Monday, 8 October 2018
Sunday, 7 October 2018
There are 2 directions to navigate a canal- upstream (uphill) or down. A tip for the prospective hire boater - should your choice of canal be heavily locked (e.g. the Midi) then (in my opinion) think about booking your route in the downhill direction. You probably have only a week and you undoubtedly want that to be as relaxing and enjoyable as possible. Downhill is less physical, less stressful and less likely to result in accident, dispute or divorce.
I don't know if hire companies have a price differential according to direction but they certainly do depending on when you hire. I haven't checked for myself but several eclusiers (lock keepers) have told me that prices in September this year were discounted by 50% resulting in almost every boat available being out on the water. One result of this is a lot of waiting around in queues for locks and so, to move everyone through as quickly and with the least use of water as possible, the eclusiers pack as many boats in each lock as possible. Sometimes tempers can become frayed. So, be patient and (Tip 2) go easy on 'le vin' at lunchtime.
Our plan (yes, we had one for a change since we had guests) was to travel as far as Carcassonne where we would drop off our crew before retracing our steps all the way to Castelsarrasin on the Garonne where l'Avenir would spend the winter. Our friends had one week to spend with us so we checked back on our log from 3 years ago, when we last were on this route, and the 105km from Toulouse to Carcassonne was definitely do-able. I don't mark locks on the log- just dates, times and moorings so it was a bit of a shock to look at the charts and remind ourselves just how many there are and not just single locks either - doubles, trebles and even a quadruple. Having the extra help on board would be most welcome although we'd have to do it all again (the hardest section uphill) on our own on the return.
The waterway was relatively tranquil as far as Castelnaudary - one of the Midi's major stops. The town's main claim to fame is as 'the home of cassoulet' - a delicacy I don't find particularly appealing in temps of mid 30s but I am sure would be very welcome in winter. There is a well-run and attractive port popular with a number of cruising liveaboards who return here to spend their winter. Just through a pretty curved stone bridge at the end of the port is an enormous basin with a small island inhabited by ducks, a swan (only one I think) and some coypu (beaver-like animals). A track runs around the basin and is popular as a shady place for a walk or cycle. The basin is also home to one of the major hire boat companies.We now realised a flaw in our 'plan'. Our stop coincided with changeover day when the week's new hirers take over their boats.
|Following a hire boat|
One criticism some make of the hire companies is that they don't give their customers much in the way of instruction - usually just a quick run through of the controls and a scoot up and down the canal or, in this case, around the basin. To be fair I suppose they only have limited staff - enough to take a couple of boatloads out a time - and lots of customers waiting. On this particular day, in blazing sunshine, those customers were being given a comprehensive lesson in the art of queueing which, admittedly, might be considered good practice for the week ahead. If you've ever had to wait in an airport car rental office after the arrival of an busy plane you'll be familiar with the scene. Tired, glum holidaymakers slumped on top of their suitcases (which is probably about as much use as a large suitcase and its contents will be all week on a boat with half a dozen others all with their bags as well). Perhaps their time might be more usefully spent viewing a video of what to expect going through a lock (maybe they do have one once they actually get inside the building. I don't know). Next morning we were all jockeying for position at the lock to take us out of the basin. and it's a zinger - a quadruple. That's 4 locks in a staircase. When the gates open after the lock operates you move through them into the next lock and so on.
|Coming down the quadruple|
As everyone travels at much the same pace we were with the same cohort of boaters all the way to Carcassonne, a crossing point for hirers travelling the other direction - the unfortunate 'uphillers'. The port was jam packed with hire boats and chaotic at times with boats coming and going through the lock and the trip boats trying to run their business through the melee. The Carcassonne lock is reputedly the second most popular visitor attraction in town after the the Citadel.
We said goodbye to our friends and then spent a couple of days gathering our energy for
the long climb back up throught the locks. We visited the old city last time in Carcassonne but I felt I couldn't not go again even though, to me, it's much more alluring from a distance. I had a quick walk through the crowds inside the city and after a rest in the cool shade of the church where I was lucky to hear part of a recital I wandered around the ramparts. Most visitors stick to the tourist shops and cafes leaving the ramparts relatively peaceful and so not completely devoid of atmosphere.
(Sadly, I don't have any new photos since my brand new camera was dropped (not by me) into the canal whilst we were waiting in a queue for a lock. Most disasters occur in or around locks. The 'dropper' quickly and bravely (or in fear of my ire) followed the camera into the murk and, amazingly, managed to retrieve it. At the time of writing it remains in a bag of rice as no one is game to try it out.)
The return journey (undocumented pictorially by me) was extremely hard work in hot weather. The bow thruster gave up the ghost half way.
|A hot day spent cramped in a tiny locker - fixing the bow thruster|
We had to share nearly all the locks (usually with 2 other boats) as far as Castelnaudary which was sometimes stressful, a couple of times damaging and, on occasion, hilarious (or should that be hysterical). We remain, as yet, undivorced.
Now for the lift out.
|Back on the peaceful Garonne|