Friday, October 15, 2010


1st October to 13th October, 2010

Well as I said at the close of our last blog, we would be heading back along the canals now as our north west adventure had been completed after dropping Lois and Dave off at the Marmande bus station and watching them disappear. We then headed back to the boat and prepared her for the beginning of our return trip with Rhonda taking the car to the next lock while Harry and I drove “Somewhere” single handed.

We did well for a first try as it was perfect conditions and we tied up at a nice little village with good facilities to stay for the night at least. With the next day being Rhonda’s birthday, we headed off to Casteljaloux to find a Chinese restaurant which she had spotted when last in the town. It was a buffet type more like those we were used to in New Zealand and for €11.00 each which included a starter, main and dessert plus a free carafe of Rose wine each, we sure tucked in to the great array of delightful food which was hot and tasty. It was easily the best Chinese food we have had since leaving New Zealand so I have to admit to having two goes at the mains plus the dessert and I think Rhonda did the same. I know it may not mean much to our readers but as we do love good Chinese food this was a treat to us as previous restaurants have only offered mediocre food at quite expensive prices.

While in Casteljaloux we toured about and found that the town is famous for its geothermal baths which are situated inside a large hotel complex which we went into to view. It was quite a place to see and obviously is regarded as a top tourist stay as it was well supported by the senior folk from all around and judging by the size of the carpark which is about the same size as that at the AC Baths in Taupo. Unfortunately we had not taken our togs so could only look on with envy. The hotel is luxurious too and offers almost every sort of health treatment related to hot pools and massage that one could imagine. The staff were all dressed in very chic uniforms and quietly moved about the premises. It makes our hospital staff seem a bunch of elephants in comparison and I say this from experience as on a number of occasions when staff seem to have little or no consideration for the patients need for peace and quiet. Sorry I got a bit side tracked there.

While also on the subject of getting side tracked I failed to mention in our last blog that when we pulled into one little port while having Lois and Dave on board we learned that there was an orchard of plums just nearby that was really neglected so they took some plastic bags and brought back about 15 kilos of beautiful plums (Prunes) which Rhonda stewed up, made jam and preserved while we demolished the rest in their raw state. There was no mention of constipation for the week. It is terrible to see the waste but I guess this was one orchard which the grower was able to let go and claim his subsidy from the government anyhow.

We have also been able to buy tomatoes very cheaply so relish has been made which will keep us going for the winter we hope. We did miss out on the millions of blackberries which grow along the canal sides but as the weather had been so dry the fruit never really grew in size so we kept passing it by saying that surely it would grow soon but in the end we missed out. Pity as last year’s crop was so juicy and plentiful we had jams etc for the whole winter.

Now back to reality, we had a weeks stopover at Le Mas d’Agenais which is just a hamlet really but the marina is beautiful to stay at so I was able to spend the week pottering around doing some touch up jobs which needed to be done and while there we met some really nice folk who were passing through including Doug and Daphne who mentioned that they had met some really nice kiwis a couple of years ago and when they (Doug and Daphne) went to New Zealand this couple, Bob and Cheryl, loaned them their beach house in North Auckland and really made them so welcome. They turned out to be folk from Auckland who we knew from meeting with them several times including when they had left their barge just along from ours in Saint Jean de Losne and were really a fun couple to be with during their stopover. It is a small world as they say.

Today we moved to Villeton which is only about 8 kms from Le Mas and is also a nice spot where we had stayed on the way down. Again Rhonda drove the car and I the boat which is working out fine at present and saves us going back on the scooter to collect the car. As it is easy to drive our car to some of the sights we wanted to catch up on, we will stay here for a day or two at least.
Today being the 30th of September (my birthday) and reaching the great age of 69 (I can hear all the cries of “I can’t believe he is that age”) but that is ok as some people are lucky to retain their youthful good looks. Yeah right!
As a birthday present Rhonda had booked me into the Thermal centre at Casteljaloux for a swim in their luxurious heated pool complex followed by a massage which was just wonderful and the answer for my jammy shoulder. Of course there was a trap as in return I had to take her back to the Chinese restaurant which we found last week for lunch. Oh well we all have to make sacrifices.

Rhonda reminded me that I had failed to tell you about us getting our credit card details stolen by a hotel restaurant when we were in Agen last month. When Rhonda went to pay our bill, the waitress said she had to take the card out the back as the counter credit card machine was not working. Once Rhonda had signed it off we left and it was only by chance that a couple of days later when Rhonda checked our account, she noted all these debits totalling NZ$5000.00 had been deducted for purchases made from a mail order house. The ANZ credit card company back in New Zealand were marvellous in their promptness to halt the transactions which were still being activated and stopped the card and had the fraud squad contact us for any details we could give them. Within a couple of days they had credited back all the debits and issued new cards which they express couriered all the way to France for us. It just goes to show how easy it is to get ripped off, so lesson one is never let your credit card be removed from your sight and to realize how easily it is to be conned.

Well after another few days of fabulous weather with temps up to the high 20s early 30s, we awoke last night to a real sudden change of windy conditions plus rain and a temperature drop to the high teens only, so it is out with the track suit and as it is too wet to paint the boat it is time to settle down to the final day of the Ryder Cup or to switch channels to the India –v- Australian cricket test or to The Commonwealth Games from Delhi. I honestly don’t know how I ever had time to work at any stage so apart from walking with Harry I am in a fairly static status.

Unfortunately the good weather returned so my lazy days were over for now so as I needed to get a coat of black paint on the above waterline below the rub strake it was a case of keeping on keeping on and eventually got this done thanks to the long extension handle I made up allowing a reach of around 2meters to get to the bow and the stern areas. Talk about heath robinson but it worked anyhow.

While doing the painting when one allows the mind to wander as watching paint dry is not the most interesting way to spend some hours, a few points came to mind which I will share with you.

When we were berthed up in Beziers some few months ago, we started talking to a group of English fellows who were interested in “Somewhere”. One of them seemed to look somewhat familiar and as we got chatting and met up with them again on board for a cool drink he introduced himself as Peter Harrison who once he knew we were from Auckland said he had spent a lot of time there and in fact had bought a home in Browns Bay. This fellow was the head of Great Britain’s America Cup/Louis Vuton syndicate when the cup was held by New Zealand. He had spent over a year there and only sold his home a couple of years ago when funding for any further challenges dried up. We had actually met Peter at a Royal New Zealand Yacht Club luncheon during the period of Team New Zealand holding the Auld Mug.

He and 6 of his mates had hired a canal boat for a couple of weeks to give one of them a send-off to remember as a he was getting married at the end of the week. You can imagine how much hilarity was going on and when I asked him why a canal boat when as you would probably realise he owns so many yachts and launches in the UK, but he said that little else compares to the pleasure of pottering along the French canals as we have done with so little pressure, which is so true.

We have met so many folk from so many countries and because we are all doing a similar thing, almost everybody gets along with each other and is ready to share a cuppa or a glass of wine and to have a chat about their experiences which in some cases is just amazing and when you learn about some of their backgrounds it just goes to show that the spirit of adventure is not dead and only needs a spark to get it fired up and you are on your way.

The same goes for all the thousands of Camping Van people who transit this country and so many other European countries. Many of the stay-over places are alongside where we moor up so again we enjoy meeting them too and exchanging tales. On top of this we have recorded how so many cyclists use the tow paths which run alongside the canals so it is usual to have at least one or two cyclists stop by when they see our Kiwi flag to ask about New Zealand and/or about barge life.

Every country in the world seems to have cyclists making the most of the great pathways and facilities provided for bikers so you can see whole families of Mum, Dad and a few kids all cycling together and pitching tents to stopover and to getting their food sorted. It is marvellous and you can imagine what great memories the kids have in later years and at the other end of the scale like now that school holidays are over and the weather is not quite so good, is to see the retired folk who go pedalling past as they relive their earlier trips and experiences. It is not uncommon to see people in their 70s and above going by or calling in to chat. The only thing we don’t subscribe to is that many of the men must still imagine that they look good in their Lycra cycle outfits which generally they don’t, but never mind they are all having the time of their lives by the sound of it.

Another point which may be of interest, is that the millions of plane or oak trees planted at about 6 m intervals along the sides of the canals not only are valued for their shelter and cooling for boats (originally to give shelter to the men or the horses which towed the barges) which may tie up along the banks and whose roots help hold the canal banks together, but also provide a great source of firewood when it comes time to cut them down when they get Elm’s disease but the leaves which fall at this time of the year provide a valuable liner for the canals and assist in retaining the water which can be lost so easily if a bank gives away.

Now back to reality again, today which is wet again has given us the opportunity to slob out in front of the telly and to watch some of the Commonwealth Games then some of the India –v- Australia cricket test to some of the first rounds of the Heineken Cup European Rugby competition, so my eyes are quite square and early night is required so to all you readers, take care and we will bring you further news in the next few weeks.

In my last blog I expounded my thoughts on the damage being done to our planet and in particular the oceans by the huge amounts of plastic being dumped into the rivers, canals and beaches which takes almost forever to break down and in doing so kills so much fish and bird life in a very cruel way as the fish and birds see only the filmy or floating bits which they mistake for food and then cannot pass it through the body slowly bringing them to an agonising death. I was pleased to get a couple of positive responses from folk who share my concerns and take action to pick up and dispose of plastic found along the roads, drains and waterways as they do their walks etc.

Thanks guys. Maybe some more will join in this campaign. If you want to see the real size of this problem, please go into Google, search for “island of plastic”. 100 million tonnes of this stuff are floating in the Pacific Ocean so have a look and it will surely awaken the dread in you that I have over this ever increasing problem.

The other point I raised was “how do you get leaf sap and stains off your boat?” One reply from New Zealand was to use either Kerosine or Parrafin or a local boater told me to buy the cheapest bleach and mix it 60% to 30% water, mop it over all surfaces which I did as it is so cheap and it worked well. Remember to rinse it off after an hour.
Here endeth the lesson.

Kindest regards to all from Rhonda and me and of course Harry who by the way fell into the canal today trying to be smart and jump the gap from boat to shore. It is funny to watch him scramble to the bank then just wait to be rescued. He’s a funny little fellow but a great mate.

Kms this season: 1055
Locks this season: 163