2023 Barging France Nivernais, Canal du

DBA Rally in Auxerre (12/06 – 18/06)


DBA Rally

The opening task on the first morning was to check out provisioning. Baguette and patisserie from Maison Roy were up to their usual standard. Important, because later in the rally, baguettes and croissants were delivered to the boats for breakfast.

Next, we put on Catharina Elisabeth’s glad rags.

Most notable was our treasured gift of the banner that the Verwer family used at the function celebrating the 175th anniversary of their family company. Catharina Elisabeth Verwer is central on the bottom row.

More boats were arriving with more folks to meet and catch up with so socialising commenced with Ian making good use of his new seat.

By the end of the day, all the boats were assembled. There were 24 vessels of various types – seven of them owned by Aussies.

Each was doubled up and we were abreast of Amity – an old barge that we had seen a couple of times on our 2019 cruise on the Nivernais. Chatting to Christine and Peter we discovered that the reason we had seen them along the canal was that they own and live in a house beside the canal, next to the third écluse out and southwards of Baye. A great collection of beautiful boats amassed ready for the rally.

During the Rally all the boats sported a banner that described a little bit about each boat. It was part of our registration and was intended to inform people passing about the boat. Our banner was mounted below the wheelhouse.


To our mind, somewhat incongruously, all the banners were in English – not the best for most passing traffic. So we struck out in a different direction and Catharina Elisabeth’s was in French.

*After the wife of the first master.
Transported cheese from Alkmaar to Zaandam, then became a workboat in a shipyard. Converted for pleasure in the 1980s. Bought by Lisette & Ian McCauley in 2014.

That seemed to work as we frequently saw passersby pause and have a read and, occasionally, strike up a conversation. We’ll keep the banner available to mount on other moorings as we sometimes see with other old Dutch barges.

DBA Rally events

Although there were many scheduled events, there was also plenty of opportunity for socialising. The informal lunches were a great opportunity for informal group discussions and we frequently popped on and off other’s boats and they onto Catharina.

The opportunity for those at the rally to visit a cave with millions of bottles of Crémant was not to be missed. So the first event was a bus trip to the nearby underground cave at Bailly Lapierre. We have visited there more times than we can count and had another visit planned for later this season. But it did not stop us from popping once more. For more background on the fascinating history and activities that go on here, check out our first visit in a blog from 2019. On today’s visit, we were treated to a tour conducted in English unlike our first which was in French and we also saw some of the (noisy) day-to-day activities going on around us as we moved through the tunnels.

Managing this number of bottles requires automation.

We only tasted the wine this time – we would be passing here a couple more times over the coming weeks and would no doubt be re-stocking Catharina’s bilges.

BBQ and Fireworks

Dinner that evening was a BBQ. The rally had been timed to include La Fête Nationale (Bastille Day) and the management of the Aquarelle marina in Auxerre was hosting a BBQ for the rally attendees. Fireworks are a traditional part of the festivities and, as is often the case in France, the spectacle was to be held the evening before the holiday. As Aquarelle is based right in the centre of town, we were treated to a wonderful view of les feux artifices.

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Getting there was an experience. Most walked, some rode their bikes, and we all tried to carry some chairs and rugs. The route from the rally mooring beside the park was really quite short and straightforward. However, there is always the contingent that just wants to do its own thing. This small group of non-conformers was Ian and I, accompanied by PJ and Dieta of Zeemeeuw. So instead of following everyone else, we opted to continue along beside the river expecting to cross using the footbridge. We soon found ourselves stranded as there was no access to the bridge, which had been closed off to the public until the fireworks were over. By then we realised it would take too long to double back so we climbed the bank and had to scale a wire fence, before finding ourselves blocked from crossing the bridge we should have taken in the first place. The local authorities let us squeeze through the barriers and join the very tail end of the rally group… Some people should not be allowed out without adequate supervision.

Château Guédelon

Next day, another trip was organised to Castle Guédelon, another spot we have visited previously (so more details about the château here). It’s a castle being built out of local materials, in the style of the 12th century and using, almost exclusively, the materials and techniques that would have been used at that time.

Nearing completion – the towers are being finished and not the mouse wheel-powered crane used to lift the stone.

This time we had a wonderful and very thorough guided tour given in English by a Dutch fellow who had been working at the site for many years. We learnt about the 13-knot rope used for a variety of measurements and calculations during the Middle Ages. The castle has certainly grown since we were last here in 2019. While it was an overcast day, and a bit drizzly, everyone found the visit interesting.


Yet again a visit to a town we have been to before and this time, not only in past seasons but in this case – just a few weeks earlier. However, Chablis is a pretty town and we enjoyed strolling around the stalls, picking up a few tasty treats for the days to come. The frites are excellent too. Good company.

Progressive Dinner

The other highlight of the rally was a new initiative where we cooked and ate on each other’s boats. There were three courses to be had, appetiser, main course and dessert. Each person with a boat large enough to hold three or four couples was nominated to host one or more courses. Each couple that attended bought or prepared one course and bought it to the different boats for different courses. So we hosted a couple who were supposed to bring appetisers (but weren’t reminded to do so and we quickly made something up), we hosted and prepared red curry duck for the main course and then we went to Peter and Crystal’s boat Phoenician for dessert provided by someone else and stayed well into the evening. It was a wonderful social event and much discussed over the next few days. It should be a regular event from now on.

Other Activities

Other activities included a petanque (sort of lawn bowls that everyone plays in France) contest amongst the attendees and the local boating organisation Les Amis du Canal du Nivernais – a DBA team winning eventually. There was a tour of the city and also a members’ forum where we discussed a variety of waterway issues. Late in the rally, we took photos of the rally attendees who were members of each of two Facebook groups – WOBS (Women on Boats) and BOBS (Blokes on Boats). There are all sorts of communities for us waterways folks to join.

It was all over too soon and old and new friends began to drift away up or down the Nivernais.

Peter and Christine depart on Amity.

We were one of the last to leave – heading up (south) along the canal while waiting for our daughter and family to arrive. Catharina was in good shape to impress them when they arrived twelve days later.

So we began our short, four-week, cruising journey for this season.

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    4 Responses

  1. Another fabulous newsletter! Fantastic boat rally must have been great meeting up with your many boating friends. Catharina Elizabeth is superb the floral display this year outstanding. When are you heading off this year? Good to see you both enjoying good health. We’re in France in June, yes saying, incase you around xxGina

    1. Hi Gina (and probably Geoff), I just pour soil for the flowers – Lisette does all the creative work and maintenance. We’re off late May so we’ll also be in France by June. We’ll contact you separately.

  2. It sounds as if it was a great event, Ian and Lisette. I can imagine you all enjoyed it very much! Thanks for the write-up and the photos.

    1. Yes we were fortunate to be so close as to be able to attend with Catharina Elisabeth. Very convivial and lots of opportunity to catch up with all the village gossip. Nothing untoward about you – of course!

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