Autumn Cruise, 2011 Pt 1: Castelnaudary to Grau d’Agde

Monday 15th August

 

The basin at Castelnaudary

Arrived in Castelnaudary around 2.15pm, having overnighted at Dreux, and were surprised to see that there were very few boats moored in the port. Today was a public holiday, Assumption Day, not to mention August being the month for holidays in France, so we’d thought it might have been busier.  Our boat, which had been moored amongst a line of boats when we left her in May, now stood on her own on the south bank of the port, looking a tad grubby after her three months under the plane trees.

We fought our way through the spiders who had reclaimed the wheelhouse in our absence, and batted away the webs festooning every corner, so that we could put the front and back windows down.  The temperature had risen gradually as we’d driven through France, and by now was touching 30 degrees.  There were fewer spiders below decks, but as I made up the bed, one did manage to get up the inside of my trouser leg and gave me a nasty bite on the calf which was still red and swollen some two weeks later.  Before I realised what he had done, I came across him and very humanely captured him between a glass and paper, removing him to the towpath.  Once I saw the damage he’d inflicted, it was outright war on all spiders after that.

No visible signs of problems on the boat, apart from the fact that we’d failed to isolate the generator battery on leaving, and it wouldn’t start.  Neville jump-started it by connecting it to the main engine batteries, but after it had been running for about an hour whilst we were hoovering etc, it suddenly expired. Neville took it to pieces and discovered the impeller had broken up and needed replacing.  Fortunately we had a spare one, so he set to replacing it.  (Just what you need after an eight hour drive.)  We didn’t find the bits that had sheared off the impeller, so fingers crossed on that one!

No shops were open except one boulangerie, who appeared to have reheated their stock, because even though the flute I bought was warm, it was practically inedible. You’d need jaws of steel to get through that.  Even the ducks passed on it!

Tuesday 16th August

 We moved the boat over to the other side of the port today, so we could have electricity, water and internet access.  Odile was on holiday, but called in at the office briefly.  She said this had been a very quiet month, with very few private boats coming through.  She thought maybe the private boaters were trying to avoid the holidaymakers.

The Géant supermarket was heaving, probably because of yesterday’s holiday, and as the queues grew longer, check-out operators announced they were closing their tills and went off for their lunch-break, leaving the customers to re-distribute themselves amongst the remaining check-outs.

Went to the Star hairdressers in the town and got scalped.  Shouldn’t need cutting this side of Christmas!  What part of “not short” does he not understand?  Probably the “not”.

 Much hotter on this side, 32 degrees today; most people have headed for the shade on the other side.

Neville unpacked the new water pump we had bought to replace the existing one that keeps shorting out.  We bought the same make and serial number, but of course, it was a different design and had a different pressure switch which couldn’t be accommodated in the space available for the pump in the engine room, so he took that off and used the existing pressure switch which was on the pipework.  Seemed to work fine when we tried it afterwards.

Wednesday 17th August

 Neville was busy cleaning off the roof of the boat using a pump we bought to extract water from the canal into the pressure washer.  Seems to work fine; the dirt is coming off but the resin from the plane trees is not.  We’ll probably just let that erode away with the elements.

Also dismantled the dining table in the saloon below.  We’ve always eaten in the wheelhouse, even when we’ve been on the boat in the winter, and removing the table, together with the two chairs gives us a lot more space down there.

We plan to move the small freezer that we’ve been keeping down in the engine room into the space newly created, and have bought the carcass for a cupboard to house it.  We had Sagar (who built our boat) make us a matching door for it.  We’ll put a small additional worktop above it, and to cover the worktop have bought tiles which more or less match the splashback in the kitchen area. Matching the existing worktops would have been prohibitively expensive.  It’ll be good to have the freezer out of the engine room.  Aside from the convenience of having it close to hand, we’ve always worried about the temperature down there after a heavy day’s cruising.

 Extremely windy today, a hot dry wind.  The port has been a bit busier today, though there are still available spaces.

A pair from the family of 3 that canvassed the boats nightly for food

A family of coypu patrol the port each evening, getting a reasonable reaction from the boaters who throw bread to entice them closer so they can take photographs.  Like me!  Unfortunately le ragondin doesn’t always get such a favourable welcome in France.

Thursday 18th August

 A restless night.  Apart from the heat, the port seemed to be alive with creatures nibbling at the hull (fish/ducks/coypu?), and the habitual hooting owl that seems to live in the trees lining the port.

After a final shop at Géant for the heavy ‘essentials’ for our trip, we put the car in the multi-space garage that we’ve rented on the road down to the station.  We’ll leave it there until end September. If anyone is looking for garage space, Odile at the Capitainerie has the contact number. She also knows of a garage slightly further out from the centre.

This morning council workmen began to lay down the power lines for the night market which was taking place along the port, and by 3.00pm the road was filling up with market traders.  Both sides of the street were used for the stalls, whilst the area closest to the Office Fluviale was where the tables were for the diners.

We’d been to a night market previously at Meilhan sur Garonne, which turned out to be mostly food, but this one was selling wine, hats, soft furnishings, jewellery etc.   And food!

Castelnaudary Night Market gets underway

I bought some mussels and frites from one of the stalls for the evening meal, though Neville couldn’t be persuaded and had pizza, sharing my frites.  There was a marching band, well more of a trudging band, all playing percussion instruments of one kind or another.  One ‘instrument’ seemed to be a box with rows of metal discs wired across it, making a sound very much like a tambourine.  It was oddly captivating, and you just couldn’t help moving to the music.

There was one small dog who was with the band, and just stood still when they did, and

The placid canine member of the band

carried on when they resumed.  Nothing could distract him from what he seemed to think was his particular ‘performance’ and he was completely unfazed by the noise all around him.

The market finished by 11.00pm.  Oddly, we went straight off to sleep whilst it was still on, and weren’t even disturbed by them packing away and driving off in their multitude of vehicles.  A great night!

Friday 19th August

 So, time to leave Caselnaudary for what might be the last time, as we are on our way north this trip.  We’ve grown very fond of the town, having wintered there this season, and Odile (the capitaine) has been extremely helpful.

There have been lots of warnings about Castelnaudary in recent months, about ropes being cast off, flags being stolen and one occasion were someone entered a boat through an unlocked door in the early hours and stole items whilst the owners were asleep.

For this reason we’ve been doubly cautious, always kept the nearside wheelhouse door locked, and closed all the windows before we went out, but in all honesty, I have to say that we experienced no problems, either during the four days we were on board, or apparently during the three months we left her on the south bank of the port.

We were away by 9.00am this morning, and locked alone down the first flight of four and the next double lock, before we were joined by a hire-boater who must have sailed like a bat out of hell to catch up with us so quickly.  We soon stopped his gallop, as we locked down together until just after lunch!

On the way we passed La Hoya, coming in the opposite direction.  A beautiful boat, with an English crew.  We exchanged a few words in passing – they thought they had seen us at a boat rally Paris, but that couldn’t have been us, we’ve only been there by car for the DBA rally.

Above the lock at Guerre, a peaceful mooring

We passed through the lock at Guerre, where we have often moored when we’ve been on the journey from Bram to Castelnaudary.  There is a mooring post just before you reach the willow tree on the left as you approach the lock.

The weather was beautiful, clear blue skies and a cooling breeze.  We lunched at Treboul, above the lock, where we had the opportunity to enjoy the view as the lockie didn’t deign to open the locks until twenty minutes after the appointed opening time, and only then when one of the hireboaters went and woke him up.

The plane trees are just beginning to get that hint of gold in their leaves, even though it’s  only mid August, and of course the ones that have been stricken by ‘chancre colère’  are either completely bare of leaves or they

Chancre Colere passes from one plane tree to another

are dry, brown and shrivelled.  VNF have issued warnings for several regions, including Castelnaudary, not to moor under trees that have been marked with the green stripe, as these infected trees are more likely to fall or shed branches in strong winds such as we have been experiencing these last few days.  Such a shame.

As we reached the lock at Bram we noticed a blue barrel, a bit like a water butt on the side of the lock surround.  The lock-keeper told us that from now on, if we used mooring pins we would be required to rinse them out at these water butts in order to prevent the spread of the disease.  Too little too late I think.  And would I bet on this being enforced at subsequent locks?  Hmmm…

Stopped around 4-ish at Bram.  We’ve always found Bram to be a disappointing and uncomfortable halt.  Despite the fact that it has a large hireboat base and a restaurant, the rest of the ‘port’ is undeveloped.  A couple, or perhaps more, years ago work started on installing cabling for bornes there, on the restaurant side, and the verges were cleared ready for resurfacing.  At that time it was uncomfortable because of the loose soil which was whipped up by the wind along these verges.  Then work ceased, the cables still protrude from the ground and the verges are overgrown with nettles for the unwary and uneven surfaces.

There are a few mooring posts on the other side of the canal, but the roots there make it difficult when the levels are down.  Also, there is a single track road a few metres above the towpath on this side, which although barriered against public access seems to lead to some residential properties.  The traffic along this road in the dry conditions today led to clouds of dust drifting out across the canal, and it would have been unpleasant on that side.

Saturday 20th August

 Even with all the windows and doors open, the temperature in the wheelhouse had still been 26 deg before we went to bed last night.  Warmer still below decks and, unable to use the aircon because of no electricity, we had an uncomfortable night and were up early.  Batteries down, so we started up the genny first thing.  Still not recovered sufficient charge to start up on its own.

Set off around 8.15am.

No sign of a blue barrel to disinfect the mooring pins at the first lock!  Nor at any other lock at all after that.

Another windy locking at the double-pound-single set of locks at Lalande.  Don’t think we’ve ever passed through there without having a battle with the wind.  Fairly sure that the lockie on duty was the same one we had on the way up earlier this season, the one who slammed the paddles open and walked away before we had even put the second rope up.

Arrived in Carcassonne about 1.15pm.  The basin was almost deserted.  Never seen it looking like this, except in very early season.  Later on half a dozen hireboats arrived.

There had been a report of a boat having been broken into during recent weeks, whilst the owners were away in America.  We saw this boat, and it was moored well away from the central basin above the lock, near to the bridge heading west, in a very quiet area.

Temperatures today were in the mid thirties, but at least we had electricity to run the air-con.

Sunday 21st August

If anything the wind was even worse today, though I think the temperature had dropped by a couple of degrees.  Still very humid, making it difficult to work.

Neville constructed and installed the cabinet for the freezer, not without some difficulty as the electricity points are situated directly beneath the gunwhales, and the top of the cabinet , once the worksurface has been installed, will interfere with access.  Also, the slope of the chine meant that he had to fix a ledge above the skirting board rest the back of the cabinet on and adjust the height of the front legs accordingly.  Still more work to do.

More boats in the port today, all struggling with varying degrees of success with the wind as they tried to moor.

Monday 22nd August

 Off at first opening of the locks.  A poor duck looked to have been trapped in the empty lock all night.  I suppose there wasn’t enough length for her to take off in flight!  She got very excited as the lock began to fill and swam around in the turbulence just beneath the lock gates until the lock was almost full.  Then she jumped up onto the top of the gates and swam off into the basin, probably very relieved and extremely hungry.

Up until now the waterways have been extraordinarily quiet, quieter than we have ever known for August, but today signalled the change (after Castelnaudary) that other boaters had warned us about!  Two other hireboaters joined us in the first lock, the first of which bombed off into the distance and bagged the next lock on their own.  We were then joined by the second hireboater in the next lock, plus one other, but they were all a friendly bunch and fairly able.

We shared the triple lock at Fresquels with them as well, before they both went on ahead.

The triple lock at Fresquels

We prefer to travel more slowly; we’ve more time and our diesel consumption is significantly higher when we travel at high speed.

Unfortunately, the next lockie waited for us, and (at 16 metres) we had the joy of entering the lock in third position, thus stuffing up our rope positioning and ending up diagonally for the descent.  C’est la vie!  It was all very good-natured fun, anyway.

Tree-less banks approaching Trebes

As we approached Trebes, the ravages of Chancre Coleré became more evident, and there were long treeless stretches without shade and now open to the winds.

The lockie at Trebes triple locks decided to work through his lunch hour!  There was already a back log of three boats before us, and three at the bottom waiting to come up, so we settled in for the long wait.  It’s very difficult to moor at the top of Trebes locks, with only two stone bollards available close to the mouth of the lock.  There are another two stone bollards, but a VNF dredger was taking up those two.  After that, along the stretch that has been cleared of plane trees, you need stakes, and without the shade the plane trees used to offer, it’s an uncomfortable wait.

We waited for an hour and a half then started down the locks about 1.45 in the full glare of the sun for about 30 minutes with a French group and a German couple in a very nice but incredibly smoky boat.  After the locks we let them pass and suffered for several minutes until they drew a reasonable distance ahead of us.

Arrived at Marseillette going up to 4.00 with the first real cloud that we had seen for days building up to the west behind us.  A welcome relief.

Tuesday 23rd August

 The usual grumpy lockie was on duty at Marseillette.  This is the guy who last time left us struggling around in a gale whilst he strolled back from his gardening activities and put all his tools away before opening the lock gates onto the already full lock.  His demeanour has not improved – one of those who spends most of the locking cycle inside his little hut and doesn’t even emerge to say goodbye.

A half hour cruise then on to Fonfile, the triple lock which is generally a bit of a bottleneck.  Today was no exception, with six boats waiting to come up, and at first only us waiting to go down.  The lockie here, who’s a friendly, capable soul, warned us of a 40 minutes wait, and we ended up clearing the bottom lock at 11.10 after having arrived 9.45am.  As the queue was longer at the bottom, he brought up two sets of three first, before taking us and a Spanish hireboating family down.

Very hot today again, and without the breeze so it’s much more uncomfortable.

Mostly double locks for a while, including the one at Aiguilles which has some really interesting wood carvings/sculptures.  Look for the face set into the right hand lock gate at

Wood cafrvings at the lock

the entrance as you are ascending, and the elephant on the side in the bottom lock.  On the side of the upper lock there is a roped off area with animated wooden figures – very amusing when it sets off.

Stopped at lunchtime by the bridge close to Puicheric village, where there are mooring posts on either side.  There are signs indicating a shop and a restaurant in the village.  With just one double and a single lock to do, that should make a nice easy run into Homps tomorrow, to arrive after the overnighters have left and before the lunchtimers arrive, hopefully.

Approaching Puicheric - dead trees now removed

After lunch a couple of teenagers arrived, wearing swimming trunks, and then promptly jumped into the canal to swim.  They were later joined by five or six other boys, much younger, I would have said around eight or nine, and they too started swimming.  Things progressed, as they generally do, and before too long they were jumping off the stone arched bridge over the canal.  This gradually became ‘jumping off’ just before boats arrived to go under the bridge, and later into treading water in the bridge opening itself whilst the worried boaters carefully tried to negotiate their way through the bridge opening whilst avoiding crushing the three or four young boys in the water against the coping stones of the towpath.

And then … three or four of them would grab hold of the fender ropes and get themselves towed along by the boats for twenty yards or so along the canal, some of them extremely close to the back of the boat and the prop.  What surprised me was the reaction of the boaters themselves, many of whom thought it was a great joke, occasionally speeding up, which only encouraged them further and longer.  There was the odd boater, but not many, who remonstrated with them, and one who tried to beat them over the head with his boathook (!) but all in all they continued right through the afternoon.

At one point, a car came along to go over the bridge and the woman driver looked out to see what I took to be her son hanging onto the back of a speeding boat.  That was the end of his afternoon, together with a heap of embarrassment as he was made to collect his clothes and drive off with her.

A pleasanter evening, not quite so hot.

Wednesday 24th August

Very overcast this morning, though still very humid.  Set off in time to catch the first double lock at Puicheric.

The quay at La Redort

Passed through Redort which looked as though it might have been full last night.  They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to install bornes there, but hardly anyone connects.  The price of electricity here was measured by the hour last time we came through, and at an exorbitant rate (tokens from the restaurant).  As no-one was connected again today, it doesn’t look as though things have changed.

We arrived at Homps around 11.15am to find plenty of mooring spaces.  Bought beautiful fresh bread from the little shop just off the quay, and there is a supermarket/filling station on the outskirts of the village not far away.  We went on the bikes and got some fresh foods, and canned drinks.

During the afternoon kids were jumping off the bridge at the eastern end of the basin again.

We spent some time looking at the generator issue again this afternoon.  Neville not happy about the way it was running last night.  Stripped it down again, drained it, flushed it out, and found some bits of the impeller in the heat exchanger unit, which he removed.  The new impeller he fitted is still fine, though we noticed despite being the listed replacement impeller, it only has six vanes instead of the ten on the original one.

Went to En Bonne Compagnie, on the opposite side of the quay, for our evening meal.  It’s now undergone a radical extension/ refurbishment and looks very nice inside, though the tables had been laid outside.  We’ve been here several times and had excellent meals, and since we first ate there it’s won several annual awards.

Although it was a meal we’d have been glad to have anywhere else, (particularly given the disastrous experiences we’ve had along the Midi) we were a bit disappointed.   I guess due to previous excellent meals here, we’d come to expect a little more for our money.

Neville had smoked duck salad, whilst I had an excellent mixed salad, for starters, and then he had filet mignon whilst I had lobster thermidor.  Lobster thermidor sounds very grand but it was just three or four chunks of lobster in a delicious creamy sauce served inside a lobster shell, together with a mound of (again lovely) mixed salad and new potatoes.  No dessert, and a bottle of rosé, came to 70 euros.

Another warm evening, with only a light breeze.

Thursday 25th August

A grey start to the day.  The forecast had been for endless days of hot sun, temperatures in the early thirties stretching well into next week, but now lower temperatures are forecast, with the odd thunderstorm.  A welcome relief.

Hotel boat leaving Homps

We stayed in Homps and Neville finished off his work on the generator.  Seems to be running just fine now.

The hotel boat Alegria had overnighted in the port, on the opposite side from the Capitainerie, and left later today.

In the afternoon the sun came out and it became very hot again.  We’re both heartily sick of salads, but it’s too hot to cook, and a bit too windy to barbecue.

Took a walk down the canal and saw Jean and Graham’s boat Lili Ann there.  They’d just arrived and were in the middle of moving it to the hire boat base for water.  Turned out that they are booked into Allemand the same week as us!

Friday 26th August

 Started off overcast again, and was extremely humid.  Then a breeze sprang up and the temperatures cooled dramatically down to around 25 degrees, which, after recent days, seemed extremely chilly!  We set off mid afternoon.

We were charged 25.80 for our two night stay, the first night of which was free!  There is no reduction on longer stays, 25.80 being the nightly rate thereafter.

If you need a connector for your electricity at Homps, you will have to leave driving licence or similar as a security.  We have made up a variety of connectors which have tended to be suitable in most if not all instances so far.

The power supply on the capitainerie side of the basin is 6 amp only, which gives us a lot of problems.  We have to be sure to have only one appliance on at a time or else the connection blows.  Normally we can accommodate these problems by adjusting our amp intake, but our low value settings are only either 2 or 10 amp.  On the other side, where the big peniches go, we think ampage has been set at 32 for them, because when we moored there we haven’t had the same problems.

By the time we reached the second lock, the temperature had dropped from 32 deg yesterday to 20!  The wind was very strong and there was a queue of five boats ahead of us, all struggling to remain in place whilst we waited, as mooring pins were dragged out of the ground, ropes trailed in the water and boats ended up facing the opposite direction.  We locked down one single and two doubles between 3.15 and 6.30pm, before mooring up just above the lock after Argens-Minervois.

For the last fortnight or so we have debated each evening just what we could make for our evening meal that wouldn’t involve the oven or the hob, thus adding to the already unbearable heat below, and making the job of the aircon unit in the bedroom even more difficult.  Tonight however, we happily had hob and oven at top heat, and we put the portholes and top windows back in place.  Later we also closed the skylight windows.

We were miles from anywhere, and with minimal light pollution, the stars in the sky were magnificent.  It’s been a long time since we saw anything quite so impressive, so many glittering stars against a dark velvet backdrop.

A much more comfortable night, though the high winds in the plane trees on the other side of the water kept me awake for some time.

Saturday 27th August

 

Argens-Minervois

A fine, but still reasonably cool morning with high winds again.  We cycled back up the towpath to Argens-Minervois looking for a boulangerie.  There is a big hireboat base here, plus snack bar and restaurant close by.  The epicerie is across the bridge over the canal to the hireboat base and to the left, slightly up the hill.  I wouldn’t bank on buying anything fresh here, though it’s quite well stocked for packaged and tinned goods and has fresh bread delivered.  The fruit and vegetables were well past their best, and the cooked meat and salads in the refrigerated display unit looked fairly unappetising.

We were staying put until after we’d watched the F1 practice at Spa, as we had a pretty good satellite signal here.  As it was cool enough, I decided to peel and cook some more of the apples I brought from our tree in Cambridgeshire so I can bottle and/or freeze them.  And cool enough to tolerate a curry for our evening meal!

Traffic continued going past steadily throughout the day, mostly hireboats, but one or two bigger barges.

Argens Lock

We’re always surprised at the level of activity along this end of the Midi, as for us, this is the least attractive part, and the least well serviced.  Yet this is the busiest part of the canal so far as hireboaters are concerned with quite a few hireboat bases along the route.

From now on we must take every opportunity to get water where we can to keep the tank topped up.

Sunday 28th August

 Took the first lock down. No locks now for 53 kilometres until we reach Foncerannes.

The little yellow cruiser that has dogged our wake since Castelnaudary moored up behind us to wait for the lock, asking us to take the right hand side of the lock as their ropes on that side were too short.

Just before Ventenac we saw the two black swans we had seen earlier in the year.  It’s

The black swans of Ventenac

really difficult to get a photo of them that does them justice, and today was no exception!

Ventenac - moorings outside the 'Cave'

We arrived in Ventenac around 10.45.  There was a car boot sale on the bank on the approach to the village, and a Sunday market in the village itself.

A boat just vacated a mooring right on the quay outside the Cave as we arroved, but an English boater told us that they’d moved because they thought they’d heard an announcement that a big passenger boat was coming in.  Priority on the quay goes to passenger boats, so we just stayed long enough to get some bread from the market and some wine from the cave, together with a box of their pretty little ‘Ventenac’ glasses to take back to England.  The market was mostly clothes, but some local food produce as well.  There is a mobile bread van visits Ventenac each morning; you pay a bit more for the bread (1.30 euro compared to 1.15 normally) but it’s quite good.

We’d intended to stay at Ventenac to watch the Belgian Grand Prix, as we know there’s a decent satellite signal there,  but decided we’d rather try a bit further on than risk being moved on just as it was starting.

Le Somail, the 'epicerie' barge on the left

Le Somail was a possibility for mooring, but we wouldn’t hold our breath, as we have never been able to secure a place there.

And today was no exception.

Moored up the other side of Le Somail, near the entrance to Le Domaine du Somail, where there are a couple of mooring posts well hidden in the grass, and a clearing in the trees through which we can get a satellite signal for the race.

Late afternoon cycled up to Port la Robine to check what the moorings there were like.  It’s a short creek off the canal, lined with boats on either side and with a slipway at the end.  There’s a reception quay with a fuel pump.  One or two spaces into which we might fit for a couple of nights.  No-one on duty.

There was a field close to where we moored with perhaps 150 weird looking sheep (with domed heads) many of whom were wearing cowbells.  The field they were in was absolutely bereft of grazing, and they were all milling around uncomfortably in the shade of the trees close to the canal.

Later on we heard agitated shouts, and watched as they all trooped excitedly into the field next to where we were moored, and began clambering everywhere, even scrabbling up the trunks of small trees to eat the lush vegetation.  They were in their element!  A large off-white hairy dog ambled out of the field to have a pee on the towpath, and we suspected he was something to do with the farm and the proceedings underway, even if he was taking a comfort break.  A few minutes after he disappeared again, we could see the sheep all being rounded up and running back into their former habitat, many of them lingering right to the end to make the most of the unexpected treat.  The cacophony of cowbells was incredible, not to mention the smell and the flies they brought with them.

Traffic continued until late on the canal, one boat mooring up in darkness with its lights blazing.  Later they sat on the top of the boat, eating, drinking and generally enjoying themselves by candlelight until long after we’d gone to bed.

Monday 29th August

 Four boats went past whilst we were still in bed, and we generally rise at 7.30am.  Then all was quiet for a while.

The internet signal here is not very good, very spasmodic.

We cycled up to Port la Robine just after nine and were told we could bring the boat up to moor just behind the ‘acceuil quay’.  This was good news, as the creek is quite narrow and we would have had to reverse either in or out of the moorings behind the movable bridge.

An interesting range of local products available here

Before moving the boat, we cycled back down to Le Someil for bread, which we got from the big barge that doubles as an ‘epicerie’.  It’s a quaint little shop, and stocks a lot of novelty foods.  Bought some olives with garlic and basil.

We then took the boat just a kilometre or so up to Port la Robine.  Where we are is just at the mouth of the port, and there is plenty of room to turn round, and no need to negotiate the movable bridge into the creek.

Moored at the entrance to Port la Robine

The ‘gardien’ seem to be a French couple, and the elderly lady supervised our mooring, insisting on giving Neville instructions in French, even though I explained he doesn’t speak French.  She had some fixed ideas on where our ropes should go and we’ve learned it’s easier to go along with these ladies providing it doesn’t leave your boat at risk.

Sylvie, la capitaine at Toulouse, once sent a pompous cruiser packing after he informed her whilst mooring that ‘he was the captain of this ship and he would say where the ropes went.’

Moored at Port la RobineIt’s quite comfortable here, we’ve some shade during the morning and at the end of the day, there’s water, electricity and a reliable internet connection.

It’s also the base for Cathare Marine, who do a full range of boat maintenance and repair jobs, and have facilities for taking boats out of the water (up to around 10-12 metres).  There’s a reasonable selection of spares and we were able to get the replacement impeller for the generator, one with ten vanes, like the one that had become damaged, (around 40 euros).  They are also agents for Webasto.

The bad news is that so far as mooring facilities are concerned, everything is priced separately, so the bill for three nights is in excess of 50 euros, with overnighting being 13+ euros, electricity 3 euros per day, and water 4 euros per fill.

There is a small canalside ‘shop’ just back down the canal a short way, and it’s not really far, maybe 3 kilometres back to Le Someil.  We took a walk down there in the afternoon, but it’s mostly preserves, wines and home baked stuff on offer.

The ‘gardien’ also drives to Le Someil for bread each day, but we thought we would probably cycle there ourselves each day.  No doubt the delivery of bread would be priced separately!

Throughout the afternoon we watched several hireboats arriving to take on water.  The ‘gardien’, both husband and wife, (she with her money bag over her shoulder) would both hurry down from their motor home further down the creek, but we only saw one boat actually complete the deal.  Maybe 4 euro for water is considered too high.  We have paid for one fill of water, which we haven’t actually taken yet as we still have enough in the tank.  It will be interesting to find out how much a ‘fill’ of water is estimated to be; our tank holds about 500 litres!

We barbecued beefburgers beside the boat tonight; it remained warm well into the evening.

Tuesday 30th August

 Up reasonably early this morning.  There are two factories across the road from the port, (one appears to be a cement company, the other a flour mill) one of which sounds to have been in production right through the night.  There was probably a shift change as there was a sharp increase in traffic around 7-ish.

Sheep crossing over the canal bridge en route for pastures new

Suddenly we heard the clanging of cowbells again and looked across to the other side of the canal where the huge flock of sheep from further down the canal were being herded by three dogs and three men along the bank, over the canal bridge towards us and down the road that runs past the port. I managed to get a few photos of them racing through all the lorries and cars that were about, even at 7.30 in the morning and all of whom had to grind to a halt to let them pass.

I suppose with that many sheep, you’d have to keep moving them around as they’d strip a field of grazing in no time whatsoever.

On their way ...

We set off around nine-ish to cycle down the Canal de Junction to Sallèles d’Aude.  There is a Vival supermarket there which is quite well stocked and we managed to get everything we needed.  Also a boulangerie.  The journey takes about an hour by bike, there and back but it’s fairly flat and after a short while the pebbled track becomes a smooth road, although a fair amount of traffic uses that.

When we got back we saw Lili Ann cruise past on their way to Grau d’Agde.

Wednesday 31st August

 Woke up to a grey day.  Cycled down to Le Somail to the old barge for some bread and butter.  They only had unsalted butter, but the bread is that coarse country bread, which is quite salty in itself.

This has been a nice mooring, with good facilities (shower block, washers, internet, elec etc) though it seems they prefer casual moorers like ourselves to moor on the canal side of the swing bridge with the creek itself being reserved for long term moorers, it seems.  Several hireboaters turned up hoping to moor here, but because we and another boat were taking up the space outside the ‘creek’ they were turned away.  I’d advise telephoning or emailing to reserve a place.

However, today the factory across the way seemed to be moving big piles of cement and there was a continual haze of cement dust in the air, clinging to the washing and making your eyes and face itch.  Some rain would be welcome to damp the dust down.  Neville deferred washing the boat.  (Doesn’t take much…)

Early evening we had a thunderstorm and a few heavy downpours which rinsed a lot of the cement dust away.  It still didn’t feel much fresher though and despite having used the air-con to cool down the bedroom, we both had a restless night again.

Thursday 1st September

 We left Port la Robine, just before 9.00am on a dark, sticky morning.  A long haul today, with no locks until we get to the 6 locks at Fonserannes.  The canal guides say the downward locking cycles take place 08.30 to 09.30 and 13.30 to 15.30.  Ideally we’d like to miss the afternoon session today yet, because of our length, be the first or second in line for the morning session tomorrow.  If we’re third it’s unlikely we’ll be able to enter the lock, even with two smaller boats one behind the other and we’ll rely on the lockie knowing what he’s doing and changing the order of entry.

Not hopeful on this score, as there are many tales circulating about the ‘customer service’ orientation of the lockies at this particular lock.  Some people tell of one insisting that seasoned boaters in private craft should move their ropes to unsafe positions, and one tale involves him threatening to call the police when one private boater refused to move his ropes thus.

The lock always attracts its fair share of ‘gongoozlers’ and on that particular occasion the onlookers, French as it happens, told the lockie off for being so rude and pointed out that the boaters bring trade to the waterways and were guests in their country!

To be fair, we’ve only had one experience of this lock and that was three years ago on our way up theMidi.  On that occasion we were instructed by an English speaking student working with the lockie about two locks being filled at once, and having to wait for the instruction before moving into the second open chamber, with crew keeping hold of the rope.  There were no particular issues at that time.

We passed the hotel boat Anjodi shortly after leaving Capestang

We cruised on throughout the grey morning, along a stretch of the canal we’ve always found pretty depressing anyway.

Around here, the prices start to get silly.  At Capestang where we stopped for lunch, you may have to pay 5 euros simply to moor on the outskirts of the port, without any services.

Further on, at Poilhes, which is a reasonably nice mooring spot with a restaurant handy,

Poilhes, nice but services are expensive

you will be charged 2 euros for 5 minutes electricity, and 2 euros for 300 litres of water.  The latter not too bad; the former – what can you do with 5 minutes of electricity – dry your hair perhaps?

Exercise bars - we gave them a miss

To brighten the monotony of this stretch, timber exercising frames have been erected at periodic intervals, with a sign encouraging use for ‘la vie plus fort’.  The incidence of chancre coloré is

not as great down this end, though still

prevalent in patches.

We passed through Colombiere which is down as a possible mooring place, but both times we’ve gone through the banks have been packed with moored empty boats.  There was some space in the marina itself, but we are too big for that.  Just before Colombiere we saw Lili Ann moored up.

Lili Ann, just before Colombieres

Just before the lock, we rounded a corner to find a completely naked fisherman lounging around in the grass!  He seemed quite pleased to see us, delighted in fact.  Very tanned all over, and I mean all over.  You’d pay good money for that in England.  He was hidden between two clumps of pampas grass so you’d not have known he was there, apart from the fact that his rod was in the water.  I happened to look up at the right moment.  Just lucky I guess.

First in the queue at the top of Fonseranes

The plan worked, and arriving at 4.00pm we were the first in the queue for the next morning locking cycle.  We were joined very quickly by another three or four boats and by the end of the afternoon the queue stretched back under the bridge, maybe 7 or 8 boats in all.  The quays nearest the top lock are reserved for passenger/professional boats, so we were moored behind a hotel boat on the bank.  Some posts here, but we had to put stakes in as they weren’t positioned for a boat our length.

We went to watch the upward locking cycle and Neville ended up helping a young English

Two locks filling at once - Fonseranes

couple by taking the stern ropes.  The woman was driving the boat, and there was a baby initially sleeping alone in the cabin below, but ultimately screaming its head off.

Gongoozlers

The gongoozlers were line three deep along the quays, getting in the way of the crews, and more coaches were pulling up at the foot of the locks.  The locking crew of three people offered no advice or assistance to the boats, standing around chatting and smoking.

View across to Beziers from a clearing at the top of Fonseranes

Friday 2nd September

 We woke early to the sound of the first mozzie of this trip.  It was hovering around Neville’s head, and had already had his fill of my ankle.  I’d forgotten to put the anti mozzie plug in all day yesterday, so I had to get up for the electric zapper.  Caught it immediately, but couldn’t get back to sleep.

The locks opened at 08.30 but it was 08.45 before we, the first boat, entered the lock as they were still filling.  We were down very quickly, 45 minutes in all, with no particular problems.  At first there were no gongoozlers, but by the time we’d reached the bottom lock a coach had pulled up and we had hoards of people standing on the quayside, many getting in the way of the bollard lassoing activities.

The deep lock at the top of the basin at Beziers

After clearing the 6 Fonseranne locks it’s a short distance to the deep lock which enters the basin atBeziers.  We got caught out here, as entering second we were badly placed for bollards.  This is a very deep lock, and I initially tried the sliding pole with the front rope, putting my back out in the process as it’s not easy to do from the front of the boat.  Then we decided it may be better to use the ground mounted bollard if the third boat were to be able to enter the lock.  Neville couldn’t reach a sliding bollard so had to use the ground mounted also, and then realised his rope would not be long enough.  He quickly tied the other midship rope to it as we descended, but then we realised that the knot might hinder pulling the rope through round the bollard at the end of the locking.  So he detached the secured bow-line end of the rope and pulled it through from the other end.  All’s well that ends well – apart from my back!

The basin at Beziers

We moored in the basin atBeziers.  We’ve only passed through here once before, and very quickly at that, as we were trying to catch the locks at Fonserannes, but it seems quite pleasant.  At one time it had water and electricity but this has now been disconnected.  If I remember correctly, the borne’s were vandalised and a woman was electrocuted when trying to use it.

There is a snack bar on the quay which acts as a depot for bread, we were told by the crew

Beziers basins, bourns but no services connected

of a neighbouring boat, and a big modern shopping centre, Polygon, not far away.  You just go to the end of the quay by the next lock, turn left down the street for a few hundred yards, straight over the roundabout and under the railway line and you’re there.  There are lots of interesting shops, and a supermarket at the other end where we did a quick shop, planning to go back the next day on our bikes to get the heavier stuff.

It was still warm, 28 degrees but ‘orages’ are widely forecast for southern France, today and tomorrow.  Lili Ann came down on the afternoon locking cycle and moored in front of us.

A huge old barge came up the basin mid afternoon.  When you see such gigantic craft you always assume that the navigator is going to be something of an expert in the handling of his craft.  Not so in this case!  Having come too far up the basin to wait for the lock, he got caught in the flow from the gates and ended up practically clobbering a lightweight trip boat with his stern before he wedged himself firmly at right angles to the bank across the lock gates, almost colliding with the bow of another beautiful old barge permanently moored on the bank.  The owner of that barge emerged for the first time that day, irate, pointing and attempting to fend off the worst of the damage with a totally inadequate plastic fender.  A tractor tyre might have been a better bet!

Went to Jean and Graham on Lili Ann for drinks in the evening.  The forecast storms never materialised.

Saturday 3rd September

 Surprisingly quiet throughout the night, apart from some kind of alarm going off, and one couple walking past.  We’d imagined it might be noisier.

Cycled to the supermarket in the Polygon centre first thing.  A security guard stopped us from parking our bikes inside the centre, close to the shops, and showed us a barriered area outside where we chained them to the railings.  He pointed out that there were security cameras trained on this area and warned us to watch out for our wallets and purses whilst shopping.  Encouraging.  It’s a well-stocked supermarket.

Neville did some re-varnishing on the wheelhouse interior today.  It’s amazing what ultra-violet light can do to your woodwork.

Jean and Graham (Lili Ann) came round to us for drinks.

Sunday 4th September

 

Villeneuve les Beziers - moored outside the pizza restaurant/takeaway

A grey humid morning, the good weather being very clearly to the west of us.  We were the first boat down the lock at the other end of the port.  Just three locks and a short distance to Villeneuve les Beziers, where we moored up by the water point in the centre.  Two tokens cost 4 euros from the Tabac down the street, and we brought the tank up from half to three quarters full.  We waited there until Lili Ann arrived, and then we moved over to the other side to let them take on water.  Now we’re next to the pizza restaurant/take-away.

The opposite side of the quay, where you get the water (tokens from Tabac)

We’re just opposite the by-wash, and when we first arrived the flow through the by-wash was torrential.  Then it eased, but a sharp rain storm after lunch brought it back to full flow.  The hire boats going under the bridge were having increasing difficulty, and then one managed to get his roof handrails wedged, only getting through by the skin of his teeth.  The lockie closed the lock after that, as there were other difficulties upstream with the water level being too high for boats to pass under bridges.  The lock was reopened maybe half an hour later.  The backlog of hireboats teemed out of the lock, nose to tail at top speed, and Lili Ann took a direct hit on the bows from a little green boat who couldn’t wait for the one in front to complete his mooring manoeuvre and tried unsuccessfully to negotiate the gap between both boats at top speed.  Graham successfully fended off the bow of this boat, but the back came round with a hefty swipe.

This is a pleasant little town which boasts some interesting Gothic houses, the remains of an old castle and a tower.  On a fine afternoon the benches which line the moorings are nearly always full of townsfolk.

There is a boulangerie/patisserie by the lock, and another in the town next to a Spar supermarket, all within easy walking distance.  There are two caves closeby, visible from the canal.

We’ve heard from others that you can moor and get electricity and water at the moorings by the camp site as you leave the port area.  We weren’t able to do this when we came through three years ago, and this weekend there was no available space either.  Most boats looked like they were there for the long term, too.

Monday 5th September

 Up and away early, by 8.15am, with Lili Ann just behind us.  After about half an hour the little green boat that scored a direct hit on Lili Annyesterday, bursting their fender in the process, came zooming up the cut behind us.  Couldn’t believe the speed they were going at and they quickly overtook Lili Ann.  We were next on their agenda and they took us about 100 metres before the locks.  They then went on to use the full range of available mooring posts just before the lock to secure their lightweight craft, leaving our two heavy boats to breast up together, secured by only two, leaning-at-an-angle, half-out-of-the ground mooring posts.

I went to have a discussion with the hireboaters about this and yesterday’s incident. I think they got my drift …

There was a long stretch then without any locks.  A big hire boat base part way along near Vias meant plenty of hireboaters.   We passed Anneter coming in the opposite direction.  The last time we’d seen them was at Cepoy on the Canal du Loing.

Flood gates at Libron

Passed through the floodgates at Libron, which a moored boater had told us had been closed yesterday.  Although we’d not experienced much heavy rain in Villeneuve les Beziers, there must have been significant ‘orages’ elsewhere in the region.  We’re always surprised at how quickly the weather can change in France, and how much rain can fall in a short space of time.  We’ve heard this week that the Canal du Centre might be closed from 12 September for lack of water, but if these ‘orages’ have been as widespread as it seems, that too might change quite quickly.  The Canal du Centre had been one of our possibilities for the latter part of this Autumn cruise.

We passed a huge funfair – Europark at Vias Plage.  Neither of us remembered this being here three years ago.  You probably wouldn’t want to be mooring around here.  With weird and wonderful attractions called Magic Glass 2 and Benny Hill 5, you can only guess what goes on.

The Halte Nautique at Vias looked nice, with water and electric available.  Clive and Di (Harvink) were moored there, but just a quick greeting as we passed.  Their cruiser is still for sale at Apollo Duck.

Then soon we were at the Round Lock at Agde, and we encountered a long line of moored boats, many of which were empty, some of which had sunk at their moorings.  There is a small waiting space for the lock, and a longer quay for the passenger boats, which is where we moored.  Lili Ann came in behind us.

There was a market stall up near the lock where we bought tomatoes, potatoes, and a melon, and then later we managed to get a quick fill of water from the Canalous hireboat station on the other side.  It’s not metered, cost 5 euros per fill regardless of the amount you use.

Lili Ann followed us across, and by the time they’d taken on water there were only minutes before the scheduled locking down onto the Herault. Locking times down to the Herault are currently 0900, 1115, 1415, 1615 and 1800.  Ascending locking times are 15 to 20 minutes after these.

The Round Lock at Agde, leading onto the Herault

The lock lets out onto a not particularly wide embranchement where we were immediately faced with two passenger trip boats coming up to catch the lock.  It was a tight squeeze.

Joining L'Herault

Shortly after going through the bridge arch you come to the Herault river proper where you turn right under the bridge and cruise for about 5 kilometres past terraced restaurants, private boats, fishing boats, and sunken boats until eventually the big grey chantier building of Allemand comes into view on the port side.


The current wasn’t particularly strong so we didn’t go past and turn upstream, just gently nosed the boat into the little cranage bay.

So that’s us finished cruising for a week or so now.  And now the hard work really starts.

About Sandra

I cruise the French waterways with my husband four or five months a year, and write fiction and poetry. I love animals, F1 motor racing, French bread and my husband, though not necessarily in that order.
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One Response to Autumn Cruise, 2011 Pt 1: Castelnaudary to Grau d’Agde

  1. Sandra says:

    Mooring at Bram: I believe that mooring at Bram is not possible these days as the hireboat company seems to have taken over the whole of the port. You might need to check with other boaters to see if this is still the case.

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