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On the Canal -- Part 1
Our Canal Trip in France

July 1, 2000 -- On the Boat

I steered a relatively straight course down the embranchment towards the next lock. While it was a little scary to see Steve go, it was a feeling of freedom realizing that we were doing something so unusual (at least for Americans) on our own.

We did pretty well on the first lock all by ourselves. We realized that the lock keeper probably saw all sorts of things happen being the first lock that people had to do solo. As we began to leave the lock the wind started to pick up.

Shortly after leaving the lock we began to get some sprinkles, that then turned into a light rain, then a heavy rain, and finally a heavy downpour with strong winds. Julie and I worked to get us over to the side of the canal, pound in the mooring stakes, and tie up. By the time we were secure we were soaked!

We looked up at the boat and there were Evie, Patrick, and Christopher laughing at us from the dry cabin. Evie was even taking pictures of us. A few minutes later the storm had passed and the skies cleared.

Dinner was camembert cheese, pate de fois gras, bread, and wine. The kids had tortellini--just like at home. It was an early night to bed for all of us.

(At midnight I head some booms. Not knowing what was going on, I went into the salon and there were giant fireworks going off over the village of Cravant. What a way to mark our first night aboard.)

July 2, 2000 -- On to Mailly le Chateau

We got underway and cleared our first ?lock?? 10:00 am. The canal was narrow with trees lining the bank. Fields of reap seeds stretched over the hillsides.

We stopped for lunch just before noon as the locks shut down for lunch from 12:00 to 1:00. We took the patio table and chairs off the rear deck and set them down in the shade just off the towpath. The view of the still waters of the canal and cows in the field beyond was so peaceful.

We got underway and headed up the canal to Maille-la-Ville where they were having a bric-a-brac fete. (Basically a flea market/garage sale that lined both sides of the main street.)

As we passed by people were sitting at tables yelling and waving at us. Perhaps they had been drinking a bit as well. We decided to stop and see what was going on. The town had a couple of docks just waiting for us.

Our first stop in the village was the bakery on Rue du Bulange. We decided not to see what was on another nearby street, Rue de Appotoir. Julie and Christopher found a tiny merry-go-round nearby which Christopher loved.

Patrick took off to the candy stand booth where he bought all sorts of different candies for 40 francs. They put them in a little sack and he was so proud of himself for doing it all alone. The bad part was when he accidentally through it in a dirty dumpster when he was trying to throw out some other trash.

We walked back to the boat and left this cute little village and headed up the canal. We went through a couple more locks in the afternoon and stopped in the afternoon at a small ?l out??th a couple of other boats near the village of Mailly le Chateau.

Julie, the kids and I walked up into the village proper. We walked over a small bridge spanning the Yonne. Just over the bridge there was a statue on top of a pedestal. The statue is of a wolf covering his eyes. At the base of the statue was a fountain the would squirt out water.

We sat the river bank and dangled out feet in the water to cool off. Everyone that lived ion the village was inside watching France beat Italy in the finals of the Euro 2000 soccer match. It was a wonderful and peaceful end to our first full day on the Canal du Nivernais.

How to Lock (the verb!)

There are two directions you can go through a lock--up or down. We found out rather quickly that it is easier (and cleaner) to go down than up. This is because it is much easier to step of the boat on to the lock side than climb up the slimy ladder. In our whole trip we had two down locks and 50 up locks.

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Enter the lock SLOWLY and remember you can use your engine to brake. A crew member can either go ashore near the lock gate or climb up a ladder on the side of the lock.

The procedure is pretty much the same once you have a person on the side of the lock. Your take the bow and stern lines and wrap each of them around a bollard and back to a person either on the boat or the lock. While most locks have 3 bollards to be able to handle multiple boats, we found that using just one was best even if were alone in the lock.

While the lock keeper will close the lock gate for you, it is faster and more fun if you close the gates on your side of the lock. After the gates are closed, the sluices are opened and the lock fills or empties. Note that the currents of a filling lock tend to move the boat around so it is important to keep the slack out of the lines as the boat rises in the lock.

After about 5-10 minutes the water has found its level and the gates can easily be opened. Make sure you have no lines in the water, put the boat in gear and you are off.

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Lock Keepers

We were able to put lock keepers into one of three categories. The first were the little old ladies, sometimes with their husbands, that tended the locks and lived in a house right next to the lock. We got the impression that some of them came from families that had tended locks for two or three generations.

The second type were college students that treated it as a summer job. Sitting in the sun, getting up every half-hour or so to let a boat through. Most of them spoke English quite well. The last category where men who I considered professional eclusiers. This type tended to be at locks that were more intense with higher lifts or double locks.

All the lock keepers were friendly. Even when we couldn?ommunicate verbally, we were able to smile, wave, gesture, and communicate in some fashion. We had brought enameled Olympic pins as a thank you token and they were generally appreciated.