Wednesday, July 14, 2010


1st July 2010 to 9th July, 2010

We talked in our last blog about facing the heap of locks between Carcassonne and Castelnaudary, some 23 in total and all with rounded sides and lock keepers who refuse to help unlike the eclusiers up north who will pick up a thrown rope if necessary and drop it over a bollard or similar.

Day one went ok despite having to develop a new system between Rhonda and me to ensure ropes were laid out ready for throwing as she had to get off the boat at a landing stage before each lock and then act as the catcher. She then had to place the ropes around bollards so I could drive against the taut ropes to get us into position and hold firm before the eclusiers would release the huge deluges of water to fill the lock.

After spending a very pleasant evening at Bram with a boatload of Australians we set off in good spirits ready to tackle the remaining 18 locks and all went pretty well until we had to stop and wait while the eclusier at one lock took his lunch break between 12.30 and 1.30pm and as a result we were joined by a hire boat getting into the lock at the same time as us. It was ok until they decided when they got ahead of us between locks to change their mooring side from port to starboard which we had got used to and had set our ropes accordingly. Well from then on it seemed as though every thing that could go wrong went wrong in minor ways but enough to be sapping our energy as temps were in the high 40s out on the concrete aprons where Rhonda would have to stand holding and often straining on a rope so by around 2.30 pm she was quite exhausted and experienced difficulties like jammed or even dropped ropes while I seemed to get into a bit of a bump the wall mode. Thank goodness for decent fenders.

We pushed on to Castelnaudary as all we wanted to do was get to somewhere where we could get a good berth and to shower, eat and relax and catch up on our energy levels plus collect the car from where we had parked it a few days ago. We got a berth right on the quay which is great except the fees are €30.00 a night for our size boat. (They rate us as a hotel boat due to our size). This is a far cry from the €10.00 per night at Carcassonne.

On top of the hefty fee, we were awakened at around 11.00pm by the start of a nightclub’s activities down the road with the usual mindless bass sound thumping so hard the vibrations actually shook the boat. None of the moored boaties (about 30) were at all impressed and even our best efforts to lock out the sound by closing all our double glazed windows was only partially successful and then on top of that at around 1.00am we received two phone calls plus texts from Daphne and Claude our friends (who needs friends like this at this time of the morning, as the saying goes, only joking) who had just returned from staying with us to New Zealand. They must have miscalculated the time difference. Then my brother Russ, decided as he had had a nice lie in, in New Zealand and as it was a cold miserable day he would call for a chat at 1.30 am our time. As much as I love him dearly I could have placed his phone in a very difficult to find position as he said OH well I thought you would be awake at this time.

Another hour to get to sleep but then we awoke to a nice day (not so hot) found the car to be safe and sound so took a drive out into the country to see the “wine trees” (vineyards) as one of the tour guides called them when doing commentary on one of Daphne and Claude’s day trips around Carcassonne.

I know we have commented in other blogs about the size of the areas of vineyards in this country but when you consider we have been barging through France now for almost 18 months, I don’t think we have ever not been able to look out of the boat and not see vineyards for as far as the eye can see. No wonder the French are touchy about statements about wine quality from other countries. They are however pulling out lots of vines and replanting with new varieties plus a smaller type which are easy to harvest using automatic picking machines as the cost of labour is creating problems from a financial point.

The only real changes we see to the views over the vineyards are over the crops of wheat, oats, barley and rye which are now getting ready to be harvested and the golden colours look great and soon the sun flowers will be reaching maturity and opening up which will be an amazing sight for sure. Further north of course the mustard crops will be reaching harvesting state so yellow will be a dominating colour of the landscape.

During our drive, we came across one of the major camps (Western Division) of the famous French Foreign Legion. The camp size, apart from being extremely well secured, is huge and has within its grounds so many very large buildings and right in the centre is set a beautiful chateau which is one of the nicest we have seen. I guess all the cleaning and maintenance is carried out by naughty soldiers. It is not uncommon to see numbers of non smiling steely looking soldiers dressed in their smart uniform and wearing the pillbox hats around the local streets and they sure look the part and conjure up images of desert fighting in North Africa as they were so well known for in post war years.

The other thing that Castelnaudary is famous for is the Cassoulet Dish which essentially is made from very cheap meat cuts stewed slowly and has lots of beans and other vegetables added and is a staple part of the local’s diet.

We then moved “Somewhere” through the canal to above one of the bridges, we decided to stay put here in Castelnaudary along with some other boats. Despite there not being any power to hook into and water that we are able to draw from a drinking fountain into our 5 Litre containers is some 70 meters away, we are right opposite a great swimming pool complex (Piscine) where us oldies are allowed in for €1.70. With the temps now reaching the high 30’s, at least we are able to go and spend some time in the big pool, 50m x 2m deep and an inside pool 25m by 1m deep. Even with my shoulder damage, I have slowly been able to increase my swimming distance capability to where I am feeling pretty good.

Slowly I have been doing some paint touch up from my rubbing on walls etc, so the boat is starting to look pristine again. We will move on from here to face the last lot of climbing locks on our way to Toulouse in the near future as we look forward to having the Bastille Day Celebrations and the Tour de France cyclists will pass within 80mtrs of our boat so we don’t want to miss these amazing spectacles.

With the northern summer holidays about to descend upon us we will be faced with hundreds of holiday boats on the canals manned mostly by first timers so we will have to keep a close watch out and be patient… Yeah right.

Thanks to those of you who responded to our last blog with news snippets from home. It is sure good to hear from you.

Take care and be good to each other.
Kindest regards
Ken, Rhonda and Harry

Locks this season: 91
Kms this season: 820

Monday, July 5, 2010


7th June 2010 to 1st July 2010

With the arrival of Daphne and Claude (our friends from New Zealand) and a quiet night in Beziers, we headed off westward on the Canal du Midi and after getting through one lock and seemingly well placed to get to the stair locks (6 in a row) we found ourselves in behind 5 rentals awaiting to attack the climb. We “rested” alongside the bank awaiting our turn only to be gazumped by some commercial passenger barges which had left Beziers after us but caught up and as such are given priority over cruisers like us, so we spent 1.5 hours waiting in the heat for our turn. Not much fun I can assure you.

When our turn came we entered the first holding lock but then they added a rental boat which is light and bobbed and banged all over the place but we got sorted and began our stepping up procedure. It is an amazing sight as you look up some 21 meters from the bottom at all these gates ahead and when they open them (one at a time of course) the water flow coming over the sill looks like a waterfall of some reasonably large proportion and this of course pushes any boats back and forth within the lock so it is a case of having tight lines which need adjusting as the water level rapidly rises along with the engine in gear to help counteract the push and pull of the water rush. I think everyone finds muscles that they had forgotten existed until this set of exercises was completed.

The canal from here on meanders through some beautiful countryside with a mixture of vineyards and crops of barley, oats and wheat spread out over the vales etc. It is a very pleasant vista for sure, however, the canal really gets a lot wind so with lots of tight turns a good watch out is required as traffic coming the other way is “on you” before you may realise it is near and as so many are rental/hire boats with skippers perhaps experiencing their first ever boating experience, seeing boats diving for the safety of being close to the bank is not uncommon.

At one point it is necessary to go through a tunnel which is well lit and almost seems to be painted in lime and while it is only 150 meters long, again you have to be wary of the hire boats trying to enter the tunnel from the other end as you make your way through so there is a bit of horn blowing and then you are away again.

It is in this area where the listed “LOW” and “NARROW” bridges over the canal are situated so it is always a talking point with whomever, that the question arises, “are we able to get through without dismantling the wheelhouse”. This is quite a common action in boats like ours as the wheel house is hinged but it takes about an hour to dismantle and then reinstate again so we were delighted that when I gambled on “having a go” as I judged that we could just get through the lowest bridge in France, we did so with about 100mm to spare in height and not much more in width as the bridges are arc shaped so you need to be really square on when going through, so far all is good and I feel really proud of our achievements. The crew took a few minutes to start breathing again though I can assure you.

We stopped over in Capestang tied to the bank as there were no berths left in the town marina, however, this is a nice little town and we will call there again. Found a really quaint restaurant down one of the back streets and sat outside in the courtyard having our evening meal.

Rhonda's Comments: And Harry comes too.

Other pretty stops were had along the way in places such as Homps, Laredorte, Marseillette and Trebes which was a particularly pretty place. We just had to cross the road to the restaurant to dine as the photo shows. Ken took Harry for his walk and right in front of the boat he spotted what was in the photo below!!!! They were huge, mother and son!!!!

We again travelled through pleasant country surroundings and only faced one series of locks which turned out to be a difficult period as when we neared it a hire boat loaded with Belgium folk over took us but then slowed when they realised there was a lock ahead and the gates were closed so they swung to the bank taking up the middle of the resting dock which meant we could only get our nose onto the dock to tie to while we waited for the lock to unload its 3 boats and to allow us in.

As a rule we should have gone first being the bigger boat of the group but they proceeded to go first and this would have been alright except they blocked the entry and so almost as we were going in the eclusier waved us back. Well to stop 45 tonnes of boat plus reverse out with water pouring down around our bow is not easy and I knew there was room for us if the other boat just moved a meter or so to allow us the space. After telling the eclusier I was not happy with her performance or that of the other boat skipper and crew she then waved us in so using our superior weight we moved the other boat slightly so we could slip in to the side which was fine until we all realised that the forwardhand on the other boat had not taken the bow rope around the bollard so that boat was on the loose for a minute or two. No damage done however but as the lock finished filling the other skipper asked us to go out first as he was not confident to carry out the required manoeuvre. We did so without incident but shortly after he tooted us and overtook us and off he went on his way. God help other boaters he comes across along the way.

Well to say the next day was trying is an understatement and turned out to be the most unpleasant day we have had since taking over our barge thanks to 4 boatloads of very rude Swiss who like the Belgiums the day before wanted to push in at the lock and while we waved in one boat to total 3 in it, they wanted to get a fourth in which was impossible and then the shouting and abuse followed.

Because they were part of a family, or so they said, they told us in no uncertain terms what we should do right to the stage of swearing and abusing Rhonda who was standing on the bow. I suggested that they learn some manners and some marine courtesy so they turned on me with all sorts of threats which the eclusier (lock keeper) chose to ignore and just opened the sluices so 3 boats bounced and banged about and this carried on for 3 further locks until we had put some space between us. Very upsetting as almost everyone is usually so helpful and obliging and it is sad when this happens and spoils the standard.

The locks on this part of the Midi are difficult for us being 21m to use really, as they are oval shaped so to tie up means you are spanning the arc and the eclusiers, unlike those from further north, will not even pick up a rope thrown and put it over a bollard so it is not easy to hold in position when the water rush roars down. By the end of the day we are all tired so the arrival in Carcassonne was a welcome stop as we had space reserved for us for a week stopover. This is the city which is dominated by the immense castle which can be seen for miles and overlooks the whole city and surrounds and looks like something from a fairy story.
We took the bus up to the castle the next day as it was finer weather than we had been having for the previous few days. This is really a castle from fairy stories and it has to be visited to really appreciate its size and structure. While it was started as a fort in around 600AD it has been developed ever since by occupying and/or defending peoples over the past 2500 years. From a Gallo-Roman enclosure originally to the dominance of the area by the Cathar religion in the 12th Century to the 18th Century when the town was rebuilt again.
It was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997 so is now a very busy tourist destination as you can imagine. The town below it is referred to as the Lower City and is reasonably modern with all sorts of shopping outlets to serve the 45,000 inhabitants plus the influx particularly in summer of the tourists. The public transport is vey good ranging from some free buses to coaches running up to the castle to mini train rides which travel around the castle base and which are ideal for photography of the huge walls and turrets etc. It is a location which needs several visits to see all it has to offer as you will see from the pics it is a very large and sprawling structure.

Rhonda's Comments: Cassoulet was on the menu.
As the weather while being fine was cool, Rhonda and I took the opportunity to jump on the TGV (fast train) to Dijon (speeds of up to 225 kph). A most comfortable ride was experienced in these clean well appointed carriages with no rattle or rolling like the trains from back home in New Zealand and then we changed onto the local commuter train from Dijon to Saint Jean-de-Losne where we picked up our car from where we had left it.

After some difficulty in getting it started we got everything into place and after calling on our friends Paul and Maralyn from “Lazy Heron” who had kept an eye on it, we headed for home or back to “Somewhere” as it is our home.

We had left Daphne and Claude aboard looking after things including Harry so put an hours travel under our belt before stopping over at a motorway hotel for a feed and a sleep but were up at 6.30 am and set off again and got back to the boat at around 2.30 pm. To have travelled the 635 kms in 6 hours just gives some idea of how good the motorway/expressway roads are and while tolls do exist in France at least, the travel with less traffic and virtually no hold ups is wonderful. The traffic generally flows at around 110 kph with open areas allowing travel up to 130 kph and not a traffic cop to be seen.

Over the next few days we took side trips from Carcassonne to a number of towns in a 30 km radius to view the wine growing areas and historic towns like Montolieu (known as the Village of Books) which now owes its existence to the fact that there are at least a dozen book shops which specialise in ‘ancient’ books of every imaginable subject from poetry to war history and news papers which were printed prior to and including WW2 with some being in English. Just the ideal place to spend a winter weekend allowing long browsing etc. There is even a museum which specialises in calligraphy; we also visited a Cave pronounced “carve” by the French which means a selling place for a variety of wines.
Rhonda's Comments: Another morning tea.

Because of our close location to the city square with all its shops we were spoiled by Daphne who seemed to delight in ducking over to one of the nearby bakeries or buying McDonald’s chocolate sundaes to top us off at the close of the day. I think I have put on several kilos so until I can blame anybody else, Daphne plus her cooking will have to do.

We received an email from Kerry and Liz who had left us a couple of weeks previous to go to Barcelona, to say they were in Sete which was one of the towns we had spoken of as really needing another visit so off we went to this great town some 1.5 hours drive from here and caught up with them for lunch at a canal side restaurant.

I had commented in my earlier blog as to how fascinating this great fishing port was and despite the number and the size of the trawlers coming right up the canal to offload their catches, there was little or no smell and the water was clear.

After a delightful lunch we took Daphne and Claude up to the top of Mont Clair which offers the wonderful views over Sete and beyond over Etang de Thau, the inland sea which we had travelled through on “Somewhere” some number of weeks ago. You may recall I reported that Rhonda and I had previously attempted to get to the top of this mountain on our scooter only to run out of steam some distance from the peak so we were delighted to at last get the total vista.

We returned home by another route which ran us for some miles right along the coast of the ‘Med’ and as the weather had suddenly gone from cool temps to 30 degrees plus, the locals and tourists were out in their thousands spread for 15 kms or more along the beach. With the bright sparkling waters of the ‘Med’ meeting the lovely white or golden sand, it was sure a tempting place to visit and stopover. No wonder there are so many caravan parks set across the road from the beach with all the facilities you could think of or require.

As it was Daphne and Claude’s last day with us, we went up to the castle again but in the evening to see it lit with all the special lighting they have set up. We agreed to have dinner there which was nice but as it doesn’t get dark until well after 10 pm it was a long wait to get our pics and then head home for a good nights sleep.
With their departure at noon the next day and with Liz and Kerry arriving by train at 3.30 we rushed through and got the boat ready then picked them up and had drinks and a nice BBQ as we had found a butcher who cut these huge pork chops to the way we wanted them so apart from them being as big as their dinner plates, they were beautiful and Harry sure enjoyed the leftovers. Meat is very expensive here and can cost up to E 37.00 a kilo for decent steak or pork etc so to have such great chops as these were with so little waste was a delight.

Rhonda's Comments: The bodies beautiful!!!

With the temps climbing through the high 30’s we decided that swimming would be the go so off we went to a local lake (lac) where great swimming facilities are provided ranging from a kiddy netted area to swim lanes etc and over looked by a lifeguard service with lots of areas set aside for family gatherings and picnics so with the heat as it was, under every tree seemed to be a resting spot.

As we were all pretty satisfied foodwise after a substantial lunch in town I asked Rhonda to make toasted sandwiches for a late tea thinking this would be a simple easy meal for us to enjoy up on the top deck. While Kerry and I sat up there enjoying the cooler late afternoon air and having the odd glass of wine, Rhonda was slaving over the hot stove below melting into a sweat blob unbeknown to us so when the food was delivered and it was great eating, I sure got told what I could do if I requested this sort of food again when the weather was so hot. I tried to blame Kerry and Liz but to no avail so I am still hearing about it. Never mind like the great time we had with Daphne and Claude, we thoroughly enjoyed having Liz and Kerry back on board even if it was only for a couple of extra days so sadly we waved them goodbye at the Gare (railway station) as they departed for Dijon then onto Paris.

We have been so lucky to have had such good folk as these two couples aboard which makes the shared time go so well and to be able to catch up on old times etc just fills in so many gaps and as I have said so many times, it is so easy to allow the years slip by and to have only very limited contact with so many friends. We need to make the most of any opportunity to get together whenever we can.

Well this closes this blog except to say that after the guests had left we drove the car up to Castelnaudray ready for when we get the boat up to there. It took 30 mins in the car and 25 in the train. So what, you may say. Well it will take us a full 2 days in the boat due to the fact that we face 23 locks some of which are doubles and some are triples with one set of quads.

As stated earlier in regard to the difficulty of these locks, we now have to change our whole routine with Rhonda having to get off the boat onto a landing platform which is generally 100m from the lock and walk up and wait ready as I bring the boat in. I then from the wheelhouse throw a mid-rope up to Rhonda to place it around a bollard then drop it back to me so I can tie off or at least control the boats vicinity to the wall. Then we have the bow rope lying along the walkway back to the wheelhouse where I throw it up to her to use to control the front of the boat as the water rushes in. It is only on this Canal du Midi where the eclusiers do nothing other than operate the electrics of the lock, hence why you have to have your own crew up on the lock side. It is not easy for two people to do all of this with a 45 tonne boat but we have learned new skills and ways to attack the difficulties and stretched even more muscles so it can’t all be bad.

Just to finish off, we met 6 Australians who were on a hire boat for the first time and were having a great time together. Mates from away back, when for whatever reason they had all lived in the north of West Australia almost next to the Northern Territory border. They had kept contact and were truly pals in every sense. What a great crowd they were and as it was one of the Steves birthdays (two Steves on board) we enjoyed a birthday cake, a few drinks and some great nibbles with them on the canal bank as the sun set. Great company and we do hope we will meet up with them again one day.

Anyhow, enough of that for now and I will continue in our next blog to let you know how we coped with our journey through all these mongrel locks.

Take care of each other and make the most of what you have as tomorrow it may be gone in a flash.

For those folk wishing to write to us, our postal address for the next 8 months will be.
C/-Noble Marine
Port de Plaisance
Quai Charles de Gaulle
82200 Moissac

And we do love getting mail just like we enjoy opening our emails to read messages from you.

Locks this season: 73
Kms this season: 803