The weather is beautiful on Wednesday so we slowly meander along the canal and through a number of locks chatting to those lock keepers who are inclined to try and understand us. We decide to stop before Briare and see a lovely quiet shady area near a village called St Firmin-sur-Loire. We have a spot of lunch before I decide to undertake some serious sunbathing while Charles does man stuff in the boat. It’s not long before a holiday boat pulls up behind us with a family of four so that puts paid to my topless sunbathing and I quickly make myself decent. Then later in afternoon a boat approaching sounds his horn and we see it is our new found friends Eric and Roos (pronounced Rose) minus the boats sun screen which had been damaged when they lost the fight with a bridge. We help them moor up and have a catch up on their adventures and it would seem that with all the rain the canal level had risen hence the contact with the bridge. Eric and Roos have a cruiser with a very high cockpit which enables them to have and upper and lower steering position (depending on the weather) but the downside is navigating those bridges with low headroom. They appear sanguine about it and at least no one was hurt in the incident.
We decide to take a walk into Briare along the canal side and although it is only about three kilometers it didn’t take long for us both to fade in the heat so I suggested stopping for a little drink – not impressed when Mr P shows me his empty wallet. The approach to Briare is truly spectacular with the magnificent Canal Bridge, designed by Gustave Eiffel which is architecturally similar to the Alexander III Bridge in Paris. The structure is 662 meters long and 11.5 meters wide and spans the River Loire.
We take a walk into the Port (known as a marina in the UK) but are too late to speak with the Capitainiere who we are hoping will tell us she can provide us with a winter mooring so will try again tomorrow when we move the boat. We have a wander around the town and look for the house that Sue and Chris viewed when they passed through after leaving us last week – they are always looking for a new challenge. It looks like its going to be another hot day on Thursday so we decide to stay put so we wave goodbye to the other boats as they set off and we return to solitude and tranquility.
But as is typical with Charles and I; it’s not long before we change our minds so set off in afternoon into Briare and this time we meet Dorothe the Capitainiere who says if we don’t mind mooring up against another barge we can have a winter mooring which is good news and puts our mind at rest.
Quite a few people we have met have warned us that winter moorings are taken up quickly and if we are not careful we will have no where to moor but we have and we’re happy – it’s a good location as we can easily get a train to Paris and then home. Perhaps the family should start getting together to decide when they are going to have us stay with them over winter – although we have already been told by April (who is 13 yrs old) that we cannot have her room – I think its that age thing so I may have to think of something to bribe her with. Charles decides in the late afternoon he wants to move on although the sky looks like its ready to open up and pour more of that eau down on us but he is confident we will miss it. Surprisingly, as he is rarely wrong, we cruise through a torrential thunderstorm (good job we have a wheel house) but it doesn’t last long and fortunately stops by the time we reach the lock. We got the impression that the lock keeper was wanting us to moor up for the night probably because of the horrible weather so he helped us through the three locks to Ouzouer-sur-Trezee where we stop for the night and who should we moor next to but Eric and Roos – not sure who is stalking who!! We hook up our electricity and still find it hard to believe that electric and water and moorings are free in so many places we visit. Friday arrives and so does another thunderstorm which we really could do without when we are expecting Simon and the gang as its not much fun being stuck in a boat with nowhere to go in the rain, especially when there will be eight of us. Charles and I are chatting in the galley when all of a sudden there is a flash of lightning immediately followed by thunder over our heads – we both jump out of skin and grab each other – don’t know what happened to the rough tough and hard to bluff police officers we once were….that WAS close and we establish we are both in one piece so set about checking Bluegum. We think the strike probably hit the lock behind us which shares the same electricity supply the boats hook up to and caused an overload. The strike has certainly done something to the soft ware as the battery state display screen has closed down. Brian; you are not jinxing us again are you? Out comes the manuals – again. Charles is going to be an expert on Piper boats before too long. We know some people read them prior to things going wrong but we are more of the activist kind of people so only read them when something stops working and over the last few weeks that has been quite a few times. After some reading, fiddling and tutting the conclusion is it’s buggered. Looks like Simon Piper will be getting another email from us with a request for advice soon. In the galley above the micro-wave we have a number of displays: battery status, water supply, waste and fuel. Well out of the four of them only two are working now. Sorry Mark and Trish – we really are trying to be careful and it’s not our fault; honest!!
On a brighter note the sun comes out and Simon and the family arrive late afternoon. They all like our new boat and are impressed with the layout, fit out and size. A hire boat with a huge French family moor up behind us and it’s not long before they start a bbq and their party begins. Their English is limited but Charles goes to make friends and soon they are sharing a glass of wine. Simon goes to join them with a little glass of Rose he bought which clearly does not impress the connoisseurs who throw it in the canal and gives him a glass of their red – he’s not complaining. After eating pizza, enjoying some refreshments and catching up on their first weeks holiday in France it is now time to find somewhere for everyone to sleep, Joanne and Amelie go in the spare bedroom, April sleeps on the sofa leaving Angus, Louie Jack and Simon in the wheelhouse. Charles and I retreat to our own room – that would have been impossible on Ebony. We are fine but everyone else tell us they were kept awake by the French family partying all night. On Saturday morning Simon and I take their car to Rogny-Les-Sept-Ecluses so named because yes you’ve guesed it, it used to have seven locks; in fact they were a staircase, all interlinked. It was built in the reign of Henry IV but has since replaced by six non-contiguous locks enabling boats to pass each other which would not previously have been possible. We park up and walk back the 6 and a half miles to the rest of the family and I manage to keep up with Simon’s fast pace resulting in it taking 1 hour and 50 minutes which isn’t bad for an old girl…. I’m feeling very proud of myself.
The distance between the two towns is only 9 kilometers but with 12 locks and the mandatory hour lunch time lock closure takes us to mid afternoon before we moor up and find ourselves next to our French friends from the night before; they are as jolly and friendly as ever.
We take a walk into the small town and buy our tickets for the firework display later in the evening before returning to the boat for tea. As we are enjoying an aperitif a small day boat with 4 very noisy French men sail by with one of them holding a mega phone which plays some outlandish melody that’s usually heard at football matches . Charles unable to resist himself engages them in conversation and Joanne and I decide to offer them a beer. They have us in stitches and it’s not long before we are invited back to their hire boat for a drink later in the evening although it turned out we didn’t have time to. Whoever said the French are not friendly has been to the wrong place – we have met nothing but friendliness since we have been here. So after using everything I have left in the fridge to make pasta dishes we set off for the evening’s festivities. There’s music playing and although we were told there would be children’s entertainment we don’t see much. The fields and roads soon fill up and by 10 pm there must have been the promised 20,000 spectators. Apparently this firework display is the second biggest in the whole of France. Eventually the fireworks begin but it is too late for poor little Amelie who sleeps through the whole hour to hour and a half of the most amazing firework display we have ever seen – even Simon nodded off but that may have had something to do with the vin rouge!! Exhausted we flop into bed around 1 am with Simon hoping to get away by 8am on Sunday so the kids can enjoy the kids club back at their camp site. As you can imagine it didn’t happen as everyone slept in but they manage to leave us around 10am and we alone again set off to Chattillon-Coligny.
This is a pretty town and we are looking forward to a meal out at a restaurant recommended to us by an English couple – unfortunately we find it closed on Sunday evenings but we did enjoy wandering around the flea market.
Apart from suntan lotion on the windows, spilled chocolate milk on the new sun chairs, we won’t mention the red wine Bluegum coped well with our family visitors and the dishwasher really was a godsend. But we don’t think the toilet system could handle 8 people and 5 toilet rolls in 2 days!! – we started to notice an odd sound during the flushing of the toilet after the first day of our guests arriving but when we later tried to empty the black water (poo!)tank the pump failed. Thanks to Trish who when this happened to them suggested that Mark reverse the pump connection so canal water enters the tank rather than the waste leaving the tank in an attempt to flush out any blockage (excuse the pun) – its worth giving it a go and yes it worked for a while until the pump overheated and stopped all together – something else to add to the ‘problems’ list…..its beginning to get quite long. Fortunately Charles found a new pump on sale on Ebay so put in a bid and got it for £80 instead of £150 so now we just have to get it over to France somehow – not sure how long we can keep our legs crossed!!!