On the train to Briare
As agreed, we met for breakfast at 8:00 & arranged to meet back in the lobby at 9:15. Lin & I got there a bit early & called 2 cabs. One arrived quickly & had to wait but the second arrived just as did Helen & Earl. I was worried about getting separated but the two drivers arranged to stay together & we arrived at the Gare de Lyon at about 9:35. The train station is magnificent. A young woman in the information booth was very helpful & extremely friendly; we did a lot of joking back & forth about senior rates. We easily bought the tickets & the girls sat while Earl & I wandered around taking pictures. Soon we learned that the train had arrived so we boarded. About the time we got the bags all stowed on the racks and ourselves all situated, we were then told we were seated in a reserved compartment.
Unfortunately, Earl had just left to get some water and he had the tickets but, after a lot of fuss and confusion, we got settled in another compartment with 2 other men. We had been joking about meeting a spy in such a compartment (since it happens in so many movies!) so we had a lot of fun in exchanging strange looks.
In under 2 hours, we arrived at Briare. It being a Saturday, the station was closed & there were no taxis. Fortunately, I'd borrowed a tri-band cell phone from our office in Netherlands so I called the Crown Blue Line base and soon Pierre arrived in a very small car. The other three people & most of the luggage went with Pierre while I waited for the next trip.
Helen & Linda in the saloon
When I arrived at the base, we left the bags in the CBL office, we walked into town for lunch. While we were sitting there, my cell rang. I answered in French but it was my friend Karl from Germany. He thought that was pretty funny! Before leaving home, we had arranged to meet Karl and Gisela at some point during our trip and to work out the details as we went along. He suggested we meet in Decize
at noon on Saturday.
After lunch, we loaded up at the nearby super market and packed things away on the boat. The paperwork for the boat went quickly & the woman at the CBL office gave us an orientation on the boat. The girls set off into town for bread while Earl & I set off in the boat with Pierre for an orientation on the business end of things.
Approaching the bridge-canal
After learning the tricky maneuver of a 1/2 turn in a narrow canal, we crossed the canal bridge. The canal bridge in Briare is an aqueduct that carries the canal across the river Loire. It is an absolutely magnificent piece of art and engineering. Pierre stepped off on the bridge to walk back to the base as Earl and I continued across. On the other side, Earl took over, made a u-turn and headed pack to port. He did a superb job of backing into the slip and the girls hopped aboard. If you've never tried to back up a single-screw inboard power boat, you won't appreciate that this is no small accomplishment.
The boat was magnificent. We rented the "Classique-S", a 12.8 meter boat with 8 bunks in 4 staterooms and 3 heads. having rented boats before (but always sail), I know you should rent one with more bunks than you have people.
We only had four people for the eight bunks so we were in clover. Since Earl is taller than I, I suggested that they take the v-berth. The boat also had a large saloon and a large galley. There's a helm position in the saloon and a second on deck. There's a very large open deck area with a plastic table and chairs as well as the built-in seating. There are two help positions, one on deck and one in the saloon but, blessed with a week of good weather, we never used the inside one. The boat was in mint condition; I think it must have been quite new and it was immaculate. We also rented 4 bikes. As it happened, they weren't great. Earl used one once and the other three never got unlashed.
I'd be less than honest if I failed to comment here that, while CBL had said they have English-speaking staff at their bases, we found no one at the Briare base who spoke English.
Home for the night
For us it was no problem since I speak French. In any case, because the folks were so friendly and cooperative, I think one could get through the process despite the language barrier but, if one were easily intimidated, it could be an issue. When I returned to the US, I reported this to Debbie in Annapolis and she was very concerned. I suspect the issue might be addressed. [Note added in '2009: I notice that Crown Blue does not now list Briare on their itinerary. Whether there's a connection, I have no clue.] Again, I wouldn't be put off by this unless you're very timid.
We talked about walking back into town for dinner and then setting off in the morning but decided to shove off so as to be in the countryside for the night. Briare is at kilometer marker 199 and we stopped for the night at about 168, just beyond Châtillon sur Loire.
Ahhhhhhh.....Life is GOOD!
Stopping for the night was simply a matter of choosing a quiet spot, pulling to the side of the canal so that I could hop ashore, then my pounding two metal stakes into the ground and mooring the boat. Voila; instant homestead for the night!
For dinner we had a collection of cheeses along with some cherries, bread and some excellent (and, at 1.19€, ridiculously inexpensive) wine. We got to bed around 11:00.