|Posted by nigelorrmail on August 8, 2013 at 10:55 AM||comments (0)|
July 2000 Canal du Centre, France
Well it's been a bit of a nature week. When there is a two year old with a very inquiring mind on board the boat you tend to see different things. The bird life is mixed at this time of year. There are some brave ducks that have already hatched their second brood with up to ten fluffy chicks in tow who, with survival utmost in their minds, paddle fiercely against our wash as we pass them by. The older babies, born earlier in the year have more adolescent tendencies and seem to like the buffeting of our waves, riding the surf as they go. The herons continue their lazy repetitive circles and fly off to land a hundred yards ahead awaiting the appearance of fish frightened by the pull of water from our propeller. On hot days they sometimes do not even move as we pass by, confident in their camouflage. The fields on either side of the canal are full of the hay "loo rolls" drying in the sun after the bailing machine has passed by and laid them in a disorganised fashion on the landscape. The herons like to sit on them. Perhaps it's a good source of insects. The swallows have been flying low with the inclement weather and have suffered losses as it is about this time that young ones are having aerobatic lessons. You can still see the baby fluff round their jowls as they swoop around the boat. The skill of drinking from the water's surface whilst in flight is not totally instinctive and with the buffeting winds and rains some of the young ones have ended up in the water and drown. We rescued one in a landing net and had high hopes of a recovery as the bird had only just fallen in the water. It was, however, too chilled and shocked by it's experience and died in our intensive care, cotton wool lined, shoe box during the night. The kingfishers are regularly seen around here. Their distinctive cry is the first thing that makes you aware of their presence. Then there is a quick flash of turquoise as they fly low and fast down the banks of the waterway. There are nuthatches in the trees. Again it is sound that gives them away as they tap the bark of the trees with their beaks to encourage insects to appear. Their strange habit of doing this whilst facing down the tree trunk with their heads pointed to the ground is also a give away. Some terns are passing through on their endless migration. I suppose they are heading South at this time of year. Green woodpeckers are common around here and can be seen on the banks ferreting out insects. They share the ground cover with a few hoopoes who venture this far North in the summer. Golden orioles are summer time visitors too. They nest in the trees opposite our house and call to each other from afar. Up by the aqueduct over the Allier a colony of night herons arrive in early summer for mating before moving on to more hidden areas to nest. They sit almost motionless in amongst the rocks of the weir run and you have to look very carefully for them from the towpath of the aqueduct above. In flight, their distinctive white head plume gives away their identity. Some of the more predatory birds are about too. The multi coloured jays and magpies criss cross the canal. The buzzards are out hunting baby rooks and crows and the parents, sometimes solo, take on this much bigger bird to try and scare it away from the nest sites. The cooler weather has meant that my grand daughter and I could do some towpath studies of mayflies and dragonflies that are resting up in the bushes. We've worked out how to distinguish between mayfly and dragon fly but further detailed identification will have to wait till she is a little older. Whilst moored up for lunch, I was walking Baron when we came across a young coypu on the bank busy feeding off bankside vegetation. They are very partial to iris leaves we have noticed. We rushed back to the boat for Bailey and were lucky enough to still find him feeding on our return. He seemed unconcerned at our presence and after about five minutes wandered of into the undergrowth. The fishing has been very poor this year. Talking with the locals, they all seem to say the same, that the catches are well below normal, borne out by the weights measured at competitions. We came across one the other night near where we were to moor. Wall to wall fishermen every ten metres for about one kilomtere. They come equipped with everything and have these huge rods that allow them to drop the float of the end of the rod about one metre from the far bank. I've never understood why they don't just walk round and use a short rod! As we heave into view these rods are raised in salute as we pass by. Reaction to our presence varies across the spectrum from scowls through total indifference to cheery waves. All you can do in the confined waters is steer a steady course at a reasonable speed.
|Posted by nigelorrmail on August 8, 2013 at 10:55 AM||comments (0)|
Mayday! Mayday!.....on the Seine
Mary and I had parted company at Nevers. She was due to go back to the UK for ten days so I had driven her over to Montbard up in the Burgundy hills where the TGV stops on the line from Dijon to Lille. I became bored after a few days so Baron, my Gordon Setter, and I decided to surprise Mary by having the boat in Paris for her return. The run up from Nevers was done in double quick time as I put in long hours at the wheel. The only slow stretch was on the Loing where I got stuck behind a loaded peniche for a day,. I had talked to him on the VHF and, as long as I set off at the crack of dawn, he was happy for me to come by him in the evening. Towards the end of the day we were both working a flight of locks and, of course, Murphy's law struck. Just at the time when the lock keepers finished I was one lock behind the peniche and stuck for day two! I continued to crawl behind him until when you cross the Loing and as I came out of the lock onto the river I thought I could speed up and get past him. A loading barge nearby came on the VHF and explained to me in very abrupt French that he did not appreciate my turn of speed whilst loading. I slowed a little.By the time I could see the end of the river section I still had not got by the snail in font of me! As I came round the bend to reenter the canal I caught sight of him. He had met a friend coming the other way so they were breasted up right across the canal having their lunch. I persuaded them to let me through and steamed off at great speed in the hope of putting a lock or two between me and the peniche. Success! The rest of the haul up to St Mammes was uneventful and it was good to get out on the deep water of the Seine and open up the engine. At the junction with the Seine I was a bit put off by the sight of camels and elephants grazing down by the waters edge. It turned out to be the troupe from the traveling circus which was in town.
It was a two day run down to Paris and having stopped over night at Evry I set off the next day in the company of a Frenchman with his parents and children on board a luxemotor. It proved to be a good bit of teamwork. He had a faster boat so as soon as we were out of the locks he would get well ahead of me. Not quite far enough though! He went ahead and organised the lock for me then I would come into view or VHF the lock keeper who would wait for me to arrive. It meant I made some good progress. We were a lock or two upstream of the confluence with the Marne when my companion slowed right down. We talked on the VHF and he explained he had some minor engine trouble. I offered assistance but he said he would be okay. I said I would ensure I kept a channel open for him on the VHF for if things got worse. They did. About twenty minutes later he came on the radio to explain that his engine was now "kaput" and he was drifting downstream and a little concerned, especially with mum and dad and the kids on board. I said I'd come and help and shortly after I had turned around he came into sight, broadside on and in the middle of the river. I came alongside and we tied the two boats together and spent about half a kilometre still going downstream whilst I brought the two boats to head upstream pushing against the flow to give us some control. Once we had stabilised the situation we looked round for a suitable spot to get to the bank. They were few and far between so we just let the current take us very slowly down whilst we investigated. About half an hour later we spotted an empty quai and executed a "ferryman's glide" across the river to get the luxemotor's bows against the quai. The skipper had to jump off with the rope as he was the only one on board capable of securing her. Once tied up we all could relax and the Frenchman was profuse in his thanks and asking me how much I wanted to charge him! I explained we Brits do not charge in answer to Maydays. More profuse thanks and back slapping ensued and eventually I was back on my way. On arriving at the pontoon on the river outside the lock for Port Arsenal I was greeted by a gentleman of uncertain sexual persuasion who was sunbathing in his thong on the bank. He came mincing down to the pontoon to offer me his services in assisting with the ropes. I must admit my prejudices showed and I declined this offer as I was not sure what other services I was going to be expected to supply in return. Baron had also let the side down by now. He had sprung off the boat onto the pontoon and proceeded to give the gentleman who was wanting to assist a good sniff in the crutch. Luckily, just at this point the capitenerie lit the green light for the lock so I bundled Baron back on board and cast off in some haste. Mary returned from London that afternoon and we spent a wonderful few days in Paris before heading up the Yonne to our winter quarters at Vermenton.
I thought this was the end of the saga but I was proved wrong. Two years later we found ourselves back in Paris in high waters in May. We stayed for a couple of weeks awaiting the floods to subside a little before we decided to set off up the Marne. We came out of the Arsenal and were hugging the left bank proceeding pretty slowly. About a mile upstream of the floating gendarmerie we noticed a large inflatable police boat coming up fast behind us. In seconds he drew up alongside and a sinister looking fellow dressed in what only could be described as CRS like riot gear leapt from the inflatable on board our boat. The inflatable then veered off and positioned itself in midstream keeping pace with us. You know those times when the police motorbike flags you down and all those thoughts that go through your mind as to what you may have done wrong? It was the same situation. Where are the boat papers? Are the fire extinguisher inspections up to date? Will he believe me when I tell him my license is in the post? should we be wearing lifejackets on the river? ..... and where on earth are they anyway?
It was a rainy day and the wheelhouse windows were steamed over so I did not get a chance to see the face of the policeman wrapped in a big anorak and lifejacket who entered the wheelhouse before he said "Bonjour, Nigel!". Would you believe it, it was the Frenchman I had rescued two years before! It turns out he is a river policeman and was having his lunch at the floating police station opposite the entrance to Port Arsenal when he saw "Waterman" chugging out. He finished his lunch then came in pursuit of us up the river! Once again there was profuse thanks for the rescue and he then took my Navicarte and wrote his name and number in it and marked where his boat is normally moored and said that anytime I was passing by I should feel free to use his boat to moor up to. By this stage we were up passed Bercy and closing on our turn up the Marne so we said our farewells and he radioed his buddy in the inflatable to come and take him off. They were last seen zooming at pace back to the gendarmerie.
|Posted by nigelorrmail on August 8, 2013 at 10:55 AM||comments (0)|
ON NOT CATCHING CRAYFISH
My partner, Nigel, remembered that whilst fixing a rudder on a narrow boat on the Grand Union canal, up to his neck in water he felt crayfish crawling on his feet. Ignoring my comment of ‘ugh’, he salivated on his vision of huge bowls of steaming crayfish such as the ones served up in Louisiana. We have bought crayfish in France. They are sold live and make a weird scream-sounding noise when they are cooking. He said he would cook them. We had stopped for a while after several months of cruising on our boat and this seemed the ideal time to pursue the crayfish thing, but how to catch them? Hopefully, via a minimum of effort i.e. throwing a lobster style pot over the side at night and hauling up a full pot at daybreak just like they do down in the bajous.
A farmer friend, Tim, said that crayfish traps were on sale in most fishing tackle shops in France and offered to get one for us. However, having decided not to buy a new one costing between £30-£40 he spotted a similar trap in the back of a truck making it’s way to the local dechetterie (dump). He followed in time to see the trap thrown into a bin and sheepishly climbed in to retrieve it. We met him in the small market town of Louhans where we were transferring the trap to our car when a local busybody, a rotund Frenchman wearing a baseball cap (whatever happened to berets), accosted us. He informed us that such traps were illegal and we’d face a heavy fine if caught by the water bailiff. The theory is that traps make it so easy stocks are depleted. Having explained the penalties he then went on to say that he had a better one at home which was ours if we wanted it and he knew how to keep his trap shut. We refused his offer politely but thought we’d avoid being spotted by lobbing our trap over the side of the boat under cover of darkness, at least until Nigel could make a legal sized trap.
We launched our trap baited with mergez sausage as the prescribed rotten meat wasn’t available and toasted the launch with a bottle of Chassagne Montrachet. Half an hour later we pulled the trap up just to check but all that was in it was the sausage. Five days later we had to release three baby catfish that hadn’t eaten the sausage. We gave up and Nigel took the trap to the dechitterie where he met a French man who told him that such traps were illegal. “And bloody useless” he replied bitterly. Oh well, there’s always next year.
|Posted by nigelorrmail on August 8, 2013 at 10:45 AM||comments (1)|
River Baise antics
The MS Waterman found herself moored at the Halte Nautique at Buzet on the canal lateral a la Garonne having completed a strenuous journey up the River Baise. She had just finished a cruise upstream to Valence sur Baise to become the first boat in about forty years to complete this trip following the restoration of the canal Eat your hearts out all you bargees with oversized macho luxemotors! Waterman is 15 metres by 4.1m and can just squeeze in to the official 30m X 4.2 m locks. She is also on the limit of water depth at 1m and limit of air height at about 3m. The original river Baise navigation was about 80 kms long and consisted of 30 locks between the downstream limit of St Leger at the confluence with the Garonne, a few kilometres upstream of the Lot / Garonne confluence and the upstream limit of the town of St Jean de Pouge. The navigation started to fall into disuse in the 1930s but in recent years much has been done to restore it. The opening on July 17 of the latest section now allows cruising from St Leger to Valence sur Baise including the important link with the Canal Lateral a la Garonne at Buzet. We joined the Baise at this point. On arrival at the double lock that takes you down from the canal to the river we were issued with a map that went as far as Moncrabeau. In addition we were given a magnetic swipe card for operating the locks. There is only one lockeeper on the whole stretch upstream once you are on the river . He is at Graziac between Condom and Valence where there is a double lock. The locks up to Lavadrac are a little wider than the official 4.2m but their location and lack of mooring positions for the bigger boats necessitates some reasonable helming skills. The magnetic card system means that a crew member has to get out at each lock that is not in your favour and get the cycle going to set it up. The alighting platforms are wooden and small but adequate. Once in the lock the card is again used to start the normal cycle. The paddles are opened very quickly and the eddy you get when the lock is half full can take you by surprise if you are not well tied. The positioning of the bollards on the lockside can also require some unconventional rope work as sometimes the first upstream bollard is halfway down the lock ! There is little opportunity for mooring between quais and it is openly discouraged as I suspect there has been some delicate negotiations with the existing riparians to get the river reopened. This is not a problem as the villages of Vianne , Nerac , Moncrabeau , Condom & Valence are nicely spaced and all well worth a visit. The first day was a short cruise from Buzet down the double lock and onto the river then about 10 kms upstream to the lock at Vianne and onto the upstream quai right beside the village.
The first impression is of the differences with the Lateral. The canal is on the valley with big vistas on either side. The river is down in its own tree lined valley & full of bird and animal life, the trees sometimes leaving you a five metre gap at the waterline. The Lateral is very straight the Baise is very tortuous in places. Being a largish boat for the Baise we attracted a bit of attention in Vianne. The mooring is deep and there is good free electricity and water. There is not a vast selection of shops but you can get most things. In the summer months there is an attractive night market on Fridays and there are two or three restaurants that open only on that day. The Vianne glass factory is well worth a visit as are some of the individual glass blowing workshops. The fortified town like many in the area was built during the time the English ruled this part of France. The evening we were there the mayor came down and talked of their plans for refurbishing the mill. This is a large old building by the weir that has had a chequered history in recent years when it was used as a pub. It now stands forlorn but the mayor hopes to restore parts of it when he has the money. The next day was a little more strenuous as we continued upstream to Nerac. The locks up to and including Lavardac are about 4.5 metres and relatively straight forward. At Lavardac, upstream of the bridge, work is going on to clean up an old quai . Water is deep and there is a single bollard and the odd ring. A tap has been installed and smartening up work was evident. A little further upstream there is a small mooring which allows you to walk through the trees to Barbaste and its unusual fortified mill. All the locks to Nerac are automatic and close by mills and weirs making it a very attractive run. Three weeks before our voyage there had been big storms in the Pyrenees and the waters were very muddy as a result .
We arrived at Nerac and moored below the lock to try and catch the only shade. There is a waterpoint here and no charges. The only shore power is through the lock at the Halte Nautique where first night mooring and water was free, electricity 10 ff . Nerac is an historic town as it was the home of the future king of France, Henry IV . The family chateau is in the middle of town and has opposite it the cafe with the rather strange name of the Escadron Volant, the Flying Squadron. This turns out to me named after a few hundred ladies who would follow the king from the north when he would come and visit the town. I suppose they were kind of medieval groupies. The chateau is not too impressive but if you are into French history the English commentary on tapes give you a good background to the times.
The next day Ben and Maria who had joined us at Moissac were due to leave by bus train and plane to get back to England. Inquiries at the tourist office uncovered a bus from the Place de l’Horloge to the station at Agen from which they could catch the train to Toulouse for a plane back to England. The only suitable bus was the 10:14 . Miss that and you miss the plane. At 10:00 we were sat at the Cafe de The in the Place de l’Horloge. The cafe proprietoress asked us where we were going and then said there was no bus till 14:00 ! I checked in another cafe and they confirmed the worst by showing me a different timetable from the one we had been given at the Maison de Tourisme. Panic. I rushed to the Tourist Office where the girl was most casual about my predicament. In the end I got her to phone the bus company to ensure there was a 10:14 and that it stopped at Place de l’horloge. No problem sir. By now it was about 10:12 and I went back to Ben and Maria & Mary who were sitting drinking coffee unaware of the difficulties. At that instant the 10:14 arrived but sailed straight through town without stopping and headed towards Agen ! Nigel rushes back to the Tourist Office where the lady learns some new anglo saxon expressions but says there is nothing she can do. I demanded she got the bus company man back on the phone and after a few curt sentences about his bus driver I convinced him that under the circumstances he should organise and pay for a taxi. We ourselves had tried to organise a taxi the night before but both the Nerac taxi companies had all taxis booked at that time of day. The bus company man did miracles. Within twenty minutes a taxi had arrived from Agen which allowed Ben and Maria to catch their train.
Very relieved, Mary & I returned to the boat to find the river had risen by about a foot whilst we had been away. The Frenchman on the next boat who was in Nerac for an exhibition of his sculptures in wood had adjusted our lines. We decided to go through the lock and moor in the town on the top side of the weir. All was well till midnight when I got the feel we were at the wrong angle. Investigation revealed that we were stuck hard on the bottom and listing with the river falling as fast as it had risen. Much pushing and shoving and the aid of the sculptor finally freed us and I set up the boat on a spring to keep the stern well out into the river till we left the next morning. The run from Nerac to Moncrabeau was relatively incident free. This part of the waterway is not state owned and so you see lots of Privee and Amarrage Interdit signs. The cuts above the locks can be long narrow and shallow with a couple of bridge holes that were about the exact size of the locks into which we had squeezed .
In spite of the unwelcoming riparians it was a pleasant days run and we finished on a good small quai at Moncrabeau with free mooring, electricity and water close to a campsite that sold bread. It is a climb up to the village but well worth it for the view. Moncrabeau holds an international festival of liars on the first Sunday in August and they crown a King of Liars who is carried round the village to the throne. On the gates of town hall there is a « press cutting » about the time the queen of England visited the town. When you look closely at the photo with the article the hat might be one of the queen’s but the face certainly isn’t ! After Moncrabeau you venture into the unknown. No Navicarte exists and the map given to us at the Buzet lock finishes here. This new part connects with a previously isolated section from Condom onto Valence. It had been opened about ten days before and we were the first boat of any size and the first foreigners to try it out. Hireboat companies were not allowing their clientele to use it at this time. The locks are all in operation and automatic using the same magnetic card for access as downstream but there is still some dredging to do. We regularly were scraping the bottom on the cuts approaching the three newly renovated locks and came to a total halt with thirty metres to go to get to Condom. You are now out of Lot Et Garonne jurisdiction and into Gers. As we were to find out, the locals were proud of the restoration and interested in the progress of the crazy English. It took us half an hour of pushing and shoving to gouge out a channel deep enough to get through and at last we were there, the quai at Condom. By then with all the engine noise we had gathered a bit of a crowd. The Condom bridge is a three arch job and the new signs tell upstream traffic to go for the middle arch . This is a very tight manoevre from the right bank where the cut enters and you are 200 metres from the weir. The other boat we have been following ended up on the arch and their whole cabin was displaced slightly ! The newer locks have a very simple alighting platform with only one bollard and it is right beside the downstream gate. Mary stepped off there but then I backed the boat down the cut to avoid the turbulence of the lock emptying in the very shallow cut and the boat only attached at one point. News was soon out that we had arrived. The two local papers visited to get our story and take photos. A grandfather with his grand daughter arrived with a box of vegetables from his garden. We had shown his grand daughter round the boat the evening before. Shortly after Georges arrived. He liked the boat and in the subsequent conversation it turned out his hobby was building models of historic ships. He does commissions for the Maritime Museum in Paris. The next day we were invited round to see his work and to meet his family. Aperitifs soon became an elongated lunch as we inspected his latest model of the Pourqoui Pas, a polar expedition ship. Mary was given a bouquet of flowers from the garden and a supply of herbs.
We set off the next day for the last part of the voyage to Valence. We had been given a map put together by the people who run the trip boat at Condom. For those of you who have been smirking at the name of Condom have pity on the nearby town of Colon! The section upstream from Condom has been an isolated section open for some time. There are two single locks with a double between them. The single locks are manual and the double has a very helpful lock keeper. That evening we finally made it and celebrated our arrival with a bottle of Laurent Perrier champagne given to us at the champagne house’s office as we passed through Tours sur Marne last year. We shared it with a French peniche who had had a easier ride than us as they only have a draft of 60 cms compared with Waterman’s 1 metre plus. Baron, our crazy Gordon setter decided to celebrate by chasing a couple of local chickens, one of whom, remained at death’s door as we left Valence but the owner seemed very philosophical about the incident. The halte has electricity and water and a good but unpretentious riverside cafe. The town is like Moncrabeau , up a steep hill with good views. We felt we had solved all navigation problems and that we could look forward to a relaxed run back downstream . We visited the Abbaye de Flaran the next day and on our return got chating to the locals. The road bridge at Valence had a water clearance of over three metres . When the river flooded in 1977 it was swept away when water came right over it’s parapet. This is the nature of the Baise . It is fed from the Pyrenees and can flood quickly. It can also empty quickly. We had had three very hot days since the last rain and could see the river level dropping and at the advice of the locals we set off back at five in the afternoon rather than stay another night. There was little water coming over the first weir and we modern day navigators had to contend with other water users that were not there in the days of our predecessors.
In this part of France they grow a lot of maize and when the rain stops they use gigantic sprinklers most of the day with water pumped from the river. The cuts are often less than two kilometeres between locks and if the weir above has stopped running the pumps, sometimes as many as a dozen on a reach, can have a significant effect on the water level. We got through the first manual lock okay and scraped our way to the double lock. We expected to have to wait till 11:00 the next day when the lock opened but the lock keeper on hearing our plight let us through and told us to go through the next manual lock even though it was outside cruising hours. At about eight in the evening we arrived at Condom ready for continuing downstream the next day. That is when we met Bernard . He had read the article in the papers and was interested in any problems we might have had. Bernard is an administrator who has responsibilities for the restoration of this section of the Baise. We talked for an hour and I suggested as we were about to leave that he should come on board down to the first lock. Whilst waiting for him to return the local builder turned up. He had read the article in the paper about our stay in Condom. We had made a casual remark about the noisy building work on the riverside opposite the mooring at Condom. The builder was there to introduce himself and apologise!
We talked to Bernard about the shallowness of the cut down to the first lock and took him on a short cruise to demonstrate the problem. We got stuck on the bottom and had to retreat to the quai. Bernard phoned the boss of the company doing the restoration work and got him to visit. I explained we had a draft of 1.2m. and should be able to pass. He asked when we were to set off the next day and promised the dredger would there to assist.
At 08:00 the next morning Bernard arrived in his Lycras and with his bike and we set off. As we made the turn into the cut to the first lock we saw a big land based dredger being unloaded from a low loader lorry. We spoke with the driver who said that the simplest way was for us to proceed till we hit the bottom then back off to allow him to dig a channel for us. This took about two hours and at one point we stuck fast on the bottom. A shove from the digger's powerful hydraulic arm soon fixed that!
We said our fond farewells to the dredger and set off for the first lock. We descended. Engine in ahead. No motion. Thoughts of lost propellers went through my mind. The problem was the level we were entering was so low we were scraping the bottom of the lock on exit. The lock was automatic and we were half in and half out of it. If we started a lock cycle to flush us out of the lock the first thing it would try and do would be to close the gates with us in the exit. I took off all power and tried to float over but could not push the boat. In the end I went astern to the back of the lock then put her into idling ahead to get a little momentum then half way down the lock went into neutral. We made it. The next lock was equally close but the third one at Autigue was okay so whilst in the lock we got Bernard’s bike off and he set off to Condom armed with copious notes he had made on the way. We got out of the lock and as Bernard headed out of ear shot and over the brow of the hill we stuck hard once more. We were outside the lock but not within reach of the staging to get off to flush some water down. We finally cajoled Waterman back and Mary climbed down over the back rail clutching the magnetic card to flush the lock. The plan was for me to stay with the boat by the staging and when Mary started the cycle going she would dash back to the staging , get on the boat and we would ride the tidal wave out of the 30 yard cutting in which we were stuck. That was the theory. Mary did her part fine but the captain ended up with the boat aground and slewed across the channel. It was back to the staging and another flush. This time Mary was to stay on the bank and I positioned the boat right in the centre of the channel with her having gone as far as she could go. This time it worked and Waterman shot out of the cut into the river like a champagne cork, leaving Mary stranded with no dowmstream staging for four kilometres, no towpath and shallow banks! I eventually managed to turn the boat round and get the bows on the peninsular of bank between cut and weir run and put the ladder over the side. Mary was awarded two competent crew badges by the captain on her safe return.
The rest of the run downstream continued in the same manner with the main problem being the exits from locks. Most of the weirs were dry as we approached Nerac and on frequent occasions we were sprayed by the maize sprinklers which were badly positioned and drenched you as you passed by. We made Nerac that night and after a hasty shop the next morning ran the gauntlet to Buzet with the main difficulty being getting out of Lavardac lock where the bottom came up to meet us. At about five in the evening we locked up the double lock at Buzet relieved to be back on the canal but elated at having managed to navigate the Baise in a deep draft boat. It is a very pretty river with attractive villages and a wealth of history. Do however treat it with respect. The channel is very narrow, the staging is light for large boats and the locks flood quickly and violently when you are going upstream. The water level is capricious in the summer months ( and I suspect in other seasons too ) The restoration has been done perhaps as you would expect with small lightweight boats in mind. It is however well worth all the aggro and I would contemplate a spring or autumn cruise if I was to do it again. The interest we created and the goodwill we experienced we will remember with fondness for a long time to come. This was in spite of the fact that the authorities make it quite clear that at this time the new section is navigated completely at your own risk.
Nigel Orr & Mary Marsdale & Baron the Gordon Setter
|Posted by nigelorrmail on August 8, 2013 at 10:40 AM||comments (1)|
The River Doubs is a tributary of the Saone. The confluence is at Verdun sur Doubs. The canal that links the river Saone with the Rhine at Niffer follows the line of the river Doubs and for a while the navigation itself is on the river. Just when you become blase about all these beautiful French canals you some across another that blows your socks off. Today we have done the downstream run on the doubs from Beaume les Dames to Besancon and it was one of those really magical trips . We had moored overnight at Beaume by the Service de Navigation on a very narrow and shallow derivation when within minutes a fully loaded dutch peniche comes round the bend . We were moored about six feet off the bank and well and truly on the bottom . He ended up having to give us a little nudge with me putting down a tyre between us . The guide had indicated this as the only mooring and we were getting low on water and this was the nearest water point. The Doubs is not well equipped for pleasure boats and in addition the Guide Vagnon guide is both lacking information and in some cases plain wrong. The mooring also doubles as a camper van stop and the facilities are shared by both vans and boats .
The next morning I got up at 07:30 at my dog, Baron’s request because he needed a pee. This was quite tricky with the mooring ladder at full stretch and the plank over it leaving a significant gap over which we both had to jump . Baron prowled round the campers sniffing where a cat had been but it was still tucked up in it’s bed, which is where I wanted to be .The day looked as though it would turn out nice and the deeply wooded valley in which we were moored was still in shade but the sun was lighting the slopes opposite. Once safely back on board the crew were served tea in bed and Baron and I watched five cows walking by the towpath opposite. As the leader passed a sign for boaters to hoot there horns she turned to her compatriots and mooed loudly ! We were soon on our way. The first lock was automated and we approached it very quietly.The filling of the lock and the opening of the gates brought a rather bleary eyed camper out of his lock side tent. I think he thought it must be the spirit of an old lock keeper who was operating it. He was glad to see a human and was very happy to hear the explanation of locks operated by “telecommande" . We dropped down into the river and as we headed towards the channel a kingfisher came up the river on our side making it’s distinct call and caught a fish right alongside the boat , did an 180 degree turn and flew off . The cliffs and wooded hills were all around us as we meandered through this peaceful valley until we were disturbed momentarily by the “St Dizier cowboys” . These are the French fighter pilots who seem to fly very low in the prettier parts of France. One big base is at St Dizier another in this region is at Dijon. Anyway we have named them the St Diz cowboys. No sooner were they there than they were gone and we were left to our tranquility Mary appeared in the galley with offers of bacon sandwiches ( smuggled in from England ) and fresh coffee and the aromas were soon wafting round the boat . The scenery was breathtaking as we ran down through Esnans , Fourbanne and Ougney les Champs , Duvot and Lassey . All the locks are operated using a TV zapper gadget except for a double lock at Deluz which we got to at 12:30 . Baron by this stage had given up on any relief and had peed on the deck. It is awkward for big dogs on this stretch as during the summer with the river levels down you are low in the lock even when it is full so getting him on and off is a problem. We anchored off the channel in the river for lunch and a much relieved and fed Baron went to sleep under the awning. A couple of boats coming upstream stopped behind us thinking we were waiting to go into the lock so we waved them through. The afternoon run was a little speedier as we had come down from Beaume with the engine idling all the way it was so beautiful .
As we approached Besancon we ran in amongst the local rowing club and two girls took great delight in giving us a head start at the lock then came zooming past us . At the turn into the citadel tunnel we waited for a trip boat to pass by then went through and moored the other side on the pontoon on Quai Tarragnoz . We have been joined by a luxemotor “Rovi” with a Guernsey flag on her . Today has been one of the best . We have done the Midi and the Ouche valley on the canal de Bourgogne as well as the Nivernais and, earlier this year the Zorn valley above Strasbourg but the run from Beaume les Dames to Deluz for sheer natural beauty beats them all
|Posted by nigelorrmail on August 8, 2013 at 10:40 AM||comments (0)|
“The Bee Man”
Bruno Poissonier had a dream. To combine his love of inland waterways with that of bee keeping . His peniche “Phalene” does just that . His cargo is beehives that sit on the deck of the 38m craft as it plies its way through the waters of the canals and rivers of Southern France . He follows the crops to catch the acacia or spring flowers or the sunflowers . Once stopped the hives are opened and the bees are set to work . We have met Bruno and his wife Mireille and their two delightful children on many occasions in the South . The first was on the quai at Avignon . “Waterman” had wintered there and rather than clean up our Gordon Setter, Baron’s business each time I had got into the habit of cleaning the quai of all dog’s business once a week . So there I was with my bucket and spade in hand as the peniche “Phalene” arrived . Having moored up the captain of the boat walked up to me and said “You cannot be French!” . I explained in my very rudimentary way that, no, I was English and staying in Avignon for the winter . He explained that only foreigners would clean up as I was and he magnanimously thanked me on behalf of the entire French people ! We parted on good terms with open invites from each of us to visit the other’s boat . By the next day there were banners up on his boat saying “Exposition Des Abeilles” and “Produits des Ruches” and the gangplank was down to welcome visitors . As business did not seem that brisk I ventured on board. I was welcomed by Bruno and invited to their private quarters whilst he and his wife explained what they were doing. The boat turned out to be a mobile floating production and processing factory for honey . On the decks were rows of beehives which I had not identified as they were so out of place and also closed down whilst in transit. They explained that in the “honey season” they cruise the Canal du Midi stopping at chosen spots near to crops suitable for the bees to go to work. Once they arrive at a spot vertical nets about two and a half metres high are erected around the periphery of the boat. The purpose of these is to ensure that as the bees leave the hives on the deck they fly up high quickly so that they are not a nuisance to passing boaters and also can get a good panoramic view of the new countryside. They stay at that one spot for a few weeks and then as the crop gets past it’s peak they move on to pastures new. By this stage in the explanation the Hydromel had appeared and we were into our second glass. This is a rather sweet alcoholic concoction made from honey. It went down very well . Bruno then took me downstairs to the hold of the peniche to show us his “production line”. Below decks was a fully fitted and immaculate set up for extracting, cleansing and bottling the various products from the hives - “Produits des Ruches”. There was a big centrifuge for extracting the honey and all sorts of other gadgets for melting wax and collecting pollen. There were boxes and boxes of produce as well as stocks of empty containers for the coming season. He was exceedingly enthusiastic and proud of his enterprise and rightly so. I bought a few jars of honey and we said our farewells. Two days later and he was off heading South and West for the Canal du Midi. It was to be August before we were to see him again. By this time we had traveled to near Moissac on the Canal Lateral de la Garonne having traversed the Camargue on the canal de Rhone a Sete, the 17 kilometer long Etang de Thau with its oyster and mussel beds, and then the Canal du Midi to Toulouse. Near to Montech we had coupled up with two Locaboats who were about to do the stretch to Moissac down the flight of locks to the side of the still operational inclined plane. I had been down to see the foreman in the hope of using it. It turns out it is only used for boats over 25 metres and he would have taken a bit of convincing that the little 15 metres “Waterman” was that length.
This regulation had forced us to have to go down the lock flight instead and so Mary was going to be working for her living today ! She was more than happy to share the locks and work with the other two boats , the crews of which were friendly and interested in our travels. They were hiring for the second time and had come from Oregon and California. We had plenty of time to chat as we worked down the flight and then as we set off on a longish pound I let them past me. About an hour later as we were starting to get peckish for lunch we cam round a bend to see “Phalene” moored up right out in the countryside. Her nets were up, all the hives were open and you could hear the buzzing of millions of bees. The two Locaboats went past not knowing exactly what this strange craft was but stopped further up for lunch. We tooted our horn and Bruno’s smiling head popped up from the cabin to greet us. We tied up alongside him and within seconds there seemed to be bees everywhere. I closed all our windows and took Baron to one of the bedrooms. He is a bit stupid with bees and tries to eat them !
We said hello and explained we were just stopping to stock up with honey and then pushing on to Moissac. The deck of the peniche was covered in dead bees but Bruno explained that with the population he had on board this was quite a normal number. The sound of the buzzing on the decks was amazing. As the Americans had stopped I walked down the towpath to explain to them what they had passed and to see if they wanted to visit the only floating beehive in the world. They were very keen and we spent the next hour doing the tour of “Phalene” including many “degustations” of his products. The Americans & Mark in particular, were fascinated by it all and bought a bit of everything including a few bottles of the Hydromel, one of which was presented to us for having organised the visit .
Our next encounter with the “Beeman” was at Beziers that autumn. We arrived at the top of the six lock staircase to find the canal surface covered in dead fish. The stench was horrible and the lock were not operating because the fish were blocking the gates. It turned out that someone had been cleaning his vats before the new wine arrived from the presses and had pumped the flushing chemicals into the canal. It was chaos with about forty hire and private boaters waiting to go down when round the bend comes Phalene. As a commercial boat they are allowed to jump the queue and as they worked their way down the flight we caught up on their news. My sister had come to see Mary and I and was fascinated by their enterprise. She lives on the island of Colonsay off the west coast of Scotland and knows the beekeeper on the island. She decided to take some honey samples back for him. Two weeks later when she got back to Colonsay and presented her honey to the beekeeper he said “Oh yes I know all about this !” He subscribes to an American bee keeping magazine and that month there had been an article on “Phalene” written by an American who lives in the south of France. What a small world !
Our last sighting of Phalene was almost as fleeting. We were heading east near La Somail when we met them coming the other way. They were on the way to Toulouse to use the dry dock there for maintenance. We simply tied together in mid canal and spent some time buying more honey. The sunflower one is rather special. We were right across the canal and cold see a rather perplexed hireboat approaching so cast off and went in our different directions . Two boats each pursuing their dreams in very different ways .
|Posted by nigelorrmail on August 7, 2013 at 10:40 AM||comments (1)|