Migennes – Gurgy – Auxerre (town) – Auxerre (park)
As we were moored between Chamudi and La Belle Hélène, we had to extricate Catharina Elisabeth to cruise off. Of course, as in almost every other year we have cruised, our first direction was astern. After the ropes had been slipped off each of our neighbours, Ian put Catharina into reverse and we pulled away a sufficient distance before heading forwards, upstream past all the boats moored on the quayside, towards our first destination of the season, Gurgy.
At this point, our plan was still to do a circuit consisting of the Nivernais, Lateral á la Loire, Briare, Loing, Rousseau’s shipyard, Yonne and start along the Canal de Bourgogne to winter in Brienon-sur-Armançon. But we were closely watching the VNF bulletins about water levels in those waterways.
This cruise was mostly on the River Yonne which is quite wide over this distance so no tricky navigating was necessary. Enjoying the fine, warm to hot weather, we motored past largely rural countryside and passed through four commercial-sized locks.
It was a relaxing re-introduction to cruising Catharina. After our late start, we ended up waiting over the mandatory lunch period (12-1 pm along all of the Yonne/Nivernais) in one of the écluses just a little downstream of Gurgy.
A little after 2 pm we arrived at the wonderful new pontoon at Gurgy. It is about 100 m long featuring new decking with power and water (that’s available by purchasing a token that then gives access to either power or water, not both). There was only one vessel there when we arrived but a couple of hours later, it was full of hire boats and other vessels that would be staying overnight.
Gurgy is about halfway between Auxerre (upstream) and the hire boat agencies at Migennes or Joigny (downstream). Hence, it’s a popular stop-off point for the hire boats heading between the start/drop-off place and the major tourist attractions at Auxerre. For this reason, it is busy at lunchtimes and evenings especially once the tourist season has started. Indeed, a largish hire boat arrived mid-afternoon by which time the pontoon was full. They cruised up and down looking for a spot to moor – so we called them over to raft against us (we always offer in these situations). They were happy to do so and despite only having the experience of cruising from Joigny that day, came alongside quite professionally. The boat had been hired by two same-sex American couples who were over for a week’s cruising before heading off to the women’s World Cup final in Lyon.
The feature of the quayside, however, was the three wooden huts. The word was that these offered snacks, local produce and free wine and cheese tasting in the evenings. Sure enough, at about 5 pm, the hut offering snacks opened – pancakes, beer, frites, icecreams and more were available – as it was blazing hot again, we opted for the ice creams. Later, when the free cheese and wine tasting started, we sprinted over!
The guy who ran the cheese and wine emporium was very gregarious, engaging everyone, talking us through about eight cheeses and three wines (locally made by his sister). All the explanations were in french and he engaged in a very lively conversation with Lisette.
She soon took on the job of translating his commentary so he could more effectively flirt with the American girls and some South Africans. It was all great fun and he was a tremendous salesman. Naturally, we ended up buying three local, newly-discovered cheeses and several bottles of wine.
There were two significant discoveries during the tasing. First was the Soumatrain cheese. Pungent, with a deliciously soft texture and rich creamy taste, it is made in Burgundy usually from unpasteurised milk. It is a washed rind cheese, getting daily rinsings in brine laced with burgundy wine (Marc de Bourgogne). It immediately became a soft (!) favourite.
The second was the Ratafia wine. As Monsieur Fromage became more and more chatty, his sister brought out Ratafia for our tasting pleasure. This is made by adding Marc or Fin de Bourgogne to grape juice where the strong alcohol in wines kills the yeast in the juice to prevent fermentation. A variant is also produced in the Champagne district. The relatively sweet wine that results is aged in barrels and bottled, is generally used as an aperitif. Again, delicious and the bottle we bought was used regularly!
As it was a short trip, we weren’t in any particular hurry to leave and the American girls asked to travel with us. When we arrived at the first lock, a Dutch-flagged cruiser was inside waiting and we three shared the five locks until we reached Auxerre without incident. The Dutch always entered first and tended to hang back from the front gates which left less room for us and the Americans but the locks are quite large, so it was no great problem.
The (long-) village grapevine had let us know that the main port in town was pretty full. The other mooring area, next to the park, had been cleared by the VNF to allow a music festival to be held there. We phoned ahead to the Auxerre capitainerie and asked if there was room for Catharina’s 20m and, very helpfully, they agreed to keep space available. Sure enough, when we arrived, we were hailed over to the right bank side of the port to a nice sized gap that had been created by moving some unattended cruisers. As space was at a premium, we repeated our offer to the American girls to raft up if they didn’t find a suitable spot. After a reconnoitre up and down the port, that is just what they did.
While the Auxerre port is well run and obviously central to the town, it turned out not to be one of our favourites. It’s not cheap to stay at €20 per night and an additional €5 if you want power (water is free). More irritating, however, at least on the side where we were moored, was that each of the three nights we stayed there were noisy locals who disturbed us and others nearby in the evening and well into the early morning. They didn’t seem aggressive or overly intrusive, just loud with music, yelling and screaming. Talking with others, it seems that this is not an uncommon occurrence but it does seem to be worse near the capitainerie itself. Further away and on the other side of the river, it did not seem to be a particular bother to others in the port.
Wearing the number of the US striker Megan Rapinoe, Terri celebrates their semi-final victory over France in front of the Cathedrale Saint-Etienne.and access to the old part of town was simply a matter of a two-minute walk over the passerelle that crosses the Yonne. The city abounds with tourist attractions and facilities. In addition, because so many vessels were moored nearby, there were plentiful opportunities for socialising – which we made good use of. To do this justice, we’ll cover the stay in Auxerre in the next blog.
to moor at the park.
Écluse 81 introduced us to the characteristics of those on the Nivernais. They are much smaller than the commercial locks we had been dealing with for most of last season and the start of this one, in that it was the standard Freycinet size of about 40 m long and just over 5 m wide. Catharina’s 20 x 4.2 m fits in comfortably although we have to be a careful entering as there is just half a metre on each side even if we enter exactly in the centre. The locks were always operated by an éclusier (or éclusiere) and the gates and paddles were operated manually. This was to be our first long stretch of this type of lock operation since we started cruising.
We absolutely loved the park mooring.
It was quiet and the green park and splendid flower beds made it a relaxing atmosphere.
Usually, they were curious French people, but there was a smattering of Aussies and Kiwis and other English-speaking folks who were either cycling the Nivernais or staying in Auxerre.
Often there would be activities in the park area – sometimes huge numbers of dedicated folks exercising in groups or school groups. On the other side of us, there was a constant procession of vessels, mostly hire boats but the occasional barge.
Also, as there was a rowing training facility just upriver from us (possibly training for the Olympics) there was a constant stream of kayaks, canoes and other small craft dashing past us, turning and running back upstream – often with a trainer yelling encouragement from the shore.
Of course, other boats moored nearby. Often only for a night, particularly the hire boats, but others stayed for longer periods and often provided further opportunities for admiring the vessels and socialising with their crews.
Provisioning was also easy as a good-sized Atac supermarket was a short walk away and not much further was Maison Roy reputedly the best patisserie in Auxerre, where we occasionally treated ourselves to some delicious pastries.
Truly a delightful city to visit and our regret at leaving was tempered by the fact we knew we would return in a few days time.