1995 Barge Trip Through the Bourgogne  
Canal du Nivernais 
 In the Summer of 1995 five friends and I chartered a self drive canal barge for a cruise on the Canal du Nivernais in the Bourgogne, France. This was an experience most us had separately wanted to have for a number of years. It was only through the commitment and organization provided by Mike Repass and Deborah Corbin that we were able to achieve our separate goals together and have a great time for a week in France. This is a record of that experience.
Our trip began in Joigny on L'Yonne River, a short drive south of Paris.  The trip would take us in and along L'Yonne from Joigny to Chitry le Mine.   The Canal du Nivernais parallels L'Yonne providing navigable water where L'Yonne turns into shallow rapids.  The water depth in the canal is maintained by a series of weirs or dams on the river which necessitate locks for passage.  The total trip was less than 80 kilometers in length (highlighted in red on the map below), but it took us a full six days to make the transit.  We averaged about 10 locks per day.  These locks combined with the restricted speed imposed by the limited depth and breadth of the waterway meant a slow and stately passage through the Bourgogne.  Of course we weren't looking a fast trip and took every opportunity to enjoy the passing countryside and made frequent stops and side trips.  Click on active hyperlinks in the map below or the table contents to follow our journey.
Notes on the pictures and videos on this page.
At the time  of this trip I did not have a good quality still camera (my 35mm SLR was stolen a couple of years earlier) and this was before digital cameras were generally available.  I did have a Sony 8mm Handycam, and I used that camera to record the trip.  The still pictures on this web page are video captures (vidcaps) from the 8mm tape recordings.  I have recently resurrected those original video tapes and have started uploading some scenes to Youtube such that they can be viewed from this page.  All of the vidcaps and videos are of the generally low resolution of the camcorder technology in 1995.
Le Bourgogne
Canal du Nivernais
Our Crew
Our Boat
The Locks
The Trip
Our Crew
Our crew consisted of Mike and Deborah, Sam and Ada, Clare, and myself. Sam, Ada, and Clare are fluent in French, which made the trip a lot easier for Mike, Deborah, and myself since we spoke very limited French. Still, all of us managed to buy bread, cheese and wine regardless of our language skills. Mike and I were the only experienced boat drivers in the crew. During the first day of the trip we encouraged everyone to try their hand at the helm. After that only Mike and I drove the boat. This was apparently fine with everyone else, and neither Mike nor I considered this a burden. Everyone helped out when we transited the locks. Cycling to Irancy: Sam, Deborah, Clare and Ada
The Crew of La Joigny
Our Boat 
La Joigny
La Joigny, Penichette 1500
Our barge was a Penichette 1500 (15 meters in length) from Locaboat Plaisance in Joigny. The boat is equipped with a diesel engine, a propane stove, 12 volt DC refrigeration, and a pressurized fresh water system. There are four double cabins, two heads, and two showers. Overall the boat was very comfortable for our crew of six, providing a surprising amount of privacy on a small boat. The boat was delivered clean and in good condition by Locaboat.
We encountered only two problems: (1) The water capacity did not appear to be the 1,500 liters advertised, and we were miss-informed that the heads pumped river water, rather than fresh water from the tanks. The combination of these two discrepancies resulted in our running out of water in the tanks several times before we realized the true situation; and (2) The propeller came loose during the trip and apparently dropped off just as we were approaching the Chitry le Mine quay at the end of our trip. Fortunately this problem did not become critical until we were in a position where I could stop the boat with the spring line from shore. At this point the boat could not be stopped by using the reverse propeller thrust from the engine. If we had been anywhere other than at the very end of our trip, we would have had to wait for Locaboat to send a mechanic/diver to resolve the problem. This would have turned at least one of our cruise days into an ordeal. We never had to test the ability of Locaboat to resolve these underway problems. Timing is everything!  
We chose Locaboat for two primary reasons:
  1. The Penichette barges they offer are the only ones we could find with essentially equal space and comfort in all cabins.  Most the other barges appear to be designed with a family in mind with a large master stateroom for the the parents (who were paying for the trip) and a series of smaller cabins for the children.  Since we were a group of couples and singles, each of whom was paying an equal share of the cost of the barge we would have had some difficulty deciding who should be the parents.
  2. Locaboat allowed one-way trips, although even they had a limited selection.  Most companies require you to return the barge to the port from which you left.  That meant the last half of the trip would be through the same country side you passed through in the first half.  On a another barge cruise a few years later we accepted a charter that required us to return the vessel and determined our choice of paying extra for a one-way was well worth the cost.
The Locks
Opening the gates
Openning the Sluice
Coming up
Halfway up
Up stream barge waiting on us to clear the lock
Ready to Open the Lock
Most of the locks encountered on the Canal du Nivernais have lock keepers (Eclusier), although many of these keepers are inexperienced students on summer break. A number of the locks were unmanned (or "un-womaned" since many of the students were women). In any case it is expected that the boat crew will assist in the operation of the locks. This operation involves closing the entrance lock gates behind, opening the sluices on the exit lock gates to raise or lower the water, closing the sluices, and opening the exit lock gates. If there was an Eclusier, we generally gave a 5FF tip (before the days of the Euro) for the service. The main function of the crew is to maintain the position of the boat in the lock while the water rushes in or out. This means lines must be continually taken in or let out as the boat rises or falls in the lock. This is not a major effort in the small locks that predominate on the Canal du Nivernais, but it is sometimes a significant task in the large locks of the commercial waterways.
Since we were travelling up stream and entering the locks at low water level, it was often necessary to drop off one crew member before entering the lock so there was someone to grab our lines, and operate the locks if there was no Eclusier (as in the pictures above).  There were no ladders or steps in the walls of the lock to allow someone to climb from the deck of the barge to the top of the lock.  On one occasion one of us was able to jump from the top of the cabin to the top of the lock, but we quickly decided that was a risky procedure.
Above is the full video of the lock operation from which the stills were captured.
Cote Saint Jacques in Joigny
La Cote Ste. Jacques, Joigny
We stayed the first night in Paris, then drove to Joigny in rental cars the next day. The boat was not scheduled to be ready until after noon, so we killed some time with an excellent (3,000FF) dinner at the premier two-star restaurant in Joigny, La Cote Ste. Jacques. Because of this dinner we were a little late getting to the Port de Plaisance, and there was a crowd of other barge renters attempting to take possession of their vessels. It was pretty confusing and took a little time, but eventually we took possession of "La Joigny", and had our first meal on-board.
After cooking dinner on board for the first time we took a walking tour of Joigny.  This was July and it was light until well after 10:00 PM.  Below is a video of a portion of our tour.  After 20 years I can no longer recall what we were seeing on this tour, if I ever knew.  So the video is just a sequence of unidentified scenes with no narration or titles.
Joigny to Auxerre
The following morning we departed Joigny and headed upstream on L'Yonne river. This first day took us predominately on the river, in the later days we would be predominately on the Canal du Nivernais which parallels the river. At the start we were part of a flotilla of other barges who had also departed Joigny that morning. On L'Yonne this day we passed through several relatively large commercial locks, manned by professional Eclusier. These commercial locks could accommodate a number of the tourist barges. On this part of the trip the river was deep and wide, and the locks were several kilometers apart, allowing us to travel all the way to Auxerre by mid-afternoon. We had to plan our daily distances fairly closely since the locks are closed from 6:00 PM to 7:00 AM as well as for the noon hour. Although we made our planned destination each day, if we had been stopped by a lock that was closed for the night it would not have been a major problem. At almost any point on the canal it was possible to tie the barge off to shore and spend the evening in the canal.
 Auxerre is the most picturesque of the cities we encountered on the Canal du Nivernais and L'Yonne. It is known as the city of cathedrals and the name is well earned as we were tied up at the Port de Plaisance with a view of three massively large cathedrals. That evening we noticed that the cathedral directly opposite our berth across the river put on a light show. The following day we spent the morning site seeing and shopping. After lunch we departed for Vincelles.
Auxerre to Vincelles
Berthed at Vincelles 
Port de Plaisance, Vincelles
 As we progressed upstream from Auxerre, L'Yonne became dramatically more narrow and shallow. We began to travel more in the canal than in the river, The country-side also became rural, as we passed several vineyards and large fortified farms. On this leg the locks became more frequent, and many were operated by students for whom this was a summer job. We stopped early this day at the Port de Plaisance in Vincelles, which is directly across the river/canal from its twin city of Vincellotes.
The morning after we arrived in Vincelles we took out first (and only) group bicycle trip to the wine making town of Irancy, about 4 kilometers from our berth. It was on this uphill trip that most of us learned how terribly out of shape we were, and the bicycles were seldom used thereafter. However, we did make it to Irancy and were invited to sample the wines of one of the vintners in a town of approximately 30 vintners. It seemed that almost every home and building in Irancy had a vintner in residence.  
 The wines we tasted, those of Rene Charriat, are consumed primarily in France and are not exported which appears to be the case with much of the wine from Irancy. The wife and son of Rene Charriat were very cordial and spent over an hour offering us samples of their wines.
They did this although it was clear we could not transport very much wine in the baskets of our bicycles, and hence they knew we were not going to buy very much.
As we were sampling his wines, Msr. Charriat came into the cave hot and sunburned from working in the vineyard. We had consumed a great deal of water before drinking any wine due to the exertion of the bicycle trip from Vincelles. We were dutifully impressed when Msr. Charriat passed on the water and drank a tumbler of red wine to quench his thirst.
Returning (downhill) to Vincelles from Irancy we ate lunch then departed for Mailly le Ville.
Mailly le Ville
We barely cleared the lock below Mailly le Ville before the six o'clock closing. It was fortunate that we had planned to spend the night at Mailly le Ville, because just upstream of the town dock was another lock which was closed before we could have cleared it. The following morning we were underway just as the Eclusier arrived. The country side was now becoming more rugged, with large limestone cliffs along the canal. 
Mailly le Chateau
Mailly le Chateau
 We stopped at Mailly le Chateau to visit the chateau which sits atop one of these cliffs with a spectacular view of the Bourgogne. After lunch we were underway again. Now the locks were coming almost every kilometer as the river/canal continued to rise to eventually join the Loire.  We also started to encounter manual lift bridges on this section of the canal.  These lift bridges had a manual winch which had to be cranked by hand to raise or lower the bidge.
Below is a video of the view from the Chateau.
Rochers du Saussois
 That afternoon we passed the Rochers du Saussois whose shear limestone cliffs are used by rock climbers.
Saturday market in Clamecy
Saturday Market in Clamecy
As we approached Clamency the scenery became more urban. Just below Clamency we went through a heavy industrial area. Clamency itself was probably the least interesting of our stops, being very noisy, dirty, and crowded. Here the evening lock closing prevented us reaching the Port de Plaisance, and we had to tie off to the town walls along the river.
That evening we observed several local residents practicing jousting from small boats. This was practice for what we believed to be part of the Bastille Day activities in Clamency. L'Yonne and the canal were used to float logs down river to Paris from the Movran Forest, and this area is apparently a source of the French loggers who rode the logs on the river. This jousting must be a derivative of the log riding skills necessary for the float to Paris.  I surmise that the technique of riding logs on a river was developed by the French on L'Yonne and exported to America in colonial times.  Now I understood why in so many stories and movies about logging in the U.S.A. and Canada there was always at least one logger called "Frenchie".   
Clamency to Chitry le Mines
After Clamecy we were happy to tie up to a rural Port de Plaisance near the village of Tannay. Dick and Gail, our friends who had been living in Paris for the past six months, joined us at the port and spent the night on board. By this time the pleasantly cool weather of our first few days on the canal had changed to hot and humid. Even by 8:00 in the evening it was too hot to consider cooking. Luckily we discovered that there was a one-star restaurant just across the canal, and we enjoyed one more excellent dinner. The following day, our last on La Joigny, the temperature must have been in the high nineties. We left the boat in Chitry le Mines, and donated much of our excess cheese,  and other food to a British couple who were on their way to the Med on a catamaran. This last act was our patriotic duty to impress the Brits and other Europeans with our American conspicuous consumption practices.  It took several trips to move all of our excess food to the catamaran.
   From Chitry our crew split in two. Ada and Sam drove to Dijon, and the rest of drove to Beaune for a few days. From there we returned to Paris (just before Bastille Day), and then back to the states.