Springtime in France

Springtime in France 2008


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Briare gets expensive once the cruising season starts so the winter floating community sets sail. The crews of Gulliver, Nancy May, Commodore and Aquarelle met for one last time in that excellent restaurant "Le Trop" for Sunday lunch. On Monday the blokes had a final get together in the Briare Bar and following several beers, announced to Madame that we were leaving the next day. Madame was dreadfully distraught as we had kept the place open during the winter and insisted we have another drink with her compliments! As Nancy May left the quay next day the Le Trop chef ran out and wished them bon voyage, proving conclusively, according to Les, that we had spent far too much money there!

The next day being April 1st, accompanied by the BBC flying penguins, we headed upstream to Ouzouer-sur-Trézée to rendevous with Gulliver. Here you have a nice little village with a good quay, electricity and water all provided free of charge. We stayed 3 nights, were entertained right royally by Keith and Jenny on Gulliver, I painted Harmonies port side and we both had haircuts by Marie Noelle.

When I tried to start the propulsion engine to leave I discovered I had flat batteries. The batteries from the generator engines were swapped to get the main engine started, not easy as they are at the opposite ends of the boat and we kept the main engine running all day, arriving at Chatillon-Coligny after a gloriously warm sunny spring days cruising but no electricity or water turned on in the port.

Mrs Duck and her 9 little ducklettes in line astern

We passed the barge "De Tijd" on the way who we had met in Amiens two years ago and owners Richard and Marilyn arrived on board Harmonie the next day. Richard is still in business at Reading Marine so we discussed what might be the cause of my battery problem. I told him that I had found evidence of burning on the Mastervolt battery isolator so he suggested that the diode might have failed. The isolator is basically a bit of kit which controls the charging of two or three different banks of batteries, in this case the ships service batteries and the starter batteries. Richard further suggested I connect all the wires together onto one terminal, effectively bypassing the isolator. This meant that the starter and service batteries were now getting the same charge irrespective of condition which is not a good idea but needs must and it was the only way to recharge the starter batteries! I then started the generator, the main engine started first time and we were once more on our way.

Statue of Vauban at Versailles

Our next stop was Montargis and the journey was unpleasant to say the least, bitterly cold with sleet and snow when we emerged from our nice warm wheelhouse to work the locks so we were thankful to arrive mid afternoon to find electricity and water in plentiful supply, however, our troubles continued as the engine tachometer stopped working and the starter key switch, which had been replaced in November, would not switch anything off! A phone call to Jeremie in Briare who fitted it saw him arrive a couple of days later and he fitted a new isolator. Further investigation revealed that the alternator diode which feeds the propulsion engine tachometer and the voltage regulator had failed and this was the probable source of all the electrical problems we were experiencing. The alternator was removed and taken to a specialist for repair/replacement and I hitched a lift back to Briare with Jeremie to retrieve the car. I guess that the cause of all these diode failures dates back to the failure of the old starter switch last October when we travelled for several days with it malfunctioning. The starter batteries voltmeter in the instrument panel was also knackered for which I had a spare on board and so was replaced. While we were waiting for the alternator to be repaired we drove to Versailles.

Sue had been reading The Life of Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser and expressed a desire to visit the château where Marie had spent a lot of her life. We stood in a queue for two hours but managed to arrive at the ticket desk for the State Apartments just as the price was reduced to 10 Euros! We first passed along a huge corridor flanked by many statues, one of which caught my eye of Vauban who was Louis XIV's military architect and whose work can be seen throughout France.

Hall of Mirrors at Versailles
Chapelle Royale at Versailles

Then you are treated to a view of the Chapelle Royale with its huge white marble Corinthian columns, gilded organ and Baroque ceiling murals. One eventually arrives at the stunning hall of mirrors but the whole experience is rather spoiled by the hundreds of others wandering through with you so you have no choice but to point your camera at the richly decorated ceiling unless you want hundreds of Japanese heads in your picture. It was here that the Treaty of Versailles was ratified in 1919, ending the first world war.
Out in the grounds the fountains had been turned on and Baroque music by obscure French composers of the period was being relayed by concealed speakers behind every fountain.

Fountains at Versailles
Neptunes handmaiden at Versailles

We also wandered around this rather elegant city, almost a suburb of Paris, admiring the 17th century architecture before driving back to Montargis. The next day I met Don and Maureen Laverick at CDG who recovered from their jet lag after their journey from Australia while we awaited Jeremie and the return of the repaired alternator. We drove over to Chartres one day to have a look at the famous 13th century Gothic cathedral and its stained glass windows where we each stumped up 10 Euros to be entertained by Malcolm, an English guide who was a walking encyclopedia of the place. Malcolm informed us that this was the original Notre Dame Cathedral and not the one in Paris. He sat us down and described what was depicted in each window in detail without even looking at his subject and there are 150 windows.

Exterior of Chartres Cathedral
North Rose window at Chartres

He did the same with the multitude of statues on the outside. It was bitterly cold and as much as we enjoyed Malcolms expertise we were pleased to adjourn to an adjacent cafe for hot chocolates. The city looked really interesting but due to the cold weather we did not walk far so will return at some future date.

Jeremie returned with the alternator on the appointed day and 850 Euros lighter, we set off down the Canal du Loing arriving at Moret a few days later.

Fontainbleu rocks

The forest of Fontainbleu is close at hand so in addition to visiting the Château we visited one of the many places in the forest where you can see these weird shaped granite rocks, just like the Tors of Dartmoor but not on a hilltop. There were lots of climbers leaping all over these rocks which were only a few metres high and they had these foam mattresses at the base so the poor little dears wouldn't hurt their little botties when they fell off! It had been raining torrentially at intervals over the previous weeks and we found the river at Moret in spate. A German couple who arrived from Paris reported the Seine flowing at 7km/hr and after downloading our emails we learnt from the DBA cruising newsgroup that navigation was closed on the Yonne at several places with flow rates of 11km/hr! We then made the decision to return the way we came so of course the weather started to improve. On arriving at Rogny, spring had sprung and we basked in glorious sunshine.

Beers with the Lavericks

Here we are in the local pub partaking of a few refreshing ales. I had noticed that the engine temperature gauge was not working so had arranged for Jeremie to meet us in Rogny. He confirmed that the temperature sensor on the engine was defunct but also that the wiring between the engine and the temperature gauge was dead. In view of the recent history it was decided to replace the entire multicore cable and we arrange to meet up with Jeremie again further down the canal once he had acquired the bits.

Don Laverick, being a shipbuilder, had been pressed into service as helmsman since his arrival and had managed a few scratches in the process. It was therefore appropriate that, on our arrival at Ouzouer, it being an ideal day for painting, that a brush was pressed into his hand and we painted the starboard side of the ship.

Harmonie at Ouzouer

Don proceeded to splash on paint at a prodigious rate covering the quay and himself in the process. Being an Oz, he then declared it was "beer-o'clock" and we downed a few in quick succession. I wore my shorts and no shirt for the first time this year and was sunburnt. Some biting insect bit my leg, possibly in retaliation for being painted by Don!

Back on our old winter mooring in Briare and its raining again. The Banque Postale gave us another cheque book but it still had our UK address on it so we filled in another form and promised to destroy the first one. We hope to get another in 10 days with our French address. C'est France.

Mike and Rosaleen on Aquarelle were in port and invited us all aboard for a drink and we continued south the next day as far as Belville where I dismantled all the fuel suction lines on the main engine and replaced the copper washers in an effort to prevent continuing problems with the engine stopping due to an air leak somewhere. Jeremie arrived and replaced the engine temperature sensor and the wiring.

Picnic lunch with the Lavericks

Good thing too as there was evidence of burning at various places along its length which undoubtedly would have continued to give us problems. 300 Euros later we were on to St. Thibault where we stayed for two nights as May 1st is a public holiday and the locks are closed.

The weather now was superb. The sun shone every day with the temperature in the high twenties. We stopped each day for a picnic lunch but to add to our woes, within a few minutes of restarting the engine would run out of fuel! Starting from cold each morning it ran perfectly but it was as if it wanted a siesta after lunch! At the next lock we moved right forward to allow a small cruiser called Morgon to get in behind us. On leaving the lock Morgon tried to overtake and in doing so collided with our stern. We slowed to allow him to pass then at the next lock he stationed himself 6 metres from the front gate and refused to move forward to give us enough room to close the back gates.

Anna Maria and Harmonie at Cours les Barres

The lock keeper was ineffectual and we eventually removed our flagpole to give us the extra room to close the gates. We noticed here that the earlier collision had damaged the flagpole and the flag was at half mast. At a subsequent lock the lock keeper took charge and insisted Morgon moved right forward to give us room. They should count themselves lucky that our bolshie Ozzie helmsman didn't plough right through their tupperware!

At Cours les Barres we nuzzled up to Anna Maria, a 38.5 metre long hotel barge. Skipper/owner/chef Martin had just terminated a cruise from Rogny and was complaining that his Australian guests did not tip.

Martin and Pookie of Anna Maria

He was waiting for new "meat" as he called his guests and complained that his Dutch countrymen did not tip either! Anna Maria is a big ship and just fits the locks. It cruises from Rogny to Cours les Barres in a week and costs 750 Euros for full board including the hire of bicycles and services of a guide. It has a very nice cafe/bar on board, carries 20 passengers and is managed by Martins wife, Pookie the ships dog and Martin himself who claims to be one of only three skipper/chefs in Europe. The view from the wheelhouse is negligible and how Martin manages to find the lock openings I can not imagine but he claims to have never missed and passes the Briare aquaduct without touching the sides!

After three days lazing in the sun we cruised on to Nevers where we moored up next to Dave and Mandy on their Aak "Freedom" (a type of Dutch sailing barge). Don and I travelled back to Montargis by train to collect our car and did a bit of shopping at Bricolages on the way back.

Pirates ahoy

We also stopped off at Rogny and purchased a length of fuel pipe from Boat Engineering Services whilst Don presented Harmonie with a Jolly Roger flag despite most of my "friends" claiming I am mostly miserable.

Back at Nevers the new fuel pipe was run between the tank and the engine, completely bypassing the original pipe work and primary filter. If air was getting in anywhere then it was either the stop valve or somewhere on the engine. We had an excellent meal once again at Le Jardin but an outing to the Marine Bar on the opposite side of the basin was not a success. A visit to l' Agricole bar at the Place Carnot in the centre of Nevers enabled us to connect with the internet with my laptop via a free wi-fi connection and we made onward hotel and flight reservations for the Lavericks. We could not leave Nevers without a further visit to the gardens at Apremont which were at their springtime best. We also paid a visit to Magny Cours, the French F1 Grand Prix racetrack where we were treated to a F1 car practising, we being the only spectators sitting in grandstands that can accommodate over 100,000. The noise was ear splitting and we could only imagine the noise of 20 odd cars in a proper race. We also visited the Ligier museum at the track where 16 Ligier cars from three decades are displayed.

Apremont gardens

Cruising on up the canal we stopped for lunch as usual, re-starting the engine with some confidence and after negotiating the next lock, the engine once again died on us! Coming alongside at Fleury sur Loire, Don reported that there was no response in forward or ahead but we managed to get alongside and tie up. Further investigation revealed that all six coupling bolts between the gearbox flange and the propeller shaft had either come out or sheared off. A blessing that the failure occurred when we were alongside our nightly mooring and not on a remote section of the canal or in the middle of some critical manoeuvre. The engine is flexibly mounted so there is a short cardan shaft between the gearbox bolted to a flexible coupling with Allen screws on the end of the tailshaft, the propeller thrust being taking by a thrust bearing. We removed the holding down bolts of the thrust bearing under the floor of the guest cabin so we could move the tailshaft back, removed the Allen screws and so the cardan shaft. This revealed that the flange had been fitted with studs, two of which had sheared off and the remains of a further four were lying in the bilge. Not an arrangement us big ship men approved of where proper fitted bolts are the norm but I subsequently discovered is accepted for lower powered engines. It should be recorded that I "Miserable Roger", cycled 22km back to Nevers to retrieve the car with many "uppies" whilst my wife and our guests lazed about on deck in the sunshine! Burgundy based engineer Herbie Parfit was contacted and we drove up to his base just south of Auxerre with the cardan shaft and left it with him for repair.


Who should be in Auxerre but Les and Sally on Nancy May, waiting to go out of the water for a paint job at Herbies Dad's place. Its an incestuous world in this part of France! We all degenerated to a very nice cafe for lunch on the quay opposite what will be our winter mooring this year before driving back through the delicious green and verdant Nivernais countryside.

Following yet another engine failure it seemed obvious that the problem lay with the fuel supply pump on the engine. When we had similar trouble a couple of years ago that pump was suspected and replaced so it was not a prime suspect this time around. I had noticed that, each time the engine stopped and I re-primed the fuel system, the manual pump plunger was difficult to move on the upstroke as though there was a suction blockage. When I removed the plunger, the small plastic non return valve under it was very tight in its guide and the spring sometimes did not return it to its seating. The same thing with the NR valve on the pressure side so I robbed the valves from a spare pump and this seemed to resolve the problem of the pump suction. It remains to be seen if this is also the cure for the engine lunch siesta?

Donald and Maureen were driven into Nevers to catch the Paris train. They had been with us for a month and it was the test of our friendship that we were still talking to each other when they left!

On various occasions we have visited Nevers post office where the Banque Postale in Briare had promised to send our new cheque book. Two weeks after saying it would arrive in a week or ten days it was not there and now they say it will be another 10 days. C'est France.

On 14th March Herbie arrived with the repaired Cardan shaft just after 9pm and it was refitted using HT bolts and lock nuts as he was unable to obtain replacement studs. Although they are not proper fitted bolts I am happier with this than studs. Herbie told me that the original studs that had sheared off were extracted with ease and were not even Loctited in. He was uneasy with the shaft arrangement and felt that one bearing was not enough on the intermediate shaft and will contact SKF for their recommendations, meanwhile we were at last free to continue. The replica barge Lilli Ann arrived at Fleury with Graham and Jean on board. As I took their ropes, Jean introduced herself and exclaimed that I must be Roger - fame indeed! The next day we took Jean into l'Agricole for an internet session, then she was thrown out of a Bricolage when they closed for lunch so we drove to Decize in the afternoon where she could hardly contain her exitement having found some special oil for her decking! That evening we consumed rather too much wine so the girls decided they were unable to cook and we finished up with steak and chips and more wine at the snack bar alongside followed by whisky and coffee back on Harmonie. We were all turning into geriatric binge drinkers, something our wonderful nanny government is very concerned about!

River Aron from the Nivernais canal

We decided we would cruise up the Nivernais canal until the 27th May, retrieving our car by bicycle as we go, until we found a good place to leave Harmonie for a few weeks. We would return to Somerset for a few days then continue to Ireland where we had organised a boat swap of which more on another page.

We fitted Desmond Diahatsu with a bike rack, loaded our bikes, drove to St Leger des Vignes just above the first lock on the Nivernais canal, cycled back to Fleury to retrieve Harmonie and cruised on to St Leger. Despite having discussed the problem of our air draught in relation to bridge heights on the Nivernais on many occasions, Sue now began to have reservations as to our ability to navigate it and insisted that we measured a few. The first dodgy bridge is the fifth one upstream so we tied a spanner to the end of a piece of string 3.4 metres long and dangled it from the centre and sides of the bridge. The conclusion was that we could pass with relative ease but it would be best to keep to the towpath side of the bridge to avoid possible contact with the top of our wheelhouse.

Nivernais bridge

Here you can see Harmonie actually navigating one of these bridges.

We drove on up to Cercy-la-Tour and discovered an excellent mooring with a good towpath cycle ride back to St Leger to retrieve Desmond but our next mooring at Panneçot would involve a little more physical effort. The views across the countryside as we drove back were just glorious with the Morvan hills providing a backdrop to the Aron valley, Charolais cattle grazing its fields of buttercups surrounded by hedges, yes hedges just like home!

We stayed at Panneçot just two nights before moving up to Chatillon en Bazios where we met Dick and Midge Hansen in their barge "de kikkervis", an English couple living in Holland when not cruising. The engine fuel starvation problem seems to be cured as we had no problems after we started again after stopping for lunch. We decided to leave Harmonie here while we travel to the UK and Ireland but we also intend to explore the Morvan region by car as we cruise the Nivernais. The Morvan is a regional park heavily forested and rising to a height of just over 900 metres.

Cemetary of Maquis Bernard
Because of its rugged terrain it became a region where the French resistance flourished during the second world war and there are many places where these brave men and women are remembered. We came upon an area where one of these units, the Maquis Bernard, operated and drove up a forest track to a tiny clearing where a small cemetary contained the graves of seven RAF crew who were shot down together with 21 French resistance fighters and the ashes of several SAS men who fought with them. In 1944 there were thousands of Maquis and SAS troops operating in the Morvan and we visited a Museum dedicated to their exploits at St-Brisson. In July and August of that year Maquis Barnard received 12 parachute drops of men, jeeps, 6 pounder guns, amunition, petrol and medical supplies. As the German army retreated across the region ahead of the allied invasion they were continually harrassed by the Maquis and SAS suffering many casualties. In retaliation the German troops burnt several of the surrounding villages to the ground and murdered many civilians.
Saut de Galoux cascade
Rocher de la Perouse

The scenery continued to delight as we passed cascades and climbed up to rocky outcrops for wonderful vistas across the Morvan hills, but we were heading for Tanlay on the Burgundy canal to again meet up with Les and Sally Harper on Nancy May. We stayed on board Nancy May for two nights, visiting Tonnerre, Tanlay Château, sharing an awful meal at a local restaurant and meeting Ali and Karen, intrepid Scottish boaters in their tiny yacht "Solitaire" with whom we shared a few whiskies and reminiscences of our time living in Edinburgh. As we will be visiting these places with Harmonie later this year I will refrain from describing them until then, meanwhile, we set off back to Chatillon en Bazios. We had to be back on Harmonie in time for the Rugby European Challenge Cup Final between Bath and Worcester but made time for a brief visit to St Père and its beautiful gothic church.

St Pere church
New and old bridges at Pierre-Perthuis

Further on there is the small village of Pierre-Perthuis where a modern bridge spans the river Cure across a rocky spur with an ancient cobbled bridge below. The road continues to the top of a watershed then descends down to the Nivernais providing superb views across the countryside. Below I have stitched a panorama of three shots together to try and replicate what the eye sees. Back on Harmonie we decided to move to a different mooring to give us access to electricity and water, and then, after 10 years without silverware, Bath Rugby beat Worcester 24-14 to take the European challenge cup. Captain Borthwick was named man of the match and couldn't stop crying! Could it be the Heinekin Cup final next year with Borthwick and Barclay playing against us for Gloucester?
That was spring in France. Next its summer on the Shannon.

Nivernais landscape

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