Sunday 12th October
Moored just outside Capestang, we were up early to watch the Japanese Formula 1, like 6.00am! The morning started dull and cloudy, and then brightened for a very short period. At lunchtime it became greyer and darker, just like England
We passed through some pretty mooring stops but by this time we were beginning to have mixed feelings about the Canal du Midi. There is definitely something different about it, an almost Spanish feel (as Languedoc is indeed close to the Spanish border), but we couldn’t imagine how it could be so popular during the peak summer months.
During this earlier stretch of the Midi, we had had a real problem finding moorings with services, and whilst we have no problem with mooring “wild” we do need regular water supplies. When we arrived at a publicised nautical halt it is full of plastic leisure craft, a lot of whom were wintering up, and consequently not using the canal and its facilities, but just taking up space. As you pass through these lovely villages you can’t stop as there is no space, so the villagers are deriving no financial benefit to their shops and services because their canal is lined with “ghost” boats. And with so few moorings with services, what can it be like when all the hire boat companies have discharged their holidaymakers onto the canal, with everyone queuing for locks, water, moorings……
We found one place that had water advertised, we could see the water point so went to the trouble of mooring up, only to find it was just a dispensing tap, ie you press it and out comes a cupful of water. It would take three weeks of standing there with your finger on the button to fill our water tanks.
It should be said however, that services did improve quite significantly the further west we headed.
We also came across a real “character” in a very neglected-looking cruiser who was either mad or drunk, because he seemed to be objecting vociferously to one lockie who had let us in the lock with two other boats. (It was a very tight fit I must admit.) But this chap, whose boat was smaller, considered that he should have been allowed in instead of us. He looked in need of a good wash, and a smack round the mouth, so we just kept ignoring him.
We did two staircase locks, quite violent ones, one of which was tended by a surly lockie who looked to be good mates with the imbecile in the cruiser, and I heard the lockie laughing at something the imbecile said about us, and saying the word “l’escargot”, which means snail.
If you’re sailing a battered lightweight boat you can afford to zip in and out of locks at high speed, as he was doing – when you’re sailing a 26 ton steel boat you can do a lot of damage if you do things at speed.
Then the surly lockie started the gate paddles opening with a violent surge before we had completed tying up our ropes. Nice chap!
So we decided to hang back to let the imbecile go on. Sadly, we arrived at the next staircase before he had left the lock chamber and he saw us, so he did lots of wild gestures and made a big deal out of our not arriving on time to catch the lock, when in fact we had moored up for a good 15 minutes just to avoid him.
Anyway this next lockie was much nicer and more obliging, and phoned ahead to ask the next lockie to prepare for us as we were right on the minutes for closing time at the locks.
We finally moored up for the night just at the top of Homps Locks and before you get to the actual town itself.
Monday 13th October
It rained during the night, and carried on throughout most of the day in a drizzly fashion, though it was quite warm. Homps was a lovely town with quite a large basin where we could have moored, and several restaurants which we later visited on a couple of return trips. There is also quite a large hire boat base which we supposed would offer moorings as well, and a very good convenience store at the local filling station, a short walk towards the outskirts of this small village.
We did 11 locks and 28 kilometres, and were now closing on our destination. We locked up with the same two boats, both plastics, one English couple and a German group. The English couple had a pilot, from the company they had hired their cruiser from. I couldn’t imagine why, it takes all the fun out of it. Not that the woman looked to be having a lot of fun, handling the ropes and getting wet. The guy seemed to be taking it all in good spirits, till he stepped in a pile of dog pooh and then dropped his rope in it! He’d be remembering that for a few days I guess!
When we talked to them later that afternoon, it turned out they had been on holiday with another couple who were seasoned cruisers, but illness had forced this couple to return urgently to the UK, leaving the other couple in charge of a boat they didn’t feel confident to handle. Hence the pilot, who had been sent by the hire company to bring the boat back to the base. A sad end to their holiday.
We got to the bottom of Trebes locks, (a triple staircase) at 4.10 and found that the pilot on the other boat had clocked off for the day saying that a convoy of boats had just gone up the lock, and there was no way that they would bring another convoy down and get us up before closing at six. I thought he was just saying it so he could have an early finish (fortunately he doesn’t stay with them at night), as I couldn’t see how it could take that long, but it did!
The German party warned us not to leave the boat unattended at these locks, as they are sometimes burgled. This was something we heard again on subsequent visits, but we have never seen any sign of trouble though. Maybe it’s more likely to occur in high season. There’s a lovely restaurant here at the side of the locks which is well worth a visit, and at the top of the locks there is a local produce store.
By the time the locks closed there were another six boats moored up behind us! The lockie at Trebes had got his work cut out for the following day.
Tuesday October 14
The end of our journey was in sight! We were lucky to get the first locking after it opened, and we cruised on through Trebes. Trebes is a nice little town, though it can be noisy if you moor up in the centre, and there is a good fish shop close to the port.
We did several more locks, including a triple lock at Fresquel which comprised one lock, then a basin at the foot of the next double.
On the final stretch approaching Carcassonne, we could see the old city on a hilltop off to our left. That’s a beautiful site, but very commercial now. I’d last seen it in the seventies, and it was quite commercial then, but now it really has taken off. It’s still well worth a visit though.
We arrived at Carcassonne just after 2.00pm. As we were two weeks earlier than our anticipated arrival date, our winter mooring was not available and the capitaine, Stephanie, put us on public moorings just below the lock. It was very well appointed, with electricity and water, and grassy slopes alongside. Carcassonne is a beautiful city.
We wondered how secure this place would be as we intended to leave the following morning to catch the train to Dijon, and on to St Jean de Losne where our car was parked. The chap moored next to us had stayed there several times and said he had never had any problems, but he also went on to say that were a significant number of ‘clochards’ in the city.
We later learned that this mooring can be very noisy, as there are several restaurants and a night club close by, with lots of youngsters turning out in the early hours of the morning. As it turned out however, the night passed quietly, no youths were around and we slept reasonably soundly, apart from the trains going through the station across the road.
We were booked on the 8.30 train from Carcassonne to Dijon the following day. It’s a five hour journey, and we should be at St Jean de Losne by mid afternoon. We would pick up the car and leave immediately, staying overnight at Rheims Tinqueux and on the 11.00am ferry to Dover on Thursday – home by mid afternoon.
Wednesday October 15
Up early, locked up the boat and headed for the station at 8.00am. We arrived at Dijon just before 2.00pm, then a train to St Jean de Losne, then Neville legged it to the marina, leaving me at the station with the baggage, and came back to pick me up. We made Rheims by 7.00pm.
Thursday October 16
Again up at 6.00am, and on the road by 7.00am. Calm crossing over the channel (makes a change), and then home by 1.30pm. Journey over then!
We would be back towards the end of the month to move our boat up the lock to the basin for its winter mooring, before we set off down to Spain for our winter mooring!
We duly returned and moved our boat up through the lock to the far end of the basin. Then, just before we were ready to leave for Spain, we learned that VNF had decided to drain the basin to do some work during December, and all the boats moored up there had to go back down the lock again and moor near the grassy banks. There was a good community spirit amongst the winter moorers, and everybody helped everybody else during this manoeuvre and we were all duly breasted up down there for a few weeks.
We would not be around to take our boat back up the lock when VNF had finished work, but in the event VNF themselves pulled our boat into the lock by rope, and replaced it on its original moorings. They were careful to take photographs of the boat before and after their intervention, but the whole issue was handled carefully, and our fellow boaters kept and eye on the proceedings and checked our ropes when Desormais had been secured.
We came back to the boat from Spain for the New Year, and found everything to be in order. Had a really good New Year celebration with the other boaters at a little restaurant close to the locks, (everyone taking their dogs) and Stephanie, the capitaine joined us for the evening.
We returned to Spain after a few days. This was the end of our first season of boating in France, and we felt we had learned a lot, both about France and about boating in general. Undeterred, we were already looking forward to the start of the 2009 season when we hoped to follow the Canal du Midi through to Toulouse and on to the Canal Lateral a la Garonne.