertaken in the Toulouse Dry Dock last October was proving ineffectual, and I mentioned this to Mark who said he might be able to help.
We were not in a hurry and so were more than happy to take it easy. We moved the boat a few metres to avoid being directly under the very nice oak trees which showered us with acorns during our first night and we borrowed a few books from the Port’s book exchange shelves. On Tuesday morning we cycled into the little village where we were disappointed to find that the butcher was on annual holidays for two weeks, the small and very limited grocery had run out of lettuces, and the bakery had only empty shelves (although I later learned that it was actually open). Ham eggs and creamed spinach it was for lunch, but the store cupboard and fridge were both getting alarmingly low. Other local handicaps are the almost complete lack of a Free (or other) mobile phone signal here, and no internet, with not even a bus to get to the nearest supermarket. So this was going to be more of a break than perhaps we had anticipated. It was dull and very windy on Wednesday and we sat and read and ate pasta.
On visiting the port office first thing on Thursday morning I found Mark trussed up – from having put his back out behind a computer earlier in the day – and in no condition to get down and dirty on the boat. The good news was that the parts had arrived despite a national wild cat strike on Tuesday and the office being closed on Wednesday and Sid would be able to finish the repairs on Friday. Another day of pasta looked inevitable although the Vacanciere bar/restaurant beside the port, which had changed hands since our last visit, was open daily and beginning to look more attractive. We discussed the practicalities of re-sealing the windows and decided to accept Mark and Sid’s offer to get them done the following week, weather permitting. Removing 10 windows, cleaning off any rust and re-sealing the internal joints, and then riveting them back in was going to take about 20 working hours of unencumbered dry weather. With the help of the next week’s forecasts from Meteociel and Meteo France we agreed that Wednesday and Thursday would be our best chance. It was back to more reading that afternoon and another pasta meal that night, even the epicerie was closed that day, and forming a plan to get away for the weekend.
Sid was as good as his word and by 11.00 am on Friday we were fully mobile, with working bow-thruster and TravelPower generator, and in the Vanneaux lock heading for Decize and the supermarket. Despite some looming dark clouds we had a dry run, stopping for lunch before LaMothe Lock #14 (spelled La Motte in Du Breil) reaching Decize at 3.00pm and mooring up on the quay (PK 68/69, free no services) just beyond the lock leading down into the port. From here it is an easy five minute walk to the nearby Intermarche Super and we were back, with bags full, for a late tea, more rain and our first wood fire of the winter – followed shortly by generous aperos and steak frites for dinner.
On Saturday morning we cycled in to Decize town centre and did a little sight-seeing and some more food shopping at the butcher and a veg shop. On our way we briefly said hello to the new owners of Freisland, with whom we had shared the mooring overnight. ‘Freisland’ had been Tam and Di Murrell’s ‘Bateau Ecole’ for many years, and we had had the pleasure of spending 10 days moored beside them in Cambrai a week after our arrival in France in 2014.
There were more showers in the afternoon but we managed another trip into the supermarket for bulkier essential household items. We spent 3 nights here and although getting a slightly better phone signal I was only able to get enough of an internet connection early on Sunday morning to complete a blog post before more showers and another trip to the supermarket.
As forecast, the weather was due to be clear on Monday and wet on Tuesday with dry sunshine for Wednesday and Thursday and so after checking that Mark was recovered we turned around and headed the 16 km and 4 locks back to Gannay. It was a very pleasant stretch along this wide and fairly straight canal with gentle curves through meadows and fields on either side. The sun even made brief appearances – but nothing to take off my jersey for – and I was reminded of September 2013 cruising through Northamptonshire, England, on the River Nene.
We squeezed into the dock beside the slipway and crane at Entente Marine and Mark came to check out what type of fixings he would need to order for the windows. Tuesday was wet as forecast and in order to get off the boat we opted for lunch at La Vacanciere – €13 Menu, generous plate of charcuterie, bread, generous entrecote steak and chips, cheese plate or fromage blanc, generous chocolate mousse, and 50cl red wine between us, with coffee an extra €1 each – followed by a generous siesta in the afternoon. Later Sid came knocking on the boat to update us – the particular aluminium self-sealing rivets needed were not available anywhere in France and were being ordered from England on overnight delivery, but whether or not they would arrive in time to start work tomorrow remained to be seen.
Wednesday came and went with no sign of Mark or Sid or the rivets, and neither a phone signal nor internet. It was damp and misty in the morning and although quite a nice afternoon I had begun to lose the will to live. It is surprising how dependant my daily routine has become on a good phone signal – emails from friends, family, forums, updates, promotions, international news, goings-on with family friends and DBA group on Facebook, boating blogs, weather forecasts for the coming 10 days, google maps of what shops are around, and even occasionally BBC radio.
It was sunny on Thursday, but still no delivery of rivets, and Mark had two other customers in port champing at the bit so it wasn’t until the afternoon that we got going on taking out the first windows. Mark drilled out the old rivets, I scraped off any rust around the shell and coated it with Vactan before painting with a primer, whilst he cleaned up the frames and stuck on new insulation strips, before screwing them back in (as a temporary hold). On Friday Mark and Sid both made an early start and we had completed the first side of 5 windows by lunch. Sid completed, with our help, the second side by that evening. The insulating tape was about to run out at 2pm, but the delivery of that order, then overdue, showed up in the nick of time – but still no rivets, now not expected until Monday. Sid ordered us, from the UK, spare supplies of the paint and Vactan we would need to patch up round the windows and other areas of the boat which might arrive early the next week. We hoped for a fine dry weekend and we got it!
Things had looked up on the provisions front too, with the butcher back from his two week holiday and the grocery taking orders for fresh veg for Friday – so no need to make the three hour boat trip into Decize to the supermarket this weekend. On Saturday morning, after my phone had appeared to have lost all its will to live, I was able to sit on a bench outside the Vacanciere bar and get a good enough signal for long enough to reboot, re-sign in to Google, recover a new password from Dropbox, pick up emails and even see some news on Facebook and get a weather forecast -rain due on Monday. So we settled in to enjoy a fine weekend of not getting anything else much done.
Monday morning was dull, but dry. The rivets arrived at midday and Mark got started on the first window but before he could finish it the rain came and stopped play for the rest of the afternoon. Sid arrived the next morning, ominous dark clouds overhead, and after waiting an hour or so for the heavy dew to clear he was able to make a start. Progress was good until the rivet gun jammed on the third window and the spare gun had too fat of a nozzle to fit into the narrow frame – until it was drilled down. The gun was made to work, although it has left its mark on some of the frames, and Sid finished the tenth window just before it started to drizzle with rain. What a relief – but no delivery of paint. Arranging the payment by foreign exchange bank transfer turned out to be problematic as my UK phone decided to go onto emergency calls only and was unable to receive the security code text from Visa to confirm the payment – but we worked around that one eventually on a landline and Mark offered to drop off the paint to us somewhere near Decize or Cercy-le-Tour and we were good to go the next morning.
And so, after a 16 day break at Entente Marine, we set off in a heavy mist, headed back to Decize where we stopped in at the Port for a top-up on diesel, and reached the Carrefour supermarket quay (PK 2, free no services) on the Nivernais Canal by tea-time. Whilst loading our shopping in the check-out queue that evening I heard the gentleman in front of us saying “all that chocolate isn’t good for you” (70 & 80% dark bars on special offer – 2 for €1.50 and I limited myself to 6). It was Mark from Entente Marine – then adding “so you got away then”.