Chitry-les-Mines > Flez-Cuzy > Clamecy
The port is at the small village of Chitry-les-Mines and the equally small hamlet of Chaumot is just across the canal. The much larger town, Corbigny is about 3 km away and involves a reasonable climb on the bikes. The port is quite busy, with lots of boats, people we knew, a small restaurant, nice weather – a great place to unwind after the challenges of the last week or so. Also, Panache, our favourite barge dog, was bringing his owners, our great friends and mentors Michel and Rebecca, all the way from Utrecht for a visit.
In port with us, as mentioned, was Petronella with John and Rosemary on board although they left a couple of days after our arrival. Also in port was Pierre le Renard with fellow Melbournian, Len, aboard. He had settled Pierre in for the winter and his wife, Marion, had left for warmer climes. We had several pleasant visits on each other’s boats during our stay, quaffing on Len’s favourite wine, rosé, and shared one memorable restaurant meal.
The day after we arrived, we were hailed in Dutch by a chap approaching on his bike. It transpired that he had noticed our Dutch flag and just wanted to chat with fellow countrymen. Sorry Patrick! His English was fine and we invited him aboard. He said he was taking six months off from living in the Netherlands and had taken up being a travelling troubadour – singing his way around France. He would offer up his musical talents – singing and playing the guitar – in exchange for lodging and some payment to pay for essentials. He was currently lodged at the nearby campsite across the river at Chaumot and playing in the restaurant that was on site. So, we and Len set off that night for a visit and had a nice meal and, indeed, Patrick was a very accomplished singer and player, so it was a most entertaining evening.
Aside from that, we did some chores and later cycled into Corbigny in the hope of having a tour of the chateau that overlooks the port. Supposedly one could book tours by phone but no one answered our calls. Taking a chance, we cycled in and, although someone seemed to be present in the sort of gatehouse, we could not attract their attention nor would they answer another attempt on the phone.
Anyhow, we pressed on and had a quick look around the outside of the buildings. Quite pretty and bathed in lovely sunshine. We didn’t see anyone, and as we couldn’t arrange to get inside, we left and had a cycle around the village.
We came across a memorial statue to Jules Renard a famous French author at the turn of the 20th century who lived his early life in Chitry-les-Mines and later in life, mixed his popular writing with participation in local government becoming the Mayor of Chitry at one stage. His most famous work is an autobiographical journal, aptly named, The Journal.
Michel, Rebecca and Panache arrived late on the afternoon of the 9th, after a heroic eight-hour drive from their home in the Netherlands. As has become a bit of a tradition – they arrived with an array of Dutch/Indonesian take-away food for dinner. Bought in Utrecht and packed away for the trip. We enjoyed a tasty, spicy meal and a long conversation into the late evening.
The next day, there was to be a huge vide grenier in Corbigny. If I recall correctly, there were some 350 stalls throughout the town. Michel drove Lisette up to the village, while Rebecca and I took the bikes. It was incredibly busy with many of the streets taken up with the vendors and the range of items was immense.
From new goods, often set up in front of the store to the more traditional tools, toys, household effects, agricultural equipment – you name it.
We must have been overwhelmed by the choice because we bought almost nothing. Lisette did pick up an antique silver ladle for €2. Still, it was an enjoyable outing looking at all the strange and varied stuff and imagining what use they did have in the past or might have in the future.
It was cool, a bit windy, with occasional showers the next day – not the best of weather for a water jousting event. The basin of the port was to be the venue for a day of activities featuring the widespread French watersport where two boats head for each other and a jouster on each vessel attempts to knock the oncoming jouster off into the water without being removed him or herself. We’ve enjoyed watching these events on a couple of previous occasions. All have been slightly different in detail – but they all share being a popular social event and good fun to watch.
On this occasion, the two boats were powered by small outboard motors.
Previously we have seen the boats powered by pulling on ropes and by rowing. So, this time, there was a little put-put-puttering as the two boats approached head-on and just as they met, the motors were turned off – presumably so that a felled jouster did not have a bloody encounter with a propellor to add to the indignity of being knocked off the platform. The other difference we noted in this event was that all ages and genders seemed to compete against each other. Indeed, a young girl felled a much older man demonstrating that skill and not size is the determining factor in a win.
While it must have been a chilly day for the contestants, wet and in the wind, we on Catharina had a prime position for watching and with warm clothing and umbrellas enjoyed the spectacle.
After the jousting, there were meals at the restaurant and a storyteller, colourfully clothed, recounted several stories to a rapt audience of adults and children. This was something we haven’t come across before, never in Australia, and although I couldn’t follow the tales, Lisette could get a fair idea of the stories. He regaled the audience for an hour or so – a fine performance and wonderful to see that the French value this kind of show.
It was a relaxing stay in Chitry – we felt under no great pressure to leave and given the cruising situation, emblematic of how we’d probably spend the rest of the season. It was a great port. John and Stephanie were friendly and helpful hosts and there were frequent visits from John’s father, the legendary Ted Johnson. We could get fresh baguettes and croissants delivered to the boat each morning, just placing our order the night before. The restaurant was convenient and the meals quite adequate. For those staying, like Pierre le Renard, the rates were cheap and facilities more than adequate. Unfortunately, we gather, since we visited, John and Stephanie have ceased running the port and, while some temporary arrangements for management have been made, what will happen in the long-term is uncertain.
Still, it was time to have a bit of cruising, show off our skills and get some pointers from our experienced friends and head down the Nivernais again.
The Dirol Lifting Bridge
In pleasant sunny weather, les copains d’abord (translated loosely as ‘the shipmates’) left, with Michel at the helm, for a modest cruise to Flez-Cuzy. The feature of this section is the six bridges that have to be raised and lowered by those on board, so having extra crew was a bonus – just as we did when Steve was with us on the upwards journey. The canal was still noticeably shallow and we did ground once coming out a bit wonky from a fixed bridge but the same technique for getting off that we used on the previously well-described horror stretch worked well and we cruised up to the lifting bridges.
Remember, the process here is to drop off someone just before the bridge, they operate the controls and raise the bridge, Catharina cruises through, the bridge is lowered and then the bridge worker is either picked up or they walk to the next one. As you can see, the road section doesn’t raise to the vertical and so it’s necessary to keep to the ‘open’ side to get the maximum clearance.
We dropped Michel and Rebecca off at the second of these six bridges as we came to Dirol and they then walked to the second bridge about half a kilometre away. As I cruised through ‘Pont levant Dirol 2’ there was a sickening crunch, grind and squeal as the portside, leading edge of the bimini frame just barely touched the raised bridge. The clamour continued for what seemed an eternity as the structure of the bimini moving along with Catharina’s 52 tonnes lost its argument with the stationary steel bridge. Shaken, I took Catharina down a few metres to the landing place for the upstream dismounting. Looking aft, it was not a pretty sight.
The portside front tip of the bimini frame had been twisted back and upwards. Fortunately, because of the pivot in the vertical posts, put there to allow the bimini to be dropped (no – I don’t need the obvious pointed out again!), it had collapsed and twisted with both verticals poles reasonably intact. Michel and Rebecca arrived to offer advice to me and comfort to Lisette respectively.
Michel and I set to deal with the damage. It was possible to get the bimini up again but the edge that was warped upwards had to be fixed. We were acutely aware that the lowest bridge on the Nivernais was a couple of days cruising in front of us and no way could we make it through with the extra height of the wrecked frame.
Using a sturdy piece of wood that we always use to brace the bimini during winter (in case of heavy snow) we were able to place it just at the point where the frame had bent upwards. With appropriate blocks of wood on the rear of the wheelhouse, Michel had the idea to rig up a rachet strap anchored to the corner and Catharina’s railings. Then, using the rachet to tighten the straps, we applied lots of force and eventually managed to pull the bent section almost back to normal.
We left the bracing in place as we restarted cruising to allow the maximum effect on the bent section. There was only one more lifting bridge to pass and I very gingerly motored through with encouragement from Lisette on shore and Rebecca wielding the boat hook to fend off the bridge.
Lucky we had Rebecca and Michel to carry us through this disaster – both to provide us with the skills to fix it and to ground us with “tis merely a scratch – happens all the time”. So this time, we weren’t moved to give up cruising but merely shrugged and I just contemplated how I was going to explain to Simon Evans why he had to rebuild the demountable bimini that his team had just built specifically to allow us to cruise comfortably through bridges.
After mooring at Flez-Cuzy, we decided that the stress of the day warranted a meal at a restaurant and a highly recommended place, L’Estaminet was just down the road across the canal and the river in the small village of Cuzy.
Nice bar and restaurant with a simple, hearty menu with big serves. We felt that we should show some appreciation and asked that the woman serving us convey our compliments to the chef. She smiled and walked through the door to the kitchen and bellowed out “COMPLIMENTS AU CHEF”, walked back out with a beaming smile to inform us it had been done but, mind you, she was the chef! We then had a bit of fun for the rest of the meal, sending her in to offer congratulations on each course. A good meal made even better by a congenial atmosphere. Sadly, I can see that as of 2021, the restaurant has closed and become a regular dwelling – a victim of Covid probably.
Mercifully, the next day’s cruise to Clamecy was an uneventful eight hours in gorgeous weather and the single lifting bridge offered no resistance to our passage. On our way, we passed Bout de Zan, the large peniche that had supported the parkside burger van at Villiers-sur-Yonne where we stayed and ate on our way up. It was now moored on the side of the canal. Later, after we moored, we were treated to a display of professional handling as that peniche (featuring a shapely young lady disporting herself on the deck), on an angled approach, precisely and with centimetres to spare, swept into the Clamecy écluse.
Subsequently, we learnt that the young lady who we saw on the barge as it passed was the new companion of the Englishman as there had been a serious breakup with his partner with whom he had been running the restaurant. I won’t go into the salacious details but, suffice it to say, the gossip is always best in our long village about this kind of event.
Our plan was for an extended stop in this pretty town including some maintenance on increasingly scruffy hair on top of my head, while Rebecca, Michel and Panache would, in a day or so, head back to the Netherlands.