Thursday, October 14, 2010

Boating on the Saône in France

We got an opportunity to join friends, Virgina and Jack, on their live-aboard canal boat in France. Not knowing what to expect, we packed as if we were about to sail on Lake Michigan for a week with layers of quick drying clothes. We didn't bring charts or knowledge of canal boating. This was to be an adventure.

We drove to Chalon-sur-Saône from Geneva because our train was not running due to a strike in France. I was impressed by the well-maintained roads, great traffic signage, and speed-limit adherence. Once we got to Chalone, we off-loaded our gear and dropped off the car--I hoped we would return by train.

Our hosts fed us lunch from the soup pot on the four-burner stove in the galley of Jolie Catherine and then we shoved off. The view of the ancient buildings on the shore was a real treat. Wide eyed, I didn't want to return to the warm cabin even though the temperature was under 50F. The cabin was roomy on this boat, built locally for river and canal travel. In warmer weather the top would crank back to expose the cockpit, which is also the salon and galley. There were ample berths forward and aft, each with a head and shower. We were in paradise.

A few kilometers down river, we entered a lock--our first of many, but the only one we would enter on the Saône. This lock was made for commercial river barges and had plenty of room for Jolie Catherine. This was an opportunity for Beth and I to show Virginia and Jack our knowledge of line tending in locks. After all, we were experienced with the Chicago lock that we'd taken Speakeasy through just a few days before.

Once we were through the lock, our next treat was seeing the village of Tournus, which features a 11th century abbey with a tower visible for several kilometers along the river. Here, we dined aboard, drank local Bourgogne wine, and slept like logs. The next day was to be a real canal adventure for us.

The morning was cold, windy, and foggy. Virginia had an exciting day planned, but Jack thought the weather was too iffy. After clearing the breakfast dishes and enjoying another cafe, Virginia convinced Jack that we should go. Beth and I didn't know where we were going, but were excited to shove off.


In a few minutes, we were heading to shore--or what looked like it. Instead, we were approaching the mouth of the Seille, a smaller river than the Saône with it's own locks and scenery--many birds, fisherman, and cows. The first lock was just around a bend at La Truchère. This lock was much smaller than the one we went through the day before. It was also self service and a boat was beginning to lock through from above heading to the Saône. Since I'd not done this before, I watched carefully as a Swiss family operated the gates and paddles. In a few minutes, Beth and I were "experts" at locking on the Seille.
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