Harvest Time

If you know us at all, you undoubtedly recognize that we love traveling slowly, putting down roots, and getting to know a place. Zipping from one city to the next, with only a day or two to explore, has never been our style. When a place touches our hearts and imaginations, we are inclined to linger.

For the last two months of our 2023 season, the city of Auxerre became our launching pad. We would navigate away for a week or two, then return. Each time, it felt like coming home. By now, we knew the city. The staff at our favorite boulangerie started recognizing us and would greet us with welcoming smiles. We frequented two large and well-stocked grocery stores, and we could even get Amazon deliveries. This was the perfect place to call home for a respite.

Cliffs south of Auxerre on the Canal du Nivernais
The town of Bassou, one of our favorite stops north of Auxerre on the Yonne River
Another favorite stop, the park in Lucy-sur-Yonne
Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, our northermost turnaround point this season

The Auxerre downtown waterfront quay is safe and has water and electricity, so we were comfortable leaving Ziggy B unattended for a few days at a time. It was an opportunity for land exploration away from the canals. We eagerly analyzed maps, and plotted our adventures.

Our first excursion started at Guédelon Castle and ended with an overnight stay in the town of Chablis. Guédelon is a project that began in 1995 to build a medieval castle from scratch using only tools and techniques available in the 13th-century. Everything is made on site. A massive team of blacksmiths, stone masons, dye makers, weavers, carpenters, animal handlers, and so much more demonstrate their techniques and work through the year on the construction. The tour offers a step back in time and lets you interact with the crafts-people who eagerly discuss their trade.

Photo Credit: Guédelon Castle

Upon returning to the 21st century, we drove to Chablis through rolling hills covered in orderly rows of grapevines laden with bright clusters of fruit. The air was infused with their ripe, sugary, earthy aroma. Farmers were walking the fields examining their crops in a combination of science and instinct. A year’s worth of labor was about to reach fruition. What an extraordinary time to be in Chablis.

Chablis vineyards

Before we proceed, let’s dismiss that nasty, lingering, wholly-undeserved reputation that Chablis has in the United States. In the 1970s and 1980s, some California winemakers marketed a sub-par, mass-produced white wine under the label of Chablis. It was popular… wildly popular, and it wasn’t even Chablis. Unfortunately, the moniker became associated with cheap white wine. Reputations, once tarnished, are difficult to restore. Chablis from Burgundy, France, is worlds apart from its American namesake. Stepping down from my soap box. Enough said.

Wine list at a Chablis restaurant… a bit intimidating

The town of Chablis is all about the white wine produced exclusively from the chardonnay grape. There are other businesses, naturally, but you cannot walk a block without passing a wine cellar, or cave. Every cellar offers free tastings and the expert staff explains the exact location of where the grapes are grown for each of their wines. Armed with visual aids of soil samples and terrain relief maps, they proudly share why some plots of land are far superior to others, even though they may be relatively close to each other and planted with the same grape varietal. They also helped us decipher the naming conventions used in the region for labeling wines, not an easy task. The main street is a walking and drinking crash course in Chablis wine. By then end of the day, our minds were highly educated and vastly inebriated.

Color-coded map of vineyards surrounding Chablis
Mechanized grape picker…Old and in dissuse, but still beautiful
A gardner tending to a public flowerbed presented Kimberly with a gift to decorate her hat

Less than 20 kilometers to the southwest of Chablis lies the town of Irancy, Chablis´ red wine counterpart. It is noticeably less touristy and more hilly. The cobblestone streets wrap around buildings and transform into alleyways barely wide enough for a motorcycle. Unlike the shiny storefronts of the caves in Chablis, almost all of the wine cellars in Irancy are in actual winemaking warehouses, some underground. We entered through massive doors into humid and cavernous stone spaces lined with aging barrels. Our noses were overwhelmed by the scents of oak and fermenting fruit. We could feel the mustiness of these caves on our skin while our eyes took a few moments to adjust to the low light. The tasting room walls were stacked ceiling-high with dusty wine bottles, some dating back more than five decades. The wines we tasted were exquisite and the variety remarkable. We decided that our guests, who would be arriving over the next few weeks, would have to experience one or both of these Burgundian gems.

Our return trip to Chablis with guests exceeded our already high expectations. Our first Auxerre guests were our nephew, Stefanos, and his fiancée, Sophie. They were celebrating their engagement with a trip to France, and spent a couple of days with us. As we drove through vineyards, we noticed a flurry of activity. Hundreds of people were actively working the fields, curiously tall tractors were maneuvering among the vines, and large trailer tubs filled with grapes were being hauled to warehouses.

Picnic by the gapevines

We decided to forego tastings in the caves in town and go directly to the vineyards. Our first tasting of the day was in an outdoor courtyard just steps from the vines. Though an open door we could see about eight young people feverishly working on computers. Every few minutes, one would exit, go to the fields with some sort of measuring instrument, and return to the computer to enter the newly acquired data. We were witnessing the science behind the wine as we sipped on their creations from previous years.

Our second tasting was a stroke of pure luck and exquisite timing. As we drove to the magnificent estate of Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, the father and son winemakers were hosting investors and celebrating the ongoing harvest. Despite how busy everyone was, and us not having reservations, we were greeted like VIPs and given a private tasting and tour of their wine aging rooms. They offered us hors d’oeuvres from the party and suggested that since the owners had opened some bottles of their best Grand Cru for the investors, that we should also try it. YES PLEASE! This wine is not normally part of the tastings, and is quite limited in production because it comes from only their best and petite plots of land. We felt like rockstars, and eagerly purchased plenty of wine to take back to Ziggy B.

Vineyards at Domaine Brocard (Photo credit: Yannis Marigo Photography)

Back aboard, we took our guests on a one-day canal experience on the Nivernais. After winding through lush countryside and ascending several locks, we stopped for lunch on the banks of the Yonne River while the lockkeepers took their break. In the afternoon we went through one more lock and dropped them off at a small town where they caught a train for Paris to continue their celebration of love.

Picnic lunch on the banks of the Yonne River for Stefanos and Sophie (aka Stophie)

Our next guest would arrive in a week, but in the meantime, we had to take Ziggy B flying. We needed some work done that required the boat to be hoisted out of the water. We drove the boat north past Auxerre to the city of Migennes. This was the nearest repair facility capable of lifting our 55,000 pound girl. Fortunately, the boat yard said they could lift us in the morning, do the repair, and have us back in the water in the afternoon. This seemed like a very ambitious plan, but we were delighted at the idea of not having to spend the night on the hard in a yard.

Lifting a 60ft long, 9ft wide, steel vessel 20 feet in the air is no easy task. The crane operator and his assistant positioned and repositioned the two large chain straps under Ziggy B several times before they were satisfied. Gently, they lifted her out of the water. Ziggy B, however,did not cooperate and started leaning aft. She was dunked into the canal and the chains repositioned just mere inches. Up, up she went again. This time, she decided to lean towards the bow. Back in the water she went. The yard crew was very professional, but it was still nerve-wracking to watch. Chains were moved again and the crane lifted once more. Ziggy B wiggled fore and aft a few times, then settled flat on the steel chain cradle. She was then lifted over a tall concrete wall and rotated so she could rest on solid ground. I think we held our breath through the entire process.

Ziggy B flying

Within minutes, the yard crew leapt into action. They removed the old, broken bow thruster gear drive and installed a new one faster than we ever imagined. After they were done, I stepped in to finish the work by installing the thruster motor and propeller. One thing we love about this yard is that they will let you do your own work if you want, or provide professional installation. I let them do the hard work on the part that could sink the boat if installed improperly and I did the easier parts. By early afternoon, Ziggy B was back in the water and no leaks detected. Success!!! So we thought.

Despite the new gear box, the bow thrusters felt sluggish and provided little power when departing the boatyard. Could we have a brand new, but faulty gearbox? Maybe I did not install the propeller correctly. After all, you cannot both see AND feel the propeller at the same time. Because it is housed inside a long tube about arms’ length from the edge of the boat, I had to do the installation completely blind and with only one hand.

The misbehaving bow truster
Installing the thruster propeller

The next morning, I donned a wetsuit and jumped in to check the propeller. The good news was I did not screw up the installation, the prop was firmly attached to the shaft. The bad news was that the cause of the problem still eluded us. More testing required. We had been navigating without the bow thruster for over a month, so it was not critical, but we felt defeated after all the work to fix it failed. After pondering the problem over drinks, I decided to uninstall the motor. Thankfully, this could be done in the water. It was our last ditch effort to fix the thruster.

Immediately upon removing the motor, the fault was evident. The metal key that connects the motor to the gearbox shaft had slipped during installation and deformed. It still made enough of a connection to turn the propeller and make it seem like it worked, but it would slip under a heavy load. This explained everything, especially why it worked so well when we tested it out of the water. I managed to reshape the old key with a rotary tool and reinstall the motor. Viola! Is it possible to feel stupid and brilliant at the same time? After all, I screwed up the installation, but I also fixed it.

Back to more important things at hand. Our next guest, our friend Ashley, would arrive in just a couple of days and I also had to plan festivities for Kimberly’s birthday. We returned to Auxerre the day before Ashley’s arrival and marveled at our continuing good luck. The best parking spot in the old city was available with free water and electricity.

Savory bacon cake for the birthday girl

Ashley’s visit was a whirlwind. We stayed a couple days in Chablis in a house overlooking vineyards. Celebrated Kimberly’s birthday with a bicycle wine-tasting tour and consuming more than our prudent share. Drove Ziggy B back down the Nivernais countryside for a couple of days to the town of Vermenton. Took a train to Paris to finish her visit with a tour of Versailles, a visit to the Museum d’Orsay, dining at a classic bouillon, and strolling the city of lights. By the end of the week, we were all exhausted and elated.

Wine tasting with Ashley

A week later, we were back in Auxerre ready for the arrival of my sister and brother-in-law, Audrey and Chris. We cruised back on the Nivernais, wild-mooring Ziggy B near the tiny, picturesque village of Vincelottes (population 289). We rented electric bikes and set out for the hills towards Irancy, the red wine capital of the area.

Audrey and Chris arrive in Auxerre

At our first stop at the Baptiste Bienvenu winery, where the same family has been making wine since 1604, we discovered we had a logistics problem. The wines were just too good not to buy, but our bicycle saddle bags could only hold so much – and the day was just beginning. Instead of buying less, we chose to ride back to the boat, drop off our purchases, and ride back to Irancy to continue our tour.

Nothing prepared us for the spectacle we would encounter at our next stop on the tour. There was no reception, no signage, and the large outer doors were left haphazardly open. The inside looked like a combination of an earthquake-ravaged office and a B-movie science laboratory. We had to carefully walk around piles of bottles, randomly stacked boxes, and strange apparatuses whose purpose we could not surmise. The air was stale and pungent with fruit aromas. At a table in the back of this chaos sat Jean-Pierre Colinot; his disheveled white hair, wry smirk, and quirky mannerisms adding to the intrigue of the place. We felt as if we were in the presence of a mad scientist about to fulfill his lifelong quest.

The mad scientist sealing wine bottles

Jean-Pierre may seem maniacal, but his wines are outstanding. We asked if we could taste some, and he abruptly stopped his tasks and scurried about the place gathering bottles for us to sample. He is also quite talkative and regaled us with stories and asked us about ourselves. All of this, of course, exclusively in rapid-fire French, so we did not fully understand his tales. When he learned that I had been a military officer, his eyes lit up, he grabbed my hand, and pulled me to a desk heaped with pictures and documents. The tempo of his stories increased, as one is apt to do when excitement takes over, as he showed me faded pictures of a young man in military uniform. From what I gathered, he had served in the French military band. To make sure I understood, he kept putting his hands to his mouth as if holding a bugle, and loudly hummed military marches, complete with ruffles and flourishes. I awkwardly felt like visiting royalty while Kimberly, Audrey, and Chris looked on dumbfounded. Jean-Pierre even asked that I write a brief salutation in his notebook and enthusiastically kissed me on both cheeks as we departed.

How could we follow up such a comical and outrageous experience? Only one thing would do, goats! Down the hills on our return to the boat, we stopped at La Ferme de Claire (Clair’s Farm), a small, organic goat farm where cheese and other delights are made daily. What joy it is to pet baby goats and sample delicious cheeses presented by Claire herself.

At La Ferme de Claire

It was now late October, and time to wrap up the 2023 canal cruising season. Audrey and Chris departed on a train to Paris, already talking about their next visit. We spent the following week winterizing Ziggy B and driving her to her winter mooring. For the fourth time in two years, we prepared to relocate our lives to another continent. Looking back at our 2023 canal season, we may not have traveled far, but we experienced some absolutely wondrous things and made a lifetime of memories.

Ziggy B safely tucked away in her winter mooring at Mailly-la-Ville
Flying back to Panama on Halloween


  1. Another fabulous story of your wild and crazy adventures. Great writing JM! 👌👏
    I love all the pictures but the wonderful picture at Domaine Broward took my breath away! 🤟

    1. Thank you!!! I though the picture of Domaine Broward was quite dramatic, so I messaged the photographer to get permission to use it. He was very kind to let us post it on our blog.

  2. A hearty hello from NOLA land and Happy Mardi Gras!
    We walked to some parades and hung out with Bill yesterday.
    I love how your life aquatic has taken on a surf n turf dimension.
    Love following your blog. Keep living large!
    T and A

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