Saturday, November 13, 2010


27th October 2010 to 7th November 2010

Today the 27th October saw us arrive in Moissac at the end of our cruising season and where we will stop over for the winter in the northern hemisphere. After 195 days, 1140 kilometres travelled and 180 locks encountered we spent our last day travelling the 10 kilometres from Malause to Moissac.

We have just spent the last few days catching up with Louise and Alex off “Riccall” who we had met last year on our travels. We only had a few days with them unfortunately as they are so much fun and we find that they are wintering-over in Buzet. So we will be making trips there to see them for sure as the wine in Buzet is really lovely too!

As we had been doing for the past few weeks since turning around for the return journey, Rhonda drove the car from one lock to the next to take the ropes as I would enter on “Somewhere”. This procedure allowed us to avoid having to go back on the scooter to get the car and to have to move it on to the next stopover. Sliding the boat through the lock with someone handling the bow rope and pushing the control buttons to fill or empty the lock just made it so much easier and safer than scrambling up ladders etc.

Over the past weeks of travels I had become somewhat alarmed at the way the engine water temperature was rising above normal so with the help of our knowledgeable boater Alex off “Riccall”, we checked all the usual causes like water strainer, impeller, heat exchanger and drive belts and even back flushed the water pick up hoses using my deck wash hose which has a fairly strong water flow, all without finding a real problem. As I was leaving the last lock of this journey I was doubly concerned that despite running up the revs the boat seemed to be dragging and not gaining speed almost as though the boat was rubbing against the lock wall and the more I pushed the revs the more the water temp rose making “Somewhere” look like a steam train, so after about 250 meters I stopped the boat and in desperation put it in reverse and gave it full revs and almost immediately could feel a dramatic effect in its pick up speed so when returned to forward all was showing as clear, the temp returned to normal and away we went in a very relieved manner I can assure you.

Thinking it must have been a sheet of plastic or similar which had been blocking the intake flow so fingers crossed from now on, however, I have since been told that it is not unusual down here in these narrower canals and when the leaf drop is happening that some of this leaf litter carpet can block the prop housing and slow the boat and cause temperature increase. You have to see the leaf content in the canals to believe just how much volume there is and as there are virtually only deciduous trees growing anywhere near the canals and every tree strips itself of every leaf, one can get some idea of what it is like. I mention this just in case any other boaters who are reading this, experience similar problems.

With the last lock transversed and being able to get under way, Rhonda was able to go on a couple of kilometres ahead to Moissac ready to guide me in to our berth which is abreast on the quay with easy access to power and water and pump out if required plus the fuel dispenser is only 20meters away. With the whole surrounding area being nicely sealed it will be great for when winter arrives, however, today the weather is just as perfect as it could be so do hope we get to enjoy more of it.

We are surrounded with about 40 or so boats all like us who are either living aboard during winter or who are or have left their boats here for the winter period while they return to their homes located as far away as the UK, South Africa, Holland, Germany, Canada, USA, Australia or even New Zealand. Apparently it is unlikely to ice over, however, there was a touch of frost first thing this morning ahead of the delightful sunshine etc.

The couple, Iain and Kaz who are the Capitaneries for the port are lovely helpful people who have built an enviable reputation and are really valued by the tenants of the marina and who join in with social activities and who seem to know wherever and whatever information is required. As a couple they have spent many years looking after a fleet of hire boats before taking over the marina. Their knowledge is most valuable and as they are of English descent they help us Anglos a lot.

The town of Moissac is just big enough to be interesting and with all sorts of shops ranging from fashion to art to hardware and boasts 3 large hotels and offers all the main service providers for phones, insurance, car servicing, plumbing and so on plus it has two theatres and a 6 movie house complex. With its own well rated hospital and medical centres I think we will be well served and we are assured the town does not go dead like St Jean-de-Losne in the winter nor do shops or restaurants or markets shut down so the signs are good and it is so easy to get straight out onto the very best type of motorways so travel to other parts of France and to Spain etc is easy.

Moissac is built along the banks of the Tarn River which has offshoots to the canal where the port is built so always there is a slow flow of water which helps move the pollution down stream to the where the canal joins the Garonne River which flows down to the Atlantic coast. This area is famous for its history of being linked to the Christian King and the Benedictine monastery of which there are still columns standing as a part of the Abbey Church which has been fully restored and is quite magnificent.

The area is very popular with trampers, walkers and strollers due to its great mix of easy rolling country through the orchards, vineyard and many waterways and on into the town itself which is also interesting to view. Campers are well served with lovely grounds and facilities right on the river side. Famous for the Chasselas grape (purported to be the sweetest grape in the world and to which we would not argue against) and it has its own AOC. ( Appellation ).

As we are so close to Toulouse, 65kms, Agen 45 kms and numerous other towns it is easy to make visits to enable a change of environ simple and interesting. As you can read from my comments we are looking forward to the next few months of being Moissacians.

After settling in we discovered amongst our mail that it was that time of the year where we needed to go to the Netherlands to have my superannuation papers signed and stamped. We looked at ways to travel ranging from flying to going by rail but there seems to be no discount fares unless you go via UK which we didn’t want to do so decided to take old Betsy (our car) and drive up. It is a heck of a long way (1100 kms) but provided you go via the main motorways and pay the road tolls which apply only in France it is pretty smooth driving so we set off on a Sunday morning which was great as the heavy trucks are supposed to stay off these roads on this day so we drove as far as just north of Paris and stayed in the first of the Premium Classe motels which are found along the motorways and towns and are pretty basic but clean and reasonably comfortable and offer a continental type breakfast and also allow Harry to stay in the room all for around €54.00 per night which is quite good value.

The next day, we continued on towards Breda which is just over the border in Holland, however, it seemed as though all the trucks who had rested the day before had decided to get out on the roads early and we joined a traffic jam of trucks of at least 30 kms in length. It was just amazing to inch along for an hour or more beside a solid wall of trucks from almost every corner of Europe. I know we have commented in the past about the volumes of heavy traffic criss-crossing this continent but on this day we were stunned by the sight of it all.

Eventually we got clear and made the balance of the trip to Breda without incident and stayed overnight nearby in another Premium Classe motel. We couldn’t help but notice how much colder it was in the north so heaters were on high, coats were worn with scarves and so on. Next morning off we went to get my papers stamped. In the office at 8.35am out at 8.37am.

We drove back to Paris and as Rhonda has always wanted to visit the Palace of Versailles we decided to stay overnight and do the tourist thing next morning. It was bitterly cold I have to add but we got there early in the morning just ahead of the tour coaches and bulk of tourists so got parked really close to the entrance to this amazing structure. Constructed originally for Louis XIV, this palace and gardens form one of the most famous world heritage monuments and stands out as the most complex achievement of French history of the 17th century.

The building and its grounds were continued to be developed and upgraded for almost 500 years by sons and grandsons (using some 30,000 workers and soldiers) who have added their own touches to the palace so a visit is just a mind boggler plus you can go on to visit the further two smaller apartment blocks of Trianon and Marie-Antoinette.

A walk through the palace reveals huge displays of paintings, sculptures and design works collected over the centuries and I am sure real art critics could spend days browsing and learning about these French masters.

The size and layout of the whole complex is mind boggling and without wanting to bore our readers here are some facts which illustrate the above points. There are 700 rooms, 2153 windows, 352 chimneys, 67 staircases, 11 hectares of roof, 800 hectares of garden and so on and so on. All I can add is to say if you are in Paris, do not miss this marvel and allow at least a full day to see it and go in the spring or summer to see the fantastic gardens at their best.

Well once we left there we headed for home and as usual I wasn’t listening to Rhonda’s instruction on directions to follow so all of a sudden she barked at me that I had missed a vital turn and Tom Tom was not impressed either so without checking on my surroundings too much I did a highly illegal U turn on a several lane avenue and headed back the way we wanted to go. After Rhonda regained her speech voice she said “did you not see where you did that turn” - it was right outside one of the main Prefectures of the Gendarmes, however, my good luck charm must have been working as nobody followed or tooted.

As it was bitterly cold and while we had thought of staying overnight it was surprisingly quiet on the motorways so we made the effort and drove direct to Moissac arriving by 6.00pm which was great going. Well done Betsy.

One of the remarkable sights we witnessed going and coming particularly in rural France was the autumnal colours which were quite vivid. With thousands of hectares alongside the motorways the sight of the red, gold, brown, purple and green deciduous trees is something to behold and even the media have reported that due to the late and long summer this year the colours are so much more pronounced than usual so we were lucky to see so much of it. We couldn’t believe it when we got out of the car at Moissac as the temperature here was 16 degrees so after the chill of the north we felt great to be back. I am sure it will get a lot colder soon but we will make the most of the milder conditions while we can.

In preparation for winter I have got the fireplace set up, added an additional piece to the chimney to hopefully stop sap leaking over our cabin top again. Ran the oil burner for a test run and checked the radiators so am happy that all seems good for the cold season.

The trees look more like scarecrows as they are losing more and more leaves which are like carpets floating down the canal to the Tarn River to make the long journey out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Rhonda has just told me that we have had 2400 people so far read our blogs from the four corners of the world so we are delighted that we can offer some insight to this wonderful world of canal boating here in France. Thanks for the many comments and we hope we can continue to keep the blogs interesting so keep your comments coming in and again, take care and good luck.

Love Rhonda, Ken and Harry.

PS. I was delighted to read that the Blue Flag BI Monthly Journal for Barge owners and users had seen fit to publish my letter article on Plastic Pollution of our waterways and oceans. It is only with the spread of such news that more and more boaters can do their bit to get that plastic out of the water and to bin-it. Thanks.

Harry's Comment: Hooray, another park and this one is really good.