We leave at 08:30 and reach the top of the hill, at Baye. A retaining wall keeps us off the large reservoir – one of the feed lakes supplying the Nivernais canal system in both directions.
We head past the port and into the deep cut and the three tunnels of Breuilles, Mouas and Collancelles, the last one being the longest at around 750 metres. So headlamp on and peak concentration through this one way system, guarded by traffic lights at each end. It took years of hard labour to create this channel through the limestone hills – providing freight barges a shorter route to Paris – and not much over an hour to pass through it, out into the sunshine of Port Brûlé.
Then down the 16 lock staircase of Sardy. Behind us, a smaller boat laden with first-time hire-boaters marvels at how it all works. Yes, we had to wait at many locks, whilst the lock-keepers moved from one to the next, allowing ascending boats to pass in the biefs – but how wonderful it is to sit in the sun, have lunch on deck and explore the banksides and hedgerows with the puppy and chat to fellow travellers. What’s the hurry.
One or two of the lock cottages on this stretch are currently inhabited by artists, who greet cruising boats and passing cyclists with music from the sixties, pink-painted bollards, wind-chimes, pottery and (rather odd) sculptures. At the foot of the hills, we pass a local quarry, with towering piles of gravel; a travellator carries the stones across the canal and white dust coats the trees and grasses for hundreds of metres. Later, we see on Google earth that the extent of the plant is actually enormous. All in all, it takes 10.5 hours to reach our stop for the night at PK78 (Editions du Breil : 11), south of Corbigny.
The port is a Locaboat base, situated just below lock 24 (‘Yonne’). It’s on one side of an extra wide stretch of canal that has a long, piled bank-side for free mooring with several pontoons, water and electricity, and showers in the Capitainerie. We are pleased to pay 13,50€ for the night for a safe, extremely pleasant mooring and all mod-cons. Next day, Serge, the second in command (the Port chief is Jose Lucain) tells me that they have 9 boats for hire from this base, varying from the Penichette 935 for two people to the Penichette 1160 for six. He says they’ve been busy this season. While we talk, a 1165 returns to base from a week downstream. It scoots along, does a sweeping turn and parks neatly on a finger pontoon opposite. A family of Germans, with impeccable English, have had a wonderful time and want to book it again for next year!
In the afternoon, whilst turning the boat around to make it easier for the dog to get on and off the boat (she is still wary) I misjudge the length of rope I have in my hand when pulling to secure it on the cleat. I fall in backwards. Quite shocked and fully clothed, it is surprisingly difficult to heave oneself out of the water on to a pontoon only 18 inches higher than the surface. I’m not sure I would have been able to do it without a hand to pull me up. And also, fortunately, just for once, I didn’t have my phone in my pocket.
A memorable two days – but important to stock up with provisions before you start; there is really nowhere to shop.