2019 Barging France

“Catharina Begins Burgundy” Plan A – Z or Trapped on the Nivernais


Well, this has been a slow start to the blogging year. As we write this, we are over half way through our cruising and have yet to publish any updates. How rude! So, while we will continue with our practice of journaling each section in some detail, in this post, we will start with our plans and give a summary of where we are up to and give you some idea of how the season has been progressing. In our next blog, we will resume normal practice and, as time allows, post more articles covering the events and sights of the season in more detail.

Plan A

Our plan for this season was to travel on the smaller waterways of France, specifically those in the Burgundy area. We had also booked Catharina Elisabeth to be taken out at the shipyard near the junction of the River Loing and the Seine in early September. We wanted to finish up positioned so we could traverse the Canal du Bourgogne next season.

This led us to formulate a route that started at Migennes and took us south to Auxerre and then along the Canal du Nivernais, ending at Decize where it joins the Canal Lateral à la Loire.

Our original plan.

We would head north on this until the town of Briare, then further north on the Canal de Briare. Continuing, we’d follow the Canal du Loing until we reached the shipyard. After work was done there (mainly hull painting) we would travel the route we had finished on last year. Up a short run on the River Seine then up the River Yonne to Migennes and just duck into the Canal du Bourgogne, stopping for winter at the first town – Brienon-sur-Armançon.

Plan B, C, D, E, F …

Even before arriving we knew our plan was in trouble. This got worse as the season started and there was even a day where the Plan at breakfast had changed by lunch time and then had to be changed again by the evening!

Very little rain had fallen over the winter and spring and the reservoirs that service many of the canals were very short of water. This had already led to water restrictions in the canals east of the route we planned to travel.

Water restrictions are staged. First, they tend to lower the water level in the canals. This eventually makes it difficult for deeper drafted vessels (such as Catharina who draws 1.2 m) to travel comfortably, if at all. Then they force boats to share locks by delaying them so that they group together. This is mostly just an inconvenience that slows you down. Last, when they have dropped the levels to just over a metre deep, they will close the canal completely.

Not long after we arrived, the Canal de Bourgogne was closed at the western end. This blocked us from our winter port.

The green arrows represent where we can currently cruise in 2019.

Next to go was the Canal Lateral à la Loire when it’s level was dropped to 1.2 m (our draft) along with closures of the Canal de Briare and Canal de Loing. That blocked us from our shipyard. Finally, a lock not far down the river from Migennes broke so badly that it was going to be out of order for three months. So there was no route we could take north at all and get to the shipyard from the other direction.

We were left with only the Canal du Nivernais and a short section of the Yonne north of Migennes on which we could travel. We were trapped on the Nivernais.

Worse things can happen and we were content to have a season just on that stretch. The last change to our plans happened as we started to travel on the southern side of the Nivernais, between the summit at Baye and the town of Decize. The first stretch we travelled on was too shallow for Catharina and after a shocking time on this part of the canel from Baye to Châtillon-en-Bazois, we gave up and turned back north.

After an even more ghastly trip back from Châtillon-en-Bazois to Baye when we thought the bottom of Catharina would be ripped out by rocks, we began descending into the relatively deeper water of the northern part of the Nivernais.

As we write this, we have come back north through Clamecy, Chatel-Censoir, Vincelles and have just spent three days painting, cycling, swimming, relaxing and walking to a cave that is only 200 m away and has over six million bottles of cremant (champagne-style wine) stored inside – at the village of Bailly. Needless to say, evening drinks have been bubbly. We will continue to retrace our steps. Other than a short cruise down the Yonne to Joigny, we are heading in relaxed mode, over familiar territory to our winter mooring which, again, will be at Simon Evans’ yard at Migennes. The shipyard for hull blacking has been resheduled to the start of next season.

So, this season is going to be confined to the Nivernais – said to be one of the prettiest in France, so no great issue. We’ll have plenty of time to take it easy, do some work, entertain our guests (five sets) and maybe even write a few blog articles.

So, along the way we have watched the passing of fabulous scenery,

Les Roches de Saussois, at Merry-sur-Yonne.

basked in great weather, enjoyed wonderful towns, visited fascinating museums, marvelled at ornate churches,

Our favourite church of the season, Saint-Martin in Clamecy. Splendid stained glass throughout.

met new friends and caught up with old ones,

Afternoon drinks at Sardy – Kiwis and Aussies.

had a terrific time socialising, met charming locals, eaten delicious food,

Onboard meal of crispy confit duck with caramelised orange and Cointreau sauce.

spent time with active guests, been productive with maintenance and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves … mostly.

We’ve also been broiled in heat waves, cruised and walked in the mid-40’s, been pinned to a canal by a broken spud pole,

Lifting the half tonne spud pole 10 cm at a time.

run aground multiple times, wrecked our bimini on a bridge

Immediately after the bimini was torn down and the front edge bent upwards.

and suffered horrible crunching and bouncing over rocks.

All this and more will be described as we gradually blog out this year – and new events transpire over the next little while.

Older post:   More recent post:

    10 Responses

  1. Isn’t canal boating fun?!?!
    We did make it to Briare with 2 days to spare but we’re here (with a little side trip to Brittany the 15th-21st) until the 24th. We pick up a car next Thursday. Let us know where you are and maybe, if you’d like, we can arrange an escape. Although an escape might not be necessary from Bailly (insert tipsy emoji here)!

    1. Best aspect is the great people you meet – like you and Cathy-Jo (tell her we are onto our second heat gun!). Will call you about escaping – thanks.

  2. I love the way that you’re so positive about what must have been a big disappointment. Good for you! Have you encountered Don and Cathy Jo at all? They are stuck in Briare. Still, it looks as if you’re having a lovely time, something you two know well how to do, and the scenery is indeed gorgeous.

    1. I hope all ais going well with Hennie-Ha and you will be able to cruise as you want next year. Plenty to do and new experiences so no particular disappointment.

    1. I wonder if when they calculate the economic value of us cruisers, that they include the amount we we send the way of Chantiers Naval and others who repair our biminis and diesel pumps.

    1. As you’ve probably worked out already Karen, plans are ephemeral in this way of life – if we couldn’t handle that, we wouldn’t be travelling the waterways and having such fun (most of the time!).

  3. My my, what a season you’ve had Ian. While we also spent the season dodging canal closures we managed to do so without some of the scrapes and pitfalls that befell you! Never the less forced spending time on the Nivernais can’t be all that bad. Good luck for the season ahead…..we love the lower Canal de Bourgougne from the Pouilly tunnel to Dijon.

    1. Fortunately for us (although perhaps not as interesting for readers) David, the rest of the season was almost incident-free. We’re just about to, very belatedly, update the blog/journal in more detail. Race ya to the end of last season!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *