Now is the time to Say Goodbye. Goodbye Gare d’Eau and PMU Bar. Au revoir, glasses. We’ve started the next leg of our incredible journey sailing south through the French rivers and canals, to the sun. Fingers crossed, it’s all going to go well.
” . . . Last week, my glasses slipped from the neck of my shirt, where I habitually keep them, as I leaned over the guard rail to secure the starboard dodger back in place, it having been removed during our stay in the Gare d’Eau. As I reached to catch them they plopped into the murky water and dimly wafted to and fro until out of sight. And there they stayed till this morning, when I borrowed Captain Bob’s soon-to-be patented ‘fisher outer’, an old wire shopping basket attached firmly by wire to an overlong wooden pole. First dip and up they come, good as gold, and I choose to take this extraordinary turn of luck to be a welcome good omen for our coming trip, for all canny sailors are superstitious.
Glasses firmly on nose now, I am writing this piece from the still deserted pontoons at Seurre, a delightful small town just a short 2 hour trip south on the Saone from St Jean de Losne. We waved our final goodbyes through the first drops of a gathering squall, pulled on our windcheaters quickly as we passed the grain silos, and declined to stop at the old lock for a cup of tea with friends there. Sometimes things are just too difficult; all boaters understand this and our friends came to wave at us instead as we steamed on by.
We soon entered the cut constructed to avoid the huge meanders in the river and made good progress past fields and distant villages. There were a few small logs in the water but not a single fellow craft, just the ubiquitous herons, and black buzzards (I think) wheeling overhead from time to time, for company.
All’s well with Grehan, too, our hard work on the engine and all the deck fittings and surfaces over the past few days leaving us with a smart and smoothly purring vessel, eager and responsive. As the wind blew on the nose and I donned my sou’wester I found myself wishing we had the mast up and could sail a bit. She tossed joyfully about on the small waves and our excitement to be off, out, on the water and part of it too, increased as the kilometres sped by. Our concern that we may have forgotten our skills, hard-learned last year, was unfounded – we pulled off perfect moorings at the lock and at our berth here. What a relief! Two large unladen barges have passed by since tea-time going upstream, timely reminding us of wakes and washes, to put things away properly inside and get the lines and springs right.
We visited the UK in March, leaving St Jean by car with a much fitter Chloe; Trish & Tim very kindly picked us up and drove us further South to Lyon, a remarkably beautiful and historic city, for a long week-end, before taking us back to Oxfordhshire. It was a frantic, poignant and disorienting few weeks, visiting as many friends as we could, staying with relatives, a hospital check-up (good news, fortunately), lunching, dining and shopping for the very long list of essential items for our future voyaging.
Tom drove us back. We landed in Dover in daylight and immediately recognised the difference in countryside, more hedges but less horizon. Catkins and sticky buds were everywhere on the farm, drifts of snowdrops still flowering in and around the drive ditches and we happily soaked up all the familiar things and places that we used to know as we went around. But we had to leave eventually, however; another wrench, and this time not even promising a return within 6 months. Amazingly, our respective families have never baulked at this, and instead have been endlessly supportive and encouraging.
Two treasures brought from England and now installed on board have been the 80 watt solar panel, which we have fixed to our davits, to help keep the ship’s three batteries topped up. This should not be difficult given our chosen destination. We have also acquired a short wave radio, and now that we are out of the basin at St Jean, we find we can pick up stations broadcast from America as clear as a bell. Much more importantly, I can now hear dear Eddie Mair again for the first time in 6 months, although domestic news does seem rather mundane and irrelevant to us now.
We said goodbye to Christine, proprietress of the PMU bar, this morning and gazed for some time at the line of cherry trees, now garbed in their brightest pink blossom, fronting our beloved Casino supermarket. I will miss my English conversation with schoolboy Maxime and my friend Sylviane from the next village. And our fellow boaters ..well, it’s so hard. But, we’ll meet some of our friends again further south this season, and will keep in touch with others, and so the parting is do-able. Our current plan is to travel down to Aigues Mortes and then take the Canal du Midi, towards Toulouse and Bordeaux, spending May and June along this route, there and back again, before heading off into the Golfe de Lion. However, being prepared and flexible is everything; a winter in the South of France is not out of the question.