Construction of the canal, part 2

The arrival of electricity

Canal towpath

The arrival of the electric changed the history of the canal and was an important step forward. The new “hydro-electric” tug could tow five loaded barges of 200 tonnes each or 15 empty barges. The electrical supply was supplied by hydro-turbines located beside the two highest locks on the canal. Here water from the canal drove the turbines by means of a sluice gate which generated enough power to produce 600 volts on a cable which was some 6 kilometres long. The tug drew electricity from a cable above, which powered an electrical motor. This motor then pulled on a chain that lay on the canal bottom, which was fixed at both extremities of the pound. The tug could then pull the barges through. It would take between 1 and a half to three hours to make the crossing depending on the number of boats being pulled. Although the tug is no longer used, you can still see it if you visit the Burgundy canal as it remains in the small town of Pouilly en Auxois.

Apart from constructing the canal, there was also the problem of water supply, which has always been a delicate problem on the Burgundy Canal. To enable a minimum supply of water there are the two main rivers, on the Yonne side of the canal, the river Armancons, and the Saône side uses the river Ouche. There are also seven reservoirs, which assist in supplying the canal upstream from the two rivers.

In 1830 the reservoir of Grosbois was built and terminated some 8 years later. It held more than 9 million tonnes of water and covers more than 100 hectares of land; today the capacity has been reduced to 7 million tonnes. There is a smaller reservoir below this one, which was built in 1900, covering 10 hectares and holds under 1 million tonnes of water. The reservoir of Cercey was built in 1834, and supplies the canal withholds 3 and a half million tonnes of water, spreading over 62 hectares The reservoir of Panthier was built in two stages, in 1834 and then enlarged in 1869; it holds just over 8 million tonnes of water and is 120 hectares in surface.  A small reservoir called Tillot which contains half a million tonnes over 14 hectares, and finally, Chazilly built in 1830 and enlarged in 1844, which holds 5 million tonnes.

In 1879, in search of maintaining an adequate supply of water, the seventh reservoir was built, which is called the reservoir de Pont. The perimeter is just over 12 kilometres and holds 6 million tonnes. This may appear to be a lot of water, but one must remember that the burgundy canal loses water each time a boat passes through a lock, as the canal uses gravity to function, there are no pumps to push the water upstream. Water is also lost through evaporation, leaking lock doors and on the canals dammed stretches.

The canal also had to have lock keepers, who were housed along the canal at the locks. Many of these houses ware built at the same time or just after the completion to the canal. Today 99 % of the lock houses remain, and the lock keepers occupy 80%, generally. There is also the Maison de Garde, which are houses and were occupied by teams of workers who would move along the canal for maintenance and repair work. There are also many sluice gates along the canal, which allow the canal to overflow into the river, where the water is held back further downstream to then be reintroduced into the canal.

The Burgundy canal is 242.045 kilometres long and is split into 188 pounds of water; a pound is the stretch of water between two locks. The average length of a pound is 1287 metres; there are 113 locks on the Yonne side of the canal and 76 on the Saône. The canal has been built to the Freycient standard, which has adopted in 1879; this required the bridges to be lifted and the locks to be deepened. The Freycinet standard allows barges up to 38.5 metres long and 5.05 wide and a draft of 1.80 metres to navigate. The longest pound of water is 10.45 kilometres and the shortest 210 metres, both are on the Yonne side of the Canal.

There are three main groups of locks with very short pounds called “staircases”, the first group is from lock 1 to lock 7 on the Yonne side of the canal where the average distance is 333 metres per lock. The second more impressive group is also on this side of the canal and is between lock 16 and 55, giving a total of 39 locks for 13.8 kilometres, an average of one lock every 350 metres. The third group is on the Saône side, average distance of 320 metres between locks from lock number 1 to 11.

The Canal of Burgundy climbs 299 metres in altitude from the entrance to the River Yonne to the summit and 199 metres from the entrance to the River Saône.