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Posted By Robin & Jim

We are currently cruising in France with Jim's Dad (Le Grand Fromage).  He suggested the trip last fall, and we agreed - chartering a canal boat in Burgundy and then touring the Loire Valley, Mont St. Michel, and Paris by car.  It has been an interesting change of pace - running a small boat on the very narrow Nivernais Canal.

We departed from the Le Boat base in Chatel-Censoir with our 37' single-screw boat.  It's a pretty nice boat - two staterooms, a separate shower, a nice little galley and airy saloon, a bow thruster, and even a diesel heating system that is very handy for taking the chill off the cabin after the cool (chilly!) nights.

chatel-censoir

The Nivernais runs along the River Yonne - a major thoroughfare between Italy and Paris (and the northern coast) from ancient times.  Julius Caesar came through this area in 44 BC, as well as Atilla the Hun, Napoleon, etc.  There is a great deal of documented history of over 2000 years here.

The Nivernais Canal was used for over 400 years to float logs from the Morvan Forest down to Paris for heat and construction materials, and the adjacent Yonne River was used to transport blocks of stone and other supplies to Paris prior to that.

chalk cliffs

The Canal is very narrow, as are the locks (there are many) and bridges.  A towpath is now a bicycle path running along the canal, and we've seen many local as well as touring and camping bicyclists as we've traveled.

Each of the locks on the Nivernais are operated by hand, so locking is a bit time-consuming since the tender has to walk around and open and close the gates, and operate the sluices to fill or empty the lock chamber. 

 helping the locktender

You can see in the photo how narrow the locks and bridges are. The bridges are also pretty low - sitting at the upper helm station I can often reach up and brush my fingers against the bottom of the bridges we pass under.  Some of the charter boats have sun umbrellas or bimini tops, and they need to pay attention and lower everything before they go under the bridges!

We've been stopping to explore little towns and villages, though sometimes the (only) restaurant is closed.  It's a good thing we provisioned with a few things we could fix for dinner since we've had to do that a few times when towns didn't have any options.

dinner aboard

Fortunately we've had marvelous weather - cool nights but warm days in the high 70's or low 80's.  We've been enjoying the local wines and fresh croissants as often as we can.

in the lock with bikes

We have bikes aboard so we've been exploring a bit farther when we stop.  We'll continue to report from France as we cruise along...

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We were lucky enough to get a chance to watch some sailing races among the rare and famous Chesapeake Bay Log Canoes (built in the mid-1800s)!  We have friends who own one of the 18 remaining traditional sailing craft - one of the biggest, 5 logs wide - and we were invited aboard the chase boat for the Flying Cloud (sail #22).  This was a real thrill!!

flying cloud close hauled

As you can see by the photo, these gorgeous sailing craft do not look like they were built from logs.  They are huge boats that carry an enormous amount of sail area, so the crew uses hiking boards to shift weight far out over the water to keep the boat from tipping over. 

flying cloud racing

To see just one of these magnificent boats is a thrill, but to see a big group of them racing is a so dramatic.  The log canoes are tippy boats, and things happen fast because of all the sail area and large amount of people needed to sail one.

The crew who handles the main sheet sits very far aft, on a hard wooden seat suspended well past the stern.

mainsheet tender

These boats can fly a kite - a triangular shaped sail very high up, as well as a staysail off the mainmast.  Unfortunately for the Flying Cloud, the staysail proved to be a bit too much for the mainmast and the wooden spar snapped.

flying cloud broken mast

This was a disaster for the racing crew since it meant that they had significantly less sail area than her competitors, and it was a shame since Flying Cloud had been doing very well in the race so far.  Fortunately, the broken part of the mast was recovered, which would hopefully speed repair later on.

In between the first and second races, the crew was able to lash some blocks to the top of the broken mast section, and rig a smaller mainsail.  These are hard-core racers!  Unfortunately during the second race, Flying Cloud's skipper realized that he didn't have enough room to turn at the mark - at the last minute, and the need to react quickly caused the Flying Cloud to tip over.  This is a very easy thing to do in a log canoe, and it happens in a flash.

flying cloud tipped over

At that point, the chase boat is very important, since the canoe has to be stripped of all boards and sails, and the two masts removed in order to right the boat.  Then she has to be bailed, vigorously to get her back afloat.  The boat and masts have to be towed back to the dock for re-assembly, since the scale of everything on these boats is quite large. 

It was a very exciting weekend, with a lot of action and wonderful people.  We saw old friends and made new ones and had a grand time.