32. Homeward bound

This post covers the beginning of our journey upstream to Moissac, as we head for La Caunette’s winter mooring spot at Castelsarrasin

Monday 9th September (continued).  Once we had the wine safely stowed away, had everything organised and finished watching a squirrel scampering in the trees on the other side of the canal, we left our mooring.  Dave got the mooring pins out a lot more easily than last time and we didn’t have any boats to worry about, so all went smoothly.  A big fish lept out of the water as if to say goodbye, just as we were leaving (but it was too quick for me to get a photo of it).  As we motored off through the port it felt like we were now ‘homeward bound’.

We soon arrived at the first of three locks we needed to go through today.  I got off at the landing and walked up to the lock while Dave turned the pole and waited for the lock to be emptied and the gates to open.  The locking through process went smoothly – although we both agreed the locks seemed so big after the narrow and short ones on the Baïse.

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There is a small ‘pond’ before the next lock (which was automatically readied while we were in the first one).  Dave drove La Caunette through and I walked the 200 metres to the next lock – this is the lock where we got stuck on the ledge when we were going downstream.  Once again all went smoothly with locking through.

We then went over a small canal bridge – it was interesting looking down at the Baïse – where we had been, just two days ago.

As we cruised along we noticed how most of the crops have ripened or have already been harvested.  It was also interesting to see the villages and hills we had cycled to when we were in this area on our way downstream.

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Dave had to slow down for a paddle boarder, holding conversation with a woman cyclist riding along beside him.

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We also saw that the ‘sunken’ boat we had seen in June (as shown in the photo on the left) – it had been lifted up and moved to a new mooring but was a sorry sight.

The position of the landing pontoon at the third lock was such that Dave had to do a ‘S’ turn after he had dropped me off – he seemed to enjoy that!

The canal was lined with big apple orchards – most of them covered in netting and the trees laden with fruit.

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We didn’t seem to be going as fast as we should  (which suggested we might have something stuck on the propeller) so Dave put the boat in idle, then reversed it, before going full throttle ahead. That seemed to help and we moved along at our ‘normal’ speed.

We saw another big fish leap out of the water – we also saw several fishermen along the way, including a couple of ‘old boys’ who were well set up

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And a couple of young lads with nothing more than a fishing rod – they all seemed very relaxed and waved as we went by.

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Soon we arrived in Sérignac-sur-Garonne.  The luxury barge Rosa was there along with a couple of other boats – there was just room for us to fit in.

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John and Ros (who we had met at Buzet) arrived on Liberty, but there wasn’t any room on the quay for them – they therefore ‘green moored’ on the other side of the canal.  However, Dave had paced out the gaps between Rosa, us and the boat in front and had worked out that if everyone moved along Liberty could fit in.  He therefore took on the role of harbour master and got everyone to move – Liberty came over to the quay and tucked in between Rosa and us (they wanted to be on the quay as they have two very boisterous dogs – working Cocker spaniels called Bailey and Badger who couldn’t get off where they were moored).

The boat in front of us belonged to four (very loud) Canadians – coincidentally they had been in Valence d’Agen the night before and Mike (from GEM who was also moored there) had joined them playing his ukulele.  At one stage a man on the other side of the canal at Sérignac started playing a ukulele and the Canadians got theirs out and started playing.  They are planning on going to Nérac tomorrow – they seem to be very energetic and spend a full day, every day cruising.

Dave spent a lot of time chatting to everyone while I cooked dinner.  I made a mince pie – Dave formed the leftover pie and mashed potato into an interesting shape – he said it was a potato side (PS) pie, instead of a potato top (PT) pie, complete with a smiley face.

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Tuesday 10th September.  We woke to a very cool morning and were greeted with a beautiful scene over the harbour, when we opened the front door – Dave went to the bridge to take a photo.

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He took a while to get back, as he stopped to talk to people along the quay.  Once back on board we managed to finally get our boat insurance paid for and in place. Hopefully next year it will be more straight forward.

We then got ourselves ready to bike to Buzet to have lunch at Le Vigneron restaurant (something we’ve been wanting to do for ages) – an easy 17 kilometre bike ride back along the canal cycleway.  It was still quite cool when we left – I almost felt like I needed gloves.

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We arrived in Buzet just before midday, and after posting off the last set of post cards we will probably send this year – we made our way to the restaurant – famous for its five course ‘as much as your can eat’ €15.90 menu.

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We were the first to arrive and were seated in a very pleasant outside area.  First course was Potage (soup) of locally grown seasonal vegetables.  I then had Cailles confit (confit of quail) while Dave took a tasting from each dish on the Buffet de hors-d’œuvres.

For the main course I chose Filet de lieu sauce crevettes (fillet of fish with shrimp sauce) and Dave had Fricassée de volaille au curry (chicken served in a curry sauce).  Both were delicious.

The Chariots de Desserts maison were then wheeled out.

IMG_6487 Dave asked for a little bit of each dish – they obliged with his request from one of the two trolleys.  I had a serving of strawberries and lemon tart.  Dave took some of my strawberries but missed out on the crème brulée and chocolate mouse.

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I had a coffee (served with small meringues) while Dave carried on with his huge plate of food.  In the end, he left a wee morsel.

The restaurant is obviously popular with locals and we could understand why – the service was great, the food and Buzet wine were perfect, the price amazing and the atmosphere very lively and friendly.

Luckily we had a 17 kilometre ride back to the boat to work off all those calories.  As we went by the Buzet port we saw the Canadians – Dave stopped to have a chat to them, They have decided not to go up the Baise but continue to Meilhan-sur-Garonne (still quite a distance away).

As we approached the third lock, we also saw the big fish leap up – in almost the same spot as we had yesterday when we came through on the boat.

We were passed at one stage by four young men, laden up with back packs and sleeping rolls etc, zooming by on electric unicycles (seatless).  Dave raced after them to get a photo and reckons they were doing 30 kilometres per hour – he couldn’t keep up (as his power assist stops at 25 kilometres per hour).

We also had a quick chat with a young German man on a yacht, he bought in Sweden.  He has circumnavigated Scandinavia and is now exploring France – what a great adventure – he is the third young man we have met doing a similar journey to the Mediterranean.  He had stopped to take photos from the canal bridge.  Dave suggested he should go on the Baïse below, but the young man thought it was the Garonne and insisted he couldn’t take his boat on it.

We didn’t do much when we got back to the boat, as we were both feeling quite full.  The port was busy again, with no spare moorings.  We noticed a mechanic from Le Boat attending to one of the four Le Boat hire boats in the port.  To cut a long story short, the terminals that are meant to dispense electricity and water weren’t working (and we had heard only one of the four at the port had been working for several weeks) but because of the lights that were showing, the people on the hire boat thought that there was something wrong with the boat.  The Le Boat mechanic was really annoyed to discover that none of the terminals were working – he went and saw the woman at the Tourism Office who is responsible for the port.  She came to the port and all she needed to do was flick a switch to get the terminal working – people had been complaining for weeks about it not working – we wonder what the Le Boat guy said to her, to get her to finally take action!

We saw Kiwi Chris on Sunflower a couple of times but he came and went without Dave having an opportunity to catch up with them.  However, there were plenty of other people with whom he could hold court.

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Meanwhile, I had a quiet time on the boat reading – I didn’t bother cooking dinner – we just had some leftovers from the night before.  The setting sun made a picturesque scene.

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Wednesday 11th September.  Today we went another 17 kilometres (through four locks) further up the Canal.  A hire boat left quite early, and we waited a while before untying the ropes, as we prefer not to have to share the locks with anyone.   It was a tight squeeze getting out of the mooring at Sérignac, but Dave, as always, managed that exceedingly well.

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Just as we were leaving we saw the German solo yachtsman (we saw yesterday) come into the port and then zip into the spot we had just left.  We were pleased he had moored up, as we weren’t sure how easy it would be to share a lock with him.

We set off down a long straight stretch of the canal, covered in bubbles that had been created by the boat that had left before us.

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Some parts were quite overgrown and narrow – it felt like being on the Baïse again.  In other parts it was quite wide – all the way we saw numerous vapour trails.

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A number of trees had fallen into the river, and on three of them we saw turtles having a sunbathe.

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Soon we arrived at the base of a set of four locks, called Le Passage. These are notoriously difficult locks due to the force of the side currents at the entrance to them.  The locks are managed in sequence, so once you go into the first one, the following three are automatically readied.  We knew it could be difficult to land me before the first lock and we had discussed a number of options – one was for me to get off about five kilometres before the locks and cycle to and between them.  Next option was for me to get off at the mooring pontoon, but we had thought that didn’t look very easy, when we had come down.  The next option was for me to try and get off onto the steps at the front of the locks – that looked quite difficult as the ledge is very small, often wet and with the side currents it could be difficult for Dave to manœuvre La Caunette close enough for me to get off – and finally there was the option of my going up the ladder in the lock.  I had already decided against the first option as I prefer to be on the boat.  Luckily the second option of getting off on the bank by the locks worked (albeit the landing was not boarded, it was covered in low growing blackberry, and the steel intermesh retaining walls hadn’t been backfilled so it was a bit precarious).  Dave twisted the pole and waited for the lock to open, while I walked up over a bridge and down to the lock.

I could hear music playing, and as I waked up to the lock I could see a man sitting on one of the bollards playing a soprano saxophone. He moved off the bollard and carried on playing further back – he didn’t seem very friendly but it was quite magical hearing him play – the acoustics were great.

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Meanwhile the lock emptied, the gates opened and Dave came in – unfortunately getting caught in the current which meant La Caunette took quite a bump on her hull.  Other than that we locked through quite smoothly.

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I had seen that there were two hire boats coming out of the next lock – they had to wait while we came up and out of the lock.  Once the lock gates opened Dave drove La Caunette through the pond and past the two hire boats, while I walked the 400 metres to the second lock.

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All went well with locking through the next three locks, with my walking the 400 metres between each of them (and Dave managing to drive La Caunette at an idle so I got to the lock before he did).

As we came out of the last lock, we saw a boat at the far end of the long canal bridge, it had to wait for us before starting to cross the bridge, and go into the lock – so all in all we had timed things perfectly for our passage.

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The view from the canal bridge was spectacular.

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Once over the canal bridge we pottered along through Agen.  It was great being ‘back’ – we feel we know the area quite well and have enjoyed our many visits to Agen (by car, bike, train, bike and boat).  As it was midday, cars were backed up as people drove home for lunch.

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We carried on to Boé, under bridges and along the tree lined canal.

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Initially we tried mooring on the pontoon where Rosa normally berths.  However, there was quite a bit of bamboo growing on the edge of the canal and it looked like it could be a bit tricky to get on and off.  Dave noticed there was no-one in the port, so we moved on and into the exact same spot we had been at when we were last here – we found it hard to believe that was almost three months ago – we have done a lot in those three months, but it just seems like yesterday.

We noticed Simon and Heather were moored up (on Madeline) at the other end of the port, so once we were securely moored we wandered over to say hello.  They were in the middle of having lunch, so we suggested they come over to us when they were ready.  I wanted to have fish for dinner so I went off to the super market.  When I got there I saw what can happen if you only tie the front wheel of your bike to the rack.

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Meanwhile, Dave put the gazebo up (even though we only planned to stay one night he wanted to put it up, both to provide shelter from the sun – we are having another hot spell with temperatures up to 32°C – as well as dry it out properly, as it had still been a bit wet when he put it away last time).  He also helped a number of other boats moor up as they arrived in the port.  This included Ray and Sue on Mhagicjack (who he met at Séignac) and a number of hire boats (we have seen a lot of hire boats recently – more than we have throughout the rest of the season – but it is a shoulder season for fees and probably a pleasant time for cruising).

Late afternoon Simon and Heather came on board and we enjoyed catching up over wine and snacks for a couple of hours.

It’s been another busy but most satisfying day.

Thursday 12th September.  We decided to move on again today, as we spent quite a bit of time at Boé earlier in the year and we are keen to spend a few days at on the (River) Tarn before we finish up ur cruising season this year.

We had a leisurely get up, and I spent some time finishing off and publishing the last blog post.  We went and said goodbye to Heather and Simon (as we probably won’t see them again this year) and then set off around mid-day (after we’d allowed time for Mhagicjack to get ahead and go through the first lock (Ray and Sue don’t like sharing locks either).  Simon and Heather waved us au revoir.

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It was a lovely sunny day and it was very pleasant cruising up the canal.

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We noticed that all the seats and rubbish bins had been repainted a bright blue since we were last here.

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We also saw someone fly fishing – something we’ve never seen before.

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The canal followed the railway line for much of the way, so we saw numerous passenger and goods trains whizz by.

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The edges of the canal have been mowed recently and there were large clumps of weed in the water. Dave decided to “clean the engine out” and pushed the revs up from 1600 rpm to 2000 rpm and then to 2300 rpm, all for about 20 minutes.

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As we approached the first lock we caught our first glimpse of the cooling towers of the nearby Golfech nuclear power station (the cooling towers dominates the landscape, as I mentioned in my earlier blogs).

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Dave ‘landed’ me okay at the mooring pontoon – there was a black and white cat in attendance (but it ran away as I approached it).

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Dave proceeded to move over the canal to turn the pole. I was on my way to the lock, when he called out that the engine had stopped.  He tried to drift over to the side of the canal but wasn’t having much luck.  I suggested he try restarting the engine – which worked, the lock doors opened, the light turned green and he drove in.

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But then the engine stopped again.  He left it turned off while we went through the locking procedure. It started again easily enough, but we decided it would be a good idea to stop and see if he could identify the problem. I stayed on shore and walked up to the upstream landing pontoon, passing by an attractive potager, complete with a couple of hens.

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Dave managed to drive to the pontoon, before the engine stopped once again.  He had to off load the bikes, tables and chairs and then started investigating the problem.

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He discovered the air filter was a bit dirty (not because of the alternator belt slipping this time, but from an exhaust manifold gasket leak which he had noticed a few weeks ago but had suddenly got worse due to the “harder running” he had just given it).  He put on a new filter, and fingers crossed, we set off again, without encountering any problems until we reached the next lock and Dave drove up to the landing pontoon to let me off – we just made it and I was able to get off and we could tie the boat up.

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Dave was able to start the engine again, but as he slowed down to turn the pole, the engine died once again.  He got it going again and drove into the lock when he got the green light. Meanwhile I had walked up to the lock, ready to catch the ropes he would throw up.  It was interesting to see a nicely clipped hedge.

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As soon as Dave entered the lock, the engine died once more – maybe coincidentally this was all happening 30 minutes after the first time, which had 30 minutes after we had left Boé. But then we realised that it always seemed to happen when Dave slowed the boat down and then needed to get back into gear.  He therefore wondered if he had stretched the morse cable when running at full speed earlier.  As he was able to restart the engine, we decided to stop again at the upstream landing, where he drained the fuel pre-filter to see it any water was in the fuel and put another 20 litres of diesel in, just in case the inlet pipe wasn’t picking up our last remaining 70 litres of fuel properly, then we pressed on.  He was, however, reluctant to slow down so it was lucky there were no boats coming downstream at the same time as we needed to go under any bridges (especially those on a bend).

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We then left the Lot-et-Garonne and entered the Tarn-et-Garonne Department – both seem to maintain the canal quite well.  However, we remember from when we came upstream that in the Tarn-et-Garonne the landing pontoons for the locks sit between the pole you have to twist and the lock – where as in the Lot-et-Garonne the landing pontoons are before the poles.  There is also a different type of button to push to start the locking procedure.  It doesn’t make much difference but we can’t but wonder why there can’t be more consistency.

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We went through another stretch of treelined canal – apart from the attractive scene, the shade was much appreciated as it was quite hot.

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As we drove along Dave spotted a castle and church sitting atop a hill (the village of Saint-Pierre de Malaure).  He commented he might bike there tomorrow.  It did look interesting and we had commented on it when we passed it going downstream.

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As we moved along the canal we passed closer to the nuclear power plant at Golfech.

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As we approached the third (and last) lock for the day, we had the same problems with the engine cutting out – and this seemed to confirm that it wasn’t so much about how long the engine had been running, as a change in speed.  Apart from the engine stopping (but luckily restarting) the locking through process went well.   Of course all this time Dave is thinking and thinking about what this could all mean (maybe the engine was sucking in too much exhaust gas from the leaking manifold!!)

We went by a barge that obviously hadn’t been used for some time – it provided a great planter.

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However, there was other machinery busy mowing (fauchage) along the canal edge.  It was quite aggressively cutting back bushes and small trees growing behind the larger plane trees.

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We passed under a rail bridge just as a train went over it – it made quite a racket.  We carried on but as we approached the port of Valence d’Agen – our destination for the night – the engine cut out again and Dave had real difficulty getting it to restart.

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In the end he managed to drift over to the opposite side of the canal, from where we had intended to moor, and most impressively get to the front of the boat and scale a small wall with a rope. He secured that and I was able to throw him up the back rope.

It had been a tiring day, 21 kilometres, three locks and six hours – during which there had been numerous tense times with the engine stopping. We had offers of help from Junior (on GraceAnne who we had met in Castelsarrasin at the beginning of the year) and Ray on Mhagicjack.  However, we were both whacked and Dave decided to leave looking at the engine until the morning – while we couldn’t hook into electricity, we were securely moored in a safe spot.

I cooked dinner and then we had an early night.  As I closed the back hatch I couldn’t help but notice the moon – not quite a full moon, but still a lovely sight with its refection in the water.  It put the trials and tribulations of the day into perspective – this is a great way to spend our life.

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Friday 13th September.  Dave spent most of the morning in the engine bay.  He had spent a lot of the night thinking about the problem. He informed me that the root cause was the motor stalling when the morse control was set to forward or reverse – the motor was quite happy running at any speed without a load. So the main problem was between the engine and the propeller, but the air filter was also being slowly blocked by the exhaust carbon. The first thing he did was to check the gear box engine oil and that seemed okay. He then took the lid of the hatch that allows access to the propeller and found that there was a lot of weed tightly wound around the propeller shaft – this could quite probably have been the reason for the engine stalling at idle.

However, Dave also knew that the exhaust pipe was a bit loose and he suspected that the gasket, where it joins the engine, may have been ‘blown out’ (he explained … the heat and fumes get into the engine bay and it can overheat nearby components and deprive the motor of clean air.  That in turn can contribute to the engine’s stalling, especially if it is overloaded because of the weeds on the propeller).  As a temporary fix I sacrificed an old frying pan which he fitted under the exhaust system, so any leaking exhaust fumes would rise up and away, and not get blown into the engine components. He then extended the air intake to the filter unit so it drew air further away from the exhaust leak.

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Once again Dave did an amazing job of working through potential problems and sorting them out.  I feel pretty useless when it comes to that sort of thing, so I just (try to) keep out of his way so he can concentrate (and cuss to his heart’s content) and keep within easy ear reach for when he needs something.

When he was nearly ready to try the engine, he noticed a boat leaving so he asked me to go over to the other side of the port (where he intended to move La Caunette to) and make sure no-one took that spot.  I did that and talked to Ray (on Mhagicjack) for a while.  I also phoned Jim, the Capitain at Moissac to check we have a mooring booked on the Tarn tomorrow for four nights.  Jim confirmed that was okay and he also said he would book the lock keeper for us to descend the double lock into the river.

A hire boat arrived and looked like it would take the spot I was guarding, so I indicated to them I would take their ropes and moved them a bit further away.

Dave managed to untie La Caunette, from a quite challenging, high up bank, start her up and bring her over to the pontoon.

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Ray helped take ropes and then Dave tied us up securely – all that went well.

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Fingers crossed that is the end of our engine problems – or at least we will get to Castelsarrasin okay.  Dave then had to go back over the bridge and pick up his bike, stopping on the way to have a chat to Junior.

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I cooked Dave corn fritters for lunch, and then I carried on with the blog while he checked up on Facebook etc and had a nap.  It got up to 32°C so out came the air conditioning unit.  Later on Dave went out for a bike ride to get a baguette and also some more beer.

Saturday 14th September.  We had planned to go to the ‘farmers’ market’ this morning, before leaving for our penultimate cruise this season.  However, Dave slept in and we were a bit late getting ourselves organised.  We were still not sure how the engine would go, so we wanted to allow plenty of time to get to Moissac by 2.30 pm (when we were booked to go down the double locks to the Tarn).

Just as we were about to leave our mooring, a boat opposite us left. We therefore decided to hang back a bit and let them get ahead, so they could go through the locks first.  Once we got underway, Dave did a few things to ‘test’ the engine – all seemed to be okay.

It was overcast, but a pleasant temperature.  Soon we reached the first lock.  Dave had to slow down so I could turn the pole and then drive over to the pontoon so I could get off and go up to the lock.  He had to wait for the lock to be ready as the other boat was only just going into it, it then had to fill and empty again for us.

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The engine hummed away quite happily, thankfully without any of the drama of the other day – it seems Dave had worked his magic – and it was a relief to look back from the lock and see La Caunette waiting patiently.

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All went well with locking through.  The sky was starting to look overcast but on checking the weather forecast we shouldn’t get rain!  We went through another two locks in quick succession, once again without any problems.

We then went along a very attractive stretch of the canal. About half way along there is a small mooring that has water and electricity.  The village next to it (Pommevic) offers this free, in a bid to get people to visit and spend money in their village (we will definitely stay there if we are in this area again next year).

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Just as we were leaving the third lock, it started to rain.  We weren’t too bothered as we were sheltered by the bimini and we could see that the sky was clear up ahead.  However, there were lots of people walking the Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle pilgrimage – they looked like monks in their rain gear.

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We passed three hire boats in a row, going downstream – as I mentioned above there seems to be a lot around at this time of the year.  It’s a shame they were heading into bad weather, given they probably only have their boats for a week to 10 days.

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We passed by a huge processing plant at Malause.  I don’t know what it is for, but it seems barges used to come up to it to be loaded with its products.

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A bit further on, a yacht approached us – the available space in the canal was more limited (due to boats moored up on the side), but as it turned out there was plenty of room.

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There were also a number of cyclists, including two people on solar powered ‘lie down’ bikes.  They looked comfortable and well equipped.

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The rain cleared and we enjoyed a long stretch of canal before our next lock.  I turned the pole, got off at the landing pontoon and walked up to the lock without any difficulty.  However, I could see Dave was struggling a bit to steer La Caunette into the lock.  I wish I had videoed it as it was quite funny to watch – Dave, however, said it was like driving a cork.  He did well though and didn’t bump into the lock gates or walls despite the circulating currents from the lock unloading.

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A bit further on we went under the suspension bridge we have been over on the bikes several times, earlier in the year, (and by car).

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As we approached the next lock, we were surprised to see it open, and that we had a green light (as they are usually always shut, whether empty or full).  I still twisted the pole, and as we could see it was quite shallow, I decided to get off in the lock, on the ladder.

IMG_6654That all worked well. Jim (the Capitain at Moissac) phoned to check we were still wanting to go onto the Tarn – I hadn’t realised it was almost 2 pm.  But that was all okay and he told us where to moor while we waited in the port (for a tourist boat to come up the double lock – we would then go down).  Soon we were in the canal leading through the outskirts of Moissac.

We slowed to wait for the Pont tournant de Saint-Jacques (a turn bridge) to be opened for us.

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That didn’t take long and the bridge keepers gave us a cheery wave from their little office, as we went through.

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We motored on through the port and moored up with Jim’s help.

Having arrived in Moissac without any engine problems, we plan to spend the next four nights on the River Tarn.  I will cover our time doing that in our next blog.

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