Canal de Bourgogne: Dijon to Saint Jean de Losne

We met our friends Dave and Wendy from Barge Blue Belle on the way to Saint Jean de Losne.

It was difficult for us to get sufficiently motivated to leave Dijon. We like it there. And the longer we stayed the stronger our psychological dependence on Dijon’s covered market became. Dijon’s marché couvert is our happy place. Only with effort were we able to force ourselves to continue on our way to St. Jean de Losne.

There were other motivations to not leave Dijon. There was a good chance that Saint Jean would be the last stop of the season; there was much work to do on board and SJdL had three boat yards that could potentially fix many of Wanderlust’s problems. We expected that it would take months to repair all that needed to be repaired. Reaching Saint Jean could mean that we wouldn’t be cruising for the foreseeable future. Though Wanderlust was badly in need of remedial work, we weren’t quite ready to end the season.

Dijon at night

Wanderlust moored at the quay in Dijon.

Scheduling time with a boatyard had proven difficult, which gave us further motivation to stay. It was August in France, after all. Most self-respecting French workers were en vacances. But as the calendar turned towards September our excuse to stay ended and it was finally time for us to continue on.

Once we pulled free from Dijon we headed quickly to Saint Jean. This stretch of the Canal de Bourgogne is arrow straight and not particularly interesting. There wasn’t much motivation to travel slowly. We gave ourselves two days. If we tried, we might have been able to do the last segment in one uncomfortable day.

Even the “ordinary” cheeses are good at the Dijon market.

Girolles at the market

The trip to Saint Jean de Losne did not pass without excitement.

At lunch on the second day Becky collapsed with pain from her hip area. Her hip had been an intermittent problem for a year or so. We had no idea what was going on; diagnostic tests were run but the doctors had so far had not provided any insight on what was the cause of the pain. Through this cruising season she had managed the problem. There were periodic times when the pain became overwhelming but these passed quickly enough. As we neared the summit of the Canal de Bourgogne the episodes were becoming more common. We considered that she might need to return home to the States to see doctors soon, possibly as soon as we reached Dijon.

But by the time we arrived in Dijon, Becky’s hip area was feeling better. Though there was discomfort, she was able to walk well enough. It seemed like the hip would last out the cruising season.

A wine shop in Dijon offered bike delivery to our mooring.

More wine

But it wouldn’t be that easy. While simply shifting her weight while standing eating lunch on the second day of the journey from Dijon to Saint Jean de Losne, the intense pain returned with a vengeance. She was in agony as she collapsed onto the sofa.

“Call the pompiers,” she screamed.

“Pompiers” or more properly “sapeurs-pompiers” is French for fire fighter. We had been told that in a health emergency the best response comes by calling the fire department, which is often staffed by volunteers.

Communications would be easier if we could move to the next lock where we could get some help with the phone call from the eclusier who spoke a bit of English. It would take us about ten minutes to get there. But Becky said she couldn’t wait. And so I picked up the phone and dialed “18”.

A typical lock on the mostly straight section of canal between Dijon and SJdL.

The phone rang and the person on the other end of the line said something in French.

Bonjour. Parlez-vous Anglais?” I said, ever hopeful that I had reached someone who spoke some English.

“A little bit,” was the response.

A little bit or “un petit peu” in French covers a range of situations. Sometimes the speaker knows a lot of English but does not consider him or herself to be fluent. Other times “a little” means just a basic few words. This time the speaker truly knew just a little English.

Another gratuitous market shot from Dijon.

So now I had to continue in French. We’ve spent enough time in France that my French has improved. That’s the good news. The bad news is that my French had gone from horrible to horrible. (Click on the links to understand.) “Désolé, mon français est très mauvais” or “Sorry, my French is very bad” is still my most-practiced expression.

But there was no choice but to try. Eventually, after two more people with incrementally better marginal English came to the line, the concept was communicated. We needed assistance. The patient was on a boat near the Longecourt lock on the Canal de Bourgogne. Becky’s screams and moans in the background indicated that she was in pain; no translation was needed. I was told that assistance would arrive in 30 minutes.

In about twenty minutes a crew of five tall French firemen arrived onboard. After spending some time trying to figure what was wrong with the patient, they loaded Becky into a lift-able chair and carried her off the boat. I asked if I could come along in the ambulance, but was told no. I’d have to stay behind.

The cheese in France tastes even better than it looks.

Sometime after the pompiers had arrived, the eclusier came to check on us. The lockkeeper was wondering what happened to the boat that had promised to be at the next lock at the end of the mandatory lunch break. And with Becky on her way to the hospital there was a decision to make. Wanderlust could stay put for the night in Longecourt or Gigi and I could single-hand her down the canal to St. Jean de Losne.

Moving seemed the best option. There wasn’t much around Longecourt; it would be difficult to arrange transportation to Dijon. Besides, I had been told that I might hear something about Becky’s condition in two to four hours. It didn’t make sense to sit and stew when I could continue down the canal. If need be, I could stop further on.

I told the eclusier my decision to continue and pulled the ropes. Together with my newly promoted first mate Gigi I continued down the canal. Despite her large repertoire of tricks, our dog Gigi hasn’t become adept at handling mooring lines. Fortunately the locks on the Bourgogne are easy, particularly in the descending or avalant direction. It was not challenging getting to St. Jean de Losne driving against a single stern spring in the locks.

After tying up in Saint Jean de Losne I imposed on a conveniently bilingual boater nearby to make a call to the emergency room in Dijon to track down Becky’s status. He kindly obliged. After a few transfers Becky was on the phone.

Pumped full of pain medication, Becky was doing better. The pain crisis had passed. The hospital had taken X-rays and run some blood tests. There was still no diagnosis.

A couple hours later, with the pain under control, Becky was released from the hospital. She headed back to Wanderlust by taxi with prescriptions for more pain medication and for additional tests. As she arrived in Saint Jean de Losne, her hip area was just normally painful. The crisis had past. But the cause of the problem was still unknown. Indeed, there has been occasional pain over the following year; the cause remains mysterious. Fortunately her hip has never been as bad as it was at Longecourt.

It was an end to our journey across the Canal de Bourgogne. The Bourgogne is a beautiful canal. But that was forgotten for the moment as Wanderlust arrived in Saint Jean de Losne. At least we have pictures that let us look back and relive the journey later.

We believe the that the horse meat stall in the Dijon market has closed. Horse is still commonly available in many French markets.

Ahead of us were more struggles to get the remedial works done on Wanderlust. Our cruising season was over earlier than we would have liked, stopped by the need to find a boatyard. Indeed, the Canal de Bourgogne was the only waterway we cruised in 2016. At least it is a good one.


Wanderlust traveled from Dijon at the end of August 2016. The journey took two days with a total engine run time of 8.5 hours. This segment covers roughly 30 km with 22 locks.

For those who are curious, the total cost of Becky’s four hour emergency room visit in Dijon, including test, medicine, and transportation by the pompiers, was less than €200. A physical costs us much more in the States.

The view from Wanderlust’s deck at our mooring in Saint Jean de Losne.

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