Paris to Lyon by canal part 5
A reprieve from Australian politics. Step aboard and relax!
I suppose a leisurely cruise through the canals and waterways of France challenges the best of living. Sipping fine wines, sampling gastronomic treasures while enjoying the countryside all sounds so wonderful. But, in reality there are long periods of monotony that may dampen the adventurer who expects the freedom of wide open spaces. The canals are man made, some of them most of them are centuries old. They are narrow with thick lush foliage and trees growing along the edges, therefore, views of the surrounding lands are not always to be enjoyed. By far the most interesting scenery begins at the river Soane which is several hundred metres wide in places and passes through the great wine areas and towns of historic note.
Late yesterday we entered two locks off the main canal and travelled the two Kms into the city of Nevers. John’s friend Adrian took the morning train and returned to Paris and the beginning of her new job. As it so commonly happens when a crew member departs, the remainder experience a sense of loss. This was perhaps more acutely felt as she was a sort of boat mother. It was Adrian who injected a calm sense of family order.
We ambled around the pedestrian malls seeking to raise our spirits. I stared longingly at the artful food preparations displayed in the many charcuteries. This and the passing morning motivated the re-provisioning of the yacht just before the stores closed at 12.30 pm. The matter of shops closing at lunchtime proved a frequent irritation to us. Bloody stupid if you ask me! Before we could get under way John had to don face-mask, snorkel and take a knife to un-foul the propeller which had wrapped itself in a large plastic bag.
Although extremely hot, the weather was perfect and the locks came and went with a growing ease. Some locks are separated by only 600 metres. A combination of identical locks and repetitive scenery fused several passing days into one.
I began to feel like a monkey might under the circumstances. As the Wanderlust entered each lock I would spring from the deck with two ropes clutched in one hand and clamber up a slippery steel ladder to make them fast. Then, as the water rose I had to scamper from bow point to stern to seize up the slack in the lengthening lines or be dashed against the lock’s stone walls.
Being a lockmaster and sitting all day without company can make a man rather miserable and decidedly lonely. One overwrought gentleman gripped by the sight of our fair ladies frolicking on deck, gripped a naughty part of himself in lustful intent—the entire performance occurred while standing at the window of his tiny lockmaster’s cabin. I was the only one to see that sideshow and elected not to blow the whistle, as it were at the time. When I mentioned the event further along the canal, no one seemed to believe me. I wondered if he did that sort of thing to all passing boats.
Some of the more disgruntled lockmasters, of which there are many, take cruel pleasure in flooding the lock quickly. By opening the all the gates fully, great torrents of water rush in like a raging river in full flood. The Wanderlust weighs about 15 tons and as the yacht rises in the lock the lines become shorter which allows the boat to swing and crash into the walls as it is caught in the powerful surge. The exercise is akin to holding down a wild horse with a lassoo. On one of those mixed up days we cleared 38 locks. No mean feat.
On weekends, the canal banks are a popular spot for local anglers who use a fixed line on a long black pole hoping to catch I don’t know what because I never did see a fisherman catch anything. I suspect it may be a popular path to tranquility, rather than a serious hunt for food. The only change of water these canals receive is from the opening and closing of the locks and that does not constitute the addition of fresh water. Given the content of junk and pollution I certainly wouldn’t swim in it and I would not eat any fish that did.
Approaching the River Soane at Chalon-sur-Saone we peaked at an altitude of 1,000 feet. The landscape was now becoming both interesting and beautiful and there, high above the Soane we commenced the downhill run to the river below which took us through seven locks, all of them within sight of each other. The final lock was a huge one with a 10.7 metre drop that delivered us free of the claustrophobic canals and into the mighty Soane at last.