2023 Barging France Nivernais, Canal du Yonne, River

Cruising with the Whelans (31/07 – 4/08)

Cravant – Vincelottes – Cravant – Auxerre – Gurgy – Migennes

At last, it was time to greet Kathryn, Marcus, Charlie and Zoe and welcome them aboard. We decided to travel up to Paris to meet them at Gare de Bercy, mainly because I could not wait to see them. As we moved through the concourse to find them, the girls spotted us and ran to throw their arms around us, making our journey extra special.

Our plan was for a short five – day cruise that would include some of the highlights of our past years on this stretch of the Nivernais and take us back to Migennes where we would all leave for Paris while Catharina Elisabeth waited for the arrival of the second crane.

The inset shows the cruise relative to all of France.

Cravant to Vincelottes

As the train we wanted was almost two hours away, we decided to have breakfast at a nearby café Ian and I had been to once before. And then it was time for all six of us to catch the trains/bus back to Cravant and introduce them to Catharina Elisabeth, their home for the next five days.

Kathryn and Charlie.

Apart from a worrying moment when we got off the bus at Cravant to find one of the backpacks still tucked beneath a seat, we all excitedly made our way to Catharina. We had bedecked her once again with rows of colourful pennants and she was a sight for the family to see her for their first time.

After a light snack, a welcoming beer and tasting some blackberries that Zoe and Charlie picked nearby, we set off on foot to show them a typical French mediaeval village, complete with lavoir and donjon.

One of the most fascinating buildings in Cravant is the donjon (keep) which is largely intact.

It dates from the 13th century and is now owned privately by a woman, Colette Béchet who bought it some forty years ago. Now, at 88, she is trying to sell the building because climbing the sixty steps up a narrow staircase to her rooms is beginning to wear on her. We knew that if the gate to the gardens of the donjon was open, Colette was most likely around and happy to let us walk through. Colette turned out to be a rather eccentric character, who was immediately quite taken with Zoe, wanting her to model one of the many hemp hats she makes.

She told us she had worked in the fashion industry in France but has lived in the donjon alone since buying it.

Collette’s collection of couture in her shed was anything but spartan.

We were scalped for €10 each (adult and child) and invited to enter the tower itself. On the first floor, there were various items of art, with a number of engravings on the stone wall of the tower room, from the time when the donjon was used as a prison.

The engraving is believed to have been carved by a Knight Templar prisoner in October 1307 and the three central figures represent Christ being crucified with the two thieves.

The place was otherwise rather sparsely furnished, indeed, when we reached the top level, which was clearly Colette’s private space, we found just a mattress on the stone floor, and across the room, swathes of fabric and lace were positioned to partly disguise a toilet and small basin. Very spartan.

The donjon (built between 1280 and 1308) and lavoir next door.

We wandered around the lavoir, describing its early use to the grandchildren… And had a quick visit inside the church, which Ian and I had explored in some detail in 2019. The village centre is small with just a fountain but allowed us to show off a typical French half-timbered house.

After a beer and soft drink at the brasserie, we made our way back to Catharina and while it began to drizzle a little, it was without any serious intent.

“Oh Youth”

Arriving back on board, a quick decision was taken to move off straight away and pass through the two locks before they closed for the night, planning to moor up in Vincelles. But first, we checked that the Whelans understood the safety gear.

Flotation jackets kindly loaned to us by Simon.

As we approached the long stone quay, we spotted an old friend, Mary, on her little Dutch cruiser, Aquarius, and waving furiously to attract her attention, we made a beeline for the space behind her that would comfortably fit Catharina. However, we were very disappointed to see a large cruiser approach from the other direction and take up the remaining space behind Mary. So we continued along the canal a few hundred metres to the mooring at Vincelottes where we expected to be able to tie up against the quay just beyond the bridge. By now, the locks were closed for the evening and, although we were a little concerned to find a couple of cruisers already occupying the quay, I saw there were plenty of well-spaced bollards, and we snugged in very comfortably just beyond the two boats.

While we got on with preparing dinner, (duck for their first night on board, of course), Charlie (9) and Zoe (7) got into their bathers preparing to brave the late afternoon waters of the canal.

Brave, but too cold to get in fully. We suggested that they wait for their visit to Greece

Eventually, it was time for bed. Kathryn and Marcus had the guest accommodation in the vooronder (forecastle) but we had to improvise for Zoe and Charlie with cushions and inflatables in the salon. However, they slept pretty well but occasionally Zoe would wriggle enough that the morning would find Charlie sleeping on the floor, having rolled off the mattress.

Vincelottes to Parc de l’Arbre Sec

After their first night on board, we were all ready to move off the next morning and with only one lock between us and Bailly, we made the rather short journey across the river to the mooring below the caves, and hopped off for the required visit to the now very familiar centre of Crémant de Bourgogne. A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay and Aligoté, the wine is a wonderful alternative to champagne, (which we sampled many times during our River Marne cruise in 2022).

Kathryn and Marcus tasting the crémant.

Leaving Bailly, with the requisite number of bottles of bubbly, we worked our way back towards Auxerre. We knew there was a very shallow area around Vaux where a number of boats, including large hotel boats, had found themselves grounded. Taking it slow, Ian was able to recognise and successfully navigate the sandy part without us running into any trouble.

Passing through lock #76 (Bélombre) at Champs-sur-Yonne we were asked by the éclusier to tie up just beyond the bridge and stay there until after the lunch break.

There was a boat ahead at one of the next locks that had some engine trouble so there was no point in continuing until this could be sorted out. So we had a fun lunch beside the stone wall that separates the narrow (at this point) canal from the somewhat rushing waters of the river beside us.

From here it was off to Auxerre, where we had decided it would be nice to spend one night moored in the park area, and the girls would be able to have a good run around. Kathryn and Marcus had decided to walk from the previous lock, so they strolled along the towpath and took one of those precious and rare opportunities to shoot a video of us cruising Catharina Elisabeth. Then they were in the right place to take our ropes when we chose a spot to moor.

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Later, as we were walking in the park, we saw a beautiful big dog sitting with his owner. Ian exercised his French with a quick chat while the girls petted the friendly old dog.

The owner was kind enough to take a photo of them.

Parc de l’Arbre Sec to Auxerre

The weather deteriorated somewhat after this and was drizzly and a little cool. Disappointing, but one cannot control that, and we still had loads of fun. In the morning, we introduced them to breakfast, French style.

After one night on the park mooring, we wanted to go on through the last lock of the Nivernais and moor in Auxerre itself. Ian cycled ahead to check the situation. Finding no space at all on the town side, he was about to ride back to Catharina so we could make alternate plans, when Bos called out to Ian. Remember, we had met Bos at Migennes some weeks earlier, and he was positioned to start his Nivernais cruise. He invited us to raft alongside Verandering, which Ian willingly agreed to. Naturally, we then asked him to join us for a drink later that evening.

As we squeezed under the Paul Bert Bridge,

we were hailed by several boats we knew, and it felt as comforting as it always does to see friends we have met on the water.

Mooring up against Bos’ enormous, beautiful barge Verandering.

After mooring, we all took off on foot, amid some cool, cloudy and sometimes wet weather, to explore Auxerre. I wanted the family to see this beautiful town where we had spent many happy times. We first checked out the Cathédrale Saint Etienne where Zoe lit a candle

and Charlie paused in front of a vitrine featuring Joan of Arc – just so we don’t miss out on her where there is any opportunity.

and then stopped in town to have some lunch. After a walk through part of the town

we visited the Abbey Saint Germain where, amongst the other features, was a display of polychrome wood sculptures and artwork by François Brochet, with which Charlie was quite engaged.

Pleureuse” (Mourner)


Who lets an angry chien into the abbey?

As the afternoon wore on, the rain ceased, the sun came out and we took off to Maison Eric Roy so the girls could choose a patisserie (or seven) for afternoon tea.

The girls were amazed at the selection, who wouldn’t be.

We had arranged to have afternoon tea with Jonathan and Jeannie on Aleau, who were moored on the marina side, and took enough cakes and a bunch of macarons for everyone to taste.

They gave everyone a tour of their boat, with Charlie being particularly interested and asking plenty of questions. Just in front of Aleau was C.A.R.I.B. III and we had a very brief chat with Lon and Pat who had spent most of the season in Auxerre after the rally with a succession of mechanical/electrical problems. We could well appreciate their frustration.

Back on Catharina, we sorted out dinner, and then Bos came over and we had a great evening chatting and drinking – a lovely chap on a simply gorgeous barge.

Many years of living on a barge have given Bos lots of fascinating stories to tell.

Kathryn and the family ended the evening with a walk up to the pedestrian bridge to take some night photos. As always, Auxerre lit up at night is very impressive and actually Ian and I have never actually done a nighttime walk in the town – we are usually snuggled away in the park mooring.

Auxerre to Gurgy

It was overcast again the following morning (indeed, France put on a pretty poor show weather-wise for their entire cruise). Still, we were keen to set off and stay the night at Gurgy, so we separated our ropes from Verandering and cruised slowly towards lock #1, Chaînette on the Yonne.

With only 5 locks between Auxerre and Gurgy, we expected to be settled by early afternoon. A single cruiser was approaching the lock just in front of us, but as we entered the lock it became apparent a number of other boats were also travelling with us. A lovely cruiser owned by an English couple and a couple of hire boats. While the lock filled, we tried to engage the other boats, and it turned out we were all hoping to stop at Gurgy for the night. As we left this lock, Ian suggested the English cruiser get ahead of us so we would not slow them up, which of course encouraged the two big hire boats to whip past us. But as is often the case, they took off like rockets, only to find the éclusier at each subsequent lock had no intention of letting them pass through until all of the boats arrived. So each time they sat waiting for us to show up. Ah, no rush. Unfortunately in one of the locks, one of the hire boats lost power, and we ended up continuing on while they remained behind to sort out the problem. In the end, four of the original six boats arrived at Gurgy, intending to stay, and we had no trouble finding a suitable spot on the long pontoon.

Just before we entered the last of our locks for this journey we passed Romany heading upstream and had one of the brief ‘ship’s passing’ conversations that are often a feature of meeting friends on the waterways.

The Whelan’s had a brief walk around the village and when they returned, the adults relaxed while Zoe and Charlie did some fishing.

They were rewarded with half a dozen tiddlers.

Then it was the shortest of hops to the cabins for drinks and charcuterie.

We had planned homemade pizza cooked on the BBQ and the girls started preparing.

We thought that some frites would be a suitable accompaniment. Frites go with everything, don’t they? We ordered a sufficient number of barquettes but when they were ready, the owner popped over to Catharina with the frites mounded up in a large ceramic bowl, which was sweet. We ate well.

Gurgy to Migennes

Ian had one of his rare breaks from helming while most of the Whelans had a turn at the wheel.  Today would be the last of our five-day cruise.

Arriving at Simon’s yard, the girls occupied themselves with fishing again and touring around the yard. Noting their interest in the boats, Simon offered to show them his extensive collection of model ships, aircraft and sundry other models.

The softie also gifted one of his smaller models to Charlie and Zoe as a memento of their visit.

That evening, we had our final meal on board, roast pork cooked in the Weber.

The next day, a Saturday, had been set aside for packing but before we could get started Simon gathered everyone up and took them off to the go-cart track – carting being one of his passions.

Simon, Kathryn, Marcus, Charlie and Zoe along with two other visitors to the yard.

He was way faster than any of the Whelans but everyone had an exciting time.

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While the weather remained a little unsettled, we all enjoyed our last day on Catharina. The next day, packing finished,

we were all off to Paris and other adventures.

Catharina would remain at the shipyard pending our return in 12 days, and hopefully, the lift out we had been waiting for.

Meanwhile, we and the Whelans would be enjoying the sights of Paris, spending time at Versailles and then a couple of days of medieval excitement at the spectacular Puy de Fou down in the Pays de la Loire. We won’t cover that in this blog, right now or we will never finish before this season’s cruising.

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    6 Responses

  1. I know for shore that the kids remeber this their whole life.
    This kind of holidays i had them too.
    Somethimes you wish that everybody has this uperturnity.
    Nice written!!!

    1. Jean-Marie, thank you for your kind comment. This whole experience is new to us as ageing adults, but we want all of our children and grandchildren to experience cruising with us on our boat. A wonderful life. Lisette

    2. What a great rendition of your travels with the family which l just loved reading. It will be an experience the girls and of course Kathryn and Marcus will never forget. You fitted so much in on the time they were there and the beautiful sites you took them too.

      1. They really did seem to love it Mary and I’m sure they will remember the trip. Perhaps they will have another opportunity sometime.

  2. I really enjoyed reading about your trip, Lisette, and it was lovely to see the photo of Bas. I’m so pleased you met him. He is one of our favourite people and his barge is just so beautiful.

    1. He was such a delightful man Val. So happy, content and full of stories. A great advertisment for Dutch bargees.

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