Sunday, July 10, 2011


June 2011 Blog

Following our car visits to so many towns and villages to show our guests Daphne and Claude from New Zealand, some real French country-side, it was a nice change to get back onto the boat at Moissac to catch up with many of our ‘old’ boating pals. Some were leaving for their own cruising season so it was good to catch up with them before they left.

We shopped, of course and set off for our own cruise on 2nd June down the canal towards Bordeaux but with plans to branch away onto the Baise River and/or The Lot River depending on water conditions and levels. Due to the almost drought conditions experienced in this part of the world over the past few months there were warnings that depths were insufficient to allow passage to some areas, however, within a day or two of leaving Moissac we experienced a lot of heavy rain which raised the levels so it was all go for boaters to get to these restricted areas.

We pottered along the canal, over-nighting at Malause, Valence-d’Agen and a couple of nights at one of our favourite stop-over points of Boe (poor dock facilities but a great park for walking and for Harry) which is just on the outskirts of Agen and allows easy access by car to the city. We eventually moved on to Agen where the port is only about ½ k from the city so easy walking was the go for folk wishing to see the city lights, cathedral and churches, etc.

At this time we caught up to the new owners of “Amarok”, Charlie and Marcia who had been shadowing us along from Moissac plus we met up with Tony and Elaine off “Dreamflower” whom we had met up with in Toulouse last year so a good chat was held. Sadly time restricted us doing more but it is always good to catch up with others from the “long village”.

From Agen we moved on to Serignac-sur-Garonne where again we met up with about 6 other cruising families whom we knew or did meet there that night. Thanks to Charlie and Marcia’s organising, we all ended up on the bank pathway with the grills, hot plates and even electric fry pans making up the most magnificent evening pot luck dinner complete with dancing (well by some anyhow) and a recital from a French lady who could sing a heck of a lot better than any of us. With lots of applause from picnicking French families near by but on the other side of the canal our ladies decided to put on a show of rock ‘n roll, led particularly by Pam from “Modestine”. Her husband Brent showed suitable restraint by applauding politely from his chair so nobody lost face etc.

A great night was had by all and the odd “overhang” was reported the following morning by the honest people and just tolerated by the ones who didn’t want to admit to their overindulgence but we all felt sympathy for those affected. Yeah right.

So Claude and a couple of others suffered in silence for a few hours as we moved along the canal to Buzet where we found again that berthing was only available by being tied up to previously berthed craft such was the volume of traffic. As it is the turn off point where one has to divert to the Lot or Baise, it is a very popular stopover. As Rhonda had driven the car to there, she obtained our berth position along-side “Hilda May” which had also been in Toulouse dry dock while we were there in April. The owners were away in the UK again so with them already being tied up to a barge against the bank we were the 3rd boat out and while it was ok, it was not ideal so we only stayed 2 nights.

By the time we got “Somewhere” tied up alongside “Hilda May” Rhonda was in full voice telling us about the “INFLUX” of snakes. Fearing that there could be thousands infesting the banks etc we learned that in fact three had been seen swimming across the canal and according to Terry who knows it all, were referred to as being green grass snakes and supposedly harmless but I am not so sure. If they are grass snakes why do they swim so much…….

We also found again that the people who run the restaurant on the quay really need to go to a hospitality school to learn to smile and to make clients feel welcome and to learn how to provide a service. The food was fine but the stress of having a busy restaurant was obviously not their thing, so they should give it away and let somebody who values customers take over. This sadly was not the first time we have experienced tardy service from them as we had refused to stay there last year due to the abruptness experienced when our guests tried to book in for evening meals.

Never mind, we caught up with Terry, Sandra and Alice off “Felix” who had been exploring this end of the canals for a few weeks and were one of the boats who had experienced lack of water under their keel and had run aground a couple of times but in typical Terry and Sandra fashion they just shrugged and smiled and went on with life. We shared a few drinks up on deck with them while Terry tuned and played a bit on my guitar so shook the cobwebs off it anyhow. With the evening spent reminiscing about old pop groups, artists and in particular, guitarists a great chat and laugh was enjoyed by all.

The next day we set off with Rhonda again driving the car while Daphne and Claude acted as forward hands and we headed towards Vianne a village and mooring situation where power and water are offered free of charge on the Baise. As you come off the Canal de Garonne one needs to drop down two locks onto the Baise and make a very tight right-hand turn. We headed up stream in water very yellow/brown due to the recent rains it was almost off-putting but as there was plenty of volume and water flow it was nice boating and we arrived at Vianne about 1.30 pm to be advised by the self appointed spokesman for the port Jeff off “Matilda Blue” that we should only stay for 3 days or we could be ordered off by the local Mairie, however, we took 20 Euros up to the Mairie’s office and said we wished to stay for 5 days as it was very pleasant indeed and an ideal spot to await changeover of our guests.

The night before Daphne and Claude’s departure we had our farewell dinner up in the square at a beautiful restaurant, Les Marrioners. Food and service was as good as we have experienced anywhere in France with a wonderful variety of food to whet anybody’s appetite.

The following morning we drove Daphne and Claude to Agen for their return home to New Zealand by catching a train from Agen to Bordeaux and then flying on to London.

Next day was ”cleaning up” day and painting again of the sundeck to ensure it was well coated before we put up the sun shields etc as the temperatures are now climbing so shade is of paramount importance. In the evening we drove to Buzet to join in the “Fish ‘n Chip” Evening and Quiz Night again at the restaurant. The stress was not showing on the faces of the owners of the restaurant this time as it was not full and only one dish to prepare. We joined Alex and Louise off “Riccall” who had come in the day before and Bob and Bobbie off “La Chouette” and Terry and Sandra off “Felix”. Terry prepared the questions and guess what we came second. What a fun night.

After a couple of days break following Daphne and Claude’s departure we had Derek and Valerie also from New Zealand come to stay with us for a week so it was all go again and we really enjoyed showing them some of our wonderful way of life and country.

We had a call from Millen and Lyn who we met back in Moissac with Eric and Polly, the old owners of "Amarok". Millen and Lyn would be travelling through our area in their motorhome and so we met up with them for a wonderful couple of hours and few drinks up in the square. It was wonderful to see them again.

Rhonda's Comment: Only on board for one night and already Ken gave Derek the mop!!!!

We cruised the boat up to the old world city of Nerac through the Baise River past Lavardac and through what seemed to be ever decreasing width locks. Derek enjoyed the role of forward hand and did well mastering ropes in true nautical fashion.

The old city is so picturesque and interesting with lots of it dating back to the 13th century.
From within the city one can catch a local train touristique service to Mezin some 1.5 hours ride away. Quaint and old with some of the rolling stock originally being in service from the early 1800’s the open cab type carriages allows a view of the surrounding country and some of the old castles, maisons and chalets along the way. It was also an area where cork was originally grown and harvested for the wine industry along with maize and wheat milling as the climate is very dry with lots of the area being of a sand based soil.

The town of Mezin does not appear to offer much to see or visit so the return trip was made after a 15 minute stopover, unfortunately we were forced to listen to a very verbal Frenchman giving endless commentary on the country etc and while Rhonda and I sat clenching our teeth we were surprised how well Val and Derek seemed to be taking it until we got back to Nerac to see them pull paper napkin plugs from their ears.

Our trip back down the Baise to Vianne was without incident apart from the scraping through some of the overgrown trees etc, and the experience of fitting into the narrower than usual locks. With only approx 75mm to 100mm of clearance on each side of the craft it was a case of slow and careful.

With the departure of Val and Derek who had a great time while with us and were great company too, we drove them back to Agen railway station and then it was a case of back to the boat, and to settle down to the quiet life again until the next group of friends arrive in July.

Suddenly we got a call from Gene and Liz who own and run Te Whau Lodge on Waiheke Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf (a superb first class accommodation and dining lodge) telling us that they were in Nerac and would like to call by to see us which they did and we had a lovely lunch and chat throughout the afternoon before they motored off again to finish their French stay in Nerac.

With a quiet period promised it was time to do some regular maintenance like generator oil and filter changes followed by the same for the engine. As usual nothing mechanical comes easy to me, however, after sploshing diesel and oil all around my engine room the task got finished and the generator and engine started up to test. Guess what????? It all worked ok, now isn’t that a surprise.

During the week we had Alan and Gill call in to see us and deliver their "care parcel" from UK and our mail from Moissac. Terry and Sandra ("Felix") were still here in Villeton so we decided we would put a barbeque on and have one of those fantastic long lunches. This is why we are here in France - great times, great people and wonderful memories being created - just love it.

It will soon be time to move off from our favourite little port of Villeton on our way to get to the closest moorings we can before we have to give away to the power of the river and leave “Somewhere” while we drive the car to Bordeaux to explore this new territory and that is when we will issue our next blog.

Hope you enjoy this issue and if you have any questions please feel free to ask.

All the very best, kindest regards
Rhonda Ken and Harry

Number of Locks in Total: 570
Kilometres travelled in Total: 2690