Saturday 8th May
Normally we like to be on the boat and off on our travels as soon as the waterways open on 1st April, but this year we were delayed due to Neville having had surgery to remove a deep basal cell carcinoma on his face. Healing was protracted and it was the end of the first week in May before we were given the all clear to leave. As usual we caught the midday sailing from Dover, and overnighted at the Campanile in Orleans. We find Campanile to be very reasonably priced and comfortable, with wi-fi, television, tea & coffee making facilities in the room and reasonable restaurant on the premises.
We arrived at the boat around midday Sunday. There didn’t seem to be any obvious problems despite the fact that we have only been there for a couple of days in the last six months, so we were keeping our fingers crossed for the rest of our stay.
There were lots of cobwebs, but very few spiders (no doubt owing to the copious quantities of conkers I had left around the place). I only found one live spider, and a couple of corpses, but somehow a couple of young bees had managed to get in, but having nothing to eat had died, conveniently in the bath.
Spring was well under way in Castelsarrasin, and the port area looked very attractive.
Sunday 9th May
There was a very sad looking Canada goose wandering around on the duckhouse in the middle of the port. It’s very unusual to see a bird on its own at this time of the year, normally they are busy making baby birds somewhere along the canal, but this forlorn looking individual was standing on the platform of the duck house, steadfastly gazing up and down the canal. I suspected he had perhaps lost his mate. I felt sorry for him – didn’t know what he would do without any friends, as the ducks didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with him. When I was feeding the ducks the previous evening he’d come up and generally made a nuisance of himself, honking away and generally being objectionable to the other birds. No wonder he’s “Billy no-mates.”
Monday 10th May
I thought I may have solved the problem of “ Billy no-mates.” I think his mate was inside the duck house, sitting on her eggs. And his alert stance on the platform is him keeping guard, whilst his aggressive behaviour to the ducks is because he’s protecting his soon-to-be young. The duck house of course, was not created for him, but then Canada geese have never been known for their consideration for their fellow beings, whether human or otherwise.
There was plenty of activity amongst the ducks and swans in the basin at Castelsarrasin – spring was definitely in the air.
This morning we woke up to a misty start, but quickly the mist cleared and the sun came out. The temperature rose to around early 20’s, and we had mostly clear blue skies.
We had been for a little walk down the quay earlier on, and seen Pamela and Bruce from Riverdance, whom we’d last seen at Meilhan the previous year. They recognised us immediately, and invited us on board.
Spoke briefly to the guy on Early Bird, next to us. He said the Canada goose is actually a barnacle goose, pretty similar but with barred markings on the upper half of its body.
Went to see the Capitainerie to pay for our additional stay – 62 euros for 40 days. Not too bad. She asked us to move the boat moored alongside us to the end of the port, and tie it up next to one of the other plastic boats there. She also said it might be advisable to let the police know that we intended to leave our car on the car park by the port. Sometimes they hold ‘fete’ days on the car park beside the moorings, but there were none planned for the four or five weeks that we planned to be away.
Tuesday 11th May
Another fine day, despite a poor weather forecast. Went to see the police about leaving the car for four weeks, (they weren’t particularly friendly but agreed and took our contact details for emergency purposes) and then we went to the boulangerie for our bread. Moved the boat that was moored alongside us without a problem, though it involved treading carefully along the slippery gunwhales of the big boat next to us.
Set off around 10.15am, and waved at River Dance who came out to take photographs of our departure. By lunchtime we were at the foot of Montech locks, thankfully manned by eclusiers. Our good progress was however halted, when at the fourth lock there was a regional power cut, and we were advised that the power would not be restored for two hours. During that time, we were stuck in the newly filled lock, as the gates would not open to release us. We had been hoping to reach Dieupentale by evening, but it wasn’t looking very likely now.
We passed Ave Sol, a boat who’d moored at Carcassonne our first winter down here, whilst negotiating the locks at Montech, heading in the opposite direction.
Because of the delay trapped in the lock at Montech, we didn’t arrive at Dieupentale until going up to 8.00pm – quite a long day. The mooring (which we had used before on the way down) was overgrown and it looked as though nobody had been mooring there. Somewhere under all those weeds there was a mooring ring, but we couldn’t find it so just tied round the concrete edging. We were right opposite Dieupentale station, so lots of trains running east to west throughout the night! (Note that by 2011 a new wooden mooring stage has been constructed here, just west of the bridge)
Wednesday 12th May
A grey start to the day. We hoped to make it to Toulouse by mid afternoon. As we went under the bridge just beyond the mooring we discovered a huge area bordered by pilings where we could have easily moored. No doubt that’s why the other mooring stage was overgrown! Nobody using it.
At the very first lock of the day Neville let me off at the landing stage and I walked on to the lock to wait to take up the ropes he would throw to me, and activate the locking mechanism. Then he began to edge forwards towards the gates but somehow got too close so that he must have crossed a sensor beam and the gates which were half open, suddenly stopped. I tried pressing the various buttons on the lockside, but nothing worked so I had to use the intercom to summon assistant from VNF.
As usual, I had no problem making myself understood in French, but hadn’t the foggiest idea what the response was, so we just sat back and hoped that he had said someone was coming. After half an hour I walked back to the lock to try again, but at that moment a VNF van came down the towpath and he fixed it for us. He did ask whether we had stopped the boat prior to entering the lock, and I indicated that we had, but I had actually thought our boat was very close to the gate. I think he was inferring that we had fouled up the mechanism by setting off to enter the lock before we got the green light on the board at the entrance. Which might well have been true!
We got through that lock OK and then found two red lights showing at the next lock, which means “stoppage”. Fortunately some men were working on the lock and when they saw us coming they reactivated the lock for us. At the third lock, same thing again, and this time we had to wait for fifteen minutes or so. Our scheduled arrival time of mid-afternoon in Toulouse was becoming more remote every lock we came to.
Just before lunchtime we arrived at lock 5 on the run up to Toulouse. This lock had two poles running down the inside of the lock wall, round which the boaters wrap their ropes to secure the boat as the lock fills with water, sometimes violently. Neville normally takes the mid rope and uses this pole, whilst I, after having taken the bow line from him, have to be on the lockside to press the buttons to activate the lock. If there is a ground mounted bollard, it’s no problem for me to wrap the rope round it, and when/if the going gets rough, I simply loop the rope round the bollard again to take the strain. For me it would be difficult to use the other pole mechanism, because I have no secondary “strain-taker” in the event of turbulence, apart from the fragile looking tripod mounted over the pole.
As there was no bracing bollard on the lock side where the control box was, I suggested we swapped the ropes over and moored on the other side of the lock, where we could both use the ground mounted bollards. This meant I had to run over the lock gates to start the mechanism, but more importantly, to stop it if anything went wrong.
Which it did!
I pressed the button at the other side of the lock, ran across the top gates and took up my rope. The lock gates closed and the paddles on the gates swung fully open really quickly and a great torrent of water rushed into the lock. We were struggling almost immediately, as 26 tons of boat thrashed wildly around in the lock. I looped the rope round my bollard a second time, and then a third, in an attempt to take up the strain and stop it just running out, and then suddenly heard this almighty “thwang”.
Neville was standing mid-ships with the other half of his rope in his hand – it seemed the violent sawing of the rope on the edge of the lock wall as the boat thrashed had sheared it completely in two. Now the boat was really in trouble, with only the front secured to the lock side and Neville on it. He switched the engine on and gamely tried to ride out the swell, slamming it in forward and reverse gears as the huge waves of water sent the boat first of all backwards, and then the water, having hit the back end of the lock sent the boat surging forwards towards the top lock gates. The boat swung diagonally across the lock and my front end crashed into the lock wall at the same time as the back end hit the other lock wall. Within a minute or so, the swell diminished, and the locking cycle completed, Neville having used the remaining half of his rope to secure the mid-ships to the bollard as the lock finally filled.
The subsequent post-mortem on the event led us to the rather obvious conclusion that we should always be on the same side as the control mechanism, if we are the only boat in the lock since the over-riding consideration must be that we are able to stop the process if need be. Having said that, I need to be on the lockside to do so, which means if there is no ground bollard I will have to use the slider pole from the lockside, with no satisfactory way of taking the strain. On a violent lock it probably was better to use the slider poles set into the lock wall than the ground mounted bollards on the top of the lock, since it was the action of the boat swinging around that had caused the rope to be sawing against the top of the lock wall which had caused it to snap.
(On subsequent use of the locks along this stretch, having gained more experience and confidence, Neville just secures the middle line to the slider, and I remain on the quayside by the control box. When it gets turbulent, he uses the engine to keep the bow into the lock wall.)
On going below, we discovered that the impact had thrown open the cupboard doors and lots of toiletries, cosmetics, books and first aid stuff were liberally scattered all over the bedroom and lounge. Fortunately nothing broken.
(NB: we later learned from a lockie at Agen that on most locks the strongest force of water comes from the vanes on the gate which is on the side where the controls are. When there are two boats in a lock there is not so much room for movement obviously, but when there is only one boat, it should be positioned on the control box side. Commonsense really, the same principle as narrowboating in the UK, where the first paddle to be opened is the one on the same side as the boat so that the water hits the other wall and rebounds to keep the boat in position.)
So, on we went, and encountered two more locks which were quite strong, but on these occasions there was a bollard for me on the control box side of the lock, and we had also swopped the broken rope for a brand new one. In ten years of boating we have never had a rope snap on us before.
Eventually we arrived exhausted, at the three locks leading up into the centre of Toulouse. We thought we remembered from our journey down this way, that the locks were manned by a remote operator using closed circuit TV, and that there were sliding bollards set into the lock wall, and so I stayed on the boat. Not so for the first lock…… as we entered we found that there were no securing mechanisms in the lock wall, and somebody needed to be up on the lockside to take the ropes and pass them round the bollards. Guess who? And these are fairly deep locks.
I hate climbing the ladders set into the lock walls, but I’d hate being the one left on the boat trying to drive it in an emergency, so nothing else for it. The worst part is when you get to the top, and are attempting to step off the ladder – I just can’t contemplate being upright on the edge of a 3 metre drop, so I’m sure the lock-keeper watching on his cctv was well impressed by the sight of me crawling over the edge of the lock on all fours!
We arrived in Toulouse at 5.15, to find Peter and Jill Lawson (who we met last year in Toulouse and again this year in Cape Town) still moored up in Angelique by the capitainerie. The Capitainerie Sylvianne gave us a warm welcome again, and we had an early dinner and early night, both absolutely exhausted by the day’s endeavours.
Toulouse Mooring charge 17 euros per night.
Thursday 13th May.
Left Toulouse around 8.30am, and, back on the Canal du Midi with its mostly oval locks, had a reasonably peaceful cruise to the first lock of the day.
At this time of the year you get the inexperienced lockies, sometimes students, who have been taken on just for the season. Many of them will just let you get on with it, but every now and then you get one lockie who wants to throw his weight around. We had trouble with one guy who insisted we should put the middle rope on the bollard close to the back of the lock. Not only did this make it difficult for us to pull the boat into the side, but we were also way too close to the back of the lock. It was a double lock and during the second half he had to stop the lock as we were so much out of control, and we insisted that he move the back rope forward. He did so, and slunk off into his little cabin sulking.
It rained on and off most of the day, mostly when we were at the locks and we were both soaked through by the end of the afternoon. Found quite a nice mooring below a lock at Renneville but then found out it was reserved for a priority boat, a grande peniche croisiere. We moved down slightly but then grounded as the level of the canal went down, so we had to ask the lockie to let some water down so that we could move back to a space behind the grand peniche.
Not one of our happier days boating.
Friday 14th May
Made our way steadily towards Castelnaudary, another long day. Passed Port L’Auregais which looks a lot nicer than last time we visited. After La Segala we negotiated the last ascending lock, and it was all downhill locking from there. Much easier, and I can stay on the boat and I get an opportunity to practice my lassoing skills again. I was pleased to see that they had not deserted me , having virtually a 100% success rate that day.
As we cruised into Castlenaudary we discovered Vertrouwen, (Kath and Roger) whom we have not seen since Capestang. They invited us round for late afternoon drinks and it was good to catch up on all the gossip. Their boat is an old style working barge which has been converted. There is no cover on top, ie no wheelhouse, so they are a bit exposed to the elements whilst underway, and they have no bowthruster, so windy days would present something of a problem to them.
Below decks is all glowing varnished wood, with a beautiful kitchen full of hanging untensils and terracotta tiles, a huge lounge and potted plants and ornaments. They have travelled and worked extensively abroad (he is a teacher) and have lots of interesting tales to tell.
Castelnaudary is a nice open port. We have twice applied for winter moorings here and had no response. The securing of winter moorings is a dodgy business, you can’t hang about waiting or banking on any one option, you have to get on with it and get something secured before everyone else does. So we had confirmed our winter moorings at Moissac, about a hundred kilometres to the west and were not best pleased when we cruised into Castelnaudary and the capitainerie, having admired our boat, pronounced that we had been successful, only she hadn’t told us!!!
At Castelnaudary, they also operate a policy of not reserving daily moorings, even though they have email facilities, and so she had more or less told us on email that she had space but couldn’t reserve it and we would need to be there before 5.00pm. Hence our rush.
But all worked out fine. We had water and electric and there was free internet wi-fi available
Castelnaudary Mooring Charge 10 euros per night
Saturday 15th May
Up reasonably early and I went off to the boulangerie down the canal for the bread. There was a cold wind though it was a lovely sunny day with variable amounts of cloud. Probably too windy for Roger and Kath to set off, we supposed. There is a set of staircase locks just after the basin, and we were there first waiting for the locks to open, shortly thereafter being joined by a late middle aged dutch or german couple on a small hire boat. The woman was a real panicker, and our locking was accompanied by the sound of her continual shrieking, getting her ropes tied up, forgetting to take them off the bollards when her husband moved the boat on…. All in all not a very relaxing descent, but towards the end they got their act together and it was a bit more placid.
We locked with them until noon, when they peeled off for an early lunch and we carried on. We were searching for a place with a good satellite signal so we could watch the qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix. We got all the way to Bram, but even there we could not get a strong enough signal. So we carried on and moored in the only clearing we could find, just before a bridge and in front of a house,(just north of Villesquelande) from which a large black Labrador came later on, and sat there alternately grinning and growling at us for 15 minutes or so. I decided not to attempt to bond with it.
It had been a long day, right through from 9.00 to 5.00pm so we were really tired and went to bed about 10.00pm. Slept right through until 8.15am!!
Sunday 16th May
Set off 9.45am, slightly later than normally. The barometer was set fair, so maybe the fine weather we had been promised would materialise. The week had been showery, sunny, blowy and one day of persistent downpour. The forecast however was for mid seventies, cloud and sun.
Arrived at Carcassonne roundabout 12.30pm. Moored opposite Drumsara. We caught a
quick hello with Jane and the huskies as she walked round the quay to our side, and after watching the Monaco Grand Prix we went round to Drumsara for a drink. Lots of gossip to exchange; they have had quite a lot of bits and pieces done at the boat during the winter lay-off, and said they had a good time winter mooring at Moissac, where we were going to moor next winter.
Good to be back at Carcassonne again. We have some great memories of here, both warm and cold weather reflections, and Stephanie, the Capitaine is still here, and speaking even better English than last time.
Monday 17th May
Another long lie in, until 8.30am. The fine weather which was forecast did not materialise, it was another grey showery day.
Later in the day it became finer and warmer, and we were able to work on the outside of the boat which was beginning to show signs of age and weather. The rear port side porthole had lost a lot of its lacquer and now needed to be stripped back. Neville cleaned the outside of the boat again, necessary because of the heavy rain we had had whilst cruising.
Carcasonne hadn’t changed much, though there seemed to be considerably fewer “clochards” – (tramps) than we remembered. Didn’t see any in the town or along the embankments, until one arrived at the other end of the quay this night, set up a primus stove to cook his dinner. He had a huge pile of belongings which he heaped onto a bench, and we guess he was planning to bed down there for the night.
Tuesday 18th May
A fine sunny start to the day, one of the best so far. The port was packed with hire-boaters, few of whom seemed in any hurry to get underway. Oddly enough, it became less busy later on and there were still spaces at the end of the day. We did a lot of jobs on the boat – painting the red strip along the side which always seems to fade long before any other part of the paintwork, (looks good now) whilst I cleaned, washed and ironed once again.
Later on Jane walked by with the huskies and Kossack floored me as I was sitting on the side of the quay and he saw me as fair game being down at his level. They really are the most engaging of dogs. Yesterday when we met them again with Jane, we walked partway round the lock with them before she set off back to her boat and we went on to the shop. As we peeled away, both dogs looked absolutely confounded that we had “broken away from the pack” as it were.
In the evening they came round for a drink before we went down to the “Grand Boeuf” for a steak. The dogs came too. The French seem to be very relaxed about dogs in their restaurants.
Wednesday 19th May
From now on we wanted our journey to be a bit more leisurely, so we didn’t set off until mid-morning. We would keep going for another week and then need to turn round in time to be back at Castelsarrasin within the four week period we had advised the police about. We would like to stay maybe a couple of nights at Toulouse and a couple at Castelnaudary on the way back.
Once we were back at Castelsarrasin we would head on east, this time going back for the car by cycling along the towpath on a daily basis. Means we can see more of the surrounding countryside, that way. As we left the bottom lock we passed Jane and Mike with the huskies. We waved and tooted, and then both dogs looking really put out, started following us down the towpath as we cruised away from the city. Mike had to call them back! Again we were breaking away from the pack!
We made our way down from Carcassonne, pausing at the second lock to get annoyed at the lock keeper who thought there wasn’t enough room for three boats in the lock, despite the fact that we had been three boats in the lock at Carcassonne, and that we had been the first boat to enter the lock there. So we were held up for quite a while. But there was a bit of a log jam at the next staircase lock, so we didn’t lose any time in reality. Chatted to the couple who had been moored behind us at Carcassonne, and who seemed quite capable for hire-boaters.
We went on to Trebes, having only a brief stop at a lock for lunch. I don’t like Trebes much, always seems dark and grey there, and the overhanging trees make it difficult to get a signal. We pulled up at around 3.30pm, and kept our position a bit back from the lock so other boats going on could moor and wait there. When we were sure the last lockers had gone down at 6.00pm we pulled our boat forward a bit and got better reception for the television
(NB: This year, 2011, all the trees between Trebes port and the top of the lock flight have been removed, due to ‘chancre colere.’ Consequently the banks have had to be reinforced now there are no longer any stabilising roots. The area has lost a lot of its charm, but it had to be done. Trebes is very badly affected by this disease of the plane trees.)
Thursday 20th May.
A fine but very windy day. If I recall correctly, it was windy here this time of the year last year. That was when we met an English couple and asked them if the wind ever stopped blowing round here, and they said gloomily, “only when the English come down to buy a house”, meaning of course that the wind hadn’t been blowing the day they made their minds up about their property! The wind can get on your nerves though, it’s a more or less constant thing round here. We used to notice it when we drove down the A7 into Spain, round about Narbonne and Perpignan the wind-socks at the side of the road were invariably horizontal.
The hire boat in front of was full of Germans, and they were all over the place in the locks, at one point being wedged diagonally across the lock. Lots of throttle, lots of shouting, ropes flying everywhere and barefoot women chasing about on the lock side – asking for trouble.
As the day went on however, they gained in expertise and confidence, which was a good thing as we were three to a lock all the way down and they were always the last in.. We moored up at one lock around lunchtime behind a boat full of Germans wearing miniscule tangerine coloured budgie-smugglers, which left nothing to the imagination.
We passed our favourite mooring at Puicheric, but there was a large Minervois cruiser in there. On the way to La Redort we saw a lovely spot just before the lock with a generous expanse of decking and mooring posts, so we stopped right at the back and watched as hordes of leisure boats passed at varying speeds to enter the staircase lock.
We decided that we might turn around when we reach Homps, rather than go on to Narbonne and Capestang, as we would like to take a more leisurely return journey with a few longer overnight stops in the places we like.
Friday 21st May
Awoke to another glorious day, a little less breeze at this hour than yesterday, but very pleasant. We entered the first lock at 9.30am with another boat, the first of the hire-boaters to be on the move. Arrived at Homps mid morning.
Saturday 22nd May
A beautiful day again, so we turned the boat round so that Neville could paint the red paintwork on the other side.
During the morning Mike and Jane sailed into port and moored on the other quay further down. We booked a table at the restaurant En Bonne Compagnie for the evening. An excellent meal.
A passenger boat came and moored near us, and let off their American guests. Wondered whether they would pick up today and start their next cruise. The crew were busy repairing the knocks and scratches on the hull – they take it very seriously. The place we are moored gives priority to passenger boats, so we imagined might be chucked out at any moment should another hotel boat arrive.
The weather had been so warm we decided to take the continental quilt off the bed. Only a week ago we were glad of the warmth of it, but now the weather seemed to have changed quite dramatically.
Sunday 23rd May
Another glorious cloudless day and the sun was quite hot even as we sat having breakfast at 08:30 am with the windows on the wheelhouse front and back windows down. Neville finished off painting the red strip on the back of the boat, still a bit round the front and sides to do. This morning had a lovely feel to it, warm sun, blue skies, church bells exhorting the faithful to prayer, gentle breeze and the French out for a morning stroll and a coffee at the little Rive Gauche café next to our boat. One or two boats went past, but on the whole it was fairly quiet along the canal.
At lunchtime we went round to Drumsara (Mike and Jane) and had a drink before going to the Peniche restaurant on their side of the quay. The restaurant has a lovely courtyard at the back, and we sat under the shade of an olive tree which periodically rained tiny olive seeds on us and our food when the wind blew, until we asked for a parasol to shield the table. Mike and I had lobster, and Jane had duck whilst Neville had prawns. Jane and I shared a Nicoise salad as a starter whilst Mike and Neville had a cold cucumber soup. We even had a dessert, Neville and I sharing a variety of mini desserts whilst Mike had walnut glace and Jane had something incredibly rich, the name of which escapes me.
We don’t really like to eat heavily or drink at lunchtime, so we were fairly inactive for the rest of the day, apart from taking a walk up the quay to the newly built residential development at Homps, which is proving to be quite popular with the English.
The café at the side of the boat did a roaring trade all day and well into the night, still full of clients as we went to bed.
Homps Mooring Charge 16 Euros per night but the first night is free.
Monday 24th May
Up shortly after seven and breakfasted and tidied by 8.30am. We planned to set off around mid morning for a relatively short cruise to Redort. On the way there we met a huge hotel boat coming in the opposite direction, whose wash forced us into the bushes at the side of the canal. When we got to La Redort there was no space –lots of boats being spaced out, probably due to boats having left and the remaining boats not bunching up together. We have never managed to moor at La Redort, and today was no exception. A pity, because it looks like a very nice mooring.
We carried on to the lock at Puicheric, where a lock-keeper made some weird decisions about who could go into the lock at what time. Consequently we were held up by the lunchbreak, and only got to the top of the lock afterwards. We moored up in the same place as last time, with the nice views across the fields.
We had moored close to some orange safety netting, and when we translated the signs in front of the five or so trees fenced off with this netting, we discovered that they were diseased plane trees and had been condemned. This disease is known as Chancre de Colère and it is a form of cancer spread through fungi which kills the trees. Any form of “blessure” or wound on the tree, made by either tying a rope round it or hammering a nail into it or grazing against the roots at the water’s edge (which many boats do) allows the fungus to penetrate the tree and attack it. Hence hireboaters are prime suspects in the spread of this disease which is killing hundreds and thousands of plane trees along the canal du Midi. The only form of prevention (there is no cure) is to kill the tree off, and this is done by drilling a ring of holes around the trunk and inserting some kind of poison. Eventually the tree dies, the fungus cannot persist, and the tree is felled. The VNF (governing body of the canals) is planting hundreds of new plane trees to replace these, but boaters are warned not to moor near the diseased trees because they can pick up the spores and transfer them to healthy trees.
The disease was introduced into the country during the second world war by the Americans, whose navy was based at Marseille. The wood of their ammunition crates was diseased, and it has spread from there.
Very sad really. The Midi would not be the same without its plane trees. It’s been reported that VNF are to replace them with oak trees, but I don’t think it will look the same.
Tuesday 25th May
Today we had two double locks, one triple (Fonfile) and one single to do before we end up at Marseillette. We couldn’t fit in with two hire boats at the first double, because one wasn’t happy to move as far forward as he might, and also we were third into the lock, which is always difficult. It is better if we go in first or second.
At the next double, we asked if we could go in second, and the English boat agreed, but the lockie said this lock was smaller than the earlier one, and closed the doors on them! Still, we met up with them at the next set of three locks, and we were all held up for over two hours, as one set of boats had already set off up the locks, and then a peniche (hotel boat) came down as a priority boat so we all had to wait.
We had lunch, just a small tin of beans on toast between us, whilst the Germans on the boat in front had a huge steaming casserole of something, this in temperatures close to the eighties!! Of course, being holidaymakers, there was a lot of drinking going on, schnapps before lunch, wine with lunch and water afterwards. The result was that the older man in the two couples was rather loudly drunk by the time we set off up the locks, and had to be “talked to” by the younger man. It’s so easy to do, and yet so easy to have an accident once you are under the influence.
We carried on locking through to mid afternoon, eventually losing our lock companions when they caught up with a smaller boat in front and there was not enough room in the lock for us. Shortly after that we pulled up at Marseillette, a bit of a dead alive hole where it was difficult to get a signal for the wi-fi, and there appeared to be no shops and more importantly no boulangerie. This could be such a lovely mooring, and it looks as though steps were taken at one time to install electricity and water, but they appear to have been halted. Still, at least there are rubbish bins. (Damned by faint praise!).
Wednesday 26th May
Couldn’t get Wi-fi this morning so no chance to read the papers before we left. Today was the two year anniversary of our contract with SFR for dongle-internet access, and we are wondering whether they will just stop it or let it run on. We will see when some money is taken out of the account! We have an alternative prospect with Orange if they do terminate the contract.
We set off just before 8.30am and made our way to Trebes where there is a normally a log jam of boats, but instead we sailed right into the first lock. The morning rush hour must have been dispersed!
We decided we would carry on through to Carcassonne so rang Stephanie (la Capitaine) to see if there was space available. When she confirmed there was, we pushed on, in company with two New Zealand couples who were halfway through their holiday and just about to turn round.
We arrived at Carcassonne in a flurry of events. I got off below the lock and on climbing up to the lockside, I saw that someone appeared to be in the space we had reserved at the far end of the basin, the space that we had used all last winter. I popped in to see Stephanie and mentioned it, and then went back to see if Neville had entered the lock. He hadn’t, as there was a boat coming down. I noticed this guy wearing denims and a blue polo shirt who was hanging around the lockside, and wondered whether he was the lockie.
Then I saw another young guy come out of the office with a portable lock operator’s machine (a bit like an old fashion bus conductor’s ticket machine) so surmised the first guy wasn’t. The first guy was now messing about with the ropes of the boat which was descending the lock, in a very authoritative manner, but then took the ropes off to hand them to the female crew member before the lock had emptied. She looked a bit alarmed, and indicated he should put them back on again, so in a very casual, affected manner, he did a silly loop round the bollard and hung on to them. I got distracted then, so didn’t see how the situation ended, but the crew were clearly not happy at his interventions.
After the boat had left the lock I waited for Neville to enter, standing at the bollard where we are would put the front rope. The guy was in my way a bit, but he did move. I wound the rope loosely round the bollard and went back to midships to take the middle rope from Neville, when this guy suddenly waved me away, pointing authoritatively at my rope, which was running out, as it has to if Neville is to bring the rear of the boat against the lock side. This chap was making ready to take the rope from Neville, who told me later that he too thought he must be the lock-keeper.
Then I heard Neville shouting angrily and found that the guy had tied the boat up to the bollard, instead of simply looping it round and handing it back to Neville. This is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard, since obviously you have to shorten the rope as the boat rises in the lock. I shouted too, and he untied it, handed it to Neville and then fortunately drifted away.
When I looked back at our mooring space, from the top of the lock, I saw that Stephanie was moving the hire boat out of our space, (which had a big “Reserved for Desormais” sign on the bollard), and the way was clear for us to turn round and reverse our way in (so that we were facing the basin rather than pointing upstream for the duration of our stay). The errant hire boat started down the basin towards the lock and, having steered closer and closer to the moored boats on the other side of the basin, very neatly snagged the anchor off the bow of a very expensive yacht that was moored at right angles to the quayside. There was a dreadful noise , and shouting “Mon Dieu, Mon Dieu” Stephanie rushed off to catch the boater before he got away.
Later on we saw her getting really angry with him and demanding his details and the contact details for his boat hire company. There would be ructions over this! I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the hire-boater though – he won’t have a very good memory about Carcassonne. Later in the evening a guy arrived and ruefully inspected the damage on the expensive yacht. Don’t know whether he was the owner of the boat, or a representative from the boat hire company. We suspect it may have wrenched the anchor from its housing on the deck, probably causing deck damage too.
After me saying that there were very few clochards around the town this year, we moored up to find one camped out in a tent about eight yards away from us. Great! He seemed to have a major preoccupation with lighting smoky fires in tin cans and heating food over them. He doesn’t bother much about us, though he did seem to accost a male passer by – a guy from a boat further down the quay.
Later in the evening we saw the would-be lock-keeper sitting in the wheelhouse of the Belgian guy further down the qua,y playing cards with him.
Thursday 27th May
It rained heavily during the night and we had to get up to close the windows which we had left open to catch a breath of air. Much fresher this morning. Hung the washing out, but there is quite a bit of cloud building again. The clochard had been messing with his smoke and tins again this morning but went off into the town eventually.
Friday 28th May
A fairly quiet day. Spoke to the guy on the boat next to us, Carmen, who seems to be a man on his own on a huge boat. This must give him some big problems moving about, as you couldn’t manage a boat that size on your own. He says he waits for friends or family to visit before he goes anywhere. Funnily enough, the boat looks almost as though it’s had the female touch, but he never mentions his wife.
Went to the market, but only got a few bits and pieces. The bigger market will be on tomorrow.
The clochard is getting on our nerves now with all this smoking tins business. He appears to put some food in a small tin and then puts the small tin into a big tin, into which he puts pieces of cardboard, lights them, and waves other cardboard at it to make it flame. So he’s actually cooking on burning paper! Trouble is, if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction our boat gets full of the smell of burning paper.
Saturday 29th May
Saw the man from Elsie May this morning walking his dog. He confirmed that the “Lock Groupie” is in fact pestering the life out of the Belgian guy on the boat next to Carmen. He said there are lots of people like this who hang around wanting to get friends with boaters in the hope they can go on a trip with them.
Sunday 30th May
Still in Carcassonne. Very windy today and overcast later on.
Today Stephanie (the capitaine) had a word with the tramp living in the tent near our boat. She told him if he made a nuisance of himself lighting his fires she would call the police and have him moved on. He got a bit annoyed and asked her if she thought she owned the world. Still at dinnertime he moved off somewhere else to cook his tea, bringing it back to the tent to eat it. I offered him some of our curry but he rejected it when I confirmed that it was “épicie” – spicy.
Monday 31st May
We had a long day, setting off from Carcassonne at 8.30 and not stopping until 5.15pm. There were hardly any boats on the water, and none going our way. We went through lots of locks, and it was very windy, making things very difficult getting into the locks. We got a couple of hard knocks along the way.
Everything, including the water is coated in a layer of fine yellow pollen. It’s all over the computer screen and the wheelhouse, the hatch cover. No wonder our eyes are itching and we are continuously sneezing.
Moored up at Guerre, just beyond the lock as we did on our last trip. We had an early night tonight, 9.00pm, I was so tired from last night.
Tuesday 1st June
Had a great night’s sleep and took extra anti histamine to make sure I didn’t have a repeat of last night. This morning we were having our breakfast when we suddenly noticed some activity down the towpath. Along came a mini platoon of soldiers (French Foreign Legion), complete with green berets, guns, back packs etc. They were all races, Africans, Asians, Europeans….. all with surly expressions. They looked at us curiously but did not return our friendly waves or smiles. Spooky really, we were in the middle of the country, miles from anywhere.
We did a couple of single locks, a double, a triple and then the final quadruple lock at Castelnaudary. It’s a good mooring here, we can get internet, electricity and water. Its reasonably priced. Today we paid 18 euros for two nights, maybe the second night is cheaper as I’m sure we paid 11 euros last time. Only two boats have passed all afternoon. Such a contrast with last week, maybe it was half term then.
When I went for my shower this afternoon I found a HUGE spider in the bath. I called Neville, but in the time it took for him to respond the spider wrapped itself round the plug chain and made his way up to the top of the bath. I thought Neville was getting paper and a glass to humanely put him outside, but instead he just washed him down the plughole. So I immediately had my shower in case he started climbing his way back up to the bath.
We had a pleasant evening meal on the wheelhouse, though no activity worth watching apart from a couple of fishermen across the basin.
Wednesday 2nd June
A pleasant day, though a little cloudy and showery first thing, but brightening to an almost clear blue sky by evening. Wednesday appears to be closing day in Castelnaudary, and my little trip for bread turned out to be a mega hike up to the town centre when the usual boulangerie was closed. It was the first time I’d been on the boat bike since we returned to France, and it’s a monstrosity compared to the one I have at home. It’s a back-pedal braker, which means (obviously) you have to pedal backwards to stop, and has one not very effective brake on the handlebars. It also has no springs, so you get a really sore bum on any protracted journey.
In the evening we strolled up to the town again and had dinner at La Gondolier. Neville had prawns, I had duck. Very nice, and together with bread and half a carafe of wine it came to 40 euros. As it nearly always does. Afterwards we sat in the wheelhouse for cheese and biscuits and watched the ducks. They saw us and flocked across for feeding, bringing with them an old coypu we had seen the night before.
He is very grey round his snout, and I don’t think he sees too well. The ducks nervously tolerate him, though they know very well that if they have young ducklings they are very much at risk for him.
Later we saw him bearing down on some ducklings, but the boaters on the opposite side of the basin shouted and threatened him with a boat hook so off he went, eventually nestling for a while inside an old tyre hanging from the side of an old boat down the canal. I don’t mind coypu, though I know they can be lethal if they bite dogs (who always seems to go for them) and they are a menace to the eco system of the canal, burrowing into banks and making them collapse. But they are animals and have their rights too. It’s quite interesting the way they eat; if you throw them a piece of bread they will seize it with their front paws and hold it whilst they chew it!
Thursday 3rd June
Set off around 8.20 this morning, after I had been to the boulangerie for the bread. Needed to get as far as we could towards Toulouse, so that we could arrive there the next day. Its promising a clear sunny day, and it certainly started that way. We are both slathered in sun cream.
We made good progress until 11.00am when we reached the top lock at L’Ecluse de Mediterannée. From here we would be locking downwards, which would call for a range of skills which we hadn’t used for a while, ie lassoing bollards on entering the lock, and then flicking the rope of the bollards when you are 4 metres or so below them and have no sight of how you are doing. If you don’t flick them off, then you have to run the entire 10 or 12 metres of rope through, re-coiling it afterwards. Not too bad every now and then, but really tiring when you are constantly doing it.
As we approached the lock, the lockie came down the towpath to meet us, to say that one gate on the lock was not working and there would be a delay. Pity, we had been making really good progress. The lock was fixed quickly and by this time another boat had joined us, a dreaded hireboater. We entered the lock first, and being 26 tons and 58 feet long, it takes us some time to take up our position, particularly on the oval locks. But hireboaters wait for no-one, and they tore into the lock at high speed immediately after us, running into the lock approach wall with a hefty crash. Then, they still barged in while we were straightening out the stern, and immediately started using boathooks on our paintwork to fend off!
I shouted at them, and so did Neville but they were eastern Europeans and I don’t think they understood us. But none of them looked at us as we locked up, so I guess they got the message, language barrier or no language barrier. We let them out of the lock first, assuming they would race off and probably catch the next lock before us, but they moored up after the lock. Perhaps we frightened them!
The next lock marked the parting of the waters, half the water flowing into the Atlantic and half flowing into the Mediterranean. A great reservoir on the top here feeds both canals. This is still the Canal du Midi, until we leave Toulouse, shortly after which it becomes the Garonne.
This Canal and the Canal Lateral a la Garonne was the brain child of Paul Riquet, who substantially financed the completion of this Canal de Deux Mers, principally as a trade route. It’s used rather less so now and mostly given over the pleasure boaters.
It was a lovely sunny day, with a cooling breeze when you were underway, and we locked on all afternoon until we got to Negra at around 5.00pm. We moored up there on the Locaboat moorings and were eventually joined by the party of rampant boaters we had encountered earlier. They were returning their boat, on the last day of their holiday, so judging from their performance at the lock they haven’t learned much during their week on the water. One of them came to our boat asking about our internet connection (they could obviously see that I was working on the internet) and wanted to know if they could borrow the dongle, offering to pay for it. Neville told them that you had to have special software downloaded on your computer, which you do, but more to the point, we are on a limited monthly download limit, after which time the speed of connection is slowed right down. Apparently they were looking to book a hotel in Toulouse, so in the end we gave them a hotel book we had and later they confirmed they had found somewhere.
Pleasant evening, though there is a honking great frog/toad close by, and it woke me in the night sounding very much like voices in the lounge! Hay fever rampant again.
Friday 4th June
The rampant boaters embarrassed me this morning by bringing along all their unused groceries to see if we wanted them! I felt I had been a bit of a sourpuss!
We carried on towards Toulouse, and might have made it by lunchtime if it hadn’t been for a lock that hadn’t been prepared ready for us at Montgiscard. Normally the lock-keepers ask you if you are continuing on through the next look and if so, they will ring ahead so that the lockie there can get the lock ready for you so that you can go straight in. When we arrived at Montgiscard the gates were shut and the lock, a very deep one that would take a while to fill, was empty. There was a guy in VNF uniform strimming the grass around the lock so I wasn’t sure if he was just a maintenance guy. We moored up while I went looking for the lockie, and when I got to the office the gardening guy shouted from across the water, asking if we wanted to descend the locks, whereupon he trailed back to the office, got his machine, went out to shut the bottom gates of the lock and filled it. All of which added a good half hour to our journey.
He was a bit sheepish about it, but I guessed that he had been out tending the gardens and with the noise of the strimmer had not heard his radio or phone ringing from the earlier lock. He told us that this stretch of canal would be automated from next year. We had already seen the lock indicator light systems being erected before the locks. He didn’t know though whether the automation would be driven by a perch (a pole suspended above the canal which you have to twist as you pass under it) or by remote device, a hand held remote control which you press as you get within signal range of the lock, and which sets off the lock cycle.
We moored up at the top of the last lock before Toulouse for lunch, and then continued, arriving at Toulouse around 3.00pm. Peter Lawson (Angelique) was there on the quay to take our ropes, and another guy helped. We turned our boat round to get a better signal for the satellite, and then moored up. Later we had Peter and Jill Lawson (the couple we met here last year and who we visited whilst in Cape Town earlier this year) round for drinks and nibbles. The sun was beating down but there was a cooling breeze across the water and once the sun went behind the apartments behind us it was quite pleasant
Saturday 5th June
It was very hot and perched on the end of the pontoon there was no shade for us. I’m sure Toulouse is a very lovely and historic city, but my God it’s noisy. All day long there is the roar of the traffic, the shouts of the clochards as they communicate with each other across the basin, the wee-wah of the fire engines and rescue vehicles as they emerge from the Pompier-Sapeur just outside the moorings. It’s a fine city, but not without its crime problems and the mooring is, thankfully, locked and fenced, so the night time revellers that kept me awake most of Saturday night could not gain access to the compound.
Sylvianne, the capitaine, is always very welcoming, and there is a Petit Casino shop and a boulangerie within a couple of hundred yards of the mooring. To go there you have to go past the Sapeur Pompiers,(fire station) who always have the bays open ready for the vehicles to dash out on their rescue missions. There are always lots of fireman messing about there. Sometimes, as on Friday afternoon, they had the turntable fully extended to the top floor of a nearby block of flats, which I guess was just a training exercise.
The French have strange customs regarding weddings. The girls have “hen days” as opposed to the English “hen night”. It seems to involve less drinking, but more hilarious behaviour. The bride is usually dressed up as something ridiculous, a bunny girl, a fairy, a clown, and her girlfriends have dressed up also in some way, but not sufficient to outshine the bride to be. The fire station seems to be a popular port of call for these wandering groups of celebrants and today I saw no less than three such visits. The first one, involved a bride to be dressed as a pink fairy, complete with silver tiara and wand, and she was being held horizontally across the front of five fireman while her giggling friends all took photographs. The second one, I couldn’t see what the bride was supposed to be, and the third one was a bunny girl complete in revealing outfit, furry tail and ears. I would have thought the firemen would have been more than interested in this one, but I think the third visit in about six hours had dulled their appetites.
On the actual wedding day, after one of the ceremonies (there appear to be two, one civil and one religious) a long procession of cars will wind their way round the town or city, all tooting their horns, shouting out of windows, and generally behaving like madmen. You can hear them from miles away, and the French gaze on indulgently as the procession passes them by. Today several such processions could be heard, though we only saw one pass by on the other side of the canal.
I did some washing and Neville polished the boat. We did some more shopping to keep us going until Tuesday when we will get back to Castelsarrasin and have use of the car once again. It was a relaxing day, although very hot, and in the late afternoon Neville went into the bedroom and turned on the air-conditioning. It’s very noisy, but it is handy on days like this when it can bring the temperature down from the low thirties to the early twenties. When you step out of the bedroom of course, the heat hits you like a warm damp blanket.
Went to bed around 10-ish and though the bedroom was cool to begin with, it soon warmed up and what with the heat and the noise of the city celebrating Saturday night, together with a “dinner cruise boat” returning to base with loudly playing music, I tossed and turned until the early hours of the morning before catching a few hours of sleep.
Sunday 6th June
The weather had been forecast to break today, and at dawn we heard the first patter of raindrops on the roof. It wasn’t heavy, and didn’t last long, though when we got up it had settled to a steady but light downpour. I went to the boulangerie for our bread, passing some upturned rubbish bins on the way, clearly the by-product of last night’s revellers.
We said goodbye to Peter Lawson (Jill was still asleep) and set off in the light rain to tackle the three locks out of Toulouse, which are very deep, cctv operated, and at last, rectangular. Such a welcome change from the oval locks of the Midi. We are now on the Canal lateral a la Garonne, which is automated so we should be able to get a good day-long run to our next deistination, Dieupentale we thought.
And then, the first lock broke, with us in it! It emptied, and we were stuck at the bottom with the doors only open a couple of inches. It looked very much like I was going to have to climb the slimy lock ladder, (how I hate that) in order to use the intercom to summon assistance. Then I noticed a female jogger stretching her legs at the top of the lock. I called her over, and in my best French asked her if she could press the intercom button and call for help. She relayed messages between us and the lock-keeper, to the effect that he would be half an hour. That was a relief. We settled down for a brew. This is the lock that was broken last time we came this way, and we were held up for close on an hour on that occasion.
The rain came on and off but not particularly hard and we didn’t get particularly wet. We ate on the move. I took the boat out of several locks.
We moored up at Deupentale, on the new stretch which has been cleared, using chains to secure the ropes. Quite a few people went past in the late afternoon, but then very quiet.
Monday June 7th
Woke up early with rampant hay fever, and managed to wake Neville with my sneezing. He got up shortly after so we were both up in the wheelhouse by 6.15am, having breakfast and watching the commuter trains whizzing by. This line, less than a hundred yards away, is the the main line from Marseille to Bordeaux, calling at a number of major cities on the way. We set off early, and had a leisurely cruise to the first set of locks.
Arrived in Castelsarrasin just before lunch. This is where we moored for the winter, and where we left our car when we started this trip four weeks ago, having gained permission from the police and giving them our contact details. We moored up, Neville went off up the quay to where the car was, or rather had been. I saw him suddenly stop, hands on hips, and then he came purposefully back to the car. “It’s gone,” he said.
We had visions of some thief driving around in it for the last four weeks, probably miles away by now, and went to the police station to report it. There all three policeman started falling over themselves to help us, (a far cry from their fairly surly attitudes when we’d seen them four weeks previously) immediately saying they didn’t think it had been stolen. Turned out there had been an inaugural ceremony for the new bridge and the municipality wanted the car park clear for the festivities. So our car was issued with a contravention notice and then towed away! This despite the fact that they had our contact details and had they rung us we could have easily caught the train back to move the car.
It seemed that the car-pound is not always open and we couldn’t get it back today. We carried on down to Moissac (which is where the car pound is), moored up there and fumed about it.
Tuesday June 8th
We were up early, and I rang the car pound at 9.am. They said to come immediately as they might have to go out on a breakdown again, so we rang a taxi which came about 20 minutes later. All in all, 98 euros for the release of the car, 7 euros for the taxi, and a day wasted. We went to Le Clerc and bought in for the remainder of the trip. We also had to go back to the police station in Castelsarrassin to have the “contravention” removed. They waived the fine, as well they should, after we had told them of our intentions and had received their permission.
Pam McKay from Riverdance came by the boat this morning. They had been down on the Tarn and are now setting off to Meilhan like us.
In the afternoon we took the car about 120 kilometres west to Meilhan which is our destination for the weekend. Mike Ricketts, the capitainerie, was OK about us leaving it there and we chatted for a while until the taxi came to take us to Marmande Station. We bought a one way ticket back to Moissac, the journey taking just about an hour. I had left duck casserole simmering slowly in the crock-pot, so when the train was delayed by 15 minutes I was beginning to get anxious about our dinner. We had a long walk from the station in Moissac to the port, but when we got back the dinner was fine. It had been a long day, during which I had used a lot of French, and for the main part had been understood.
Wednesday 9th June
During the night it rained heavily, and was still raining when we got up. If we were to get to Meilhan by Friday as we promised Mike, we needed to be underway for the whole of the day.
I paid Ian & Kaz, the capitainerie, for the extra day we had stayed.
We cruised on in the rain, but it was only fairly light rain. Our gloves were sopping from handling the wet and gritty ropes, but we are used to that now. At the lock before Boe, where we had decided to moor, the lock was not functioning, there were two red lights indicating breakdown or long delay. The intercom at the lockside was not working either, so we called the number in the canal guide for assistance. An eclusier came immediately, and we were soon underway.
Boe was not too busy and we managed to moor where we had last time. The sun came out and it was unbearably humid after all the rain.
Thursday 10th June
It was brighter when we woke up, though it had been raining and there was a short shower during breakfast. We got away early and headed for Agen to be in time for the locks opening at 9.00 am. As it was, there was a short delay, apparently waiting for someone to activate the locks and we had to wait behind French hireboaters for the lights to come on. About 15 minutes late they did, and we approached the first lock.
The performance on the boat in front was a bit like a French farce, and we were equally convulsed and horrified at the antics of the elderly crew. As we entered the lock the elderly woman jumped from the front of the boat, staggering with the momentum, but just avoiding pitching headlong. (I never jump from the boat, always step). Then she took the front rope and put it round the bollard. The male driver of the boat lets the back end slip away across the lock and can’t get it back because she was holding the rope too tight. So the other male on the back of the boat shouts at the woman rather rudely. She flips and starts shouting back. He chucks his rope onto the bank and she is scurrying around like a mouse, dealing with ropes whilst he stays on the boat until the rear end is close enough to the bank for him to leap off. He staggers all over the quay, just avoiding falling over, and then they make for the start button on the lock. Of course we are still trying to edge into the lock behind them, so there is a minor panic there until we can attract their attention, and then we get our ropes on and give them the thumbs up.
The man and the woman stay on the lockside as the boat goes down, when all they need to do is to loop the rope round the bollard, stay on the boat and let the rope play out as they descend, all the while keeping the boat close to the side of the lock. When the lock is emptied and the doors open, the two elderly people on the lockside see that there is no way of getting back onto the boat below the lock, so then decide to climb down the slimy slippery lock ladders to get on the boat. As the woman at the front of the boat reaches the bottom of the slimy lock ladder the captain starts moving forward and away from her, so she does this big leap onto the gunwhales of the boat. I tell you, the gods were with them today. Had I been left in that predicament, ie up on the lockside and the boat in the bottom I would have walked to the next lock in the set, which was clearly in sight.
At the next lock, having seen what we do, they all stay on the boat for the descent, but the same elderly woman has to leap off to fix both ropes on the bollards and then gets back on the boat.
Having seen that we are using the sliding pole to secure our ropes, they now decide that they will too, but instead of putting a loop of rope behind the pole and bringing it back onto the boat, they get the other end of the rope and insert it round the back, having to pull the whole length of the rope through to make it tight. This means that all the rope gets nice and slimy, instead of just the first two metres. Still, whatever floats your boat.
During all this the boathook has been in great use, the woman at the front fending off like mad all the time, and by this time she is covered in green slime, all over her pristine white T shirt and beige shorts.
So when we come to the last lock, they eventually do everything in the recommended manner, except for using the boathook for fending off. And naturally with this extensive use of the boathook, the woman drops it in the lock. She kneels down on the gunwhales and bends down to get the boathook with one hand resting against the slimy lock wall. Of course the boat then veers away from the wall, and we are left holding our breath expecting the woman to drop down into the water between the boat and the wall.
Miraculously, (she must be very fit) she managed to save herself, and the eclusier, seeing her predicament, climbs down the slimy lock ladder and with an incredible contortion twists himself round whilst still hanging on to pick the boathook out of the water and hand it back to her. The gates have opened by this time, and the eclusier starts to climb back up the ladder, whereupon the woman whips her rope off the front bollard giving him a good slash with a wet rope against his neck as he climbs. The expression on his face was a picture.
At the bottom of the set of four locks they sailed off into the distance, and we were left to find other amusement, confident in the knowledge that one or more of them will probably be visiting the Casualty Department of a French hospital before the week is out. Or maybe not…. because they had improved significantly over the course of four locks.
We continued along the heavily wooded section which has just about grown back to the situation it was when we first came this way. Arriving at Serignac, Neville filled up with water whilst I took one of the bikes into town to get some bread. Serignac is a lovely medieval walled town, with some terrific houses and churches. We chatted briefly to a couple in a narrowboat called Min’uet who had moored at Moissac and were on their way to Meilhan.
We arrived at Buzet around 4.00 and managed to get on the pontoon outside the port office which meant we could have internet. It was quite hot by this time, and we didn’t feel like doing anything other than sitting in the shade of the wheelhouse and taking advantage of high speed internet connection. Lili Ann was moored in the marina, and Neville went to talk to them. They had had problems with their batteries which had blown up at 2.00am one morning, and they’d had to get the fire engines out. They have been there for 3 weeks now, whilst the insurers try to sort out who is responsible. Seems that the battery sensor, which would tell you if there was something wrong, had not been wired up at all. The wife had said that she had smelt something for several days before the incident.
In the evening we went to the restaurant up the hill in the village, Les Vignerons. Here you can get a four course meal for under 15 euros, and the quality is very good. I was careful not to eat as much as we did last time, but it was excellent.
Friday 11th June
Up early again as we wanted to reach Meilhan today. It was a good way to the first lock, so we set off at 8.00 hoping to get there just as the locks open at 9.00am. The waterways were fairly quiet and most of the locks were set for us so we made good time to Mas d’Agenais, where we moored up and walked up the hill to the village for bread.
We ate lunch whilst on the move and arrived at Meilhan around 2.30pm, about twenty minutes before the heavens opened. When it cleared later on, we went to look at the Garonne which is only about a hundred yards away, and found it was very high and flowing fast. The highest we’ve seen it on all our visits here.
Saturday 12th June
Walked up the steep steps to the village of Meilhan to get bread and a few bits of groceries. A fine day. Neville did some work on the boat and I continued on my manuscript. We watched the qualifying for Formula 1 Motor Racing, having snacks instead of a proper dinner since it didn’t finish until 8.15.
Sunday 13th June
Watched the race in the early evening. Another fine day.
Monday 14th June
Went to the Le Clerk supermarket at Marmande to get our groceries and some diesel for the boat. Later in the day it started raining very heavily.
Tuesday 15th June
Cloudy start, then it cleared a bit before it started raining again. It rained all through the night.
Wednesday 16th June
Still raining. It’s not hard rain, just steady and non-stop. The Garonne will really be up if this continues. The canal is reasonably high, but they can let the excess off at the weirs down into the Garonne. A couple who must have paid a fortune to hire one of Mike’s narrowboats returned two days early, thoroughly disgusted with the rain, packed their car and went home. And it costs such a lot to hire a narrowboat, close on £1000 for a week.
We invited Malcolm (from Body & Soul narrowboat) round for drinks tonight. Lucy was away in England and had been delayed coming back because of French air traffic controllers strike
Thursday 16th June
We had a drink at the port bar tonight, but no-one else was there. The weather was better than it had been.
Friday 17th June
Went to Castelnaudary to pay Odile our deposit for our winter moorings. We have decided not to moor at Moissac. We had been considering buying a property down in this region, but closer to the Mediterranean coast, and we thought it may be more convenient to moor further that way.
We had lunch at the Gondolier restaurant in Castelnaudary, where we had been before, Neville having salmon and me Caesar salad. It was a long journey, two and a half hours easily, and that is a journey we would have to make every time we go to look at a property over on the Mediterranean side, if we’d moored at Moissac.
Called at Buzet on the way back to stock up with wines and prunes.
Saturday 18th June
The weather was still very iffy, with occasionally heavy rain. The rain had been so heavy and persistent that we developed a number of leaks on the boat, and we thought we had fixed them. But no, it rained heavily again and the leak in the cupboard under the sink started up again. We had already sealed the outlet for the air conditioning, and we have re-sealed under the windows, but still it comes. We are fairly sure it is coming through the window frames now, and I spent a lot of time standing outside, training a hose on the window frame while Neville lay on his back in the cupboard under the sink, trying to pinpoint the source of the drips.
A miserable day that brightened only briefly, sufficiently to tempt me to do some washing which of course is now hanging around the boat. But better weather is forecast for tomorrow. We have decided we will go home a week on Monday, leaving our boat here.
Sunday 20th June
A better day but quite cold with a stiff breeze. Neville got the parts of the boat painted that he had been working on, and I did a bit of washing. We went for coffee with Ian and Gill from Jazz, the people we went down the Rhone with a couple of years ago.
Hopefully tomorrow will be warmer. This evening, just as we were putting our evening meal on the table, the gendarmerie came to our boat. They were asking us, in French, if we had seen a black car in the last hour or so. They said something more which I couldn’t get, and then I saw Mike (the capitaine) coming towards us, to take over. Later we asked what it was all about and Mike said it was something about somebody having tried to abduct a child, and then having released the child near the Halte Nautique. We hadn’t seen anything.
Monday 21st June
Went to Marmande for more diesel for the boat and some cheeses to take back to England with us next week. Looking like a better day in prospect, though at the moment still a bit on the cool side. After lunch we took the bikes out for a 12 kilometre ride up the canal to the first lock, and back again.
For the rest of this week we continued doing jobs around the boat, preparing it for being left throughout the peak of the summer months. On our last day, we packed up the car with our cases, and moved the boat further up the canal, out of the port. It’s very quiet round there and quite a safe mooring if you are leaving your boat unattended. The drawback is that the plane trees drop a great deal of resin at certain times, and this can make a real mess of the paintwork on both cars and boats. It does eventually come off, but it can take some time. We managed to moor in a spot where there was a bit of a clearing without trees, which was useful.
Once moored up, we did all our final close-down routines and walked back the short distance to the port to get in the car. I noticed my trousers were covered in ticks from walking through the long grass around the boat. Gruesome! And they took ages to dislodge.
So, end of the spring cruise and back to England for the summer. It’s far too hot for us in France during July and August, and Neville has to stay out of the sun as much as possible, so we are happy to return and get the best (or worst!) of the English summer. Also, the waterways are absolutely chocker with hire-boaters, and moorings can be difficult to find, not to mention the lengthy queues at the locks.
We were looking forward to being back home for a few weeks. But within three or four weeks we will be itching to get back here!